On March 22nd, Jérôme Bel, a french choreographer and dancer, performed in an unknown room at the Tate Modern to an equally unknown audience. Odd as it may seem, there was not a single audience member present in the room. Those who were watching the performance were watching it online, inhabiting a newly unveiled virtual space called the BMW Tate Live: Performance Room. “The BMW Tate Live: Performance Room is an innovative series of performances broadcast viewable exclusively online around the globe, as they happen.”
It is the outcome of “a partnership between BMW and Tate, which focuses on performance, interdisciplinary art and curating digital space.” Jérôme Bel’s performance was the first in a series of five online performances that will run through July, featuring the work of artists Pablo Bronstein, Harrell Fletcher, Joan Jonas and Emily Roysdon.
The idea of an exclusively online performance is perhaps more innovative than the technology being used to showcase it, a Youtube channel and a single camera. Catherine Wood, the Tate’s curator of Contemporary Art and Performance, explained in article on Artinfo that they wanted to transmit the work in the “simplest means” and a single camera essentially acted as the “fourth wall” of the performance space.
Additionally, the integration of Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, allows the audience to write comments during the performance and later pose questions to the curators and artists. This allows for the creation of a virtual audience that is connected in real-time through reactions, thoughts, and the Twitter phenomenon, hash tags (#BMWTateLive). Access to these real-time reactions from around the world truly is phenomenal and wouldn't be possible in a traditional setting. The trade-off, however, could be the evolution of an audience that tweets more than it sees, and comments more than it listens.
When asked by Artinfo on whether this online medium may take something away from a live performance, Catherine Wood replied that there has already been much debate “about how much performance documentation is the work and how much it is a record of the work.” But she added that “Live-ness is inherently mediated by technology in the world we live in now. There will always be a place for just a person in a room and a live audience, but I think this is part of the evolution of performance art that we can't ignore."
For those afraid of testing the niche waters of contemporary performance art, the increased accessibility and chance to experience an unfamiliar genre through YouTube cannot be ignored. A few swells of interest, a little online momentum, and the waters of performance art will seem a lot less murky or impenetrable. As of the 4th of April, Jérôme Bel’s performance has been viewed 862 times, but that doesn't take into account the number of people who watched it live.
In order to participate in the ongoing conversation, a viewer must to tune into the Tate's website or YouTube channel as the performance is being broadcast. Since the remaining performances are scheduled to take place at 20.00 hours (London), they will be most accessible to audiences in North America (~15.00 hours) and Europe (~21.oo hours), with the exception of a few arty insomniacs in Asia (~1.00 hours). But for those who may be asleep or at work, each performance is archived and uploaded to YouTube.
The next performance is scheduled for April 26 and features Pablo Bronstein, an Argentinian artist who uses “architectural design and drawing to engage with the grandiose and imperial past of the built environment.” In his performance, Bronstein “will work with up to ten dancers to create a baroque trompe l’oeil stage set that exaggerates the perspective within the Performance Room.”
If time permits, tune in to BMW Tate Live for Pablo Bronstein! You may lose your sense of perspective, but find a deeper understanding and appreciation for performance art. If time doesn't permit, don’t miss out on the opportunity to watch these performances on YouTube at a later date.