research @tate: summer school day one

The first day of Summer School and we were engrossed in activities curated by Robinson Stirling.

The week is organised around the notion of call and response. Today was as it was because the artist curators had responded to the call of the Meschac Gaba exhibition; the participants were then invited to respond to the exhibition and to the artists’ call. (As this is the first blog on the first day, I am just going to note the major things that happened.)

The events

We began with a tour of the exhibition. We walked through in pairs with one of the pair in a hood so that they could not see anything. The other member of the pair had to both talk them through the exhibition and make sure that they moved around safely. (45minutes) ( I felt very responsible for making sure my hooded partner didn’t hurt themselves and also that I did a fair job of representing the exhibition. I was worried about the balance of interpretation and how much description. What would allow my partner to imagine what I was seeing?)

Next we were asked to discuss this activity without talking. We had paint and marker pens as well as clay and cardboard. We were able to respond in any way that we wanted. (30 minutes) ( Some people made representations of parts of the exhibition, others wrote comments and asked questions, some people interacted, others did their own thing.)

Lunch was also interactive with fruit milkshakes and bagels made and consumed in the Meschac Gaba restaurant space. (60 minutes)

We were all given a poncho shaped cape made of plain white material and invited to use thread, cloth, paint and tape to create our own version of those in the exhibition. This was another silent activity (45 minutes). ( Some people took the instructions about a cape with superpowers more literally than others.)

We then walked in a line outside – through trees, down to the Thames beach, and across the Millenium bridge, wearing our capes. Most people who saw us clearly thought we were something rather odd.

We brought back an object that we picked up from the Thames beach and these were placed on a newspaper ‘stage’, our equivalent of the exhbition’s displays of objects. These various bits of stuff – ranging from driftwood to the sole of a shoe – were arranged in a separate room, now the Summer School gallery.

We finally moved to a third room, the salon perhaps, where we talked about our capes and what we thought about the day’s activities.


The post activity conversation today focused on:

(1) the notion of creativity within limits. We were offered activities where half of us had no sight, where all of us couldn’t talk, and we were given an identical cape to embellish. It was suggested that when something was totally new, it was better not to offer complete freedom, but to restrict choice in some way.

(2) Many of the participants reported that they had nevertheless experienced panic when they were asked to make something. They reported that it was not possible to panic for the length of time that was allowed, so eventually they just started to do something.

(3) Many people worked on the activities ‘in the moment’. Some commented on the way in which they lost a sense of time.

(4) This led to a discussion about the over emphasis on outcomes in contemporary educational settings, and the importance of having open ended tasks, and also the usefulness of just going with the activity, and playing/exploring.

(5) Even though there wasn’t a lot of structured ‘getting to know you’ the group activities created a strong sense of sociality – just ‘being together, doing the same thing’.

Research notes

How to handle all of this documentation? (see below for list) There is a mountain of it and it’s all important. I’m already concerned about how long it will all take to analyse.
My initial intention to organize field notes with call on one page and response on the other didn’t work today, a largely activity based day. My notes again are a lengthy scrawl which I must now try to type out.


There are multiple forms of documentation of activities. Photographs are being taken of each event, and then displayed immediately after.
Discussions are being audio recorded.
Participants can use a diary room to record vox pops at any time during the day.
The gallery also has a grid on the wall, where participants can display images, words or small objects.
There are the artefacts that are generated during the activities.
Finally, there are my field notes and Amy’s notes, and those that we record from our morning after debriefs.

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
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