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Art and breath, the living art work.
‘Behind the Red Moon’  from El Anatsui at Tate Modern.

To breathe with an artwork allows us to embody the work and for the work to embody us. Our hair nods to the wind, and our breath mimics the breeze, responding and embodying the environment around us. Artworks can also activate these inherently human responses, and when artworks move this way, they are living with us.

Visiting El Anatsui’s installation in the turbine hall at Tate Modern is a prime example of one of these experiences. In the furthest end of the hall, towering above us up 31m high Anatsui’s latest sculptural installation, made from metal bottle tops and other glistening scrap materials, it slowly sways, revealing its breath the longer you stay with it.

A sheet of hand-woven metal forms have been brought together to create a long drapery that remains flat and formal at the top, to then ascend down clumping together. Flooding the floor the piece drapes the ground in wave-like tectonic structures.   

Mimicking the forms similar to that of large fishing nets, the piece glimmers in black, red, and gold with sprinkles of blue, bronze, and green. There is also an additional hanging sculpture installation greeting you with a red moon when you first enter the hall and waving goodbye with a yellow glow on the flip side as you leave. These three viewpoints act as a landscape; moon, sail, wave, earth and sun. 

The beauty of these works transcend you and feel incredibly peaceful, unlike their origins of creation, which are inspired by Anatsui’s interest in histories of encounters and the migration of goods and people during the transatlantic slave trade. These sculptures feel as if they are living beside us as we view them, these histories, from which Tate themselves benefited, too live among us. Just as the pieces of material are bound together, united in form to make something greater, we as humans, united, do the same. Breathing in tune with ‘Behind the Red Moon’ unites us with the work. Just as the thousands of individual pieces are united, the work reminds us to breathe and unite.

Showing for free in the turbine hall at Tate Modern until April 14th 2024.


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