things to look forward to

Heather Phillipson’s new Duveen commission glimpses at ecological breakdown
By Finn Blythe | Art | 20 May 2021

Tate Britain Commission: Heather Phillipson: Rupture No.1: blowtorching the bitten peach © Tate photography (Oliver Cowling)

Above image: Tate Britain Commission: Heather Phillipson: Rupture No.1: blowtorching the bitten peach © Tate photography (Oliver Cowling)

In Tate Britain‘s newly unveiled Duveen commission, London artist and current Fourth Plinth incumbent Heather Phillipson has transformed the space into an otherworldly audio-visual spectacle. After the uplifting sense of hopefulness of Steve McQueen’s Year 3 project, Phillipson’s post-apocalyptic installation flips the mood on its head, utilising every inch of the neo-classical galleries in a spellbinding display of primal appeal.


Anyone who has witnessed Phillipson’s previous installations can attest to the artist’s aptitude for spinning bitingly satirical narratives on a large scale. Her new installation, RUPTURE NO. 1: blowtorching the bitten peach, is no different and sees the artist’s ominous vision of the future played out through a re-purposed, post-industrial aesthetic befitting the gallery’s monumental spaces. Divided into three sections, each with its own localised ecosystem of light and sound, the installation is a fully immersive walk-through of our own annihilation. At times it feels like a Mad Max set visit, at others, the portentous theatricality of this imagined ecological destruction feels much closer to home.

Upon entering, visitors are immediately X-rayed by a phalanx of wild eyes, blinking on screens  propped up within barren and fruitless mounds of salt. The accusing stares of these wild animals are penetrative, while their muffled shrieks echo all around through speakers suspended from the ceiling. Exotic flowers are hewn from remnants of aeroplane fuel tanks, football-sized crystals glow from hanging cargo nets and a 15m high papier-mâché ram looms over the entire scene like a totemic deity.

Tate Britain Commission: Heather Phillipson: Rupture No.1: blowtorching the bitten peach © Tate photography (Oliver Cowling)

Passing beneath it into the second room, the temperature seems to drop as lighting transitions from red to purple. Here, four bovine-like creatures with rounded bodies of former fuel barrels crowd around a watering hole, their petrol pump trunks submerged beneath a thick, odious-looking liquid. As the unmistakable noise of glugging echoes around the space it is not immediately clear whether this rusty herd are despositing or guzzling from the foul looking pool but the effect is visceral either way.

As these two rooms grow progressively colder, with harsher sounds and increasingly inorganic life-forms, the final room presents a fitting climax to this unfolding nightmare. Lit with cold blue light, with the sound of a bitter wind rampaging over nuclear wastelands, the brewing storm clouds that are painted onto surrounding walls are a perfect distillation of mood. At the end of the space, flanked on either side by creaking wind turbines with anchors instead of rotors, is a ramshackle corrugated silo. Upon approach, the eery clanking that was at first barely perceptible grows louder with each step. Hung from within the structure is a wind-chime of the apocalypse,  where empty gas cylinders clank against each other and the installation’s insidious build-up of anxiety culminates in a single electric moment that stands hair on end.

RUPTURE NO. 1: blowtorching the bitten peach is on view at Tate Britain until  23 January 2022.

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