(2009) Phoenix, Exeter, UK
Work for this exhibition has been developed from practical research for a PhD being undertaken at Dartington College of Arts.
Research is motivated by a concern for how visual arts practice is constrained by normative conceptions of human physical bodies – conceptions that are integral to the ways in which art is made, discussed, understood and assumed to be experienced.
Documentation of site-related work of the late 1960s and early ’70s suggests that there has been little, if any acknowledgement of how normative values assigned to bodies have impacted on the creative practices of artists across the spectrum of physical body types.
One of the key characteristics that link the works referenced in this exhibition is a desire to heighten a viewers awareness of how objects are positioned in a space, and our bodily response to them, based in a phenomenological or experiential understanding of the site, defined as the actual physical attributes of a particular location. (The size, scale, texture, and dimension of walls, ceilings, rooms; existing lighting conditions, topographical and geographical features, traffic patterns, seasonal characteristics of climate, architecture etc) Often spectator participation is integral and without it the work is not considered complete.
The making of the pieces for exhibition will intervene in, and question certain narratives of art associated with the development of site-based work, to explore underlying assumptions about the relationship between physical bodies, art and meaning.
Visitors to the Phoenix will be invited to collaborate in the work. Using as a starting point elements and concepts from for example Patrick Irelands Rope Drawings, Fred Sandbacks Untitled works using acrylic yarn and Mel Bochners Measurement: Room, tape and Letraset on wall.
‘… less a thing-in –itself. More of a diffuse interface between myself, my environment, and others peopling that environment, built on thin lines that left enough room to move through and around. Still sculpture, though less dense, with an ambivalence between exterior and interior. A drawing that is habitable’ – ‘Untitled’ Fred Sandback. Vaduz: Kuntsmuseum Liechtenstein, 2005.
These works incoorporate an economy of means and materials that apeal to me. It means I am able to manipulate these materials to construct large scale work while using a wheelchair as well being able to respond relitavely quickly to visitors contributions to the piece and make transparent constuction methods.
In addition to the linking characteristics of works mentioned earlier is their normative concept of human scale. Works are often reported or directed to be installed at eye-level and their dimensions made in response to and compared with human scale. A ‘One size fits all’ approach not applicable to individuals.
Who’s human scale? Who’s eye-level? Visitors to the Phoenix are diverse with a wide range of physicalities and sight lines, including children, wheelchair users and adults. How would a range of individuals fields of vision, and humanscale impact on the construction of one of these works, and what would it reveal about how we as individuals negotiate space and percieve our environment?
For example Irelands Rope Drawings involve the establishment of sight lines by providing a fixed point on which the viewer can stand. From this vantage point, his works, which at times involve painted walls as well as rope, allow the viewer to line up the elements to create a sense of perspective. In His work Entrance to the Garden of Earthly delights from a dot on the floor in the centre of the space, the viewer could slowly rotate, looking at all four sides of the space, and visually align the taught strings with the abstract architectural forms on the walls. Suddenly the web of ropes falls into place. The viewer is still free to move around the space, but the logic is only accessible from one point. How would that ‘logic’ and freedom of movement change if more than one generic measurement of sight lines and physical language of movement were taken into account?