Ahead of April’s 4 Days Project Boondock members Sarah Blissett and Rasheeda Nalumoso reflect on participation, audience/spectator relations and the collaborative artwork. Project Boondock’s in-situ ‘You Are Here’ forums considered the ranges of experiences and exchanges at Arnolfini’s January edition of 4 Days
“It didn’t stay in the building, it went out - to the hills” (Leona Jones, volunteer/ performer in Sharon Gal’s l'espirit d'escalier)
Project Boondock have a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach to making new work, with collective sharing and making at its heart. During 4 Days in January, we hosted You Are Here - practice-led forums inviting people to discuss the artist’s work and their experience of being involved. 4 Days led with the theme ‘coming together’; a programme of work exploring liveness as a strategy for the presentation of ideas, interactive performance and approaches to participation The discussions centered around the key theme of ‘taking part’, what it is to participate and ideas about how communication takes place through the body, ideas and space.
The nature of our discussions around participation, who takes part and audiences vs. artists crossed over, and sometimes occasionally clashed, with the interrogatory concerns of artists creative/critical labour. We welcomed all visitors who might choose to join our Reading Room discussions, opening up dialogue around the work and processes surrounding it. The difficulty of creating an open space where people feel free and empowered to take part in debate is problematic. Artist Tirdad Zolghadr quotes a hypothetical scenario where “You sit in a circle because it’s less formal, someone quotes Barthes, someone criticises ‘relational aesthetics’ and then you all agree on reading Ranciere’s Ignorant Schoolmaster by next week”. No space is neutral. One person's ‘open and cosy room’ (Arnolfini’s Reading Room is by far the ‘softest’ space in the building) is another person’s ‘conference’. Interesting questions were thrown up at January’s 4 Days around responsibilities of venues in relation to arts practice; we also considered what happens when artists also act as hosts.
As an artist collective hosting live discussions, we mirrored the discursive, searching nature within much of the work taking place during 4 Days. Enquiry is a delicate terrain. This is our gallery, our shared space.
Invitation & Choice:
The basis of ‘participation’ requires an invitation to take part. Across 4 Days the range of invitations showed artists exploring what it is to communicate. We discussed how invitation and choice are closely linked to ideas about participation. In order to take part there has to be a framework in place, which invites involvement, however there is always an element of choice as to whether to accept this invitation. Georgia Sagri’s work Owen invited people to help her learn a text. The frame for participation had different levels of choice and, therefore, interaction. The audience could sit down in the performance space and observe as Georgia repeated the lines, while saying nothing themselves. They could also pick up the text and engage in the process of helping Georgia to learn it by reading the lines out loud to her. On the final day there was an invitation to take Georgia's place by entering into the process of learning the text as she had done. In this example the level of participation hinges on the extent to which people chose to take part, either by sitting and watching, reading the text aloud or learning the text. The framework creates an open invitation where people can decide how they wish to participate in the work.
In conversation with Sharon Gal she described the way her work and l’espirit d’escalier in particular begins with an invitation, “the piece starts with the open call-out...to begin from a process of participation and collaboration”. Sharon discussed the process of creating a framework, “Silence suggests openness, the delicate thing is to allow vulnerability when creating frames”. However, because of the nature of participation in this form, everyone involved in the work is learning and responding to changing conditions. “You learn by doing, the piece grows with the people. Always new, always doing”. This is also evident in Georgia’s piece as she relies on the audience to read her the text for the work to take shape. Both artists explore an openness of form, Sharon Gal describes it as “setting up an environment when you don’t know the result and can’t control the outcome”. However, the framework created by the artists informs the process of participation and opens up the possibility of the performance space. We also looked at the idea of ‘collective action’, a live exchange where a dynamic sharing of energy occurs between bodies in space.
Our exploration of collective action considered notions of interaction, where ‘Interaction’ refers to two things influencing each other. A consideration of who participates and who takes part, who is the artist and who is the audience is not so clear cut. How can you create platforms for diverse visitor co-produced experiences? Many arts organisations and venues place emphasis on the participation elements of projects, whether or not it is in fact participatory in nature, owing to assumptions about institutional knowledge, artists and audiences. Artists negotiate the same terrain – audience is not limited to those present in the room.
In his proposition of ‘relational aesthetics’ Bourriaud raises the question: “Does this work permit me to enter into a dialogue? Could I exist, and how, in the space it defines” - the invitation to take part relies on an open environment as well as an open form of work. Emma Smith’s work explored this concept by setting up a laboratory-style space at January’s 4 Days in the ground floor gallery. Her work provided an opportunity to take part in experiments in a variety of subjects, from tai chi to telepathy. While led by specialists, the wish to communicate and be understood ruled: a scientist, upon understanding he is in a room with non-experts, will adapt his speech to explain a complex theory for non-specialists. There is very much a political dimension to this approach. As Rancière suggests “It is the explicator who needs the incapable and not the other way around; it is he who constitutes the incapable as such. To explain something to someone is first of all to show him he cannot understand it by himself.”
In conversation with Emma Smith, she described the way that the work has a number of different layers: the research phase is one of “coming together through a public process”. This is a move away from pre-conceived assumptions about the knowledge, expertise or interests of gallery visitors. Experts in their field are invited to share their practice, developing a mutual interest with participants in workshop-style experiments. Active learning is taking place among those present. Emma Smith sets up the environment where sharing can occur. A cross-disciplinary approach necessitates the process of engaging with people through different modes of interaction.
Key to examining communication has been the ‘how’– the vehicle or form that a project takes. Participants engaging in the exercises are invited to connect with the work and to shape it. The physical nature of some of the experiments, exploring sensory perception and movement, allowed participants to play an active role. Across live art practices, performance work is frequently not just ‘witnessed’ by bodies but rather ‘shared’ by bodies that are comprised of the same space. Experience is through bodily perception and shared experience.
Considering Mette Edvardsen
In Mette Edvardsen’s Black sculpting objects becomes her alphabet - invisible though they might at first appear. Envisaging an art without artwork? A cup of tea and a table. A lamp. A stapler. Objects we are used to seeing – the everyday, the banal, the functional, binding us to a material culture. Only it seems the objects have gone missing. We all have a pre-existing mental image of what a bic pen looks like, what a table or plant is. Stimulating our imagination, Mette makes manifest Ingold’s truth that ”like all other creatures human beings do not exist on the ‘other side’ of materiality, but swim in an ocean of materials... the properties of materials are not attributes but histories” (from Being Alive, 2011).
In conversation with Mette ahead of her double bill performance of Black, she explains she works “towards abstraction within the writing rather than the materiality of the objects conjured”. Objects, actions and associations. These elements are building blocks that comprise the materiality of the work: ‘an alphabet to build with or write with’.
Rather than relying on a pre-set of codes or knowledge the audience might need to know prior to seeing her performance, Mette Edvardsen’s work is delightfully playful. Spring-boarding from pre-existing mental images we collectively share Black challenges us to ‘imagine materials and materiality’... the objects that make up our material culture dissolve. A fiendishly simple presentation confronts the complex limits of what eludes our imagination.
Collective Action: making/sharing
Project Boondock hosted a Free Lunch on Day 3 of January’s 4 Days. The location in Arnolfini's foyer space, prompted a successful collision and mingling between visitors and artists - prompting further conversations around creative labour, art- making and building new audiences for local Bristol-based supplier, The Severn Project. Free Lunch engaged with notions of 'collective action' through collaborative making and sharing of fresh salad. Anyone could join in with grating beetroot, chopping carrots or squeezing lemons as people got stuck in to putting together salads, sparking conversations around ingredients, food and the theme of 4 Days. It was one form of 'coming together' through a practical exploration of some of the central topics of our forum discussions, taking part and engaging in an act of making.
The You Are Here salons offered a space for dialogue around the work presented over 4 Days and the different ways that audiences were invited to experience and take part. Being present at a work requires accepting some form of invitation to be there. The way in which you then engage with the work depends on the form or framework created by the artist. 4 Days created a platform for live work that provided an opportunity for dialogue around notions of audience experience as well as processes of creation. When considering questions around ways that people 'take part' it was a crucial point of discussion for us to consider the 'shared experience' and when a 'coming together' occurs be it through bodies, or ideas and space. In his post on Arnolfini’s blog for example Curator of Performance Jamie Eastman created a space/platform created for opening up the discussion prior to 4 Days. In the weeks since January’s 4 Days Project Boondock have been discussing, writing, cooking and thinking of ways to present our reflection. This is our offering, our invitation to consider the work
For us 'collective action' is part of a shared experience, it just involves 'doing' something and we are beginning to explore the possibilities and different frameworks we can create in order to 'make' things. It is important for us to continually discuss and reflect on the processes at play through such action.
Reflecting on 4 Days, we have considered a dialogue around forms of live work and how these forms allow us to take part, either through being present or entering into an act of 'doing', be it through putting on a blindfold in an experiment in sensory perception, reading lines out loud or making a salad. It is the act of 'coming together' to make different modes of shared experience that is informing new processes of making work.
Prompted by the different modes of engagement that took place at 4 Days, below is a collation of quotes, words, thoughts and questions gathered from Project Boondock activity and conversations:
Voice in a sculptural way, body sculpts voice. Why do people giggle? Fear of being reduced to someone with no control....
The audience has the authority. Force you to occupy a position to think on your feet. Action...notions of indoctrination.
You want to help...to be included
Invitation to sit down
Moment of description
Embodied voice...voice as connector. So used to visual and separated spectacle.
Sound locked in atmosphere of sound and emotions.
Audience, narrator, son. Institutions rather than artists using ‘participation’ pre-
supposed condition that needs contribution. Different elements that constitutes.
“If I cried for six weeks, then maybe the room would be full of water and a whale could swim in it”. (Sarah Vanhee performing ‘3’ at 4 Days)
Arnolfini previously seen as impenetrable, solid environment.
"set up invitation, to feel what it was like on the other side, to be part of an open process.” Leona Jones (l’espirit d’escalier volunteer performer)
Freedom of expression
Interaction between performer and audience- line between audience and performer- connection.
Choice- self-selecting audience. Freedom/structure. Invite people in and enable them to create.
Tools/Materials/Body Empty space association between
Action – movement – greeting to go beyond the skin/
object. Learning a new thing e.g bell ringing. A music score. Score. Paper. Writing. Repeat.
...Invisible objects, consciousness streams, energy laboratory, highflyers, vegetables.
You There Me Here HereThere
“Objects are the alphabet, they write the piece” – Mette Edvardsen
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4 Days runs from Thursday 25 - Sunday 28 April
Following April's edition 4 Days continues in September and November 2013.