Sunday, 2 October 2016

Putting space into action-reflections on a symposium held at the University of Huddersfield on 30th of September 2016

The session was introduced by Dr Rowan Bailey and forms part of the work of the Henry Moore Foundation Grant, who provide funding for this event.

The first discussions were given by speakers from as diverse locations such as the Texas University of arts and media; the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London. The Department of the history of art, UCL; the school of art history, University of St Andrews; Sheffield Hallam University and finally the Department of art and art history at the University of Stanford, United States.

The afternoon session will culminate in the evening around the development of "Action Space" and "happenings" which arose from the 1960s.
[This was a movement that sought to interact with the public by bringing a sensation of contemporary artistic practice. It was based on inflatable structures being positioned in public spaces such as parks and galleries]. A book available which explores this theme entitled "Crashing Cultures, 1956 to 2016" by Ken Turner [is available through Amazon].

The theme of the day was the concept of performance art, with the idea of a 'cutting' of space, sculpture through leaving a trace beyond the stillness.

Overall the purpose of today's conference is to connect a number of academic papers and thoughts on how space can be reclassified.

The first speaker which was Dawna Schuld, senior research fellow of the Texas Art and Media University, USA, discussed the concept of "Happenstance And Presence: sculpture as incident" in the work of Maria Nordmann.

In the work of Maria Nordmann, the perception generally given to her work is of a public-ness which can be seen as "Conditional Art" and also as "Stealth Architecture". It was articulated that the views presence changes the state of situated-ness through happenstance. For example, this can be seen in Nordmann's work of "installation 12839", Washington Boulevard Los Angeles California (1979). In which, what appears to be the front of a building shopfront in any suburban or town Street, but yet what would be found inside the building would be a totally white space, which effectively creates a sensation of being reset, the perception of the viewer is in effect reset.
"Presence is always with us" quoted Gombrecht, who went on to discuss the importance of the crossing of the threshold, and this is further explained with the concept of an un-concealment versus a withdrawal.

Notions are introduced of presence and time within these works, which challenge the physical space and temporal dimensions. Ultimately what Nordmann was interested in was the erasure of the public versus private space. For example in her work of 1961 which explores the "porosity" of design in architecture for example, "The Garden Grove Community Church", California 1961, which was effectively a religious drive-in space; and inside and outside open church all at the same time.

Using lessons in experimental psychology, ideas of the inside transforming into the concept of being outside (and here another example was given of Robert Irwin's studio, market Street Venice, California (1969)

Exploring the idea of space as support, by re-architecting space to create new reflections in temporal dimensions was a collaborative project by Andre Barron Irwin and Nordmann.

Nordmann's reliance on the incidents of pedestrian footfall in towns throughout the United States makes happenstance all the more serendipitous because so many people in the United States simply do not walk, people almost always drive!

Happenstance, therefore, is habit breaking
the acceptance of randomness or random incidences is essential to make this 'happenning' work, and the idea of a gallery with an open door allows of the viewer both an entry point but also naturally, a way out.

2) the second speaker of the day was Anna Turrock, of the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London. Her paper entitled "An Inspiring Wreck: Rooms" was a discussion around the work of Henry Lefebvre. In particular, the discussion around Public School Number One, abbreviated to P.S. 1, situated in Long Island City, Queens, New York which now holds part of the Museum of Modern Art archives for the city of New York.

Ms Turrocks discussion was ostensibly about the reuse of abandoned buildings during the 1970s, and their use by various artists as new and affordable artists studios and galleries. This was often done in a subversive way through the occupation of such buildings, the subversion being of the municipal and bureaucratic authorities by taking possession of them. In effect, this was an interruption of the "do nothing" approach to the usual way that local bureaucratic administrators and authorities gave permission to use such buildings that were already vacant.

The difference between the sites of artistic production versus the sites of an artistic presentation was solved in New York City through the adoption of PS one. In detail, this was effectively the re-purpose thing of the abandoned school in Queens, to create the space to combine both a site of artistic production and the sight of artistic presentation together.

An interesting cultural change occurred in this rundown and dilapidated area and periphery to the site of the PS one which can be described as a kind of gentrification of Manhattan colonialism perhaps?

By removing the original artworks from their place of production which in itself was a temporal moment of production, and then re-presenting them in galleries and exhibitions, it generates a new and possibly sterile museum environment where the typical white space removes the energy of the artwork as it is 'forcefully displaced' from its point of origin.

3) the third presenter was Anna Maria Kanta (of the Department of History of Art, University College, London). She presented a paper on the works of "Ferdinand Kriwet in Televisual Space: Mass Media, the Public As Sculpture and the Architecture of a Counter-Public Sphere".

This was a difficult subject to engage with as it discusses the contemporaneous transmission of optical perceptions for the consumption and reception of viewers. The communication boundaries of the traditional gallery were compared and juxtaposed towards the television based dissemination of the optical information.

A quotation cited by Adorno would be "the demarcation of art spaces and the fluidity of mass media, creates anxieties of, and over, the control of reception".

In Ferdinand Kriwet's work, he explores the interaction of the relationships of language through written texts and the "mobilisation" of the reader.
e.g. the ability of the reader to choose where and how to look, for example, to create a visually "Iris stimulating" and aesthetically pleasing perceptual experience. This relies on physical and mental mobility. This can be thought of in its negative form in examples such as urban advertising, which destroys contemplative state space.

How is this collective experience mediated through social exclusions? Cultural consumption through new media allows mobilisation of perceptual experiences in themselves. The linguistic and sensory realms change the traditional semiotics and messages in communication.

4) Elizabetta Rattalino, of the University of St Andrews School of Art History, presented a paper which discussed "Curating the Invisible: Ecological Implications in Maria Lai's Legarsi Àlla Montagna."
In this article, the speaker discussed the ideas of urban and territorial histories, versus the human utilisation of the countryside. In particular the abandonment of central zones in Italian cities in order to vacate sites that are no longer usable within the context of current culture and modern living

A piece of the art cited as falling within this category is that of Franco Mazzucchelli and his work "A to A" which was an abbreviation for art to abandon, (1982). And in this works, Gianni Berengo, "Legarsi alla Montagna" (1981) and examples of his work which ostensibly were the plating of blue ribbons within and through a village scene, photographs of which were published in "Storia Della Citta", (1981).

[See also the book by Maria Lai, "Diarrio Intimato" (1977), published in "Maria Lai: Inventari Gli Spazi" (1993).

In all the above works the idea that the blue-ribbon interlinked the community metaphorically from the culture of the agricultural and pastoralisation of the village society.

5) this paper was entitled "Hide and Seek: Playing with Visibility" which discussed the notion of hiding in plain sight and was presented by Rose Butler and Becky Shaw of the Sheffield Hallam University.

This was a discussion around the concept and thoughts on visibility in both public spaces and private spaces. What makes art in public spaces, and what makes something that is usually hidden, "visible"?

It asked the question is Utopia a "non-space"? The context of this thought is vital here, and this notion requires a critical context of the actual space being inhabited within that particular moment to define one's behaviour while within that space.

This was delineated further because, as a "seeker", one's perception and sensation are far more vulnerable than that of the "Hider".

In order to carry out experiments in this concept, the artists immersed themselves (what is alien to them), within the space of a hospital training ward. They went on to film the idea of playing hide and seek within the nursing research school, (which is a simulated ward of a general hospital). How humans interact with each other in such a space very much depends upon their own authority to be in that place.

These ideas were explored by Walter Benjamin and discussed in his book "The Arcades."

What these two artists from Sheffield Hallam University were attempting to do, was to problematize the ideas of visibility; the invisibility of visible and the perceptible legitimacy.

6) In the final lecture, Boris Oicherman and Laura Steenberge from the Department of art and art history and the Department of music, of the Stanford University, USA, provided an interesting paper entitled "49 Days for Space: Reflections on an Experiment in Public Learning".

The public face of learning in a particular learning environment of the University was investigated in these collaborative works between an artist and musician. The space in question was made from the utilisation of public space within the University, which in this case was an open corridor to the new Stanford Art building.

Within this purpose-built architecture, there are series of glass walls that divide the learning space from the transit space for students and lecturers. Along a particular series of walls that were 25 m long, each one was rigged up with wall mounted surface microphones that had been bonded to the glass, which worked in tandem with similar output speakers also bonded to the glass to in effect make the walls playback into the public corridor.

They then did a kind of performance act of "public learning", spanning over a period of 49 days by getting the artist, Boris, to learn how to play the guitar, under the tuition of Laura. Performed while situated within this public corridor, and then at the same time, or slightly later, representing the results of the learning back into the same space. This created a kind of soundscape that merged with the background sounds that would typically be emanating from the street in the public space at large.

In conclusion, the whole performance was in effect "democratising the production of knowledge".

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