The Belgian artist Jan De Cock has constructed an extensive new work entitled Denkmal 53, Tate Modern, Bankside 53, London SE1 9TG, 2005. Although officially sited in the Level 2 Gallery space, it appears as a series of sculptural installations at locations throughout Tate Modern. Built mainly from green plywood, these installations are all part of a single work that engages with and sometimes disrupts the architecture of the museum. Tate Curator Jessica Morgan spoke to the artist.
Your work is concerned with issues pertaining to architecture and media such as painting and sculpture. What interests you in the combination of those fields?
JAN DE COCK
My work is not concerned with issues pertaining to sculpture, it simply is sculpture. But I think I know what you mean. In my sculptures I integrate aspects of other media, but I use them for their sculptural possibilities. For instance, I create environments in which people can experience something that they cannot actually take part in. For this I use techniques borrowed from cinema, such as the suggestion that something is off-screen.
I'm also concerned with colour and composition. I offer people something that they can experience as simply being beautiful. That's why I don't plan every detail beforehand. I need the live confrontation with the architecture to make every detail perfect, to make sure that through the open structures on top of my modules you can see, for example, the detail of the London bricks.
Your work is made in direct response to a given architectural setting. What is your relationship to that architecture: is it critical, interventionist, or affirming?
JAN DE COCK
It's all three. I'm leading an investigation. And one of the most important issues in my investigation is the position of the museum today. I'm trying to answer the question 'What should a museum offer its public?' For this I use the existing architecture, not only its physical appearance but also its history. So if my work is critical, this is not necessarily directed at the building itself, but rather the use of it, the institution.
I call my works 'Denkmal', the German word for monument, so it's evident that I want to honour and commemorate something. When Marcel Broodthaers made his own house into the fictitious 'Museum of Modern Art' he was not only criticising 'museum art', he was also making an homage to the classic museum: its evident truth and simplicity.
At Tate Modern your work extends far beyond the confines of the space that was proposed to you. Why did you feel such an extensive project was necessary?
JAN DE COCK
I wanted to offer the public a perspective where the building itself is a part of the work, so I had to take it outside the Level 2 Gallery. This is related to my choice of how I wish my artworks to function. I don't offer work that is free of engagement. I'm giving people a certain viewpoint, a vision.
Scale is very important for the way you experience works. One of my favourite museums is the Pergamon in Berlin. It contains 1:1 scale reconstructions of the temples and facades of an ancient Roman city. You experience these buildings at their actual size, yet you don't really become part of it. In Romanticism the scale used for paintings was often a 1:1 scale so that the viewer who was standing before a work became emotionally involved in it, like Gericault's Raft of the Medusa.
In Tate Modern it's impossible to compete with the building because it's simply too big. But if I stayed inside the Level 2 Gallery I would not be able to show the public the building the way I see it. Compared to the building my work is modest, but it was too big for one room.
My decision to offer a new perspective for the whole building of Tate Modern has to do with its old and also more recent history. When the power station was built by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, it was a statement of city planning. Opposite St Paul's Cathedral he put this industrial cathedral with one big central chimney. And although it was very visible, it was also closed. People could look at it but not go there or visit it.
What's important for me is the whole new movement the conversion has created. The Millennium Bridge was built and suddenly people were not only looking at the old power station from the centre of the city, they were also crossing the Thames and looking back from the other side. A whole new view was created.
Although the work appears in many locations at Tate Modern you consider it to be one work. How do you see this functioning for the audience?
JAN DE COCK
I do indeed consider it to be one work. In Denkmal 9, Henry Van de Velde University Library, Rozier 9, Ghent, 2004 I transformed all the tables, all the bookshelves in that library into one consistent sculpture. Van de Velde had originally designed everything from the building itself to the chairs the students sit on. Over the years the furniture had been changed. Although it was separate modules that I made, I brought the unity back into the hall.
This question has to do with the perspective I told you about. I want to make people look. I offer them new possibilities of seeing the existing architecture. I want them to follow my path, not necessarily physically, but with their eyes. So when I put my sculptures in different locations I am making them move. I'm directing their perception of the museum. Not in a very obvious way, but almost without them noticing it.
Inside the building people will see my sculpture appear and disappear again when they take the escalator. This is an example of the cinematic element I told you about earlier. I play with the psychological effects of what's 'on-screen' and 'off-screen'.