Last week Liberate Tate presented their latest performance All Rise at Tate Modern. Each day three performers entered the galleries to whisper the official transcript of the current BP trial that is taking place in New Orleans, for the company’s 2010 Gulf of Mexico catastrophe. The performers livestreamed themselves using cameras attached to their bodies for the hour-long durational piece, which viewers can watch on the All Rise website here.
When listened together the whispers of the performers creates a cacophony of courtroom language and cross examination questions to BP staff. Liberate Tate suggest viewers play all three videos at the same time to bring out the dialogue between the texts, accompanied by unexpected visual interplay as the performers move around different parts of the gallery. Here, one performer beautifully describes how being part of All Rise made her feel:
‘Earplugs muffled the surrounding noise, so that all I could hear was a clear expressionless voice reading a transcript of part of the trial. With my focus intent on the lens of the camera phone fixed a few centimetres in front of me, my visual field was limited, with only the most striking items beyond the narrow field catching my attention. The straps attaching the pole with the camera to my body were snugly tight, slightly restricting my breathing. I felt isolated, cut off, separated from the world. The film gives a good impression of how I felt – as though I was travelling through the gallery encased in a bubble separating me from everyone and everything. It was disconcerting – paintings, sculptures, installations which illustrate and embody connection to the world seemed to pass by me without my being able to connect with them in the way that I’m used to doing. And I felt strangely claustrophobic, stuck inside my head, focusing on the voice intoning into my ears, on repeating the words without processing their meaning, and on staring into the spyhole directly ahead of me.
What relief I felt at stepping out afterwards into the sunshine, feeling the air on my skin, connecting with others through conversation, looking around at the brilliant varieties of colours and shapes and people…
And it struck me that this sense of being cut off and the feeling of claustrophobia in the performance echoed the claustrophobia and isolation of a courtroom, especially one where a long trial is in process, with no windows looking out. Where the proceedings, delivered in often archaic and certainly formulaic language, and usually with sombre lack of inflection and minimal emotion, can begin to seem unconnected to the real world – the place, the context for the incident under examination. And a long legal process can also give rise to a feeling of claustrophobia in the way that you don’t know when it will end, or whether it’s even going to result in justice.
Performing in All Rise was a strangely disembodied experience. Just as the dry legal process is a long way from the reality of toxic seawater, dolphins struggling to breathe, people’s livelihoods ruined and communities left stranded, a corner of the earth and a wide stretch of ocean poisoned. It was a lesson, reminding me that what matters is matter, the breathing, heaving world that my body connects me to. Every piece of work in the Tate is about how what’s inside each of us connects with what’s outside, and how that connection comes about – through our skin, our eyes, our ears, our senses. When we forget to keep that connection alive, disasters happen, injustice becomes possible. In bringing that disembodied voice of law to the place where connection is celebrated, we make it matter.’
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