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.

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