Today is the last day to witness All Rise, the week-long performance from Liberate Tate at the Tate Modern gallery. Filming devices strapped on to their chest, performers are reading aloud sections of the transcripts of the trial which started in February in New Orleans and sees BP stand accused of gross negligence over the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry.
The performance marks the third anniversary of the disaster but it also questions the sponsorship of Tate by the oil multinational. Each day, three different performers are whispering courtroom transcripts from the BP trial. The videos are streamed live for anyone who can't make it to the Turbine Hall and other exhibition rooms of the institution.
Two years ago Liberate Tate performed Human Cost in the Duveen Gallery in Tate Britain, where a naked man curled up on the floor had oil poured all over him. And last year the group delivered a 16.5 metre wind turbine blade to the gallery, along with documents officially gifting it to the nation as piece of art. '
Strangely enough, Tate itself triggered the artistic protest. Liberate Tate was indeed founded during a workshop in January 2010 on art and activism, commissioned by Tate. When Tate curators tried to censor the workshop from making interventions against Tate sponsors, even though none had been planned, the incensed participants decided to continue their work together beyond the workshop and set up Liberate Tate.
Now the performance interested me for two reasons: the trial against BP isn't receiving the major international coverage i would have expected (even though the damages to human health and the environment are still very much felt, even though the clean-up is far from being finished and even though the local communities are still struggling to recover from the economic devastation.) The second reason is that, like many people working in art, i find it difficult to make up my mind: is it really so bad to take some dirty money to support the art community? Do we really have a choice in these harsh times of cuts in the art funding?
Mel Evans of Liberate Tate has kindly accepted to answer my questions about the performance.
Liberate Tate has been protesting since 2010 but has been achieved so far?
Well, over 300 artists and cultural workers have signed their name to letters calling on Tate to drop BP sponsorship in the press. Over 8000 Tate members and visitors have petitioned Nicholas Serota to end the sponsorship deal with the oil company. And, at the 2012 Tate Members' AGM, a full hour of the session was filled with diverse voices calling for Tate to disclose more information on the sponsorship deal and heed members' perspective on it. For Liberate Tate, their performance interventions are now held in Tate's archive: a mixed response, but a recognition of significance nonetheless. More and more artists have gotten on board with the call for change, including Conrad Atkinson who has numerous works at Tate, and Raoul Martinez, who has been exhibited as part of the National Portrait Award. Beyond this, we regularly hear tell of Tate staff at all levels sharing our concerns with BP sponsorship at Tate.
Because of Liberate Tate, I (and i'm sure many members of the public) am now acutely aware of the sponsorship and entering the exhibition space with a sense of guilt...
Liberate Tate doesn't intend to make anyone or any visitors feel guilty: our slogan is Love Tate Hate Oil.
We want to raise the question, what does a future look like beyond oil? What role does culture have in shaping oil? And what democratic processes are available in a public body such as Tate to question the social legitimacy given to an oil company whose global impacts are devastating lives and livelihoods? We welcome anyone's participation in this questioning, and this gathering of momentum to push for a shift in this cultural sphere. The arts have moved away from tobacco and arms sponsorship; likewise they will shift from oil, we simply insist it is sooner rather than later.
But it is not a sense a guilt we wish to generate, but rather one of possibility - often this is the question the arts often ask, how do we understand the world, how might we understand it differently, and what might we make possible. Just because oil is a feature of our every day lives does not mean we cannot question it - in fact it is when something is so pervasive that we must consider it more.
In these times of cuts in public funding, corporate sponsorship seems to be a reasonable option. What right do we have to judge Tate and decide where they can and cannot take the money to produce and exhibit contemporary art?
Pressure on arts institutions to make deals with corporations is certainly premised by the Tory-Lib Dem government as justification for the cuts. The opportunity for sponsorship and the impact of the cuts is felt very differently according to organisations sizes however: smaller arts organisations have lost everything through the ACE cuts, and have little opportunity for corporate sponsorship, because business is only interested in the notoriety of allegiances with big name institutions. With Tate as the key example, all of their corporate income from events and sponsorship amounts to a minimal percentage of their overall income. Tate has refused to dispose figures on the BP deal, but we estimate it to be £500,000 - a minuscule slice of Tate's budget. From Tate's own figures we know they still receive about 35% state funding, and raise almost half via Tate Enterprises in their shops, cafes and restaurants. The picture of the corporate knight in shining armour saving the flailing arts institutions is a total misnomer. It is in fact the CEO of Tate Enterprises Laura Wright who has led the way in securing Tate's financial stability.
The tip of a turbine blade is carried over the Thames from St Paul's Cathedral by Liberate Tate for the artwork The Gift in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall 7 July 2012 Credit: Martin LeSanto-Smith
Last year, Tate wasn't too pleased about the wind turbine blade that you offered them as a gift. How is Tate reacting to this year's performance?
The Gift was probably our most confrontational performance to date. It was certainly the largest! Over a hundred people and a 16.5 metre wind turbine blade...It feels good to go in absolutely the other direction with All Rise, and make a work that is quiet, small, unobtrusive. All Rise is really about the ripples a performance can make. Over this week we've drawn in audiences from around the world who can watch the three performers move around Tate Modern via live stream every day 3-4pm GMT+1. On the first day Tate staff questioned what we were doing, but now we have been told no-one will interfere. Visitors notice us and ask questions as performers pass them in the gallery, or stop and listen to the legalistic text of the trial whispered by the performers, but we're not obstructing anyone in any way, so I think there's little grounds to ask us to leave. Tate might also be aware that should they eject us, we have news media on speed dial. Overall, allowing this piece to grow into the space has been great, and unlike The Gift, we're able to bring our questions back to the terrible harm still being felt since the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster, at the same time as inviting Tate visitors, members and staff into a conversation with us.
What do you say when people claim that BP has no influence about what is exhibited in the galleries anyway?
It's very hard for us or them to make an absolute measure on BP's curatorial influence. The presence of a sponsor can censor silently even if not directly - any cases of which would be surely fiercely hidden from view. Several artists note numerous cases in which they have seen BP related censorship take place. Liberate Tate was itself founded during a workshop at Tate in which BP sponsorship was raised when staff sent an email to the organiser stating "to be aware that we cannot host any activism directed against Tate and its sponsors". Beyond that. I see the question also being about, what impact does BP have on Tate by its presence and association? What does Tate become, despite presenting itself as a politically savvy, progressive institution, by association with BP?
And what can we, general public, do to help 'liberate Tate'?
Go to Tate and raise the questions. Write to Tate. Make art about BP at Tate. Speak to Tate staff you know and ask them what they think. This is an art movement for change that affects us all as artists on some level - we have a stake in the values that influential contemporary art institutions uphold, and it is for us to shape those values in our work. See you in the gallery, challenging the presence of BP in whatever creative way you see fit, be it on feedback forms or something more adventurous! And get in touch at liberatetate [at] gmail.com or @LiberateTate on Twitter if you want to connect with us and what we're trying to do.
If you've missed All Rise, i'd recommend that you check out Tate à Tate, Liberate Tate's alternative audio tour of the London Tate galleries.
I've managed to keep it under control so far but i've got quite an obsession with the work of Marcel Dzama. The world he creates mixes childhood nostalgia, violence, sex and history (without necessarily knocking you down with historical references) in the most sinister and seducing way.
Luckily for Londoners, the David Zwirner gallery has just opened a show about Dzama's latest work: Puppets, Pawns, and Prophets. The main protagonists are helpfully listed in the title.
Part of the exhibition centers on his 2011 film A Game of Chess, with props, preparatory drawings and the final short film. The characters dance across the checkered board, wearing papier-mâché costumes and masks.
The works is influenced by Bauhaus artist Oskar Schlemmer whose Triadic Ballet from 1922 included puppet-like costumes, and mask-wearing figures dancing across a checkered surface. More generally, the inspiration for the work is the early twentieth-century avant-garde who drew analogies between chess (with its balance between improvisation and predetermination) and artistic practice.
The video shown at David Zwirner, however, restages some of the footage of A Game of Chess and turns it into Sister Squares, splitting the screen in four. The result is even more confusing and fascinating than the original film.
The filming and the creation of the costumes took place in Guadalajara, Mexico, and the influence of local culture (cue to splendid Mariachi trumpeting and sombrero-ing the video) infiltrate the work.
But the video i couldn't get my eyes off is The Infidels. This time the puppet-like chess figures go to war against stockinged female "terrorists," AK-47 in hand. It's violent, joyful, enigmatic and sexy.
I don't want to sound overly enthusiastic but this is probably the most sublime video i've ever seen.... (The quality of the video is not great but i think it should give you an idea.)
It's not in the gallery but check out the music video that Dzama directed together with Patrick Daughters for the band Department of Eagles:
Screened on monitors facing the street:
Marcel Dzama, Death Disco Dance
And since we're on a video roll, check out this short interview that TateShots did with the artist 4 years ago:
Back to what's on view in the gallery. With no comment:
I really loved that video. Please, go and see the show.
Marcel Dzama. Puppets, Pawns, and Prophets is open until 11 May at David Zwirner gallery in London.
Previously: Even the Ghost of the Past.
In order NOT to illustrate my point, i'll start this quick overview of the photo works presented at the fair with a series by one of the most famous YBAs.
Mat Collishaw's Last Meals on Death Row is a splendid and sinister collection of still lifes recreating the final meals of death-sentence prisoners in American prisons.
Collishaw's compositions portray the request of inmates from Texas, the state with the highest number of executions since 1976. In 2011 however, Texas banned last meal requests for prisoners on death row after Lawrence Russell Brewer ordered two chicken fried steaks, a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, fried okra, a pound of barbecue, three fajitas, a meat lover's pizza, a pint of ice cream and a slab of peanut butter fudge. But didn't eat any of it.
For more art takes on the same theme, check out the post The Last Meals of the Executed: A Selection of Projects in Photography and Painting.
I've been particularly impressed by Lamberto Teotino's minimal interventions on archive photographs.
More gems along the way:
Back to celebrated photographers with Roger Ballen:
Previously: Art13, the art fair that took us by surprise.
The facade of the Little Black Gallery in Chelsea is indeed painted in black, the interior is not that small and right now they have a stunning show that bears a slightly unnerving title: The Silence of Dogs in Cars. Martin Usborne portrays dogs locked inside cars. Some look peaceful and lost in their own thoughts, others are barking. Or sleeping.
When he started the series, the photographer walked around car parks looking for dogs left inside cars but his quest wasn't too successful so he decided to entirely orchestrate each photo, stopping people who were having a stroll with their dogs, matching each animal with a car and location. As Usborne explained to Max Houghton: I did start it as a reportage project but after I found myself walking around supermarket carparks making barking noises to try and awaken sleeping dogs that were not actually there, I set up the shots. But I now realise that is the right thing. It's very important that it's lit and looks cinematic, dreamlike almost.
I never thought i'd write a post dedicated to dogs photos one day but these were irresistible:
The Silence of Dogs in Cars is at The Little Black Gallery until 27 April 2013.
You'd think that this town wasn't big enough for another contemporary art fair. London has Frieze of course but also the London Art Fair, The Other Art Fair, the Affordable Art Fair, Kinetica, and i'm sure i'm forgetting others along the way.
But Art13 London, which took place a few weekends ago inside the stunning Olympia Grand Hall, demonstrated, if need be, that not all art fairs are created equal and that you can bring something different if you have enough taste and a clear vision.
Stephanie Dieckvoss, the fair director, gave the event the mission to bring to the city galleries and artists we haven't seen much of here in Europe. Of course, all fairs claim to be 'truly international' but most of the time 'around the world' means Europe and the U.S.. Art13, however, sourced galleries and artists from Asia, the Middle East and Africa as well as the West. I can't remember having discovered so many artists in such a short period of time.
Quick selection of the goods on show:
Aram Bartholl had a cunning and unassuming set of wifi routers at the booth of the DAM Gallery (Berlin/Frankfurt.) Each router is associated to a specific digital art work. The work is online and you can view it on your own smartphone. Connect to the network associated to the router and the work appears in your browser. If you want to see the second work, you have to repeat the operation and connect to the second router, etc. The pieces are available to everyone to enjoy online but they are disconnected from the Internet.
That work is pure Bartholl: simple and brilliant.
The other images don't require much explanation:
I spotted lots and lots of 'plush toy art':
Lazarides's booth was painted to look like a squat. Apparently, the gallery sold Banksy's 'Guantanamo Bay', in the artist's frame, for £375,000.
A 12m-long cylinder of rice paper and bamboo:
Belated and speedy report on the 5th Kinetica Art Fair.
Year after year, i go to Kinetica with enthusiasm. I might find it a challenge to spot the real gems in a sea of (sometimes) artistically questionable works but that's part of the fun. Kinetica might not be the Mecca for art & science that some bloggers and journalists describe (too many holograms!) but it's certainly a good place to discover kinetic, electronic, and robotic art. It also has a friendly, open atmosphere that makes it surprisingly easy to have a chat with artists, art dealers and other exhibitors.
This year, the theme of Kinetica's exhibition and programme of talks and performances was 'Illusion and Reality' and the thin veil that divides what is real and perceived. The -fairly broad- theme aims to challenge ideas on what is real, perceived or imagined, and focuses on transformation, metamorphism, visual paradox, vibration, nature, the subliminal and the subconscious.
This year, i liked:
Wu Xiao Fei Dyson's Musical Typewriter sits quietly on a table. Each of its letters is attached to a fishing line that disappears quickly in a confusion of other fishing lines and triggers a little hammer as you type. The hammers strike empty barrels of rapeseed cooking oil, jars of Marmite, cans of Pepsi, wine bottles, etc. Each producing a different sound.
Mechanical Flipbooks by Mark Rosen and Wendy Marvel, (based on the motion studies of Eadweard Muybridge) are inspired by Eadweard Muybridge's pioneering photographic studies of motion.
Mechanical Flipbook, Horse in Motion
Right at the entrance of the fair, The Walk was impossible to miss. The 2.5-meter diameter sphere is covered with some 35,000 LED's displaying a video loop that tells a story loosely based on Dante's Divine Comedy of the journey from Hell to Purgatory.
The most exciting booth was by far the one set up by All Visual Arts. They showed six works inside a small dark room.
The level of water contained in Ben Tyers' Breathe glass sculpture goes up and down following a slow, regular rhythm. In fact, the mechanism 'inhales and exhales' the same capacity of air as two human lungs. There's something meditative about the piece as after having watched it for a short period of time, you realize that your own breathing pattern calms down.
Paul Fryer's Chess for Tesla (which some of you might have seen at The Art of Chess exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery) is an homage to Nikola Tesla. Because Tesla was a pioneer of the vacuum tubes, the 32 pieces in the set are glass vacuum tubes. I didn't dare touch the work but apparently The board of the chess set powers the vacuum tube pieces so that when unplugged the individual pieces glow for a little while, struggling to keep connection with the board, and then die. Plug them back in and they reactivate.
I was told that the chess board was about to travel to Hollywood to feature in a blockbuster scifi movie (Star Trek if i remember correctly.)
More images, including Kinetic LEGO sculpture by Alex Allmont and a kinetic-tensegrity-roof and reactive floor.
David John Rosewell's Puppets to our Creation mirrors the movements of the viewer who stands in front of it. The person becomes thus both the puppet and the puppeteer.