01 Jun, 2009

My playground adventure at the Tate

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Robert Morris’s Bodyspacemotionthings installation at the Tate is action-packed. Time to get down with the kids

When Robert Morris first created his installation Bodyspacemotionthings at the Tate Gallery nearly 30 years ago, uptight City gents threw down their bowler hats and brollies, and started jumping about on wooden see-saws and abseiling down gigantic wedges. And that, children, was how Swinging London began. Except that when Morris’s exhibit opened in 1971, the 60s were over; pop festivals, student revolution and conceptual art were pretty much the norm, so it’s probably more accurate to see this interactive museum as one subversion among many, rather than the beginning of anything.

Now it has been recreated at Tate Modern, to celebrate the opening of the new Level 5 displays that include a tremendous black felt work by Morris that is the artistic equivalent of Buzz Lightyear’s aviation abilities – this isn’t sculpture, it’s falling with style.

Sorry for the pre-school cultural reference but I’m still in the playground mood. Because a big Southwark playground is basically what Bodyspacemotionthings is. It’s a popular one, too; its run has been extended until 14 June.

We got there late on a hot Sunday afternoon. We went on slides inside caged tunnels (in fact we did that one about 15 times in succession), tried the balancing boards, the tightrope, the abseiling, the giant ball.

But is it art? Well, it was certainly exercise. And exercise makes you feel good. This kind of playful activity – crawling through tunnels, climbing up inclines – gives your mind space to enjoy what the body is doing, so you become aware of your own physical existence. In a good way.

But is that enough for art to do? In all honesty, at the time it did seem plenty. Obviously this once-radical work is not in the least shocking any more. If anything, it seems rather innocent and straight-laced. But the wooden slides reminded me of one my dad built for me when I was little, at about the time of the original Tate installation. So, Robert Morris, thanks for the memory.

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