“Perfomance’s only life is in the present. Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of the representations of representations”
Peggy Phelan, Unmarked: the Politics of Performance
So what of PRACTISE ARCHITECTURE: rehearse here, perform everywhere, a site–specific piece commissioned as part of the Performing Architecture Late at Tate which took place on the 1 February? Time–bound and ephemeral, it certainly was. What was developed over a period of several months through an explorative series of iterative occupations of the rapidly changing Tate Britain building came to pass within the span of a single evening. A liminal interlude when during which ‘architectural time’ gathered pace.
Ephemeral at its core, then, but durational in its instructional reach, PRACTISE ARCHITECTURE envisaged the night as a beginner’s guide to Performance Architecture. It turned the Duveen Galleries into a rehearsal space where aspiring performance architects could discover ways in which a building can be performed. Architectural elements dotted around the Duveen Galleries were co–opted as teaching aids: a limestone wall, a grey door hoarding, a sonorous poché service cupboard, a stanchion, and a gallery bench. Each element was speculatively performed by the artists until it yielded an instruction – an invitation to perform the space differently which if carried out would reveal something new about the Duveen Galleries:
Knock a musical score to accompany this space
Exercise Free Will
Make more comfortable for the next person
The Wall piece in particular, had built up into a series of 42 sequential invitations that yielded a new perception of the Duveen Galleries’ pictorial space – a performative illusion so to speak.
Touch this Wall… Look only at this joint and move left… Don’t stop touching the wall…
Over the course of the evening, the Wall piece was performed again and again. It was performed by individuals, friends, and revellers holding hands. It was performed in contemplative silence, and amidst merrily heated debate. Every time, it shifted, ever so slightly, the way in which each of the performers understands the potential of a wall (be it in a gallery or in one’s own living room).
Architecture and the body are inextricably linked. Embodied performance crystallises the potential of architecture as a form of critique. The Wall instruction –
Along your path notice: marks… patching… stress… light changing… gaps
– speaks of the manner in which architecture implicitly “scores” the way in which we behave in an urban world. It speaks of ways in which we can begin to subvert these cues.
The following afternoon, I found myself in the The Tanks at Tate Modern watching a wonderful performance by Carlos Motta and Matthias Sperling: The Movers. At the end, one of the performers made their way to the doors and, cue, opened every one of them. The audience did not to leave.