Altermodern at Tate Britain; badges, global culture and all of us

Above my desk is a poster that says “all artists are cowards”, it is an exhibition poster for an artist called Bob and Roberta Smith and every time I look at it I smile.

Bob and Roberta Smith are one of the many new rising talents who have been chosen by Nicholas Bourriaud to be part of the Altermodern exhibition at Tate Britain. The conceit of the show is based on his naming what he sees as the next movement in contemporary art that replaces post-modernism. A post-post-modernism, that encompasses the global, networked, intercultural existence many of us now live in and some of us are immersed in.

The show is funny, clever, curious and encapsulates something about the 21st century that has a real resonance. The wall paintings in Franz Ackermann’s installation are like looking at a networked digital space from the inside. They seem to map some strangely familiar visualisation of online spaces and the cyber journeying that takes us between digital information and its interactions.


This idea of the (alter)modern journey comes also into Walead Beshty installation of Fedex boxes. These large glass cubes that bear the marks of their travels between the artist and a variety of destinations, are like the scars of environmental damage or the dangers of too much travelling on the human soul. The corners are cracked, the glass is broken and they seem sad, lost and rather beautiful.


Loris Greaud installation (wires attached to boxes that resonate and vibrate the physical architecture of the room in time to flashing blue lights) seems to take you deep inside his head. But unlike the Ackermann paintings that seem to portray an internal digital space in a very public domain, this work takes you into the very intimate personal space of the artist’s own thoughts and brain waves.

Bob and Roberta Smith is adding a new piece of work to the show each week. It’s creation starts with a conversation with the curator at 11am on a Monday morning which is then developed to becomes a new work to be placed somewhere in the gallery. Each new piece stays insitu for a week before being moved to a public storage area – a kind of art lost property area – where each piece can be moved aside. Each of the works possesses the same humour and cut-the-crap satire that I have come to know and love from my office poster. One expresses the regret “ I wish I would have voted for Barack Obama’ another simply states next to its found object sculpture consisting of a trumpet and megaphone ‘I was up all night making this’.


There is a lot more worth seeing – the quietly breathtaking moonscapes by Darren Almond, Simon Starling’s replica desks that encapsulate the loss of detail and signal that comes over distances. You need at least two hours to do the show justice, of which at least 20 minutes is needed to watch Lindsay Seers ‘quasi-documentary’ about her own life as an artist and the impact that not speaking until she was eight had on her artistic development. In particular her time spend as both a human camera and projector. I left her projection space totally unsure if any of it was true but full of big questions about the nature of communication and seeing both inside and outside of us.

You can also for an extra 65p buy a badge and be your very own Bob and Roberta Smith. I did and am.


Goodbye 24 Hour Museum (forever) and hello to the new Culture24 BETA site

We went live with the new BETA version of the Culture24 website today which has replaced the original 24 Hour Museum site forever … so long, farewell auf wiedersehen, goodbye …

The experience is both electrifying and terrifying and has been the result of a very intense six months of hard work by the new Culture24 team, preceded by at least of year of thinking, planning and fundraising, preceded by eight years of learning on the job with the old site.


Like all BETA sites, it is not finished, in fact it has just begun, but it is already better than its predecessor. Ironically most of the content on the new BETA site is the same as the old 24 Hour Museum (with the exception of the editorial in the new Teachers section) but the difference is in the way that it is displayed and categorised. It is like building a new gallery for your old collection that you used to only be able to find by rummaging around in a storeroom.

The new site brings our content forwards and shows it off. Stuff is grouped by subject or region and you can drill down into your area of interest to a deep level. The search is faceted like ebay, so in the same way as on ebay a search for ‘shoes’ offers you a breakdown by size, colour, make etc, a search on the new site for ‘trains’ gives you a breakdown by subjects, region, curriculum, and time.

This means that you can explore the different articles, venues, events, resources and websites by switching on and off these different facets. Very cool and very useful. It means you can sort through the thousands of venues, listings and articles to find things that suit your interests. Of course, anyone who knows anything about databases knows that this only works if things are well classified and that is what this next few months of testing is all about.

The clever stuff behind the scenes that makes it all work is largely credit to my colleague Anra Kennedy who sorted out all the classification issues, writing bridging taxonomies between the kind of worlds people use to search (our navigation) and the formal classifications such as curriculum, artists names etc.
Plus of course the very talented Sacha Varma at SSL who has built the database and publishing system. And the really, really clever bit is that the taxonomy has been built as a living thing that we can change, update, refine as we learn to live with the site.

The plans we have for the site are ambitious. We want to get it known and we want to broker the data behind the site with new partners, both inside and outside the sector. We also want to share our experience about what works and what doesn’t with others.

This is the best moment in any project, the calm before the storm – and I know that there will be lots of stuff over the next few months that is bound to go wrong and need fixing. But right now, everyone at Culture24 is really proud of what we have done and rightly so I think.


Experimenting with iGoogle

Before Christmas we went live with a simple iGoogle gadget full of stories from the 24 Hour Museum website. The first cultural iGoogle gadget of its kind (correct me if I am wrong).

It looks like this (below) and will change branding as the new Culture24 site goes live (next week, 11th Feb, yes really …).

Am interested in how this kind of ubiquitous gadget might help to get the message about great culture being free and a good idea in planning what you might do if you are skint.


On that theme, loved the Science Museum recent late night ‘adult only’ opening. Read more from the Evening Standard here.