The artist’s questions, and a first date

This week the Saturday discussions in the gallery were informed enormously by having Richard Grayson himself in to talk about the exhibition and answer questions. More on that shortly. Informal chats in the gallery beforehand with people viewing the work. As Bern has said in the previous post, it is very interesting how this work seems to open up discussion in some fairly revealing areas of people’s lives and beliefs with very little preamble. My favourite anecdote however was from one couple I went up to speak to about the work. I introduced myself and asked how they were finding the exhibition, what they made of the work, and the young man looked at me and said, “We’re actually on a first date, so to be honest I’m not really taking much of it in!” I decided that it probably wasn’t the time to try and discuss art and left them to it. (I do hope the date went well – one of the many functions of art at work!) One couple I spoke to for some time raised the issue of compatibility of different belief systems, how an individual’s belief system may have accommodate several others simultaneously. They were interested in the representations of astrology and Christianity, and in their own lives professed a belief in both. However they also knew people close to them who didn’t feel that was tenable, and that astrology was un-Christian. Our discussion was focused on the ways in which all of us incorporate aspects of different systems, rituals and so on, into something that is coherent for us, and that for all of us there was a limit to how far we would go beyond our own comfort zone in having our beliefs challenged.

There is much I could write about Richard Grayson’s Q&A (led by Andrew Brighton). Richard was warm, engaging, entertaining, and disarmingly open about his own lack of certainty around issues of belief. Although inspired in part by his concern that there seems to be a movement of specific religious beliefs back into the political sphere, he was keen to stress that he had no intention with the work to make fun of anyone’s beliefs, nor to directly criticise, but rather to examine “belief in operation”, “the functions of belief, rather than what the beliefs actually are.”
He spoke at length about his problem with the (post-modern) idea of equivalence – the notion that one belief system offers exactly the same weight and validity as another – but he also struggles with any belief system that claims absolute truth and rightness. He described his own position as “fluttery” and that the work essentially is about examining rather than supporting or decrying the content of individuals’ belief systems.

There is much else besides that was covered, and it made for an engaging walk and talk afterwards, although such was the level of engagement that the group never moved from beyond the beginning of the exhibition! All those taking part had seen the work previously and been present at Richard’s talk, so the focus was on the questions raised by what they had seen and heard, rather than re-engaging with individual pieces. Questions that were raised included: how far is it one’s responsibility when viewing work to be informed? This was in response to a reply from Richard to the effect that he presumed an audience for his work who understand the aesthetic – “a slightly art-geek audience”. Some people in discussion felt it is the artist’s responsibility to create work where the aesthetic engages the audience to get to grips with the ideas – others felt that the responsibility lies with the viewer, who on entering a gallery is engaging in a kind of unspoken contract to interrogate the work. This led on to a wider discussion of the relationship the DLWP has with the local community in Bexhill – which no doubt could have gone on for much longer! All those participating were Bexhill residents which is great.

A very full afternoon of thinking and discussion, which I could write ten times more about. This is a thought-provoking exhibition and the discussions have been fascinating.

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One response to “The artist’s questions, and a first date

  1. I enjoyed facilitating the Thinking Aloud discussion that afternoon, which followed on from both the talk and Rosemary's conversations. We talked about the nature of video art and particularly the duration. Rather than thinking some of the works in the exhibition too long (The Magpie Index is 80mins)people felt that in such a fast moving culture, giving 'quality' time to something through watching a video work was a positive thing. This was particularly true of The Magpie Index, where one participant felt strongly that it was important, although rare, to give one person's world view such a considered amount of time.We also spent time talking about singing. Richard Grayson had mentioned that he wasn't able to realise Golden Space City in this country, and also how he hadn't known what the singers in Texas felt about what they were singing. There were three singers present, including myself, and we discussed whether we could have sung the lyrics written for Golden Space City without betraying our personal opinion of them. I wasn't sure that I could. This was compared with hearing one of the stars of Jerry Springer the Opera on the radio who said that the content of the lyrics didn't matter at all, as he was a singer and that was 'his job'. We also commented that many of us sing carols at Christmas that we don't necessarily 'believe in' but enjoy singing. I wonder if the power of the act of singing can affect our relationship with what's being sung over time?At the end of the discussion information was exchanged about a local choir as one of the group was looking for a choir to join. That wouldn't be a bad outcome for an afternoon's discussion!

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