An Eerie Dystopia Takes Over Tate Britain

Heather Phillipson, Tate Britain ★★★☆☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 6 months ago
An Eerie Dystopia Takes Over Tate Britain Heather Phillipson, Tate Britain 3
Did we mention there are giant metal insects too?

Close ups of eyes stare back at me — a tiger here, a chameleon there, a zebra and a monkey behind them. It's like being in the most intense Zoom call of my life.

Speakers emit eerie sounds, suspended from the ceiling with those ropes I could never climb in PE. Watching over all of this is what I can only describe as a papier-mache Elder God, which barely squeezes inside the cavernous central galleries of Tate Britain.

Welcome to the wacky — and frankly, unnerving — world of Heather Phillipson, who's also bathed the galleries in red and purple lighting for this visually arresting installation.

You're probably familiar with Phillipson's work: she currently has a giant fly on a dollop of cream on the fourth plinth, and she splattered Gloucester Road with giant eggs a while back. When it comes to big, bold and bonkers, she's got previous.

The eye of the tiger ... and the chameleon, and the monkey.

As I stroll between the legs of the Elder God I come to four horned metal creatures sipping from a giant pool — well they look like they're sipping at it, but closer inspection reveals they have petrol pump nozzles in lieu of mouths, so maybe they're filling it? All I know is I wouldn't want anyone near this with a naked flame.

I haven't even yet mentioned the wind turbine which uses anchors as blades — or the glowing stones suspended from nets above me. It's like Mad Max meets live action role play.

Try not to disturb the creatures.

Once I've fully experienced the sensory overload it's time to ascribe some meaning, and that's where this work comes a cropper. There's clearly some vague reference to the impending climate disaster but so much is going on, it's hard to grab hold of a single thread.

Maybe it's best not to seek meaning from it at all — after all it's a memorable enough experience — just embrace the head-scratching chaos.

Heather Phillipson - Rupture No 1: Blowtorching the Bitten Peach is on at Tate Britain from 17 May - 23 January 2022. It's free to visit though free entrance to the museum must be booked.

All photos © Tate  photography (Oliver Cowling)

Last Updated 17 May 2021