Will Kwan, ‘Apparatus #9’, Folkestone Triennial 2014
A week ago I was down in Folkestone to catch the last weekend of the Folkestone Triennial 2014.
This was the third edition of the Folkestone Triennial. While it’s primarily promoted as a temporary public realm programme within a sculpture festival type framework this triennial is an interesting case study for my own research as it sites new temporary commissions alongside legacy works from previous Triennial years. Presenting this work under the banner of Folkestone Artworks it’s a rare UK example of public art engagement with the concept of ‘collection’. So far the Folkestone collection numbers sixteen permanent artworks maintained for the town from the two previous Triennial events (2008, 2011). Up to eight works are likely to be added to the collection from this year’s edition. I wonder which works will be chosen to stay in the town and on what basis this selection will be made? Practicalities, like material robustness and site ownership and probably contractual and planning issues too are likely to play a major part in this. How might this be balanced with the popularity of certain works with Triennial visitors and local audiences? (Gabriel Lester’s The Electrified Line and Jyll Bradley’s Green/Light in particular seemed to be attracting lots of attention while I was there.) It was too early really to explore these issues on this visit but these are questions that I’d like to return to again early next year, hopefully in conversation with the curators at Folkestone Artworks/The Creative Foundation.
Gabriel Lester, ‘The Electrified Line’, Folkestone Triennial 2014
Jyll Bradley, ‘Green/Light (for M.R.), Folkestone Triennial 2014
My second reason for going to Folkestone was to attend ‘The Sculpture Question’, a conference organised by the Creative Foundation and the University for the Creative Arts, Canterbury. Although part of the Triennial programme ‘The Sculpture Question’ conference had a rather wider remit, seeking to explore the future of sculpture in its expanding ‘expanded field’. The conference set itself two key questions: The first was concerned with the teaching of sculpture within a ‘trans-disciplinary’ framework, where it is increasingly positioned in relation to installation, architecture and performance; The second with the broader issue of the agency of sculpture within the institutionalised and formal public realm. The conference set out to address these questions in three sessions, labelled broadly as: Terms; Frameworks; and Encounters. For me it was this third grouping which was the major attraction and interest. The conference programme promised a stimulating debate that linked with my own current investigations into public art audiencing and interpretation:
In the final part of the conference, we look at the experience of sculpture. How does the public confront works in the public realm? And what is the value of signposting ‘art’, or allowing for unexpected encounters? How much contextual information should one offer to the viewer and how might sculpture be seen as a starting point, or a reference, for a multi- layered response by a viewer – one that takes into account the frameworks discussed above, as well as personal experience?
The speakers for this session, of whom the keynote was the French curator and art theorist Nicolas Bourriaud, addressed these issues in sometimes oblique and sometimes direct ways in their presentations. Here are some of my edited notes that highlight, for me some of the more interesting and pertinent points made during the session and in the follow-on panel discussion:
- Sculpture is defined in terms of temporal and spatial ‘contingency’ and ‘social gathering’ as oppose to the distance and ‘flatness’ of the image.
- It’s important to recognize that sculptures sited in the public realm can be both an ‘attraction and a repellant’.
- Sculptures/artworks need to be active ‘generators’ i.e. producers of ‘something else’. It’s important to keep the story of the artwork ‘spinning’.
- Public space and public activity is now more ‘atomised’ and ‘polarised’ – this means we can no longer talk of ‘a public’. Instead we need to think in terms of a ‘fragmented multitude’.
- What do we do when sculptures/artworks fail? i.e. when they fail to ‘gather’ in this sense, when they remain ‘flat’.
- Shifting from the visual to the linguistic and back again: ‘The Art World is in denial about how much text it uses.’
- Public realm sculpture = something you ‘bump into’ either as a ‘surprise’ or as an object ‘that gets in the way’. May be a ‘distracting’ or ‘disturbing’ thing’, friendly or unfriendly, but also a ‘non-thing’ for some people.
- What do people do with things that they don’t want to see?
- Objects look back at us: they are ‘doing something to you’ or ‘demanding something of you’.
The Sculpture Question: Anouchka Grose
NOTE: Although developed over a much shorter timescale Folkestone Artworks approach is similar to the model pioneered by Sculpture Projects Münster in Germany. The fifth edition of Sculpture Projects Münster is due to take place in 2017.
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’.
As I’m sure any subscribers will have noticed, an update to this PhD blog is well overdue. So if I haven’t been blogging, what have I been up to since my last post – ‘Spring Cleaning with DEVONthink’ – back in April?
Well, two things have kept me busy. Firstly the ‘Hidden Collections’ project, which entered an intensive proposal development phase in April-May. Our project proposal, the ‘Basic Design Summer School 2013’ has now been formally submitted to Tate and is awaiting further feedback from the Tate Research team. An update on the project, an outline of our Image Group proposal and my reflections on learning achieved so far provided the topic for my presentation to the recent ICCHS Postgraduate Research Conference (29 May):
Abstract: How can digital media be used to stimulate public engagement with archival material held by galleries, museums and other cultural institutions? This is the question posed by Hidden Collections, an AHRC funded collaborative research project running from October last year to July 2013. As a member of the Image Group, one of five interdisciplinary research teams involved in Hidden Collections, I worked with our project partner Tate to develop a social media strategy for a new temporary exhibition called ‘Basic Design’, which is on display at Tate Britain until 25 September. Developed by Tate Research the exhibition explores an influential period in British art school education during the late 1950s – early 60s. It draws on collections and archive material held by Tate and the National Art Education Archive. This presentation introduces our brief for the Basic Design project and outlines our project plan and activity to date. I conclude the presentation by reflecting on my own learning from the project, drawing out areas of investigation relevant to my PhD research into the Newcastle-Gateshead ‘public art collection’.
More recently, and to some extent influenced by my involvement in the ‘Basic Design’ Hidden Collections project, I’ve been working on a pilot project developed in association with Gateshead Council’s ‘Angel15’ programme. This is a series of events set up by the council’s public art team to celebrate the 15th ‘birthday’ of The Angel of the North (Antony Gormley, 1998) delivered as part of the region-wide Festival of the North East (June 2013).
While including a special on-site ‘birthday’ event at The Angel (which took place on 16 July), the programme also highlights lesser-known public works within Gateshead. Compared to the bigger and better funded 10th birthday celebrations this is a fairly low-key series of activities, including walks, curator and artist talks, live music and hands-on art workshops designed for a family and general interest audience. As such ‘Angel15’ goes beyond what Gateshead Council normally provides in terms of public art engagement and interpretation activity.
In terms of my PhD research the programme provides a useful opportunity for me to observe public art interpretation and audience engagement in action in Gateshead and offers a platform for me to experiment with social media – in this case Twitter – as a potential interpretative tool for a public art ‘collection’. To this end I have set up a new Twitter account @PublicArtNG (new Followers welcome!) which I am using to post daily tweets about public artworks in Newcastle Gateshead, linking these in with the interpretive themes and activities promoted by the council’s public art team. This project, linked through the hashtag ‘#Angel15’, is on-going through June-July. I’ll be posting a further update on this here early next month.
This is a slideshow version of a presentation I gave last week at the ICCHS Postgraduate Research Conference and at the Newcastle University Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences 1st Year RPG Conference (10 May 2012). I’m including it here as a useful (and visual) summary of my now redrafted research question and project aims and as an indication of some of my proposed data collection methods. These will inevitably be expanded upon, tested and refined further over the next few months as I enter the first stages of formal literature review(s) and data gathering.
Abstract: Over the last thirty years NewcastleGateshead has established an international reputation for public art commissioning. While ambitious claims continue to be made about the societal and environmental impact of public art, particularly in terms of regeneration and placemaking agendas, what we might call the ‘aesthetic encounter’ between audiences and public artworks is often missing from the discussion. As Harriet Senie noted in her work in New York City the audience for public art remains largely “an imaginary construct”. Using NewcastleGateshead as a case study my research project aims to go some way to fill this gap, taking a primarily qualitative approach to investigate audience engagement with contemporary public art in the city, both with individual artworks and through the conceptual and interpretational framework of the wider public art ‘collection’. This presentation will outline some of the key questions that I aim to address through this project and introduce a discussion on the mix of appropriate investigative methods that might be employed within the research.
Yesterday I attended a seminar hosted by Culture Lab on the role of technology in participation and engagement in the arts, organised by the Participation and Engagement in the Arts Knowledge Exchange Network, coordinated by Leila Jancovich and Franco Bianchini from Leeds Metropolitan University. The event featured informative presentations from Sarah Cook (Crumb), Rachel Clarke (Culture Lab), Georgina Chatfield (RSA Arts and Society) and Newcastle based community design company Roots and Wings, followed by two discussion groups on artists’ digital practice and on digital engagement strategies (the one I joined).
While these may not necessarily be particularly new ideas (in the digital media or museum/gallery worlds) here are some brief notes, questions and points of interest that I took away from the event:
- how do digital and especially social media problematise / rethink the role of the ‘curator’?
- what does it mean to ‘like’ or ‘share’ content – is this a basic act of curation? does this make everyone a curator in the Web 2.0 world?
- curator as one who ‘edits, filters, aggregates’ (Sarah Cook)
- defining and describing (online) audiences, as ‘Lurkers’, ‘Judges’, ‘Contributors’, etc? (ref: Nina Simon, curator and author of the Museum 0.2 blog and The Participatory Museum)
- the role of digital media in mediating and extending the audience / viewer ‘experience’ – the increasingly ‘long tail’ of the artwork, from the ‘live’ encounter, through to ‘image’ and ‘information’ distribution – does this expand or dilute the ‘impact’ of an artwork (issue raised in discussion group by Chris Bailey)
- relationship (?) between participation and engagement in the arts and participation in civic life (in discussion of RSA Citizen Power Peterborough project)
- growing use Twitter as a promotional/participatory activity (and possiblities as a research tool?)
- popularity of mobile phone photography as a participatory or engagement medium
- opportunities offered by ‘hyper-local’ activity e.g. home tourists, staycations (post-tourism), participatory mapping and social-locational apps like Foursquare (all mentioned by Bianchini in his summing up of the Knowledge Exchange discussion programme)
Thinking from this and from previous KEN seminars are to drawn together in the Engagement in the Arts conference at Yorkshire Sculpture Park on 26 June 2012, which I am planning to attend.