Tate Encounters

Maria Cinta Esmel Pamies: Identity Remix at Late at Tate March 2009 Photographs by: Pablo Goikoetxea

How to Use this Website The site contains a large amount of audio-visual material generated from a research project focused upon questions of audience and cultural diversity at Tate Britain. The material can be accessed by the expanding menu scrolling down and clicking on the word links in the contents list, arranged down the left hand section of the main page.

Forthcoming Tate Encounters Events

  • Issue 5 of Editions – New Media and the Museum will be published in Spring 2010
  • The Tate Encounters final conference on Culture, Museums and Difference will be held in June 2010 at Tate Britain
  • Issue 6 of Editions will contain the final conference proceedings in Summer 2010
  • Tate Encounters is participating in the AHRC Collaborative Research Conference in Leeds on 22 and 23 September 2009
  • A positioning paper on Tate Encounters: Britishness and Visual Culture will be given at the V&A  conference ‘From the Margins to the Core’ in February 2010
  • A new book, based upon the Tate Encounters research project, entitled, Critical Audiences: Locating  the Public in the Art Museum is in preparation and will be published in 2011.

Archive The website functions as an archive of the Tate Encounters: Britishness and Visual Culture research project, a three year AHRC funded project, which started in April 2007 and will be completed in March 2010. The purpose of the archive is to make a selection of the fieldwork data available to museum professionals, the research community and students of museum studies. The research data was generated  between April 2007 and April 2009 and consists of audio interviews and discussions, video films, photo-essays and research papers.

Research Questions In 2006 Tate Encounters set out a number of research aims which explicitly located the encounter with art in a social and cultural context. Tate Encounters outlined two specific socio-political problematics of the museum within the terms of the AHRC Diasporas, Migration and Identities national research programme. Firstly, it framed Tate’s role in holding the National Collection of British Art as a practice of the socio-political representation of nation. In the UK, at this present global juncture, nation as a central public narrative related to identity construction is weakening and hence we are led to ask, both, what constitutes, as well as, what potentially ‘replaces’ the circulation of collective British identities.  Secondly, Tate Encounters framed government cultural diversity policy as a politics of civil society focused upon notions of equality, justice and social cohesion. At the core of both of these specific questions the research identified that understandings about culture and the position of the visual fine arts within it also require clarification, if not redefinition.


left: Patrick Tubridy. Photographic work. 2008 right: Robbie Sweeny. Photographic work. 2009

Research Context Tate Encounters was specifically focused upon contemporary British public cultural relationship to Diasporas, migration and identities. Here, the larger policy concern framing Tate Encounters focused upon the management of cultural diversity, predominantly as it was met within urban and national settings. This in turn led to the pragmatic and empirical problem posed by Tate Encounters, which focused upon why it was that, over a period of significant social, technological and intellectual change, a National Art Museum, focused specifically upon British Art, had remained significantly unchanged in both its audience profile and its forms of cultural engagement.


Left: Mary Ampomah during filming at Tate Britain. Right: still from the film. click here to see the film

Research Fieldwork Between April 2007 and April 2009 a number of fieldwork ‘projects’ were undertaken in order to generate a body of material from which the research team could develop an analysis of the ways in which Tate Britain understood and related to its audiences. The fieldwork was carried out according to a research programme developed from methodological perspectives derived from the Social Sciences. The fieldwork used a variety of approaches to recording responses to the experience of working in or visiting the museum, including auto-ethnography, filmed and audio interviews, online media, documentary and anthropological filmmaking and the recording of panel discussions. Much of that material is available to view on this site.


Sarah Thomas, Maria Cinta Esmel Pamies and Isabel Shaw during Lure of the East exhibition

Archive Contents
The archive interface is organised according to the ways in which the fieldwork material was produced. It gives information about the research and the people involved in it. It also contains a link to the Tate Encounters research pages on Tate Online, entitled [E]ditions.

Interviews and Discussions Contains the audio-recordings of a series of interviews and panel discussions with a wide range of museum professionals and academics who were invited by Tate Encounters to contribute to the framing of debate. The events took place over four weeks in the Duveen Studio, Tate Britain. The Recordings are grouped in four programmes:

The organisation of the events followed the research strands as outlined in the first interim Tate Encounters report, which is available in [E]dition 1 You can see the details for each programme by clicking here


Interviews and Discussions during Tate Encounters: Research In process at Duveen Studio, Tate Britain

Research Papers There are currently four issues of [E]ditions on Tate Online, which contain working papers and some of the earlier fieldwork material. The remaining two issues will be published in 2010.. The project took the decision to establish a work-in-progress publication at the outset of the project as a means of rehearsing the research questions. For the research team the published papers were dialogic in character and supported the critical task of developing the practical methodologies and analytically framing the fieldwork material. The issues also provided a focus for the publication of co-researchers documentation.

Co-researchers productions The work with the undergraduate students from London South Bank University on documenting their encounters with Tate Britain can be viewed in the co-researcher productions and in the ‘in process’ section of prototype web designs. Co-researchers also produced responses in the image/sound/text sections of the four issues of [E]ditions. This material constitutes the co-researchers developed responses to their encounters with Tate Britain in the form of their own media projects, which use interactive media, digital audio, photography and video.

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left: From the making of the film “Whirlwind at Millbank” by co-researcher Detokunbo Bello right: still from the film, click here to see it

Ethnographic Film A series of documentary films were made with and about some of the student co-researchers and their families over the two year period, filmed and edited by Sarah Thomas, an ethnographic film maker and research assistant on the project. The films were supervised by the research investigators and produced with the co-researchers, who were involved in parallel forms of related documentation. picture-5 picture-6

Stills from the film “Search: A Journey with Deep Rajput” by Sarah Thomas, click here to see it

Digital Media Collaborative Project Contains the interface prototypes for a Tate Encounters Archive designed by Digital Media Arts students at LSBU as part of their Level Three programme. The students approached the research and development for their prototypes as an encounter with the museum. click here to view


Digital Media Arts students from London Southbank University during a presentaiton of their prototypes in the Duveen Studio, Tate Britain

Reporting and Dissemination After two years of fieldwork the project has reached a preliminary analysis stage where it can report upon how, over a ‘snapshot’ period of two years, Tate and Tate Britain organisationally produced itself within the public realm and how it has constituted real and imagined audiences. Following our research programme we have divided our reporting into three related strands. Firstly the report will discuss what kind of work is performed by art historical scholarship and curatorial practice in relationship to the constitution of the National Collection of British Art. Here there is a focus upon how notions of Britishness are lived and practiced in relationship to exhibition and display practices. Further, it will illuminate some of the ways in which interpretation, education and media understand  their work in relationship to the social experience of art. Finally, it will show how marketing mobilises the operational definitions of audience for the institution. Secondly, the report will focus upon the experience of the visitor and non-visitor, framing the account of contemporary viewing positions in terms of cultural difference and the emergent authority of cosmopolitanism, with its stress upon narrative, memory and identity. This section of the report will locate the specific discussion of viewing in the larger context of understandings about the experience of the work of art in terms of both aesthetics and social and cultural history. It will seek to demonstrate how such understandings become present in curatorial and museological practice and how they position the viewer and define audience interest. A supplementary interest within this part of the research will focus upon how personal media and online media ecologies currently relate to the art museum experience and how how museums are thinking about the use of new media in relationship to audience. Thirdly, the analytical account will focus upon the ways Tate Britain has responded to cultural diversity policy and the ways in which diversity policy framed definitions and practical responses to the ongoing processes and problematics of racialisation in relationship to sameness and difference. Part of this account will involve a reflexive analysis of the project’s reframing of race and ethnicity in terms of diasporas and new patterns of transmigration, which still points to conceptual limitations as well as significant problems in recognising difference within cultural practices.

Final Outputs

  • A project report, following the guidelines for AHRC reporting will be submitted in March 2010
  • A major book, Critical Audiences: Locating the Public in the Art Museum, will be published in the Spring of 2011.