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Thursday, 29 April 2010

Drawing Sound - Eno's Paintings

I have just carried out another Second Sight workshop at Fabrica, in response to their current exhibition 77 million paintings by Brian Eno (guest artistic director of The Brighton Festival). I set up Second Sight in 2002, now my longest running workshop, with some of the participants regularly attending since day one. Second Sight offers a multi sensory approach to experiencing each exhibition, which begins with my verbal description of the work, explaining how it looks. In addition to this I introduce sounds, materials, even smell and tastes to offer further multiple ways in to the work. For some my interpretation is a necessity, to others it becomes another dimension to their experience of the work that they are interested in having. Interpretation of the works meaning is the role of the participants, so specific questions about the artist’s intensions and what others have said about the work are only answered towards the end of the session. The workshop ends with a group discussion about our feelings about the work. The majority of Second Sight’s participants are visually impaired or blind, but anyone interested in this approach to engaging with an exhibition is welcome.

I was particularly looking forward to introducing the group to this show because of its multi sensory content. Also the way in which the exhibition is designed, making use of Fabrica’s building (a former church) to give a unique way of experiencing an artwork, relates in to my art own work in which I attempt to slow down peoples perception enabling them to contemplate and respond more fully.

The visual aspect of the exhibition is described on Fabrica’s website as ‘77 Million Paintings by Brian Eno is a painting installation in light that is slowly and continuously changing within a composition of high definition video screens.
Translucent and richly coloured abstract images, mainly hand drawn on 35mm slides, form component elements that are almost imperceptibly overlaid, reconfigured and transformed as each moment passes.
 Reminiscent in form and scale to a stained glass window or mosaic design, 77 Million Paintings creates an architectural focus for reflection and orientation in both a physical and symbolic sense.’ 
The sound is as much present as the visual aspect of the exhibition and appears to me to follow the same process of the paintings, with different sounds constantly layering shifting and merging as they are played out of separate suspended boom boxes.
The space itself is suggestive of how the work should be experienced, where once rows of pews would have faced the chancel area of this building (now housing the paintings) rows of inviting red sofas and scattered leather bean bags reside, just visable in the darkness. The bustling street outside feels distant though I did enjoy hearing the odd seagull and not knowing (or caring), whether this was part of Eno’s soundtrack or not.

I knew I wanted to introduce the workshop participants to music drawing as soon as I knew what the exhibition would be. I have drawn in this way many times myself and have used it in dozens of workshops and so knew it would be right for this. Recently I have had a breakthrough in an idea for a piece of my own work that carries the idea of drawing sound a step further, something I am very excited about and experiencing the exhibition/workshop was not so much research as the generator of further excitement and affirmation that this is the right idea or me to try and get made next.

The method I use to draw sound is an exercise in listening, just as traditional drawing methods can be seen as an exercise in looking. Like dance movement within the music and the body meet. The marks made during sound drawing in this way can be fascinating as their variation from person to person says something of how differently individuals focusing on the same sound, listen, and let go. Drawing music as a group working onto one surface, as we were in this workshop, is also a good icebreaker when bringing together new participants, it frees people up (to one another and the idea of being in a workshop/producing something creative), no one is observed or judged on their skills.

Drawing music for a period of time before experiencing Eno’s work felt like best preparation I could give. It is my responsibility to give an interpretation of the visual impact a visitor to the exhibition can have, and this does not just mean the artwork. It is the experience of entering the quiet of the gallery after the busy street, glancing at a wall of text from which you may note words like ‘surrender’, ‘contemplative’ and ‘reflection’, then making out in the darkness the comfy seating other people are lounging on, you are unable to see if they are awake or asleep, their faces lit only faintly by the reds, blues, yellows and purples the painting emits. Verbal description is a good method but it will always be removed. This exhibition in particular warranted a direct, physical, experience.

When I introduce the idea of drawing any sound to a group, I do so slowly and in stages, building up the intensity over the course of several different pieces of sound. For this drawing we didn’t have long, I eased in with Ave Maria then Donna Summer’s State of Independence, and ended on Eno’s own, from the album Ambient 1: Music for Airports. I purposefully didn’t want to use the sound from 77 million paintings as I wanted to keep a distinction between the activity of music drawing and the experience of the exhibition as the artist intended it.

One of the reasons I enjoy facilitating group music drawing is that, when I am not drawing with them, I can observe, though often I will only glance at people’s faces (I ask participants to close their eyes while drawing) as I feel as if it is somehow wrong to watch. I have seen hundreds of people, of all ages do this and their faces and movements are lovely, I am always moved by it. When they stop it is as if they have just woken up from a deep sleep.

Awoken I asked the group to find a seat on the sofas and left them to experience Eno’s work, I began by audio describing the paintings though decided quickly not to ‘interfere’ as it felt I was doing, and to leave the group to take from it what they would, from sound, vision or both.

On the whole the response to the exhibition was positive. The sound took some people to forests or sat in a boat in the mist noticing a foghorn in the distance. Things were ‘found’ in the paintings, snow, animals and women’s faces, which reminded me of our inbuilt need to give form to things, to find recognizable shapes within the clouds. Where most had found the sounds to be relaxing one man found them to be the opposite, as they did not have the structure ‘we are brought up to think music should have’ so he found this frustrating. One of my favorite comments was by one woman who was fascinated by the fact that someone would even have the idea to make this piece of work in the first place. She said that Brian Eno was so clever he should live forever! We then went on to discuss plugging him into a computer and like his paintings and sound he would be forever generating. An interesting thought on the role of the future artist?!

One of the most interesting things about the discussion was listening to the way sound and vision were talked about. Some people, through lack of vision or personal preference, focused on the sound where as others talked about the visual. The points being made about each area - the movement within them, the affect it had on your state of mind, what forms where ‘found’ in them merged. Indistinguishable from one another in what they evoked and the language used to describe them, these two materials added up to a whole, multi sensory artwork which happened to use a combination of visual and non visual materials to communicate with us.

To see more images from this workshop

Photography by Andrew Brooks

Brighton festival

Friday, 9 April 2010

Exhibition Diary - The End

Why I chose to do it…

‘I somehow felt I owed the installation more - it's meaning and the way in which it has to be handled to be 'known' deserved intimacy with the audience. Therefore the next step was always going to be a setting in which the individual visitor is 'given' the installation along with the time, trust and openness due - to both artwork and audience.

I wanted to know if this would change anything, would it work? Would stripping away all else, so there is just the work and the visitor, allow them to connect to it (or not) in an uncompromised and more personal way?’
Did it work?

Yes, people’s connection to the work seemed stronger, more personal - as was the reaction of those who felt they could not find a connection to it. The contrast between having to explore and respond to something as a group as opposed to an individual is vast, I think there is a place for both, depending on the work I make. For The Family Event I am really glad that through this exhibition, I eventually got it to where it needed to be, ‘The Family Event July 2009’ was an amazing day, for so many reasons, but the installation and the participatory environment I had created around it did not quite sit right - here I felt they merged, and the seams were hazy, which is good.

Family is a word for a group of people ‘A group of persons sharing common ancestry’ but what that family actually is is perhaps found less in the gatherings they hold (when thy are a group) and more in the minds of the various individuals within it – when they can think about their memories, feelings about the relationships they have to the other members of their family group…..things they might tell an artist in her lounge one day.

To see all images from the exhibition

Exhibition Diary - My Diary

Preview Night

'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

Exhibition Diary - Made Responses

As visitors entered The Lounge having just experienced my installation in The Middle Room, they will have found a note to them on the coffee table titled 'A Response...'

The coffee table note was an option, if the visitor wanted to respond, to participate, then it gave a few suggestions as to how for example, using the basic drawing and making materials I had left in the room, writing or discussion. It was also made clear that they could find their own way of responding, it was completly open. Most people participated by doing a combination of things, some just talked to me.

Some responses could be traced to within the installation itself, when the journey of someone's exploration of the work was left for me to find. This was rare and exciting as allthough I had not instructed people to leave the work in any particular state, the majority of people tried very hard to put everything back just as they found it, covering their tracks. Leaving people alone with the work changed things in the sense that more playing and exploration happened when people were within the installation, rather than it all taking place afterwards. Some of this I knew about, and some will remain a secret with the visitor.

One of my favourite response's was Andrew Brook's series of photographs from inside the installation. This was interesting because Andrew has photographed the majority of my work over the past three years, and this installation on two previous occasions, but he wanted to try and experience the work in the same way as the visitors coming to the exhibition were, including creating a response. These are some of the photographs he took as his respose to ( rather than documentation of ) the installation, I think they differ from his other photographs of the same space, the same gathering of objects and light -  here he is not trying to capture just the physical, instead it is his experience of it, there is an atmosphere of play and perhaps even something sinister - a story.

To see all of Andrew's response photographs

Some more made responses...

To see all visitors made responses

To see all images from the exhibition

Exhibition Diary - Comment and Response

I have written out entries from the Exhibition comments book below. This book was one of the options suggested to each visitor as a way of responding to their experience, this use of words, (together with the discussions they had with me with a cup of tea at the end), became the main way people chose to express their feelings about the exhibition. Reading through them I have realised that these pieces of writing tend to fall into two areas, and have defined them as either a comment or a response. (Of course in some cases the writing crosses over into both)

In most of what was written, and said to me, there seemed to be a tension - between telling me what they thought of the work, how it functioned - what it was to them as a piece of art basically. And then falling into and recounting memories, stories and thought processes from the ‘imagination part’ of their experience of the artwork.

The comments, were perhaps what you would expect to find in a gallery comments book i.e. this work is good/bad in my view because… These words are in some ways the most helpful to me, constructive criticism.

The responses are the ones where the writer continues to ‘fall’, willingly; they have gone into their imagination and stayed there without coming up for air. The reason these pieces of writing feel like ‘responses’ to me is because something has been created, in response to my work, that is another narrative, a new world to enter. As if the response writer/visitor has gone into my work and it has begun a story in them, or rather several tiny stories, you could say like a spell. They have then become the fairytale character that passes through, the door/ forest/ rabbit hole etc to make the story their own. The response writing is their message to me from that place. What I still cannot quite explain is why this is so exciting to me?

Despite this excitement, I do not favour the response over the comment of vice versa. My work needs them both. I also do not think that the people who wrote the responses were the only people who experienced the work and conjured up new narratives from it. The ways in which people choose to express themselves changes your perception of what they are trying to say. For some a ‘comments book’ has it’s own formula, a style of writing and number of words to adhere to, for others it is just a blank book. For many talking to me was the best way to translate their thoughts, even if they had already written a page or drawn a response. Those discussions felt very significant to me. There was nothing removed from the cycle of my work, the response, and my knowledge of the response. My presence within that discussion had to be as carefully approached as the building of the installation itself, I had to be someone people would want to talk to about it, so I listened.


‘I found it hard to relate to the objects in the space – to the smells, sights and textures of the items. They don’t mean the same to me as Naomi, I know they are significant to her – very significant. But to me the photograph is of no one, the popeye tin is simply a box and the dried flowers something to glance over. They made me think of ‘Things’ as a whole That objects + things + gadgets + this + that all mean something to someone. We are always attached to an object. We can never live with nothing. I wonder….would our memories exist without a ‘tangible’ substance to work alongside it…..??’

‘The Installation felt more intimate and intense in the smaller room, we noticed sounds and smells more than before. Having more time to experience it was great. The film let us relive a fantastic day, even though seeing us as others do was not good!! Very Impressed with how the exhibition is staged in ‘the lounge’, which made it interesting to view. Thanks again Naomi - Mum x’

‘Your fools gold made me think about if friends become friends when they are connected through similar childhoods. Some of Naomi’s objects and her family objects connect a lot to me and what I remember. Are these common things the things that meet you together as friends??’

‘Thank you for the experience! I love this kind of work that explores our shared experience in life. I find it very comforting to be reminded how connected we are and although we don’t have exactly the same thought processes – that would be so boring! We all have little happenings that we reflect on that shape us – and we can all relate to.’

‘It really expresses the way in which memories are layered and not straightforward – The happy and sad combined, the dark and the light, the clearly remembered and the almost un remembered. It’s also good to smell some artwork…’

‘I am interested in the communication of experience – can we ever really understand someone else’s experience? Does it matter? Is our job as artists to communicate our experiences, or is it more about allowing others to have experiences of their own?
My mum has been ill recently, and I have been compelled to re-enter the web of family, which I have tried to distance myself from, and have remembered how difficult it is to accommodate all the different experiences, emotions and interpretations of family members…
A very interesting installation, and I love the participatory element.’

‘It was as though I was reliving memories from my childhood and my children’s childhood. Lovely things…smells polish.. button tins.. The exhibition made me feel very happy – ‘Family’ is very important to me and it was very moving to read the letters, which contained events that featured importantly in the lives of my family members.’

‘Firstly Congratulations – a truly engaging and challenging installation. The instruction to handle, and explore (especially the instruction to delve to the bottom of the black box) were all a challenge to my natural instinct to respect seemingly private, and certainly personal artefacts. A constant awareness of the time constraint added to the sense of furtive voyeurism, of intrusion. I was particularly reluctant to extract the letters from underneath the sand – and felt the need to replace it accurately, trying unsuccessfully to replace the sand as if it had not been disturbed (again the feeling of doing something surreptitious, of not wanting to leave evidence of my intrusion into a ‘private’ space)
I have to confess that my focus was heavily upon myself, that I was aware far more of my own feelings, rather than the materials I was exploring. Was that your intention? The instructions and constraints you have put in place seem to me designed to provoke the response in the viewer, (or am I just being paranoid?)
To clarify, if my response seems less than positive, I found this immensely engaging, and connective, in the sense that it involved me in the artwork directly.’

‘…..I really enjoyed it and I am glad I got the chance to have a proper look. To me it is strong in 2 important ways the work is very evocative and rich and the way you have presented the experience and made it into a place to take your time, stop and look, a space to think about life.’

 ‘Birdsong always evokes peacefulness and a deep feeling of calm. Murmured voices remind me of my own childhood – being upstairs in bed, when the rest of the world was downstairs and doing other things than trying to go to sleep. Shafts of light and dust motes moving in the air make me remember woodland glades and dreamy afternoons in my uncles hayloft on the farm…..Other emotions were of not wanting to disturb things or pry, so that must be my own upbringing, emerging in inhibitions at having to “interact” I realise I am not an interactive – not with things or people, very much. But I have really enjoyed and relished this afternoons experience and am gladdened by it.’

‘When I first came in I felt a bit uncomfortable at rooting through the personal – I avoided the diary for a while – but soon felt drawn in – it made me remember my always started but never finished diaries. And how I would lapse into using keywords to remember dates – but not to express stuff – put it down because it was not sayable – and consciousness of people reading it, that limited what I wrote. I thought of my sisters diary where she started by listing the meals of the day……The way objects trigger memories make me wonder a lot about if the memory is gone without the object. It also makes me think about the things we keep and the things we don’t……….Although I was very conscious I was entering someone else’s childhood, it also made me remember mine I think the digging around inside the containers did make make me dig around in my head.’

‘Funny to ‘look’ in on another family – in the sand reading the letter to Granfer, so sad but also heartening how people ‘live on’ for us – I carry my own Grandpa everywhere – Somehow touching the materials, the sensations conjure up my own memories of childhood – Felt ‘naughty’ opening up the suitcase I remember stealing a gorgeous ‘jewel’ from the next-door neighbor at the age of about 6 – It must have been plastic but but I knew it was wrong, but had to have it. So amidst the ‘naughty’ feelings, pleasures – the cold stone of luminous red cold against my cheek – The squidgy feeling of viscera only I ‘know’ it’s not but my mind still goes there – almost wanted to wash my hands after touching the entrails. But wishes I could have pulled them out of the rabbit – despite how beautiful it all looked laid out. I wanted to do the dismembering? Why? Wanted the rabbit to be whole (not separated) to start with………The weird thing was I put on the straw hat to read the diary and saw my body in shadow against the projection of snow? Dust in the sun? Felt suddenly like I had been overtaken by another identity – inhabited and that my body image and concept of myself was now ‘in’ her world. These sensations, Qualities, came and went as I explored. Felt very peaceful – (I should say) I now feel very peaceful. So much to enjoy sensual pleasures and surprises garlic smell the black hole under the blanket and I was going to sit on that to read! Pulled out a gun, a dolls head, a truck (which reminded me of turning four in Greece) got given a truck for my birthday as the Greek people who knew us thought I was a boy. When they found out I wasn’t they took the truck back! It was fabulous – big red, yellow and blue wooden truck. I loved it!! They had no other present for me so not a great experience aged 4. The woman who gave me the truck was a very young Nana Mouskouri the singer (my few seconds of connecting with someone famous) Thank you Naomi and Naomi’s family really wonderful experience.’

‘The best feedback I can give is the thoughts triggered by your thoughts, turned into an installation. Something’s had no connection to my past, some triggered a train of thoughts: I remembered the toys, I remembered the comic books, then I felt sad I didn’t have British beach holidays as a child, and had not so many fabulous memories of holidays. But as I traveled around the room I realized that many of the happy memories for me were in my immediate home environment, which made me happy. Going shooting with my dad, haymaking, tea in a cup and saucer at my Nan’s. Old story books and recipes. I then wanted to make my own installation!
Also made me think of my responsibility to make happy memories for my son. Big responsibility, and I am well up for it! I hope when he is 30 he can have such full and happy strong memories.
Then on the video, I saw a bit of you and your mum, (talking) about whether to get the food out or not. It reminded me of the royale family and made me laugh out loud. And brought me back to the modern day, and how the innocence of childhood turns into the whole different game of adulthood. Digged it Kendrick.’

‘Lots of things resonated with me – The wood pigeons always make me think of Norfolk in the morning – the air misty as dew rises and the earth warms up – it always makes me feel free and calm…I used to work in rose fields early in the morning as a teenager – It brings back the warmth of the sun and physical activity, dust and general contentment of working alongside 2 men I liked being around…My friend said her gran used to tell her the wood pigeons were saying ‘My toe hurts peg-gy, my toe hurts peg-gy’ If you listen it’s it’s not far off…being let in on family stories is rather special..
Entering the space is very exciting – dens always inspire a little awe at the world as you can hide in them and look out with a little more apparent curiosity than you may feel is appropriate in normal ‘non –den’ life! We used to make dens in rockeries and trees anywhere you could squeeze in to. The story tapes reminded me of one that I listened to at my Nanny’s house about Thumbelina…it half intrigued half repulsed me…years later I heard it sampled on an Aphex twin track…
The cookbook reminded me of my granddad who was a big silent man with a lovely warm smile. He read cowboy books and drove me everywhere in his little red metro; he never talked about being a chef in the war. When he died we found his chef training books that he used to teach with – They had recipe and teaching tips written out in very neat writing – They made him learn how to write with his right hand in the army so he became ambidextrous. There was a recipe for a ham and egg pie – lots of whole eggs and slabs of ham rolled up in pastry. The black box made me feel like I was intruding especially when I found myself in the bottom tin….how strange – will think on that.’

Reading through, the comments book, as a book was an interesting and pleasant experience. It reminded me of the reactions I had felt over the course of the exhibition, to what people had to say.
On of the strongest reactions I had was in response to lots of people describing the installation as being made up exclusively of objects and memories that were about my family and myself, this only really became a problem for me when someone gave the reason they could not connect with the work as being because it was about Naomi’s family and memories and so had no meaning for them. Over the course of the exhibition, and heightened by re-reading the comments book, this grew to really annoy me. Why? Well one of the first decisions I made prior to making the installation was that it would not be ‘about my family’ precisely because I did not want to a barrier preventing intepretation, by others.
Therefore I felt my work had failed to communicate in the way I had intended. I wondered how much of this was down to the installation itself and how much was the environment in which it was shown, as at previous venues, the installation was not described in the same way.

 Over the course of this exhibition I remember some people coming around and thinking this was my family home - no one has ever assumed that about my shared house before. Most people, including me, felt that the installation worked best in this domestic environment, the setting of the middle room, gave many people the feeling that they had literally walked into a room in someone’s house, and been left to pry. Could this have been taken too far? The installation context overpowered and controlled it’s meaning rather than simply complemented it? There is also the fact that the room next door, was covered in images of one family, mine. Or it could have been in the way I worded the publicity?
I need to be more aware of the entirety of the work, and how it is read as a result of the full expeperience. However if I am handing over my work and the fictional narratives within it, to be continued, or concluded by the visitor then why is this different to my enjoyment of the other interesting, different ways in which people have responded to the work?

Letting go is still not easy, is this one of the reasons why other artists don’t want to know what happens to it beyond their involvement?

There is delicate balance to be found between creating an artwork that communicates as the artist intends it too, whilst encouraging and being open to interpretation - and the notion that the viewer invents it’s entire meaning, which would make the artist’s artwork redundant. In this sense the ideal is a kind of collaboration, in the form or a relay.

Reading the comments and responses gave me a sense that I was looking for something in amongst the writing, beyond evidence that the work had evoked ‘something’ in the visitor.
Uneasily I realised I was interested in unravelling the psychology behind why people had written what they had - why bring up that particular memory, or point, what does it say about them and why are the things that have a sadness to them more interesting to me, more of a result?!

As with making the installation itself, I always want to curve away from just projecting the beautiful, the happy, I will always push an element of something darker into each corner.

So was it just about – proof of causing a big reaction in my audience? Finding out information about them? Making each person realise something about themselves by forcing them to dig? Finding something in common with them? Or was I looking for a story from a visitor that captures my imagination, as my work did for them? I think whether I want to admit it, different parts of me can answer yes to all of these questions. However I think, it is the story I am searching for most of all, and though I like the exchange of the story, the collaborative nature of it, it is not about wanting to ‘know’ it’s author.

Perhaps my work is about connecting to people through a shared process? - There is a lack of commitment, a detachment there.

One of the visitor’s comments made me think about how I would have reacted if placed in the same situation, being left to explore an installation alone. I think I would fall very quickly inwards and like the writer of the comment, not necessarily to the imaginative playful world some seemed to write about but the very self-aware state, where the rules and barriers have been taken away you notice the ones you put there yourself. ‘Gallery etiquette’ also had a lot to do with how people chose to interact with the installation. People are not used to exploring art in this way. There were exceptions to this tentative approach to engaging with the work physically, children mainly, but also some adults, they ‘owned’ the work quickly, taking me at my word - they took the work and ran with it...

The ideas around connecting through a shared process or experience reminded me of something I wrote on a train once, years ago. I was thinking about how to make a multi sensory experience of a film, and using the situation of me being on the train as the films subject. This is the last bit of it

‘Perhaps they would be sat like this, and watch this film I’m making now in my mind, and hear the soundtrack of thoughts I have thought, read out, while listening to the music I’m listening to, that moves with the speed of the view.

And they would blink when they are told, because the sun on their face part is happening, and it all seems silly and so clear what it is I am trying to create.

Someone to be here with me.’

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Exhibition Diary - Passing the litmus test

The exhibition took place over two rooms and a hallway in my house, visitors were first shown to The Middle Room, which contained The Family Event Installation. Each visitor entered this space alone, or in pairs and were told, by me, that they could spend as much time as they liked with the work, and could touch all of it. When they emerged from The Middle Room visitors were shown next door to The Lounge in which documentation from 'The Family Event July 2009' could be found. This room also functioned as the place in which visitors  could, if they wished, respond to their own experience of the installation, through a number of suggested means, including chatting to me over a cup of tea. 

The creation of The Lounge involved consulting my family as to how they would like their experience, during the July event, to be shown. With the help of my friend Meg Parnell I made decisions about how to transform 'The Lounge' into a space that could both show a response to the installation and be an enviroment that would enable new responses to be executed. I wanted to create a space that felt like a lounge still, where visitors were relaxed and wanted to spend time, looking, talking to me and responding to the installation. I decided to 'embed' the documentation into the room, so that it was not immediately obvious that the family 'snaps' around the room document one art even - rather their meaning emerges as you begin to move around the room, therefore not interfering with the visitors own recent experience of the installation and their response, unless they wanted to incorporate it.

The work in the Lounge consisted of photography bt Andrew Brooks, a film of The Family Event July 2009 by Amanda Ravetz, sketch books and interpretation (art books) relating to the project as a whole and objects made by my family during the event, some of which needed repairing, and 're-presenting'
(Label from the exhibition preview) 'The Rabbit in the room.

This rabbit is present because of a conversation I had with my brother Ben in which I asked how he would like the work he made at the family event to displayed. His groups mini installation featured a model of a rabbit inspired by the dead one in my installation but brought ‘back to life’ wearing the straw hat and holding the suitcase also from my installation.
Ben said there should be a giant rabbit at the preview watching the family event film on TV. I liked the idea as it fits with the rabbit that has come to haunt me, first appearing when I found one dead in Cornwall as a child, then transformed into a sculpture for this installation and turned into a clay sculpture by Ben at the family event. My memory of the rabbit has been passed on in a chain of response, and will continue that journey tonight. Naomi'

I felt there should be a panel of text on display amongst The Family Event documentation that gave an account of what had happened on the day (above in gold document frames). The most suitable person to write this was one of the participants and so I asked my Uncle Gavin if he would oblige....  

'The Family “Do”

It started with a request from Naomi to clear a date in the diary – a long way ahead and slightly mysterious.  No further details emerged for a while as speculation mounted on what the day was about. My guess was that Naomi would make it fun and, in modern management speak, “challenging”. Part party and part workshop (perhaps?).

Another task was set when the invite arrived.  Could we bring food that invoked memories or strong feelings from our past? Of course we were happy to help with the catering but what could we bring that recalled the past (and why)?  

First impressions are so important. We remembered the room as the venue for a wedding celebration. We now found a very different space. I was immediately drawn to the strange tent like structure at the far end that dominated the room but weren’t allowed to explore until later. Tables laid out with board games and the food table increasingly groaning with all sorts of food as each group arrived with their contribution. And on top of this lots of relatives, friends and acquaintances to meet’n’greet.

We started by playing games as various groups were selected for the privilege of exploring behind the magic box.  What a simple way to relax the participants and encourage interaction.  It also acted as a diversion from the real business behind the magic box.

So expectations were raised as we geared up to visit the magic box. 

Then it was our turn.  My first impression was of a weird Aladdin’s cave.  Lots of boxes, textures, colours and sounds. To step into this cave you had to pass a dead rabbit (with guts on display).  Not real of course but sufficiently realistic and unsettling for most to comment on.  Then it became evident that this was a space to explore, touch, smell and start to imagine or question.

Lots of questions: What do you think this is? Feel this! Look what I have found! Have you read this? Everyone trying to make sense of what they found or relate the contents to their own experiences.  For me, Naomi had assaulted all our senses and let our imagination, (pre)conceptions and feelings show through.   The dead rabbit shocked some and fascinated others and probably provided the focal point of the magic box. But what was its significance and was it art?

But we couldn’t rest there.  Lunchtime arrived and we could now taste the array of different snacks and treats discovering why they were important to the people who brought them.  Many related to childhood memories and this was a common theme running through the day. The chocolate mousse rabbit mirrored the dead rabbit behind the magic tent - an uncanny coincidence

Then onto the afternoons “challenge” for each group to create their own work of art with an assortment of materials. This tended to separate the extroverts from the rest and provided more of a challenge for some. We soon discovered that making “Art” isn’t easy.  However when the time came to explain each creation the variety of presentations was impressive and very funny. 

How do I look back on the day?

Naomi did a fantastic job - a great all-day party for young and old (and all ages in-between) having a lot of fun combined with a workshop that made us work, think and react. And cleverly Naomi used all of our senses - sight, sound, taste, touch, smell – through a mix of activities to invoke memories and emotions.

I’m sure all that attended that day would agree that they came away enriched and enlightened – and for me that is the litmus test for “ART”.

Thank you Naomi.'

The many frames that were used for the documentation were sourced from a number of places, some from Levenshulme Antiques village. I carefully removed the pieces of unknown family histories that came with the frames, to make way for a piece of my own.

The framed labels accompanying the documentation were also written by the family....

'The Family Tree
by Marilyn, Ellen and Sally Greenfield plus Alastair Sweeney

The inspiration for our “family tree” came from Naomi’s installation art piece. The idea came from Ellen, my sister, having been looking at the memories, images and childhood toys. We made the decision to make a family tree including all the names of our family who attended the event. We used tissue paper for the trunk and found some brilliant paper the colour of sky, it was my idea to use real leaves from the garden and write the names on them.  We worked in our group quite well (with little disagreement).  We concentrated on our ideas and we also wanted to include the whole room full of family so they could also “relate” to our idea. Naomi’s art, which touched me the most personally, was the fake dead rabbit on the floor, which reminded me of my late pet rabbit.  I was very fond of my rabbit.  Therefore to include this memory I added dandelion leaves on to our family tree, which was my rabbit’s favourite food.  This related again to the favourite food we brought to the event.
 The Family Tree is a happy piece of work, which may not look incredible artistically, but my memories of my relations are much deeper.


To see all images from the exhibition