#4: Learning in Public

The starting point for my research in Tate Britain was Drawing for Free Thinking a wall mural around the Manton staircase. The work by David Tremlett explores the floor plans and architectural features of Tate Britain through abstraction, and was of particular interest to me as it was made by the artist and a group of assistants by massaging pastel crayon directly onto walls with the palms of their hands. Physical and material thinking – albeit confined within and to the geometries and formal lines of the building and architectural plans. Over the course of the day, I kept mistaking the title of the work as Diagram for Free Thinking. This appeared significant in that a diagram is the externalisation or making public of a thinking process, and seemed to be what was at stake for me in this day of research at Tate Britain.

The body does not always easily fit into geometric or chronologic shapes and ideas, but these can often be the things that inform and shape both movement and thinking. As navigation of the building was well defined and controlled, I sought alternative trajectories and less valued methods and agents towards freeing up my thinking. It was difficult to find spaces not specifically designated as public. Source materials to hand included overlooked spaces and details: corridors, storage rooms, a corner of a wall and the lip of a stair.

In line with my current research into listening as a practice and mode of performance, I decided to use ‘listening’ as a method. I followed a high pitched sound coming from the Turner Wing, and left the building and walked its perimeter. Returning inside, I visited Susan Philipsz’ installation War Damaged Musical Instruments in the Duveen Galleries. Although the sound installation permeated most of the building, I sourced materials to listen to in a more multi-modal way. Making physical contact with and also using my voice to explore imperfect architectural details – damaged surfaces, wall stains, broken skirting corners and cracks, I ‘listened to’ and followed these features as an attempt to experiment with an embodied thinking through the building. This was productive and related back to my current practice and recent work, but my unusual activities attracted attention from others also present in the building. My visible, and audible, research in the context of a sound installation within an art institution became recognisable as performance and gallery visitors became an audience.

I decided to try another a method, less recognisable as performance and one which might promote a more intimate proximity and relationship not only to the building, but to the activities of others using the building. Earlier that morning in passing, a friend had reminded me of Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies. This work consists of a set of cards in which each card offers an aphorism intended to encourage lateral thinking. By way of coincidence, Andrew, over lunch, mentioned a website that listed daily oblique strategies. The strategy for today was “breathe more deeply”. This instruction connected back to a conversation that we had about a ten day silent meditation retreat that I had been on and to my research in and with groups. Over lunch we also discussed institutions such as Tate as public spaces for self-improvement. This was interesting to me in that as opposed to structured and formal learning, informal learning, attracting labels such as self-improvement or leisure, tends to imply a lack of seriousness, and is by implication often less valued. I decided to use my meditation practice, a practice commonly labeled as self-improvement and one not normally associated with thinking, to experiment with learning in public.

Not about breathing deeply, meditation involves breathing differently, paying attention to automatic and habitually unattended to processes. Practicing meditation publicly in an art institution, my intention was to sit and meditate not just with art works, but also with groups of people.

I installed myself as a type of live or performing sculpture in various rooms. I experimented with various positions and postures for mediation: for example, sitting on the floor next to a sculpture, standing in front of a painting, while also making bodily contact with a wall, a floor, or a corner. I experimented with opening and closing my eyes and how doing so might affect my practice. I paid particular attention to listening to the sounds around an artwork: for example, how the work responded to sounds refracting off its surfaces, or how my own internal dialogue affected both the art work and my breathing.

As a different strategy, I joined groups of people gathering in different configurations throughout the building. Some were groups of strangers sitting silently on couches in galleries and foyers, some contemplating works, others seemingly waiting. When someone spoke, I tried to follow the speed of their words and thoughts. The couches also had their own speeds, at times there was a restless influx of people and at other times the rate was singularly slower. The things that shape our thinking and the shape of our thinking.

#4: Dancing in Tate Britain

As a reaction to the rigid structure of the building, the subdued watching habits of the public and the tendency to expand my empire I decided to dance! We talked about the possibility to dance on the present sound, but in that way it rather seemed a performance than an intervention. For me the most interesting aspect was to create a parallel way of looking to the artworks.

I listened to music of the following artists: Andrew Bird, Madonna, The Gossip and LMFAO.

By wearing earplugs, I isolated myself from others and created a different space. I noticed this especially in the connection to the paintings. The figures were stripped from their importance, no kings, queens, counts and godesses no more. They became people to flirt with, to give comments on their (lack of) clothing, and to small talk with. They’d probably liked this different approach, at least I did.

The more contemporary pieces on the other hand gave me more space to dance. Their abstract features made it less narrative, so I started dancing exuberantly. PARTY!

Also the presence or lack of people had their share in my way of dancing. I noticed some people laughing at me or even filming my dancemoves. It felt a bit uncomfortable, but I decided to neglect them. It felt good nót to be unnoticed, but I decided that this shouldn’t influence my concentration. At one point, two young people started to kiss, at that moment I really felt the presence of a parallel party.

So I danced and danced and danced and danced.

Video:© FvL

#4: The Coherence of Things


1960. A room full of Henry Moore sculptures.
Some of the sculptures were sitting, some were lying and some where stuck in between. I sat on a small bench and tried to internalise some of these postures. Just like me, my camera on the floor in front of me did not have a clear idea what to focus on.
Later (room 1990 I think it was) I met Andrew. I explained him what I did, showed him some photos. We talked about the relation with the work Pose Work for Plinths of Bruce Mclean. And only a few minutes later exactly that work showed up on a wall in room 1970  .
This strange coincidental appearance proved to be a set up for the afternoon.

I decided to focus on the relation between the artwork, the beholder and the beholder of the beholder of the artwork, in other words: art, visitor and attendant.
The museum is a place of looking.

I searched a work with the quality to look back at me. I found it in room 1990: Tracey Emin’s My Bed, provocatively approaching the visitor in blunt exhibitionism. I asked the attendant to make a photo of me looking at the artwork. The visitor is not allowed to interfere with the artwork. The attendant is responsible for that. It seems to me that in the same way the attendant is not allowed to interfere with the visitor. And he is watched by CCTV too. I could see the expression of doubt in the face of the man before he took my camera and made the photo.


Some time later I walked into the rooms 1900. In front of John Singer Sargent’s Portrait of Madame Pierre Gautreau a man was trying to internalise the posture of Mme Gautreau. I asked him what he was doing and he explained that he was preparing a lecture about this particular portrait. He was studying to understand the (in those years provocative) quality of the posture. I offered to help him by making some photo’s.

Later I showed these photos to Lisa and she was surprised and explained to me that when she was younger, she was told that she resembled the lady on this specific painting. So I made some photos of her in front of the painting.


When I finished I turned around and a man spoke to me. To my surprise he asked me to make a photo of him while he was looking at the artwork in front of him. He handed me his camera. Of course I agreed and in return I asked him to make a photo of me, looking at the same artwork. Distracted by the apparent coherence of things I forgot what artwork I was actually looking at.

Photo’s: © FvL

#4: Chronology and the Older Artist

I suggested Tate Britain to Frans van Lent as a site for the Parallel Show for a number of reasons: scale – of building, spaces, audiences; range – of work, of approaches, of audiences; and because it specialises in British art, some of which is well known internationally, some of which is not. And because I have known Tate Britain for forty years. As ‘The Tate’, Britain’s principal gallery of modern and contemporary art, and then as the more specialised (and less definite but more assertive) ‘Tate’.

As a schoolboy it informed, extended and, to an extent, fixed my knowledge of modern and contemporary art. As an art student at Goldsmiths’ during the 1980s it was forty minutes’ walk or five minutes’ bus ride from the Millard Building between Camberwell and the Oval, where Goldsmiths’ Fine Art Department was sited throughout most of the 1970s and 1980s and I was a weekly or twice weekly visitor. I used to walk there every Sunday to call my parents as it was a place where public ‘phones were guaranteed to be functional. I learnt of the death of Joseph Beuys whilst in the gallery, as a I watched a curator walk across the centre of the Sackler Octagon and place flowers and a notice beside two of Beuys’s vitrines installed there. I have taken part in an occupation of the building to protest cuts in art education during the 1980s. I have been snogged by Damien Hirst at a Turner Prize opening, on almost the same site as Beuys’ flowers were placed. I was taken into the basement during Richard Serra’s ‘Weight and Measure’ installation and watched the massive spot-loadings shifting wildly and scarily on digital meters attached to acrow props. It is perhaps the art space I have the longest and most consistent familiarity with in the world and is a significant part of my personal history.

Chronology and the Older Artist
The current configuration at Tate Britain thematises chronology, not always comfortably. Dates are inscribed into the building itself, a chronological index.  We navigated and rendezvoused using chronological markers rather than cartographic ones. (“Where are you?”  “We’re in the 1960s!”).

This emphasis on chronology, on an awareness of time, of time passing, of one’s location within time, of personal time, was a prevailing consideration in approaching working in this context within the Parallel Show. I made two works:

1: ‘Phone Home
I re-enacted my weekly ‘phone call home of thirty years ago, usually on a Sunday, coincidentally the same day as the Parallel show. I found the site of the old public telephone acoustibooths, which was not easy as there has been significant re-configuration of stairways. I called my parents’ telephone number from the period I was a student. I had researched whether the number still existed, and had found that it is currently assigned to a child-minder living a few hundred metres from my old family home in South Queensferry, near Edinburgh. I was unclear as to how I should conduct the conversation if someone answered, whether to be clear about my actions, or to claim I’d dialled incorrectly. I even considered how to speak; whether to adopt my stronger native accent or use the less pronounced accent which has evolved over thirty-five years living way from home. I decided to wait and see what happened. In the end my anxieties and uncertainties were insignificant as there was no signal to my iPhone so my call failed. I was relieved. It was the act of calling that seemed important, and not the answer. Both my parents are long dead and my connection to the town and its signifiers such as dialing codes is broken. The ‘Call Failed’ message underlined an already understood condition.

© AM

2: In The Shadow of your Smile Bruce
Chronology is an issue in the installation of Bruce McLean’s film In the Shadow of your Smile Bob (1970).
McLean is a younger artist gently mocking an older artist (Malou van Dormaal mocked gently Frans and I as older artists in our conversations). McLean is an artist a generation or more older than me, and was of great interest to me as student, especially his more irreverent works – Pose Work for Plinths, the Nice Style pose band project, and In the Shadow of your Smile Bob.

McLean is young, highly confident and amusing in the film. At 52, I am both older and younger than McLean (now 71) and Morris (now 84): relative to McLean’s film, I am 12 years older than the older Robert Morris and I am twice the age of the Bruce Mclean captured in 1970, but the young McLean maintains paradoxically the role of senior artist through historical contextualising. I used my shadow on the projection to participate in the film, endeavouring to stay under McLean’s mouth: In the Shadow of your Smile Bruce.

© AM

Note: I used the camera as a prop, to legitimate my actions to other observers. It provided a ‘reason’ for what could be considered mildly transgressive behaviour. The increase in darkened video installations has engendered a new set of informal protocols in the practices of looking at art. A presiding condition in the reception of art is that of the active viewer, moving in space relative to the work.

I have been ‘tutted’ and chastised for using my iPhone torch to navigate through the pitch black interiors of video installations in galleries and biennials. Art theorist and critic Charlotte Klonk is usefully critical of much of the practices used in the installation of the newer media and in the way that excluding light from many if these installations diminishes dialogue with other works:

“…I think the museum is a uniquely privileged place, at least in the Western world, for the exploration of issues relating to human social interaction, all the more so, because of the size and variety of its constituency. But film, video and DVD projections, at least in the way they are shown at present, do not contribute to this. Instead, the way they are installed continues to reaffirm the idea of the museum as a space apart, a space of private contemplation. “ (Klonk, C. (2009) Spaces of Experience: Art Gallery Interiors from 1800 to 2000, New Haven and London,Yale University Press. p223)

I would be interested in the history of the presentation of McLean’s work. I cannot imagine it was intended originally to be seen in the manner it is now presented.

Additional activity:
I handed out several of Malou van Dormal’s Dutch Heritage stickers, whilst avoiding being creepy. I avoided single young men, single young women, groups of young men, groups of young women, mixed groups of young men and women, single women and single men, family groups and anyone who looked as if they might not act upon Malou’s instructions. So I gave them only to arty looking couples.

Unrealised works:
1: I did not encounter anyone I knew
2: I missed the moment the lights were turned on in the (mostly unlit) Henry Moore room

The notion of self-improvement, a factor in Tate’s conception, still pervades the galleries. I wanted to work with this, but was unable to within the time we had. Perhaps I improved myself without my knowing. Time will tell.

I think I saw a well known actor, but I’m not sure, so won’t say who.

Photo’s: © AM

#4: British Dutch heritage

The night before we visited the museum I read a small booklet about the Artist & Empire exhibition. It seemed a bit odd to first read the text and see the show afterwards, but it triggered my curiosity. By accident, or maybe it’s faith, I brought some replicas of the Dutch national heritage sign. I’m already working on this project for two years now, by giving these stickers to people I meet. It gives them the opportunity to create an alternative, personal monument.

The official definition of this heritage is: “All man made objects which are of common interest because of their aesthetics, their scientific significance or their historical value.” Most of the time buildings or townscapes are selected, but this can also mean something else.


Visiting the Artist & Empire show, I noticed the British pride of their colonisation, the additional propaganda, the Christian missionaries, the contemporary mockery and the paradoxical worship of earlier figures. I remarked these themes attracted me more than the permanent collection, so decided to do something with it.

The main reason for this intervention was a painting from a scene where queen Elisabeth gave the Holy Bible to a black figure. This man, pictured in a humble pose, received this gift very grateful. I saw a parallel with the Dutch heritage replicas. This innocent sign is always given as a friendly gesture, while it’s actually a process of distribution and appropriation. By doing this in England, it would mean the Dutch empire was expanding.

TelephoneBox,Whitehall,London SW1_1

This was when the task of making new friends started. I couldn’t give them randomly to visitors, so I looked for excuses to start a conversation. Most of the time this involved the English language (what does this word mean / what is the correct translation?). At the end of the conversation I started about the sign. Only there’s a few times I realised it in the second instance that I could give these stickers, so I had to make second contact. This worked better than giving it in the first encounter, because we already created some understanding.

I also asked Andrew, Frans and Lisa to hand out some stickers, so they’d become missionaries too. Even after the festival this work was persecuted. We gave it to the restaurantowner where we had supper and on the moment we left the house where we slept, I gave it to our hosts as a thank you gift.


Photo’s: © AM, FvL

#4: Tate Britain (general report)

On Sunday 17 January 2016, at 10.00 AM we met at the entrance of the museum, Lisa, Malou, Andrew and myself. After a mutual introduction, some of us did not meet before, we went up the stairs to the members club. We had a coffee and discussed the basic conditions: the concept of theparallelshow, the open expectations and the absence of rules. We agreed to meet again at the same place at 12.30 for lunch and individually left to visit the exhibitions.

The installation of Susan Philipsz: War Damaged Musical Instruments in the Duveen galleries, dominated every other exhibition in the museum. The sounds could be heard everywhere.

Andrew in the Duveen Galleries

We all started our explorations in this main hall. After that everyone focussed on the exhibitions that personally seemed to be the most appealing, so we all had very different experiences.

During lunch in the Members Room we discussed possibilities and plans. We talked about a possible groupwork in the installation of Susan Philipsz but nothing practical came out of that. The military aura of the work was just too big, too overwhelming. So we decided to follow our personal preferences. Before we left Malou handed us some of her stickers of the Dutch National Heritage Sign, to give away when possible.

We spread over various exhibitions and followed our impulses.
Dates are inscribed into the building itself, a chronological index.  We navigated and rendezvoused using chronological markers rather than cartographic ones. (Andrew).
We communicated by texting the years of the locations: I am in 1900, are you still in 1960?.

Around 17.00 we gathered in the basement cafe for a last beer and a concluding conversation.
At closingtime we left the building.

photo’s: © FvL