OPAVIVARÁ! Utupya Words, Joanie Magill
Brazilian artist collective OPAVIVARÁ! has taken over the top floor of Tate Liverpool, creating Utupya, their first solo exhibition in the UK,
Opavivara! are known for creating interactive, social and immersive environments which challenge conventionality gallery behaviour.
Utupya is a series of three interactive installations which have been created out of the conversations OPAVIVARÁ! had with community groups in the city. It is a response to Liverpool’s history of migration and the current, ongoing flow of discussion around borders.
Each of the three spaces on the top floor of the gallery contains the opportunity for a different interactive experience.
In the main gallery, a row of colourful hammocks sewntogether to create a super hammock are suspended by ropes from the gallery walls and take up the width of the space. You are invited to get it. The idea is that the precarious nature of the hammock requires the creation of a ‘social network’ to negotiate getting in and moving around the suspended space. The day I visited, the hammocks were ‘taking a rest’.
The art of interaction requires the viewer to become a participant, to interact with and activate the artwork. The work is a platform or a vehicle for interaction and interacting is the purpose of the work.
The unavailability of the work for this purpose reverts the experience back to a traditional gallery experience where the viewer is passive observer. For me, it sparked thoughts of presence and absence. With the absence of the possibility to animate or activate the work, its presence existed in a state of potential. You could imagine what could take place, what the experience could be like, but the experience was ultimately absent.
The concept of Utupya reminded me of another, more dramatic immersive, participatory work – Carsten Höller’sTest Site at Tate Modern in 2006. A series of slides from the upper floors of Tate Modern, spiralling through the space of the Turbine Hall to its floor. Queues were long. There was a distinctive buzz and the atmosphere of a theme park. Anticipation and excitement thick in the air. There was a tangible feeling that you had been transported from a traditional gallery experience to something completely different. People behaved very differently.
Utupya is a subtler experience. For me, it is one that engages all the senses. A smaller gallery space contains three tea stations – at each, you can sit on a stool at a round table filled with an array of herbs to infuse and create your own medicinal blend of tea and chat with the people around you. It is sociable, friendly. Refreshing. The third space is a place to play. Animal print designs on rollers for you to ink up and roll over your skin or make your own soundscape.
My experience of Utupya, even though it wasn’t fully available as intended, was fun. It made me linger longer than I would have had it been a passive experience. I was more conscious of the space and people around me. Even though it felt sociable, I’m not sure how much it changed my relationship with the environment as a gallery space, despite my interaction with the work being different.