Reflections from Last Summer: Conversations from Tate Modern

In a previous post I reflected on our somewhat comedic adventure at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London last summer. Another noteworthy stop during the trip was Tate Modern, which is across the Thames River from the cathedral. This art museum hosts works of contemporary and modern art from over one hundred years back. 

Tate Modern sits in the location of what was the Bankside Power Station, which closed in 1981. The massive building sat without purpose until the gallery was announced in 1994. The conversion wasn’t completed until January 2000 due to its complexity.

If you say you aren’t a fan of contemporary or modern art, try seeing it through the eyes of a child or thinking about how their world is reflected through such works of art. A common thread that runs through this type of artwork is transformation. Young minds are constantly transforming, too, and these types of art museums open up a world of great conversations with children. 

(Psst…if you skip to the end, you’ll see that you don’t have to take a plane to find contemporary and modern art experiences!)

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Art takes many forms

Upon entering the main Turbine Hall, Lee Mingwei’s Our Labyrinth takes center stage. As dancers quietly sweep rice in patterns, they move around and across each other’s space without rehearsed choreography. Watching the designs emerge is relaxing and engaging. Witnessing those same designs disappear and transform is equally satisfying. The intertwining dance captivates some people for minutes, while some watch for much longer. 

Some kids might challenge this type of thing as “not art” depending on their age and what they’ve learned at school and in life so far. This type of installation invites the explanation that art takes many forms other than drawings, paintings, and sculptures. 

Questions Our Labyrinth inspired included:

  • Is art permanent or does it come and go?
  • Do you think art has the same meaning to everyone?
  • How is this different from other types of art you’ve seen?

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The power of mass media

One of our favorite installations was Babel by Cildo Meireles. This large sculpture piece uses analogue radios to create a circular tower. There are hundreds of radios, and each is set to a different station! The sound produced is hard to describe because of the information overload, which is the intention of its design. Along with the lighting, it is eerie and confusing. 

Babel was created in 2001, with a decade from conception to completion. This places Meireles’ original idea in the early 1990s, though it feels it could have been thought of yesterday because of how it reflects our world. It made me think about social media and the competing information that we must sift through. As adults it isn’t easy, but for tweens and teens it adds a complexity to their lives that I am so glad I didn’t have during that time in mine. 

Questions Babel inspired included:

  • How do you cope when there is so much noise in the world, not only from social media, but also from other media influences? 
  • How do you decide who to follow on social media and what trends to try?
  • How do you think mass media affect your self-esteem?

Babel is a conversation starter that I much appreciated. The creation will continue to reflect each generation’s struggle with modern media and how to rise above the messiness to find one’s inner voice.

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What it means to be a consumer

Who Owns What? by conceptual artist Barbara Kruger is a photographic screen print on vinyl. Kruger’s work invites a conversation about the distribution of power in society. It created a moment for our kids to pause and reflect on consumerism, though it was probably the first time Isabelle had heard the word. A teen will definitely understand this in a way that an elementary-aged kiddo won’t, but I also don’t believe in underestimating children. If you explain things in words young kids know, you can convey the basic idea.

Kieren and Isabelle had heard the talk before about not letting their stuff own them, figuratively speaking. One of my biggest hopes is that the kids don’t see material things as the goal, but strive for meaningful connections and experiences in life. Yes, we are all consumers, but we should examine how driven to attain material things we are and how attached to them we feel. To state it plainly, the “stuff won’t make you happy” talk parents and caregivers often have with kids was reinforced by Kruger’s work in a unique way.

Questions Who Owns What? inspired included:

  • How does seeing advertisements make you feel? 
  • How does owning something make you feel? 
  • Do you think a person can ever have enough toys? 
  • How do you feel when you don’t get something you want?
  • How does sharing make you feel? 

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Learning through art museums

I believe museums with a focus on contemporary and modern art open up conversations we should be having with our children because they reveal themes that are highly relevant to kids’ lives. A few nearby places with a focus on these types of art are Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. Other museums have smaller or rotating contemporary and modern collections as well, so keep an eye out! Plus, there are some great galleries right here in our state.

No matter what type of art museum you visit, consider asking your child this question before you arrive,“What is art?” At the end of a museum visit, see if they answer that question in the same way!

Here are a few other conversation starters for your next art museum visit:

  • What types of art have you made at school? 
  • What types of art do you like? Why?
  • How does this piece of art make you feel?
  • What isn’t art?

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Ee Tate Modern Pin

Categories: Exploration and Education