Various Munster

Ive been in Munster this last week reflecting upon how large contemporary art festivals (Documenta, Skulptur Projekte et al) situate themselves with the place in which they are sited and with local audiences. How do local audiences view such festivals ‘coming to town’ and how do artists create work that narrow the gap between artwork and public. There does appear to be more of a sense of an awareness around this in Munster, all aspects are free to the public to access and many being in the outdoors do obviously mean the chance to encounter them unintentionally is there.

Michael Asher’s placing of his ‘caravan’ for every Skulptur Projekte, 1977, 1987, 1997 and 2007 is still pivotal to this discussion I feel. About how do we define art, when is something art or not, and whether the placing of it aids our understanding, or invites a non-art audience to engage with it. His caravan he placed every ten years in an identical location, often in the outskirts, in out of the way places for the cultural tourist to reach, has been something Ive followed from the days of art college to now, never having actually seen one. This year’s ‘Double Check’ at the beautiful airy contemporary space of LWL – Museum for Kunst and Kultur, Munster, offers a documentary record through historical documents. It is amazing to see the details of his instructions for each Projekte cleaning the caravan and ordering where precisely the caravan was to be positioned and moved around the 19 locations. This has long driven my own work and first introduced me to the idea of site specific art. For me the way in which it tempts audiences not specifically ones who would think of visiting an art gallery to think about ‘art’ through his caravan placement is exciting, and still relevant today when we consider more and more the role festivals play with place in defining how we consider art.

There are two other works in this year’s Skulptur Projekte Im particularly drawn to in the way they work with specific audiences. Both I think relate to a trajectory around different social projects.

Jeremy Deller, in his ‘Speak to the Earth and It Will Tell You‘ contacted over fifty allotment garden associations in Munster ten years ago asking them to keep a diary to record botanical, harvesting and growing habits and practices, as well as using the diaries to chronicle local club events and activities. Over 30 volumes were created which during the 2017 Munster Skulptur Projekte reside in one of the huts at Muhlenfeld allotment garden colony on Munster’s Lublinring, an area about a 25 minute walk from the centre.

Creating process-driven work as Deller does working with a specific local community means there is an inevitable sense of shared involvement with it to make it happen, like the allotment gardeners are themselves the work, we reduce the walls around art as being a specific object to view, instead the focus is on a participatory approach to help connect a possible non-art public to it.

Koki Tanaka is interested in the idea of temporary communities that arise in post disaster situations (This feels very relevant to me right now when walking around Munster during the time of the awful Grenfell tower block fire in London).  He states “These communities exist only for a short period of time. They often integrate a reconstructed idea of community from the pre-disaster period. In a post-disaster situation people respect and help each other. Being very idealistic, this aspect doesn’t last very long. Once normal life is restored, people get tired of taking care of others”. (From ‘Production Notes: How to Live Together’).

Tanaka’s installation ‘How to Live Together’ at the Skulptur Projekte is the result of working with eight residents of Munster from various generations and different cultural backgrounds to participate in a series of community events such as cooking, discussions, night drives, reading, and interviews developing into a series of recorded conversations and films. At the core of many of these films is how do we live together at a time of great multiculturalism but alongside also an erupting, prevailing xenophobia. We hear the many stories on film of the eight residents he has worked with during the project in his installation.

It would appear the people in these works have really become the work, through which the work evolves and is made. I reflect upon as I walk the many locations of the artworks in Munster, as to whether these works are in some way a natural development of Asher’s ‘Caravan’ that reflect upon our current time where art is less about the sculptural form or object as it once was, of purely viewing the work on display, but still about a desire to make work that responds to a place, a city, a situation where the work is going to reside.

This is written as part of a travel grant supported by a-n information company to visit Documenta. Ill also be writing on my Documenta experience shortly.