I have just finished the 6th of 8 mass gifting workshops here in Bristol this week. There has been a real range of groups- from primary school (10-11 year olds at Golden Valley and Knowle Park), to adult artists at The Studio Upstairs and the third session with older members of The People’s Panel at the Museum. I realize how flexible the framework of this project is for engaging people in the different themes of the work most appropriate to them.
With the younger ones, both in and out of the museum, I highlighted the parallel between everyday objects in the collection and their own contributions, pointing to future times when they will become ‘the ancestors’ and their chosen gifts will be ancient artefacts.
They seemed to respond very viscerally to the idea that these objects were being reborn through The Gifts. Today, two of the children at Knowle Park came up to me with their wrapped objects to show me that they had left a small hole in one corner so that the object (in both cases a first toy) could breathe…
They all seemed to think very carefully about what they were writing on their cards, knowing that it would be on display . I think the physical act of wrapping and binding has been having an effect, its finality and also the transforming nature of the materials we are using – mainly muslin, silks and recycled sari yarns. It has felt at every session that there is a kind of three dimensional form of painting going on , with the binding being a very real form of individual mark making.
Other themes I have been drawing out, especially with the adult participants, have been my own personal process of grief and healing and how it informed this project, and how I have developed the seed idea into what is going to be a very large -scale artwork…it seems to be that people are responding powerfully to the concept of the Gifts, and enjoying the haptic connection with the project through the object wrapping, underlined by written reflections on the personal meaning to them of what they are donating.
I have also enjoyed broadening ideas out with the primary school children of what art can be in terms of both mediums used and the closing of the gap between personal processes and public art.
Images to come later.
Last week I was up at the Museum, facilitating a mass Gifting session with groups from Backwell school in the rear hall of the Museum. It felt good to be out in the open rather than in a closed room, more connected. I brought in references to certain objects at the Museum which I realize have had an impact on my thinking process in this project.
The main one is a child’s ball- a scrawny object made of sackcloth with a bit of rope tied around it – and I find parallels to it in terms of the context of the objects I am being given. I realize that this collection I am randomly curating – is acting as a counterpoint to the Museums collection of artefacts which hold only objects which have been carefully sourced and chosen by specialist curators. The only criteria for The Gifts is that the object donated has to have had personal emotional resonance for the Giver and not be over a certain size.
So, I realize that certain levels of meanings of my work don’t become clear until it starts making itself… In preparing for the panel presentation this week for the launch of the shape of things (which I will write on in my next post), I saw how, once again, the theme of death is a constant. This time it’s the idea of the death of the object and the ritual of wrapping and binding these objects that enables a process of reincarnation to occur. They are certainly being utterly transformed and it’s only the display of their narratives that will give any clue to their previous lives.
An artist friend, Ivan Pope, came by the studio the other day and we discussed the form of the narrative display which is still under consideration. A Book was initially favoured , especially by the curator, as it is a reference to the Register Book used by them to enter objects into their collection. But I feel more and more that this limits access to only a few people being able to browse it at any one time. Ivan suggested an idea that I had originally had but ditched a while ago, of a wall display of index cards that are effectively the narrative interface of the collection.
I am getting clearer that I am not concerned with people being able to individually access information on a particular object, and that this is a singular piece of work – a multitude of objects that have effectively become one. Although each object will be numbered, the numbers won’t always be clearly visible, I want to leave some incompletion , some space for those looking to make connections…I went to see the Ed Ruscha at the Hayward last week and I liked his quote around this : ‘The most an artist can do is to start something and not give the whole story. That’s what makes the mystery’