#tatesummerschool – day four

thumbnail_IMG_1575Today we moved to Tate Britain.

We began the day in the Henry Moore room, surrounded by ‘bodies’.

After a noisy warmup, Travis introduced a quick ‘question answer’ exercise, where groups of four worked to produce speech-bubble question and answers drawn from our previous three days’ experience.

These Q and As were
then ‘attributed’ to Henry Moore sculptures.

This activity told us that today we would engage with the Tate Britain collection in playful/serious ways.

We then


Linda and Roz

moved to the pre-Raphaelite room where Roz Kaveney, a writer/poet/critic and trans activist, talked about queer texts, and queering texts. Roz explained that:

  • science fiction now has a tradition of messing up the sexuality and gender preferences of characters, and the genre is very amenable to further invention
  • all texts can be ‘messed with’. While most texts refer to others – intertextuality – fan fiction takes pre-existing characters and rewrites them into new contexts and stories; it is a genre of writing which can be used to play with gender. Cut up – where pre-existing texts are physically cut up and rearranged – as used by William S. Burroughs and Kathy Acker – also allows for imaginative gender re-writing.

Science and fan fiction genres are attractive to young people as they are already part of their everyday cultural experiences.

thumbnail_IMG_1580.jpgLinda then invited us to queer a pre-Raphaelite painting of our choice – imagining it as illustrating a new story we invented, or seeing it as a cartoon frame for which we had to write the next move. We were to write against the grain of the most obvious gendered reading of the work. We then moved around the room, reading aloud these ‘messing’ texts alongside our chosen picture.

In the afternoon, we visited the Queer British Art exhibition. Travis and Linda asked us to consider five questions as we moved through the rooms: (1) what language was used in the curatorial explanations, (2) who was represented, (3) who was next to who, (4) who was marginally present or missing and (5) what would young people we teach understand about queerness from the exhibition. We also had time to spend time with a particular work or selection.

thumbnail_IMG_1582.jpgWe then explored our responses to the exhibition through both discussion and making. Many of the group focused their responses on gender variant affirmative activities – dancing and gender euphoria being two.

Pedagogical pointers:

  • As teachers, it is helpful to ask ourselves how our students might see a work or exhibition. This grounds curriculum planning.
  • If we are to encourage young people to develop their own responses to art works – not searching for a ‘right’ interpretation – it is helpful to design activities which ask them to be creative and to use their imaginations
  • If we are to encourage young people to understand that art works and exhibitions are socially produced, it is helpful to offer some guiding questions that they can use to structure their viewing/meaning-making
  •  we can draw on students’ knowledge of and interest in popular cultures to build their ‘response’ repertoires.

Resource: Roz Kaveney’s memoir Tiny Pieces of Skull

About pat thomson

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