Professors in TrAIN and joint University Chairs of Black Art and Design, Sonia Boyce and Paul Goodwin, in collaboration with Senior Lecturer Anne Eggebert and Pathway Leader Stephen Carter of the BA Fine Art XD Pathway at Central Saint Martins, recently completed a project with Fine Art students from CSM. Students and staff worked in collaboration with independent curator Claire Tancons to produce The Sky is Dancing, an action which engaged the central spaces of Tate Modern's Turbine Hall as part of Tancons' Up Hill Down Hall: An indoor carnival, a new performance commission that offered critical and artistic perspectives on Carnival. The students from the XD Pathway at CSM also worked with the commissioned artists for Up Hill Down Hall to assist in the production of works for the performances as well as creating works themselves. The Sky is Dancing was been inspired by extensive student research into the socio-political history of the Notting Hill Carnival and the politics of space and location. Their interventions responded to wider critical debates about public art and ceremonial practices that have influenced and been influenced by Carnival as a cultural and artistic form. The students produced over 2,000 paper helicopters that spun through the air, each one linking an artwork to their website.
Carter spoke about the collaboration, saying, ‘In various ways [the students] were able to contribute to the project – by helping a commissioned artist, by helping with the preparation and staging of the event, by developing their own project (individually and in collaboration). The event at the Turbine Hall on Saturday 23 August was the culmination of research, site visits, discussion and tests and was an amazing experience for all concerned. It is not too much to say that it was a life-changing and empowering experience.
The project has not ended there. We are continuing to have regular weekly sessions to reflect on the experience and to plan ahead, to continue to discuss the significance of carnival and its place within current art discourse. There will be a display in a vitrine at CSM Kings X set up from 17 September 2014 for one month. This will make the project known to the wider CSM community of students and staff. There will also be a Curating Carnival event staged in “The Street” at CSM in January 2015. The collaboration of the various participants – from Claire Tancons through to the commissioned artists, to the Tate team, to the UAL professors and CSM staff and students has been marked by amazing energy, enthusiasm, generosity and creativity.’
Speaking about their role as joint Chairs of Black Art and Design, Boyce said, ‘It's about building on the huge knowledge base around Black Art and Design practices that already exists within and across UAL. The main ambition is for the wider discussions and practices around Black Art and Design to become commonplace within the learning environment. We see our role as facilitators, to bring artists, curators, thinkers and practices into the everyday mix of the cultural life here at UAL.’
The event was documented with a short film of the performance as well as an article in The Guardian mentioning the students’ involvement in helping the artists, while Catherine Wood, Curator Contemporary Art and Performance at Tate, said of The Sky is Dancing, ‘It was one of my favourite ever moments in the Turbine Hall. It worked really beautifully with the setting, the crowd and the music, transforming the whole atmosphere temporarily.’ The event was also reviewed in ARC Magazine.