LONDON - London-based Argentinian artist Pablo Bronstein discusses Historical Dances in an Antique Setting, his new commission for Tate Britain supported by Sotheby’s.


A PORTRAIT OF PABLO BRONSTEIN, 2016. PHOTOGRAPH: BROTHERTONLOCK © PABLO BRONSTEIN

What can you tell us about the work?
The piece is called Historical Dances in an Antique Setting – the antique setting is Tate Britain and staged throughout the Duveens are a series of facades of the gallery which have been visually manipulated. There are a series of grids that are essentially like Elizabethan knot gardens and three dancers consistently weave their way up and down. The overall gist of the piece examines the way we look at the past and recreate it in our [own] image. So the idea is that we are 500 years in the future and we are recreating Tate Britain and the people inside it, and this is how we assume they moved and this is what [we think] they looked like. Of course it’s all spurious and it’s also not a cheesy game about the future looking back at us, it’s a series of incorrect recreations of the present. Wrong language, wrong outfits, wrong idea about the architecture, wrong physical language. By wrong I don’t mean disjointed, I mean non-linear, not correct.

So there’s assumptions people make about the past because they’re not fully informed, because you can’t be because it’s 500 years later?
Yes exactly, and some of the visual pleasure that arises when you don’t have visual coherence running throughout things. It’s quite a long-winded conceptual tie-in between the dancers and the architecture but overall these people inhabit the architecture, inhabit the space, and they are users of the building or citizens or stand-ins for us. So they are a recreation as much as these add-on bits of architecture are recreations of the facades. And by recreations I mean that we are borrowing and grafting on a whole series of borrowed, extinct dance languages onto them which they will embody, learn and adapt accordingly.


PABLO BRONSTEIN, HISTORICAL DANCES IN AN ANTIQUE SETTING, 2016. PHOTOGRAPH: BROTHERTONLOCK © PABLO BRONSTEIN

And will it be choreographed or will the performers have a series of moves that they will just interpret?
It will be choreographed; we did a workshop with a Baroque specialist who gave them the full-on archaeological training. It’s good to confront the dancers with this sort of rigid system, because they’re not used to it. Dancers learn entirely through ongoing tradition and one dancer teaching another teaching another, and in a way the ridiculous extreme of that is the holy relics of the ballet world, of people who might have danced with Balanchine or whoever it might have been. They are treated like gods because they really value that ongoing link. And dancers learn that way so it’s good to confront them with alternative languages and say ‘this is how we think people moved in 1650, look how different it is from the way we’re moving now and this was considered normal then’. 

This commission is a return to Tate Britain for you.
I’ve done things here twice before so this was an opportunity for me to rethink an earlier work. This is a culmination in a way of a lot of work that I’ve been doing over the last 10 to 15 years or so and it’s a logical end point for it because it’s more or less returning to where a lot of these ideas started from. It’s also quite hard to know how much further I’ll be able to push this series of ideas because what we’re doing is already quite extreme in terms of duration and in terms of the area involved and in terms of the physical language, so there comes a point at which this is it and then I have to find other avenues.


PABLO BRONSTEIN, HISTORICAL DANCES IN AN ANTIQUE SETTING, 2016. PHOTOGRAPH: BROTHERTONLOCK © PABLO BRONSTEIN

What else do you have planned for the rest of this year?
I have a performance commission for the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart in the circular James Stirling courtyard in June which will be very interesting to do. I will also be exhibiting in Statements at Art Basel this year, and in July, August and September I am collaborating with Rambert and Garsington Opera on a new staging of Joseph Haydn’s The Creation. It will premiere at Garsington Opera in the summer and move to Sadler's Wells in November. This autumn I have a solo show at Pallant House Gallery.

This is an edited transcript of a conversation between Pablo Bronstein and Sotheby’s.

Pablo Bronstein: Historical Dances in an Antique Setting, The Tate Britain Commission 2016 supported by Sotheby’s, is on view at Tate Britain from 26 April until 9 October.