Tate Soundscape Hijacked by Artists

Liberate Tate, Platform and Art Not Oil launch alternative audio tour of London’s Tate galleries in response to the public institution’s links with oil company BP

A new series of artworks questioning Tate’s relationship with BP has been jointly commissioned by art collective Liberate Tate, arts and research organisation Platform and activist group Art Not Oil.

The Tate á Tate Audio Tour is a new and permanent installation inside Tate galleries in London created through your participation. The exciting sound works use Tate real estate as their backdrop and is available for anybody to download onto their smart phones and MP3 players (from www.tateatate.org 5pm Thursday 22 March).

The new works by renowned artists are designed to be listened to inside Tate Modern, Tate Britain and on Tate Boat (the riverboat crossing between the two buildings). Like the 2010 Turner Prize winning work by sound artist Susan Philipsz these works draw on the immersive properties of sound to create powerful sculptural experiences.

The release of the Tate á Tate Audio Tour comes at a time when the question of corporate sponsorship within the arts is becoming increasingly pertinent (see recent Whitney Biennial Hoax). Poet Alice Oswald withdrew from the TS Eliot Prize because she felt “uncomfortable” with it being sponsored by an investment company. Growing numbers of artists are concerned by the oil industry being supported by public cultural institutions and many are asking: ‘How do we protect ourselves from becoming tarnished by association with these companies that seek to ‘greenwash’ their brands?’
(‘Not if but when: Culture Beyond Oil’ is a publication that includes artists and others discussing oil sponsorship of the arts. A pdf of the publication is downloadable from here and an issuu link here).

Raoul Martinez who has twice been shortlisted (and exhibited) for the BP Portrait Award said: “I don’t think any artist wants their work to be used as a fig leaf for the oil industry.” (More of Raoul’s thinking on this can be read here).

Terri Gosnell of Liberate Tate says: “Tate leadership is out of step with a public that wants it to break off the gallery’s links with an oil company. People want Tate to end its links to oil money. Everybody has heard the term ‘money laundering’, this is ‘image laundering’ carried out by Tate for BP.”

BP’s environmental record is appalling yet many people are prepared to turn a blind eye to the fact that Tate is in bed with BP, one of the “ten worst corporations’’ based on its environmental and human rights record.

Mel Evans of Platform says: “Artists and audiences don’t want to be forced into a position whereby they are endorsing one of the biggest polluters on the planet merely by visiting the Tate or exhibiting at the Tate.”

By continuing its relationship with BP, knowing the damage this company continues to do to the environment, Tate leadership places its audiences in a very difficult position.

Sam Chase of Art Not Oil says: “The nightmare scenario for Tate is for its intimate relationship with BP to damage its much-loved brand. All the more extraordinary then for it to invite ex-BP boss Lord Browne to extend his tenure as Chair of Tate Trustees.”

Liberate Tate’s performances in the last two years have made headlines across the world, and growing numbers of people in the art world, including members of Tate’s own Trustees have expressed unease at Tate’s relationship with BP.

The three newly commissioned Tate á Tate Audio Tour artworks are:

The Panaudicon by Ansuman Biswas (Tate Britain)


Tate Britain is built on the site of a prison. The original design for the prison took the form of a panopticon, a type of institutional building designed by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late eighteenth century. The design concept was to allow an observer to monitor all inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether or not they were being watched. Ansuman Biswas neatly turns the tables on this idea. Tate gallery staff will have no idea what visitors are listening to on their mobiles. Placing the gallery itself under scrutiny, Ansuman Biswas’s ‘Panaudicon’ takes the idea of surveillance and uses sound to transport the listener beyond the walls of Tate Britain to locations around the world where BP is drilling for oil. This guerrilla audio tour refocuses our attention on Tate’s continued reliance upon oil money for sponsorship.

This is not an Oil Tanker by Isa Suarez, Mae Martin and Mark McGowan (Tate Boat)

Specially created to be listened to whilst travelling on the Thames by Tate Boat between Tate Britain and Tate Modern. This is not an Oil Tanker has a distinctly aquatic theme. The sound work combines music, lyrics and surrealism to explore the experiences of various communities impacted by the exploits of oil companies.

Drilling the Dirt (‘A Temporary Difficulty’) by Phil England and Jim Welton (Tate Modern)

Phil England and Jim Welton have produced their own Tate Modern Audio Tour thereby subverting the widely used exhibition technology that facilitates communication of information about an artwork to museum visitors. The title is a reference to Sir Nicholas Serota’s comment about BP when he said “We all recognise they have a difficulty at the moment but you don’t abandon your friends because they have what we consider to be a temporary difficulty.”

The beauty of this interactive piece is that it navigates the listener through the museum but changes the context in which the exhibits are viewed. Starting at Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall you are guided to specific art works in Tate’s collection that are now bathed in a completely new light. The paratexts in this alternative audio guide are designed to open up the very debate that Tate would rather not have about its relationship to BP.

Tour start points: You can choose from any one of three different locations in order to start the tour. For Tate Britain, position yourself in the lobby just beside the stand where they are selling audio guides, for the Tate Modern you need to stand at the entrance to the Tate Turbine Hall at the top of the ram leading down into the hall, and for the boat journey you can simply press play once you have boarded the boat and sat down.

Download instructions: The Tate á Tate Audio Tour is available to download here: www.tateatate.org. They are there as three tracks in their entirety. The Tate Modern one is also available to download as ten separate tracks.

About the artists and the commissioned works:

Panaudicon
Location: Tate Britain
Instructions: Go to the Millbank entrance of Tate Britain. Walk up the steps and into the foyer. Then put on your headphones and press play.

Artist: Ansuman Biswas
Ansuman Biswas has a wide-ranging international practice encompassing music, film, live art, installation, writing and theatre. He is interested in hybridity and interdisciplinarity, often working between science, art and industry, for instance, or between music, dance and visual art. His expertise is in fostering relationships, synthesising, comparing, facilitating, and standing outside particular viewpoints. www.ansumanbiswas.com

This is not an Oil Tanker
Location: Tate Boat
Instructions: The Tate Boat travels along the Thames between Tate Britain and Tate Modern, in either direction. Follow directions from either gallery to the accessible jetty located close by. Once seated comfortably on board the boat, press play.

Artists: Isa Suarez with Mae Martin and Mark McGowan
Isa Suarez is a composer, songwriter, performer and sound-artist. She uses sound as a way of addressing social and political issues, or suggesting feelings and atmospheres. Often involving other groups, organisations and international communities, Suarez traverses the histories of transmission and freedom of expression within diverse methods. Music forms a crucial part of her work. www.isasuarez.com Mae Martin is a Canadian stand-up comedian. Mae’s work is a unique blend of songs and stand up comedy that mines her neurotic visions of the impending apocalypse, her extremely strong feelings about certain celebrities, and her adventures in androgyny. NOW Magazine recently praised her “smart, deadpan observations”, and Xtra Magazine called her “witty and wickedly funny”. www.maemartin.com Mark McGowan aka The Artist Taxi Driver Mark McGowan is a British artist working in the expanding field of art. He has been described by Will Self as “the pre-eminent performance artist working in Britain today.” www.markmcgowan.org

Drilling the Dirt (‘A Temporary Difficulty’)
Location: Tate Modern
Instructions: Familiarise yourself with the pause button on your phone or MP3 player using another piece of audio before you start the tour. Switch on the guide as you go through the doors of the Tate Modern on the side-entrance that slopes downwards into the Turbine Hall.

Artists: Phil England and Jim Welton

Phil England co-founded the arts radio station Resonance FM in 1998. Between 2003-2009 he produced over 50 hours of radio about climate change for Resonance FM and numerous other community radio stations around the globe (www.climateradio.org). As an environmental and human rights journalist he has written for The Independent, Variant, New Internationalist and The Ecologist. Jim Welton is the subject of a documentary by Luke Fowler entitled, “The Way Out”. He has been commissioned by Austrian national radio ORF’s Kunstradio and Dutch National Radio and he was artist in residence at the Deep Wireless Festival in Toronto in 2007. The Burns Museum and the Science Museum have engaged him as a sound designer and for a five-year period he produced a weekly half hour show for Resonance FM entitled The Harmon E Phraisyar Show.

Platform brings together environmentalists, artists, human rights campaigners, educationalists and community activists. This vital mix enables us to create innovative projects driven by a need for social and ecological justice. Our methods have developed over 25 years. We blend the power of art to transform with the clear goals of campaigning; rigorous in-depth research with the visions of alternative futures. Since 1995, a substantial proportion of our work has focused on the operations of UK oil and gas companies and their impacts on communities and ecosystems around the world. Projects looking at wider issues around social and ecological justice have been established in parallel.

About the groups that have commissioned the works:

Art Not Oil is a project of activist group Rising Tide UK. We aim to encourage artists – and would-be artists – to create work that explores the damage that companies like BP and Shell are doing to the planet, and the role art can play in counteracting that damage. Since 2004 we have collected the work of hundreds of artists to form the Art Not Oil and Shell’s Wild Lie collections, exhibited in galleries all around the UK. We also produced the 2010 Art Not Oil Diary.

Liberate Tate is an art collective exploring the role of creative intervention in social change. We aim to free art from the grips of the oil industry, primarily focusing on Tate – a public institution owned by, and existing for, the public – and its sponsorship deal with BP. We believe Tate is supporting BP, rather than the other way around by cleaning the corporations tarnished public image with the culture of the UK’s leading art museum. We formed in January 2010 when Tate tried to censor a workshop on art and activism because of its sponsorship programme. They failed and we formed in direct resistance to this attempt to limit freedom of expression. Working creatively together, we are dedicated to taking creative disobedience against Tate until it drops its oil company funding.

Previous performances by Liberate Tate

Licence to Spill (June 2010) was a performance that took place at the Tate Summer party celebrating 20 years of BP sponsorship. It was designed to create maximum disruption to the ‘celebrations’ and draw attention back from the canapés and champagne to the horrors of the Gulf of Mexico. As Liberate Tate spilled hundreds of gallons of molasses at the entrance to Tate Britain, two elegantly dressed ladies inside the gallery (going by the names of Toni [Hayward] and Bobbi [Dudley]) released another oil spill from beneath their bouffant dresses, a “relatively tiny one, compared to the size of the Gallery,” a reference to similar statements made by Tony Hayward to the size of the Macondo spill to the size of the Gulf of Mexico.

Sunflower (September 2010), an oil painting squeezed from tubes of black paint, commented on the greenwash behind BP’s green and yellow sunflower logo and anticipated Ai Wei Wei’s Sunflower Seeds installation that was to follow in the same location of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.

Human Cost (April 2011, on the anniversary of The Gulf of Mexico spill), a durational intervention within the figurative sculpture exhibition Single Form at Tate Britain. In the performance a naked figure lay on the ground covered with another oil-like substance (an image of which appeared on the front page of the Financial Times the next day).

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