"It has been raining for years now, not a day, not an hour without rain. This continual watering has had a strange effect on urban sculptures. They have started to grow like giant tropical plants and become even more monumental. To stop this growth, it has been decided to store them inside, among the hundreds of bunk beds which, night and day, receive refugees from the rain. Turbine Hall 2058 London."

So begins Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster's installation at the Tate Modern. The French artist has filled Turbine Hall with giant sculpture replicas, film clips, bunk beds, books and a sole radio transmitting Arto Lindsay singing a Bossa Nova tune from the late fifties. More a set for a disaster film than an installation, the work contemplates the effects of a flood, complete with the sound of rain (and a few drops of water actually falling from the rafters of the cavernous Turbine Hall). DGF could not have picked a more fitting scenario with world markets crashing (indeed, the cover of Time magazine last week featured an image of the towers of London's financial district sinking in a turbulent sea).

Did you know that your installation would coincide with a global crisis?

There has been something in the air since the summer. I don't think I am the only one to have that feeling, although I started this project about a year ago. But my work is not an illustration of the current crisis. I have always moved between utopia and dystopia, much like Philip K. Dick. For an older installation Chambres atomiques (1994), I visited a lot of nuclear shelters in Switzerland, where there is a place guaranteed for every Swiss citizen in case of a disaster.

Why chose a disaster scenario for London?

London is a city under permanent attack, both fictional and real. Think of the floods of 1958 or J.G. Ballard's novel The Drowned World. It's also the city where science fiction was invented. Together with New York, London has been used again and again as a movie set for futuristic and disaster films. But science fiction can also be about the present. George Orwell's 1984 was based very much on the London he experienced in 1948.

How did you link the past and the present?

The more I was trying to imagine a possible future for Turbine Hall, the more references I remembered from the past. Tate Modern used to be an electricity central before it became a public museum, so its use could change once again. Why not a shelter for public sculptures and refugees? My scenario of Turbine Hall in 2058 was partly inspired by 1958, when the European Community began, when Sputnik was launched and when Brazilia was built as a utopian city. These historic moments function as frames of reference.

How did you choose the sculptures, which are mostly reproductions, 25% larger than the originals?

First, I wanted to reference artists who had already done Turbine Hall, from Louise Bourgeois's spider to Bruce Nauman's sound work. Second, I wanted the organic dimension of a Noah's Arc, although Maurizio Cattelan's cat skeleton is large enough to double as a dinosaur. Finally, I had to include Claes Oldenburg's bitten apple, because he is the one who invented the blow-up sculpture. In my flood scenario, these public sculptures have been placed in shelter here because the continuous rain outside is making them mysteriously grow, like tropical plants. As in a real nuclear shelter, there are also bunk beds for the citizens – with a book on each bed.

How did you choose the twenty book titles, from Mike Davis's Dead Cities to Yevgeny Zamyatin's We?

The books function as a bibliography for the installation with their post-apocalyptic tales. But they are also like the characters in a film. In Francois Truffaut's version of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, each person comes to represent a book by memorising it and transmitting the tale to others. Books like W.G. Sebald's Luftkrieg und Literatur or Marguerite Duras's Hiroshima mon amour explore the possibility of representing a catastrophe and explore our relationship to the past. Sebald has been an important reference for me, along with Roberto Bolano and Enrique Vila-Matas. Looking at the destruction that WWII brought to Germany, Sebald asks what narrative might be possible. One possible relation to catastrophe is quoting the past, which we also see in the mixture of disaster and pop culture in Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend. Quotation is not about preserving heritage. A way of confronting a turbulent situation is to quote collective memory and make it work to the maximum.

You have added a projection The Last Film (2008), which is made up of clips from various movies.

There is a mixture of popular and experimental films, from Planet of the Apes to Solaris. A giant collage, the installation also works as a 3D film or a grand "editing room" where each visit makes his own assemblage, which might just inspire the present. In L'an 01 (1972) (directors Niger Jean Rouch, Jacques Doillon, Alain Resnais), the motto was: "We stop everything, we will start again, and it's not sad." That's what could happen now. We should just stop and invent something else instead of worrying about maintaining what is there. London may be drowning, but there's a collective memory, which means that things could recommence.

How do you see the current crisis?

After the crash of 1987, a whole generation of artists simply disappeared. People like Jeff Koons did continue, but what ever happened to an artist like Ashley Bickerton? In our current crisis, it wasn't clear to me that the opening at the Tate Modern was going to happen. I am still worried that I might have to go back to Paris in a sailboat.