Tate Modern

‘FACTORY: the seen and the unseen’ opened at Tate Modern last September.

 

The brainchild of artist Clare Twomey, the art installation featured a ceramics’ production line. During week one, visitors were invited to ‘clock in’ and learn some of the skills of working with clay, before exchanging their hand-made objects for ready-fired ones.

 

In week two, the production line came to a halt and visitors entered a factory soundscape and were invited to discuss and reflect on their factory experiences. A month later, we asked Madeleine Keep, Curator of Public Programmes – Tate, and Clare Twomey, for their views on the success of the installation.

 

What is Tate Exchange? Who is it for?

Madeleine:
It’s a free annual programme for everyone to explore art and ideas, with artists and partner organisations working in collaboration. Each year has a theme, this year it’s ‘Production’ and the lead artist is Clare Twomey.

How did you come up with the concept of ‘FACTORY, the seen and the unseen’?

Clare:
It took around 18 months of discussions with the Tate team. It was about understanding that ‘made’ objects have a role to play in our lives, but they don’t just magically appear. There is an unseen world behind their production and other lives attached to them: The lives of those who made them. ‘Unseen’ also refers to the connections we have to these everyday objects in our own lives.

When looking at a partner for this project, what made you choose Dudson?

Clare:
I had worked with Dudson before but had not visited the factory. From previous dialogues, I knew that Dudson had a deep understanding of who they are and why they do what they do.

People in production matter. Their skills matter. The making of objects, even in vast quantities, each one matters. This is what came across and whilst it is commonplace for you, for me it was a mind-blowing experience!

What was the response to the FACTORY installation from the general public?

Madeleine:
Amazing! More than 5,000 people visited across the two weeks. Even those who came with the intention of just looking, couldn’t help but have a go! This is absolutely what Tate Exchange is all about, giving people the opportunity to get involved, discuss what the installation is all about and what production means to them.

Leaving new objects to be fired at the FACTORY installation
A chance to reflect on the FACTORY installation

Did many people swap their own creations for ready-made objects?

Clare:
Yes, a lot of people did switch their own creations for ready-made biscuit pieces.

Madeleine:
They really enjoyed the fact that they could take part of the experience home. This is when the ‘exchange’ took place.

Were there any insights that you didn’t expect during week two, when visitors were given the chance to reflect on their experiences?

Madeleine:
The public gave us so much. It was really inspiring, the willingness to take part and contribute. The week two soundscape was compiled from interviews taken during week one. People of all ages, from all walks of life talking about their own experiences of factory and production.

What do you think are the most memorable moments from the FACTORY?

Clare:
One of the most amazing things was at the weights and measures bench, where you had to weigh 200g of clay. It was a repetitive task that went nowhere, but just the ‘doing’, was so compelling that nobody minded! And in week two, the soundscape. The language, the enthusiastic voices and knowing that the public were so involved in the project.

Madeleine:
During week one, coming in every day and looking at what people had made the previous day. And when the factory was full of workers and everyone was making something. The calm moments in week two, a chance to reflect on the production of objects in our everyday lives.

Did the project deliver everything that you imagined it would?

Both:
Yes!

Clare:
It is such a risky business, but the warmth in the room, the willingness for it to be a success, even before the public came in, it made it difficult for them not to engage!

Madeleine:
The project exceeded our expectations! The amount of time people of all ages stayed with us (and came back for another visit), shows how engaging and enjoyable it is to make an object in the museum and be able to question and discuss the ideas at play in the artwork and how they relate to you. Working with Dudson helped make that possible.

Clare:
It wouldn’t have happened in the same way without trust between us. Max Dudson made it easy. He understands his history; his industry; his factory; his people, so well. Once Dudson had said ‘yes’, it became relatively easy to turn what was a ‘bonkers’ idea into a reality. He just got it, straight away.