Research Seminar 3
LOCATION | V&A Museum
DATE | 27 November 2012
Professor Christie Brown: Principal Investigator Clare Twomey: Co-Investigator Dr Julian Stair: Co-Investigator Laura Breen: PhD student, University of Westminster and Clare Cumberlidge: Independent curator Keith Harrison: Artist Siobhan Davies: Choreographer and Director, Siobhan Davies Dance. Alun Graves: Curator of Ceramics & Glass collection, V&A Museum Ruth Lloyd: Residencies Co-ordinator, V&A Museum Zahed Tajeddi:. PhD student, University of Westminster Andrew Ippoliti: PhD student, University of Westminster Emily-Clare Thorn: Assistant
In the seminar we focused on the subject of audience interaction and engagement. The purpose of the seminar was to present and open up discussion on the audience’s interface with, impact on and expectations of the Museum.
The invited guests delivered 20 minute presentations about their experiences of audience and participation. Précis of these presentations are available at the bottom of the page. This led to a more in-depth discussion of the works and questions arising at the end of each session.
Issues addressed in the Q&A sessions that followed included:
For both Clare Cumberlidge and Keith Harrison, it is important that the work had a life of it’s own instead of knowing what will happen in advance.
Keith spoke of the sense of kinship and anticipation shared by artist and audience during the build-up and realisation (or technical failure) of his work.
Clare C proposed that the risk in her work often lies with the institution; challenging their in-built set of barriers.
Clare C reasserted that she never thinks in terms of ‘audience’, but considers the public as part-owners. She suggested that after an event they aren’t an audience because they are informed. Clare Twomey proposed that there was an important difference between being presented with something and being a participant.
Keith discussed how he felt he was both maker and audience for his works, due to their experimental nature.
Asked whether he regarded films of his work as a document or a product, Keith admitted that he faces a constant dilemma about whether to record his work. The V&A have recorded his work for their own records. Clare C proposed that it can be interesting to get a third party to record the work, as then there’s no potential to confuse the recording with your own work.
Siobhan Davies stressed the importance of the lead-up process and asked if there is a way to give this an after-life. She spoke of the difficulty of finding a language to talk about dance afterwards and described the ‘virtual shoebox’ she was trialling: a ‘library’ chosen by the artist as a form of self-archiving. The archive will not just document, but will contain material relating to thought processes etc.
Alun Graves proposed that it was about reference points and the perspective of the maker. For him, objects and audience have always been key to the museum, but the presence of the maker is relatively new. He noted that the layer of museum interpretation is often missing when the audience and maker are in direct contact, leading to a situation where there can be huge variations in levels of audience understanding.
Responding to Julian Stair’s question about traditional ideas of craft engagement moving from the private to a public space, Clare C proposed that the theme of the day appeared to have shifted to a discussion of process: moving beyond the object. She drew on Susan Hiller’s argument that art is in the making, not the object. She also used John Berger’s proposal that the evidence of how a good piece of writing got there is implicit in the work.
Keith Harrison spoke about his role in bringing transformative ceramics processes into the public domain. He outlined the ways in which his work has evolved, making him question his own place in the work. He also spoke of the centrality that experimentation has within his creative process, how failure is an important part of this and how it can frustrate audience expectations.
Keith explained that he was aware that his work had a primary life: when it was received by a live audience, and a secondary life: where it circulated via re-presentations. He was alert to the effect that this had on the work’s meaning and was toying with the idea of not recording his work. He admitted, however, that for works such as a piece produced in his girlfriend’s Grandmother’s flat, recording was a key means of sharing the work with a wider audience. He also discussed his current work, which formed part of a residency at the V&A Museum. This included work inspired by architectural drawings of post-war buildings drawn from the V&A’s collections and lunchtime ‘interruptions’ at the museum.
Clare Cumberlidge discussed the cross-disciplinary nature of her work, which is driven by subject matter. She explained that, for her, the designation ‘museum’ covers a broad spectrum of activities and practices, which her work intersects with. Proposing that the term ‘audience’ often implies passivity within a defined space she argued that whilst her works involve a degree of interaction with members of the public, they wouldn’t necessarily describe themselves as an audience.
Clare spoke about her experience of curating the British entry to the Experimenta Design Biennial, which was held in Lisbon in 2009. She explored how commissions such as Linda Brothwell’s work with Lisbon’s Decorative Arts Museum and apprentices from the adjacent artisan workshops brought the Biennial into the public domain. Using marquetry skills to repair broken benches around the city, the commission questioned whether the museum and Biennial’s other activities were truly public.
Happiness for Daily Life: a café and meeting space built in a disused town hall building in Gong Ju City, South Korea was the subject of Clare’s second case-study. The project brought four contemporary British designers together with professors and students from the Korean National University of Traditional Crafts. The work they produced combined contemporary design and traditional techniques and crafts from Korea. One example highlighted the importance of site-specific knowledge and the way in which human of the subvert designers’ intentions: blue stools, taken as an example of good, clean, design were read locally as a symbol of poverty and not used, so had to be replaced.
Clare’s third example The Hobby Crafter’s Guide, was produced as part of a summer camp at the V&A in 2010 in collaboration with Fabien Cappello. The project consisted of a series of films of hobby crafters hands making objects, whilst they talked about their favourite object in the museum’s collection.
Siobhan Davies said that her greatest dilemma was how to hand over information about being a non-dualistic body. She explained that she chose to work outside of the theatre environment so that the viewer and performer were ‘breathing the same air’.
For Siobhan, it was important that the viewer could distinguish between dance and choreography. Proposing that the audience, rather than the place, was the best context she hoped to overcome the notion that dance was all action and no thought. She then discussed several key projects in detail:
The Collection at Victoria Miro Gallery: a series of one-minute-long pieces. These were a form of temporal challenge to see what could be achieved in that portion of time. The works ranged from a lone performer considering the minutiae of their own time to a couple tackling the idea of statehood and another dealing with rhythm structures. The works focused on the body as a presence, not an object. Siobhan spoke of the difficulty of making the audience feel comfortable with such an intense confrontation.
For ROTOR a range of people, including artists, engineers and a poet produced works in response to the making of a performance, rather than the product. From there, commissions were produced. Siobhan spoke of the benefits of working side-by-side much earlier: moving backwards in each other’s making processes.
To Hand was one of several works produced by a number of artists in response to Claire Barclay’s work at the Whitechapel Art Gallery. Siobhan Davies Dance produced a piece in collaboration with dancer Matthias Sperling, which explored the durational presence of movement and questioned how we could bring bodily knowledge into the public arena.
Clare Twomey proposed that knowledge from her training as a craftsperson was central to her work. For her, it is fundamental that the audience is not passive. She described how her work Consciousness/Conscience (1999) was made at a distance. She spoke of how important theorists such as Jonathon Parsons, who argued that her work was only made when the public engaged with it, were: helping her to understand what she has made. She then discussed several works, touching on Trophy at the V&A (2006), Forever (2010) at the Nelson Atkins Museum, Kansas, Plymouth Porcelain: A New Collection (2011) Is It Madness, Is It Beauty (2010) and a forthcoming work for the Soane Museum. She admitted that she usually resists demonstrations, but enjoyed discussing and handling the objects that people brought from their homes to be cast for Plymouth Porcelain. For her, the piece resides in those 40 participants and their experience.