Discursive Exercises' took place at The Tate Modern's Tanks- the world’s first museum galleries permanently dedicated to exhibiting live art, performance, installation and film works. 'Discursive Exercises' consisted of educators being given assignments that might challenge and inform classroom practice. Set against the extraordinary backdrop of these cavernous spaces and led by artist run gallery ‘Five Years’, artist Tom Estes contributed to The (Im) Possible School Book as part of the series The Tanks: Art in Action. Estes' contribution to the Five Years Tanks Summer School was to build on his existing practice but with one slight twist. In this instance, rather than stage the Live Art Action himself, Estes encouraged the participants to stage an action themselves as a form of ‘adult play’. 


The aim of 'Discursive Exercises' was to provide random objects and ask the participants to interact or ‘play with the objects'. The Play was to be a self-chosen activity, rather than a prescribed, active, self-initiated process, intrinsic, episodic, rule governed and symbolic. Learning Through Play is a term widely used in educational and psychology to describe how a child can learn to make sense of the world around them. In order for an activity to be considered play, the experience must include a measure of inner control, ability to bend or invent reality, and a strong internally based motivation for playing. Through play, children can develop social and cognitive skills, mature emotionally, and gain the self-confidence required to engage in new experiences and environments. There are critical differences between play and work by a parent or teacher. Although many educators and parents are beginning to understand the theory that Play is not wasted time, it might be difficult for the adult mind to understand the perspective of the child: That play is a process, but without a predicted outcome or product. Work, on the other hand, has a definite intent and a prescribed outcome. If parents and educators try to label experiences as play but in reality have a specific requirement for the activity, then it becomes work, not play. 


 Estes presented five elements to the participants regarding play:
 1. Play is spontaneous and voluntary.
 2. Play involves active engagement on the part of the player. 
 3. Play involves an element of make-believe.
 4. Play must have no extrinsic goals; there is no prescribed learning that must occur. 
 5. Play must be pleasurable and enjoyable. 


 Working with historical records and contemporary precedents, participants worked individually and as a collective to re-enact, devise and document performance. The Tanks became a site for practical enquiry and intervention, opening up dialogue and exploring live art and the performative as modes for learning which also culminated in a live event. Since the 1950s contemporary art practice has evolved significantly in areas of performance and film, as well as through works that incorporate active social relations between artists, collaborators and audiences. Such works pose many questions for museums, not least because they are often complex to show and do not readily fit into existing frameworks, through space, audiences or context. But while live pieces naturally celebrate the moment in which they are performed, they also form part of a longer and more extensive history of gesture, movement, activism and physical action. 
This is a rich and variable history that is easily bypassed in museums and overlooked in collections. The Tanks provide an opportunity not just to revisit this history, but to place it centrally in a new conversation that questions how live works function in relation to traditional understandings of museum collections, and how an evolving history of contemporary art and action whose roots stretch back to the beginning of the twentieth century can be presented, researched and archived. A further question that the Tanks bring to the forefront of discussion for museums is the changing role of the audience at a moment dominated by social media and new modes of broadcast. Many of the works presented in the Tanks address their audiences directly, emphasising the visitor’s own physical presence, whether that be by being part of a crowd surrounding a performer, becoming part of a conversation, or walking through and around an immersive installation. 

 With these complexities and the advent of new recording technologies, the live event takes on new meanings and possibilities. The audience’s experiences can be immediately recorded and disseminated in a way that is unprecedented in historical terms. As such, it is also the audience that forms a central component of what happens in the Tanks. This is why the opening programme is presented as an ‘open manifesto’ – a call to define and shape the programme. Within Tate Modern’s new generator it is the true meeting of artworks and audiences that will establish what the Tanks are and can be. The Tanks at Tate Modern launched with a fifteen-week festival that will include recent acquisitions as well as a major new commission. Following decades of inactivity, and an extensive period of redevelopment, the cavernous underground oil tanks of the former power station were transformed and returned to daily use, becoming once again active and working components of a larger building. Raw, versatile, circular and unique, neither white cube nor black box, they provide an entirely new type of space for Tate Modern, and for museums internationally. No longer generators of electrical energy, they are instead generators of ideas, creative energy and new possibilities for artists and audiences. They challenge many aspects of what historically has been important to museums – their collections and modes of display and archive – and ask vital new questions of what it is to be a museum in the twenty-first century.www.TomEstesartist.com