Last week saw art-interventionists Liberate Tate carry out a week long performance in Tate Modern, with three different performers whispering excerpts from the BP trial transcripts for an hour every day. Using specially constructed frames to hold a mobile phone, the performers filmed themselves and live-streamed their delivery so that people from all over the world could watch the performance take place.
Last summer, Tate Modern opened up its old oil tanks, or just “tanks” as they call them, any reflection of their history seems to get lost in rather abstracted talk of the beauty of the “space”. This new area is supposed to let them show performance art, which is apparently really hard to present in a museum. I think Liberate Tate are giving them a lesson not just in ways to present performance art, but do so in a way which reflects the history of the place, inviting critical debate about the worlds we’ve built for ourselves and the sorts of futures we might want to make.
The blog We Make Money Not Art interviewed a member of Liberate Tate, who said:
The Gift was probably our most confrontational performance to date. It was certainly the largest! Over a hundred people and a 16.5 metre wind turbine blade…It feels good to go in absolutely the other direction with All Rise, and make a work that is quiet, small, unobtrusive. All Rise is really about the ripples a performance can make… Visitors notice us and ask questions as performers pass them in the gallery, or stop and listen to the legalistic text of the trial whispered by the performers.. and unlike The Gift, we’re able to bring our questions back to the terrible harm still being felt since the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster, at the same time as inviting Tate visitors, members and staff into a conversation with us.
In the Critical Legal Thinking blog, Sarah Keenan wrote:
By performing the New Orleans trial inside London’s Tate Modern, Liberate Tate creates a week-long audio-visual, dramatic lived connection between the two cities that echoes the environmental, political and economic connection that runs between them. In a geopolitical relationship with clear colonial resonances, BP can make a mess over there and Tate will clean it up back home.
As Dr Keenan points out in her piece, what is striking in listening to the transcripts of the courtroom is the absence of the voices of those who have been most impacted – this is very much a jargonistic conversation between legal and corporate elites. So it was really wonderful that a number of different grassroots groups and NGOs from across the Gulf Coast have signed a statement of support for Liberate Tate’s work and critiquing the sponsorship relationship between Tate and BP – presented her for the first time.
Three years on from the BP’s Gulf of Mexico disaster and our communities are still suffering all manner of mysterious ailments from the oil and the dispersants that were used to “clean-up” the spill, those whose livelihoods are dependent on fishing and tourism are still struggling to make ends meet, and biologists are only just beginning to uncover the full extent of the irreparable damage that has been done to our marine ecosystems.
While BP has been trying in court to prevent compensation payments from being made to those whose lives have been devastated by the spill, its also embarked on a massive publicity campaign to sponsor cultural and sporting events in order to convince the world what a good corporate citizen it is. Sponsorship deals with prestigious arts institutions like Tate contribute and reinforce the power-base of oil companies like BP, which in turn are able to ride roughshod over communities like ours that they have devastated. We’re convinced that the average gallery-goer in the UK would prefer that the Tate found sponsorship that wasn’t directly linked to the devastation of our ecosystems and livelihoods.
Sher Graham, Institute for Sustainability, Education & Development, Inc.
Anne Rolfes, Louisiana Bucket Brigade
Cherri Foytlin, The Mothers Project – Gulf Mothers for Sustainability