Today marks the first day of Art Everywhere 2014, a ‘national outdoor art exhibition that aims to flood the streets with great British art’ (Source: Art Everywhere website). A not-for-profit collaboration between the UK ‘out of home’ advertising industry, the Art Fund, Tate, Facebook and others, Art Everywhere describes itself as ‘A Very Very Big Art Show’.
The project is ‘Big’ on many fronts. Over the next six weeks it will present giant (and smaller scale) reproductions of 25 paintings by British artists on 30,000 public billboard and poster advertising sites across the UK. In doing so the project claims to be able to reach an audience amounting to 90% of the UK population. The project is crowd curated: the final selection of the 25 images was decided through a Facebook poll that received 38,000 votes. It is also partially crowd funded, with supporters gaining various levels of reward for their cash donations. And it’s social too – making full use of Twitter and Instagram to promote to and engage with audiences.
In its ‘bringing art out of the gallery, onto the streets, and to the people’ ethos Art Everywhere would seem to offer a glossy and sophisticated media version of public art. But like much public art it’s not without some controversy. While some contemporary artists have been keen supporters (Antony Gormley and Grayson Perry jointly launched the 2014 project last week and the artist Bob and Roberta Smith offered similar endorsement to the 2013 edition) others have been more critical. In an A-N debate on the project last year some artists questioned whether Art Everywhere could in any way constitute ‘good public art’. While some A-N contributors argued that any new opportunity for the public to engage with visual artworks must be regarded as positive (and certainly better than gazing at just another car advert) others criticised the project for being ‘safe’, ‘gimmicky’, and ‘patronising’. In focusing on the reproduction of existing and often well-known artworks it was regarded by many of these artists as a missed opportunity to commission new and context specific work. And of course, as A-N’s Susan Jones reminded readers, using billboards and public media as a site for artists’ works is hardly a new phenomenon. Similarly as another contributor to the A-N discussion suggested, conventional permanently sited public art collections, such as the ‘220 Public Artworks’ to be encountered in Milton Keynes might also be happily tagged as #arteverywhere
I wonder whether there be much debate on the Art Everywhere project this year, and if so where will this go?
NOTE: this year Art Everywhere is even bigger – it now has a US version too.
Last week my PhD time was focused primarily on the opportunities, issues and complexities of what might be broadly termed ‘visual research’.
In the first part of the week I took part in the NEDTC’s ‘Developing Theory and Practice in Visual Methodology’ training, then followed this up by attending the Newcastle University Visualities Research Group’s ‘Visual In-Sights’ Conference at Newcastle’s Culture Lab. Together these two events offered a overview of different approaches to ‘the visual’ and useful prompts for thinking about my own research – both in terms of its visual subject (public art objects), its methodology and its dissemination.
The NEDTC training offered practical opportunities to explore a spectrum of methods, tools and analytical approaches. These included hands-on group work with creative 3D modelling, visual context mapping, and found image analysis (probably the most applicable to my own research) The second day (which I wasn’t able to attend) went on to a more detailed exploration of different photo analysis protocols and tools for participant-generated data. Throughout the emphasis was on the potential of visual methods as alternatives to more standard quantitative or qualitative tools such as interviews, questionnaires, or observation. The message being that visual methods offer: a) an attractive route for participant engagement; b) a means of generating rich data; and c) an opportunity to open up more creative thinking, for both academic researchers and research participants.
These issues were explored and discussed in more detail, and in relation to a range of disciplines and research project examples, in the conference presentations and panels in the second half of the week. Here, visual research ethics, the changing status of the photograph and the social/communicative nature of visual images were recurring themes. Methods and approaches went beyond the found, elicited and participatory to showcase more emerging visual research practices including: digital/multimedia storytelling; research process storyboarding; actor-network visualisation; use of visual/graphic probes; and social media analysis. Of most immediate interest to me (in my own current investigation of public art representation on photo-sharing sites) were the three presentations in the ‘Visualities and Social Media’ panel by current PhD candidates Caelli Jo Brooker, Rhys Crilley, and Elisa Serafinelli. These investigated institutional and individual image based social media activity, variously on Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram. Together this group of presentations led to an interesting discussion on visual social media analysis techniques, ethical concerns, and potentials for qualitative investigation as oppose to current enthusiasm for ‘big-data’ oriented social media research.
Altogether it was a thoroughly stimulating week at the methodological interstices of the ‘visual turn’.