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Monday, 26 October 2015

Galleries are Kind of Stupid Too

So there we were at the Richard Long exhibition at the Arnolifini as mentioned last week. And it was really enjoyable, especially the text works - which are simple word translations of walks Richard Long did. You look at them and little images click into your mind that combine with the basics of the walk.

After initially thinking about how great it would be to go on these massive walks (I can see the course of the Avon as I write), I start wondering about how exhausting it must be, especially if it's raining, Then there's  the struggle of walking along rivers with nettles and brambles and mud. There's  cows in fields. There's the cold.

Then I'm happy that it's Long doing it and not me, And it's one of those moments where the 'I could have done that' moment - because what is Long is not an 'I-could-have-done-that' artist - slowly turns into a 'No, I couldn't' moment because it's not just one walk he did. it's a lifetime of walks. Really long ones. In the rain, in the mud, in the cold. Fuck that!

So these text works are all about walking. Walking gets in your head and as you go round the exhibition there's more walking and things made whilst walking and references to rocks and the land and all the rest of it.

Then you get to the sculpture at the top of the page. It's made out of Cornish slate and it's lovely. It's a solid thing. It's an X, it's a path, it's a crossroads. It's something to walk on.

It's about walking then. But you're not allowed to walk on it. At an exhibition that is all about walking!

Why not?

I can think of a few reasons but they are all rather arbitrary. The most arbitrary reason, which is also the dumbest, is you can't walk on it because it's a work of art and that's not what you do.

Which is really stupid. But it's stupid in a bad way, because it's based on  made-up rules that the gallery, or artist, can break whenever you feel like it.

So why don't they feel like it?

It's a mystery because the arbitrariness of these rules, which we so universally cling to, are right up there with not walking on the grass, no women drivers, no ball games and no open collars.

Let's do a link in here to Sound, Word and Landscape, at which Paul Gaffney is speaking. His latest exhibition, Stray, took place at Belfast Exposed. It was an exhibition that evolved and developed as the exhibition went on.

From prints on walls, it became a show where multiple projections, darkened rooms and (if it had continued for another week) a floor covering of forest debris would have added to the immersive experience mentioned here.

It's an exhibition where, if there had been a slate crossroads, it would have been one that you could have walked on, a crossroads that coexisted with walking rather than acted against it. And that's what you want in a show about walking.

So how do you show work, how do you involve viewers, how do you develope an exhibition as it is shown, how do you go beyond the arbitrary rules of the gallery.

That will be talked about in Bristol on November 7th. And not just by Paul.

Buy your tickets here. 


Brian Steptoe said...

Hi Colin, it was good to see that photography was allowed at Alec Soth's exhibition at the Media Space, London, unlike at previous exhibitions there. I hope that was at Soth's insistence, as I think that would be in-character.

colin pantall said...

Thanks Brian - that is always a good thing. It's a bit odd when you have photography exhibtions with non-delicate works and you're not allowed to photograph.

Simon said...

and the funny thing is that when we are in galleries, we all follow those rules too, most likely because we don't want to 'cause a scene' and bring attention to ourselves, not because we don't want to walk on/touch/smell the art. i'm quite sure that every person in that photo would love to walk on it. and think how much more connection with and memories of that art they would come away with if only they did/could!