Nick Hackworth

Anya Gallaccio: Beat, Tate Britain

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

A grove of seven oak tree trunks, thick and tall, now stand in the Duveen Galleries in Tate Britain. Along with some beautifully translucent, rectangular slabs of sugar, the base of an oak tree that has been turned into the gentlest of water sculptures and a photograph, they make up Beat, a new installation by Anya Gallaccio.

For over a decade now Gallaccio has been creating large, highly emotive, site-specific installations committed to mirroring the transience of the natural world. She has coated the walls of a gallery with chocolate that decomposed, left a ton of oranges to rot on a warehouse floor and carpeted the ICA with 10,000 decaying red roses.

Here transience is still the topic of the work, but now on a grander and yet more human scale and its presence is alluded to rather than being represented by dying organic matter.

History is inherently melancholy and Gallaccio’s work is cloaked in it, the different elements of her installation picking out strands of the past related to the Tate and the fortune of Sir Henry Tate, the sugar magnate who was its founder. Despite the fact that his business was made possible only by the conditions created by imperialism, the work is not a crude critique, but an ambiguous reminder instead.

The oak trunks allude to the oak- built ships that upheld the empire and ferried raw materials, including sugar cane from the West Indies, to Britain. The tree base, upon which sits a delicate film of water that is constantly replenished as it seeps into the wood, and the photograph are, however, more subtle in their possible meanings.

The image captures Gallaccio, Ophelia-like, floating in a green, wood-shaded pool and it, along with the tree base, draws an appropriately hazy link between the romantic dreams of art and the hard facts of history upon which they are ultimately built.

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