Nick Hackworth

Juan Munoz/ Double Blind, Tate Modern

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

To help it deal with its ludicrously large Turbine Hall, Tate Modern persuaded Unilever to hand over £1.25 million, enabling it to commission one artist a year until 2004 to fill the space with some very big artwork.

This year, it’s the turn of Juan Muñoz, one of Spain’s most celebrated artists, a sculptor who places human figures in complex architectural settings.

Muñoz has made a big architectural intervention. Halfway down the Turbine Hall, if you stand on the balcony, you normally look down on to empty space on either side; now, if facing the back of the hall, you see a temporary floor stretching out. It appears to be punctured by a series of square shafts, but only a few are real openings, the rest are trompe l’oeil.

Seen from underneath, the installation is radically different. The only light filters in from the shafts in the ceiling, but in the first few shafts you see nothing. In those deeper down, you begin to see life-sized grey-blue metallic figures inhabiting the half-space between the ceiling and the floor and apparently engaged in mysterious dramas.

In one shaft, a figure disconcertingly like Biggles, with gelled hair and military-style clothing, looks down with a superior expression. In other shafts, figures run around with blankets, peering into doorways hidden from view, inexplicably sitting on each others’ knees and clustered around soft-light sources that illuminate their faces.

Double Bind is named after a theory about interpersonal communication that illustrates, according to Muñoz, “how much misunderstand- ing is included within language and communication”. Our failure to understand the dramas unfolding above and our appreciation of the difference between the surface and subterranean worlds illustrate the point well enough.

It is unfortunate, but perversely appropriate, that the Tate Modern has, in its promotional material for the piece, managed to misattribute the Double Bind theory to William Bateson, the founder of genetics, when it was formulated by his social-scientist son, Gregory Bateson.

Misunderstanding is more rife than even Mr Muñoz expects.