Anthea Hamilton: The Squash @ Tate Britain


Emoji summary: 🍐 🌞 💧(there's not rly a squash emoji, so i opted for a pear one instead)

I have suffered a heartbreak, dear readers. I am not one for melodrama but I feel a certain theatricality in announcing it like this. But i must announce it. over the past 2 n a bit years i have written about falling in love, in happiness, in turmoil, and in sadness with it all; and now i must write about the full stop at the end of this. I didn’t think i would find someone i’d be with forever for the rest of my entire life at 21, but silently, quietly my heart prayed that i had. i feel only foolish n silly for not listening to my gut or my head or anything else other than my heart as it whispered its prayers ((but ah, the heart is as great a mystery to us as the gut or the ocean,, and love is an object that bends the rational, the intuitive and the temporal)). I am ok, better off for it all, thankful for having been in love but happy to be parting ways if after all it wasn’t meant to be forever. But despite this, these words from my head and my gut, my heart says that for now it is mending. And in its mending I feel waves of sadness and of anger, in between gasps of deep relief and ok-ness, happiness and again, relief; and they all come so quickly. Two weeks ago today, I cried on the grass outside a Leon because I love my friends so much; and as I cried my friend embraced me and whispered “you are the sun, a shining sun”, and it only made me cry harder bc i loved my friend all the more for those words and for that embrace.

The sun does not cry, the sun only rejoices. The sun only glitters in its smug satisfaction, alone and perfect in its solitude. The sun feels only relief. What I am trying to say is I am writing this just after a great storm; but I am the sun and I am beaming through a large window above u. perfect and content in my solitude.

I went to go see Anthea Hamilton’s commission at the Tate Britain on a sunny day; the sun was beaming through the windows of that big hall in chunks, and bouncing off the bright white tiled floor. I have read, a sneaky peek, of this work in Press & Release (a newsletter written by our friend Molly Gough) the last few texts have been about this commission: The Squash. They have come in little dribbles, tiny mouthfuls and I felt a calmness when I read them; I picked the right day and I have had an experience with this work. It has been Just-What-I-Needed, a break where the clouds part and the sun beams through. I feel ok-happy.

So I turned into the hall and saw the white tiled floor; the entire floor of the hall is covered in these white tiles, like bathroom tiles, and they bubble up under and around the sculptures in the hall. Like plinth or like ledge, a resting place, a cubby hole, an altar, a diving block, like those weird architectural anomalies u find at swimming pools. Then the Squash. A figure with its head consumed by this large squash-like (haha) mask; a hat, a costume. Beautifully clothed, v high-fashion, like somewhere between Drag Race club kid and ceremonial robes. The Squash moved slowly but almost constantly. Tiny beautiful flexes of muscle and limb. I do this thing when i’m in a deep sleep (or so i’ve been told), where i flex my foot and stretch it out and back, out and back; over and over like i am kicking, but slowly. My mum says i used to do it in her womb, that i’d kick up at her ribs and diaphragm and she’d have push down on my legs from the other side of her skin to gently tell me ’no’. the Squash did this. It lay down on its back and feet raised from the knee, it flexed its feet out and back. Like a ballerina, like me as a foetus, like a .gif or a siren, it flexed slowly and almost seductively before moving on. All movements were slow and constant. Like underwater or in zero-g. too clunky to feel choreographed but still elegant. Like watching a slinky fall down stairs in slow-mo; or a sped up video of a tomato plant growing round a stick in the mud. the Squash curled and unfurled itself on the floor and on this plinth. I didn’t really clock that this was a performance till i left. It never occurred to me to categorise it like that in my mind. it didn’t take up enough space for me to think about it too hard. I felt only serene, happy, calm. safe and stable on my own in the gallery in a way that felt quiet. sun streaming through the window, i was happy to not have a hand to hold through this; i would have missed this affect if i had.

Meditative in its lack of assumption, or its quietness. It has allowed me room to think around it. Molly wrote about this work as Greek baths with the green water drained; as I walked through the long hallway my footsteps slapped and echoed, and the air around me felt cool. Like I was underground or at a lido; sun streaming through the windows but the stone walls cool to the touch, sound echoing under me. i felt that,;, the in-between quiet slowness of a turkish bath or a lido at an off-peak time. I found myself wanting there to be mist or condensation, damp or mould, some kind of water,,, something for me to feel more submerged in other than just the feeling, just the affect. i wanted a formal anchor to tie me to the feeling, like something concrete. But i think if there was, it would have been too much, too intense. the calm would have parted like waves or like clouds scattering. I know as i say i wanted mist or mould, that i don’t know what i want rn.

As I wait for the bus outside the trees are trembling above me; pollen fluff flies across n settles in my eyelashes. I am happy and relieved. This art matched my mood; and I cannot say that if i visited earlier or at another time, i would have enjoyed this show as much. calm, slow, ok to be on my own, whole in my solitude bc that’s better than what was before. This show was a bit of me; like a peach cut in half, red stone bleeding colour into the orange flesh around it. I don’t think you will understand, even if you go. this show’s affect was temporal.

Anthea Hamilton's The Squash is on at the Tate Britain in the Duveen Galleries, for the 2018 Tate Britain Commission. It's on till 7th October. You can sign up to Molly's newsletter, Press & Release, here.

on a tiled floor with blocky sculptures that are also tiled, a performer wearing a full black skintight outfit is on all fours in a crab pose with a huge black headpiece that looks like a smooth rounded doorstopper

a tiled alter shape on top of tiled floor, and at the centre there is a bubbling pointed sculpture, and another one that has holes through it

a shot in the big halls in the middle of Tate Britain showing the full tiled space with more raised parts, like you might have water in for a fountain or water feature

at the edge of one of the tiled walls that is rising up out of the tiled floor, there is a step ladder with big handles at the top like you’d see at the entrance of a swimming pool

one of the performers in all black lies back with a hand on their head over the while tiles in a dramatic but comfortable pose