Hidden figures and black squares at Tate Modern

On Thursday a New Orleans judge found BP guilty of gross negligence over their Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Although the trial also involved contractors Halliburton and Transocean, US District Judge Carl Barbier singled out BP for their “recklessness” and he placed most of the blame on them.

In London, art activists ‘Liberate Tate’ have long campaigned against Tate Modern’s association with BP, and this weekend saw their latest bold action in the Turbine Hall of the museum.

Later this month, Tate Modern faces a court appearance themselves in front of the Information Commissioner over their refusal to disclose how much money they actually receive from BP. The Tate Modern governors’ meeting minutes, requested under the Freedom of Information rules by Liberate Tate, were heavily redacted with black squares.

Ironic then that a black square is on display at the gallery as part of their Malevich exhibition.

Playing with the interconnected themes, yesterday’s art activism began at 1pm with a huge 8 x 8 metre black square of cloth pulled out from a conveniently placed child’s pram.

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Black clad performers then raised the cloth, and over the course of the next couple of hours, continually played with it, often lowering it on teams of choreographed people to create various shapes.

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The installation attracted much public interest, and spontaneous choreography was encouraged. It was also a magnet for children who enjoyed the spectacle and immersed themselves in the tactile darkness under the material.

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There were no fliers and no chants – this was a subtle and arty protest only explained by a small information board in the style of Tate Modern info plaques, that offered up the piece as “Hidden Figures (2014)” and neatly explained how the museum tries to hide its figures re sponsorship (currently believed to be around just half a per cent of the gallery’s budget). While much of the public may have thought the piece was a commissioned work, I am sure the symbolism and press coverage will come over loud and clear to the gallery’s governors.

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Towards the end of the performance, the artists (and public) layed down in a square under the cloth, and then it was removed and dragged up the slope, leaving a square of silent bodies who arose one by one and quietly left.

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‘Liberate Tate’ believe it is time for Tate Modern to disassociate itself from the criminally negligent polluters, BP.

Remember 11 innocent workers met their death in the Gulf.

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