Look At This

Tate Britain gave artist Mike Nelson a commission to fill the Duveen Galleries with things.

This is a saw. The straight blade is held between the arms of that metal upside-down ‘U’ shape you can see top left.

The blade is marked ‘Eclipse’, which is a brand I know from hacksaws I have used. it is used for cutting metal.

The machine is sitting on top of a slab of cut stone. The stone is very fine grained. Maybe it is Portland stone. I say that because cement is made from the pale grey stone quarried in Portland in Dorset.

The machine is sitting on a slab of stone which is on a cupboard, which is on two slabs of stone.

Is It Art

If I put it in a gallery, is it art? It’s a perennial question. At least it gives viewers an opportunity to look at functional objects as shapes in space.

The Duveen Galleries are sculpture galleries, with high ceilings. I should have taken a photo of the galleries for context, but here is a shot from 2014 of one of the halls in the Tate. I think this is a shot of a hallway at street level, so not the Duveen Galleries, but you get the idea.

In a couple of the side rooms there were more ‘constructed’ objects. What do you make of this engine sitting on a pile of sleeping bags?

What is makes me think is that those are perfectly adequate sleeping bags and that there are homeless people who would like them.

These people don’t need them. They are homeless, but they have sleeping bags.

There are probably lots of stories one could hear about how these people don’t fit into society and that is why they are homeless. You could hear how somehow, to some degree, being homeless is a problem of their own making.

You could say that, but you’d have to ignore the explosion of homelessness and rough sleeping in the UK.


  1. reb says:

    «Is it art?» 😊 Many years ago, I dated an artist. We had endless discussions about this question. We went to an art exhibition [well … many] where some artist had dipped a pair of jeans in silver colour and hung them up … it was art!

    We have homeless people here — I don’t know whether they have sleeping bags — and there are homeless people in Sweden too, Stockholm in particular. There are shelters, but I think you’d have to be sober/drug free to go there. Here you have to have an address to get a job so it gets complicated. I don’t know all the details of how the system works here.

    Do you remember the song by Ralph McTell … Streets of London? 😊


    1. There’s a similar problem here about having to have an address before you can get benefits and start in the system looking for a job. Yes, I remember Streets Of London. The situation here is getting noticeably worse. People take around food, and there are shelters that people can go to – if they can get a place. And yes, they have to be clean – drugs/alcohol – before they can go.

      The Victoria & Albert had an exhibition of a decorator’s table – with paint marks, a cigarette hanging off the edge, all made in ceramics. Was it art? I thought it was craft. Tamara’s ‘favourite’ was a room full of frames like people use when they cannot walk well. They had little blue fuzzy pom-poms attached to them. Another was a huge, ripped, black plastic sheet hung from a line. Maybe it was the ‘shock of the meaningless’…


      1. reb says:

        When I lived in Umeå [city in northern Sweden], I saw an ‘art installation’ that must have made such an impression on me I still remember it to this day. This was 1992.

        It was a miserable day, dark … sleet, high winds. I walked by a storefront window and in the corner of my eye I saw pink. It was so intense pink, I stopped in my tracks and walked back. The whole space in the display window was lined with fuzzy pink and in the centre, on the floor, was a baby [doll], natural sized, dressed in fatigues.

        I guess that was also some kind of shock …

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I just googled the latitude of Umeå. 64° – that’s far north.


        2. reb says:

          Yes … long, dark winter. They have a big university hospital and that’s where I worked.

          Liked by 1 person

    2. Oh my word – “The Streets of London” – I LOVED that song! I remember wandering through the streets of Cape Town late at night, warbling “So how can you tell me you’re looo-oonleee”.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It annoys me when people speak of “the homeless” as though they’re all the same. (I don’t mean that’s what you’re doing – I’m responding to what you say about people’s opinions about homeless people.) Some have made poor choices (something that those of us with homes never do); others have been unlucky; others are whackadoo; others have opted out of the system for strongly held philosophical reasons – which may or may not be whackadoo, but that’s hardly the point.

    Anyway. I’m not sure what the engine on a pile of sleeping bags is supposed to say. Maybe it’s different if you’re standing there with it. “This is hard and gray; these are soft and brightly colored”, maybe? I find myself unmoved. Your photographs of homeless people, on the other hand, do move me – not just because the people are homeless, but because of the context you give them. So I’d say your photographs are art. I don’t know about the other stuff.


    1. I was friends with a homeless man when we lived in Edinburgh. He couldn’t stand to be regimented, so wouldn’t accept any kind of shelter. I know a homeless man here in Cambridge. He’s no longer completely homeless because he has a bed in a shelter. Some people on the streets have settled into it as a way of life. Some are new to it, still clean and tidy. I feel so useless. It isn’t right that people should fall out of the world and not have some support.

      Yes, I think the same about the engine on the sleeping bags – the weight and the bags giving way to the weight.

      There is a logic to where these people in the photos have chosen to sleep, of course, as you probably saw. The empty shops – so no one will ask them to move out of a busy doorway.

      More and more shops are closing. A boon for homeless people…


      1. I’ve known a few homeless people, and have sometimes wondered whether I might end up that way myself. The years creep by and suddenly one realizes one isn’t as secure as one had intended to be. I agree, it’s NOT right that people should be homeless when we as a society have so much – but as long as we keep allowing people in power to steer the goodies toward their friends and away from ordinary folk, that’s not going to change.


      2. With reference to your picture, it also struck me that the shop was empty, yet the man was outside. There’s a dissonance there. Maybe you have to be a Martian to grok it fully.


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