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Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Dear Family...

Auntie Marilyn and her work at The Family Event.

After the Family Event had taken place in July I received an e-mail from my Auntie Marilyn, saying how much she had enjoyed the day and that she had been telling her friends about it. Marilyn's friends had asked her what did I
get out of it? Without much time for a feedback session at the end of the event, she couldn't tell them. The letter below was my response to this, and was sent to Auntie Marilyn and the rest of the family.

Dear Family,

Thank you for your e-mails, letters and comments, I thought I would let you know my own thoughts on The Family Event.
My sense of what actually happened on the day is a bit of a blur, and this is why Amanda’s two and a half hours of film, Andrews photographs and your feedback have been so important to me. I have been working in this way, with people responding to my artwork through making their own having established the method on my M.A, which I finished in March. Despite this previous work I did not know what to expect - particularly because my own family were participating as opposed to the strangers and colleagues I had been used to. Some people I spoke to about the idea thought it was brave working with my own family, as you might all fall out or just hate it!

I remember feeling very nervous just before you arrived, and felt strange slipping into ‘work mode’ given how familiar you are to me. I noticed that you seemed, understandably, nervous too.
The reason for having the board games you played at the start of the day, aside from filling the time when people were being shown the work, was to try and re-create the comfortable and playful atmosphere from when we have played those games in the past. These games and the request for you to make food that came from a family memory, were also intended to get you thinking about the senses, your own family history and the different relationships within that.

I enjoyed presenting the installation to you, my policy for this (when I have shown this and other installations elsewhere) is that I should only be there at the start to say you can touch it, and you need to look in the boxes etc. Beyond this I should not hang around in case I influence your explorations. Within this event I was asking you to experience my work and respond to it, but what is important, and differentiates it from gallery workshops and other forms of education, is that I should not influence how you do this, I just have to trust that you will. Though in a way this is risky for me, as I never know what the outcome will be, I feel this is the right way to engage with art - no two people will feel the same about one artwork, and this is what I find interesting. In a sense once it has left the artists studio it’s meaning is taken over, shifted by each person who may encounter it.

In this case I was also relieved to leave you in the work, as your opinions are very important to me - part of me wanted to know what you thought, and another part didn’t!
I was used to seeing you in different contexts, Christmas, weddings, family holidays, not like this. When I did over hear you exploring the work on the day, or on Amanda’s film it was fascinating to see everyone’s familiar personalities responding to this unfamiliar situation. I noticed uncertainty, humour, curiosity, people trying to work it all out or just playing with it. This was interesting as much for your interactions with each other whilst exploring, as your direct interaction with the artwork.

How we know people within our families is limited, it is really dependent on certain situations in which we normally gather talk, play (and usually eat!). I feel this gave me more of an insight and I started to wonder what you would be like as work colleagues and friends. There were also moments during the day when people slipped into the roles they would normally assume at a family occasion, like taking control of the kitchen or making everyone laugh.

After I had asked you to start making work yourselves I looked through the kitchen hatch out at everybody, busy grabbing materials and making. This was such a familiar scene to me, I recognised all of the materials from previous workshops and the acts of breaking of lumps of clay off the block, finding scissors and pouring out glue…but here the faces didn’t match the scene and that was odd and exciting in equal measure, a bit like a strange dream.

I felt pleased to have given everyone the chance to spend time together in this way; it was particularly nice seeing all of the different generations working together on the same thing, on anything, in this way. I feel that the documentation of The Family Event serves the dual purpose of documenting a piece of work I have done, but also as an important family record for years to come.

Part of my reason for doing this is because it is difficult to explain what I do, and to show you my work when it isn’t the first hand experience. I think that many artists feel the path they have chosen leaves them feeling separated from their family in some way. I know from my usual workshops that ‘art’ is guilty of projecting itself as aloof, closed to those who ‘do not know’ which is a massive fault on the part of the art world, and one which I have to battle with in much of the gallery workshops I do. Only you can know if involving you in this one aspect of my work, means you now understand my job any better, but for me it felt like a bridging the gap between my ‘roots’ and the world I inhabit day to day.

When it came to packing the work into the van at the end of the day, I was conscious of how indifferent I was to how my own work was wrapped up and moved, in comparison to your work. I felt a huge sense of urgency to protect yours and get it safely into my studio for repairs and perseveration. What you made was brilliant, and an insight into members of my family that I would never have had without doing this. Within each group there was something that stays with me; the way you worked as a team, the effort and concentration that went into the work, the revelations about you and your own family memories or feelings about my work and me. Your work, sat beside me now in my studio, feels like the most important ever made. The preciousness I am applying to it perhaps shows the significance of the circumstances of how art is made; it’s process, who has done it and why over and above the physical form it may take.

Recently Amanda and I watched the film footage she had taken of the day, I was gripped throughout. At the end she asked me questions about what I had learnt from it but all I could do was sit there with a big grin on my face, and say “it just shows me how wonderful my family are” Carrying out the event and looking through the documentation felt very emotional, I was pleased that it had worked (people explored my work and responded in an interesting and new way), proud of my family and profoundly sad that it was suddenly all over.

One of my favourite artists, Joseph Beuys, is famous for saying ‘art is life and life is art’ this runs through much of my work and in particular beliefs about how the art establishment should function in a more accessible way. I feel The Family Event is the closest my work has got to fully embracing this philosophy, and has given me a renewed faith that this is the right path to follow – Life is interactive, multi sensory, unexpected and those that engage in life do so as a diverse set of people with an infinite set of experiences, expectations and relationships to offer – Art has a responsibility to reflect this. It is amazing how in the seemingly liberal world of the arts, things can be so closed and categorized, there are frustrating traditional notions of what it is, who it is for, who it should be made by.
We proved it is, and should be, for all.

Thank you!
Love Naomi

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