Thinking About Art in the Wider World …
I’ve been buried in my studio a good deal lately, and while the focus and discipline that comes with having long and consistent hours making work is fantastic in many ways, it can also lead to losing touch with the wider context of that process: the world behind the studio doors, and how much it is enriched when art of all sorts is presented.
A few things have provoked this consideration of late: anticipating the upcoming installations and performances for Dirt City, Dream City; making work for fast & dirty’s Curiosities exhibition – and seeing the response to the work in all three locations over the course of the weekend; getting 21st Century Nesting Practices installed outside and in the stairwell at Harcourt House; and finally, coming across a delightful piece of work installed on 104 street this past weekend, right in the middle of the bustle of the weekly Farmer’s Market.
I’ll start with the last one first:
I have to admit total ignorance as to the source of this delightful piece of interactive public art; I don’t know who made it, where it came from, where it went at the end of the day, what will become of all the love notes inserted into it. And for me, that’s a great part of the magic of the work … . I was also really taken with the essence of the work as an open invitation to all comers to stop, step outside the usual protective barriers we all wear for a moment, and take a small risk. I found this gesture refreshing – a small moment to delight in, and a place to actively respond to the twinned calls of community and compassion that can be so singularly lacking in urban environments.
A little bit of the same thing has been going on with the nests I have installed at Harcourt House … I have seen people stop. Look. Look again. Smile. Point them out to friends or colleagues in their walk past, especially over the usual hours of office lunch times. Just a moment, just a glance, but the work has been offered freely to any individuals coming across it – and it has allowed people (however briefly) to enjoy a moment in the day that is outside of the ordinary. It has created space for whoever wants it, an opportunity to step away. Interestingly, one of the nests has become part of my studio routine in a very practical way: I’ve taken to putting a large nest out on the Annex sign when I’m in the studio working … a variety of hanging out my shingle, I suppose. People seem to note when it’s out on the sign – and when it isn’t. Nice to know people notice :).
Curiosities functioned in a similar fashion to the aforementioned work: it presented the unexpected in an unusual way. When art is taken out of a gallery/white cube context and presented in mundane public places like the street, it disrupts a set of conventions and narratives about authority and taste and privilege – it generates conversations in new ways and makes room for more people to experience art in ways that are much less intimidating than formal, institutional settings often are.
Dirt City Dream City is, of course, exploring ideas about engagement and community – and the role of art in those processes – on a much larger level. The thing I keep coming back to with the entire project is how diverse the responses to the neighbourhood are – how many ways the artists involved are both engaging with the spaces in ‘The Quarters’ and how those actions (installations, performances, billboards, sculptures, gardens …) offer all kinds f different opportunities for both the residents and the larger community to explore what they think and feel about the area, and the many changes that are beginning to take place. I am really excited to see all of these projects come together in the next little while – and to walk through the neighbourhood and see what people do with them – how they respond, and to what.
The thread that binds all of these ‘acts of art’ together is their essentially transitory nature. A day, a weekend, a period of weeks or months … all of this work has its time in the public eye, and then it passes into memory for those that saw and experienced it. This brings a vitality and urgency to the experience of viewing public work of this sort, and – to my mind at least – it is in this vitality and seeming randomness that the real power of presenting work in this general fashion resides. The inherent rejection of authority and permanence seems to afford greater freedom to really engage with the work, and that in turn creates deeper engagement in the environment, in the community as a whole – for at least a little while – but maybe for longer.
In the end, it seems to me that art of this type can do so much on the streets of this city: provoke thought, raise controversy, bring diverse people together in unexpected ways … and there’s value too in simply provoking a smile. Making someone look up and notice something different. Unexplained. New.