These are questions that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. The concept of performance architecture has been floating around in my head for over six months. It’s hard to pinpoint when it became part of my cultural imaginary, but I got really excited about this emerging field of practice and research in discussions with Lamis Bayer, Associate Editor of le Journal Spécial ‘Z whose current issue is devoted to the topic. One chilly August evening we sat outside Leon behind Tate Modern and talked through a fascinating geneaology of performance architecture that runs parallel to a history of performance art.

In the shadow of Tate Modern 2 building site we hold down our notebooks against the prevailing wind and Lamis tells me that in 1960 Yves Klein leapt into the void beginning a performative relationship with architecture that changed the discipline’s trajectory. 

Susan Hiller Homage to Yves Klein 2008 150 black and white digital photographs

Susan Hiller
Homage to Yves Klein 2008
150 black-and-white digital photographs
Overall: 170 x 170 cm

© Susan Hiller

Around the same time Claude Parent and Paul Virilio are developing an architecture of the oblique, which aims to fuse the body’s movement with the building’s form through the exertion of living in a structures built entirely on inclined planes. We rattle through a host of architects and artists performing radical experiments with the body and built form, from the architecture collective Haus Rucker Co. to Gordon Matta-Clark and Trisha Brown’s work with Anarchitecture, from inflatable structures to walking on the walls….

Gordon Matta-Clark Bronx Floors: Threshole 1972

Gordon Matta-Clark
Bronx Floors: Threshole 1972
2 black and white photographs
Each 356 x 508 mm

© ARS, NY and DACS, London, 2007

What is happening now? Architect Alex Schweder characterises the concept of performance architecture as a ‘notion that relationships between occupied spaces and occupying subjects are permeable’. In 2009 he and Ward Shelley lived in Stability at the Lawrimore Project in Seattle for a week, a structure suspended from the ceiling that moves up and down like a giant see-saw whenever either of them decides to use the end of their tiny apartment that is farthest from the fulcrum.

Alex Schweder and Ward Shelly, Stability, Seattle, 2009 Photos © Scott Lawrimore, edited by Ward Shelly & author.

Alex Schweder and Ward Shelly, Stability, Seattle, 2009

Photos
© Scott Lawrimore, edited by Ward Shelly & author.

Alex Schweder and Ward Shelly, Stability, Seattle, 2009 Photos © Scott Lawrimore, edited by Ward Shelly & author.

Alex Schweder and Ward Shelly, Stability, Seattle, 2009

Photos
© Scott Lawrimore, edited by Ward Shelly & author.

As well as making ‘architect performed buildings’ he is also making instructions to perform buildings, presenting these on the walls for visitors to change the nature of the space by enacting it differently. We shall return to this later, but needless to say I was captivated.
 So with the recent Art in Action programme in The Tanks already hinting at the relationship between performance and architecture, and Tate Britain undergoing a process of architectural transformation itself through the Millbank Project I decided that now is a good moment to dive in and do some research that will lead to an event exploring these ideas early next year – Late at Tate Britain: Performing Architecture, Friday 1 February 2013.  For this event Alex Schweder and Lamis Bayer are making Tate Britain’s disorientated visitors their client and developing a set of playful instructions for you to explore the building in its current phase of spatial and structural transition. You can also hear them in conversation about their work, and tell them your experiences of performing the building. Emptyset’s Paul Purgas and James Ginzburg will transport you to another transitional, unfinished building through sound and film, and will be blogging about their making process and ideas on architecture as fluid space in January. More talks, film and performances are in the pipeline as the research and conversations continue…

One last thing I will mention is a parallel project I’m developing for the Learning team at Tate. Inspired by events in the Tanks, I’m really interested in how architecture can affect, hinder or enhance conversation and learning. With all this in mind I’m visiting the Expanded Performance Stroom den Haag in December and (minimally) traveling around Holland. I’ll be hearing Pedro Gadho, Curator of Architecture at MoMA speak about his approach to performance architecture and researching Your-Space - a multipurpose room made for the Van Abbemuseum to be inhabited by different individuals and groups from Eindhoven and beyond. The room was designed with a soft, springy floor, since the architects believe that instability breeds doubt, which leads to questioning and more productive conversations…. So what was the effect – did it open up a more fluid space in the museum? I’ll be talking to different users of Your-Space and attempting to build a picture of the project, which eventually burst the museum’s walls and spilled out into the city itself.