Distorting spaces II

In a workshop thinking about site specificity, we were asked to create a piece of site specific work in a conference room. The room was actually made up of two rooms that can be divided by a big sliding door (which was open). In between the rooms was a large conference table, which we spent the first half of the session sitting around as a group.

Floor plan of room

Thinking, again, about how one small change can be made to make a space unusable, we shut the shutter doors, leaving the table where it is, making the one space into two. 

Poorly documented – work like this needs to be well photographed as it doesn’t exist in any other form.

The response from the group was very interesting once we had done this. Instead of it being one room split into two, it became two very distinct, separate rooms. The power also weirdly changed – noone really came into ‘our’ side, all the other groups worked in the other one. We started to play with this, forcing people to leave through ‘their’ door and in through ‘ours’, rather than going through the sliding doors.

We tried to exaggerate this, making ‘our side’ as uncomfortable to enter as possible. We played loud music and started rearranging the chairs so they all faced the door – making it feel like you were walking into some kind of auditorium. However, part way through doing this, we realised that the piece was much more powerful as its original intent. The whole point was that we were making the one big conference room useless, but still considering it one big conference room.

 

COLLAB PART 1

Perec’s “Species of Spaces” talked about imagined spaces vs real spaces. for example, if you close your eyes and imagine the space you are in / a space you know well in as much detail as possible, how does this compare to the actual, physical space? And how can you say which is more ‘real’? This concept reminded me of the game you play as a child whereby one person does a drawing then explains it to the other person, breaking it down into shapes, lines and angles. The other person recreates it as closely as possible.

This made me wander if a similar thing could be done with a space (e.g a room). This prompted the start of a collaboration with a first year sculpture student at Camberwell, who is also interested in the qualities of spaces. Can we ‘send’ a space from one part of London to another part? Breaking it down and building it back up in whatever way we see best.

We started with the original game as a kind of ‘warm up’.

Presented all together on a wall

4 examples of our attempts.

Distorting spaces I

“public space, politics and event” workshop With lucy gunning

Workshop notes:

  • 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

References:

  • 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.

 

Remnants

I am interested in how I can show my ideas in the most stripped down way possible. The pile of tags I had leftover piqued my interest in the remnants of other works. These can be a very effective way of breaking down a work into only the elements it needs to be: taking away all the unnecessary parts. Sometimes these remnants represent ideas in a way that is less explicit to the audience which, therefore, draws them in and encourages questions to be asked. There is a sense of something greater in a way that is difficult to achieve when trying to create a minimal piece straight of the bat. 

My key concern with this body of work is the network/systems that I can create – so are the objects themselves necessary? Or do they actually take away more than they add – stealing the attention?

 

Exhibition Reflection

Going forward, I am somewhat conflicted. Although I knew going into the exhibition that it was not a conclusion of my work, but a midpoint, I still feel that it was too literal a representation of what I was looking at. The group crit and my conversations with my peers were useful in building an understanding of how my work would be received by a viewer. Conversations surrounding my work quickly turned to the objects and the tubes. Therefore, the work became about these things: once a piece of work is in the world, artist’s intention is somewhat meaningless – the viewers understanding of the piece becomes the meaning of the piece.

I want to start thinking more about how my concepts manifest themselves as physical pieces. Do they need to become physical pieces at all? Is this literal visual depiction necessary? This becomes a bit of a contradiction in my mind: one part of me thinks I need to focus on the bringing together of concept and physical work, whereas the other part wants to explore the concept and the physical as two very separate distinct things.

One way I want to push my concept forward is by bringing in a more direct human element, inspired by Valerie Tevere, whose work relies on relationships with the viewer. When working with found objects / the city, there will always be a social aspect, so it makes sense to acknowledge this to refine my ideas.

I am also very interested in Sol Le Witt and his ideas about ‘systems art’ and how I can use this to develop my practical work. I want to explore how much I can strip down my practical work while still representing my ideas. I want to spend more time in the studio and use this to develop my concepts through practical work.

EXHIBITION PREP VI

I had decided to put up the map on the wall for the exhibition, however, when in the space I realised there was not as much wall space as expected and the majority of people in the group had wall-based work. This meant that I would have had to hugely reduce the size of my piece which wouldn’t have nearly as much impact. It also made sense for me to change my plan as I had other options whereas people presenting, for example, paintings, couldn’t change their plan as easily. Exhibiting my work as a floor-based piece would also allow me to expand my work greatly as there was a lot of unused floor-space.

Firstly, I had to fix the problems I had with my first attempt at the floor piece.

Here I only linked each pile once to the main “hub” of each line. Now it feels too empty. Maybe with more space I could make more connections.
This is linking up every pile on the Victoria and Piccadilly Lines. Even with just these 2 lines complete it is already too crowded. Need to find middle ground.

Final Exhibition piece

I chose to use blue tape for my exhibition piece. I did like the subtlety of masking tape structure in contrast with the boldness of the objects, however, I thought it would get kind of swallowed up when surrounded by all the other exhibition pieces. I thought the blue would be a subtle link to the tube map that the viewer would perhaps subconsciously pick up on.

EXHIBITION PREP V

I decided to keep going with the morphing of the tube map, rather than bringing in another, irrelevant system (eg alphabet). Here, I grouped the objects based on the line on which they were found, then made connections between mutual lines. For example there is a group of objects found on just the Victoria line, a group of objects from both the Victoria and London Overground lines, and a group found on just the London Overground.

I think this could be a very effective arrangement as it vaguely references the actual tube map in its layout, but is in fact completely made up. However, I would need to more space and would need to think carefully about where each pile goes and how exactly everything is connected; all Victoria lines to all Victoria lines or just all connected in a loop? Here, I began doing the former and it is already too cluttered.

The labels are for my benefit only, they would be taken off if I were to finalise this as a piece. It would be difficult to figure out what this map means.

EXHIBITION PREP IV

The grid from my previous experiment reminded me of the co-ordinates grid on a tube map. For this piece I arranged the objects based on where on the map the were found – not worrying about if they overlapped other objects, which created this cluttered, incomprehensible arrangement. I think this piece is much more effective than the last.

Formally it is high impact due to the tension created by the area of high concentration vs the few objects to the top left and the objects on the floor. I also like the contrast between the pale, barely visible tape and the bold colours and shapes of the objects.

These factors are also interesting conceptually. The grid straight away creates a feeling that there is an order of some kind, but the sporadic arrangement of objects contradicts this. The viewer would never be able to figure out any kind of order, however, the co-ordinates grid very subtly alludes to it. The spreading of the objects from where they are supposed to be begins to warp the structure, making it into something else. Could I play with this?

EXHIBITION PREP III

Remnants from removing the labels. How can I present the complex systems in their simplest form? This feels almost like a lucky dip. I am completely randomising the previous, very non-random, system. Maybe something as simple as a little pile of tags has as much power as a large, carefully thought through installation. If my key focus is very non-material then is there any reason to create these very material exhibition pieces?

EXHIBITION PREP II

Making the items into a wall-based arrangement immediately begins to distort the original system. When on the floor, a collection of obviously found objects makes almost too much sense – they are where they belong, which prevents the viewer to ask questions or attempt to find meanings/patterns in the same way. Once on the wall there is a sense of deliberateness: each object has been carefully placed in these specific places. Why?

Alphabetised by station: with labels
Alphabetised by station: no labels

A grid has instant connotations of order. Here, I have organised the objects alphabetically by the station they were found. Alphabet is a very obvious way to order, however, without knowing that he objects have a link to stations it would be difficult for the viewer to figure out any pattern. This is contradicted by the labels which straight away give it away. The fact that the objects burst out of their boxes creates a tension between order and disorder which relates well to my ideas about creating systems where there are none. Forcing things to fit into an invented structure.

I removed the labels as I think they take away more than they add: all mystery and subtlety is contradicted by telling the audience exactly what they are seeing. Visually, the piece is much cleaner and more impactful without the tags.

Is this “cleanness” to much? Is the idea of neatly ordering grubby, found objects a bit done? Or does the fact that they don’t fit in their neat boxes enough to suggest something more than just an exploration of order?

Seeing as these were just quick experiments, I didn’t want to waste time figuring out how to attach these final things to the wall. I kind of like the fact that they are separate as it, again, adds to the question of why I have made the choices I have made. As the artist I could come up with a complex reason as to why they are separate, when in reality it was purely practical. I am creating my own logic that the viewer has no choice but to go along with.