Friday, March 23, 2012

Some thoughts whilst suffering from GSMD

Gallery sitting for hours on end tends to drive me a little bit twitch-twitch. Red curtains start slowly descending in front of increasingly tired eyes and the boredom does give me dangerous amounts of time to think.

Today is the last day of sitting at Kurb and then we deinstall the show this evening. That makes for an extremely long day.

Observing the people through the shows has been interesting and it has been one of more engagement-heavy shows I've held. That is to say that I find myself talking to proportionally more people much longer than normal as the work itself is less abstract for an audience than my recent series.

I've always been interested in how people engage - or rather don't - with artworks. In particular, how they deal with the dynamics of something like a white box of a gallery. I was speaking to someone a few days ago about how some people seem to have problems entering a space, often querying 'is this free?' and constantly looking out of the corner of their eye in nervousness.

In some cities, barriers are erected in the form of closed doors and buzzers to keep out the unwashed but even a wide open door with flashing 'open' signs, a red carpet and inviting waves still prompt 'is this free' and perplexed looks.

So… what happens when/if you get them inside? Ideally whatever they want, short of a viewer damaging the work that is. An artist opens their space for you to enter. You are encouraged to look at, think about and comment on whatever you encounter. That ultimately is the POINT of putting on shows. Dialogue is encouraged by the process.

As an artist, you can digest comments however you wish. If anything, I have found negative comments much more rewarding in the long term. Particular when I saw that one person had spat on a (public) work of mine a few years ago. It doesn't mean that I have adapted my practice to appease that particular person, but rather it occasionally makes me aware of weaknesses I might not have previously seen.

Speak up!

It could be an audience's inability to formally deal with photography (as many forms of artworks for that matter) that results in them falling back on seemingly simple tenets of art appreciation.

This is resolved using relatively harmless phrases related to quality (ie. 'so realistic', 'love the colours') and quantity (ie. 'this must have taken hours to do', 'wow, that's a lot of dots!').

These comments are, of course, completely valid and not without merit. It is however sad that more thorough querying is often avoided due to a fear of reproach.

An audience shouldn't be afraid of challenging and talking to artists but should treat an artist with as much respect as they would every other person. The artists are putting themselves 'on the line' so if you don't like something you should still express that provided you are willing to discuss why. Simply saying 'it's shit' isn't worth the breath it's spoken with.

Equally, artists and arts industrialists shouldn't coldly rebuff any criticism as 'ignorance' on behalf of the viewer. Admittedly, much art has been made over the years almost specifically for the arts 'crowd' and can be heavily referential. Basically, you won't 'get it' unless you know this or that.

Whilst difficult to resolve in an exhibition format, many people truly appreciate clarification. It is not necessary to dumb it down but giving context helps immensely. A classic (and simple) example of this is Jeff Wall's 'Gust of Wind' and it's referencing of Hokusai. Without it being contextualised, it would seem to many like an extremely 'lucky' shot but with context it prompts really interesting discussions about truth in images.

It's all in the details…

Many exhibitions that I have seen over the last few years are very much about the extraordinary details in the images.

Images from Gursky, Crewdson, Ward and many others work effectively on audiences in that they can immerse themselves completely in images due to scale. They, put simply, often have more to look at and feel more comfortable in the act of dwelling longer.

I have been wondering lately if the detail fetish on the audience behalf is a reaction against our 1024 x 768 worlds.

For artists, it might also be an attempt to 'rise above' the mass photographic swarm in that quality of image still has a price point on some levels.

To be continued...

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