Urinal, Bricks Or Half A Cow (Stuff Happens)

Okay, stuff happens. On Saturday, the opening day of Emergency5, Hania Stella-Sawicka’s exhibit was damaged by a distracted punter. This kind of stuff happens, it’s rare, but it occurs. Why? Well, curiosity is a factor – people want to experience stuff fully, so they go ahead and touch surfaces if they’re attracted. Fine? That depends. Bronzes, the stuff of classical sculpture, they erode, effected by the dirty acid off fingerprints – so, we’re encouraged not to finger them, or they’re placed behind glass or ropes. But, take the stuff of Emergency5, what effect has ‘feeling’ on them – foremost, they can be broken. One of the joys of a Contemporary gallery like aspex is, the art isn’t ‘museum-ified’ – we try not to barricade the artwork, because the viewer is as important as the art (it’s about a dialogue). This seeming casual approach does rely on certain formalities – most of which are basic social graces: respect the artwork (other people’s property), if you’re curious ask and don’t assume (everyone has entitlement issues nowadays), and never assume something is valueless simply because you don’t value it (I’m talking both critically and insurance-ly). And, considering the great number of ‘Contemporary gallery-illiterate’ folk that visit aspex, those stumbling on us during a Gunwharf shopping trip, we’ve suffered very little from ‘damage by audience’.

Crowds are the biggest issue, when it comes to damage to artworks. Private Views are a prime time for accidents (all those people, drinking, nattering, coats over arms, bags over shoulders) – any well attended event is a risk. We do attempt to minimise the risk, allowing work enough space, offering clear sight-lines and giving obvious indictions of its being art (like, Hania’s work might incorporate benches but they aren’t benches, they’re sculpture! – SO PLEASE DON”T SIT ON THEM). Phew, this brings us to a real issue, not just of display but of Contemporary art (all visual art since Duchamp’s Fountain) – ‘when is a [bench] not a [bench] but art’ (insert whatever, be it urinal, bricks or half a cow). If someone cannot tolerate the notion, or even conceive of it, that a ‘bench’ is no longer functioning as a place to park one’s backside, that it is an element (akin to a brushstroke, a colour or form) in an artwork, what can you do? For such people, the art simply doesn’t exist – it’s just stuff, meaningless and inadequate stuff, and they do (sometimes) treat it with disdain. This is why we rely on common decency – you don’t go kicking the refuse sacks put out for the bin-men about, spreading curry slops and domestic yuck all over the streets. Or maybe you do? Yet, the most ‘Kirstie Allsop’ of people will feel entitled to move elements of a sculptural work about, to pick artworks up, to walk over ‘dust’ drawings etc. They mean no harm, mostly – but, often, it is clear (in the material, the arrangement, the large signs) that their actions will cause damage or effect the art.

A lot of people seem to feel, not alienated, but ‘made fun of’ by Contemporary art, as if us insiders are having a great joke at their expense. It’s absolute nonsense, mostly (the idiots). We’ve started to explain ‘taste’ (which is easier to prescribe than telling them to ‘think’ – because thinking is too elitist for today’s X Factor world), ‘taste’ in terms of music: just because your taste is for Jazz doesn’t negate the need for Radio One – we’re Jazz, we’re Freeform Jazz, we’re Glitch Freeform Jazz with a side order of Chicago House and a piquant sauce of Shangaan electro. If you don’t like the tunes I like, don’t just stamp on my iPod, ta.

We must accept ‘risk’ as wholesome. Otherwise we’re done for. It’s far better to accept the rare occasions of damage than barricade the work. This isn’t an approach to business or life encouraged nowadays, with Insurance Companies enslaving us with Health & Safety (because they don’t want to pay out anything to anyone – Health & Safety is another form of small print to catch us up on). ‘Risk’ is a positive energy, isn’t it – it breathes vitality into things, into stuff, into art. It’s like the weather is risk, too dry and stuff desiccates, too wet and it rots – a balance has to be struck. And you have to accept, stuff happens.

Above, evidence of the damage to Hania’s work – and, shush, evidence of damage to Duncan Swann’s. The injury inflicted on Duncan’s grey card mount was Actus Dei Nemini Facit Injuriam – an Act of God. The mounts are affixed to the walls with Velcro – which is fine 85% of the time, but wayward the other 15% – it’s not the hooks grasping the loops, it’s the self adhesive not adhering. Duncan’s work sprung from the wall overnight. It’s wise to allow paper work to acclimatize to the gallery conditions (when you’ve a chance to) – the fibres can clench and swell and wrestle themselves to a median. One large Conte drawing an artist and I hung, using ample pins, shrank so vigorously it leapt off the wall. The heavy cartridge paper had contracted by over half an inch. In both that drawing and Duncan’s case, I was able to iron out the creases, gum the fan-tailed corners and reinforce them – there was no damage to the substance of the image. In Hania’s case, broken elements require repair, and the shifted elements replaced (by me, the technician, or, more appropriately, the artist). Another post might reflect on the hand of the Technician in an artwork… All technician’s will experience breakage, it happens, it’s almost inevitable – a large part of the job is pre-emptive. Let expertise and/or commonsense prevail!

Hey! What about the artist? Aren’t they responsible for the sustenance and maintenance of their own works? Isn’t there some contractual obligation, like a Plumber guaranteeing installation of a new boiler? But that’s for another day.


Listening to Shangaan Electro: New Wave Dance Music From South Africa – just to continue the music that soundtracks the writing

2 thoughts on “Urinal, Bricks Or Half A Cow (Stuff Happens)

  1. I like this. Why people pretend like they can’t see the stupid person next to them at the exhibition touching all the artwork in sight. Oh how it angers me. Something which I admire in artwork is when it gives you that feeling of REALLY wanting to touch it, I guess some people can’t control the feeling…

    • If you substitute artwork with woman, man or beast – well, regardless of how much I REALLY want to, I REALLY try not to (my wife wouldn’t like it, the RSPCA wouldn’t like it). If I wanted to so, so badly – I’d save up to buy it, and touch it like crazy in privacy – but there’s something inherently wrong about that too. I want to be touched by artworks, but I’ll wait to be invited to touch the art back.

      It has been suggested we include ‘feelie’ things in the galleries, off cuts of the material make-up of the art. A kind-of Ann Summers range that provokes satisfaction without recourse to, to, to bad things.

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