Altermodern: Tate Triennial Redefines Modernity [Review]

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At times messy, at times streamlined, Altermodern is an intriguing medley of new and recent art by 28 British and international artists.

Subodh Gupta‘s ceiling-high mushroom cloud of shiny saucepans fills the entrance of the Tate Britain, from floor to domed ceiling, serving as an explosive harbinger of the mishmash of medium, reference, and genre to come. Nicholas Bourriaud, the curator of Tate Britain’s fourth triennial, sets out to redefine modernity in our globalized, culturally intertwined times. In some ways it’s best to leave this premise — both theoretical conundrum and irreverent jest — at the door; the artworks themselves already demand enough cogitation.

After Gupta’s gleaming kitchen utensils comes a series of installations with a more rough-and-ready feel. A placard painted with the words “I wish I could have voted for Barack Obama” and second-hand tricycles at its base is one of a series of works the artist known as Bob and Roberta Smith will make during the exhibition. Each of these items will end up in gallery storage, open to the public. In Franz Ackermann‘s Gateway-Getaway, empty pickle and juice jars congregate around a rotating sail-like board, which in turn is circled by glossy, psychedelic paintings on one side and an ominously empty cage on the other; from three and two-dimensional planes to enclosed space, it’s tricky to find one’s feet in Ackermann’s contribution (for which some sections have been made in transit), but perhaps that’s the point.

Equally unpredictable, in a carnivalesque and celebratory way, is Spartacus Chetwynd‘s Hermitos Children, a detective-cum-soap-opera-cum-erotic-TV-show featuring dildo seesaws and stuffed pigs. Visitors are invited to recline on a giant beanbag, which somewhat tames the rampant zaniness of the underground performances that Chetwynd documents in her orgiastic mashup, played on multiple TV monitors.

Charles Avery invites us into his imaginary world through drawings and an effigy of the head of a prehistoric creature, his titular “Aleph Nul.” Taking an alternative approach to revealing what’s in the head of an artist, meanwhile, Loris Gréaud records his brain activity during intense thought. The resulting installation consists of gleaming white vibrators that transmit electrical signals triggered by his brainwaves — his thoughts hum and purr, becoming physically manifested.

Extramission 6 (Black Maria) sees Lindsay Seers look both inward and outward. Installed in a shed-like replica of Thomas Edison’s Black Maria — the first film production studio — a possibly fictional documentary tells the artist’s remarkable story of the loss of her photographic memory and the ensuing trauma, which sees her become a human camera and then a projector. Does the artist’s name somehow foretell this?

Veering to the totally absurd is Nathaniel MellorsGiantbum. A winding, felt-lined tunnel takes us to a set of three latex masks, their mouths opening and closing in time to a voice issuing from above. The masks, it appears, are of a character played by the artist, who features in videos mounted along the way, in which a troupe of actors are trapped in a giant’s bum. By the end of the gloriously sprawling, gargantuan Altermodern, it’s easy to understand how they feel.

Altermodern, which is accompanied by a catalogue, is on view at the Tate Britain through April 26. Find photos of the exhibition on Flickr.

Image credit: Bob and Roberta Smith, Off Voice Fly Tip, 2009