Anna, Emily, Johnny & Susan, Wakefield, 13 June 2012

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Step in and withdraw

Ahead of today's skype meeting I am trying to draw together the area of participation that I would be interested in exploring. Something I have grappled with a bit in my own practice is that when collaborating with someone, or making works which perhaps have this participatory (socially engaged?) aspect to them I worry that people don't always understand what I do.
The recent work I did in Harlech - where I worked with the local landlady to make a brochure as she was fed up that there wasn't one: some of the artists on the residency thought I was a graphic designer - and they were quite dismissive of what I was doing as a result. I suppose the point for me was around motives: If I am working with a local landlady to make a brochure for her town, it is not because I like making brochures, or because I think my brochure should be THE brochure for Harlech - but rather to say this is a possibility, this is a potential thing you can do to deal with the thing that hacks you off. Similar with the Bandstand from Common Ground: I was not interested in being the person to organise musical events on the local bandstand: I wanted to draw attention to the fact that no music events ever happened on the bandstand since 1997 when I moved here. So I organised for a brass band to come and play, put up bunting and flower baskets, organised for chairs for the public to sit on and gave out ice creams in exchange for people's feedback (this was just one art work of 18 in the park that weekend - see more detail here). People said to me, this is great, you should do it every week in the summer: and I said - no, you should do it every week in the summer. Since then Park Live! takes place: where various local bands, singers and other acts come and do performances on the bandstand. Who knows if it is a direct result of my concert?
There are other projects like this that I could mention: I suppose I am interested in a few things here: other artists can be critical of the activity, saying it is not art - what makes it art? What is my responsibility to the collaborator/participant? When do I step back and let the thing go? Is it enough to draw attention to the gap, or should I suggest a possible solution, or should I solve the problem? I am not a social worker, or a guardian angel - and don't want my work to be labelled as do-gooding. When working with others, like the landlady - is she a co-producer? In the long run, what is the value of the activity?
I think for our research i would like to explore a couple of projects which are labelled as socially-engaged. In particular looking at when the artist/organisation steps back and lets the public/community get on with it. How is that exit strategy managed? How does the community feel about it? I think NVA's Hidden Garden's project is one that has fascinated me for some time, and so I would really like to look at the history of it, and how it has managed to survive for such a long time - and thrive.
I would also be interested in looking at another NVA project: The Invisible College, as this is quite new, and I would be interested in seeing how they are going about involving people at this stage, and what it is they see as the 'art' in the activity.

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