There are not many better examples of something that achieves so much by doing so little. Whilst validating or elevating works, the gallery space is equally a magnifier of fears and anxieties. It can be a vehicle for intimidation and a mirror for cynicism. It’s an existential playground. (I apologize for using the e word but it is).
If artists choose to enter into this silent contract, there must be a negotiation of the complex and unspoken rules. Some artists choose to engage whilst others opt for an entirely different form of space. Banksy’s work ends up in galleries but they are often strange bulldozed sections of the world, transported from life into a gallery by curators. With genius simplicity Tillmans came close to deconstructing the infection of middle class doctrines that dominate the gallery experience. Other famous examples that spring to my mind are Mark Wallinger’s ‘Sleeper’ and ‘State Britain’ and Martin Creed’s ‘Work no. 227’. An exhibition should not have to be perfectly formed and tied with a pretty bow; I am learning that it can be space purely for the development, experiment and discussion without a final defined resolution.
The only reasonable analogy I can think for the artist - gallery relationship, is the wedding. We can try to make it our own, everyone wants it to be a personal experience, some try to subvert it, to make it unique but in the end, it is a wedding, steeped in an inescapable tradition and an overwhelming weight of historical and cultural precedent. This must be accepted if there is any chance of having a lovely day.
The relationship of work, space and audience was at the forefront of our minds during the development of the show ‘Portraits’ at Tenderpixel. We took the model of the mundane gallery presentation; devoid of smoke and mirrors and (in the case of ‘Untitled, 2013’) then juxtaposed this against the works lacking in narrative explanation. The balance was predominantly gallery; small prints of absence in space. It appeared to be a show about something whilst stripping away the established mechanisms of seeing.
We are not selling a Twix here afterall or making sense of the world in a Salgado-esq photo essay. Content is irrelevant, one desire is to promote an undirected emotional reaction. It felt like a risk, a little dangerous even but not life threatening.
Brian Eno said, “Art is a plane crash you can walk away from.”
The only destructive reaction that attempts to defeat its purpose is cynicsm but even this is a reflection of a viewers state of mind and a mirror of their relationship to the space in that moment too. ‘Portraits’ is not a literal or ironic title of the show, it is an adjective for what the show attempts to achieve. It is a reflection of each unique response and reaction to the work. It is an analysis of the viewer as subject; a portrait of us as we engage.
Any concept of success attributed to this show can be measured for me by the broad variety of adjectives used to describe the experience. This lack of a commonality is a validation and an indication of how we have adjusted to the invisible mechanisms that aid and influence the way we interpret. This applies especially to photography as a powerful medium of the age; we should not assume the same rules of conventional media apply.
|Richard Ansett 'PORTRAITS' - series 'Untitled, 2013' © Tina Hage/Tenderpixel|