As an admirer of T S Eliot’s verse, I hastened to Margate where the Turner Contemporary has mounted a major exhibition inspired by Eliot’s 434-line modernist poem “The Waste Land”, published in 1922:
Part of the poem was written by Eliot while recuperating from a nervous illness in this Kentish seaside town and contains the lines:
“On Margate Sands./ I can connect/ Nothing with nothing.”
“The Waste Land”, with its references ranging from classical myth to 1920’s jazz, evokes the moral and cultural desolation following World War I. The eclecticism of the poem is reflected in the the exhibition, which comprises some 100 artworks and other objects, including photographs by Man Ray and Lee Miller. Man Ray’s 1920 image “Dust Breeding” echoes the famous line from the poem:
“I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”
Particularly appropriate, also, is Miller’s “Portrait of Space” (Siwa, Egypt, 1937), an image of desolation shrouded in enigma, the small black frame within the overall framing leading the eye to an infinite emptiness:
Other notable exhibits include Edward Hopper’s voyeuristic and quasi-cinematic canvas “Night Windows” – bringing to mind Merry Alpern’s 1994 series “Dirty Windows” – video installations by Philip Drew and Jo Stockham’s murky images of the River Thames.
Appropriately, on the day of my visit, the Margate sands were enveloped in a creeping sea-mist, an eeriness enhanced by the sight of one of one of Antony Gormley’s sculpted figures gradually disappearing under the incoming tide: