Like Flies On – It’s Time to Celebrate

It would be sweet on this the last day of the ‘experiment’ (as the aspex website categorises the past 3 months  of Working Title), be sweet if the junk pile was resolved, vanished/vanquished, with the final object created – like one of those satisfying endings to a cinematic game of checkers, where the last white piece jumps here, there and everywhere taking all the black counters in a single go – with the completion of that last ‘thing’ all the scrap would be gone, used up. Job done.

That will not be the case. Tomorrow, when Clive and I stand amongst the mix of ‘art-things’ and waste, we’ll be far more aware of the stuff we’ve got to get rid of, than the art made. This is an example of Art’s place in real life – putting out the bins comes first. Luckily, some of the scrap will be going on to Highbury College, for students to sculpt with.

That’s an interesting aside: has Working Title been a sculpture show? Well, about half the artists participating admit to producing sculptural work, amongst other kinds (drawing, painting, digital, installation etc). The rest ‘make’ – and, this ‘making’ includes 3-D objects. From a personal perspective, about half the work produced since July I’d describe as sculpture – the rest, mmm… I’d call it ‘art stuff’… work concerned solely with its becoming and existing. At best, we can call it a mostly three dimensional show. Objects will beget objects. Perhaps, had we been given a mangle or a road-roller, those objects could’ve been 2-dimensionalised. Paul Matosic’s work is 3D things submitting to 2D aesthetics – if his floor arrangement were transposed to a wall, well…

What I know will be sculptural, will be the mode by which the current workshop becomes an exhibition (the kind of exhibition it intends to become). We’ll need to hack away, excavate, to reveal the artwork. The environs in which the work was created cannot be dismissed, so we intend to exhibit something of that workshop in the coming show. In a way, this is Clive, Jo W and my opportunity to participate on a creative level in WT.

All forms of exhibition require a degree of curation, this week long show will be no different. Space will dictate some decisions, the success of artworks will be debated, the best manner of presentation will be decided, and some coherent discourse delivered. That is the nub of it, what is the story of Working Title – the unique story, its individuality?

*

Yesterday, I asked what is the story of Working Title? I had no immediate answer, beyond repetition of all I’ve written to-date. But, now, this is an end, a moment for reflection, for the answers (which are always in the back of the book) to reveal themselves. I’ve spent the day clearing what has now been designated rubbish from the gallery. My sense of the work produced during the three months is growing, as the unique nature of each creation (the personality of the objects – the thingness of them) becomes evident, extant from the detritus of their making. Just like an archeologist I’m unearthing artworks, and they are quite extraordinary – even those I’ve been aware of over the course of the studio-workshop phase, well, they’ve taken on a purity of being, their own light. It’s a birthing process, we’re delivering these babies by Caesarean (who’d otherwise continue on fully developed in the womb of the studio). Even the artist makers who generated the work cannot fully comprehend the success, the distinct quality of their objects – it is Clive, Jo W and I who’re getting to paint a margin between the works, a respectful and legitimate separation.

The parents watch as the fledglings head to the brim of the nest, to its brink, where they `cacophony’, uncertain of flight, and they fall into flight, because their sole sense is to fly – there are those birds who will not or cannot  fly, there are those denied flight (the instinct or talent for it) – but most capture the wind under their wings and beat upon it. They are not fledgling any more, they are all they will ever be, balls of muscle, feathers, song and flight – something we’ll look at with wonder or we’ll not look at – they’re birds, the sky is filled with them – wondrous and commonplace.

To establish if WT has been a real glimpse into the process of these artists practice, I’ll need to ask them – surprising what you cogitate, kick about in your head, when you could just ask. They’ve enjoyed the experience, they’ve told me so. They’ve thanked us (which is daft, when we must thank them) because they’ve been channelled (funnelled) into making, no procrastination. I think it’s the fun they’ve had, making without real consequence – playtime. I’d categorise the last few months of the studio, ‘playtime’ (not an experiment). Next week’s exhibition presentation of the work is not a consequence, not one like exam results or any judgement. It’s a real celebration, an opportunity, we didn’t plan for there to be a show, it has made itself a reality.

It is this exhibition I’d call an experiment. It isn’t a show of exquisitely honed art (not in the conventional manner) – it’s a here-you-go, I came up with this and I’m not ashamed of it. And none of us are ashamed of it, this thing called Working Title.

The story of WT has been making. ‘Making’ something in the same way flies eat, regurgitating, slurping back up, regurgitating, re-devouring. We’ve all been flies feeding on the substance of this heap of scrap – I’ll not elaborate further on the metaphor. But everything that remains extant of the crumb leftovers of that heap are a product of re-use, re-re-evaluation, restructuring, re-consuming – and I’m referring not just to the artworks, but to the animateur asides, the contextual context and the manner & presentation of the WT exhibition.

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Primer

There’ll be an ‘exhibition’ presentation of artwork manufactured during Working Title in the fortnight after the artists have done. It means a ‘framing’ of those artworks deemed successful, they’ll become distinct with space drawn about them. A ‘highlights’ show – like the post-match analysis on Match of the Day or the ‘do-you-recall’ episode of an American Sitcom. The unused scrap will be removed. Aborted works will be chucked. The gallery will be tidied, attention refocused on the product, no longer on its production and producers. The gallery will come to resemble a gallery again.

Some would say aspex‘s gallery resembles a gallery infrequently. And, even when there are images hung on its walls or sculpture mingling amid its columns, it’s nothing akin to The National Gallery, or Southampton City Art Gallery, or the galleries of the Portsmouth City Museum, or even that section of Ikea with its faux canvases. It’s never proper art that aspex shows. But what is proper art?

the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power: the art of the Renaissance | great art is concerned with moral imperfections | she studied art in Paris.works produced by such skill and imagination : his collection of modern art | an exhibition of Tibetan art | [as adj. ] an art critic.creative activity resulting in the production of paintings, drawings, or sculpture : she’s good at art.

It’s a cheap stunt, giving a dictionary definition, but, hey, I’m piloting these words, this post. Let’s look at Working Title in its workshop mode in the light of this OED definition of ‘art’. Nobody can argue that WT fails the initial criteria: it is an ‘expression [and] application of human creative skill and imagination in a visual form’. Really, you can’t argue the contrary without attempting to be contrary. It’s the ‘beauty and emotional power’  that becomes an issue. Or seems to.

Basics. A person uses their skill to shape something to a particular end. A comedian takes the stuff of life and re-engineers it into ‘funny’ – if the audience laughs, it’s a success. If you leave a theatre or cinema, or get off the sofa, entertained in anyway by what you’ve been presented, the production’s been a success. This applies to everything, not just ‘art’ – if a doctor diagnoses an illness an cures it, it’s a success. If a plumber refits a central heating system and it works, a success – if that new system saves you money, releases less toxins into the environment and looks after itself, it’s a great success.

What is the success of an artist? Even, say, Monet, Van Gogh or Picasso, what is their success? A mass of people might respond ‘the success of art is capturing a good likeness’ – it is, if that was the aim of your making, the application of your skill. But there are cameras,  anyone can capture an immense likeness with a shutter’s click. So, now, what is the success of an artist concerned with painting from life – what is the success of a photographer? There is no skill in capturing a likeness, so the success of these artist must be elsewhere. The masses might retort ‘the success is in capturing not just an immediate likeness but in showing the character of what’s depicted’. (There is often talk in art of the ‘thingness of a thing’ – so nebulous is discussion of art practice that it has begun to rely on the nuances of poetry.) But who is to say if the character portrayed is accurate? As all teenagers will state, at sometime, ‘you don’t know me!’. The success of the work lies in the coincidence of the artist’s perception and the viewers’. Even in this simplistic illustration, in two steps, the audience is divided – those who perceive the artwork as a success and those who don’t – and, always, those who don’t care. Now, there are myriad forms, modes and means of making art – they include all the tools, materials, sciences and philosophies that exist. Picasso painting an eye where an ear should be, well, that’s only step four – Picasso’s audience was divided every-which-way. Here and now, it’s so complex, so divided, art has become streamed – into movements firstly,then genres and sub-genres  – but now, really, it’s easier to go with the flow of what appeals to you. This especially applies to those who’ve not studied, attempted to map the constant kaleidoscopic shifting of the art world.

So, the artists involved in Working Title make art that appeals to their sensibilities, developing the skills to best express what they believe needs to be. And, for once, the audience gets to see and question the process. See, art has always to be made. It can be handmade or machined, but it has to become. The artist takes various stuff (anything from traditional materials – paint, canvas etc – to the bric-a-brac of WT) and binds them into something else, art. In this sense, we could apply another (archaic) definition of the word ‘art’

archaic or dialect 2nd person singular present of be .

The artists conjure something out of other things, they bring a newness into ‘being’. Art theory is chocker with debate of the ‘object’. There’s that phrase, ‘objet d’art’ – you might have one on your mantlepiece or sideboard. It means an object of art – where ‘art’ means something of no use beyond its own existence. And. yes, art can be that simple. Something that continues to exist as long as it pleases (itself and you).

I’m writing this, and I’m kind-of aiming at a non-art schooled audience – because, if you’re a practician or theorist or gallerist or, god forbid, critic, then you know all I’m saying (bent into a shape that best it suits you). What I’d like is for all of you out there to visit Working Title before it becomes an exhibition proper, and, then, revisit when it is a curated space. This might be the best documentary on the nature of art you’ll ever experience. Yes, it is a raw experience, it doesn’t look pretty, but it is ‘real’ – this isn’t a depiction of making, not a demonstration (okay, it’s mildly a depiction in the artifice of the environs). Working Title is art as it lives and breathes – it isn’t all art, it isn’t even the greatest art, it has very particular concerns, yes – but it is a fair model of the whole process of art. That is, until we can fluidly experience what someone else (the artist) is experiencing.

Seeing the artworks without the gubbins of their making, without their makers to hand, will I think illustrate a curious and primary phenomenon – how detached the exhibited work is from its maker. This is what becoming an object means in art, something existing on its own terms. It is a mirror of the distance between the disparate elements the artists selects and the play-alchemy that makes them art. It is easy to consider the artist a catalyst.

Like I said, in my previous post as an audience to aspex never expect to like what’s on show. Be prepared to engage with it. Now is a better time than ever.


Raft of the Medusa (Pt.3) – On the Burning Deck

The [artists] stood in the burning [space]
[Amongst] all [that they] had [made];
The flame that lit the [junkyard mess]
Shone round [them overhead].

[And] beautiful and bright [they] stood,
As born to rule [the bric-a-brac];
Creatures of heroic blood,
Proud amid [their] childlike [artifacts].

Hacking the famous poem by Mrs. Felicia Dorothea Hemans to my own ends, I conjure an image of the artist as Hero, as a valiant adventurer, and bound for glory. Working Title might confer such a reading of the artist’s role in tackling the seeming creative-insurmountableness of the scrapheap and wrestling from it some gem of art. I have referred to Mad Max before in my posts, he was a Classics-style Hero, surviving in a makeshift world welded together from junk. Even the once fey image of the Environmentalist has been usurped by that of the Eco-Warrior – Molotov Cocktails are recycled glass, rags and petroleum. The Urban Maestros, the likes of Banksy and those Youtube-Bollock-Grinding-Brutalist-Loving Skaterboys and Skatergals, the Free-Runners and Guerilla-Interventionists, all grace art and making and creative-doing with a knowing, no-shit front – keeping it real, well, innit. An audience is asked to come marvel at these Super-Beings being super – roll-up, roll-up, see gold metaphorically spun from straw, such creative alchemy as you’ll ever see, household tat becomes Art, come all and wonder at it!

Okay. Hero’s they may well prove, but the Working Title artists aren’t Übermensch. They are lovely, affable and fascinating people. They’re more normal than they are extraordinary – which is the sad and brilliant truth of artists. These nice people come to us, invited, yes, they arrive and they regard what is ‘given’ and they react as best they are able. And, thankfully, they are able – that is why they are the ‘artists’, they are skilled, practiced at making things happen (out of what is next to nothing, rubbish). This process of taking no-fool’s gold (the failed or left-behind objects of yesterday’s consuming desire) and spinning the pick-up-sticks of an art thing – or, in less arcane and more retro terminology, they arrange Buckaroo’s load with the deliberate, dangerous stuff of ‘art’ hoping it won’t back-kick and shattered the bubble of art’s being – is this process entertaining. Is it worth a look?

What does a visitor to Working Title experience?

Let’s deal with expectation first. aspex is a ‘Contemporary’ art gallery. That ‘Contemporary’ signifies a certain manifestation of art, even if it isn’t too demonstrative of that art as a word. It means, at a very simplistic level, visual art as it is practiced and essayed now. So, audiences shouldn’t expect anything older than ten years old (which is ancient) – but, also, they oughtn’t to expect any art that fully existed ten years or more ago. Everything is a child of something else, you cannot escape that hereditary strain. But, unlike, say, Pop music, Contemporary doesn’t mean popularism – it can do, there is, again, Banksy (though not really so Contemporary nowadays, he’s an old man, The Establishment, so yesterday) and his ilk, the glamorous YBAs (now more RIPs) and the all the ‘day-before-yesterday’ Old Masters (the Richard Serras, the lingering zombie Warhol etc). ‘Contemporary’ can be Radio 1 – it can also be Nightwaves on Radio 3, or Resonance FM, or that obscure label out of Austerlitz that presses Drone-Glitch-Mathematic Rock LPs in runs of 200. Audiences can only expect what aspex shows to be as ‘now’ as you can be (it’s – now this is so un-now – it’s like Donovan sang You May As Well Try And Catch The Wind). Audiences shouldn’t expect to even ‘like’ what aspex shows – you don’t expect to like the so-called music someone might playlist on their ipod, you’d expect not to like it, you’d steel yourself to grit your teeth in a false smile and nod along a few bars, finger sweaty to press the pause button. What you should expect is to experience something, something you might otherwise not experience. And, often probably, you’ll experience something that’ll evaporate on the tongue of its speaking to you. But, sweet, but – sometimes you’ll experience something you never thought to consider, something (perhaps hidden in plain sight and revealed and revelled, or masked beneath your own too-easy prejudices) that pierces your being like the valve on an air-pump, that’ll swell your being and send it off bouyant – an air balloon for far greater voyages of discovery, a sublime transport. Who knows. It’s harder to list what you can expect than flood you with what shouldn’t be expected.

So, Working Title. Here, now, in week four or five, about midway through – you walk into the gallery reception (that immediately dissolves into a variety of functional spaces – dizzyingly quickly does that space become shop/counter/gallery/pre-gallery/ARC/other/another – and, finding some focus, you’ll find things at your feet. Strange, familiar objects that might be diesel-punk redesigns of Tetris pieces or the components of some far weirder device. There are a couple of bird-table cum over-cot-mobile things standing about, here and there, quietly ignoring everyone, patient for attention. Ahead of you, a 47 inch flat screen signposts ARTISTS – STUFF – JOIN IN, urging you ‘talk’ to the artists working there, suggesting you ‘have-a-go’. The debunkers, the dismissive can demonstrate just how easy it is to become a Have-A-Go Hero – the Mad Max, red-faced, indignant, my-kid-could-do-that-and-better are welcomed to demonstrate the nonsense of Contemporary Art, they encouraged to point out the Emperor’s New Clothes, the nudity of what they perceive. Of course, we’d really like everyone to feel inspired to make, to explore whatever through mimicry of the artist’s process. There’s plenty of contextual material, an exploration of ‘this kind of thing’, this manner of art. It is to be expected that aspex proffers a view into the realms of time, lays some breadcrumb trail back through the wild woods of Visual Art History, to let the now swim upstream to its own spawning.

This interactive space might appear difficult, unguided – but it’s been well used. The difficulty might be this, the interaction that’s available is with material, with the fabric of making – not with show’n’tell Science Museum-like tools. You can sit and create a dialogue between yourself and a transparent plastic jar, some colourful feathers and a ball of plasticine – you might further that discussion by researching in the library, bringing greater sense of understanding to the debate (the plasticine might revise its opinion of the jar, already relaxed with its backbone plumage). You can record what you’ve resolved, or decided – photograph the outcome, pose the resultant synergy on a shelf or in crevice about the place, or you can minute the affair on the blackboard walls. You might even visit the Artists’ side and enter your thingness of plasticine-feathers-jar-and you into a fresh discourse with their things – a snowball of interface, with you, they and it becoming one, bound by possibilities, absurdity and intimacy. Kids are always so intimate with the fabric of their makings.

Ahead of you, behind the 47 inch flat screen, you confronted with a flea market of junk. Some will find that heady, those who race breathless to car boots unable to bear the thought of loss, of those things already sold, the heartbreak of missing out. Some will stand and consider the usefulness of a bicycle’s geared back-wheel, perhaps, seeing a turntable, a few platters of vinyl, a great conical of a lampshade, they might, um, mmm, ahem, yes, yes, begin to conjuror the daydream blueprints of a pedal-powered record deck with old-school His Master’s Voice trumpet amplification. Some will think can this be art? Some will ‘tut’ and feel the warm, wet spread of self-righteousness, finding Contemporary Art to be exactly what they assumed it was, a pile of rubbish – they leave satisfied whatever they think.

To the left as you walk into the gallery, there you discover an environment seldom experienced outside of an Art’s Foundation Course, a conglomeration of work in progress, maquette or nest-flown (I will not say finished, I cannot say if another’s art is done, I can only know when I find it complete for me). Presently, maybe, but it may be a coincidence, the space is kind-of open and navigable because the two artists are women – or because, with the remains of other departed artists occupying portions of the space, like relay batons, the two of them have mapped out a geography that allows for an invisible populace as well as themselves. But you can get in there, amid the activity of putting together. You might just look, as you would at the National Gallery, absorbing. Or you might watch the process like the audience at an Ideal Home Expo. Or you might question the artists, ask them what you want to know. Artists rarely bite, they’re pleased with the attention, it makes their life-choices seem viable and even relevant. You don’t have to do, say or make anything. Just don’t pre-empt with phantom expectations – think of the door to aspex as a cave mouth, you never know what’s inside, what lurks there, what horrid creature, what Narnian adventure. You’re cast as Mr Benn, but you come dressed as yourself to whatever story is being enacted behind that ‘other’ changing room door. If you don’t get that reference, search Youtube, you youngster you.

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To be continued…


Raft of the Medusa (Pt.2) – Mad Marxism

“The discovery of the material, or rather, the consistent continuation and extension of material into the [Working Title gallery space, has] removed two chief defects of earlier [exhibitions]. In the first place, they at best examined only the ideological motives of the [creative] activity of human beings, without grasping the objective laws governing the development of system[s] [of making]… in the second place, the earlier [exhibitions] did not cover the [creative impulse and curiosity]  of the masses of the population, whereas [WT] material [has] made it possible for the first time to study [those impulses and satisfy the curiosity] of the masses and the changes in these conditions.”

Again, I’m hacking away, with a machete of misappropriation – this time, it’s Vladimir Lenin on Marxism. Because, isn’t there something inherently communist about Working Title. It’s definitely a utilitarian. And it’s egalitarian. Some might think it a little ‘vegetarian’  in its Greenness, its recycling ideals – but, thank heavens, for Scrapheap Challenge and Robot Wars, which lend WT a garden shed/Mad Max charisma. The concept of making transparent the physical and mental machinations of practitioners, so others can examine, test and partake in an otherwise obscure process, well, if that’s not Communism I don’t know what is. Working Title is an attempt at equalising the experience of art, for everyone to feel empowered whatever their chosen role. It’s not about ‘social mobility’ – where education and opportunity means audience could become artist, or visa versa – because participants in WT are introduced at a common level, there’s no reason for an artist to feel superior to the audience, visa versa, the audience can enjoy the experience without feeling patronised. Plus, the usual ‘governing’ role of the gallery (selecting, arranging and essaying) is limited to the seemingly menial – to that of House Elf (kind-of magical slave, my non-Potterian friends). WT is communal, its concerns are productivity and commonwealth and social functionality. It’s as ‘Red’ as Tony Benn’s y-fronts. We agree, don’t we, Brother & Sister Art-Artisans-ists, Brother & Sister Audience-Artisans? Yes, yes agree us lackeys of aspex.

Naw. Of course, Working Title isn’t Marxist. It isn’t anything but what it is and what it will become. I could approach it from a plethora of political or philosophical or theoretical directions, shoehorning WT into them. I must say, it’s WT‘s superlatively plastic nature that excites me. It also worries me.

Fundamentally, Working Title‘s is a simple premise. A pile of unwanted stuff, a selection of artists who recycle stuff in various ways to create artworks, an audience primed by simplicity to interpret the show themselves (allowing for a greater depth, breadth to the interpretative material aspex can make available). Great. But. Without artwork framed in an expanse of white space, which bestows gravity on anything, where is the mutual subject that drives discourse between maker and viewer? The commonality is the scrapheap. Is this what visitors discuss with the artists? ‘What can you make out of that old green handbag and those plastic coat hangers?’ some punter might ask. Well, there is a conversation to be had, few jokes to be made. Only, is it the conversation we’d hope for? It boils down to what a gallery like aspex ought to be delivering. Should the experience of visiting be an ‘entertainment’? Or, ought a visit be ‘educational’ in its broadest sense? Where do we pitch, to the larger audience of those generally disinterested in contemporary visual art, who expect us to convince them or confirm their preconceptions (the best of all, those with no interest, expectations or concern, as they leave as they arrived, untouched)? Or do we fixate on our natural audience, those who want to explore the world through the eye and experience of others, who are effected by visual art – who seek it out, be they practitioner and/or consumers? And we all know, you can’t please everybody…


Raft of the Medusa (Pt 1) – B.S.

Is Working Title a ‘Big Society’ happening? No, honestly, I’m asking (yeah, okay, provocatively). The ambition of Cameron-Clegg’s B.S. is ‘to put more power and opportunity into people’s hands’. Isn’t that what Working Title aims to do  – to allow its audience the chance to participate alongside so-called professionals in shaping a beneficial experience. Everyone has an opportunity to participate, to influence outcomes, to ‘do better’. Artists and audience are on an equal footing, they start with a mess (of bric-à-brac) and some resolve – to make sense and use of stuff. Now, I’m going to hack the Governments own document, Building the Big Society (hack it like a Texan Chainsaw Massacre):

We want to give [artists and audience] the power and information they need to come together, solve the problems they face and build [what] they want. We want [Art] –  that form[s] the fabric of so much of our everyday lives – to be bigger and stronger than ever before. Only when [artists and audience] are given more power and take more responsibility can we achieve fairness and opportunity for all [in the gallery]

Do you see? Working Title is handing over greater responsibility to its audience, they get to facilitate what gets made, they can enter into discourse with service providers (I mean, really, isn’t that what today’s artists are meant to be), and they can take practical steps, make the art they want to see. All very B.S. to me.

But.

Working Title isn’t a foisting of aspex‘s responsibilities as a gallery on to the shoulders of its audience. It’s the role of the aspex team to articulate the space, the variant approaches, to contextualize (excuse me, I do love to drop a ‘contextualism’) and to facilitate participation. WT isn’t a case of sink or swim (though, at first, it can seem pretty ‘not waving but drowning’). We’re all in this together. If you feel excluded, well, you’ve obviously not attempted to glue a moustache of feathers on to the upper lip of a broken badminton racquet, or given a pie tin twenty-seven Spork legs and a hunchback of pillowy satin. If you feel excluded, you’ve not explored the library of this, all the books that inform on those artist in the WT show and the many who’d like to be in WT (blistering with images and thoughtfulness). Aw, shucks, you can’t visit and feel excluded – we’ve even got an Animateur, Jo Willoughby, on Tues/Thurs, to bring the whole kit kaboodle to life for you.

What the artists get to begin with, the audience gets too. So, on day one, what everyone had to look at, to contemplate, was the compartment of bric-à-brac. We’re almost three weeks in, we’ve had five artists feed on our plate of leftovers (some feeding on the leftovers of other’s leftovers). Successful amalgams now exist, free of their maker, about the building. There’s Will Cruickshank’s ever-spinning parasol suspended above the café, his ‘Profile-Drawing Contraption’ situated (for now) in the workshop space. There are sketches of ideas as actual objects by Kate Parrot (an effective small-scale work hinged to the gallery wall, just inside the workshop area, will sustain itself, I believe – so, becoming an artwork). There’s still evidence of Paul Matosic’s object-scapes, eroded by the hunger of the other artist’s instincts (an Atlantis disappearing). Andy Parker’s succulent interventionist drawings are giving way to, what seems to be, a raft on which he can either escape or negotiate the clutter (a real Raft of the Medusa, made of cannibalized materials by a cannibal of stuff). All this is there, some made (kind-of) distinct of the debris of makings, the rest embroiled in the scraps they’ve been birthed from. Stuff has already shifted through the play of a number of the artists – we’re planning to track elements, document their adventures. What the audience gets to see, now, is the sex, the pregnancy, the birth and lifespan of idea-objects – all the action tucked away out-of-sight during ‘Open Studios’, the what if I stick this into that phase, the outtakes. What the artists get is an audience with question rather than expectations…


Playtime

Apart from Working Title in Gallery 1, there’s been a ‘experimental drawing’ workshop running, this week. This brought into focus the role of ‘play’ in an artist’s practice. Participants on the course, guided by Melanie Rose, had to submit to playfulness to discover, rediscover and explore modes of drawing, of mapping the physical, conscious and unconscious. It can be difficult to overcome the ‘education’ we’ve studied so hard to receive – in this instance, the way those taking part in Mel’s workshop had been taught to draw, that art must have meaning or reason to justify itself. Student artists are less taught nowadays, there’s less dogma, formalism – but, they are still asked to substantiate artworks with validating statements, to lever their making into Art Theory. This makes grading of students possible, it makes visual art empirical, comparative. Only, in actuality, artworks are far more impulsive, instinctive and haphazard in their coming about. Art is the concrete product of play, of intense and intimate playing.

Working Title is a super demonstration of this truth. It is play that finds an iota of sense in disparate objects, that cements an umbrella and sewing machine together on an operating table (to nick a Comte de Lautréamont quote). If you’ve spent time watching children at play, seen them develop complex rules of mutual engagement, lost within a shared fantasy, where the ‘received’ notion of their toys disintegrates, so sticks are just as much dolls, or guns, or roads as Tiny Tears, waterpistols or Scalatrix. It is complicated play, developing a useful sense of confusing issues. It’s also the idea of ‘play’ meaning room for manoeuvre, the give in any situation. That old chestnut about keeping an open mind. Play is where a snowball begins to roll and engage greater quantities of snow and whatever other stuff lays in its path, that comes to rest, to be circumnavigated, considered and its existence determined. Art is not an essay, it doesn’t communicate by explanation. Art is, it’s a process that births a thing, the whole of its being is balled up within it as an object – sometimes it is obvious, more often intriguing, puzzling, and ever as eclectic as an individual can be.

Play is an element of viewing art. You ought to play about with the ideas with which you are confronted, more so if you don’t recognise any thought behind a work (this being the other meaning of ‘play’ – approaching with an open mind, checking your initial response for misinterpretation, undue seriousness or plain prejudice. There is no right and wrong in art, only what occupies the eyes and mind, and what doesn’t divert – and always there’s the warping caused by taste.

Yesterday, a young fellow, due to start a sculpture course in September, came into Working Title‘s interactive area to make, to participate. He played for a bit, shuffling through the materials, creating games, finding shared context amongst the scraps. I watched him from the office above, he sat on the floor as if playing with Dinky Toys, connecting this to that to make something or other. The space became his studio, a play-room. I was busy elsewhere, but when I returned, he’d left the artworks, or arrangements, seen in the photos below. An Alsatian stands alert on the furthest reach of a slanted broom handle, held acute by string affixed to the leg of the settee. It feels epic, the opening gambit of a great wildlife adventure, the kind that Hollywood would film from helicopters swooping about a mountain crest, demonstrating the grandeur of the natural world. Only, this work features a plastic dog, the Education broom and a ball of twine – nothing actually epic. I adore it. It makes me laugh, it makes me wonder at the simplicity of causing an effect. I doubt this young fella arrived with a premeditated work in his head, what were the odds of a plastic Alsatian (a broom, yes, bound to be one, even string, yep – but a stridently posed mutt, naw). He partook of the exhibition with his hands and mind, he tested his thoughts about the show with a practicality most ignore or never consider. Creativity isn’t a competition, nor is it a show-n-tell. If anything, it’s an attempt at unravelling the most knotted scribble of nonsense that is life – that satisfaction at a sudden clean length of un-knitted existence.

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Kickstarting, Fishing, Participating

We’ve three artists in the gallery, being exhibited. As technician at aspex, I’m used to artists playing some part in the installation of their work – after the preview, they go away. In a way, this show is all installation – a prolonged transformation of the space – a slow-slow reverse striptease, ending up fully dressed. Still, Will, Andy and Paul (who are kickstarting Working Title) have spent the day doing what most artists do on day one in the gallery, they’ve been nesting. They’ve burrowed into the junk pile that’s accumulated in the space, nabbing what makes sense to them (no obvious squabbles, yet), and they’ve each defined themselves a space/den. Paul’s filming an expanding grid of stuff, a complex hopscotch chalked on the gallery floor with offcuts of MDF, bowls and wind-up toys. Will’s surrounded himself with toolboxes, he’s constructing a fishing rod – not a cane with string and a nappy-pin hook, no – it looks worthy of J.R. Hartley. Andy’s made his encampment right in amidst the scrap, using a tv stand for a seat and an upturned chest-of-drawers as a desk. Something’s happening, but what it is, well, I don’t know. It all seems to make sense to Andy, Will and Paul – which is the only sense you can expect of them right now.

Amazingly, the scrap heap of materials has shrunk from, well, heaps to scraps. So, please, bring us your ‘unwanted’ – gift the ‘done with’ or ‘done for’ with a new lease of ‘possibility’. Everything is latent, and the artists we’ve got working here are expert at tapping that latency. If you’ve any old vhs equipment or cassette tapes and players, old speakers, record players – old wool, cardboard boxes from domestic appliances, lamps, old computer hardware – anything really – bring it to us, become a genuine part of the process. The making of art is always so distant, secreted away in studios, in the mind’s eye of the maker: this is an opportunity to observe the journey from play to definition to object. Ask those questions you’ve never had the chance to – why have you done that? What is it you’re doing? What did you mean to occur? What? This isn’t an exhibition, it’s a show – though the artists aren’t performers, in this context they are. You, as visitor, as participant, become a principal too. You can demonstrate you’re own sensibilities by creating a work with the makeshift materials in the Interactive Area in the gallery space. There’s no hierachy in this show – everyone starts on an equal footing, with a load of old rubbish.

The experience of Working Title will be a plastic one – the makings of one artist seeping into those of another – sudden displays of ‘something’ bursting forth from ‘something else’. It’ll change with the weather, day by day – nothing is forever. So visit us a few times, as many times as you can. Bring your junk, bring yourselves, bring an inquiring mind. Participate.