Performing for the Camera at Tate Modern will examine the relationship between photography and performance, from the invention of photography in the 19th century to the selfie culture of today. Bringing together over 500 images spanning 150 years, the exhibition will engage with the serious business of art and performance, as well as the humour and improvisation of posing for the camera. Performing for the Camera is one of many exhibitions across institutions in London and nationwide, including The British Museum, the V&A and The National Gallery at which owners of a National Art Pass from the Art Fund can enjoy 50% off major exhibitions, plus free entry to hundreds of museums, galleries and historic places across the UK. Funds raised through the pass allow the Art Fund to help museums and galleries buy important works of art for everyone to enjoy. We speak to Fiontán Moran, Assistant Curator at Tate Modern, about the exhibition.
A: What initially inspired you to put together the exhibition?
FM: Performance has always been an important part of Tate Modern’s identity, therefore in exhibitions and displays we often attempt to represent some of the histories associated with the subject – the 2012 exhibition A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance being one example. Performing for the Camera began by thinking about performance art, a live form that is often known through documentation, and how it relates to photography, which has a long and varied history with the subject. The exhibition stages these two concerns, first by considering key performance art works from the 1960s and 1970s in relation to the photographers who were present, and then by examining how photography has been specifically used by artists to create performances that existed solely for the camera.
A: Do you feel that there are any unifying themes beyond that of performance in the diverse artworks on show?
FM: Collaboration and the relationship between subject and photographer recur in many works across the exhibition – from the 19th century photographs taken by the Nadar photo studio in Paris of performers such as Charles Deburau and Sarah Bernhardt, to Claudia Schiffer creating ‘one minute sculptures’ for Erwin Wurm. Other pieces reference the use of photography in everyday life such as the holiday snapshot, the family portrait and the recent ‘selfie’. By co-opting these familiar tropes the artists are highlighting photography’s role in creating and reinforcing many performative social conventions.
A: Identity and self-image seem to be key aspects of the exhibition, how does performative photography expand upon more familiar self-portraiture in the medium?
FM: There has always been an element of performance in the convention of the self-portrait, which can be seen throughout the history of art in works by Albrecht Dürer and Frida Kahlo. However as photography is considered to be a ‘truthful’ record of reality, this has provided artists with a wider means of playing with these conventions. Some take on new identities altogether, as in the work of Cindy Sherman who transformed herself into characters within fictive b-movie scenarios, while others, such as Andy Warhol, actively challenged the traditional representation of the artist by embracing the mass media and cultivating a distinctive look that would later be used to sell products including sunglasses and computers.
A: Do you feel that social media provides a platform for a new direction in self-exploratory photography?
FM: Social media and the ubiquity of camera phones have created a new means through which artists can express their ideas to a wider audience without the filter of a gallery or critic. Both photography and performance can now be experienced instantly and from the comfort of your own home, which creates new and exciting questions for a museum about the relationships between artist/artwork, and the viewer.
Performing for the Camera, 18 February – 12 June, Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG; www.tate.org.uk.
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1. János Kender Harry Shunk, Yves Klein’s ‘Saut dans le Vide’, Fontenay-aux-Roses, France, 1960. 360 x 280 mm. Photograph: Shunk-Kender. © J. Paul Getty Trust. All rights reserved.