Anthea Hamilton’s ‘The Squash’ at the Tate Britain in London is really rather wonderful. It comprises a series of costumes and performers that galvanise the white, tiled Duveen galleries into animated action on a daily basis. The performers’ costumes are based on varieties of the Squash vegetable, normally members of the pumpkin family, and the lineage of the whole concept is articulately narrated in Tate literature as of course, one would expect.
The performers and costumes are brilliant and the space in the heart of Tate Britain is transformed by the unpredictable joyfulness and spontaneity of the whole proceedings. The tiled objects and dance-prop plinth/constructions integrate into the floor like some kind of weird, real-world Minecraft set that occasionally juxtapose themselves against the dancers.
My admiration for the accomplished moves and posturing of the performers remains unbounded as does my wonderment at the beauty and colour and wit of the costumes. Twenty minutes in, I am scratching my head. As much as the break in Tate Britain’s decorum appeals, I realise that a nagging doubt has been growing at the back of my mind and away from my infatuation with colour, theatre and movement. What on earth is this and where is it going I ask myself, sadly at this point, to no avail. The plausibility of Tate’s story of how the commission was constituted (yes its Tate’s commission for 2018) came to pass from an: “…original photograph dated from 1960 and depicted a scene from a dance by American choreographer Erick Hawkins. Hawkins was particularly interested in Native American philosophies and he took the form of this costume from the Squash Kachina of the Hopi people.”
So here I am, now 40 minutes in, and despite my pre-existing admiration of Anthea Hamilton’s work, wondering what I am actually experiencing and what I am meant to be interpolating between the Tate narrative and being there, immersed, so to speak. I don’t doubt for a moment that this encounter is intriguing, but the nature of it and therefore its potential resonances conflate, confuse and fail to flatter me enough to believe that a deeper meaning prevails or actually exists.
Tate also declare that: ‘Anthea Hamilton transforms the heart of Tate Britain with sculpture and performance’, so naturally I am left asking the question, transformed how?
As a piece of dance/theatre ‘The Squash’ engages due to the skills of the performers, but throwing shapes in this context simply isn’t enough, and the title of the work just doesn’t conjure much beyond a ‘right-on’ neo-paleo aesthetic. I would like to have liked this show, but would now instead retract my opening line, as for me ‘The Squash’ experience just does not sustain beyond the 2 minute wow factor.