Review: Performing for the Camera @ Tate Modern

Performing for the camera

Lets just say if you’re planning a trip to the Tate Modern to see Performing for the Camera you’d better bring a chair. And a sandwich. And a few hours.


The exhibition documents the relationship between photography and performance over the last 150 years. So, given this extensive time period it’s best if conventional skimmers elude this exhibition – this is a display that you have to invest your time in.


That’s not to say there weren’t pieces that stood out, there were. Though not necessarily an arresting performance, the concept behind Amalia Ulman’s Excellences & Perfections, is relevant in today’s social media compelled culture. Ulman uses Instagram as her podium to fabricate a materialistic ‘Hollywood’ lifestyle consequently forcing people to ask, what is reality and what is performance? How we photograph ourselves and choreograph mock emotions for the camera is an interesting almost metaphysical approach to photography and the last chapter of this exhibition, Performing Real Life, explores it well.


Not all of the photographs are pretty and looking at them without reading the concepts can leave you feeling nothing. And you don’t want to be left asking: what’s the point? However pieces such as Hans Eijkelboom’s With My Family catch the eye – in this piece Eijkelboom assumes the role of a father to four independent families in his native Netherlands. After his male neighbours have left for work Eijkelboom asks the wives if he can take photographs with them and the children. His performance is a reaction to the zeitgeist of 1970s acquiescence and there’s a hilarity to it; especially looking at it in today’s hipster generation where people don’t necessarily want children and the family is ‘borrowed.’


Jemima Stehli’s The Strip is an absorbing piece. For the performance Stehli asks her male contemporaries to attend her studio for a shoot where she strips in front of them with her back to the camera. The men are given control of the shutter release for the camera and shoot whenever they want. What’s interesting is when the different males decide to take the photograph – the more slovenly dressed men appear to erratically release the shutter while the besuited ones take controlled shots. The simplified male-female structure amplifies the tension and gender disparity in the art world however a lot can be said about Stehli’s male contemporaries in this performance, which highlights her control and their weakness.


In conclusion, Performing for the Camera demands time and that means reading the concepts behind each performance. And while there are interesting performances you could find yourself questioning what gives these art works providence to appear at the Tate.


If at the end of this show you find yourself feeling mentally spent and in need of resuscitation hop over the floor to view Alexander Calder’s placid Performing Sculpture. It’s like walking through a lovely dream.


We give it 4/5 mangos.


Performing for the Camera is on at the Tate Modern until June 12, 2016

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