'For me The Family Event Installation is old, I can not see it anymore, though re installing it in the middle room of my house, where it was originally built helped me to get something new from it as it felt so right in that space with it's wooden floors and abandoned attic feel. I had also made some adjustments to the structure, wanting to create something more intimate, enveloping for the viewer.
In the weeks leading up to the exhibition I had stepped back into the various roles I have had working in galleries, equipment checks, signage, marketing, budgets and my 'script' - how I would greet people when they arrived, how I should introduce the work and the idea that they have unlimited time and a choice of whether to and how to respond to it. Whilst buried beneath these to do's I had forgotten what the installation does, so at first I was actually surprised when I walked into a room at the preview and someone would real off a flood of memories, and opinions about the work. The installation came back to life, and this time, again, it was different.
I know my friends but their presence at the preview gave me a little more of an insight, a different kind of connection with them. As with witnessing my families response at The Family Event 4th of July 2009 I have seen the people in my life differently, by placing them in an unusual situation.
Over the course of the evening the coffee table got taken over as a making station, with disturbing rabbit related works, collage and drawings being churned out by a line up of grown ups and kids. The domestic setting and the conversation that flowed around whilst hands created felt like it belonged to a more different time. The scene also reminded me of Christmas sat on the floor opening presents but instead of consuming they were producing. As a group of adults and children they were ageless, playing equally, only some happened to have the awareness of adulthood.
There were a few people who found it difficult to be in the installation, they didn’t want to think the idea of family, as one person put it, they had "blanked out childhood" Which was incredibly sad and also made me realise what the work was capable of - that it could make one person feel vulnerable, where the next would find it "relaxing and pleasant"
As I went into different rooms of my house I overheard or was brought into exchanges between people of their own memories and thoughts on ‘family’. One person wondered if we are friends with certain people because we have similar childhood memories. This made me think about the possible geographical, class and cultural reasons why we might have specific objects within our families ones that people from similar backgrounds would remember too.
I wanted the experience for visitors at the preview to be as close as possible to that of visitors who would book in for an appointment alone. This was difficult given the amount of people and the time limit. I made sure people got to see the work alone or in pairs and for a reasonable amount of time, the minimum of which I decided was 15 minutes; this meant there was some waiting around to be done. It worked in the sense that no one had to wait for too long and everyone got at least 15 minutes. However being timed, and not having a quit private space in The Lounge definitely affected how people ‘read’ the work as a whole, and if any more people had come along then I think some kind of extended all day preview would have been more appropriate. Or perhaps re- thinking the usual function of a preview? All things to bear in mind for future work.
There were a few family members (Family event participants) present at the preview my Auntie and Uncle (in body)
and my brother and sisterin law (in Skye) My Auntie and Unce seemed quite moved by the exhibition, saying it reminded them of how special the July event had been.
The atmosphere at the preview was warm. I felt really happy to be able to give my friends my work, this experience – The domestic environment changed my perception of the work as a whole too as not for the last time over the course of the exhibition, I felt strangely like a ‘proud hostess’. I did wonder, however, if this closely knit combination of art and life would be a novelty that wore off by the end of the exhibition?'
The Family Reunion
'I am sitting in my lounge with my whole family, we are watching TV, laughing, dad drifts off at one point and I bring in tea, coffee and biscuits...
To be more specific, the only people in the room are my mum, dad, family friends john and Kay and myself, we will be joined later by my Auntie and Uncle via Skype but for the moment it is just us five, watching ourselves and the rest of the family participating in The Family Event 4th of July 2009 as captured on film by Amanda Ravetz and now being played as part of my exhibition.
The Family event participants have returned, to find out how I have represented their experience, and work. They were very positive, preferring the installation in the middle room, and having the time to explore it properly and see things they may have missed last time. They enjoyed the lounge in particularly reliving the 4th of July through the film, despite not liking how they looked and sounded on screen!
What struck me about the presence of family members at the preview and in the following days was that all of this activity has come spiralling out from that one day event / my installation. I knew that my installation and the way in which people encounter it has the power to evoke memories and questions about notions of the family for others. And that it reflected the fact that people’s thoughts about family tend to be rooted in different stages of the past. What I have come to realise is that it has also provoked action, taking things forward for example by creating new memories of it's own, for my family, who I now feel more connected to as a result.
Face book, Skype, e-mails, blogs and flickr have been really important to the whole of the family event work over the past year. On a practical level it means I can market my own events and exhibitions and then share documentation and analysis of them. It has also enabled me to maintain the bond with my family that The Family Event 4th of July seemed to have enhanced, particularly with family members I rarely see. It keeps them part of the work too, not just in photographs on the wall but continued involvement in the day they helped create in July 2009.'
What I can not write here is the very thing that became the most memorable part of putting on the exhibition, being emerged three or four times a day, sometimes more, in other people’s stories. Strangers, work colleagues and friends all remembered and told their stories related to the idea of family.
I did little more by way of prompting than offer a cup of tea and ask if they had any questions after their experience of the installation and the lounge. I just listened, and joined in when it felt right. This was a strange situation, hearing about a persons relationship with their mother or kids, their memories re surfaced, upsetting things, joyful things. Also some interesting discussions about the differing cultural backgrounds countries or times people grew up in, and how families choose to interact. I was surprised at how much people told me in fact, and that is why I have chosen not to write it here. I think I heard those things because I was trusted, the environment, my manner had given that impression. Now outside of the exhibition and the moment I do not want to break the spell.
In some ways I was sad to let go of that daily ritual, of listening to those lives, but in other ways it was exhausting. I thought of counsellors and patients, confession boxes, doctors appointments, but that was not how if felt or the right comparison as those things imply a purpose - the seeking of a solution or comfort. That was not why people talked to me; I think they were thinking aloud, like the unbroken streams of consciousness I found in the comments book. People enjoy having the space to think, for it’s own sake, my installation prompted thoughts, and the environment, I built around it (including my presence) enabled them to be explored.
I think of times when I have gone alone to an exhibition in a gallery, and I have become utterly absorbed by the work, perhaps furiously writing and drawing notes as I take a second look around the work (I remember Cildo Miereles in Newyork, over a decade ago now). It is always a shock then to hit the light and bustle of outside; you have to re adjust your focus, the dream jolts back into reality.
However this is also the pleasure of a gallery, that you can step off that street and inside to the quiet, white and open yourself up to something new. I don’t think the literal architecture of a gallery should change to provide 'thinking rooms' some of them already do, but in a way removed from artworks - that is down to the individual artist and their artwork as to where and how it should be experienced, where the artwork stops and 'outside' starts.
It is interesting to know, from peoples comments during my exhibition, how much that space is appreciated, how much of a novelty it is not only within peoples idea of an art experience, but in life generally. There is a lot that surrounds what people may identify as ‘the artwork’ that is an extension of it. The lines are unclear and can trick both the audience and the artist at times, that makes it even more interesting, reminding us that it is also about how you choose to look, what you bring to that encounter. The meaning is as much to do, therefore, with the audience as the artwork itself, the artwork whether the artist likes it or not, can never stand-alone.
To see all images from the exhibition