Tag Archives: history

What does ‘art in the home’ mean?

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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

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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

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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

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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.

 

Story power

 

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Fresco from Akrotiri, Thera 16th century BC. Wikimedia Commons

Everyone has a story to tell and all of us enjoy hearing a good story.

Story telling, across all cultures, has been around for centuries and its power to engage the human mind is recognised beyond reasonable doubt, whatever the medium used to deliver it and for whatever reason it is used.  Well before the written word people told stories through speech, performance and art understanding the power they held to make sense of the world, to immortalise events, to evoke human emotion and pass on traditions.  Story telling has defined our history and as a long-time-ago student of prehistory the single most defining attraction to me was that there were no written words to account for the ancient cultures I studied. What we have is their art, their creations – their artefacts, to piece together the story of their culture. Each tiny artefact telling its own unique story.

There is a science to stories and the way in which humans respond to them.  Darwin noted that there was a biology to how we interact with stories within the context of our particular social environment. So what might be a forbidden fruit to a particular culture, with dire consequences if consumed, causes no reaction if eaten unknowingly by the same recipients.

“Stories configure contextual triggers and the expected emotional reactions of our culture—perhaps defining a sort of emotional grammar.”
The idea that “the human mind is a story processor and not a logic processor” is the

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The story of Herakles with Cerberus. 6th century BC vase painting. Wikimedia Commons

foundation of so many fantastical myths over many cultures. Myths that stimulate the imagination with a world full of characters and events that are at once both unreal and yet able to explain man’s challenges or follies. Is this how we learn to navigate our human place in the world? is this how we best make sense of it?

So powerful is the desire of the human brain to detect patterns, not just in visual forms, but in the stories we hear that it can apparently lead us to see them when they are not actually there! Sound familiar?  In 1944 a controlled experiment was carried out with 34 adults in Massachusetts, USA.  The participants were asked to look at a short film and explain what was happening in it.  The film showed shapes moving across a two-dimensional surface (two triangles and a circle) with an additional half-open rectangle stationary on one side.  33 of the 34 participants came up with intricate and emotional human stories, including one involving men (triangles) fighting over a woman (circle) . Only one of the participants saw it as shapes moving on a screen.

21st century business has understood for some time the power of story-telling – especially “character driven stories with emotional content” (whatever the medium used). Such stories help the best speakers drive home their main points, trigger different emotions and are easier to recall for the listeners.  The story of the customer experience blown open at its worst moment and resolved with empathy might bring greater trust? The altruistic actions of employees that helped change the lives of those more disadvantaged than themselves might bring more purpose? These are the stories that help build understanding or perhaps encourage new directions.  That isn’t to say everyone does it well – or at all, but their motivational capability and association with potential resolutions is recognised.

So how are stories communicated in contemporary art? It was not until the 20th century photo 2 (4)that narrative art started to be replaced by more abstract and conceptual themes, when stories could be evoked without being told and left to the viewer to interpret or not.  That isn’t to say that narrative wasn’t an option for artists but the purely abstract works provided a new stream of thought alongside more traditional narrative forms.  How often, when visiting an exhibition, or just discussing contemporary abstract art do you here

sorry, I just don’t get it, what is it?” or “is that art? – what does it mean?

How do we make sense of the nonsensical? How do we read the patterns or colours? For some it may overwhelm and for others it will trigger thoughts and emotions that provide a connection that satisfies the need for a narrative.

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For members of the Collective there is an added layer to the story of each art work.  A layer that comes from the process of purchasing it, the interactions with the artists themselves and the reactions of the people who pass through our homes as we exchange
or purchase new works.   We re-tell the stories of our experiences within and outside the Collective just as our children recount theirs and their friends reactions to some of the works.

 

It all adds up to a multilayered narrative that is our story.

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Bobby Dowler, Odd painting 1. Owned by the Collective

‘Tis the season to be …at an art Biennial

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Couple on Venetian bridge by Tim Eastop

Venice has the ability to conjure up a wide variety of imaginings from romantic trysts to historic and cultural forays. With its numerous canals winding their way between the small islands of the old town and joined by little bridges under which the famous gondoliers guide their mesmerised visitors, its magic reputation over-rides anything else.

It’s historic stage also plays host to the largest and most well-known theatre for contemporary art – the Venice Biennale.  The juxtaposition of old and new is a fascinating one and seems to point more to the history of internationalism that Venice built through its history.  As a centre for trade across the Mediterranean reaching toward the eastern markets of Constantinople, the Venetian Republic attracted

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18th century view of Venice by Canaletto.  Wikipedia commons

traders and dazzled visitors for many centuries.  It still does.

Held every odd year and begun in 1895 to celebrate the silver anniversary of the accession to the throne of King Umberto I of Italy and his consort, Margherita of Savoy the Venice Biennale now attracts around half a million visitors for the six months it is open . Showcasing the latest trends in art, architecture, film and dance and the best representative creators for their country – it’s an honour to be asked to participate knowing that curators from far and wide, millionaire collectors, celebrities, dealers and gallery owners are pulled by its legacy magnetism.  This year the Venice Biennale boasts 86 country pavilions with 28 in the Giardini and the rest in the Arsenale, the city’s former shipyard, with the curated main show, titled “Arte Viva Arte”, showing works by 120 artists from 51 countries.  The scope seems unimaginable to most.

Whether it is the scale or the masses who patiently wait in queues to attend the shows and pavilions, it puts a completely different perspective on the art world from our own domestic adventures with sharing contemporary art in our homes. For The Collective it is like looking through a telescope at a vast universe expanding in front of us and yet with definite links and opportunities back to our earth.

It is from the biennials that trends may be set, artists emerge, names are established, think tanks initiate discussion and large sums are circulated in the future global art market determining market prices.  Names of artists whose works we have in the Collective have featured in previous biennials (Chris Ofili and Tracy Emin). Despite the fact biennials are not about the exchange of money for works and the Venice Biennale banned the actual selling of art works in 1968 – the event remains an integral part of the global art market and its increasing commercialisation.

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Untitled by Chris Ofili. Owned by The Collective

The Biennial Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation set up in 2009 as a platform for art biennials around the world, lists a huge global network  – with the crowning event being the Venice Biennale.  Documenta in Germany, not a biennial, but an equally important event is held every five years and runs concurrently with Venice this year.  As the two most eminent art events in the world there is definite competition and curators often come under scrutiny from the art critics for the artists they select.  Other biennials in major cities (eg Sao Paolo, Istanbul or Moscow) compete for well-known artists and established curators understanding their value in terms of their own national art cultures and attracting tourism.

The art world has never been bigger or more international and it’s a good season to get a taste of it if you happen to be travelling to Venice or Kassel.  But at the end of the day it’s also about what works we chose to live with on a daily basis and the journey we go on with the artists to acquire them, and later share amongst the households of the Collective.

Things to remember

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“Witness” by Tom Dale. Owned by the Collective.

“So you’ve got a new one up” says my son’s friend as he passes from the kitchen and through the dining room.   “it’s got wheels.. what is it?”  A shrug of shoulders as they disappear out pondering what it brings to mind.  Tom Dale’s work “witness” is an eye-catching work for any audience but placed on a domestic wall it tends to attract more comments than usual. Witness to a mix of people both transitory and permanent as they pass through our house.

Growing up with changing art in our home is something our children have got used to – and their friends too.   Sometimes they just nod in acknowledgement, other times they may ask a question about it, but usually they take a quick moment to have a brief look with little more than an “interesting”! But they don’t forget .  However they remember equally, if not more clearly, what I served up for tea – asking my children years later if they can come back and have that meal again!  Tea and art, art and tea – things to remember as you grow up.

One game that was never part of our children’s repertoire of favourite pastimes or memories was “hangman” – the simple pen and paper game where you guess the letters of your opponents “word” suffering a ‘hanging on paper’ if you don’t make it in the number of guesses given!  I remember as a child the feeling of victory when I hanged my opponent who failed to guess my given word, drawing in that final limb to the picture to signify their demise. Or the feeling of defeat when they escaped the gallows and the endless paper we got through to pass the time on a slow afternoon!   Why on earth did we find it so pleasurable?  Perhaps our children had more sense: “death on paper” the punishment for failure to get the word or the spelling right? Is that the best way to encourage our children to become successful wordsmiths?

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Hangman by Mark Wallinger. Owned by the Collective.

Mark Wallinger’s work “Hangman” illustrates the steps needed for the game to be completed.  A victim hung for failing to guess the very name of the game. Taken from Wikipedia’s text description of a strategy that uses the most frequently occurring letters in the english language, Wallinger illustrates how the victim is not spared his punishment, with his simple drawing.

London-based with an international reputation and winner of the 2007 Turner prize for his exhibition StateBritain, Mark Wallinger is perhaps best known as the first artist to be commissioned to do a work for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square – Ecce Homo

Wallinger is not a stranger to social commentary or political statement. But it’s the combination of the sometimes playful exterior of his works combined with undertones that invite much deeper speculation that make them so memorable.   First seen by members of The Collective on the walls of the Drawing Room Biennial exhibition and auction we were drawn to the simplicity of Hangman and the fact its creator was Mark Wallinger – so we put in our bid.   Safely acquired and looking at it everyday on our wall at home I found myself compelled to find out more about the origins of the game.  Why hangman?

Apparently created in Victorian times when hanging was not only commonplace but a form of established “entertainment” that could draw huge crowds (the more famous, the bigger the crowd) hangman was first referenced in 1894 in Alice Bertha Gomme’Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland .  Entertainment that could clearly be replicated on paper in a simple spelling game format for children!

The strange thing is, is that I had never considered the game in any other way than an easy way to pass the time with pen and paper.  If having seen the work in a gallery we’d left it there, I’m not sure it would have engendered the same reaction. But living with it has become a different experience altogether.   As Hangman sits on our wall it reinforces Wallinger’s suggestion that an art work can have the effect of seeing

how far we can get in to the consciousness of someone or something other…”

It was certainly doing just that.

In his video work “Sleeper” Wallinger appears dressed as a bear in the Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin, alone and late at night running, walking and surprising passers-by chancing upon this unusual spectacle. You can’t help but smile at the vision of this light-hearted “prank” in an empty museum at night! But its actual meaning is intertwined with disguise, espionage, surveillance, the history of Berlin and its physical division before the wall came down.  Wallinger suggests the art work was triggered by a childhood memory of “The Singing Ringing Tree” a story about a prince who was transformed in to a bear which originated in East Germany, but was unknown in West Germany. A symbol of a divided country. So perhaps not the first time haunting childhood themes have played a part in his art.

So for me at least Wallinger’s Hangman has become more of a statement, a piece of history, a symbol of an act that impacted our culture here in Britain until August 1964 when the last hanging took place.  But dressed up as it is as a simple word game for children that I played a long time ago.

Things to remember that are often unexpected.