5 Guys Chillin’ – Reflection

‘5 Guys Chillin’’ by Peter Darney is an intense play, performed at the King’s Head Theatre, Angle, that confronts the ideas of what a ‘Chillout’ or ‘Chemsex Party’ is.

The play consists of only five characters and is performed in the round. The audience literally sits on the floor in the performing area with the cast. Gaining first hand experience over numerous interviews with men who use the social networking app Grindr, each character was developed. This results in characters that are extremely believable. Combining this with the intimacy of the performance, the piece become enlightening and self reflective with regards to your personal experience to this situation.

I am not going to dwell on the narrative of this production because I am more concerned with relating this research to my project, which is raising awareness of the risks of chemsex to the participant’s personal health.

The five strangers have never met before all in the same circumstance. The party has been initiated over Grindr and it is very clear from the start that this is a ‘chillout’.

The drugs that the men use are the common drugs used at these shorts of parties. Firstly snorting Mephedrone, secondly drinking a shot of GHB/GBL, and final smoking and injecting or slamming Cyrstal Methamphetamine.

The men deliver a series of short monologues through the performance. From these it become clear as to their thoughts and view on chemsex. Most of the men have a relaxed concern towards HIV. They openly admit that the drugs they are using lower their apprehension to perform safe sex. Two of the characters open up about getting into situation where they have not had choice in the sexual acts they had had to perform at chemsex parties, resulting in catching the virus. One character admits it is easier to know you have the virus than to be constantly worried you may get infected.

The interaction of the diverse characters reveals many issues not often brought to light in the gay community. Consequently this did reflect in the plausibility of what I felt the performance was trying to portray, however I have to remember my understanding of this topic is more conscious of what is going on. To other members of the audience this is probably an insight to a world they are separate from. Nevertheless the characters spoke out about how this lifestyle does affect other aspects of their life directly. Deteriorating their relationships, sexual health, mental health and work aspiration.

Although this performance was fictitious, the research that it was developed upon is completely credible. Therefore it is a good foundation to gain and influence some of my primary research for this project.

Who is the Curator?

For many of those outside of the art community the notion of a curator seems quite an abstract thought. A person who has studied art but does not practice themselves, has the weight to design and produce an exhibition of others work? Within the art community as well, the role of the curator can often be overlooked because who knows the work as well as the artist.

If we look at Carol Duncan’s 1994 article ‘Art museums and the ritual of citizenship’ the art museum is described with a direct relationship to temples and shrines. Not just architecturally but the way in which they work and our understanding as the visitor that these places are the educators of authoritative truth. This receptivity runs in harmony with the interior organisation of the space, designed to create an objective teaching. Having had the experience of visiting art museums such as The British Museum and The V&A to observe this type of curatorial design first hand, I feel slightly disheartened by what I am presented with. The formal restrictions that are oppressed over the exhibits disconnect the audience from gaining the access to understanding what is being displayed. How can this be prevented?

It is very difficult to collate information from many sources over a large period of time, which the museums I previously mentioned do, and still deliver the broad perspective they offer and their heritage stands on. However it is very interesting to see how other foundations do achieve this. For example on a recent visit to the Wellcome Collection, the ‘Tibet’s Secret Temple: Body, mind and meditation in Tantric Buddhism’ exhibit to be specific, I felt combination of media, interior architecture, information and space was curated in such a manner that the drip of education began imposed but increased to a thirst. As you move through rooms of stylised film and calming audio, to graphic illustrations, carpets, religious clothing and erotic sculpture the variety of artefacts is abundant. But this is not untrue of other collections, however what is obvious is the curator’s understanding of the work and how they can relate to the visitor’s learning experience. To gain this understanding the curator has to have a vast knowledge of said subject. Therefore would it not be appropriate for the ‘author’ of exhibiting work to curate the exhibition (respectively)?

The artist as curator is a notion that has not just been present for the last 40 years. Surrealist artists such as André Breton, Paul Klee, Andre Masson, Joan Miro and Man Ray had been curating their own exhibitions since the mid 1920s. These shows comprised of objects across multidisciplinary mediums, however all followed their surrealist manifestation. Looking at Daniel Grant’s 2006 article ‘The Artist-Curator’ it can be argued that the artist only has vested interest in curating for self-gain. It is necessary in the artist’s early years to achieve exposure to be relevant. The most successful way in which to do this is for the artists to curate their own exhibitions. However much like the Surrealists, artist curated exhibitions can often only reflect one perception constituted by the personal interests of the artists’. Some argue concur to this, shows displaying the curator’s work lack objectivity and can be damaged by the artist-curator’s narcissistic attitude to display their own work over that of a required artistic level. So who is curating well?

Curating is no longer restricted to the site of a physical gallery. According to many critics like Daniel Blight in his 2013 article ‘what happened to expert curator?’ curating has been opened up to public invitation. The online space of personal blogs and profiles has allowed this to occur. The arrangement of media subjective to the ‘author’s’ understanding has become a powerful tool of manipulation within the creative and cultural industries. Blight establishes that this type of non-highbrow creates access to a wider audience through reliability. Websites such as Tumblr and Instagram allow individuals to apply meaning to their collections through differences and similarities. Combined with the audience’s demand for instant gratification these online platforms are the perfect solutions to get heard, leaving institutionalised curators and institutions in their wake. How are we able to compete with this?

The idea of curating has become an insensitive term that is now being ostentatiously applied to any creative resolution. The curator is that who has relation to the exhibit. Therefore it is important not to lose cite of this when discussing who the curator is. From the elite framework of honoured art museums to the relaxed structure of online exhibition spaces it can be shown that curating has a magnitude of operation. Curating is to apply meaning, and it is clear that meaning cannot be applied through a correct and incorrect way; it is subjective. Therefore curating needs to be treated with the degree of subjectivity. The experience and learning of the visitor is the most important job of any curator and therefore is essential to work holistically with reference to work, artist, space and time.

“Still-Life Drama” – Dennis Severs’ House

The Dennis Severs House is the epitome of the experience, which is grounded on the curious nature of mystery. The exhibition is a journey into the life of others accessed by all the spectators’ senses. The ‘museum’ is a house with ten rooms that are all individual provocateurs into the audiences’ imagination.

Before entering the house the visitors are given a brief introduction that it articulated as if the Guide were narrating the beginning chapter of a book. This was completely appropriate because as you stepping inside you were literally walking into the pages of a book that you were partially narrating.

The first most powerful transportation devises for the experience absorption were the touch, sight and taste sensory encompassments. The warm hug received by opens fires lit in each room hit you like a wall as you stepped through the door. The dimly candle lit corridor now stood in created strange black morphed shapes as your eyes adjusted to change in condition. And finally the first breath of warm, smoky, dust filled air that leaves you feeling slightly claustrophobic.

The house is spread over five floors. First you are taken to the basement where there is an all-in-one kitchen dinning room. The food decorated around the room would be seen as perhaps slightly more than basic and definitely not that of a poor family but nothing particularly grand. Rabbit and Pheasant hung on the walls and the most abundant items that filled the room were the crockery sets. The second room downstairs appeared to be a bathing room and wood chops room, a place that felt sparely decorated in comparison.

Back up the height deprived stairs to the ground floor dining room and royalist room. Both embellished with elaborate decorations of ornaments, paintings, frames, sweets, skirting, wallpaper, furniture, flags and even small caged birds. The grandeur and dedication presented here is embodying.

Moving again upstairs we enter what I would describe as the most gender specific rooms. Firstly the Drawing Room, scented with rose and decorated with pale colour the room is the first to be as ease for leisure. There are sweets again and sheets of music left place upon an armchair. The second room is chaos and heavy. Alcohol on the table and wax left to drip down the stick holder. A chair is toppled over and crumbs of food are scattered over the table. This was where I felt the harmony of the house was broken, but perhaps the atmosphere of the rooms as individual environments was heightened.

Above these rooms were two rooms, bedrooms that were distinguishable due to the age of the occupant not necessarily the gender as gauged before. The first was the Master Bedroom. A large four-poster stood looking out the front of the house. The walls of the room were decorated with small elaborately decorated property carefully balanced upon mounts and one another. This room was not for playing in. The second bedroom only announced a single bed however did have an over drape so did still belong to a person of encouraged maturity. There were objects here that I would assign to that of a young lady, such as decorative sewing patches and material.

Finally the fourth storey of the house was the most ambiguous and chaotic floor of all. The stairs were draped with linen hung to dry, the stained ceilings were caving in and the cobwebs, dust and dirt was everywhere! Both rooms up here again were bedrooms, but not ones of the magnificence and decoration before. These were smelly, cold, damp rooms that almost read as crime scenes that needed encoding be detectives. This is when I decided that I was too engrossed in this overwhelming house and needed the fresh air of East London, the head height to stand tall and the room to stretch my arms.

That being said I did really enjoy the 40-minuet experience I went on through Dennis Severs’ House. I really enjoyed the light use to performance to set the tone and the combined uses of sensory stimulants to suggest transcendence. I was completely captivated by each set up of a ‘still-life’, you were unaware of the present of that moment in time and your mind was allowed to become a pawn of the past.

British Museum Visit

Joseph E Hotuny Gallery of Oriental Antiquities (Room 33)

This room houses many treasures from China, India, South Asia and Southeast Asia, such as works of art, religious images, objects of daily use and finds from grave and hoards.

The room shaped like a long thin rectangle that you enter on the centre. There are two styles of cabinets, old wooden ones built into the architecture or freestanding 8ft tall glass ones scattered around the room like islands of wonder. The cabinets house the small antiquities and the larger objects are free standing on their own individual plinths. The colour of the room creates a calm and muted atmosphere and has small pops of panelled gold wallpaper that extenuates the attention to detail displayed on the skilfully crafted, prehistoric to twentieth century, objects.

The items are presented collectively on their location heritage so the room is divided into geographical areas. This means that large time periods are categorised together with varied appropriations. As you enter, to the left South and Southeast Asia and to the right China. There is no clear direction to choose as to which side you should explore first, however due to the large sculptures at the end of the South and Southeast Asia I was drawn to this side first. The room is mostly lit with natural light but there are spotlights too aimed at certain objects to highlight their importance. A lot of the work has links to spirituality and the calm ambiance created by the interior design of the space works in harmony with the subject matters’ themes.

The Larger freestanding pieces divide the long space like walls to produce small intimate sections, which allows the spectators to interact with the work on a more intimate scale. The built-in cabinets also create sections of smaller spaces that form isolated experiences of related exhibits. As much of the interior architecture of this room would not be able to be redesigned significantly due to listing laws, the space has been divided up well and there is a sense of wealth balance despite the constraints.

If I were to organise the material differently within this room I would be inclined to mix the objects up to compare the cultures side by side. This would enable to audience to see direct comparisons within Eastern cultures with one another instead of the collating work from one specific country and displaying them together in an almost condescending manner because of its geographic heritage. I would also try and utilise the space above head perhaps incorporating evocative decoration to celebrate the affluence of the treasures.

Reflection on Iwona Blazwick’s article ‘Temple / White Cube / Laboratory’

Iwona Blazwick has used the chronological catalogue of the Whitechapel Art Gallery, East London, as the evolutionary epitome of the contemporary art gallery experience and functionality within its society. A brief history of the gallery founders and its geographical location allows the reader to understand that the art gallery can no longer be seen as a neutral space.

The Whitechapel Art Gallery was founded in 1901 the priest. It’s situated at this time was in London’s poorest quarter where working-class French Protestant, Jewish communities and Bengali immigrants cohabited the area. It is clear to see how visual culture could no longer be seen as inactive. The society was predominantly uneducated and new activities such as experiencing a form of passive visual education was concerning.

The first shows at the gallery were presented in a way in which a country house gallery would communicate. The work was stacked floor to ceiling, wall to wall in the accustomed fashion of hierarchy. The work was viewed as a transportation device for the poor East End audience to worlds where their economical misery was not present; a fantasy of the everyday. This engaged the spectator not as an individual but as part of his or her community facing the everyday struggles with unity. Everybody shared the escapism presented at Whitechapel.

However the gallery space did not stay true to this universal format for long. Drawing on the representation of items presented at the 19th century Great World Fairs, Whitechapel was host to the ‘Japanese Exhibition’ 1902. This exhibit displayed many diverse objects of Japanese art and life representation, together. Blazwick presents Annie Coombes author of ‘Ethnography and National and Cultural Identities’ (1991) to say that the political theme of world fairs was to encourage the idea of unvaried national identity and unity within Britain. Relating this to the Japanese Exhibition it presents the audience was an informed view on another’s heritage. The spectators may have moved away from unanimous escapism, however they are still presented as part of their culture that can be distinguishable from others but interacts together. This notion can also be seen in the 1906 exhibiton ‘Jewish Art and Antiquities’ that Blazwick uses as an example to show the existing presence of a society within East London at this time.

The gallery was gaining confidence with its educational programmes and moving forward became the platform for forms of propaganda. In 1939 Whitechapel exhibited the work by Communist Spanish artist Picasso, ‘Guernica’. Picasso had envisaged is work would raise consciousness and funds around the Spanish Civil War. However the combination of this and Labor Party leader, Clement Attee’s political address in front of the work had specific consequence for the gallery at this time. Now the audience could find unity through political agreement. Cultures could mix to build relationships on democratic stance.

With the rise of modernity in the postwar years, and under the new leadership of Bryan Robertson, the gallery rejected it secular past and became the ‘white cube’ space for the communication of Abstract Expressionism and it relation to political opinion with the focus of freedom and the individual. The new contemporary interior architecture of the gallery space combined with exhibitions of anthropomorphic work by artists such as Jackson Pollock in 1958 created a much more subjective expression toward the audience. The work was now an object of its own and the spectator was a solitary mechanism too.

However the gallery was still observed as a very static environment. The objects, paintings, were hung flat on the walls in relation to the audience. Breaking this cycle came the 1956 exhibition ‘This Is Tomorrow’, which “encapsulated a vision of the modern in a mass-produced present of the everyday”. This was an exhibition that sensationalised the experience. It is now beginning to be clear that the gallery is a space that was not the space outside the gallery. It was a place where the spectator’s interaction with the objects was their own, individual or shared, it was always personal.

Blazwich does present many more examples of exhibitions through the 60’s to early 2000s that are interesting to show the diversity of exhibits in which Whitechapel Art Gallery has given. I believe they all only greaten the pioneering notions developed in the ‘This Is Tomorrow’ show, which Blazwich clarifies with Jean-Christophe Royoux comments. The gallery is a temporary experience that presents art as a catalyst for individual analysis by the convincing power of mass-culture. Within the constraints of art the audience devices a way to construct their personal identity through choice. This has developed through time, beginning with the early forms of escapism and cultural identity, through to political unity, contrasted by anthropomorphic subjectivity and finishing off at the sensation of experience and self-reflection.

Grayson Perry Reith Lecture – Democracy Has Bad Taste

In my opinion ‘taste’ is considered a taboo word amongst the artistically concerned. Taste, as Grayson Parry describes in this lecture is inherently dependant on the artwork’s audience members’ cultural norms and values. Due to the diversity of our society and the contemporary work being produced ‘taste’, used as the objective judgment of the past is no longer an accepted term. So why does Perry care about taste if within the [art] community, consensus is not the aim?

In his lecture Perry draws on his personal experiences as a practicing artist and Fine Art student, to Komar’s and Melamine’s artistic popularity survey in the 90’s and through to conversations with friends in high places to expose that the public (democracy) are lazy. But being unaccepting of new concepts is not an unheard of idea; familiarity is the nostalgic hug we are all comfortable to embrace.

Artist’s embrace their unpopularity. Being known by everybody, whilst alive at least, is not cool for the Artist. Parry describes knowledge as the currency within the community, therefore if work is well known it is assumed that it is well understood; but this is seen as an adulterating quality. The critic’s, the curator’s, the dealer’s and collector’s knowledge is valued as the highest wealth, the decisions they make is manna to the art world. The public are not in ‘the game’ therefore they cannot control it. To people who live and breath  art it does not seem correct for the democracy, whom use art as a passive leisure and escapism activity to be given a voice.

My opinion to this topic is not relevant because I believe the notions being raised are often based on inadequate understanding and generalisations made by the art world. However, what I do find interesting about Perry’s perceptive is when asked at the end of the left by Art Historian, David Exurgeon, what artwork  would he like to receive as a present, he choose Pieter Bruegel’s 1964 ‘Procession to Calvary’. Relating this to the artistic popularity survey commissioned by Komar and Melamine, their findings of public ‘taste’ ran in sync with the subject of Bruegel’s piece.

 

Future Retrospectives Exhibition

The object I would choose to exhibit in the Future Retrospective Exhibition that would represent me, as a design professional would be ‘My Personal Shoehorn’.

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My Personal Shoehorn is an object that defines my practice and ideologies in many ways. Firstly the form of the object is complete defined by the function of its use to create an ergonometric design. Within my work I believe that functionality is prominent in producing good design. As a communication designer it is important is have the audience/user at the focus of your mind, as it is my reasonability to communicate the ‘message’ as clearly as possible. Secondly the shoehorn is made from a natural occurring material, horn. Throughout my practice, whether visibly direct or less so I am always inspired and fascinated by the power and intelligence nature demonstrates. The structure of the horn material creates an abstract visual through the item as the colour tones transition from light to dark. Abstract and ambiguity have also been inherent to my practice, which sounds contradictory when I previously mentioned clarity of communication is significantly important to good design, however the combination of entwining the messages through expressive and allusive ways is a challenge I strive to succeed. Thirdly the object I have chosen to represent myself is a finished item. Within my work I encourage myself to produce work that is finished. This does not mean that my work cannot be pushed in more direction but it means that I value the prominence of the end and it is important to complete work so the circle is whole.

In the Future Retrospective Exhibition where my object would be exhibited alongside my peer designers, I would choose to exhibit my whole hanging from the ceiling by its leather threads connected to a clear piece of fishing wire. This would fall at my eye level, about 180cm above the ground. I would choose to present my work in such a way because I would like the audience to have an understanding of how I see the world, throw my eyes. Everybody sees the world in a different way and for me as a visual and tangible person I think this way would of exhibiting my found object would demonstrate to the audience this message.