Critical theatricality in the museum space

Scarso, Jacek Ludwig (2021) Critical theatricality in the museum space. International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, 15 (1). pp. 51-64. ISSN 1835-2022


Abstract: This contribution, developed from a presentation for the 2020 Conference on the Inclusive Museum, focuses on two participatory works created at Tate Modern in association with Tate Exchange, London Metropolitan University, AVR London and Anise Gallery. These projects, respectively entitled “In Limbo” and “The Pecking Order,” consisted in largescale live performance and VR installations, reimagining the Tate Exchange floor as a theatrical scenario. Reflecting Tate Exchange’s ethos, the pieces champion the idea of demystifying the museum space through playful and theatrical encounters while at the same time ensuring multiple levels of engagement, tailored both to the broader public and to academic and sector-specific audiences with the additional curated talks and activities. If the terms theatricality and spectacle have been seen as potentially negative by some, symptomatic of an experience economy that risks dumbing down the complexity of culture by appealing to our ever-decreasing attention spans, I refer to these case studies as evidence for a new way in which the theatrical can be used as a powerful, critical tool in the museum experience. The article proposes the phrase “critical theatricality” to frame the projects in question, whereby the theatrical strategies and aesthetics employed highlight the context of the museum, as opposed to distracting from this. Here, the participant is both sensorially stimulated by the live experience while retaining critical distance in the deliberately partial immersion into the fictional narrative of each work, where the museum context is visible yet fictionally reimagined. Crucially, the works are only complete with the participants’ involvement, challenging the objectification of performance in the contemporary gallery setting and promoting a playful and deep engagement with the museum audience.

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