Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Tri and Leaf Transplanted

The second version of “Tri and Leaf “went on show in the village of Charroux in the Vienne over the weekend 3, 4, 5, August. It was included in the 23rd annual art event ‘Les Peintres dans la Rue’ along with various other exhibitions and activities. Charroux is the home of the remains of an 8th Century Benedictine Abbey and among the treasures it holds are various relics, the most famous of which is the Holy Prepuce, or foreskin of Jesus. Sadly we were not being offered a glimpse of it on this occasion, and in 1900 the Roman Catholic Church ruled that anyone speaking or writing of it would be excommunicated, so I shall say no more. But, I was being offered a very atmospheric non gallery space to exhibit in.

When Paul Sally, the President of the Tourist Office invited me to participate, he showed me the space he thought I might like to show my work in and I loved it straight away. It was in an old house that had been used as a Gendarmerie and has lain untouched for many years, except for some basic maintenance. I was offered a domestic room perhaps once the formal reception room, with two large shuttered windows one to the north and one to the west, beautiful wide age-patinated floorboards and a fireplace.

Over the years, I have exhibited my work in many spaces but the majority have been formal galleries, white walled, spotlit and quite often soulless. The modus operandi for most galleries is still the white cube both in terms of the room and the plinths in order to show the work in isolation and although it may work for some things it doesn’t allow for any interaction between the object and the space.

Recently I have come to the conclusion that the white cube probably came about as a result of commerce because putting work in neutral spaces makes it harder for the gallery visitor to see it as an object within a context. This consequently makes it hard for them to ascertain the real value of the object and, dare I say it, makes it easier for the gallery to convince them that the monetary value of the object as displayed in the gallery is ‘correct’. The dusty vase on a shelf with other similar vases in a potter’s workshop might appear to the onlooker to be worth a lot less fiscally than the same vase dusted, isolated and spot lit on a plinth.

Latterly, the non gallery space has become the domain of conceptual artists rather than for those of us making objects. I now realise that these places are more sympathetic for my work as they allow it to interact with the spaces’ own history and can also provide a domestic context for things like laundry baskets and wastepaper bins. As I mentioned in an earlier post, this exhibition “Tri and Leaf”, has no price lists because nothing is for sale and this has now become, for me, a key element of the exhibitions I am curating for my own work. I want people to enjoy the work for what it is without the interference of any thoughts about the monetary value of the objects on display or any suggestion that they should be considering acquiring them. I want the work to be viewed in the same way that we might view the landscape allowing ourselves simply to have an emotional response to it.

Obviously I still need to make a living so I am asking for an exhibition fee from the Tourist Offices or other organisations who invite me to show the work. So far no one has refused and everyone has been more than happy with the arrangement and the outcome. It is the same way in which musicians or other performers might operate and as I have said previously I see myself now more as a performer than a merchant.

I set up ‘Tri and Leaf’ in this beautiful room without lighting, or plinths, or prices, just labels indicating the materials used, as this is not always evident, yet it seems to assist with the viewers appreciation of the work. Then I watched and listened from the adjoining corridor as the visitors found the room and entered. Some older men walked in and out without pausing to look at anything, because they were looking for the Philatelic exhibition in the same building, but most people entered and spent some time there looking at everything. When they were with someone else I could hear them getting more and more excited as they ‘discovered’ the next piece and wanted to share and discuss their discovery. Children ran in ahead of their parents and then ran straight back to their parents shouting at them to hurry up and come and see. People of all ages, both sexes and several nationalities came to look and some of them told me how much they enjoyed seeing the work. Some wrote something in the exercise book that I had left on a wooden console in the room for this purpose; some wanted to tell me about baskets or makers they remembered from their childhood and some just left talking about it. One man told me that his father had always kept empty milk cartons because he felt they had the potential for something but he didn’t know what. He washed them, flattened them, tied them in bundles and put them in his shed. Apparently he died recently and the son said he wished his father had lived long enough to have seen my work.

The seamstress and the baskets

On the Sunday afternoon it rained and the visitors thinned out but at the end of the afternoon a tiny and very elderly lady came in on the arm of her daughter. She had a very bent spine and walked slowly with a cane, it looked painful but her face lit up as she approached and delicately touched with her fine fingers each piece in the room. Her chirrups of delight increasing at the discovery of each material and technique and amazingly her gait speeded up to the point where she abandoned her daughters arm and trotted round the room unaided. I wanted to know more about this beautiful old lady so introduced myself and discovered that she had been a seamstress in her working life. I was delighted that someone from another era, another culture, another discipline and another nationality had seen something in my work that had given her so much pleasure on this damp afternoon. Afterwards I wondered if she would have ever gone into a formal gallery to see this exhibition.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

An Almost Silent Activity

A couple of weeks ago I went to Worksop to teach at the Harley Gallery. I flew into Stansted on the afternoon of the opening of the Olympics and as the Park is only a short jog from Stansted I had planned in some extra time before catching the train north to allow for the anticipated scrum at the airport. It was therefore unnerving to enter the UK without queuing and I have never seen Stansted emptier or more hushed.

Once on the train I started to become aware of noise: recorded station alerts, mobile phones, loud conversations, creaking carriage connectors and grinding brakes. There were three changes on noisy platforms with loudspeaker announcements that were carried away with the slipstream of passing Intercitys. In Worksop I was instantly aware of a busy main road outside my guest house window and relieved when the traffic died down as people went home to watch the opening ceremony on TV. Fortunately it went on so long I was asleep before they got back into their cars!

Harley Gallery Courtyard
 Harley, set in the stable yard of a stately pile with its enclosed acres, was a haven of tranquillity where 15 students spent the day learning to plait baskets, their intense concentration allowing little opportunity for breathing, let alone talking! There was also the usual reverent hush in the gallery where Urban Baskets was on show.  Is it only in the UK that people whisper in galleries? 

Urban Baskets at the Harley Gallery

Plaiting Workshop photo: Dayle Green

Photo: Dayle Green
The next night was spent with friends who live in the countryside, in between a high speed rail line and the A1 and depending on which way the wind is blowing they hear one or the other. Back to Central London and again an eerie quiet with relatively little traffic and empty buses. 

Staying in North London that night I was aware of planes, sirens and the dustcart in the early hours and it reminded me of my old East End home, a javelin throw from the Olympic Stadium where there was never a quiet moment. Two airports, three rail lines, and the District and Central lines that ran beneath the house making the windows rattle were the main contributors but when the wind came from the east you could also hear and smell the twice daily traffic jam at the Blackwall tunnel.  Ambulances howled day and night (3 hospitals), police cars wailed, (lots of crime)  music thumped, arguments raged and dogs barked. These were all underperformers though compared with the police helicopter that clattered over our little garden at night. The giant Blade Runneresque spotlight on its underbelly searching the surrounding streets for something or someone often landed on us as we innocently sat in the dark on summer nights trying to relax. We always rewarded these blinding, heavenly assaults with impolite gestures which, no doubt, are on record somewhere!

Returning to the airport, it is busier now, but Stansted is well designed and no matter how busy, the decibels are restrained in the main terminal. The noise cranks up, however, at the Ryan Air departure gate and once inside the winged tin can, it crescendos alarmingly. Cabin crews speak in tongues at a volume that makes me put my fingers in my ears, (they are nagging us to buy something or other); a babe in the arms of its parent in the seat next to me screams both lungs hollow for the first twenty minutes of the short  flight. There is the triumphal fanfare on landing a minute early followed by the baffling sound of passengers clapping; a triumph of marketing as surely the flight is supposed to arrive on time.

An hour in the car and finally, the sublime and, for the moment at least, (until the LGV line at the bottom of the garden is finished)  almost overwhelming quiet of my home and studio where, it suddenly dawned on me that one of the reasons I chose to make baskets is because it is an almost silent activity…..