To Fill This Vast Space: Publics and The Turbine Hall Series, Tate Modern

Thompson, Grace (2023) To Fill This Vast Space: Publics and The Turbine Hall Series, Tate Modern. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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This thesis considers the pressures and possibilities of publics in contemporary installation art, taking as a case study the ongoing Turbine Hall Series at Tate Modern (2000 - present). Stimulated by the widespread mobilisation of ideas around publics in economic, political and artistic discourses during the period of the commissions, the thesis asks how these major works negotiate this contested concept. How does the series respond to the political pressures and cultural infrastructure within Britain in the 1990s, the 2000s and 2010s? And what can thinking about publics in the Turbine Hall tell us about the problematics of publics more broadly?

Now numbering twenty-one, the works of the series all explore different themes and lay out different ambitions, but here I argue they are all engaged in the figuring of a public. Across a number of registers, they disrupt the formation of a secure and universal public, and instead approach publics as recursive and open ended, rethinking not only the image of a public, but bringing into question the very conception of who is doing the rethinking. In each work there is a new emphasis on the difficulties in reconciling image and imagination, theory and practice, individual experience and collective accounts: frictions which problematize the notion of a more straightforward kind of 'experience' often proposed as the dominant element in the series, and in installation art more broadly.

This thesis is the first sustained study to consider the series and situate it within wider cultural, social, and political discourses. The chapters are organised to track four prescient aspects of publics through close analysis of four of the commissions: the public in the environment in Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project, wholeness and disruption in Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth, the politics of production in Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds, and the rights of citizens and migrants in Tania Bruguera’s commission. Intending to show both the political-economic logics that exert pressure on the series, as well as the potential of radical public thought contained within it, the thesis works to acknowledge that it is through understanding the complexities of how the term public is evoked, appealed to, and imagined that art can support democracy.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art, Media and American Studies
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 06 Mar 2024 11:05
Last Modified: 06 Mar 2024 11:05

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