What Am I Looking At? Questioning the gallery space

Late at Tate is a free after hours event at Tate Britain giving visitors the opportunity to explore the gallery in a new way, with a backdrop of music, performance, workshops and installations. The Spring series across April, May and June, was co-programmed by Tate Collective London, collaborating with Circuit artist Jenny Moore.

Working with the theme Speculate we broke each month into subthemes; Question, Disrupt and Transform – Jenny Moore’s performance art practice felt like the perfect balance of audacity, surprise and wit to visualize these concepts to our audience.

Tate Collective London always aims to engage a new, young and diverse audience, aiming to break down the perceived barriers of arts institutions. We wanted to stage a series of performance pieces that questioned traditional gallery etiquette and allowed visitors to explore the space in a new and unconventional way. Starting the Late at Tate series with April’s event Question, were keen on presenting performative pieces that surprised our audience and encouraged a new exploration of the space and questioned our instinctive behavior in arts institutions. We decided to embrace the surprising and potentially comical nature of performance, titling our project ‘What Am I Looking At?’.

The performances took place across the ground floor galleries and atmospheric Rotunda – some were timed, others had a more transient feel.

One performance in Tate Britain’s historic 1840 Room (known for housing Millais’ famous painting of Ophelia) used giant weather balloons and bicycle pumps. The group found their own way through the gallery until instinctively moving together to form a clump. Their breathing became louder and in tune with the balloon pumping to create a contagious rhythmic resonance, until dispersing as if nothing had happened … wandering back through the space.

In another choreographed performance, we worked with mirrors in the Rotunda. Architecture, artworks and audience were reflected in scattered but lyrical impressions, forming almost Cubist images of the space around us.

We also worked with three young members from the Next Choreography programme at Siobhan Davies Dance, they crawled and rolled playfully throughout the gallery spaces. This idea emerged from one of our exercises early on in the planning sessions, we found this simple act of exploring the space from a different level really opened up our inquisitive nature.

Circuit Artist planing session c Rachel Noel

For May’s Late at Tate event Disrupt we’ll be working with The REC, an experimental choir, to create sound pieces alongside the performance to ‘disrupt’ the gallery space with an extra layer of sound. We’re also planning on staging performances in larger, more public space to increase engagement.

While our first series of performances helped visitors to see the space from a new perspective, it was harder to encourage physical participation. One of our initial aims was to open up the gallery space for visitors to discover their own connections between Tate’s collection and their own personal story. To help achieve this for our next event in May, we decided a focus should be to create an environment where visitors can be active participants, as well as an audience.

By Jessye Bloomfield