Tate Britain Course

Body Talks: Thinking art through the body Led by Vikki Chalklin

Rose Finn-Kelcey, ‘The Restless Image: a discrepancy between the felt position and the seen position’ 1975
Rose Finn-Kelcey, The Restless Image: a discrepancy between the felt position and the seen position 1975. Tate. © Estate of Rose Finn-Kelcey

What makes you love or hate a work of art? This six-week course will consider visual art through ideas around the body, embodiment and the senses. Focusing on the role of the body in art, we will draw on references from contemporary theory and popular culture, engage with feminist, queer and postcolonial theory and the emerging field of Body Studies. Addressing questions of identity and representation, power, agency, feeling and emotion, this course will empower you to dig deeper into your initial response to a work of art – be it disgust, desire or disinterest. With special after-hours access to The EY Exhibition: Late Turner – Painting Set Free and Tate Britain’s collection, we will explore artists such as J.M.W. Turner, Phyllida Barlow, Rose Finn-Kelcey and David Hockney. The body of the artist and the spectator will be brought to the forefront, allowing new and unusual connections with art to be made.

Vikki Chalklin is a performer, activist and scholar working at the intersection of body theory, cultural studies and performance studies. Her PhD was jointly award from the departments of Media and Communications and Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London in 2012, where she continues to teach. It focused on London’s queer performance club scene, with particular reference to performances of queer femininity. New projects currently in development examine fat activism and performance, the relationship between queer and feminist pornography and histories of performance and body art, and the resistant possibilities of contemporary dance practice.

Week 1 – The Body in Art

In this introductory session we will discuss the various ways the human body has been portrayed throughout art history. How have questions of representation, identity, aesthetics, and beauty been applied to depictions of the human form?

Week 2 – The Artist’s Body

When does the body (and identity) of an artist step into the frame of their work, and when is it absent? We will consider forms such as the self-portrait, performance, and photography, but also other mediums where the body of the artist comes to bear on the work in unusual or unexpected ways.

Week 3 – Other Bodies

Developing the themes from weeks 1 and 2, this session examines how and why certain bodies are more visible, or more often implicated, than others. We will interrogate why certain types of bodies (those that are somehow considered unconventional, exotic, or ‘Other’) are either absent or made hyper-visible.

Week 4 – Embodying Excess

At this mid-way point we pay attention to embodiment - how we experience the world in and through our own bodies and interaction with others. Turning away from the body as object, to locate it as subject, we will get in touch with the fleshy, materiality of our experience, and consider how our engagement with art always comes from a place of embodiment. How do we harness the visceral to enable new modes of engagement and appreciation?

Week 5 – Seeing Differently

We live in an undeniably ocular-centric culture; how might art be appreciated beyond the visual paradigm? Building on week 4, this session will focus on the possibilities of the senses so often marginalised in art practice, criticism, and appreciation - to consider what can emerge from a multi-sensory engagement with art works.

Week 6 – Touching Feeling

This final session focuses on the realm of feeling and emotion. What does it mean to be moved by an artwork? What can come out of that movement? The majority of us enjoy art because of the way it makes us feel. And yet, the felt dimension is often absent from art criticism and writing. In this session we will explore what value and wisdom our emotional responses to art - from joy and excitement to anger, despair, boredom and frustration - can contribute to our experience.

Tate Britain

London SW1P 4RG
Plan your visit


10 October – 14 November 2014 at 18.45–20.45