Professor Mike Tooby of BSU's Curatorial Practice Program was our guest lecturer in Research Methodology yesterday. He introduced us to a basic framework for thinking about how art is "framed" by institutions and the impact on how it's received and perceived. It opened my eyes to the power of the curator and institutional setting on an artwork or exhibition - of course, I knew this intuitively but hadn't really unpacked it before.
There's a lot to take into account as I consider where I see my work going - what kinds of settings am I interested in? Why would I want my work to be in a particular setting? What kind of meaning and impact am I seeking and how do they inform where I seek opportunities and support?
Towards the end of his lecture, Tooby focused on socially engaged or participatory art, using his current project at Turner Contemporary, Journeys with The Waste Land, to illustrate a terrific example of this kind of project. He showed us a video clip of a recent session with volunteers where they were doing an exercise ("voting" with sticky dots) to crowd-source the artworks from the Turner's collection to include in the exhibition.
It was then that the lightbulb went off: how many times had I facilitated similar exercises in my previous career as a corporate consultant?! In my search to identify appropriate methods for my emerging practice, I might not have to look very far or reinvent the wheel. These kinds of projects are very similar to the work of my earlier career in leadership development. They involve a collaborative approach to envisioning, planning through others, enrolling support through engagement, ongoing documentation of the process, and eventually producing something that is a cumulative effort with lots of buy-in from a broad audience.
Now the question is, do I really want to go down that path again? If I'm honest, I left the work feeling rather burned-out and stretched. I do love moving a group of people through a process that everyone ends up feeling good about, yet I'm not sure that's the role I want to play in my own art practice. Just because I bring that skill set to the table, doesn't mean I have to spend my time this way.
A socially engaged or participatory practice can take all forms, from Marina Abramović's The Artist is Present (MoMA, 2010), to being "embedded" with your subjects like Grayson Perry (O'Brien, 2017), to an arms-length relationship where an artist like Thomas Hirschhorn orchestrates but does not attend his interventions (Elderton, 2015).
The paradox for my practice is perhaps to find a path of engagement (with colleagues, curators, staff and volunteers on site) that doesn't engulf or distract me. At this point, I'm clear about not wanting to work directly with the public to create my work, but that doesn't rule out other forms of engagement.
A Journey With The Wasteland (2017) Available at: http://wasteland.onsocialengine.com/ (Accessed: 22 November 2017).
Elderton, L. (2015) 'Thomas Hirschhorn: In-Between', Art Monthly, (389), pp. 27-28.
MoMA (2010) Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present. Available at: https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/964 (Accessed: 22 November 2017).
O'Brien, K. (2017) Case Study: Grayson Perry [research blog post]. Available at: https://kellyobrien.co.uk/research-blog/2017/10/29/exhibition-grayson-perry-at-arnolfini (Accessed: 22 November 2017).
Tooby, M. (2017) Role of the Curator [Lecture], Research Methodologies MD-AR7001. Bath Spa University. 21 November 2017.
Turner Contemporary (2015) News > Join The Waste Land research group Available at: https://www.turnercontemporary.org/news/the-waste-land-research-group-call (Accessed: 22 November 2017).