This feels like it’ll be a rough ride, please bear with me: Following an offer to relax into the freedom of a project without customary implicit obligations, I’ve chosen to reconsider my practise, deliberately follow paths that I’d probably self-censor and try to avoid the male habit of pretending that I know what I am doing. In short I was up for a risk and thought I’d record bits here.
During each exhibition Fabrica explores ways of interacting, considering and contextualising the work through associated events, like most galleries.
Obviously there is huge scope for creativity in this process, being artist led, Fabrica always programs a surprisingly diverse range of stuff that actually brings something else to the work for almost everyone.
Enter Jonathan, as a project manager he takes the possibilities, and runs with them, turning an exhibition into a hub for spin off (or stuck on) activities so unlikely, that the idea alone is inspirational. His scope for opportunity and attention to detail is a form all its own.
This exhibition is no exception, the red cushions are ready, the musical ceramics being fired, but tonight everyone is still exhausted, so it has fallen to the unfortunate artist, Vincent, to give a talk about his work to a public than he doesn’t share a spoken language with.
Luckily Fabrica is millimetres away from becoming a multilingual port, so Cecile stepped up to help the equally exhausted Manon, by forming something akin to a translation committee.
A strange form of theatre then began, Vincent speaking quietly, each word precisely considered, seemingly formulating and revising as he spoke. Manon who works so closely with him, would then supply us with a feint gist of what Vincent said, in between short debates in French about the issues he raised or the perspective he had adopted. Once a consensus was reached either Manon or Cecile or both, would finalise the statement with a definitive translation.
The result was fairly hard won information, intriguingly nuanced by the discarded and supplementary versions; a bit like reading a book with the author’s notes scribbled in the margins.
Throughout these exchanges, Vincent would flick through 2 hard drives of images and videos to illustrate this or that point (no powerpoint gloss here, just the working contents of his computer), giving tantalising glimpses of whole folders of work.
As a polished example of corporate presentation it was what every college would fail you for, but as a way of understanding what this man’s working process was, and how his ideas interrelate it would be worth formulating a training course and charging ‘professional development’ fees.
Needless to say I found it a bit of a revelation. Up until this point I hadn’t seen much of his previous stuff, now the artist that I had come to know during the build suddenly became startlingly 3 dimensional.
It had been dawning on me for a while that we had a lot in common, but during his presentation I realised that much of what I have been fumbling around with during my career, he had been engaged with too, in shockingly similar ways.
Anyone who has seen someone else exploring the same ideas knows how unsettling it can be.
I asked myself if I felt jealous but found that I was really impressed, he had done it so much better than I ever could have.
Wednesday the 9th of July was my first active day as Animateur in residence, and although the role wasn’t exactly sprung on me, I spent most of the day considering how close the word Animateur is to Amateur and feeling completely unfit for the challenge of the task.
Luckily Jane reminded me of something that we have often talked about, that is to do with the weird feeling of inadequacy that often seems to accompany jobs that involve working in a ‘learning’ environment with others, such as teaching, mentoring, leading workshops and almost anything that requires taking a group initiative.
I would be curious to know if anybody has looked into this phenomenon, because over the years I have raised the subject with many experienced educators and it seems to be a fundamental, if often unspoken concern, especially amongst visiting tutors.
It is hard to unravel but seems to have something to do with balancing a willingness to get out of ones depth, on one hand, with the certain comfort of dogmatic knowledge, on the other. A balancing act that causes a fundamental questioning of your own ability, and a choice between being too inscrutable to be creative or too pliable to take the initiative. As nobody in their right mind would entertain using the Victorian rote method, they are left managing a healthy form of self destructive critique, and develop ways of camouflaging their doubts, at least until they are familiar with the feeling and realise that it is a very good sign.
All in all, the above paragraph was a very wordy way of saying, I decided that I was feeling an irrational fear, and that the best thing to do was NOT to act on it; but to wait and see what happened.
In the meantime I decided to ask a few random people what they would do, which was fun, but made me realise that it was up to me, my problem.
Semantics is a fine thing. Sorting out those who are attending a ‘private view’, from those who are coming to a ‘preview’ from amongst the majority interested enough to make it to the ‘opening’ of an exhibition, is one of the displacement activities that I use to occupy the more agonising examples that I have been to.
That said, there is a real value in getting loads of people to turn up to something as odd as sharing a tight proximity with a thing that has become partly obscured by the proximity of loads of people.
It gives everyone plenty to talk about and provides one of the few social occasions left that doesn’t cost a small fortune, or involve a major change of life for someone involved.
On second thoughts, it probably does cost a small fortune, but not for the participants. See how well arts funding directly serves communities?
This gathering was a good one – most people that I spoke to came away energised by it, including one of the ‘doormen’ (that are now required at City Centre events) who seemed to have unexpectedly acquired the equivalent of an NVQ in sculpture during the course of the evening and seemed committed to taking it further.
I went home.
At some point the sculpture was complete – it was just prior to the doors opening for the first non-build viewers.
One of the best things about this particular work was that it’s degree of completeness was measurable only in its own terms.
That is, unlike many familiar objects or even finishes, there was no way of telling if it was a convincing replica of one, or even a well made or shoddy bodged attempt.
It was complete and it stood its own ground, all that was left was to partake in it, in what ever way it moved you to.
Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for the gallery, which is inescapably measured by gallery-ness. Poor Natasha, who is (along with Tila, who was on Poland duty) responsible for front of house, but had also been in the thick of the build team, still had a lot of work getting that sqeaky(ish) “galleries are clean and crisp and even” look to the place. The volunteers too deserve a good deal of credit.
When the first non-paying customer came through the door they probably had no idea of what had occurred in that space.
Although I sometimes think that the experience would be far richer for them, if the transition from energetic creativity to calm passivity was a little bit less theatrically managed. Perhaps one day I will try to pull that off as a show.
One remembered moment from the Installation.
At times the sounds of the work bordered upon obscene, even with ear defenders on, making conversation virtually impossible – During a natural lull in the noise, a passer-by popped their head around the door and started this brief surreal exchange with the team…
“Have you got a Bible?”
“No I'm sorry, we don’t”.
“Well you'll all go to hell then!”
“Would you like to come to a workshop?…”