Monday, 17 October 2011

Guest post from Lesley Halm: The best things in life are free, but sometimes you have to pay for them.

The following blog post tells more of the story of Iteration:Again the geographically and creatively wide ranging public art exhibits we spoke to Sarah Jones, project manager and curator about earlier in year. You can listen to that interview here.

Going to 146 Elizabeth St in Hobart to speak to artist John Vella and curator Jane Stewart about Best Practice, their work for Iteration:Again, I didn’t really know what to expect. I’d read the blurb, but what greeted me at the door was a sign that read
‘The best things in life are free, but sometimes you have to pay for them’. The room was a mess of art works which appeared to have been strewn around the floor, holes cut out of them, surrounded by workbenches and tools, debris and sad, deflated balloons. This was John and Jane’s slice of Iteration:Again, a work that was curated overall by David Cross. Iteration:Again spanned over four weeks in September and October, with works all around Tasmania in public spaces. The pieces changed (reiterated) each week.

What follows is the essence of a long conversation I had with Jane Stewart, curator and the artist curated John Vella their thoughts about Best Practice, and Iteration: Again. The words are John’s, unless otherwise specified.

The idea?
Getting people to think laterally about art and experiencing it in places that aren’t galleries, essentially. Because the works are changing every week you’re having to think of transformation within the context of the experience. That is particularly unusual.  It can take a lot of effort to assimilate.

The four iterations, or changes?
The changes are accumulative.  The four iterations of my work: first stage: a market stall where people get a helium balloon which is a voucher for a free piece of my art.  The three following iterations involved cutting out circular pieces of my previous artworks.  It is like reactivating an archive of my practice. Layered into this is the fact you can either purchase them, or get one free each week with a balloon voucher.  What are these things actually worth? It is seeing what the public response is, whether the message is getting out, whether the balloons are getting picked up.  It is making it richer.

The space?
A big thing about this is that it is halfway between a studio, a workshop, a gallery. Locked between something sophisticated and tacky, something precious and trashed.

(Jane) That’s where the energy comes from. It’s not just a gallery, it is the foyer for Arts Tasmania, a funding body. So if you want to think about value and art and money, there are layers built into that.  When the spruikers are here on the Friday and Saturday we get people coming in and looking at the work who have no idea why they’re looking at it and who aren’t familiar with contemporary art. It’s shamelessly commercial.

(John) Some people came in and bought some pieces knowing full well that it would be free the next day. That $500 means a hell of a lot, but not in a monetary sense. 

The dialogue?
 I am becoming increasingly interested in subjecting artwork to experiences. Whilst some people would say I was damaging them, I am actually adding to them. That really excites me.  I want to keep trying things like this. The ongoing thing is putting people in touch with each other.  Everyone who gets an artwork gets photographed holding the artwork, which has been signed. The photos are then sent to them. It is an official process. The people who are getting the artworks are then being put in contact with each other so they know who has the other pieces of the same artwork.

The Conception?
This project has evolved as a response to another project which I did for CAST called HANGBANG (nightshift) where all of my works were subjected to a situation where they could be destroyed or chipped, broken. It came about as an idea of reiteration.  How would I reiterate works that I had already made? Sure, you could photograph or copy them, but what would it mean to actually send them out and get them to break apart in a very orchestrated way?  Because I don’t know the answers to those questions I thought it was the right thing to try. For me, the most interesting artworks are the ones where I’m not sure. I was feeling pretty sick in my guts last week to see what would happen.  It turned out amazing.

The Subversion?
(Jane)What is subversive about this artwork is the non-subversive aspect of it. So that very promotional aspect – the glossy fliers, the spruiker, and the flaunting – seems to be undermining the subversiveness. 

(John) It is designed subversiveness. It is shifting things in ways that aren’t familiar.  It’s a good thing.  The illogical dimension of art is what makes it rich.  It is that tension which is at the heart of the project.  It is that tension between the experience, the performance, the intangible, the ephemeral, the values - whether they are monetary or cultural – that can be placed on it.  That’s it really.

…But it wasn’t it.  After collecting my balloon, I went back and got my art piece and had it signed.  I filled in my form. I shook hands with John in an uncomfortably official moment and pondered my choice of artwork.  I wondered what I would do with it.  I still don’t know.  But I’m glad I have it, to stare at, to wonder over, to remember.  Who has the other pieces?  What is this thing worth to me?

The experience is far from over.

The beginning of the dialogue?

Lesley's bio:
She likes to think she's tough, like Tom Waits rolled in gristle, but she really a big wimp hiding behind a bustle of big words.  She also thinks there is such a thing as a 'bustle of words'. Books, poetry, stories, and the occasional article are what she chiefly likes to dabble in. She can be found on Twitter here.

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