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Process, Practice & the Audience, Soho Theatre, London, February 27, 2007. Photo: Vipul Sangoi, Raindesign.

audience - Create News 2 (March 2007) 

Brian Maguire reports on Practice, Process and Audience. What do we want to achieve?

Six artists from Ireland and four artists from the UK initiated and continued an intense conversation, part in private, part in public, over two days in Middlesex University and Soho Theatre, London on the 26th and 27th February. The initiative forms part of an ongoing bigger ‘conversation’ and initiative between NCAD, Create and ResCen, Middlesex University.

The overall purpose was to share understanding of individual practice and the audiences encountered, but in the process much larger philosophical issues emerged, making for a fascinating and illuminating event. An additional focus was on the role of the audience in the creative process and how these artists conceive of an audience during the creation of their work. The mix of artistic disciplines represented by the ten covered dance, film, theatre, music and visual arts. The public conversations were conducted by two artists talking to each other for twenty minutes, after which they continued as a panel and the invited London audience joined in the ‘conversation’.

L-R: Rosemary Lee, Joan Fowler (NCAD), X, Alan Phelan, X (NCAD), Louise Walsh, Katherine Atkinson (Create). Photo: Vipul Sangoi, Raindesign.

Alan Phelan and Rosemary Lee: Alan described his artwork Michael Collins Should Have Blended In noting that his work was often biographical in nature. Rosemary responded that when younger and more idealistic, she felt that movement/dance could be universal but had to acknowledge the elitism of classical ballet pointed in the opposite direction. Alan spoke of his experiments in audience participation and how over time he had retreated into himself - and the studio -  to make objects. Rosemary responded with the way her audiences were smaller the more people she worked with, referencing the cast of Haughmond Dances which had 281 performers with an audience of 300, all from one community. She had now moved towards ‘high art’ venues and has used TV in reaching bigger audiences. The point of commonality that emerged between Alan and Rosemary was that they both centred on how local narratives could present ideas which when abstracted could reflect contemporary anxieties.

Louise Walsh and Ghislaine Boddington: Ghislaine began by describing Louise’s large public art work commemorating the women who had worked in the shirt factories of Derry. They both highlighted their inter-authorship process, the laying out of a navigation and clear lines of negotiation. It was a fluid process which could go in any direction but was always held in a context. Louise spoke of the need to find appropriate ways of commemoration. Interviewing practice became part of her working process. Local women in Derry speak of the visit of Karl Marx in 1895. Current economic realities link the Derry experience to Morocco and Bangladesh where shirts are made today. Louise needed to bridge the process to the product. Clusters of networks of knowledge emerge and influence the work. Ghislaine spoke of themes which are ongoing in her work – body –technology-space- interculturalism. Her recent work is using large scale interactive display units that are body reactive. She has moved from the art centres to the club scene and the shopping centre to test her work with a new audience. Both artists have used audiences to create their work.

Shane Cullen and Graeme Miller: Painting contains an element of performance albeit privately. Graeme identified Shane’s piece Fragments sur les Institutions Republicaines IV as an epic and solitary task which was essentially devotional. Shane related this work whose context was British rule in Northern Ireland in the 80s to his recent work which references another legacy of imperialism in the West Bank in Palestine. Graeme spoke about a self entertaining comedy process. His first steps are to walk the streets. His critical edge is that of play. He sees the artist as an adult child receiving and editing information. In engaging with an audience he uses a method reminiscent of James Joyce’s use of the Dublin City Council’s books of rateable valuation, except Miller selects a series of points based on an Islamic pattern  and records at the points the available sound, then playing this back in the arts centre to produce a contemporary talking landscape. As an artist he journeys across theatre and music retaining the Self as audience with a private individual research process. While on the surface both artists seem very different this conversation produced an engagement of particular intimacy and urgency leaving me with a sense of solidarity between both practices.

Lorraine Gallagher and George Higgs: The conversation began around the use of the word ‘handicapped’ with Lorraine refusing to use it as a description of herself asserting that it was Dickensian, that she preferred the word ‘crip’ (a shortened version of ‘cripple’) This led to Lorraine’s ironic Rules of Engagement which are an exhaustive paternalistic, subservient, condescending collection of dos and don’ts for the artist. George referred to his progress backwards and forwards from an early identification with Marx to a capitalist understanding of music to a kind of nihilistic humour. Later he explained that art was property and his intention was to use exchange rates to create music. This work has an insistence on relevance to the real world of politics and economics. A practical tactile Marxism shadowed his contribution. Both artists relied on abstraction to deliver their intentions.

Richard Layzell and Tom Creed: Both artists work with performance, Richard through fine art and Tom through theatre. Tom described the live soap opera which he presented daily for two weeks. Noting its addictive effect, he found excitement in how it made the audience change their routines in order to get to each daily episode. He referred to a piece presented during the Cork 2005 European Capital of Culture in which the performers were so various and simultaneous that the individual audience member would have seen about 10% of the work. The conversations in the pub later put the whole together. Richard described his public performance as a waiter in Lillehammer in Norway which involved scripting a daily column in the local newspaper describing the event in the café. In this and his earlier work Evangelical Thatcherite an issue arose when the irony of the work escaped the audience. 

Panel: Naturally the question of what is an artist appeared. The specific answers to this included the role of editor. The idea of fluid informality was held up as a significant process. This is where the context is identified  by the artist and the outcome with the audience is fluid. The question is why do it? What do we want to achieve? To whom do we offer the work in order to test its validity? The debate got tighter – psychosis is generational judgement (over 50s may leave). A quite tiny plea for a space…can this word be said safely in 2007 ….. spirituality?So what happened -  ten artists discussed openly their practices and debated the different processes and themes and responses that their individual stories raised. They focused on audiences. Money was seldom mentioned. Being present was a privilege.

Brian Maguire is Head of Fine Art at NCAD (National College of Art and Design) Dublin

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