"You are in a social arena..."

In the words of Nicolas Bourriaud "the Artist dwells in the circumstances the present offers him so as to turn the setting of his life...into a lasting world", in other words the art we make undeniably evolves according to the social context surrounding us.

Bourriaud outlined this theory in the 90's when work from the likes of Phillipe Parreno, Gillian Wearing and Douglas Gordon was allowing the audience to become more involved with the work. The prominence was on an exchange between the artist and the viewer rather than a more hostile white space viewing of art. Learning to inhabit the present world in a better way rather than relying on the past to offer your work constructs. 

I have often found that my work sits in this social arena context.

 

I have started to think a lot more about the space which surrounds my videos/installations and considered pushing this interactive element within my work further. With my video piece 'GROUNDED' which I made last term I continue to develop this idea of a viewing installation. The basic principle is to have the viewers feet off the ground whilst watching the video so that they are physically integrated into this idea of impossible flight. I have thought of many ways this could be achieved but one idea I am still looking closely at is a room of giant adult baby bouncers, whereby the viewer straps themselves in and dangles mid-air [see sketchbook drawing to the right.] For my assessment piece 'Jog on' I took the bobbing heads away from the wall and built a wooden hanging structure on wheels. My initial idea was to have a room full of these heads (still achievable) and perhaps playing with the placement of marathon objects in the room (i.e railings, water stations, curbs etc.) On reflection the simplicity of the piece seems quite integral; by showcasing the basic form of an idea (a running head that moves up and down in a jogging motion) the viewer is able to imagine the other surrounding factors (the body, the feet and the marathon setting.) 

With this new wooden structure the cluster of heads are now able to be presented in the middle of the room (where it would make sense for runners to be) and there is now the future possibility to have the entire structure rolling along on wheels. In my ideal world the future piece would involve this group of frontrunners jogging from a structure which would be slowly pushed around a circular  track via another motor. The viewer would be given the impression that these heads are in real pain, like a frustrating dream where you are trying to run really fast but everything is in slow motion. Preferably the track would be circular so that the frontrunners would run in an endless circle. Another idea I had was to have a pair of those hovering vacuum cleaners beneath the structure randomly taking it around the room and changing direction whenever it met an obstacle or wall. The simple running track however may cause more frustration for the viewer, will these runners ever reach the finish line? (This reminds me of the Bedwyr Williams exhibition at The Curve, Barbican where he asked his viewers to finish his exhibition via an athletic running track.) 

With this dream-like installation in mind, the work would undoubtably interrupt the surrounding space as the viewers would have to step over the track and around the runners in order to reach other parts of the gallery/room. Like other artwork in the Relational Aesthetics realm it would be "perceptive, experimental, critical and participatory...taking as its theoretical horizon the realm of human interactions and its social context, rather than the assertion of an independent and private symbolic space." This unconcern towards the white space viewing of art can also be seen in my collaborative show with Catherine 'Same, Same But Different', my armchair series shown in an old market hall in Maidstone, my previous explorations into setting up the armchairs in a Care Home and my 'WSM' face sitting in an Estate Agents window. I feel much more at home with my work when it is in a public space, feeding into the public subconscious - sometimes when the work is shown in a sterile gallery environment I can physically feel the energy, impact and relevance of the piece disappearing. 

[Critical Analysis] Dan Colen - Sweet Liberty - Newport Street Gallery

Dan Colen's 'Sweet Liberty' at the Newport Street Gallery became one of those strange exhibition experiences for me, whereby it visually stimulated, excited and inspired me when I was amongst the work but now upon reflection the whole thing seems to be loosing impact and resonance. Having said that there were a few pieces that I really enjoyed and which coincided with the re-ermergence of motors within my own practice. 

Both playful and nihilistic, Colen's work examines notions of identity and individuality specifically set against a portrait of contemporary America. 'Haiku' (2015-2017) shows a confused and/or drunk Scooby Doo. "His choreographed movements bear an incongruous relationship to those of the large, seemingly controlling mechanism above...a connection between image and reality." This transformation from a two-dimensional cartoon to a physical form that appears capable of interacting with people is a really interesting concept and something being realised within my new work 'Jog on.' The heads are flat and static (Scooby Doo is a static object) and yet the motor suddenly creates movement and the viewer is met with an encounter/interaction with this inanimate object, as if it is suddenly alive. He has brought an immortal cartoon into the real world and corrupted him. What I also liked was that you could clearly see the giant motor mechanism as you travelled to the second floor, the illusion is somewhat smashed and yet the connection between image and reality still remains ambiguous. 

I also really liked the piece 'Shoes' (2013-2017) which featured Colen's Nike high-tops tap dancing on the ceiling above the gallery staircase. My guess is that the shoes were connected to motorised magnets above the ceiling. Colen's dancer is absent and so he is again playing with the invisible matter and the negative space. In his own words 'Artists are able to make vessels...the actual art is invisible. It hovers between the object and the audience." I am finding myself playing with this invisible matter, with 'Jog on' the audience is having to imagine the rest of the body running and with the tennis piece the audience is having to imagine the entire visual landscape. 

The Relational Aesthetics element is clearly present within the work, as outlined by Bourriaud, he is transforming the setting of his life (i.e the current uneasiness in America) into artwork. He is working within a social arena and questioning contemporary appropriation, subverted imagery from globalised mass media and American subcultures. However, It also potentially sits uncomfortably within the world of Relational Aesthetics; the work is interactive and living in the existing world (rather than in an 'imaginary Utopian reality') BUT it is being shown in an immaculate white gallery space. There is an obvious attempt to invade this sterile environment (with outlined cartoon silhouettes breaking down the barriers between each room and exposing the underlying brickwork) but the idea of 'spectator participation' is discouraged and out of place in Hirst's gallery space. 

[Digital] Relational Aesthetics - showing 'Boxing Stare Downs' on AVD, a digital platform for mobile consumption.

When considering Nicolas Bourriaud's theory and its practical point of departure being "the whole of human relations and their social context", what could be more relevant than showing the work on the viewers' phone screen? In modern day society, unfortunately, a lot of human relations are founded, developed and maintained online. On average, people spend 4 hours a day on their phones, which may be (extremely) depressing but it also offers a creative opportunity to ''exchange information between the artist and the viewer." With AVD I have used the digital realm to give the audience "access to power and the means to change the world" (or see two boxers almost kissing.) 

 

This idea of [Digital] Relational Aesthetics isn't entirely in consonance with Bourriaud's original theory. Rather than encouraging social interaction it is asking the viewer to look inwards (into their soul, I mean phone), into "an independent and private space" so to speak. However, I did find that exhibiting with the digital platform, AVD did allow me to break with the traditional physical and social space of the art gallery. Relational Aesthetics also takes as its subject the entirety of life as its lived; rather than removing an object from daily life and calling it art it is creating a social circumstance and "the constructed social environment becomes the art." 

For my 'Boxing Stare Downs' exhibition on AVD I broke from the 'traditional white gallery space', I created a 'social circumstance' between the artist and the viewer, I gave the audience 'access to power' by allowing them to navigate the space and i constructed a 'social environment.' 

 

I designed a separate page layout for each of the four videos from the series which was shown over a two week period [all four can be seen to the right of the screen]. I constructed each page on Photoshop, stealing colour palettes, adverts (usually porn, bulky men or betting sites), logos and sports headlines from sport streaming sites. As a sports fan I am used to the male orientated aesthetics of this digital environment where boxing matches and football games are streamed in order to avoid hefty television subscription fees. Amongst this consumer-driven visual bombardment sits the video piece ready to be played. Rather than curating a room in correlation to the viewers physical movements, the platform allowed the viewer to decide their journey through the artwork by the swipe of a finger. This allowed the audience to take control and physically interact with the piece. Showing on the viewers' hand device not only made the interaction a personal and intimate one but it also attracted an audience (who I've always been interested in attracting) who wouldn't usually view art, talk about art, understand art or enter a gallery space. Similarly to artists working in the Relational Aesthetics field who often create ephemeral social events (again, Bedwyr Williams comes to mind with his live autopsy of a curator made from cake) my entire exhibition was ephemeral. Each video (in its constructed environment) was available to watch for three days and then it disappeared. Overall, I really enjoyed this digital viewing format and I would definitely consider it for future projects.     

Windows - spreading the gallery outwards to the public.

Thanks to my collaboration with Gazelli Art House this Spring elements of my work have suddenly shifted from video installation to large scale vinyl prints. Screenshots from my 'WSM' series were enlarged to the point of pixelation and printed onto vinyl fitted to the size of the windows. I remember a point when we were half way through installing the prints where I looked over onto the street and there was a group of builders having a cigarette looking up at the windows and laughing. This gave me a bit of a eureka moment - using the windows and spreading the gallery space outwards meant that people who wouldn't ordinarily enter a gallery space were able to look at the work from a comfortable distance. The men in my videos had suddenly entered a social arena and could be seen, laughed at and Instagrammed from the other end of Stafford Street. These straining faces, confined to a rectangular window and squished up against the glass were stand alone pieces that were explained further within the videos if a passerby were curious enough to come closer. 

So when Mark Jeffreys approached me about 'Window 71' (a public exhibition space in North London) I jumped at the chance of showing my main man again. The idea of these strong men mid-lift popping up behind windows across the country is really exciting for me. I've found something with huge impact and I'm able to adapt it and continue to show it in completely different contexts. What also enticed me to 'Window 71' was the fact that the window platform was in collaboration with a local business. This window sits at the front of an Estate Agents in Seven Sisters; the owner is offering a free exterior exhibiting space in collaboration with his property business. This idea in itself is brilliant and links back to this idea of Relational Aesthetics; artwork taking as its theoretical horizon the realm of human interactions and its social context, rather than the assertion of an independent and private symbolic space. In other words I am avoiding the white gallery space and trying to slip the work into the subconscious of the public. 

Same, Same but Different offered another opportunity to show the series. At the front of Lightbox Gallery in Leicester there are five huge windows looking into the gallery, Catherine had the idea to use the windows as an exhibiting opportunity so I prepared 5 different screenshots from five of my videos from the series. Rather than printing on vinyl prints (which are really expensive and can only be used once) I have found that printing on PVC banners is much cheaper, I receive a good quality print and I am able to reuse them afterwards. I now have quite a good relationship with a Rotterdam-based print company Helloprint who I have been ordering these banners from. LCB depot provided us with the budget for these banners after seeing the effectiveness of the faces on the front of Gazelli Art house. I think what I like most about this 'WSM' window series is that when you view them up close it is completely unclear what you are looking at, the pixelation of the image makes it look like some sort of strange fleshy abstract painting. You are only able to see the faces when you are looking at them from a distance - hence why the work wouldn't be suited to a 'hostile white space viewing of art.' Art for the many, not the few. 

© 2019 copyright Rosie McGinn. All rights reserved. 
 

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