I began writing this just over a fortnight after Late at Tate Britain: Performing Architecture and so my memory might be a little hazy. Writing something post-event one is always in danger of reducing experience to a few romanticised fragments. However, having started the process with a couple of questions: what does performance have to do with architecture? How does a building perform and how can we perform a building? it might be useful to offer up some responses to these rather broad enquiries, and add a few more questions along the way, as well as listing some highlights.
During my conversation with Alex Schweder and Lamis Bayar we attempted to set the scene and discuss what performance has to do with architecture, where this emerging field of practice and research comes from and what kind of potential it holds. I wont summarise it because you can listen to it on our channel, but I wanted to note some ideas still turning over in my head.
If the programme of a room or building is designed to define our behaviour in that space – i.e. bathing in the bathroom, cooking in the kitchen – then performance architecture, of the variety that Alex and Lamis are proposing with their instructions to perform Tate Britains Duveen Galleries, can be a critical re-thinking what is permissible in a given space, by subverting or changing our behaviour in it, or trying out new possibilities for action. What then is the difference between behaviour and performance? And as an astute audience member asked:
is there an architectural space, or can we imagine one that doesnt have a programme, or any limitations on our behaviour?
In the Duveen Galleries I noticed many of the events participants following Alex and Lamiss Practise Architecture instructions, tracing their hands along the limestone wall dutifully performing their gallery visit differently. The other texts were more subtly placed, such as the one asking you to knock a musical score to accompany this space …did you find the instruction telling you to enact free will encircling the stanchion protecting Ian Hamilton Finlays sculpture in the North Duveen Galleries?
Emptysets film and sound installation Trawsfynydd, exploring the decommissioned power station in Snowdonia, performed architecture in rather a more confrontational and visceral way. I entered the auditorium with a beer and sat mesmerised by the grainy, spectral film of the power stations empty interior, which morphed into an abstract arrangement of fuzzy lines and shapes the deeper in we travelled. Low, sharp sounds bellowed from speakers stacked on the stage – boards normally trod by visiting artists and academics – making my insides vibrate. One visitor told me theyd never encountered a sound installation with soft cinema seats before, and I particularly enjoyed this juxtaposition. Transported from one building in the phase of transition to one that has finished its functional arc and is now languishing between the states of monolithic modernist sculpture and local eyesore.
When I finally made it into the Duveen Galleries after listening to Emptysets conversation with Justin Jaeckle, Public Programmes at The Architecture Foundation, three things really delighted me: projected high up on the wall of the South Duveen Galleries next to a boarded up doorway, Gordon Matta Clarks Conical Intersect 1975 knocked an imaginary hole through to the building works happening behind it; a group of friends performing a church they had created using cardboard, their bodies and best choir voices in the Observation Spaces workshop with Effie Coe, and the trickle of visitors tracing the Practise Architecture instructions along the sandstone wall; and finally, like many visitors to the event, I witnessed transfixed tour goers passing through the galleries led by Kreider + OLeary on their poetic and multilayered exploration of the site, Light Vessel Automatic. I only snatched two precious minutes as someone handed me their headset. But as is often the case with Late at Tate Britain, what I miss becomes a poignant reminder of why Im drawn to performance in the first place.