Is This Art?: Empty Lot

The Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, one of the most exciting spaces in the international art scene, is currently home to an exhibition by Mexican artist Abraham Cruzvillegas. The exhibition, called Empty Lot, consists of a “grid of triangular wooden planters” each filled with “a mixture of compost and soil collected from parks, heaths, commons, green spaces and gardens across London”. It is a striking visual experience; hundreds and hundreds of identical wooden frames contain various amounts and types of greenery and fungi. Nothing has been intentionally planted in the boxes and the main purpose of the work is to find out, given sufficient time, water and sunlight, what “flowers, mushrooms or weeds may or may not grow depending on what is already in the soil…or on what people drop into the structure”.

A scotch egg, split in two by the impact of its fall, lay in the wooden planter closest to the crowd. The sausage layer had blackened and moistened and the yellow marble of egg had congealed. Contemplating the egg as it lay sprawled upon the soil, I understood it to be an emblem of defiance, of protest. Here was the quintessential snack food of the average Londoner – said to have been invented in the very heart of London at Fortnum & Mason in 1738. Here the scotch egg, an emblem of normality, was a form of protest, a desperate attempt to make heard the voice of the crowd member, the city-dweller, the mother of two, the toddler, the student. It was a statement of presence; I was here.

Neighbouring boxes boasted fresh clumps of green grass, young nettles and even the odd pale toadstool. One box was even home to a family of ladybirds, managing to live a normal life under the constant gaze of the artistically curious. In contrast to these boxes buzzing with vitality, the box of the scotch egg was strikingly “Here the scotch egg was a form of protest, a desperate attempt” barren. Indeed, the broken snack lay alone in the box of soil and rocks. As I stood contemplating this lonesome sausage-based food product, I gradually became aware of its deeper meaning in today’s urbanised lifestyle. This was an example of our struggle, as city-dwellers, to live harmoniously alongside nature. The presence of the scotch egg, symbol of the people, prevented nature from thriving in that particular wooden planter.

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The scotch egg, symbolic of both the Londoner and the Londoner’s struggle to co-habit with nature, very much steals the show in this exhibition. I would even go as far as to say that the thrower of the said snack deserves recognition, deserves congratulations on a level that far exceeds that of Cruzvillegas. Yes, Cruzvillegas provided the environment, provided the initial concept, but it was the thrower of the scotch egg that provided the art.