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Tate Modern: Contemporary Art Is Not Just For Intellectuals And Snobs

The Tate Modern museum in London, is not like any museum you've every seen. It's an ever-evolving space, adapting to new art forms as they come along.

Tate Modern Turbine Hall (david__jones)
Tate Modern Turbine Hall (david__jones)
Hans Joachim-Müller

LONDON - Am I in the wrong place? Or are they using the wrong name? Museum? Where does the city stop and the museum begin? Kids are skating down the entrance ramp while parents wave their entry tickets as if they just won free tickets to a Champions League game. And they all surge into the museum as if they were planning to occupy it.

A mere half hour after opening time, the vast museum premises are as abuzz as a crowded shopping mall. I elbow my way through to the elevator, then through narrow passageways where enough of the old architecture is left for you to see that you're in a former power station. Finally I get to the open plan office space that museum director Chris Dercon occupies a corner of. Yes, the week has started well, very well, he agrees.

"London is a fairly tough city, and life here is pretty stressful. There isn't a lot of free space. Where are people to go? They need their museum, and have discovered it for themselves. The Tate Modern has opened up art in a new way, made it accessible to many people, and it's become a place like no other where people encounter art and each other," he says.

For seven years, Belgian-born Dercon, 54, headed Munich's Haus der Kunst. Then in March 2011 Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate and a driving force behind the Tate Modern which opened in 2000, offered him the London job.

"In Germany, museums are seen as a kind of university: guided tours are expected, lectures, an education program. It's about education here too – but education as a social event. Maybe you want to be with somebody in a different environment, and this is an environment where you don't have to know everything, where you don't have to agree or disagree with anything. But it's by no means merely about entertainment. The Tate doesn't make complex art any simpler. It's just presented in such a way that makes it open to everyone. You never have the impression here that art isn't meant for the general public. That's what makes the museum successful."

A museum for everybody

Indeed, visitor lists show people ranging from intellectuals like American sociologist Richard Sennett and British historian Eric Hobsbawm to stars like Kate Moss, and hundreds of thousands of school children have been here. With its five million visitors per year, the Tate Modern is the most-visited contemporary art museum bar none – popular, Dercon stresses, in the sense of the Greek word "demos" (common people, populace).

It also has to be said that what Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron achieved when they converted the Bankside Power Station remains, 12 years after the museum launched, an outstanding feat of contemporary museum architecture.

Yet when the museum opened its doors, many didn't believe it had much of a future. Who could possibly want to go there? Everybody as it turns out, despite the fact that the Tate Modern doesn't stage blockbusters, and doesn't have huge quantities of spectacular masterpieces in the regular collections. It does present art work in interesting juxtapositions, but visitors tend to spend relatively short amounts of time in the exhibition space, drawn out time and again onto the stairs and ramps, into the huge hall that is still a "power station" – just a very different kind from when the place was nothing but turbines.

So is this a new museum model? Dercon leans back on his office chair. The real secret behind the Tate Modern, he says, is its flexibility, the fact that it has its finger on the pulse of new art and reacts to it quickly. And from the start, the museum has seen itself as expanding, and continues to do so, literally and in style. Herzog & de Meuron have a long way to go before they finish the project. They just finished converting the old cylindrical oil tanks designed to hold a million gallons of oil into circular exhibition spaces that, from July 18 to October 28, 2012, will feature an exhibition called The Tanks, Fifteen Weeks of Art in Action where 40 performance artists will also appear.

We go together to visit The Tanks, which look like stages for a play that hasn't been written yet – appropriately enough, since Dercon believes performance art is without a doubt the art of the moment. "When a museum expands it can't be because it doesn't have enough space – it has to be because there are new art forms. We had to do this because the art demands it and so does the public."

At the end of the day, people have had enough of the abstractions of the financial system, the rhetoric of politics, Dercon says; they want to see bodies, they want to be together with other bodies. The hour of "live art" has come, it's where the most exciting new art is going. "It's a form of biopolitics," he says.

Read the original article in German.

Photo - david__jones

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Future

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.


But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

commons.wikimedia.org

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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