An earthy palette welcomes you into a minimalist, decorative yet functional space reminiscent of a living room. Dark chocolate brown couches that you can sink into, quirky coffee tables with magazines and photo books strewn across, a sturdy terracotta-red rug that adds dimension, bookshelves with framed photographs and a pile of collected fiction and non-fiction resources, and large wooden tables with chairs that allow you to sit upright to read, write, or work. There is room for plenty of social interactions; an intimate exchange between friends or lovers sitting close together, a group meeting to reflect on the artwork on display, an unexpected conversation with a stranger, or even solo silent contemplation and observation. The space invites you to be comfortable and at ease in the company of friends, strangers or your own self.
Welcoming, open and versatile, ‘Common Ground’ is a communal space designed by multidisciplinary artists and creator Ronan Mckenzie at Tate Modern in response to the ongoing exhibition ‘A World in Common: Contemporary African Photography’ curated by Osei Bonsu. Housed on the second floor of the Blavatnik Building, just outside the exhibition, Common Ground is broadly divided into ‘The Lounge’ and ‘The Workspace’ to offer resources for varied kinds of reflection. It is open to everyone visiting the building to use as they wish, and the house plants, bookshelves, decorative ceramics and lamps imbue it with a touch of homeliness and comfort despite its public location.
If you spend time listening, a constant chatter sounds soft, hushed whispers, passionate conversation, exploding laughter, the occasional churn of activity in the form of turning book pages, the scratching of the pen nib on paper, the clacking of a keyboard. Intertwined with this melody of discourse is a three-hour-long sound-track curated by Alex Rita that plays on loop through a set of speakers. The sound track is a combination of contemporary, classic, well-known and lesser-known artists from across the African diaspora. Rather than being based on similarities in genre, Rita, who is the co-founder of South London-based music label Touching Bass, has chosen to focus on ‘feeling and instrumentation’, which she feels gives it a ‘stronger sense of commonality’. On her Instagram page, the musician has shared how she wanted the ‘ mix to reflect on how different sounds, time periods and traditions congeal across (man-made) borders and continents.’
The interpretative text on the wall veers away from over-explanation or didacticism and instead simply suggests ways in which the space can be used to ‘read’, ‘reflect’ and ‘listen’. Most crucially, there is no rushing, no time limit (keeping within the opening hours of the gallery), to how long one can spend there and also no cost attached to occupying the space. Common Ground allows for decompression and raises crucial questions of how we consume and absorb art in this rapidly moving, changing and over-stimulated world. It encourages a sense of slowness in approach and creates a public space to serve as a site for slow thinking, slow reflection, slow conversation and slow viewing.
Common Ground is open Monday-Sunday from 10.00 to 18.00 until January 14 2024, at Tate Modern.