June 6, 2019

Stacie, our Digital and Communications Coordinator, reflects on her time at Tate Exchange which took place from 29 – 31 May 2019.

The theme of this year’s Tate Exchange at Tate Modern was Movement. As soon as I arrived at the stairwell that leads you to the 5th floor of the Blavatnik building, my ears were met with a cacophony of sounds from laughter and stamping footsteps to rhythmic drumbeats and chanting. I went through the door and sure enough, movement was everywhere!

Families chatting, children painting, young people dancing, groups protesting and people making, at every angle. As I moved through the space, a myriad of colours and artwork delighted my eyes and a sense of joy wrapped around me.

This year we shared the floor with Valleys Kids and Politics and International Relations from Canterbury Christ Church University, and the theme of our exchange was ‘Movement and Movements.’ Tate Exchange is a place where Tate associates come together to provide opportunities for play, creativity and reflection, questioning what art can mean to our everyday.

Our intervention – led by our associate artist Nova Marshall – asked people to consider what memories have moved with them over time, and what memories have ‘moved’ them emotionally. We were particularly interested to learn about the environments that inspired positive emotions- and to see if there was a commonality about where we feel happiest. We wanted to demonstrate that happiness can be contagious, and can connect us- that the memories we share are often shared with other people, and even if we remember the exact details differently, there are often key moments that will resonate with us.

Each visitor was asked to draw a happy memory onto a hexagon card and add it to our large-scale Oxytocin molecule wall art. Oyxtocin is a ‘love drug’, it is the hormone that is present when we are socially bonding. We wanted all of the memories to connect and make up one large installation. Visitors were also invited to visit our memory dome with cushions and hanging photographs to take a moment and rest a while.

As a provocation ‘What is your happiest memory?’ is quite evocative, but also potentially quite difficult to pin down. When asked, the perfect moment might just spring to mind, as a memory you often reminisce about, or it might take you a while to delve into the deepest recesses of your brain to seek out the time that you were happiest. Either way, among all the visitors we met and the favourite memories we collected, none were generic, over the top or guarded- all were honest, quirky and completely and utterly unique.

One participant was a lovely woman who was visiting London with her daughters from Stuttgart. They were celebrating the end of exam season and she said she had bought the trip for them as a celebration of their freedom. Freedom came up a lot over the course of the week and was a recurring theme in the drawings and the writings that followed. This family talked about the memory of night-time in Sardinia, a place where the mother had visited first when she was just 18 years old. She said it’s a place of calm and beauty and everything just feels slower. She said the world is full of amazing places, but everyone needs to find their place of calm, where they feel truly like themselves. So for her, Sardinia was that place. Her daughters had also inherited this love and as they chatted quietly and giggled as they remembered moments from past trips. You could feel their unconditional bond come alive through the memories.

Another participant was a young man from Hong Kong. He was visiting a friend who was on a break from her studies in London and he said this was his first real visit to London. He said his friend was busy so he had Googled cool things to do in London and Tate Exchange had sparked his interest. He spent some time surveying our Oxytocin wall and smiling as he engaged with the stories shared from previous visitors. He told me one of his favourite memories – as it was too difficult to pin point just one – was of hanging out in Hamburg, overlooking the water and spending time chatting, relaxing and laughing with friends. Not really doing much in particular, just simply being with people he loved. These moments of simple joy were returning throughout the week, with some people pinpointing life-changing moments but with most just recalling the pleasure of the everyday.

A lovely family from North London came and joined the table and I could see them sharing stories and smiling before they decided to put anything down on paper. The mother, delving in first for the felt tips, began to outline the word FREEDOM in huge capital letters and said ‘Yep, this is what I am all about.’ Her children smiled. They were all so relaxed, scribbling away, beat-boxing, singing, colouring in. It was humbling, but not surprising – even after my very brief encounter with them – that both children had outlined ‘family’ as a focus of their happy memories. They sat and perfected their art for ages, telling me about their cousin who is more like a brother and their love of singing and music. The little girl had said she wanted to master piano as she had been learning how to read music and about musical notation in school. They told me how they had been excited to get a ‘science at home’ badge from school and how they had made a papier-mâché solar system at home together to achieve it. Their favourite memories were so full of creativity and family and it felt like a privilege to meet them, hear about their lives and chat with them for a while.

The happy memory provocation saw us hear so many wonderful stories and it felt like a really great way to break down boundaries and get people talking. A happy memory can show so much about a person, from their values to their history, and how they hope to be in the future. From the young girl who drew Easter as her happy memory because that’s when she got loads of chocolate – or the one who drew Christmas as her happiest time – or the one who drew herself being rained on by cash, showing a moment when she received a £100 payment for a performance she was part of. Or the little girl who drew a picture of bedtime and explained that she loves it when her Dad reads her stories from Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls because ‘in that book girls can be anything they want to be’ – or the little boy who drew his Nanny, because she made him feel happy, to those who drew their favourite places, like the seaside, playgrounds and galleries.

Each one of us are full of stories and memories. Some might see us playing leading roles or sometimes supporting roles, and perhaps we might be simply blending into the background. However each role that we play has an undercurrent of highs and lows and what this project has shown is that spending a little while thinking about the good times can really bring us together. Some stories were completely relatable and others were wildly ostentatious but either way, these are the threads that connect us, make us stronger and remind us of the true joy of the everyday.

Leave a Comment