The Tanks: Art in Action at the Tate Modern

I’m not saying every museum has to have a space of this kind, but when art from across the globe is pushing up against the boundaries, Tate must respond.

– Nicholas Serota, Curator Tate Modern

The Tanks at the Tate Modern is a spatial extension designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron to house a new form of art experience. These “raw, unmodernised spaces could radically alter the way people experience art,” explains Tate director Nicholas Serota. The three hollowed-out pits that constitute The Tanks adjoin the Turbine Hall at the back of the Tate Modern power station, which rises formidably from the banks of the Thames. The Tanks themselves are three sealed interlocking rotund caves into which no natural light enters. They immediately summon a certain “theatricality and scale” far beyond the tautology of modernist architecture, which lives in its geometric lines and imposing flattened shapes (think of the grey blocks of the National Theatre just up the river). In opposition, The Tanks are underground and cylindrical, making them somehow inward looking and reflexive. Serota notes that “they immediately seemed to have potential as performance and installation venues,” their topography and darkness suit a programme that includes participation, performance, video, projection and light-play.

The Tanks cannot rely on an archive and preservation in the same way that a traditional museum would, the fact that it is a temporary space confirms this. So Stuart Comer, Film Curator at the Tate Modern, poses the question “can an audience be an archive?” He goes on to explain: “Because we’re now in a moment dominated by social media, the experiences [the audience] will be having will immediately be recorded and disseminated in a manner that is unprecedented historically.” On 24th August artist Tracey Moberly will conduct a piece called Tweet Me Up! in which she will use social media to invite audiences to create an evolving digital exhibition of photography art and action. Moberly’s artwork will be shaped and recorded by the people encountering it. This is just one example of innovative art making; the entire programme has been expertly curated fusing contemporary art making with a celebration of the a rich history of performance and film art, that has traditionally been ignored by the art history establishment.

According to Serota, the Tanks are a way of responding to “the changing practice of artists, many of whom are more engaged in performative forms of art than they were ten or fifteen years ago”. The way audiences engage with art has also changed, especially since social relations were so dramatically transformed by the cultural revolution of the 1960s and the technological revolutions of more recent years. Participation and immersion are the new buzzwords, and what results is a conglomeration – a dialogue in which both artists and audiences shape a new model of relation: “the museum becomes a social space”, says Serota. So the Tate seems to be reacting to, as well as providing a space for both artists and audiences to express non conventional forms of art creation and experience.


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