This week’s Thinking Aloud was a small but engaging discussion with young and older people, several of them here for a repeat viewing of the exhibition. The experience they have had with the work is one that would seem to be quite common, in my discussions with other people viewing the work. Several people expressed an initial annoyance, at having to “listen to nutters” and their beliefs, and irritation at the repetition involved in a lot of the work.
From there the discussion moved to whether the pieces were “deliberately annoying”, and if so, what the purpose of that was. Also whether, if work is designed to irritate, that runs the risk of simply alienating viewers who never get beyond their initial annoyance. (This was certainly the case with some viewers I spoke with earlier in the exhibition, who had given the work very little time and had no intention of giving it any more.)
For those who had come back there was a sense that the work actually has a lot to offer if you can examine your own irritation and look at what it points to. For example, the Ways The World End pieces that greet you at the door, which are extremely difficult to read, actually lead to a “black hole of belief” at their centre (beautifully put by Geoff, a painter), when you literally follow the text; and visually, they are closed ciruits, enclosed universes of belief in black space.
One of the other interesting responses to come from the group was that essentially the exhibition is pointing to the fact that “everything we pick up – every piece of information – is partial”. I loved this pithy response to what is on offer, that there is no absolute truth, despite our very human desire to have it be so, as exposed in so much of the text that Richard Grayson employs.
Another interesting point was about the impact in The Messiah of the haybales to sit on, the smell and feel of them, and how the hay, as much as the music and the video, contributes to how the “message” of the lyrics is framed and received, creating a different setting from the “cold, carved environment” in which “church” music is often experienced.
Thanks to all who took part, for an interesting discussion about “annoying” art!