Since I started looking at how spaces can be tweaked into uselessness (parade ground, conference room and studio), I have been noticing instances of this happening in the world – sometimes intentionally, sometimes not and sometimes difficult to know.
In Kati Heck’s exhibition “Heimlich Manoeuvre” at Sadie Coles , 6 paintings are shown in a carpeted, hexagonal space. One of the paintings, however, is obscured by a pillar, preventing the viewer from having a proper, front facing view.
The whole show is presented as a kind of installation, so it feels like the pillar must be deliberate – it seems they could have built the hexagon one metre to the side to avoid this obstruction. However, I can’t find anything that even mentions the pillar, let alone explain it, it is as if noone has even noticed it is there, including the press release. This one glitch in the entire show has taken away the prime function of a white cube gallery space: to present works simply and accessibly to the viewer.
There was a similar situation in Sprüth Magers Gallery. After walking downstairs I suddenly felt as if I was somewhere I shouldn’t have been. The sign said there was two rooms of Andreas Schulze’s work, however, I couldn’t tell you what his work actually was, as in the centre of both rooms was a large desk. The rooms felt like private offices. I don’t know if this was part of his work or not, as I was too scared to properly venture in. Whether this is deliberate or not, I find it super interesting.
In the Zilkha Auditorium at the Whitechapel Gallery, Liam Gillick has taken over with his ‘social sculpture’ “Prototype Conference Room” in which he covered all the seats with brightly coloured fabrics, subverting the usual hierarchy of a cinema. The audience’s attention is first captured by the seatsm rather than the film. This piece is very deliberate, as opposed to the other two works which I am not sure about. Gillick’s practice is concerned with the “aesthetics of social spaces” exploring how “materials, structure, and colours affect our surroundings and influence the way we behave”. I like how this work unapologetically hijacks both the space and the work of the other showing artists. This is what I have been to afraid to do with my own work (probably for good reason as a student…)
“public space, politics and event” workshop With lucy gunning
What does ‘politics’ mean? Politics of the world, a country, a space. Politics = news, rules, systems put in place by those with power. Politics = the way things are, the everyday. Politics of life vs politics of politics/government.
Restriction. Virginia Woolf “A Room of One’s Own” — inspired Lucy Gunning’s piece for “Planned and Unplanned” exhibition. Ownership of space (e.g uni / museum quad) – reading Virginia Woolf in quad.
Spectacle or lack of. Merge with everyday life rather than causing a scene. Not a hired space, rest of the space continuing as usual.
“Text mapped on to an environment, that you were moving through”
Participants also the audience
Event in relation to exhibition: exhib a way to advertise event (not pre filmed etc as something to present in an exhibition)
Carrying dancer down the street; acknowledgement of audience; subtle, short, fitting into everyday.
Mirrors in Lake district; can only witness by being part of it; Noone can witness the whole thing
Posters/stickers – integrating with public space
DAVID HAMMONS: Selling snowballs on the street, documentation only exists because a photographer (unhired) took photos
FRANCIS ALYS: Recording. If the work is made up of experiences is there any value in filming etc
OLAFUR ELIASSON: “Green River”. Unannounced. Starts a fear/buzz/rumour. Wakes people up to their environment.
MEIRELES: Working with the circulation of things, e.g recycled coca cola bottles, editing the labels etc then returning them, go undetected and back into the system. E.g instructions on how to make a molotov cocktail; no control over what happens to them/no control over the audience; also with money “yankees go home”
VALIE EXPORT: Working with her body in public; posters; performance; “street cinema” – but its her boobs! Questioning the male gaze by confronting them with her as a human.
Always relates back to capitalism / control / boundaries. Capitalism as a network/map/web. Boundaries as a system.
For me , this workshop became more about the politics of space; how do we use spaces? I was thinking about the formal rules that dictate our use of spaces as well as the informal rules that influence how we move around, behave in and interact with spaces.
I was thinking about this in relation to Perec’s “Species of Spaces”. As well as talking about Spaces, he sets what he refers to as ‘exercises’, for example, listing sitting in one places and listing everything you see, without prioritising the out-of-the-ordinary over the mundane. This forces the participant to look more carefully at their surroundings and to notice things.
I did this for the Chelsea College Parade Ground. I think the Parade Ground is an interesting space as it sits somewhere between poublic and private; it is owned by the college, yet is open for the public to pass through. I think of the Parade Ground as a kind of transitionary space – it is used to get from one place to another. My main interest lies in how people use spaces, so I focused my recordings on the entrances/exits and the people who pass through them:
This kind of written ‘map’ of activity prompted me to think about other ways of mapping/tracking how people interact with the space. Because of limited time, I focused on the area outside the Triangle space, at the bottom of the ramp. This area is one that has to be walked on in order for people to get to the Parade Ground from the main building, the workshops and the Triangle Space, as well as being the only route in between the three.
Despite this, once i started laying down the newspaper, people were extremely reluctant to walk there (even though there is literally no other option). I tried to make extend the edges, forcing people to walk across, rather than jump over. By laying water around the edges of the newspaper I could see exactly where people were walking, and all the stains were around the very edges.
It is interesting how a small change made people so aware of themselves and of the space. Ordinarily, you wouldn’t think twice about walking on a newspaper on the ground, however here, where it was clearly more deliberate, everyone was reluctant to. They either skirted round the edges, or walked in a funny ‘minimal contact’ kind of way, hesitating before crossing.
My intention for this experiment was to simply see how people moved in a space, however, it became about me as the artist changing the space and preventing the people from using the space how they usually would. This relates back to my earlier work exploring my power as artist. I have made a space that’s only purpose is to be walked across, completely useless.
“City of Glass” is a work of detective-fiction, however, it explores the city in a way that interests me. The roads of the city are used as a means of communication. Patterns are created using the systems of the streets, which form letters. It is interesting to consider how something like this would be untraceable unless looked for, and even then, the viewer would have to be present. It only makes sense from above, but dissolves instantly. No trace is left behind except the knowledge that it has been done. Undetectable event.
I read “Species of Spaces” because I felt it would be useful to address and explore my work’s clear, unavoidable link to the city. However, once I started reading I got very got up in, and excited by, the possibilities of spaces as a concept, rather than just specific place (e.g city). The more excited I got, the further my thoughts drifted from everything I have done up to this point and I started to see “Space” and “Mapping/Intervention” as two very different strands of interest. However, once I sat down and tried to organise my thoughts, I realised that these two strands are extremely intertwined and I could use what I had got from “Species of Spaces” to push my work forward, rather than using it as a new starting point.
Space as invention/illususion/perception : visual / grammatical ‘declaratives’ (I say it is this, therefore it is)
Questioning and distorting givens
Imagined vs real : is there really a difference?
Changing London – have I? / Can I?
Cataloguing and Breaking down. Can space be broken down and formalised? Using this as a means of manipulation.
It wasn’t until I read this book, including the essay “Trespassing relevance” by Nato Thompson, that I realised just how politically charged interventionism is. While I am interested in ‘art activism’ it isn’t really where I want to go with my work at the moment. However, it is still very interesting and helpful to look at the ways in which interventionist artists work and how they think about the artworld’s relationship with the public spheres. Much of their work much more closely resemble acts of protest than artworks which is interesting to me. When do actual acts cross the line into artwork?
Thompson writes about Abbie Hoffman’s 1967 act of dropping dollar bills on traders at the New York Stock Exchange then watching them scramble to grab as much as possible. This act made international news and according to Hoffman, “You can’t be revolutionary today without a television set – it’s as important as a gun!”. This is similar to Francis Alys’ aim to create a buzz about his work. The act/work itself becomes less important than the distribution of it or the talk about it. Although, Hoffman’s reasoning for this is that in order to “destroy” some kind of system of power, tools must be used to bring the acts into the public eye and that in this age the most important tool is technology.
Hoffman, alongside Jerry Rubin, kind of foreshadowed the boom of interventionist art in the 1980’s. Hoffman and the ‘yippies’ talked about the role of humour in creating activist artworks. Humour was a tactic. Because of their awareness of the media, it was vital to be aware of how they would be perceived. By mixing wit with the drama of their actions they could manipulate visual codes in a way that, first, made the audience laugh, then second, hit them with a message.
There are many interesting artists in this book but I have chosen just a few to look at in more depth. The following artists all fit into the category of “Reclaim the Streets” and work with a focus on how they are perceived by the public and by the structures put in place by those with power.
Bill Talen plays the role of Reverend Billy and takes to the streets incl huge corporations such as Disney Stores and Starbucks’ to ‘preach’ his anti-consumerism message in a very over the top way. He doesn’t stop until he has been escorted from the premises by the police and has been arrested multiple times. This again raises interesting questions about which element is the ‘artwork’. Is it the preaching itself? Or the character? The reaction from the crowds and online? Or the actions of the police and people in power who are the exact people Rev Billy is challenging? For me, one of the most interesting parts of his work is that Starbucks have actuallybeen forced to develop a document outlining the proper protocol for dealing with Reverend Billy appearances, which is given to Starbucks workers. He has made an actual change to these huge capitalist corporations. That is his influence as an artist.
The Yes Men have also managed to make a recordable impact on the systems they are calling into question. By “going under cover” they manage to get themselves invited to attend – and sometimes even to speak at – huge events / conferences / lectures. This began with a fake website (www.gatt.org) which copied the official site for the General Agreements of Trades and Tariffs. Through this site they ended up agreeing to speak in Austria on behalf of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Once at these events they have two tactics: either completely piss around and make fun of the people they are addressing, shocking them into listening (e.g “Beyond the Golden Parachute”), or presenting ideal situations as facts, convincing people of power that things are changing and getting them on board, only for it to come out that things are staying as they are (“End of the WTO”).
The Yes Men aim to make these changes happen, or at least give the people with power something to consider. They also leak information they learn at these events, providing the public with a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes world of business.
I have struggled to find out much information about Valerie Tevere, however I am very intrigued by her. In her intervention “A Preliminary Guide to Public and Private Space” she creates a web in a way that is directly relevant to my own work.
Through a series of interviews with members of the public she travels around Amsterdam creating a network of spaces. She asks the interviewee to describe one private and one public space then moves to those locations for her next interview.
The work allows the viewer to “walk” a geo-psychological map of the city in a “vulnerable yet alternate “tourism””
Tevere talks about the role of humour, play and satire in interventionist works as being “necessary tactics employed to catch the power off guard”
I would like to find out more about Tevere and her practice.
Dematerialisation describes how in contemporary art the object is losing significance as the concept itself becomes the artwork.
Richard Long describes himself as a sculptor despite his work being largely non-physical. For example “a line made by walking” now exists only as a photograph, losing the materiality of ‘traditional sculpture’. It can also be argued that the act of walking backwards and forwards to create the line is the art (the sculpture?) and the title of the piece reflects this. If the image was taken away leaving just the title, would the effect be the same?
A similar idea is explored in the piece “Untitled”, more commonly known as “Ben Nevis Hitch-Hike”. The ‘sculpture’ here was the journey itself, although the only documentation of this artwork is photos of the sky and and the ground taken at each stop. This raises interesting questions about the documentation of non-material work. For many, the photos would be the ‘artwork’, so does this change the intention/idea of the piece? However, if there was no documentation at all would the artwork even be artwork? Is there any point in doing this invisible work if there is no proof that it has been done? And should art be about ‘proving yourself’ to an audience?
This clearly relates to my London tube map journey. Is the act of travelling and collecting the key part?
Francis Alys also explored this idea of journey as artwork in his 1997 piece “The Loop”, in which he spent the commission money from “Insite” on travelling from Tijuana, Mexico to the exhibition in San Diego without crossing the Mexico-US border. He travelled to Australia, then travelled up the Pacific Rim then through Alaska and Canada before reaching the United States. In teh exhibition this journey was presented in the form of a postcard, although the true “artwork” was the journey itself which highlighted the difficulty of Mexican citizens trying to enter the United States.
“The project remained free and clear of all critical implications beyond the physical displacement of the artist”
Other works by Alys, such as “The Modern Procession” focused not on the acts themselves (in this case a parade of over 100 people carrying reproductions of ‘masterpieces’) but on the rumours/stories that these acts created. What people said about the artworks are more important than the artworks themselves, therefore making these words the artworks. This raises difficulties as the artist completely loses control. Although he has full control over the things that create the buzz, the buzz itself is impossible to track so the artist can never know to what extent he was successful. The only way is via publications which don’t necessarily provide an accurate/full picture. This kind of relates back to Richard Long’s journey’s; if they aren’t recorded in some way, what is the point? Here, however, there is very little way to record. But does this matter? I don’t know!!!!!
Brad Downey also works with urban interventions. However, his work differs from Harmen de Hoop’s in that it looks more like “art” and the commentary is often more explicit. While de Hoop avoids the traditional “white cube” of gallery spaces, reasoning that street art/intervention should be based on genuine public interaction, Downey plays with these exhibition spaces. The work is initially public – either bringing something unexpected into the urban environment, or using something from this space to create work. It is then taken back into a traditional “art space” (sometimes in the form of photography) and Downey retains ownership of the work.
In “Hotel L’Era De Can Burges” furniture was taken from inside a huge hotel and neatly arranged in a conflicting space. Tension between where it should be and where it is. So large scale that a passer-by would have to actively move around it. Physically changes the space.
“Parasite space” and “fence hack” are almost the opposite of “Hotel L’Era Du Can Burges” in that instead of bringing something into the space, pre-existing objects from the space are utilised to create the work. Interestingly, in the description for “Fence Hack” on the artist’s website, the materials are listed as “wood, mounting hardware, digitally printed photography mounted on woodboard”. This highlights the relationship between gallery and public space. Perhaps for Downey, the image/presentation of the work is the important part, rather than how it interacts with the space/viewer. This makes me question Downey’s relevance to intervention art/street installation. Although I do find his work interesting in terms of content, this idea of doing it to create visual ‘artworks’ isn’t so interesting conceptually.
Harmen de Hoop makes anonymous and illegal interventions in public spaces. The anonymity in his work is very important; he does not advertise his interventions as art or sign them in anyway. If he did so, the piece would become recognisable as an “artwork” which stops the passerby questioning in the same way.
De Hoop’s interventions re-contextualise existing signs/utilities etc within public spaces, but do so using common tools and imagery which don’t immediately draw the viewers attention due to their familiarity. They are “puzzling because of their pointlessness, but not unfamiliar either”. There is something surrealist in this notion; casual additions to public ‘furniture’ that raise question but don’t shake the ordinary.
Would people follow the instructions/ use the things before realising they don’t really make sense? Noone is forced to acknowledge the works, but they are somehow just absurd enough to pique the interest of a passerby.
I am interested in playing with this idea of faux-public utility. It would be interesting to incorporate a more human element into my work, rather than just creating systems using objects that go ignored. How does it change public response to something if it is presented as an actual thing vs an artwork? For example if a name plaque was put up next to De Hoops “Mineral Water” there is no chance anyone would take it, but if not they might.
Once these works are created, de Hoop loses control over them. They might stay there for years, but alternatively may be removed, vandalised or taken. This is reflective of the fact that they are designed to blend into the environment. What happens to them once out of the hands of the artist is a key part of the work.
I am interested in how artists can affect the city as well as how the city affects artists. I was stopped from doing what I wanted with my posters because of systems in place within the city (e.g laws). I am interested in artists who play with these systems to manipulate spaces/objects and how this often takes forms unrecognisable to the viewer as “artworks”.
“Street installation” is, like traditional street art (e.g graffiti), often done illegally and anonymously under a pseudonym. These artists sometimes have political or social agendas – commenting on the use of ‘public’ spaces and the control over them as well as playing with social interaction within these spaces. Urban interventionists see “urban space as a medium, bringing art into peoples’ daily lives”; my particular interest however is in how art can be brought into “daily lives” without the viewer being explicitly aware of it, for example unlike artists such as Banksy.