Over the past year I’ve been working with Prof Paul Harris and Prof Anne Douglas to explore common issues across art, design, architecture and media/Web 2.0 focusing on issues of co-creativity and participation. This short video made for a presentation at the Moving Targets Conference earlier this month highlights a few key thoughts and the paper will be published imminently in Participations Journal. I’ll post a link in due course.
I just finish posting up this link to work we’ve been doing on participation and co-creativity, go back into my email and there is an Art&Education announcement of a major conference in Montreal entitled The Participatory Condition http://www.pcond.ca/ . Interestingly they have in their blurb aligned participation with democracy, something which we seek to question in our paper, and although they use the term relational, they don’t raise questions of the aesthetic of participation, questions which are critical within the art discourse but have not impacted on the discourse in design, architecture let alone media/Web 2.0.
The Financial Times at the end of 2012 carried a review of an exhibition by Zeng Fanzhi at the Gagosian Gallery. The review opens with the following couple of sentences,
It has finally happened – a solo exhibition of a Chinese artist whose power and interest does not depend on Chinese themes or subject matter. Since the 1990s, China has been the promised land of the global arts scene, but not one of the numerous group shows staged in the past decade – at Tate Liverpool, the Saatchi Gallery, the Hayward – has been able to make a case that artists from the region are of more than local concern.
The image that accompanied the review is of one of Zeng’s paintings, a reworking of Durer’s ubiquitous Hare some 4m square, the surface appearing to be deeply cracked. Whether this was an ironic statement on the import of the canonical tradition of Western Art from the perspective of the East, or an aesthetic judgement, or the quality of the reproduction on pink paper, I don’t know. I didn’t see the exhibition and I haven’t read the press release.
It may be that in the ambit of art criticism published in the FT and moving elegantly between the transnational art fairs and galleries that construct value through those environments, this artist is significant. It may be that because this artist reworks iconic images from canonical western art that they are therefore of ‘power and interest.’ Their ‘power and interest’ might perhaps lie in the exquisite development of the surface of the canvas through brilliant brushwork, or their use of colour, seeming to soak the hare in the night-time neon lights of Shanghai, Hong Kong, New York or LA.
This painting, and the others in the exhibition, and in fact all the work for sale in Gagosian, or in any of the other key galleries and art fairs, only exists at the global level. As the review rightly states what is important at this level is that the work cannot be of local concern, it must speak to The Universal, the abstracted, deterritorialised. It will exist in no-place because thanks to the hard work of the FT reviewer and the hard work of the Gagosian curatorial team ensuring that their merch is only seen in the right places, it’s value has nothing to do with an specific locality, any personal intimate space, any town or region. It might hang in a domestic interior for a period, but it is more likely to go into storage in a warehouse somewhere as an investment: value stored for future exchange.
The reviewer wouldn’t have to highlight this point reviewing a Richard Serra exhibition (such as the one that opened Gagosian’s London space). It would be taken for granted that Serra was of global interest and power, an important element moving in the circuits of value of the international art world. A Chinese artist has now been allowed into this club.
Claire Pentecost, in her essay (pdf: Pentecost Notes on Continental Drift) Notes on the Project Called Continental Drift offers an alternative structure for thinking about art. Her structure, and the wider structure of the book Deep Routes: The Midwest In All Directions (Compass Collaborators, 2012 see bottom for ways to get a copy), precisely values an analysis which is interested in multiple levels (p.17),
We aim to explore the five scales of contemporary existence: the intimate, the local, the national, the continental and the global. Within the mesh of scales, we want to understand the extent of our interdependence, how any action we may take has effects on and is shaped by all these scales at once. We attempt to understand these dynamics so that we can understand the meaning of our own actions, the basis for an ethical life.
But for Pentecost, global is not the exclusive realm of ‘power and interest’. Rather her global is a scale at which it is necessary to look to see the entwined flows that articulate our everyday lives. She wants to look at the food on our table (perhaps the jugged hare) and through following the lines of connection to see that we are connected to the workers making ceramics in China for sale in IKEA in Long Island City (cf Ai WeiWei perhaps). And through that examination to see the Phillippino crews of container ships continuously circumnavigating the planet (cf for instance Allan Sekula). For her the global simply cannot exist in isolation. No artist’s interest and power should be divorced from local themes and subject matters. It is simply not possible – those elements can be ignored, but they still exist – practically speaking iron ore is mined, corten steel is produced in foundries, barges, trucks and planes move sculptures. There are social and environmental interactions. A sculpture can be a sign separated from all the realities that are involved in it’s production and presentation – deracinated – separated from all considerations except value to enable it to circulate freely in this global space.
And where the exhibition at Gagosian and the review in the FT are elements in the urgent construction of capital, Pentecost takes us on a detour into a mis-remembered quote trying to latch onto an articulation of a different way of dealing with signs and the value they convey, or actually deferring dealing with signs and value (p.23),
… to the point where many of us aspire to practice an intricate, processual, and research-motivated version of art that resists evaluation by the prescriptive teams of institutions and markets.
Where for the critic and the gallery the essential acts are focused on the carefully orchestrated production and affirmation of the sign as value, Pentecost following the French artist Francois Deck, suggests that the most important act is to operate at the point before the sign is ‘finalised’ and value is conferred. So the artwork is always unfinished, it is always a project, precisely because at the point we confer value, that thing, whatever it is, whether food or art, moves into warehouses and other structures designed to enable and enhance the mobility of capital.
Pentecost’s essay is one of two that open up Deep Routes. Pentecost establishes some key points in a landscape characterised by the financial crisis and the occupy movement. The themes and contexts of the book are focused by the specificity of the midwest of the United States of America. Reading the book we get to know particular places such as Beardstown, IL, exploring through Ryan Griffis and Sarah Ross’ glossary of terms the ‘vertical integration’ of a small town into global commodities markets through ‘the cold chain,’ ‘engineered tiling,’ GMO, chemical fertilizers and GPS mapping. Matthias Regan’s narrative offers a different trajectory, of a Greyhound bus journey from Chicago to Detroit. This is a gentle, reflective meditation on breakdown in which (p.188),
The future does not emerge from amongst the technocratic elite; it will not be driven by new inventions in digital media. We should seek it instead in what is meager and humble, tentative and transitioning. Not rushing away from breakdown, but opening ourselves to its after effects.
The other key trajectory established from the outset in Deep Routes takes us into indigenous experience, practice, pedagogy and critique. Alongside the spatial, economic and experiential journeys of the other authors, Dylan AT Miner’s interviews with First People’s organisers punctuate the book. Miner has been pursuing a project of imagining that we can all be indigenous – it’s not a condition restricted by genealogy, but rather a practice and a philosophy – a way of making sense of the world.
Near the end of the book, in the last interview, Jill Doerfler and Miner discuss tribalography, a methodology developed by by LeAnne Howe. Jill studied with LeAnne and explains the emergence of tribalography (p.228),
LeAnne has explained that tribalography grew out of the Native propensity to connect things together. It is the idea that Native writers often tell stories that combine autobiography, history, and fiction; we tell stories that include all these elements and also work in collaboration with the past, present, and future. …
Jill goes on to say,
These stories are not generally about finding out what really happened but are meant to teach us something and show us our place within our families, communities, nations, and the world. I found that in addition to serving as a critical lens for literary study and as a theoretical framework for cultural analysis, tribalography can also serve as an abundantly fruitful methodological approach relevant across the interdisciplinary field of American Indian studies.
I happened across Deep Routes staying with Sarah Ross and Ryan Griffis in Chicago in the autumn of 2012 (I was introduced to them by Brett Bloom when I asked him for help finding somewhere to stay in Chicago). They had just received delivery of a number of boxes from the printers. There was one on the coffee table. I picked it up and started reading. I realised it was the sequel to MidWest Radical Culture Corridor: A Call to Farms, which I had come across a few years ago. I was in Chicago for the International Sculpture Conference, but in many respects this book is better art than much of what I saw in the conference presentations. Not only did I meet Sarah and Ryan, but also Claire and Brian Holmes who came up with the concept of Continental Drift, and is the ‘embedded’ critical theorist.
We ate preserved pears from the tree in their back garden and Sarah articulated some of the stress of working as a volunteer artist in a maximum security prison on her days off from teach at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
For me the description of tribalography tallies with my experience as an associate of a practice-led research programme. Practice-led research in the arts is autobiography. It is often history (contextualising practices in relation to precedents). It moves across the past, present and future (it has been said that practice-led PhDs are ways for artists to reinvent their practices). Truth in the sense of replicable experiment is not at the heart of practice-led research. But most provocatively fiction is sometimes there too (Sophie Hope’s work Participating in the Wrong Way certainly brings ‘fictionalising’ to bear on research).
Methods, whether Pentecost’s revisiting of the Modern School movement of the early part of the last century or tribalography, positively radiate out of this volume. It is built on the experience of a creative community that exists in a particular territory. Their art is research motivated, processual and intricately interwoven at different scales and with different collaborators. Ironically this work is of global power and interest even if it is all about the Midwest.
You can order a copy here, or if you are in Scotland and we can meet, then I’ll lend you one.
I wrote this brain-dump for Andy Field, who was asked to prepare a presentation on "how artists can think about new financial models for themselves and for audiences". He collected 150 bits of advice, sold them for £1 each, and used the proceeds to pay a violinist to play music for the length of the presentation: hurrah for the meeting of form and content!
My text is on the I woz here project website here. I didn’t put footnotes in, but if you are interested in participatory practices and town artists, you might like to read David Harding’s piece on Town Artists here, and the Artworks Scotland programme here.
You have in front of you a typewritten text. It could be poetry. It is an invitation to action, but not exactly an instruction. It reads:
planting a square of turf
amid grass like it
amid grass a little less green
planting four more squares
in places progressively drier
planting a square of dry turf
amid grass like it
amid grass a little less dry
planting four more squares
in places progressively greener
This is an artwork by Allan Kaprow, a score in his terminology. Kaprow wasn’t a musician, and in using the term score he was borrowing the terminology of music.
Reading the ArtWorks’ programme’s International Next Practice Review by Chrissie Tiller and in particular the Participation Spectrum proposed by the James Irvine Foundation, it strikes us that this work could operate at any point along the passive to active audience spectrum proposed. It could simply be read by an audience, or at the other end of the spectrum, made by them. A group of artists and researchers from Gray’s School of Art took this score as a starting point to make new work. We called that Calendar Variations. Were we artists or audience? Were we performing Kaprow’s score?
But what was Kaprow doing? Would he have defined his practice as participatory?
We’d like to suggest that Kaprow is breaking out of the norms of being an artist. The score was a prototype for a co-creative relationship. Kaprow authored the score, but other people played it.
Perhaps Kaprow simply thought that music benefited from having three different roles of composer, performer and audience, where in visual art there might be understood to be only artist and audience. Of course the performer could be many things: composer; professional performer, hired to perform the work; or member of the audience who goes home and performs the work themselves. Is the person who whistles the melody also more than passive audience?
But it could also be another composer who creates new work in response to the original, or a painter who makes something in another form. The more improvisational you get, the more that the role of the composer recedes and the role of the performer comes forward. Kaprow’s Calendar score is something with which to improvise. As soon as you set out to perform it, you realise that you have to interpret it.
Having done a series of projects on social practices, we have recently been working on improvisation, looking to understand the aesthetics of social practice.
Currently we are exploring participatory and co-creative practices across art, design and architecture.
Professor Paul Harris, Professor Anne Douglas and Chris Fremantle
Gray’s School of Art
This was just published as a provocation on the ArtWorks blog and is an element of a wider programme of work on participation and co-creation across art, design and architecture.
Tim Etchells’ piece Moon Story for the Arnolfini is a beautiful call to arms for performance.
This piece just went out on Public Art Scotland,
This Participation was the focus of the Imagining Possibilities conference at the University of the West of Scotland, but the conference is only a manifestation of a wider concern. The conference is part of the Remaking Communities project funded as part of Connected Communities. The Connected Communities programme embraces all the Research Funding Councils in a broad alliance to engage communities and thus increase impact. The Paul Hamlyn Foundation is currently funding four strands of the ArtWorks programme, including one in Scotland. The Scottish Government is currently working its way through a new bill on Community Empowerment and Renewal and the Westminster Government has already legislated on ‘localism’. All of these programmes put community participation at the heart of, respectively, academic research, arts practice and local democracy.
First part of a report on The Essential Conference in Edinburgh,
“I feel uncomfortable with the term public art, because I’m not sure what it means. If it means what I think it does, then I don’t do it. I’m not crazy about categories.” Barbara Kruger
Working artists and curators don’t tend to talk about monuments as part of the contemporary public art. Not sure they’d be considered essential. The recent conference, The Essential Monument, held at the Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh (8th February 2013), proved everyone wrong. The provocation clearly worked.
Before talking about the conference I need to say that the new monument to Patrick Geddes installed in the Garden of Sandeman House is one of the finest pieces of sculpture I’ve seen in a long time.
I use this image (or an even smaller crop) , rather than a photograph of myself, when asked for one by websites.
It is the figure of Mercury from the Scottish Renaissance tempura painted ceiling in Cullen House, Aberdeenshire. Sadly it was destroyed by fire in the late 80s. If you are looking for more information on the Cullen House ceiling get hold of a copy of ‘Celestial Ceiling’, the publication of the On The Edge Research project. The book documents the process of remaking the lost ceiling as a digital projection, and commissioning Robert Orchardson to make a new painted ceiling for the house.