Editors for this Issue:
Tate Encounters: The View from 2011
Final Reporting and Access to the Tate Encounters Project and Data
This is the last edition of the online working papers and documents of the AHRC funded research project Tate Encounters: Britishness and Visual Culture which was formally closed in June 2010 with the submission of a final project report to the AHRC. The format of the editions was conceived in 2006 as part of the original AHRC application as a vehicle for the publication and dissemination of fieldwork material and working papers which would allow the research community, museum professionals, policy makers and project participants to engage with the process of the research. Edition 6 continues in the same vein and contains papers and audio interviews together with this extended editorial which provides a synoptic view of the project, its themes and main findings within a consideration of the wider context of cultural and political change in which the project progressed and now reports.
The AHRC is currently producing its own evaluation of the submitted report, of which summary sections are included here, and Professor Kim Knott, the Director of the Diasporas, Migration and Identities programme, has produced an overview report, including Tate Encounters, which can be accessed along with podcast interviews with the three investigators (Dewdney, Dibosa and Walsh) on the AHRC website at http://www.diasporas.ac.uk/podcasts.htm. To maximise the research value of the data gathered Tate Encounters is also in the process of merging its two electronic websites. This will happen by migrating and reintegrating the content of the independent archive website, www.tatenencounters.org to the Research pages of Tate Online: http://www.tate.org.uk/tate-encounters/ .The consolidation of the two sites will provide a single permanent access point for the data assets of the project and will remain active and hopefully continue to generate debate as further papers from related research, including two AHRC collaborative doctorate projects, are added.
In the image/sound/text section of this edition are included five audio interviews which continue the work started in the project's month long Research-in-Process programme which brought together the project team, co-researchers, museum staff, artists and policy-makers in Tate Britain in March 2010. Since that time the investigators have continued to interview a number of people who have been associated in one way or another with cultural diversity policy, the politics of difference or the history and politics of Black British Art. These professional conversations parallel the continued work of the analysis of the Tate Encounters research experience in interesting and useful ways.
Museum Learning: Art Practice, Collaboration and Culture
As one of the key themes of the project, the history and practice of Education/Learning at Tate, two interviews are presented which consider the work undertaken by the Tate Britain Learning department in the Young People's Programme (YPP) and the Cross-cultural programme in the period 2006-2010. In his role as Curator of YPP, Mark Miller's interview with artist Faisal Abdu'Allah discusses in detail the collaborative process with young people that was forged in the production of a major project 'Stolen Sanity' which was conceived in relation to the 2007 bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act and the associated displays at Tate Britain. As the interview charts, the complex nature of this process, with its emphasis on 'collaboration' and the creation of artworks realised to the standards of independent professional art practice, raises questions about how aesthetic, cultural and market value is bestowed on the art object in the museum setting. While such projects have emerged and continue to flourish as projects specifically funded and conceived to increase participation and representation from marginal groups, as Abdu'Allah asserts, ethical questions also arise for the artist as much as for the young people and for the museum regarding issues of attribution and ownership (or even storage) which remain unaddressed in this relatively new field of professional art engagement in museum education work.
Like Faisal Abdu'Allah, artist and theorist Raimi Gbadamosi also worked across different teams in the Tate Britain Learning Department during the period of the project and in his interview with Paul Goodwin he discusses his practice and approach to gallery and museum-based projects within Learning contexts in relation to 'studio-based' work, rejecting the framing of the 'educational' project as a potential stigma to a professional artist's career: “… one shouldn't assume practice is limited to a studio.” For Gbadamosi, as contemporary art witnesses 'the pedagogical turn', there is a significant shift from the conventional practices and expectations of the 'art education project' to that of the independent 'art project' which, as Abdu'Allah also noted, provokes questions about the status and afterlife of the art project/art work commissioned and produced in the museum Learning context.
As both interviews highlight, the museum's status as a collection-based institution presents considerably more tangled issues for the collaborative art project where value is defined by what is collected and what is not. Echoing Donald Preziosi's position (see Edition 5), Gbadamosi also identifies a further problematic for the museum in relation to 'the pedagogical turn' which brings to the fore the extent to which the knowledge-base of an artist's practice lies not in the museum, but rather within culture and social history, which is inextricably underpinned by diversity. Culture and social history, invariably embodied and animated in young people's creative engagement, will always precede the practice of Art history which the museum clings on to as its paradigm of interpretation. It is at this juncture in the museum, where culture meets heritage, that the greatest potential tension arises within learning-based projects, where the fluid meanings of culture meet the institutional, national narratives of heritage.
Post-colonialism, Globalisation and Cultural Practice
This issue also contains three further audio interviews with Paul Goodwin (Curator: Cross-cultural Programmes), Leon Wainwright (art historian) and Yudhishthir Raj Isar (international cultural policy advisor) all of whom discuss changes in thinking about the post-colonial trope through the prism of different aspects of contemporary globalization.
In his interview as Curator: Cross-cultural Programmes in the Tate Britain Learning Department from 2007-2010, Paul Goodwin builds on the discussion of what constitutes knowledge-production in the art museum and reflects on the challenges opened up by contemporary socially-engaged art for the museum; art which embraces new histories and understandings of communities, urbanism and globalisation and by default diminishes the modernist arguments for the aesthetic autonomy of the art object. More specifically, Goodwin reflects on the anomalies presented by the nomenclature of his post which was often mis-termed 'Cross-cultural Curator', conflating issues of personal identity and expertise with the job in hand, and distracting from the objectives of the Cross-cultural programme. These objectives focussed on the need to expand the knowledge-base of the museum in relation to understanding issues of diversity and representation in artist's practice and reception and 'rethinking ideas of blackness in a global world', as consensus evolves around the limits of multiculturalism to deal with questions of a complex, super-diverse society. Through the experience of programming at Tate Britain and working with artists and audiences, both the local community and the international visitor, Goodwin poses the questions 'what version of the global is Tate dealing with?', while acknowledging that the cultural pace of change in society can never be matched in national museums compared to other forms of contemporary cultural space.
In his interview, Leon Wainwright equally reflects on the issues of the relationship between the post-colonial and the global from the perspective of his own academic career in relation to the evolution of Art History as a discipline, which, when he encountered it as a young lecturer in the 1990s, was 'failing its subjects and students'. Actively interested in the history and contemporary practice of Black British Art, Wainwright identifies that while there was a network of critics, curators and gallerists engaged in promoting this, there was a notable vacuum of interest within his own discipline. This led him to contribute to the establishment of the 'Globalising Art, Architecture and Design History' (GLAADH) in 2001 which brought together 47 institutions in a project funded by Higher Education Funding Council for England that would foster and promote teaching within the context of the global and encourage reflection on the relation between multicultural Britain and a globalising world: This 'radical approach to teach art history … was intended to disabuse the discipline of its racism …. [and] ethnicisation of knowledge'. Like Goodwin, Wainwright reflects on the politics of representation and identity, and the conflation of his subject interest with personal identity which often led to the assumption that he was either 'black', or the view that he was 'inauthentic' because he 'wasn't the same colour as the people I was studying.': 'my face didn't fit with the official line of diversity which was about positive discrimination …'.
In pursuing the relation between representational politics and the segregation of knowledge, Wainwright discusses how 'we narrate art history according to geography' which, in British art history, with the loss of Empire, has produced a temporal sense of 'belatedness' which frames Black British Art and other multicultural art practices as ethnic 'add-ons' to the canon rather than being understood as symptomatic of the same kind of social and cultural shifts that produced other central canonical art forms such as American Abstract-Expressionism and Pop Art. Building on this argument, Wainwright, while acknowledging the prevalent embrace of concepts of the transnational in the contemporary experience of migration, argues that this should be critically tempered with an understanding and recognition of the historical, political, social and economic conditions of enforced migration. For, in the distancing of a history of enforced migration, deeper questions about the problematic relationship between British heritage and 'Britishness' can be obscured by the overwriting of the historical role of the nation state in migration history. In this respect, the 'transnational' can all too easily be co-opted as part of the Enlightenment project of the museum, enabling a national institution such as the British Museum to reclassify itself as 'the museum of the world'.
In 1994, as an international cultural policy advisor and former Director of Cultural Policies at UNESCO, Yudhishthir Raj Isa was invited to join the board of the Institute of International Visual Arts in London (Iniva) to bring an 'international comparative vision' on how European concepts of cultural difference and migration were evolving and how different nation states were dealing with diversity at a policy level. As Isar discusses, many of the issues around the conditions of inclusion and exclusion, historically framed by Bourdieu's work in Distinction, have significantly changed since 1994 and have potentially been superseded: 'it may be that the original problems of lack of cultural capital in on the part of those whose education and family background made them deprived, is being short-circuited by different sets of activities and technologies in the museum today.' The role of digital communication in the democratisation of culture is undoubtedly impacting on the relation between nation states and and multiculturalism, as, in this 'new metropolitan age', 'grand narratives of nationhood are weakening' at the generational level as loyalties and communities emerge simultaneously at the local and global. But, as Raimi Gbadamosi discussed, the distinction between heritage and culture is fundamental to how the nation state navigates the present moment of post-multiculturalism, and as Isar emphasises the transnational is easier to discuss in relation to culture, but not cultural policy which will always be defined and seek to support the interests of the nation-state, increasingly through the discourse of heritage. Which leads to the recognition that 'cultural globalisation' is a contradiction in terms as culture is based on diversity and globalisation on homogenisation .
Post-critical Museology: From Knowledge-Transfer to Knowledge-Exchange
As Edition 5 discussed, the research process and findings has led the Tate Encounters team to argue for the need to develop more practice-led models of interdisciplinary collaboration in relation to research that aims to develop new knowledge for practice in the professional field of practical activity and policy-making domain. Post-critical museology, for us, has developed from the contrast between the conditions of the production of knowledge of the museum established by the project's own embedded and transdisciplinary approach and that of other traditional research approaches in which the formal division between the academic research community and the subject of research is reproduced. Within the narrative of change contained in the research findings, there is an emergent critique of the separation between critical theory produced in the academy and professional practice carried out within the museum. The research argues that this institutional separation is a guarantee of the reproduction of separate spheres of influence which limits both the objects of critical knowledge and value and meaning of critical knowledge within the fields of professional practice.
In his paper 'Lost in Translation: Interpretation, Theory and the Encounter', Andrew Dewdney reflects on a conference of the same sub-title which took place at Tate Britain in July 2010 and brought together leading academics who have consistently taken the art museum as an object of their enquiries. As Dewdney highlights, while the papers presented, and subsequently published in Tate Research's own online journal ,Tate Papers, substantially attest to the intellectual acumen of their authors, they offer a limited path of critical insight to how the practice of interpretation in the museum mediates a relation between the viewer of the museum audience and the work of art in lived experience rather than theoretical abstraction, leading to the performative presentation of theory per se rather than a restaging of a critical relation between the interpretation of the work of art and the encounter, which the conference and the majority of its delegates sought. The perpetuation of this reproduction of this separation between theory, knowledge and practice, which the museum inadvertently colludes in through the legitimating its own academic credibility and status through such conferences and publication, highlights the need for new models of collaborative, practice-led research.
Through this series of six online editions, Tate Encounters has aimed to use the opportunity to share the working papers and data of the project to indicate its emergent intellectual position of the 'post-critical' in which the 'truths' narrated from the 'data' establish meaning precisely through the networks they create as much as those to which they formally belong in the academy and the museum. Given the methodological stance towards the importance of embedding research alongside professional practice and of the commitment within action orientated research to useful knowledge, one of Tate Encounters' own key tests of the value of its 'findings' will be the degree to which it establishes a presence and reach within related research networks, as much as it will be in its immediate reporting. In the terms of current AHRC objectives such concerns will be identified as the impact,as well as the esteem of the research, whilst in the field of professional museological practice, whether locally within Tate or further afield, the immediate test will be formulated in terms of practical recommendations.
At the time of applying for funding from the AHRC in 2005, Tate Encounters was formally led by London South Bank University as it was not until 2007 that the Tate, like other national museums, was awarded its own status as an Independent Research Organisation which enabled it to apply directly to the AHRC for funding. In response to this new research environment, Tate established its own Research Department in 2007, which subsequently incorporated Tate Encounters, relocating its Tate status from its original position within the Learning department at Tate Britain. Significant changes have clearly taken place across the research domain in this intervening period, both for the academy and the museum, and particularly in relation to the changing political context of research funding and the remit of the AHRC itself.
In the AHRC's Delivery Plan 2011-2015, one of the key strategic priorities has been identified as 'Enhancing the role of arts and humanities in cross-disciplinary support for research on societal challenges'. On 15 March 2011, at the launch of one of the largest national research funding programmes, 'Knowledge Exchange Hubs for the Creative Economy', Rick Rylance, Chief Executive of the AHRC, highlighted, to a predominantly academic audience, that the terms 'pure and applied research' would be all but redundant within five years. He went on to note the extent to which recent collaborative research practice across the different sectors had led to a reconsideration of the model of 'knowledge-transfer' which was now being reconfigured as 'knowledge-exchange', in recognition of the legitimacy and value of the established knowledge-base and skills of both the academic sector and the creative and cultural industries.
Tate Encounters concludes this phase of its research at a time of extraordinary opportunity for museums to strategically develop their own knowledge-base not led or defined by theory but through collaborative, practice-led enquiry and analysis. The potential to produce new knowledge of value to culture and society, to encourage innovation in research methodologies, rests neither in reproducing the academy in the museum, nor in the teaching of vocational museology in the academy, but rather in new models of knowledge-exchange and collaborative interdisciplinary practice. While economic conditions are clearly integral to the development of this new research visioning, they are not exclusively determining. Indeed, Tate Modern was imagined and conceived in the recession of the 1980s as techtonic shifts in the relation between art, culture and commerce were reimagined. The relationship between museums and audiences will, out of necessity through cultural, technological and social changes, need to be reimagined for a museum of 21st century. It has been the aim of Tate Encounters to pilot and test some of this new thinking through its complex, often messy, and certainly challenging methodologies and findings.
The End of New Labour and 'State Multiculturalism'
One of the welcomed consequences of the extended period beyond June 2010 in which the project has been active is that it has been possible to witness how the changing political and economic climate in Britain continues to reconfigure the objects of our study. The opportunity afforded by this passage of time has reinforced the project's central reflexive methodological recognition of the relational nature of its research findings. A further positive consequence of the continuing life of Tate Encounters lies in the opportunity to write the current situation into the project's still emerging arguments which will be more fully formulated in the forthcoming publication Post-critical Museology: Theory and Practice in the Art Museum, (Routledge 2012).
Looking back, as New Labour took office, the call for national renewal was quickly translated into a focus upon social exclusion and a call for the revivification of the civic sphere. At a launch event for the Cabinet Office's new Social Exclusion Unit, Tony Blair noted in his speech at Stockwell Park School in London in December 1997 that: “… we make it, once more, our national purpose to tackle social division and inequality.” The 'Old Labour' discourse, based upon the structurally unequal economic relations between social classes that typified pre-war Britain was replaced by New Labour's central vision of a Britain based upon an upwardly mobile, highly educated, social majority able to meet the global challenge of the emerging Information society. In this new discourse the problem of inequality was redefined not as an inherent problem of social class, but rather that of tackling the social margins of the excluded through a set of technical and targeted measures. It is within this overall political context that the role of State/public sponsored culture was coupled with the emphasis upon increasing participation from those considered to be excluded as a means of achieving greater social cohesion.
Any analysis of the recent changes in the direction of British politics will inevitably need to take into account the complexity of both local and global factors in which the economic continues to play a large part. A central reason for the increasing erosion of the social democratic consensus achieved through political and economic reform can be found in an account of structural realignments within international finance and corporate capitalism which took hold in the 1970s and have continued in newer, globalised modalities of production and exchange. The Britain Tony Bair inherited in 1997 had experienced seventeen years of Conservative administration which had presided over a set of market forces that had diminished Britain's manufacturing base and promoted London as the deregulated heart of finance capital. As historians and political commentators already assert, whilst New Labour did much to expand and update British education and health provision through additional spending, and through the introduction of targeted reforms to address social exclusion, it failed overall to narrow the gap between rich and poor. At the macro-economic level New Labour was outstripped by global economic changes in which the idea of social responsibility was revealed once more as contradictory to the very purposes of capitalism.
Within this context Tate Encounters has traced the development and limits of the political concept of 'multiculturalism' and its various translations into cultural diversity policies and has argued for the recognition of the complex relationship between policy, practice and social and cultural conditions. It is important, for instance, to understand that multiculturalism was informed by a largely urban and local set of responses to continued changes in migrational patterns before it was taken up as a form of national politics. It is also important to note that multiculturalism was not a systematic political philosophy, but rather a pragmatic description of what had taken place socially. Multiculturalism in Britain emerged out of the 1960s during which migration from former British colonies, namely Africa, the Caribbean and South Asian countries, was encouraged and established the basis for settled communities. Multiculturalism was, in one sense, simply a recognition of the cultural outcome of a period of British sponsored mass economic immigration. The conceptual limit of multiculturalism is that whilst it recognises and supports the value of cultural difference, it does so from a conception of British society in which cultural difference, understood as ethnicity or race, is defined against an un-ethnicised majority.
This broad view of the politics of cultural representation in Britain over the past three decades can be followed through in the detailed cultural policies and implementation strategies focused upon social inclusion, widening participation and importantly, cultural diversity. In the translation of cultural diversity policy into practice it is also possible to trace a further set of detailed arguments made over the same period that have implications for the present moment of the reformulation of cultural policy. Tate Encounters traced, as others were doing, the major architecture of what became the bureaucratic instrumentalisation of cultural policy based upon targeting groups defined as 'socially excluded', of which 'Black, Minority and Ethnic' (BME) was a significant category.
In 2010 the V&A museum and Leicester University held a major conference entitled 'From the Margins to the Core' in which an impressive and sophisticated range of education projects and research initiatives focused upon widening participation were presented, including Tate Encounters. What was of interest to Tate Encounters in the conference discussion was the emergence of a defence of New Labour's cultural diversity initiatives against the criticism of the limits of multiculturalism and its instrumentalist strategies. The defence was widespread across the conference on the grounds for the need of gradual and incremental change in institutional policy and practice. For some, the argument extended beyond positive measures on the grounds of race and ethnicity into a broader argument for culture as a 'human right', leading to a politics based upon cultural justice.
What was interesting to note was the cast of the debate in respect of policies and outcomes. The experience of the research practice in Tate Encounters has demonstrated the need to provide a detailed account of engagements with the practices that have emerged out of cultural diversity policy. The effects of such practices on audiences needed to be addressed as carefully as the effects on the museum professionals carrying such policies out. At an early stage within Tate Encounters, the project participants made clear their awareness of being the objects of a specific mode of institutional address – both the manner of the address as well as its content were pointed out as distinctive and distinguishable from what one might term a normative modality of engagement. Project participants felt that they were specifically targeted and interpellated by the museum in a particular way and that special events were aimed at them alongside particular exhibitions or displays, or as part of educational programming. No presumption was made that these 'targeted audiences' might belong to the ordinary, everyday life of the museum. Such differentiation was seen as obvious, re-producing the targets of cultural diversity policy as a non-normative audience, which in turn guaranteed the status of the norm.
Any notion, then, that moves towards an enactment of cultural justice could be made via existing approaches to cultural diversity policy was seen as mistaken. The effects of working with policy in this way, although recognized as transformational from the point of view of those who had fought so hard to see it installed as a form of positive action, was clearly seen to work through a logic of supplementarity, on the part of some of those whom the policy affected. Analytically, within Tate Encounters, we recognized that the error was categoric – as long as audiences remained the objects of policy, they would experience themselves as the targets of some initiative or another, regardless of its beneficial outcomes. By re-thinking the category of audience as subjects in the production of policy and practice, one could inaugurate a new approach.
In 2011, Tate Encounters was also invited to submit an article 'Cultural Inequality, Multicultural Nationalism and Global Diversity' (which is reproduced in this edition) to a special edition of the journal Third Text commissioned by the Arts Council of England to review the impact of cultural diversity policy and to consider what the implications for future practice in the arts should entail. Citing Stuart Hall, the article opened with the following quote: 'is the era and the goal of 'cultural diversity' in the arts now over? Has the globalisation of the art world – “let a thousand biennales bloom?” – 'solved' the problem?' At the conference to launch the report, held at City University in March this year, at which Tate Encounters presented its findings (see the powerpoint included in this edition) it was more than apparent that, despite over a decade of cultural diversity policy, there is a prevailing frustration with the conditions of exclusion and representation and mode of address from the core to the margin, but equally a prevailing disappointment with the exhaustion of the politics of representation and the need for a new conceptual language and model through which to forge more productive relations between the local and the global, the national and international, cultural and the political.
Rethinking Audiences: Transmediation and the Transnational
Whilst noting the continuation of a dominant discourse of the representation of nation in cultural policy and practice, Tate Encounters also revealed in its qualitative studies a relative decline of strong notions of nation, race or ethnicity in the formation of subjectivities. The weakening of nationalist and racialised discourses of identity in the cosmopolitan metropolis at least, needs to be understood in the context of a new complex of global socio-economic and technical change, as indeed Raj Isar discusses at length in his interview. In the specific context of Tate Encounters, globalisation was traced concretely to new patterns of economic migration based upon transnationalism, producing forms of super-diversity in which the mobile crossing of national and cultural boundaries was a key characteristic. These new transnational patterns of human movement, extended social networks, and family bonds are now facilitated by a global networked communication technology of the many to many. The Internet, Web 2.0, Wi-fi and mobile devices have all been developed within the period of political, economic and social change in Britain being discussed here. Whilst global economic forces separate people and propel them to and from across the globe, technological development has created continuous connectivity and it is these new conditions that are challenging traditional forms of cultural authority.
The opportunities and challenges of such globalising changes upon the production and consumption of culture remain largely under-considered by Britain's major cultural institutions whose primary shifts towards the global have been characterised by an expansionist approach in traditional activity supported by branding (exhibition touring, education programming, fundraising and cultural diplomacy) rather than a reconceptualisation of the reception conditions of culture. In Tate's case the emphasis has been on the brand values of being a museum that leads the world in setting the cultural agenda for contemporary international art and in being a major international visitor attraction. The combination of visual spectacle, commercialisation and curatorial authority was a startling success for Tate Modern in 2000 and paralleled the optimism of New Labour's first period of office. But the success of London's major museums new found entrepreneurialism in attracting large numbers of international visitors obscures the fact that very little has changed in the way museums think about their local, if not 'glocal' audiences. Audiences may well now be thought of as customers or consumers, whose experience of visiting can be enhanced or enabled through ambient environments and supplementary programmes, but they are still not thought of as a legitimate source of cultural authority and co-generators of cultural value.
Given the argument that the politics of cultural representation no longer match the conditions which produce contemporary subjectivities and cultural value, the point of conceiving of audiences as co-curators is not in the first instance to establish a representational audience, but to acknowledge that meaning is generated by and through transcultural and transmedial processes. Questioning the cultural authority of the museum based upon the assumption that its position within the public realm demands a representational politics is intended to challenge as well as open up the specifically modernist representation and discourse in the professional practices of the art museum.
The question arises as to why Tate and other major national museums primarily consider globalisation in terms of an expansion of world markets rather than in a recognition of the economically diverse world present in the superdiverse local global city of London. One short answer contained in what has been outlined so far is that museums are constrained by a paradigm of representational politics, fostered by the formulation and framing of cultural diversity policy and its monitoring, which limits a view of their domestic audience to that of multicultural Britain. Tate's strategic, programming and learning networks, those within which audience development and cultural diversity has so far been considered and acted upon, are not, as the research finds, necessarily stable or joined up within the organisation. Whilst long-term goals, in achieving greater audience diversity for example, are still held to by some individuals and continue to be registered in local networks, there is little understanding or prioritisation of the need to put audience at the centre of the organisation.