Tate’s iPhone app

I’ve just been playing with Tate’s new iPhone app, designed to complement the Miroslav Balka installation ‘How It Is’ in the Turbine Hall.

In the interests of full disclosure I should admit that thus far I haven’t made it to Tate to poke around for myself but reviews and the experiences of friends and relatives have given me a basic idea of what to expect when I do. This does, however, mean that there is some hidden content in the app which I haven’t been able to access as it only triggers near the installation itself. (Nifty eh?)

‘How It Is’ (the artwork) is a container set within Tate Modern’s massive Turbine Hall. To enter you must ascend a ramp and at the entrance you encounter darkness which you can choose to immerse yourself in or shy away from. Once inside the total darkness forces an abnormal awareness of the self and of other surrounding visitors.

The ‘How It Is’ app aims to bring something to enhance the experience and be an experience itself. You can listen to a blurry ghostlike figure talking about the work or watch an interview with Balka himself. Both segments are pleasing to look at, informative and don’t outstay their welcome but at the same time they are pretty standard guidebook-style fare. What is more interesting is the iPhone version of ‘How It Is’ which takes the form of a game-type environment which you are free to explore using an onscreen direction pad. In this incarnation, as with the web version, there are pathways with slashes of bright white scattered to draw you in and lightpen graffiti words hovering in the air. Rotating fusions of skeletal cubes dance mechanically in the middle of pathways although they don’t seem to impede progress. There’s an urban, subterranean dankness to the setting which menacing graffiti flavours with a creepy, negative aspect. There’s an unmistakable sense that you have wandered into a lair of some kind.

With this feeling of foreboding and fear uppermost in the web version and in the app, I would be interested to know if anyone who has actually visited ‘How It Is’ had a positive experience of the darkness or at least did not feel afraid? I originally thought that the darkness would be far more ambiguous when I heard about the installation, however, the web content and app seem to make it clear that there is danger inherent in the piece rather than in the minds of the participants. Is that necessarily the case?

With respect to the app itself, the whole thing is well executed, interesting and ties in perfectly with the other content designed around the installation. It provokes curiosity and stimulates rather than spoonfeeding. It also provides an added incentive to visit in person rather than replacing the exhibit.

I would be genuinely excited to see other galleries and museums take up the gauntlet thrown down by Tate.

(ETA: For an extensive exploration of the app see Jonathan Alger’s excellent review here)

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