Tate Modern commissions 2015 - 2018

Talking Performance : A performance at Tate Modern, exploring the theme of public speaking, digression and derivation.

Writing Photographs : A provocation and workshop on the impossibilities of poetry and photography.

Inventing Rauschenberg : A performance and a five week taught course responding to the extraordinary life’s work of Robert Rauschenberg

A Language Art : Leading a course that evidences the profound intersections between modern art and modern poetry, drawing from Tate Modern collection.

Talking Performance at Tate Modern - July 18th 2015

Held in the East Room, on level 6 of Tate Modern, overlooking the Thames, it was a chance to present an original, extended piece of performance which explored speech, biography, truthfulness, sound and rhythm. 

Speaking rather relentlessly for half an hour, and swarming a supposed poetry reading with improvised speech, I attempted to explore the notion of biography, of audience and performer hierarchy, and the human relationships possible between them, the nature of poetry readings, their bracketing of attention and the limits of that, the nature of the introduction as a form, the experience of language in excess and speed, the notion of collectivity in performance and in intimate physical proximity, the 'poetic' and what people understand by poetic and therefore non-discursive language, and finally truthfulness, salesmanship, the rhythm of comedy, and, I suppose, at the very end, disappointment. 

The performance was followed by an extended discussion with curator Marianne Mulvey and Patrick Coyle, with whom I had the privilege of sharing the bill. Contextualising the choices I had made performatively so soon after performing was fascinating, when my piece had been about blurring the lines between genuine feeling and sentiment, verity and falsehood, I couldn't help but feel what was essentially a meta performance then became a meta discussion, where no one could really believe what I was saying. This perhaps solidified the purpose of what I was trying to do, constantly acknowledging context and the limits of communication. 

The piece was a product of a generous developmental process, and to have Joseph Kendra help me from the off, then to be joined by Marianne Mulvey as the performance neared, was really pivotal - to have the attention of professional curatorial expertise, it is akin to having a good editor for a manuscript. And to share the event with Patrick Coyle, a close friend and someone I've admired and collaborated with for a such a long time, made the experience all the more resonant. 

From the Tate Modern: The London based poets, writers and artists Patrick Coyle and SJ Fowler perform new works that push the boundaries of what we understand by performance, text and poetry. Following their performances is an opportunity talk with them about their practice, the slippage between these disciplines and other notions of the avant-garde. / SJ Fowler’s performance explores derivation, digression and the often overlooked contexts and implications of public speaking, reading and performing. Ebbing between accuracy and forgetfulness, his work investigates how language comes to us, and is given to us, when we read and listen. A performance about constraint, introduction, pre-amble and the tropes of speech, Fowler presents a series of language experiments sewn together into a new whole, covering poetry, art performance, sound, repetition and re-enactment. http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/talks-and-lectures/talking-performance-patrick-coyle-and-sj-fowler


Tate Modern - Writing Photographs : October 13th 2018

A powerful day of provocations and workshops led by Beverley Carruthers and Wiebke Leister and the staff of Tate Modern in the Starr Cinema of that institution exploring photographs intersection with the written word. https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/shape-light/writing-photographs

I had the chance to run a workshop that I turned into a paradox, essentially suggesting most collaborations between poetry (specifically, not text) and photography was a banal tennis match between the mediums, never exploring what is possible between the two precisely because they are so disparate and paradoxical when aligned and this is because no one wants to take a risk / responsibility and stake out working definitions of both mediums in order to fix a creative point of genesis between them. I presented the poor souls in my workshop with six exercises to exacerbate them further, each one designed around impossible, paradoxical tasks that related to photography & poetry / photography & poetry. After this lovely 90 minutes where people wrote some great bursts of work and shared some excellent suspicions I then gave a presentation to the wider group about what we were up to. A good day for me, to further and refine ideas for myself. Photographs by Xiaolin Zhang.

A conference on how photography has evolved as a practice with talks, workshops and open discussions. I’m happy to be presenting provoking and leading a workshop around poetry and photography incompatibility as the beginning point for fruitful exchanges in our own minds. Writing Photographs will bring together artists, writers, curators and researchers, to present and discuss photography as an expanded practice. Building on London College of Communication’s reputation for research into conceptual photography, the day aims to counter traditional notions of image and text, adding a contemporary understanding of Writing Photographs through inter-medial constellations.

Workshops Grace Gelder / Marianne Mulvey and Ajamu X / Steven Fowler / Emmanuelle Waeckerle Writing Photographs is a collaboration between Tate and The Photography and the Contemporary Imaginary Research Hub at London College of Communication.


Across five monday evenings in the new year of 2017 I had the chance to lead a course at Tate Modern, after hours, in the Robert Rauschenberg exhibition itself. With a remarkable group of people, ten hours were passed amongst the extraordinary range of artworks that made up this retrospective. All told I spent almost exactly twenty four hours in that space, most often alone or in a small group. I was able to really engage, in a way that is almost impossible in normal circumstance, with the lessons Rauschenberg's lifetime of art practise and general decency had to offer me. And I did feel it was a personal connection, feeling an immense kinship with his prolific and curious mode. 

I've generated an unwieldy volume of notes on his work that I intend to turn into an article or sorts, or a reminder for myself in smoother print, but for now, just fresh from the course's conclusion, I can only reflect on the generous human experience it provided. I must helped with quite some grace by curators Luisa Ulyett and Joseph Kendra, and I will admit at times the unique format of the after-hours adult-ed type format did provide challenges, I believe myself to be too conscious of every individual detail at times, trying to do all things at once, making sure everyone involved is satisfied in all ways, when this not possible and counterintuitive.  However the experience was resonant because of those generous enough to participate, really warm, intelligent, discerning people I had the chance to spend an extended time with, a ten hour conversation.

Along with my copious notes we did produce, as a group, some mini Combines, some transfer image illustrations and in the final week, some performances, the videos of which are below.

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/course/robert-rauschenberg/inventing-rauschenberg-artist-engineer Over five weeks, through talks, discussions and practical writing exercises, participants will follow Rauschenberg’s innovations fundamental to 20th century art, while surrounded by his work in Tate Modern. Discover Rauschenberg’s innovative use of material, his ground-breaking sculptural combines, his engagement with popular and global culture beyond the US, his exploration of collaboration and conceptualism at the Black Mountain College, as well as his work in the field of performance, and his telling use of technology. This course is a chance to trace this iconoclastic artist’s life and continued reinvention, whose practise genuinely scanned the fullest range of artistic possibility proximate to our time, and as part of the course, to explore in your own work the lessons we can draw from his extraordinary legacy. 


Week 1 : February 20th - A Question of Art
An introduction to the course framed by Rauschenberg's lifelong sense of curiosity and invention. We will explore the effect his early life and his dyslexia had on his constant questioning of what art is, and his refusal to accept conventional categorisation. Working "in the gap between art and life" we will discuss works such as "Erased de Kooning Drawing" and "White Paintings."

Week 2 : February 27th - Material and Method
Groundbreaking in his use of material from very early in his practise, Rauschenberg always met material with method, purposeful and playful in his art making. This week we will explore Rauschenberg's famous Combines as just one small part of a remarkably multifaceted output which included painting, drawing, found sculpture, collage, photography, printmaking, silk-screen printing, papermaking and performance.

Week 3 : March 6th - Collaboration and Performance
From attending the Black Mountain College to his time designing theatre sets, collaboration was key to Rauschenberg's approach to art, ever collective and against the artist as singular. We will explore the effect this communal practise had on his work and its role in his journey to becoming a pioneer in the field of performance art. From conceptual drama to action painting, for Rauschenberg, process was always paramount.

Week 4 : March 13th - Technology
Ever mindful of his times, Rauschenberg was also a pioneer in exploring the intersections between post-war technology and art. From launching Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) with Billy Klüver to collaborate with engineers, to utilising the latest digital iris prints and biodegradable vegetable dyes, to underscore his environmentalism, we will discover Rauschenberg’s role in advancing this field of inquiry.

Week 5 : March 20th - Internationalism, Pop Culture and Ethics
Tying together the great concerns of Rauschenberg's life, we will explore his ambitious ROCI project (Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange), his constant engagement with American popular culture and pop art, and the underlying ethical concerns which drove these, and arguably all of his works - a profound and serious sense of persistent inventiveness, humour, candor and worldliness.


A Language Art: Course for Tate Modern  (Oct 26th to Nov 30th 2015)

An amazing experience, to continue my work with Tate Modern after a Talking Performance, to teach a six week course, each lesson in a different gallery, surrounded by the works being referred to. I had the privilege to share ideas, concepts, history and methodologies that cross both avant-garde writing and modern art, from Concrete poetry to Asemic writing, from Sound poetry to Collectives, from the Painted word to Poster art, to show how interlinked they are, how fundamental to both arts (even if one has embraced the theoretical, emotional, social and political developments of the latter 20th and early 21st century, and the other hasn't). The course was global and allowed me to explore further than ever before the profound reasons behind most of the innovation so definitional to the work I am most excited by. We even had a session in the Tate stores and I was able to bring out original artworks / poems by Henri Michaux, Christian Dotremont, Karel Appel, Cy Twombly, RB Kitaj, Jenny Holzer, Tom Phillips, Ian Hamilton Finlay and others who have influenced me so much. The course was attended by particularly generous and sophisticated artists, poets, book makers and people in advanced study, so it was a engaged, full of new works and ideas and really generously supported by an brilliant curatorial staff at Tate Modern, led by Joseph Kendra. Really a pleasure to do, I gained much from the weeks and a privilege to share those hours in Tate Modern with fellow artists. All the course details are below:

Tate Modern, In the galleries Mondays, 26 October – 30 November 2015, 18.45–20.45, session on Monday 9 November at Tate Britain. 

Over six weeks, SJ Fowler explores the intersections between the post-war traditions of modern art and avant-garde poetry. Discovering poets and artists from the Tate collection who make use of language, sound, space, printing and writing, this course reveals how these practises are fundamental to both arts. Sessions are based within the galleries of Tate Modern in the presence of works by Gerhard Richter, Li Yuan-Chia and RB Kitaj, which bring to light some of the great moments in modern art and poetry that have enriched the traditions of both writing and art-making. Each week participants are also introduced to contemporary examples of work inspired by those held in the Tate Collection, as well as encouraged to create and share their own avant-garde poetry and text art in the extraordinary environment of the museum. One session is held at Tate Britain and includes the chance to explore Tate’s Prints and Drawings Rooms. This course is for people interested in developing their own skills and understanding of experimental poetry and modern and contemporary art practises. The onus is on how these great moments in modern art and poetry can enrich writing and art-making practise, rather than dense historical analysis. It’s a rare chance to excavate avant- garde poetry in such a setting, and each week participants will have the chance to create new works in the extraordinary environment of the Tate Modern’s galleries. The below course breakdown is subject to change: