Observations in the art gallery #WalkOnTheMap

Finding myself at the Tate Modern early one morning with time to spare I thought a spot of people watching was in order. I settled on the new Switch House extension at the Tate Modern and looked for a room where I could sit down and people watch. I picked Level 4, Room 2, Living Cities. It was 10.39. It was surprisingly quiet. This blog is a few observations on the day.

IMG_4162I began by counting people, mobile phone use and noting down reactions, but I quickly realised I had sat myself in the wrong place to keep tabs on the two entrances to the room so my mind wandered.

Then I began to notice the map on the floor. I have seen this map before on previous visits. You can walk on it, it is made out of rubber. I vaguely remember previously looking at the wall to find the label and to see which city it represented. Weirdly I realised no-one was walking on the map. 5 mins, 10 mins passed and no-one seemed brave enough to risk doing it.

People looked at it, photographed it, skirted round it, discussed it but no-one would walk on it. I became slightly obsessed with this and began a series of #WalkOnTheMap tweets that elicited some fun responses on Twitter.

The longer it went on the longer I had to stay to see someone, anyone, walk on the map (please!). Finally some school kids entered the gallery, I felt sure they would walk on the map. They talked loudly, ate crisps, took selfies but still no walking on the map (although they definitely thought about it). They stood by the edge, the anticipation was building. I could barely contain myself. I just wanted to shout “Go on! Walk on the map! It is fine, honest.”

20 mins passed and not a single person walked on the map. Then, suddenly, I thought maybe because I am sitting in front of the map starring at it so intently (with a slightly manic air about me), I am making people think it is precious. They don’t want to walk on the precious thing!

That was it. I had had enough. If I got up and walked on the map surely that would encourage others to do the same? The results….

It was brilliant, exhilarating and funny. A group of school kids immediately joined me on the map. I stayed for a few minutes, they left. Another woman joined me. I left the map and returned to my seat. The map cleared. Another 10 mins in a room full of people but no-one went on the map. I got back on the map, and again this single act encouraged others to do the same.

So my 5 observations of an entirely non-scientific 30 minutes of people watching at the Tate.

1 – People are scared of art museums (I am generalising here obviously). But they are often unsure, conflicted and uncomfortable. They are not sure what they can and can’t do. Does this make for a good visit? Does it make it exciting? Or does this lay behind the drop in visits to art museums?

2 – Kids have no fear. They don’t follow the rules, they are brave and fearless. They don’t care. They get stuck in. Thank God for kids.

3 – Mob power rules. Safety in numbers is key. If you see someone else doing it then it must be fine. No-one is going to single you out for doing wrong. The collective has power!

4 – If you want people to do something you have to make it obvious. When I got home I researched the map. It is called “Beirut Caoutchouc” 2004-8 by Marwan Rechmaoui.

The artist invites people to walk on the map that represents Beirut. He wants visitors to become a part of the artwork and in their own way make the city accessible. A city where many areas have not been accessible because of war and conflict. It is an art work to be used and abused echoing the history of the city of Beirut.

Wow, fascinating. I certainly didn’t get that from my visit on the day. Did any of those who walked on the map get that either? Does it matter? Do we think about the cities we live and work in or do we just walk their streets like the visitors who walked on the map?

5 – Finally, watching people is fascinating and fun. Want to know what works in a museum or gallery and what doesn’t? Then just plonk yourself down and watch.

So next time your visit the Tate Modern, head to the Switch House, up to Level 4, Room 2. And please, for my sake, just #WalkOnTheMap…

Some twitter reactions from the day –


To read more about the art work follow the link –

“Beirut Caoutchouc” 2004-8 by Marwan Rechmaoui -http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/rechmaoui-beirut-caoutchouc-t13192

– British museums and art galleries hit by 1.4m fall in visitors, Guardian, 2nd Feb 2017 https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2017/feb/02/british-museums-art-galleries-hit-by-2m-fall-visitors

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