The World as a Stage

Artvehicle 27/Review

24th October 2007 — 4th January 2008

In the sphere of popular culture the boundaries between performer and audience have collapsed over recent years. Television viewers no longer sit passively watching professional actors on their screens: they now are the actors on their screens. Through a combination of the fact that reality TV can be genuinely compelling and that it is much cheaper to make than scripted drama, television channels increasingly gravitate towards it as the most cost effective way of ensuring their share of the ratings. Although there are no explicit references to this phenomenon in 'The World as a Stage', the notion of the performative potential of the everyday is implicit in the title. Any location can be a site of action and every one of us can be actors - both willing as well as inadvertent.

For his piece 'Sweeney Tate', Mario Ybarra has constructed a barbershop named in homage to the legendary antihero of Fleet Street. On one side of the entrance to this space two baseball bats hang in a metal bracket painted with red, white and blue stripes. On the other sits a collection of human teeth in a cabinet. The room itself is a reconstruction of the barbershop in LA's Chinatown where Ybarra and his wife opened an art gallery. On the 3rd November, the artist held a hairdressing competition for barbers from across London which brought the space to life, if only for a brief moment. Like cab drivers, barbers have a reputation for being entertaining raconteurs, and the possibility for performance is tangible here. A painting above the mirror depicts the Tate Modern building itself as a barbershop, with red and white spiral attached. Ybarra's likeable humour is also evident in his hanging of a sign which reads: 'Balding men make great lovers.'

From the barbershop to the fairground. Cezary Bodzianowski's video piece Luna shows the artist inside a large rotating drum with one rollerblade on his foot and another on his hand. His pathetic attempts to navigate the surface of this object are endearing despite the fact that it is impossible to ascertain his motivations, transforming what would be an otherwise normal situation into a theatre of the absurd.

Perhaps the most engaging and intriguing work is that by Geoffrey Farmer who presents a collection of objects and artefacts that comprise a do-it-yourself kit for staging an adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel 'The Hunchback of Notre-Dame'. In the middle of the room a large wooden structure that appears to be an apparatus for bell-ringing stands next to the bell itself, which has been rung 'in a distant forest'. There is pathos in Farmer's approach which is consistent with the original story but also humour. A television showing a film of the bell is propped up by a hardback edition of 'The Bellringer's Bedside Companion', which, contrary to my expectations, is a published book. At the other end of the room is a cabinet of curios which includes, among other things, an ancient bell clapper, a tuning fork and a piece of wood from a fire which, so we are told, has been burning for over 150 years.

Despite the fact that this very strong link exists between visual art and the theatrical, and that there is a rich seam of work from which to choose for such an exhibition, there are one or two occasions when it feels as though the curators have forced things slightly in their commissioning of works specifically for the purpose. Ulla Von Brandenburg's 'Curtain', a reconstruction of the patchwork curtain designed for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 1932, feels like it is trying a bit too hard to fit the brief. In the text which accompanies the show, we are told that the slight gap where the curtain meets in the middle 'heightens our sense of divide between performers and audience, and raises the question: which side are we on?' The fact that the different pieces of fabric which make up this piece are so carefully constructed and arranged make it almost impossible to imagine that we are behind rather than in front.

The last room in the gallery is given over to the piece 'Séance de Shadow II' by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster. As we walk through the dark blue space a series of lights are triggered which throw our shadows onto the wall in front. Again we return to the idea of the viewer as performer and there is an allusion to the technologies of photography and the cinema. At the end of the wall is an enclave which houses a creepy marionette. Periodically jerking into life, his smile stretches up the sides of his face and over his eyes. Just as we have become the involuntary actors playing out a narrative through the medium of security surveillance in this city, the puppet becomes an unwilling participant mired in an endlessly repetitive motion. He has no desire to be watched but he also has no choice.


Tate Modern
London SE1 9TG

Daily, 10am-5.50pm

The World as a Stage —