Anthea Hamilton- The Squash at Tate Britain

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Photos taken by me

A solo performer in a squash-like costume inhabits the Duveen Galleries every day for more than six months for the Tate Britain Commission 2018. Each element of The Squash has evolved from Hamilton’s interest in a photograph she found in a book several years ago when looking at improvisational theatre and participatory art practices in the 1960s and 1970s. It showed a person dressed as what looks like a vegetable lying among vines. The original photograph dated from 1960 and depicted a scene from a dance by American choreographer Erick Hawkins. Hawkins was interested in Native American philosophies and he took the form of this costume from the Squash Kachina of the Hopi culture.
The performer selects their outfit for the day from a collection of seven elaborate costumes. Each one is inspired by the original image and by different kinds of squash or pumpkin. The length of the galleries’ terrazzo floor has been tiled in domestic-scale white tiles to create a new environment within Tate Britain’s neoclassical architecture. ”
– taken from the Tate Britain webpage

I recently visited Tate Britain to run a summer school workshop and whilst I was there I got to see one of the performances for The Squash, which I did some blind contour drawings of, below. I tried to capture the movement of the performer, as well as the shapes created by the performer and their interaction with the costume (in particular the large squash head piece), and I felt blind contour drawings would be best for this, as the lines are more fluid, and once made are permanent. I experimented with different pens- fine liners, biro, and felt tips, to vary the quality of line, and as you can see some are far more sketchy and hesitant, whereas others are bold and simplistic.

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This piece was very enjoyable to watch, as at times it felt like the performer was responding to the audience in the space, and at other times it felt like they were in their own world, inhabiting the physical space whilst not being quite present. Regarding the costume, I particularly liked how it obscured the performers gender- the ruffles and design of it removed the idea of gender from the performance, as well as any other distinguishing features, giving the performer a sense of other worldliness and detaching the viewer from any preconceived notions of gender.

I have recently become interested in performance work for myself- I have always admired performance artists, but had firmly decided for myself that it wasn’t for me, and would probably never become part of my artistic practice. However lately, as my drag project idea has developed, I have found myself considering the idea of taking my drag persona out as a performance. I think the reason I never considered performance for my own practice is largely my lack of confidence in front of large groups, and my fear of being judged or laughed at by others, but I think that challenging myself to perform as part of my art might actually help me to build my confidence. I feel like the gallery space is almost a kind of safe space for artists to try out new things and perform as a character without fear, as audiences are perhaps more open to it, than if I was to take the performance out into a more public space. This piece of work has definitely inspired me to give it a go, and I think it is something I will try in the near future!

Whilst at the Tate I also did some blind contour drawings of pieces from the permanent collection, shown below.

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