Exhibition Guide

Emily Speed: Flatland

Find out more about our exhibition at Tate Liverpool and listen to the audio description of the film

Emily Speed Flatland 2021, photography by Emma Dalesman

Emily Speed Flatland 2021, photography by Emma Dalesman

Emily Speed’s practice considers how people are shaped by the buildings they have occupied and how they occupy their own psychological space. Flatland is centred around a new film installation, which uses set design, choreography, and costume to depict flattened hierarchies within a close-knit community of women. This is accompanied by a second film that focuses on a single performer, signing a text written by author Eley Williams in British Sign Language.

The new work is inspired by Edwin Abbott’s 1884 novella, Flatland, where all existence is limited to two dimensions. In this society men may have any number of sides depending on their status. Women, on the other hand, are thin, straight lines who are at the bottom of the hierarchy. As their pointed ends are considered to be dangerous, they are restricted to separate entrances and must paint one end of their line-body orange as well as swaying continuously to alert others to their presence. A satire of Victorian society and the role of women within it, the book poses provocative questions about perception, reality and metaphysics and has influenced and inspired artists and scientists alike.

Echoing Abbott’s novella, the performers in Speed’s film begin line-like and rigid before working together and unfolding to create more colourful, layered and complex shapes through increasingly vibrant movement. This evolution is also realised through costume. The performers wear functional housework garments, such as aprons and tabards that contain hidden elements relating to the set design.

Audio description

The work can be understood through a mixture of audio and visual components. These include text and on-screen visuals alongside British Sign Language interpretation.

Listen to an audio described version of the main film below.


Listen to Alice Gilmour read an accompanying text to Flatland, written by Eley Williams.

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