Lost in a world of lost people… The Coral Reef by Mike Nelson at Tate Britain

Sneaking around the gallery holding the entries and winners of this year’s Turner Prize  (trying to get a glimpse without paying the extortionately priced ticket), I came across a door, a man sitting on a stool next to it. Invigilator. Must be an exhibition…so I opened the door. The white fire door creaked on its hinges as I edged into the amber-lit room, a single bulb hanging in the centre. A TV on the blink; a Chinese calendar; fairy lights at a reception desk; a torn red sofa, a woman sitting on it, staring at the broken tele, a badge on her chest read RECEPTIONIST. THE CORAL REEF.

This is Mike Nelson’s new piece for Tate Britain, a maze of rooms, each containing a different set of ideologies, each weirder and more wonderful than the last.

I walked past the woman, she continued staring blankly ahead as I pushed open a door at the opposite side of the room…creeeaaaakkk….a corridor. Doors, which one next?

Another bright white door opens into a brighter white room, a solitary red sofa slumps under a sign advertising ‘THIS ‘EEKS EVANGELISM’. hrmmm.. next up a room strewn with contradictory ticking clocks, a corn cob phone and sheets sit on a sideboard. I’m starting to get a little nervous, I haven’t seen any other visitors yet and the place is dead silent bar the tick tick tick…

Right. Next room. I’m greeted by a sign that shouts ‘DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE. SMOKE AND FLY!’ and a white clown mask grins at me, hiding the shotgun that rests behind it.

Feeling a little uneasy I plough ahead, opening doors quickly and just stopping to take a few snaps, then phew! Finally I’m back in reception where I bump into a couple, worriedly muttering ‘this must be the way out!’, we open the white reception doors expecting to be greeted by the safety of the Tate Britain hallway… nope: a warehouse.

The boyfriend exclaims ‘I don’t think this is the exhibition any more, I think we might just be in the back of the gallery’.

I’m now completely lost and am starting to panic. I know it’s pathetic but in a windowless maze of rooms, some exact copies of others and alone, I’m starting to think I’m going to be stuck in here forever.

Thank God for Fire Escape signs… yep. I bailed. I followed the green signs hiding above those ominous doors back to the entrance, through the real reception (the receptionist still shuffling about looking bored) and arrived in the suddenly very homely feeling hallway of Tate Britain.

‘You came out the entrance’ the gallery assistant said accusingly.

‘Oh..’ I smiled awkwardly and headed off. He didn’t need to know I’d chickened out and given up, and although I felt like I’d let myself down a little there was no way I was going back into that Coral Reef.

Unnerving, creepy but fan-bloody-tastic. Go see it and don’t give up! There are 15 rooms in there and I think I only found maybe 8..?

The title of the piece “The Coral Reef” alludes to  collection of fragile belief systems that form a layer beneath the ‘ocean surface’ of dominant ideologies in our society.  It’s a piece that has to be seen to be understood, the physical sensations you feel demonstrate the power of the installation as Nelson plays on common human anxieties…claustrophobia, loneliness, confusion..


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