Nottingham Trent University
United Kingdom

Since I can remember, visiting an art gallery has always been a “do not touch anything” occasion. I can recall from a young age, white spaces, in which I was scared to walk through doorways, lean on walls or –god forbid- touch anything. As I got older I watched other gallery visitors, demonstrate the same reserved, distant intrigue, and considered it the “norm’ ”.

So imagine my shock, when I went to see Nottingham Trent’s Fine Art Degree show (private view) and nothing was left untouched.

Hands were jutting out in every direction; prodding and poking everything in reach. It felt more like a modern science museum than a show of artwork.

As the viewers walked through Robert Osbourne’s hanging installation of oranges pierced with nails, the objects vibrated and made different pitched buzzing sounds. Although Robert’s piece was intentionally interactive, the public were not only walking through, but handling the suspended sculptures, almost pulling them down. In another section of the exhibition, Bill Nguyen’s piece aimed to fool the audience. Bill hid himself under a red carpet that he had laid. This piece was so effective in fooling the audience into thinking that the hidden “lump” wasn’t really a person, passers by were touching and even kicking him. Luckily Bill commented that this was a reaction that he had not anticipated, but had helped him consider new ideas.

I watched in disbelief and shuddered to think of any of my own work being handled in such a disrespectful manner, and wondered if anyone was going to stop it.

I decided to pretend I could not see the public’s reaction and continued looking around. I soon started to realise that this change in culture was by no means the audience’s inexperience, but that the artists in the exhibition had –knowingly or unknowingly- prompted and encouraged it.

The amount of artwork urging people to “get involved” was staggering. From walking into installations or picking up objects, to dressing up. Performances were thrust into the audience’s faces from every angle. Some of the installation/sculpture pieces involved a performance of some kind, for example, Samantha Calleja who made a red curtained room to exhibit an empty display case, which was then guarded by an actor dressed as a bouncer, limiting the number of entrants into the space. Even some of the video work seemed overly intimate, with screens completely surrounding the viewer; like in Ellie Russell and James Attwood’s works. Many of the pieces in the exhibition screamed, “look at me”.

Has art been so scrutinised that it is trying to shout louder than it ever has before?

Perhaps this new generation of artists is worried that they won’t make a lasting impression, and they tell the audience to be involved to be certain they won’t be forgotten?

Or am I being too cynical?

Maybe it is time for art to be noticed again, instead of being talked about behind it’s back?

Maybe this new culture of “touch anything” will draw in a more diverse and more importantly, excited audience?

Most of the pieces in the exhibition were intriguing, aesthetically pleasing, even clever, and would have undoubtedly stood out in a more relaxed gallery atmosphere. However, when more than half of the pieces were frantically waving for my attention, I just felt overwhelmed.

After growing up in a generation where art was presented and talked about, not begging to be heard, I found the experience daunting. Perhaps, next time, I should stop shouting back, listen and reach my hand out…