LOOK INTO THE LIGHT FOR A CLEAR VIEW said the S. Mark Gubb public artwork just outside Portsmouth Harbour station. I obeyed the order. During my week-long stint at Aspex I was rewarded with a sky of blue, hot sunshine, a rollercoaster, the Spinnaker Tower and fresh sea air.
The public had been very generous in donating their unwanted items to Working Title. I spent the first couple of days reveling in the Aladdin’s cave of junk. I decided not to make concrete plans immediately, just to react to what I found. In order to warm up, I made a few small works quickly: a little landscape made from jar lids, deflated balloons and images of bonsai; a toast rack of 2D trees; a fire extinguisher which sprayed out a rainbow of colours; a laptop with the keys replaced by upturned rusty screws; a book turned into a laptop with the leftover keys; a dying tree made out of brown paper, copper piping and tyres. It was difficult not to get giddy with all the possibly-maybe useful stuff. I admired my fellow artists (it was a pleasure to work alongside Beata Kozlowska and Andy Parker) for their far more considered approach, which rubbed off on me eventually and I calmed down…
By accident I found that some white tent poles I had hoarded fitted exactly onto small white plastic bottles. I had also been attracted to a large roll of white material (possibly carpet backing). Using a tent pole base as a stencil, I cut circles out of the material. Once threaded onto the poles, I found I had made strange looking structures inspired by my surroundings – they were spindly like the aforementioned Tower, but oddly organic like something growing on the seabed. The structures’ individual elements were no longer useful – but at least I had rescued the material, the bottles and the poles from oblivion (even if only for a short while). The structures were hazy, shadowy things, hovering in the crevices between use, misuse and disuse – I think they might have been ghosts of sorts.
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.
To be continued…
As I pieced together this movie, watching, editing,watching, editing, I felt last minute pangs of uneasiness. Part of me wanted to re-film sections to show the more ‘finished’ pieces of artwork, I was somewhat concerned of representing these artists badly, not showing the reality of how beautiful their artwork is. Sometimes it is easy to slip into the habit of only focusing on outcomes and forgetting the process that gets us there. I realised, however, it isn’t always about representing ‘completed artworks’, it is about showing the creating and evolving of ideas, the tiny changes and mammoth decisions these artists encounter as they tackle Working Title. So this video shows only a snippet of the activity on the 2nd August, I have included several shots from different moments in the day to show the extent that things can change in such short spaces of time.
This is exactly the reason that the documentation of Working Title is so important. Even if we managed to take a photo an hour, every hour, until September 25th, we wouldn’t even begin to convey the ever-changing nature of what is happening in gallery 1. I believe that is why the engagement of the viewer with the space, artists, and artwork is key, and viewing this transformative process first hand is what makes Working Title different to your ‘normal’ exhibition.
Elliot, a member of staff at aspex demonstrate’s Will Cruickshank’s drawing machine, a device which can follow the outline of an object and leave the mark on paper. Here, Ashley’s profile is traced, as Elliot runs through the steps of how to use it.
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.
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…
There are obvious hints of ‘human-ness’ in much of Kate’s artworks, a fact I noticed after going through most of the images on her website several months ago. I came across Kate Parrott’s work after looking at images of exhibitions she had been involved in with other artists who are close to aspex, and was immediately taken by the awkward charm created by her sculptures and drawings.
If you have watched the video interview with Kate below, she mentions that whilst involved in Working Title she would’ve liked to have found some pieces of clothing in the ‘junk pile’ we have in gallery 1. Clothes are often used in her artwork, particularly ladies clothes, often creating a suggestion of a female form through use of a loose bodily shaped structure. This said, without the use of women’s fashion, Kate still heavily refers and hints at aspects of female stereotypes, using make-up, dress jewellery, dainty watch clock faces, and shoes.
It seems that obvious juxtapositions are key to her work, combining these soft feminine materials with more bulky, heavier pieces, metal objects and wooden constructions, placing tall complex structures next to small, simple and easy-to-miss artworks.
For me, that is precisely the most beautiful element of Kate’s work, she leaves the interpretation of it open, it is as if the viewer is piecing together symbols, perhaps creating their own story or solving some sort of surreal and well composed crime scene. It seems somewhat rebellious, embracing such ambiguity, but after all, this isn’t a science lesson and who needs conclusions anyway?