INTERIORS+DESIGN for architects

Herzog & de Meuron's redevelopment of the Tate Tanks into an art space has opened up a subterranean artist's workspace on London's South Bank. The Tanks: Art in Action is a fifteen week long season to celebrate performance and live art that runs to the end of October. The first exhibition to be shown was 'Dress Vehicles' by Korean artist Haegue Yang. Sarah Roberts talks to the artist about her use of the Tate Gallery's former oil tanks as a workspace.

What was 'Dress Vehicles' at The Tanks all about?

"I had already produced three other Dress Vehicles for my solo exhibition at Modern Art Oxford, titled Teacher of A Dance. They were first attempts to employ the Venetian blinds in a more performative way. Each of these Dress Vehicles consisted of an aluminium frame, which rolled on casters, and the frame equipped with Venetian blinds. Inside of the frame were handles on each side to hold and push and to move around with it. It worked along the same principles as a baby walker.

"The new Dress Vehicles were not only more elaborate in their fabrication and amplified in scale, but also more complex in their transformability and with the additional sound effects from bells."

The Tate Tanks are an underground art space dedicated to live art, performance and installation. How did you adapt your use of movement and audience participation in 'Dress Vehicles' to fit the space?

"My starting point was to conceive of a performance which a sculptor could provide. On top of the fact that the curator Catherine Wood specifically drew my attention to the performativity of Dress Vehicles, I also found that it might be something, which I as a sculptor could offer, just as Dress Vehicles had been driven by the audience at Modern Art Oxford.

"Originally I was planning to invite the audience to perform with the sculptures, but later I decided against this. Instead of offering the audience the sculpture to perform, I offered one drum set and one open microphone. It was indirect performance in terms of actual movement, but I believe that it was equally physical and strongly influential upon the audience's perception of the movement. When the project finally opened to the public my expectations were exceeded in how heavily the sound of both drum and microphone manipulated the atmosphere of the exhibition space between sublime to banal."

How did you use light within the tanks?

"There were basic spotlights, which were installed low to cast the Dress Vehicles' shadows on the wall. And additionally, there were two robotic moving lights in the centre of the space. The input of a beat of the drum hit or the voice was fed into a console, which acted as a signal which triggered the lights to move in a different pattern than the one I programmed for them. Each vibration of the drum brought the moving lights into a specifically determined spot out of its programmed path, while the voice input into the microphone turned the moving lights blue instead of white

and deleted the gobo effect (dot, circle and glass effect through a filter)."

How did the industrial topography of the tanks compare to other workspaces you have performed within?

"On my first site visit I was immediately attracted to the space, since it seemed so isolated and disconnected from the rest of the world. This isolation felt cosy and congenial.

"Art, as well as many other social relationships, are loaded with the excessive urge to 'be open' and 'transparent', while out of necessity we at the same time feel an increasing desire to be solitary. Here I am talking about an 'active aloneness', which is different from being abandoned. It's ironic to be in a tank, which is nothing but a huge container, and to feel cosy in that containment. Due to the large scale of the Tank, it wasn't claustrophobic and it's rather miraculous to find such a vast space underground. It brings you a feeling of awe, as if you were in a big cave."

How important is an exhibition space to the work you produce within it?

"It's not always important, but often enough an exhibition space has been a starting point for an idea since a space contains elements, such as its own narrative or characteristics as well as a history, which I wish to respect. I like to transform a space into a specific place that we might remember or feel involved in. Sometimes it's the physical feature of the space, sometimes its function, history or anecdote. That is, the element I am focusing upon varies from time to time, but often the space is the source of a narrative, which is rather hidden or not apparent, yet seems to me significant enough to amplify and share.

"I believe that it's part of my job as an artist to offer a special experience, which only an image of the work would not be able to convey. In other words, such works cannot thoroughly be experienced without being in that space, where the work is placed. I guess that visiting an exhibition is still a unique physical event which visual art can offer, despite all the conceptual and theoretical aspects which contemporary art should not ignore."

Finally, in terms of a "workspace" for the Arts, how would you describe the Tate Tanks?

"The Tanks seem to have so much potential as an exhibition space for contemporary art because of their specific characteristic of being round and their inner-isolation. By that I mean that they are devoid of daylight or windows with which to start a dialogue with the outer world. I worked in this space very well, without any phone signal, which disconnected me even more, and in this otherwise heavily tele-communicational era we often have the intense desire to be connected by phone all the time.

"I guess that 'work' demands concentration and focus, because we somehow need to listen to ourselves. The notion of neo-liberal openness would be impossible to find in the newly opened Tanks at Tate Modern. It pleased me to be in them, alone as well as with my work, and furthermore with the audience in a more intimate and introverted manner."