A Sense of Perspective

Tate Liverpool

Until 5th June 2001

A Sense of Perspective is an exhibition of works from Tate’s collection, curated by the member’s of Young Tate, the gallery’s engagement programme for 16 – 25 year olds. The exhibition is part of a wider partnership, Youth Art Interchange Phase II, with other galleries around Europe.

Programmes such as Young Tate are increasingly common in institutions up and down the UK, with participants frequently adding contextual ‘add ons’ and interpretation to core exhibitions. Here, Tate Liverpool takes things a step further with an exhibition in its ground floor gallery curated entirely by Young Tate. Everything from the theme to the layout and the public events has been programmed by them, albeit guided by Tate staff and the criteria for the project’s European funding (Which was, as you might expect, ‘European citizenship, identity and cultural democracy’).

Through a series of workshops and debates the young people at each of the four participating galleries, in Liverpool, London, Paris and Helsinki, came up with a unifying theme, A Sense of Perspective, with each group then free to interpret this in there own way. Young Tate decided on three sub-themes of ‘between generations’, ‘between cultures’ and ‘between spaces’ and to use the Tate collection to explore the complex and shifting nature of contemporary identity.

Young Tate state they chose the works that inspired the most discussion amongst them, with their ideas often distinct from the artists’ own stated intentions. They have selected both British and international artists and included several new acquisitions. Photography, video art, contemporary sculpture and mixed media works dominate, reflecting perhaps the most relevant fine art mediums for this age group, or simply the most relevant mediums for their ‘in between’ theme.

The exhibition is well laid out, with pieces working successfully next to each other despite the variety of artists and mediums. Stand outs include Mother Tongue (2002) a video work by Zineb Sedira. In it, Sedira speaks in French to her mother, who answers in Arabic, and to her daughter, who answers in English, reflecting starkly the inevitable evolution of culture between generations, exacerbated by globalisation and the speeding up of technology.

Meanwhile, Sarah Jones’s constructed reality images of teenage girls seemingly stuck in suburban middle-class mediocrity, Sitting Room (Francis Place) III (1997) and The Dining Room (Francis Place) I (1997) quietly notate the angsty experiences of millions of the young and artistic, while apparently ‘provoking considerable discussion within the group, raising issues of gender, class, age and entrapment.’ Adjacent, two shots by Wolfgang Tilmans of contemporary ambiguous sexuality The Cock (kiss) (2002) and Lutz and Alex sitting in the trees (1992), chosen as a companion to Jones’s images show instead young people confident, unabashed and raw.

A less well known gem is Martin Boyle’s Gate (We don’t meet here. We are always together first) (2004) fabricated from the type of cheap mesh and steel tube that guides the paths of millions of young people around schools, youth clubs etc. The artist’s own view is of the object as a direct physical link, an ‘aide-mémoire’, to youth, a time of increasing freedom yet still framed by adult barriers. Young Tate though see deeper, with the structure as a symbolic gateway between different generations and cultures.

Olafur Eliasson’s Yellow versus Purple (2003) features interchanging circles of yellow and blue light, slowly merging to form a purple sphere. This was interpreted by Young Tate as symbolising the pointlessness of attempting to view the world in binary extremes; left versus right, good versus evil, black versus white, when so much is indeed, two sides of the same coin. The work is both beautifully simple and visually striking.

Although a catalogue provides more detail on the project, there is a frustrating lack of contextual information in the exhibition itself about how it was brought together. Young Tate may have wanted their selections to speak for themselves, but as the curatorial process was just as much a part of the reasoning behind this exhibition, surely this is an oversight?

The participants of Young Tate have been given a golden opportunity, to curate a show at one of the country’s largest galleries, and in short, they have delivered. Not all of the works here are outstanding, but crucially they work in context of both the theme and the gallery space itself. There are some obvious choices, but there have also been some obscure works chosen that really resonate, the sign of a good curator if ever there was one.

Are such shows then perhaps the future of museum education? Young people taken on as by-proxy apprentices? It may offer a solution to the spiralling cost of art education, though if always thrown in at the deep end, will participants ever be able to explore wider ideas beyond the practical delivery of an exhibition?

The cards featuring the personal responses of the Young Tate members are perhaps the most interesting aspect of the show, veering as they do between talking from the heart and typical ArtSpeak. The key test of such programmes will be if the members of Young Tate will be able to learn such terminologies so they can forget them. If they can retain the originality they show in how they have created this show within Tate’s systems and not be entirely absorbed and overwhelmed by the current dominant trends and ideas of cultural institutions, instead taking what they have learned and staking there own path.

This exhibition works on its own an interesting thematic interpretation of the Tate collection, but it’s worth seeing even more if you want to see something of the future of arts engagement and curating and a younger perspective on contemporary art and culture.

 This review appeared in Aesthetica magazine in April 2011