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Platform, Liberate Tate and Art Not Oil: Tate à Tate

Ansuman Biswas, Isa Suarez, Mae Martin, Mark McGowan, Phil England and Jim Welton, 2012; 47mins (Tate Britain), 20mins (Tate Boat) and 43mins (Tate Modern) downloadable from:www.tateatate.org

ImageThese alternative audio tours are fun and innovative, interventionist sound artworks dealing with oil companies and their sponsorship of the arts. (In December, four of the UK’s biggest cultural organisations – the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Opera House and the Tate galleries – renewed sponsorship deals with BP worth £10m.)

The three audio tours are for Tate Britain and Tate Modern (in London), and the Tate Boat that runs between them.

I downloaded ‘Drilling the Dirt (“a temporary difficulty”)’, the audio guide for Tate Modern – an insightful and thought-provoking introduction to BP’s history, its record of causing devastation around the world, and how it has used sponsorship and marketing to create a responsible corporate image for itself.

The soundtrack – playable on an ordinary MP3 player – directed me to six different art pieces in the permanent collection, starting on the second floor. Together with some funny instructions (‘If you still can’t find the piece you are looking for, ask a gallery assistant to give you a very hard slap’) these make the piece highly accessible. No background in activism or academia is needed.

The use of the artist Joseph Beuys’ work – highlighting his exploration of materials and alternative energy sources and his interest in the German Green party – provides a good example of how the works are used in parallel with the soundtrack.

The piece concludes with the portrait artist Raoul Martinez speaking about the relationship between the artwork on show at Tate and its role as ‘post-propaganda’: ‘The acquiescence of an artist with corporate interests is a far more significant statement than anything that might be conveyed by their art. Our world is our biggest canvas, and our choices our most important brush strokes.’

A good part of the accompanying website is devoted to ‘workshops and actions’ (eg emailing the Tate’s director: nicolas.serota@tate.org.uk).

All in all, an engaging and educating experience which encouraged me to become active in the debate around BP.