Exhibition plan & researchPosted: April 27, 2016
In planning my exhibition show, I have always had in mind the idea of my work being presented in a way which encourages the viewer to interact and engage with the pieces. My set of bronze medal are specifically designed in order for them to be handled, and cannot be appreciated fully being displayed on a stand or plinth merely observed. All of my work intrinsically involves an intimate and personal engagement with objects, as extensions and reflections of ourselves, which can only truly be formed in their handling. In order to encourage this, the setting and display is extremely important, as we fundamentally know that the contextual setting of an object dictates our behaviour towards it. If an object is put upon a white plinth, it is clear that it is an object of significance, to be observed and admired, but certainly not touched. Even objects that are usually playful, or mundane, have the ability to be viewed in a completely new light and re-contextualised when placed in a different setting,
For example, Marcel Duchamp’s classic “Fountain” is a perfect example of the setting defining the object.
While the object of the urinal has obviously been taken off the wall and laid on it’s back, it is the setting that defines it as an art piece. If a urinal were simply laid on the floor of a bathroom, one would not regard it as anything other than an obstacle. It would not be examine in terms of it’s form, it’s values, the effect it has on the surrounding space or the motivations of those who placed it there. However, in putting it in a gallery setting the object is suddenly given an entirely new platform and a way in which for people to interact with it. It’s form is now regarded in terms of the sculptural, rather than utility; the exceptional, rather than the mundane.
This is the power that the presentation of an artwork holds, of putting an object on a pedestal to be displayed and observed, taken in with time and consideration rather than being merely a background setting for our lives. In this sense, this is almost something that I am trying to avoid. The fetishism of objects within the art world is something that is rife, with pieces being hailed as priceless, beyond all monetary value and worth, so exceptional that they could never possibly be given a value even within the millions or billions of pounds. It is this worship of artwork that separates the viewer from the artist, the god-like creator of beautiful and outstanding pieces that the laymen could never hope to create or even to understand, and can merely marvel and bask at the artwork’s glory. This worship-like regard of artwork, and by extension the artist, has always felt to me to be a largely self serving and self perpetuated ego boost within the art industry. To validate the whims of an artist as being incredibly important and influential, by making all those underneath them as lesser. The separation of object and viewer creates an atmosphere of value, in which the objects in the room inherently have more value than the people who are viewing them. They are the focus of attention, like celebrities on a red star carpet only able to be viewed at a distance by those lucky enough to be able to attend, those who cannot simply looking at photographs.
My ethos however is entirely opposite to these notions. My work explores the inherent relationships between all people and the objects within their lives. Some may hold a very personal significance tied to a person or event within the mind of the owner, while others may be seemingly mundane parts of a daily ritual such as making tea, with their significance and familiarity physically worn into the object through use. Rather than to separate the person from the object, I aim to embrace and exemplify that relationship, encouraging the viewer to engage with the objects on a personal level in order to examine their meanings, ties and histories. In order to encourage a viewer to interact and handle the objects I set out for them, I feel it is important that the objects themselves are not given too much prestige and are presented in a way where they were easily accessible to handle. Height of the object is very important in display; if a piece is displayed on a piece at chest height it may give the sense of a body, giving it a sense of importance and a need for personal space. However a piece displayed closer to stomach or hip height, which is in the range of most of our hand movements is instinctively more appealing to reach out and touch, to pick up and handle, as this is how we are accustomed to interacting with objects in a domestic setting.
I feel the key for my display will be the idea of a domestic, informal setting, where the viewer does not feel intimidated by the nature of the environment (being in an art gallery) and that they are allowed and encouraged to investigate the objects in front of them.
Rather than a plinth or a shelf, I feel that perhaps a free standing desk would be more suitable for the display of my objects. A desk, rather than a plinth, are inherently more informal forms of display and we are entirely comfortable with interacting with objects left on desks in our daily lives. We as humans have an internal framework for how to behave around certain objects or settings, and as we have established already we have been conditioned to treat plinths in a very particular way with a level of respect and awe. Desks however, are a method of display we are entirely familiar and at ease with, and do not feel intimidated by its contents.
Another advantage of the desk is that it can be very versatile in its display. It can be free standing or against a wall, with a variety of different arrangements upon it. Another key factor of the desk is that they are often accompanied by a seat, but can be approached standing or seated. Having a seat is also a strong idea for my display, given that it both welcomes the viewer into the space and puts them at ease yet without putting them under too much pressure. An empty chair is an open invitation that does not have to be taken, the viewer can still inspect the objects from a distance if they choose to, they are not being forced into a foreign space or given an instruction to behave in a certain manner. If they do choose to then sit down, it hold them in place and immerses the viewer in the display, they are sat with the purpose of investigating the items in front of them. Again, this plays upon the domestic setting putting the viewer at ease, putting them in a position that they feel comfortable and familiar with and that they have chosen to engage with and therefore allows them to interact with the objects in front of them in a more naturalistic manner and explore their meanings in the way that you would when entering another person’s home and investigating the objects that they have chosen to surround themselves with.
Perhaps this is the atmosphere I should aim to emulate, the sensation of entering a new person’s house and taking a friendly curiosity in their surroundings. This would involve making the setting as informal as possible, and give the impression of somebody stepping into my own personal space full of my personal objects which are mid-use.
Considering that my work focuses around the relationships between people and the objects in their lives, it would make sense for the display to then emulate that relationship in its setting. Rather than being put on a plinth and admired as Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” was, they should be understood in the context that they are displayed in naturally. The context in fact for these objects, it almost as important as the objects themselves for the viewer. While each of the objects in my work is a link for me personally in terms of memory or experience, these are not necessarily qualities that are obvious to another person, devoid of context. It is the setting in which they are used and displayed that can offer that suggestion of an object’s sentimental worth and value, and then encourage that person to question further the nature of that value to the owner.
Examples of this manner of display, the sensation of stepping into another person’s personal space in order to investigate the objects and environment they lived or worked in in order to gain a greater understanding of that person’s personality and values, is one that is seen widely in museums dedicated to people of importance throughout history. Their living environment is meticulously reconstructed, from either the real objects themselves and furnishings, or approximate replicas which convey the same meanings, displayed as if the person had simply stepped out of the room.
One example of this suggested to me is the desk of the world famous Sigmund Freud, displayed in the Freud museum in London. Here we can see that the room has been entirely recreated, down to the decor of the carpeting, and even the papers and stationary on his desk are true to as they would have been in his life. From this we get a very clear sense of a man, not only his interests but his meticulous nature in the way in which the objects are displayed in a very orderly and precise fashion, which we can see is true in his life and is not simply a choice by the museum to display the objects in an orderly fashion.
Another classic example of this style of display, but in a more relevant artistic context, is Tracy Emin’s “My Bed”, which is a recreation of her bed which she spent a week in after a traumatic breakup with her partner. The bed is truly an intimate insight into her life, strewn with empty vodka bottles, pregnancy tests and cigarettes, it is almost intrusively personal to the point of the viewer feeling uncomfortable. However, it is undeniably expressive of both her life, her experience, and in this instance her intense pain and turmoil, all of which are expressed wordlessly through a collection of objects in a contextual setting. Through both Freud’s desk, and Emin’s bed, we have a strong and holistic of two completely different sets of people, living entirely separate lives with diverse and differing values, all of which we can interpret entirely from their collection of personal objects and belongings, and the context in which they are arranged. Yet each creates a powerful sense of intrigue as well as understanding in the viewer, and a satisfaction in having made some small degree of connection between themselves and another human being, even if that connection is only ever one sided. It is inherent in our nature that we want to reach out and understand others, and the investigation of personal objects allows us to do this without the pressure of social interaction, and in a manner and pace which is comfortable to us. We are simply allowed to investigate, and to draw our own conclusion without any pressure to qualify or quantify our opinions.
It is this environment that I wish to emulate, a sense of personal space created entirely by personal objects, which hold both meaning for me and serve to facilitate a link between myself and the viewer in order to promote a sense of shared experience.