Dear Readers, today I took a little trip to Tate Britain in Pimlico, ostensibly to see the Cornelia Parker exhibition (of which more tomorrow). But when I got to the Duveen galleries, I was confronted by this lot, and very scary they are too.
This is the 2022 Tate Britain Commission, and it’s called The Procession. The artist is Huw Locke, who was born in Edinburgh but who moved to Guyana when he was five, just as the country was becoming independent.
It’s tricky to say what ‘The Procession’ is ‘about’, because it seems to be about many things – it’s about colonialism, conflict, history, nationhood, independence, and what these things mean. Locke says that he wanted the piece to be ‘human scale’, and so it is. He’s also used very workaday materials – cardboard features a lot, and while he’s used a lot of his own custom-printed fabric, a lot of it has also come from shops around London.
Locke says that the piece could be viewed as a puzzle, and that it rewards time spent with it – that was certainly my experience. I ended up spending about an hour wandering around and through it, wondering what things meant, trying to relate one character to another. I suspect I’d have needed to know a lot more about history, but I think it also gives you the opportunity to make your own connections and devise your own story.
Some of the characters seem quite frightening, but the children in the gallery seemed to love the piece, and their parents were having a great time trying to keep them from interacting rather more directly than the gallery wardens were happy with.
There is beauty here, and the macabre, and some characters who are both.
The Tate Gallery was, of course, built on money from sugar and the slave trade, and Locke says that this was a starting point for the piece. Then there is the sense of people on the move, people protesting and gaining a sense of their power, which feels very contemporary. But then there’s also a sense of Carnival.
And death is here too.
What is so striking about The Procession is the sheer amount of work that’s gone into it. If I’d designed one of the characters and brought them to fruition I would have been well chuffed, but here there are hundreds, all different, all with a story to tell. If you’re in London, it’s well worth a look. I’m sure everyone’s reactions will be different, and that is part of the interest of the piece.
To take just one facet of the piece: the banner here, showing the Black Star Line, is a reference to the shipping line incorporated by Marcus Garvey in the early 1920s. The idea was that the ships would transport goods and eventually African Americans throughout the African global economy. Garvey bought ships (funded by donations from the black community), but these were oversold and badly maintained, and the company itself was infiltrated by agents from what would become the FBI, who actively sabotaged the ships. So, the endeavour was a failure, through no fault of its own.
At the very end of the procession is this man. To me he looks rather like Atlas, carrying the weight of the world on his head. His shoelaces are undone, and he is lagging a little behind, but he looks pretty serious to me. Like the last runner in a marathon, he will get there too, I have no doubt.