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Lessons in white space

Beyond the walls

‘Double Blind: Please Enter’ by Christiane Lieungh. Photography by Kristoffer Øen.

A goose and a locked door. This is art beyond the walls.

Imagine if you will, walking into an art gallery. There’s a hushed silence as you meander from room to room. Stopping by each piece. Giving your time. Absorbing messages, beauty, meaning.

You may lend your imagination to the artist, climb inside their intentions – try to uncover what lead them to this place, to create what lies in front of you. Or, you could just be wondering where the toilets are.

If the pieces move you, you might take them beyond the walls. Mull them over in your head as you fall asleep. Dip back into them when you least expect it. Surprise yourself on University Challenge.

Or quite possibly, you may never think about anything you’ve seen ever again. And the art remains as it was, confined within the walls.

So why’s this important?

Whether it’s feeling like a criminal if you get out your iPhone, trying to look like you understand what’s going on, or definitely not blushing when confronted by an extremely phallic sculpture, our interaction in the gallery space is an act so laden with rules of how we think we should behave,  that artists have been disrupting the notion for years.

Getting us to think about our journey, using our own emotions as a piece in itself and putting the very space – a strange pulsing vacuum that’s in equal measures accessible and intimidating – under scrutiny. Questioning our interaction with space is all part of the art act.

And that’s where this Feed fits in.This is part of Bergen-based artist Stacy Brafield’s experiment to bring art beyond the walls of the gallery.

Brafield’s work grazes the white space, but is never really confined by it. Her work is all about asking whether the austere walls and muted sounds inhibit or add to the experience of appreciating what’s on display. Whether the space adds to our connection to art, or how social awkwardness stops us from bringing our whole selves to it.

And it all starts with a barnacle goose. It goes like this…

Whenever Brafield spies a barnacle goose flapping along in the Bergen sky, she walks up to the next person she sees in the street. It could be a student on the way to class, an elderly person doing their morning newspaper run, or perhaps someone who’s never shown the slightest inkling to go and see art in a gallery.

She then takes out a sheet of paper and repeats the same words aloud to them:

“There is an exhibition on at Bergen Kunsthall. I am inviting you to go. When you arrive, you should say, “I’ve been told to come here”.”

The chosen few might then bite the bullet and visit the gallery.

When they arrive, they’d find the door to the gallery locked shut by Brafield. The gallery assistant would then beckon them around to use the side door.

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They then walk up to the reception.

This is where the gallery staff would wait to hear the words “I’ve been told to come here.”

When the gallery staff hear it, they walk around to the other side of the desk, breaking down the conventional barriers between gallery assistant and visitor.

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There’s no physical embodiment of Stacy’s work. You won’t find a small cardboard placard with her name and a description of what the heck is going on.

The piece floats in the air. And unless she’s run up to you in person after seeing a barnacle goose… Unless you’ve heard about it by someone who has… Unless you’ve heard about it well, here…  You wouldn’t know it existed. But, now you do.

The only way her work can live on, is in the words of others. Passed from one person to the next.

This calls into question how we can all interact with art, and how it comes into being through our eyes and our imagination.

This disruption of gallery space is currently being played out as we speak, in Marina Abromivic’s work ‘512 hours’ (the same artist who made lots of people cry simply by staring at them), at the Serpentine.

Marina Abramovic

 

Coats, iPhones, watches are all left at the door. The gallery space is empty, with nothing on the walls, and no point of focus.

“You just arrive in the gallery, are you not surprised there is absolutely nothing here?” Marina says, “There is no work. This gallery has never been that empty.”

Empty all be it for the artist herself, her assistants and the public – who make up her performing body. Where, you guessed it, 512 hours will be spent dragging each and every gallery goer –whether willing or not – into the art form.

People are whispered to. They walk hand-in-hand. Some of them are given mirrors. Some walk backwards. People huddle close together on a raised platform, while others lie on the floor with their eyes closed. “Close your eyes,” she’s been heard to whisper, “Listen to the silence. Be in the present. Nothing matters.”

Apparently, I’m told, it’s an overwhelming and uncomfortable experience at first. But once you’ve embraced the movements, the silence and your part in it, it’s really powerful. You can choose to either use the atmosphere to ponder in your own thoughts, or you can choose to people watch. It’s like public transport, but instead of people rushing about, everyone’s moving at a glacial pace. And really thinking about how they’re interacting with the space.

While it may seem esoteric, alien even, it’s really quite a simple idea that calls for us to look at the bigger picture of how art should be accessible and available to us all. Because without us to experience it, to revel in it, to admire it, to weep, laugh or even detest, it’s really nothing at all.

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