At Tate Modern

Paul Myerscough

In 1992 the Spanish sculptor Juan Muñoz made a series of ten five-minute recordings for radio, A Man in a Room, Gambling, in which he instructs the listener how to cheat at cards. His voice is mellifluous and reassuring; every now and then, as if he were watching over your shoulder, he pauses to offer gentle encouragement, or to admire the tricks that he’s teaching you: ‘Did you see? . . . Amazing . . . It’s amazing.’ In the background, a string quartet plays an intricate score, by turns tense and discordant, delicate, plaintive and suspenseful. It is the soundtrack to a drama that isn’t taking place, at least not here and now. (The recordings were intended for broadcast late at night, so that the listener would stumble across them as he might the shipping forecast, whose blank codifications also tell of dramas unfolding elsewhere.) Perhaps the music anticipates the sort of situation the listener might find himself in were he to try out these sleights of hand for real – a dangerous game. But this is only fantasy: the lessons are too elliptical to be followed properly, and the music distracts from the voice, so that even if you were to take the task seriously, you would find yourself lost in seconds, frozen at a felt table with a deck of cards in your hand. At that point, you would have become very like a figure in one of Muñoz’s sculptures.

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