When I think of space, it tends to have a tangible quality, a 3D rendering in my mind that I can zoom in and out of. But the very notion of this imagery fails at a fundamental level, serving at best as the plastic surface of something richer. As Bucky Fuller remarked, “Ninety-nine percent of who you are is invisible and untouchable.” As is 99% of where we are. I’m not speaking to Hubble’s law and the unobservable universe. I’m speaking to the ordinary things around us that have been disguised from our version of space.
The Tate Modern sits on the southern bank of the Thames. Like most museums, the building is itself a piece of the art, its sheer massiveness echoing a post-industrial emptiness. It has all the fixings of a wealthy city’s patronage: Mondrian, Picasso, Dalí, etc. But tucked away in the boxy maze was a temporary gallery by Taryn Simon. Her photography exhibit, called “The Hidden and the Unfamiliar,” challenges our convention of the spaces we live in. She draws attention to spaces which are restricted, hidden, or overlooked.
The exhibit has only six photos. The first photograph is of the wall art behind the doors of the CIA’s top secret access. The next is the feed facility for a tiger at a wildlife refuge. Another gives the perspective behind a two-way mirror in a jury deliberation room. Another is a picture of a pile of junk, mostly fruits and vegetables, inside the US customs and border control contraband room. Another peeks at a machine room where the transatlantic submarine cables reach land. The last photograph shows the abandoned movie set of “City of the Pharaoh,” half swallowed by the Nipomo sands.
Simon exposes what’s missing from our internal models of the space around us. We ignore things, forget them, or never even consider them in the first place. We’re excluded by law from parts of the world. Or we’re blind to the vast internal workings of the infrastructure we walk along. Or we lose interest after its purpose has been served. Or we simply walk by without taking a closer look. In a way, her exhibit is the antithesis of our group: it is anti-space. It is the places we cannot see, we cannot go, and cannot imagine.