Category Archives: performance art

A Greek edition of an English wedding

Whilst I’m not one to make excuses, my blogging absence over the summer is less to do with the unusual summer’s heat, or ‘writer’s block’, and more to do with a momentous family event.

So I’ve decided to do a minor detour and share the most memorable of performance pieces right here.  Like most performances it required considerable planning.

Our eldest, our only daughter Kate and her husband Lloyd, decided that they wanted their wedding celebration to be in Greece in the village of Rovies, north Evia.  No ordinary village to us and one that many of the Collective members have visited.

IMG_1006
The village of Rovies, Evia

My Greek mother Eleni spent many summers as a child and teenager in the area with family friends who owned an olive estate in the north of this very green part of Evia. When she finally built a house there in the 1960’s I started to spend my childhood summers there and built strong bonds with many people in the village who have remained life-long friends.  Kate first visited when she was just 5 months old and was so excited by the experience she barely slept the whole holiday. It was ‘love at first visit’.  If it hadn’t been for my dear mother who rescued us every morning from sleep deprivation we would probably not have survived to tell the tale.  As the years went by all our children began to look forward to those summer holidays in Rovies with family or with friends.  It seemed no surprise that when Lloyd started going it was hard to drag him away.

Kate&Lloyd (193)
Photo: Michael Pappas

The ‘performance’ wasn’t a typical Greek wedding and it wasn’t a typical English wedding. Somewhere in between the two cultures melded to produce the most memorable edition of a wedding.  And if anyone is thinking “isn’t this Mama Mia being played out in real life?”, the answer is “no”.  There was only one father and we didn’t sing along to Abba music.

The setting for the wedding ‘ceremony’ was the ruin of the village’s 13th century Medieval tower. Still standing next to the Greek Orthodox Church after more than 700 years of Frankish, Venetian and Ottoman occupation (and not withstanding earthquake tremors and weathering) it finally came to Greek ownership in the 19th century.

Kate&Lloyd (419)
The wedding ceremony outside the c.700 year old Franko-Venetian tower in Rovies, North Evia. Photo: Michael Pappas

History doesn’t record whether any wedding ceremonies had ever been held within the grounds of the tower since the time it was built.   In recent years the idea that an English couple were going to exchange rings in the shadows of the tower surrounded by a spread of English and Greek friends and family never entered anyone’s thinking.  When our Rovies florist, Iota, said “when I came to look at the place I could not imagine how you were going to have a wedding ceremony here” – she had a point!  I couldn’t imagine a bride walking through the scrub and weeds to the main door of the ruined tower either.  But it did happen and after some hard work to clear it and Iota’s creative input, it proved to be the most magical setting, worthy of its long history.

IMG_1305
Miko’s notes for the ceremony including some guidance on Greek pronunciation

The bridal procession to and from the tower led by a violinist and a clarinetist is an entirely Greek tradition, the ceremony itself much less so.  Led by our celebrant Miko, readings at the ceremony came in English and Greek, with the love poem by Greek poet Odysseas Elytis being read by Annoula, the grand-daughter of my mother’s closest friend.  Two generations on, with grandmothers absent, the grand-daughters still hold a key to our life-long connection with Rovies and family history. The Greek custom of throwing rice at the couple after the ceremony was abandoned in favour of more gentle real petal confetti.  A fusion of English & Greek that typified this performance throughout.

Kate&Lloyd (463)
The bride and groom at the head of the traditional wedding procession led by a clarinetist and violinist.  Photo: Michael Papas

Greek musicians are an essential ingredient to a Greek wedding and as we gathered under the pine trees of our good friend Maria’s taverna, nestled by the calm sea at sunset, Greek music welcomed our wedding goers.  What wasn’t expected was the huge response to the music and the urgency with which our English guests clamoured to the dance floor to join the Greek dancing providing their own interpretation of what was required.  There were enough Greeks present to help with dance steps but there was no stopping the English desire to express themselves to the live Greek music as they only know best.   Zorba himself may have welcomed such creative interpretations.

The Greek musicians were so overwhelmed with the response of the English guests to their playing that they played on longer saying “the English know how to have a good time”!   Gratitude flowed both ways well in to the night and an array of unusual Greek dancing was celebrated.

PHOTO-2018-09-09-16-55-04 (1)
Under the full moon Greek musicians played for the wedding party at Maria’s taverna “Korydallos”. Photo Summer Richards

An English wedding would not be a proper wedding without the series of speeches that weave themselves in to the meal from Father, Best Man and Groom but are quite unexpected in Greek weddings.  The surprise was the learned Greek words that were read out at the start of the speeches to include our Greek guests, who were quite happy to shout out any corrections as the words unfolded.

A few days later my sister met a local friend in the village who said “Thank you for choosing our village to have the wedding” . The choice was an easy one and we thank everyone there, and those who came, for helping to make it such a truly memorable occasion.

Good performance art “creates a mood and a moment to collectively take an audience to a space where we consider the edges of our expectations and our highs and lows,”  There were no lows and all expectations were exceeded.

A very special Greek edition of a English wedding.

 

 

 

 

The Collector’s collection

99_img
No substitute for your love by Tracey Emin. Owned by The Collective

When we first set up The Collective we did not set out thinking “let’s become Collectors” or “let’s invest in art” but instead we went with what we really wanted to do: to appreciate art in our homes, share experiences and engage in discussion with artists whose works started to appear in our homes.  Some sixteen years and 65 works later are we simply ‘Collectors’ with a sizeable ‘collection’?

What defines an ‘art collector’ and what constitutes a ‘collection’ is both complex and multifold.  We have been described as ‘Collectors’ by galleries and curators – and certainly we create opportunities to buy and add to our collection with or without their help. One of our most memorable works has no tangible object associated with it and yet remains one of our most valuable ‘Collective’ memories: a performance piece by artist, Kathryn Fry.  So what constitutes a ‘collection’?

We’ve also been described as ‘benefactors’ because through our deliberate engagement with artists (when possible) and consequent purchases, we support emerging artists.  Artists support us too.  They appreciate our mission and the visibility of their work to new domestic audiences – perhaps friends who don’t often visit galleries and exhibitions but are inspired by seeing our latest acquisitions displayed in our homes.  Everyone has an opinion and critical engagement and dialogue around the art works is not only welcomed, but encouraged.

Evan Beard’s, The Four Tribes of Art Collectors, places us, seemingly, in to the ‘aesthete’ group of “serious art collectors” – those who are ‘motivated by visual pleasure‘, less

98_img
Handbag by Joy Gregory 2003. Owned by The Collective

financially or academically driven and have ‘taste’.  Simplistic as that seems we are certainly driven by visual pleasure. What the category lacks is any experiential suggestion around “sharing”: whether that’s the experience of engaging with artists, our  method of purchasing, or ‘exchanges’ when we come together with all the works and re-distribute them between the households.  It is a cooperative affair and visual experience alone is not the sole motivator or outcome.  The model of the Collective naturally transgresses in to the ‘Connoisseur’ (intellectual discovery) as well as the ‘Enterprising Collector’ (redefining the cannon) groups, though neither precisely define us. As a ‘Collective’ it is not about the act of possession or investment but the ability to engage and debate the art and artists as individuals, families or with friends.

Do we want to define ‘collectors’ by such tight categories, and with such obvious connections to wealth and status in the art world?  Don’t we enjoy the new and the experimental (the Enterprising Collector) and the intellectual discovery (the Connoisseur)? Of course we do.

Collecting can’t be confined to institutions, or the rich and famous, though all have a large part to play in influencing trends in the art market and the price of works being bought and sold. Christie’s may be able to sell Van Gogh’s Farmer for $81.3 million dollars to a private collector but they remain only one end of the art landscape.

In truth, anyone and everyone can be a “collector”.  It’s the methodology you use to create your collection and the motivation behind it that will both define you and create the experiences you wish to have with your art works.  It takes time and effort and guidance is definitely a prerequisite, though being wealthy is not – unless you only want to purchase the works of well-known artists past and present.  The Collective is based on the principle of shared investment and making the acquisition of art works affordable in our pursuit of visual pleasure, engagement and education.  Does that make it a ‘collection’?

Anurag Khanna, whose focus as an art collector is on mid-career contemporary artists both in India and further afield, shares some of the same motivation for ‘collecting’ as we do  – and takes a similar approach in his desire for close engagement with artists.  The main difference is that the collection is based on his taste and circumstance alone and ownership remains with him and his family. As we circulate purchasing capability between members, art works are purchased for the Collective that are not always to an individual’s or household’s own taste. Instead we get the opportunity to learn about an artist and live with a work building a relationship that can change and develop over time. What may be ‘disliked’ may become ‘liked’. It encourages the dialogue we want to have between ourselves, our friends and the shared experience between the households.

145_img
On Board by Mel Brimfield 2010. owned by The Collective

Museum and Gallery collections have come under scrutiny over the years about their lack of female representation.  According to the National Museum of Women in the Arts 51% of visual artists are women and yet this is not reflected in gallery representation or exhibitions with ,for example, only 5% of galleries in London representing an equal number of male and female artists.   Frances Morris, Director of Tate Modern, is clear that women artists have not only been ignored or marginalised over the centuries but even as their voices have multiplied in recent times, institutions have still failed to recognise those voices and seen the interesting, innovative and challenging ways they have been working.  Tate Exchange offer an opportunity to promote women artists by throwing the spotlight on some of their careers.

The Collective throws an interesting light on collections outside the gallery circuit.  As a diverse group of people, all with an opportunity to research, engage with artists and buy art, 40% of the The Collective is represented by female artists. Our first commissioned performance piece was by a woman and many of our closest engagements have been with women artists – Jemima Brown, Joy Gregory, Erica Eyres, Lisa Wilkens and Frances Richardson to name a few. This was not a deliberate policy, simply a consequence of our own diversity and approach.

Georgia O’Keeffe  notoriously refused to let her work be shown in a key exhibition in LA highlighting women artists from 1550-1950 because she saw herself in a category of “one of the best painters” and would not be defined by gender. While many women artists would agree, recent efforts to throw a new spotlight on women artists have been welcomed as well as appointments of women to key positions in the institutions that house these collections.

A collection by definition requires management and direction for it to grow and develop – or even be sold off.  The question of whether parts of our own collection should be sold in oder to reinvest in new works and support artists has come up frequently in recent years as the available space across our households is becoming more limited.

At our last exchange the decision was made to begin a new project where experience and engagement would come ahead of material acquisition, even if the end result is a purchase.  The journey would be more critical than the final outcome.  Can experience be part of collecting and can a collection include experiences?

Let’s see what happens.

 

 

 

 

What does ‘art in the home’ mean?

IMG_0837
wall paintings inside a house in the Roman city of Herculaneum, Italy

Humans have surrounded themselves with aesthetic images and objects since time immemorial . Whether frescos, sculptures, trinkets or the works of great artists, art in domestic spaces has helped to define the lives of the occupants and create a portrait of who they are.  Reflective of distinct tastes, lifestyles or travels it helps build a picture of an individual, a family, a lifetime. A personal reflection embedded in defined cultural and historical moments.

Contemporary art has found its way in to homes all over the globe, but often for very different reasons and with very different outcomes.  Anyone following this blog will know that the model of The Collective is based on the principle of cooperative buying and sharing of contemporary art between six households which enables individual

IMG_1119
Tom Dale’s “witness” . Owned by The Collective

appreciation in our homes and invites shared experiences in the process of acquiring and growing The Collective.  More than just a collection of art works it has been an integral part of our homes, our memories and our family lives for the best part of two decades.

The individual or group collectors who acquire the works of established artists is a more usual way that contemporary art finds its ways in to homes.  The experience here is one of personal enjoyment and status with possible loans to public galleries. It’s a largely private experience for a particular household or office space.

Beyond the collectors, curators and art directors have been setting the scene for alternative ways to introduce contemporary art in to domestic spaces.  Manchester International Festival’s (MIF) “Festival in My Housewas first started in 2016.  Inspired by other festival movements to introduce art in to homes across a host city, John McGrath, MIF’s CEO and artistic director explains that Festival in My House is not about putting artists in to people’s homes or using the home as an alternative gallery venue, but instead it is about supporting householders to be curators and artistic programmers.  With support from MIF’s producers it helps to develop pockets of underground activists for when the big festival comes. It helps people to make connections, provides training, realises their own creative ambitions as they curate a mini festival in their home.  Artists and participants clearly value the experiential side of this movement as much as the works themselves with a vast array of art forms being curated from visual art, music, dancing to story -telling and poetry-reading interacting with local residents to create vibrant environments in selected homes.

Artists, participants and visitors alike find the intimacy of the home more personal and relaxing, a more informal way of engaging with different types of art.  As John McGrath explains

In concert halls and theatre venues the spaces allow the artist to do what they want to do  – they are neutral spaces – but in homes their work is more of a conversation with the place itself

Visitors view the experience on a dual level: the personal visualisation of the occupants

92_img
Home Suite by Kathryn Fry 2008 . A site specific performance commissioned by The Collective

life from within their own home, and the art being produced within it. As domestic living spaces the experience for both artist and visitor is more dynamic and more intimate. For the artist there may be new challenges with sound or a feeling of greater vulnerability due to the close proximity of the audience or the effect of the personal surroundings on their work. For visitors they feel much more part of the experience.

“Art in the Home|Sheffield” a continuation of the 2014 and 2015 editions held in Manchester and York is a quite different concept from MIF adding a new perspective to how contemporary art is being introduced in to domestic spaces.  In this project four commercial galleries from across the UK had temporary exhibitions hosted in four selected homes in the city.  In the 2017 Sheffield edition one of the participating galleries was Workplace Gallery which hosted The Collective’s own exhibition in Gateshead last May.  Art in the Home|Sheffield was part of Making Ways – a new programme supported by Sheffield Culture Consortium through Arts Council England “to showcase, celebrate and develop the exceptional contemporary visual art produced in the city.”   By invitation only visitors were guided round the four houses (all in close proximity) where they could see the art works and talk to the gallerists involved.  Seemingly more exclusive Art in the Home was not a public event but its popularity continues to support more editions with the draw of the domestic space still key to its success.

But what of domestic everyday objects already in homes? In 1999 an unusual collaborative project began between the Tate Gallery and the DIY store Homebase. Created and organised by artist and curator Colin Pointer the project’s focus was more on our relationship with the domestic objects and how they could be used to form the basis of sellable art works.  In the project nine British sculptors were invited to create “an object, designed for mass production, for display or use in the home”. To achieve this artists began by visiting households to see how daily objects were used and displayed from garden tools to shower curtains.  The completed objects were then available to buy in both Homebase and the Tate Gallery shop.  The Tate Gallery hosted an exhibition At Home with Art which showcased the objects themselves, drawings, prototypes and other materials which toured the UK for two years.   The idea that you could buy the objects at an affordable price and not just display, but use the them, on a day-to-day basis added a new dimension to the concept art in the home.

For the Collective we bring art in to our homes that is not always of our own personal choosing, and regularly exchange the works between the participating households. We can see works go, but they can equally appear again.  Our interaction is based on living

beigel2
Beigelbird

with art all the year through and seeing a changing homescape as we exchange and acquire new works.  The experience is dynamic and engaging within an environment that is comfortable and familiar but often challenges our own preconceptions of what art we can live with in our domestic spaces.   Do we like a particular work? What reaction has it produced and how much does it impact our family members or visitors?  In centuries to come what would it say about our lives?

We can agree that “art in the home” is not a new concept. But the way it is introduced in to our domestic spaces and our consequent interactions with it, is constantly evolving giving it a new meaning on each occasion.

 

“Do-its”. it rules.

A continuous scroll of two-word “do-its” on a small electronic LED sign encourages us to act – without knowing what “it” is referring to. It’s up to us, the viewer, to decide.

shake-itstick-itok-it

At random intervals comic-strip exclamations stop the scrolling action for a second..

soenoughomigod

seemingly to make you think about the doing of “it”.  Rose Finn-Kelcey’s evocative piece despite being only 19.7cm x 2.2cm has a presence beyond its actual size. It Rules can be left running while you get on with your life.”  Discrete yet powerful in its message – how often do we not do it through our lives and regret it later? What holds us back? Or what inspires us to go and do it?

Rose Finn-Kelcey very sadly died three years ago this month, aged 68,  from motor neurone disease. Her ability to combine irony and seriousness so effectively (like this work), her sense of purpose, her firm belief that a piece of art could be made of anything, the fact that no two works of hers are actually physically alike and her continuous desire to experiment (Steam inhalation) all combine to make one wonder what she would have been producing today? “omigod!” .  Her presence in the Collective is a special one.

blog-context
“it rules” Rose Finn-Kelcey 2002. Owned by the Collective

Two things happened last week that made me reflect on this work – both completely different and unconnected.  For as long as we have it in our household, I now return to it often and read the scrolling text. Previously unseen do-its always pop up.

The first was a video I saw of the first ever no-parachute jump successfully pulled off by veteran skydiver Luke Aikins from twenty-five thousand feet! Mad man? “thrill it” reads the digital screen, “breathe it” continues the LED messaging in green.  Whilst most of us would regard such an action as insane “omigod!’ or even “enough!” that was Luke Aikin’s “it” and he certainly did it.  Does it matter “why”?

The second was an excellent session I attended last week organised by the Digital and Social Media Leadership Forum [DSLMF ] on “women in digital”which was a chance to discuss the opportunities and challenges in leadership for women in the digital space. How can you “do it” ?- what are the obstacles that may be holding women back?  You didn’t have to speak coding languages to benefit from the session and there were a wide variety of careers represented whose common denominator was “digital”. But what really took it to the next level was the sense of support in the room for having the conviction to pursue the best route for you in your career irrespective of age, family priorities and responsibilities and the obstacles and pressures that may exist to put you off pursuing “it”.  To “do it” without compromise, “believe it” and “ok it”.

Rose Finn-Kelcey, despite her early death,  left her legacy  for us in all her art.  She once said of herself

I work in the belief – or dare – that I can continue to reinvent myself and remain a perennial beginner.”

You may not want to be a “perennial beginner”  – you might even become an expert! But working in the belief that you can reinvent yourself, continue to learn , start on new paths throughout your life is surely worth “it”.  “own it”, don’t “miss it”.  It rules

Own worst enemy

 

OedipusSphinx01-1
Oedipus and the sphynx: in the myth King Tiresias said he was “his own worst enemy” bringing destruction on himself

Have you ever been told that’s what you are? Your own worst enemy? Do you already think that’s what you are?  And what does it mean anyway? That because of “being you”, you’re responsible for all the ills in your life? It’s seems a harsh form of characterisation and yet one that Greek myths and Shakespeare alike delighted in using for their tragic heroes, and that history recounts again and again. Or is it simply an explanation for something or someone different, simply at odds with their environment?

What I’m actually referring to is a suite of three performances created for the Collective by performance artist, Jefford Horrigan and curated by Rose Lejeune under the group title of “Own Worst Enemy”. Read in to it what you will.

You may remember that earlier this year I wrote about a visit to Jefford’s studio in London’s east end with a view to commissioning a work with him, as part of a wider research project of Rose’s on the process of collecting less object-based art and the experiences gathered during the course of that collecting journey. The commission would comprise performances in three of the six Collective households and apart from the more experiential legacy of the performances themselves and the memories they would invoke, there would be an object – a triptych drawing for us to add to our growing collection.

The visit to Jefford’s studio did nothing to help visualise what might be coming our way- but it did wonders for generating an overall excitement for the project! What I do remember was him telling us that he liked “to create atmospheres” and that “It’s more about presence than the thing itself, and it can belong in its own environment”.  He clearly used household objects – particularly furniture – to create remarkable transformations in to “something other“.  Jefford responds to the environment he is in when creating his performances and for that reason he visited all six households in order to select which three he would perform in.  It wasn’t ours (sadly) – but he made three good choices – three individual living spaces in west, south and north London.

The first performance, aptly named “Passenger” was on Collective member Ben‘s boat – an unusual transformation in its own right from Dutch working barge to private dwelling. The performance filled the cavernous space with the boat’s overhead beams cleverly included as an additional prop.

Jefford 1
Passenger: a first performance by Jefford Horrigan commissioned by the Collective

The items of furniture used and the artist himself, transformed as they were in to a bird like creature, evoked a sense of flight, travel to distant places and previous eras. Stunned in to a silent reverie of what was unfolding before us a solo tenor further transported the audience with an unexpected aria from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Magic it was.

The performance finished, the space was filled with animated conversation on interpretation, understanding, themes, amazement and excitement! Nothing we saw was expected or anticipated.

In his book Keeping an Eye Open Julian Barnes reminds us that when it comes to art,

we remain incorrigibly verbal creatures who love to explain things, to form opinions, to argue”.  

How true! Opinions differed hugely on the meaning of this first performance but one thing was certain: even if we were stunned in to silence during the performance “it is only a short time before we want to explain and understand the very silence into which we have been plunged.”  Jefford in his quietness allowed us to continue that exploration unabated.

Jefford 4
Threshold: a second performance by Jefford Horrigan commissioned by the Collective

The next two performances, the Threshold and Own Worst Enemy were all separated by a week, in living spaces that grew smaller in scale, each with a singer as an important element and all equally transformative in their nature – chairs, tables, carpets and tigers – with Jefford at their centre facilitating the transformation, creating an art work as he performed and plunged us in to silence in our own domestic spaces.

But if we didn’t agree on meaning we could agree that our own response to watching the performances is what mattered most.  How we engaged as individuals and with the artist,

Jefford 5
Own worst enemy: a third performance by Jefford Horrigan commissioned by the Collective

 

how we interpreted , how we reacted on an emotional level and what we drew from it, was and is our reality.  How we now share those thoughts and feelings is up to everyone of us and what memories we hold and pass on.   The performances can’t be repeated, but the memories can be remembered and retold both within and outside of the Collective group.

I mentioned in my blog on a previous performance art commission, Home Suite, that it remains the most discussed and referenced piece the Collective has ever purchased and yet we have no physical legacy in any of our homes that the work ever happened.  This time we do.

With each performance we have a drawing by Jefford and curator Rose Lejeune delivered all three to us just before Christmas. So, as we share the works between the households in time to come, we can retell the stories of the performances to new viewers for which the drawings speak for themselves in a new way, equally valid and equally valued.

If this is my own worst enemy, I welcome it heartily.

IMG_3332
Drawing from “Own worst enemy” : the final performance by Jefford Horrigan Oct 2015
Jefford 7
Detail from a drawing from the performance “The Threshold”   by Jefford Horrigan Sept 2015