The cavernous space of Tate Modern’s turbine hall is currently home to two very tall hanging artworks made from ropes and mudlarked objects found on the Thames.

It is candidly though very difficult to understand the meaning behind the art unless you dig out some information and read it — the art on its own without context is simply decorative.

Created by Cecilia Vicuña, it’s a giant form of quipu, an Andean recording device that can be crudely described as an early form of record keeping with knots on the many strands conveying information. The quipu takes on many forms in the installation. There are two sculptures that hang 27 metres from the ceiling, which Vicuña calls the ‘Dead Forest Quipu’. They are woven together using a range of organic materials, including found objects, unspun wool, plant fibres, rope and cardboard to evoke the look of bleached-out trees and ghostly forms.

What you won’t know from looking at it, is that the giant quipu was created inside the turbine hall by local community groups using locally found materials, and then lifted up to the ceiling of the hall.

Aesthetically, it’s interesting, but the art is supposed to make us think about the destruction of the rainforest, and in that, it fails as there’s nothing about mudlarked objects found in the Thames, in London, that makes you think of the rainforests of South America.

Art doesn’t have to be literal, but the artist’s intent here is so difficult to see that if you don’t read the nearby signs, you’d have no idea of the meaning behind the “hangings ropes”, which is a pity as the artist has a lot to say about the issues affecting the rainforest. It’s just that the art is mute about them.

The installation, Brain Forest Quipu is at the Tate Modern until April 2023, and is free to visit.


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