Last year I decided to volunteer for the Biennial. I had an enjoyable time making friends, gaining a greater understanding of contemporary art and with the help of another Art in Liverpool writer, Shelagh Cullity, started an Art Club, which discusses art in a similar way to a book club.
I quickly became aware that many of the volunteers were talented artists who decided to be involved in order to gain experience to help further their careers. Plus the hardest working people seemed to me to be the interns, who worked full time hours and only claimed expenses.
Some of them got together to form a collective called ‘Not Just’. They had their first show in the Domino Gallery in January. I wrote about the launch for this website plus held an Art Club in the gallery and discussed the show with many of the artists present.
From that point I became more involved with the collective and attended their meetings. So one day I was sitting with them as they were discussing their next show, Recurring, to be launched on Light Night. They went round asking who was going to submit work. It came to my turn and I simply said “I don’t do art but I’m happy to support what you are doing”. I noticed, however, a warm expectation from all their faces, which made me feel they really wanted me to produce something.
Afterwards I thought: if I was to make an artwork what would I do? I remembered I participate in a dance therapy practice called 5 Rhythms Dancing developed by Gabrielle Roth (http://www.gabrielleroth.com/). I had recently been on a series of weekend workshops where we looked at each rhythm in depth. Part of the set up of the room was to have an altar that reflected the ideas and theme of the rhythm being studied. A group of 3 people collaborated on setting one up. The one I was involved in producing was on the rhythm of chaos. The rhythm is to do with release and had the additional element of water. My idea was to have a candle (which is a required element of the altar) plunging into a pool of water which would release ripples. This was done by using coins from my loose change jar. First I put down a layer of copper coins representing water on top of which I placed increasing in size circles of silver 5p coins which were the ripples. This proved effective and was admired by the teacher and fellow dancers.
The members of the Not Just collective responded positively to my idea so I set out to create it for the exhibition. They liked the fact I was using a candle, as for them it represented hope. I found the coins in my loose change jar. These have been mainly been found on the streets or the floor of my 20 year old son’s bedroom floor. I liked the idea I was using found objects. Also I remembered that when I was organising library events I would often find, leading up to the event, pennies on the floor, which I always picked up and would regard as good luck tokens – and invariably the event would be well attended and successful. I thought it would be interesting to find out what the value of the coins were before using them and set about counting the coins. I amused myself thinking this aspect was now part of the work’s artistic practice. The value of the 5ps exceeded the value of the copper thereby adding to the argument of the piece that the rewards of volunteering was worth more than the lack of money earned.
The show was launched on Light Night in the Blade Factory at Camp and Furnace. I was one of twelve artists presenting their work. The show was curated by two of the artists, Sufea Mohamad Noor and Steven Hyland. This was an interesting experience for me as I was hoping the art work would be placed in a corner as the coins were loosely placed on a table so I thought the two sides of the corner would protect the piece and maybe give it a feeling of being a shrine. However, the curators thought differently and decided to place it centrally in the room. Although I was disappointed to be over-ruled I did find that the installation worked better there. It related to the other art and it added interest to the room, as all the other works were placed on the walls.
It was an exciting night as we had around 200 people visit the exhibition including Roger Phillips, a presenter on Radio Merseyside, who was interested in how all the artists had been volunteers in the Biennial. I was also delighted that Sally Tallant, the artistic director and chief executive officer of the Biennial, came in and agreed to be the first person to light the candle. In many ways this was fitting as Sally, along with most people in the art world, has done her share of volunteering for exhibitions. Additionally in many ways she represents the dream many of the artists are aspiring towards. She also made a short speech to open the exhibition and said she was delighted the volunteers had kept together in this way and she was interested in continuing to help and support us.
I was delighted that comments were written about it in the comments book including this one. “Your money for art is very good. The candle adds depth to the argument. The fact that you have left it loose is also important – disconcerting and brilliant.”
I was also able to show the manager of the current photographic festival, LOOK 13, Harjeet Kaur, around. She liked the dedication as she has had 4 interns working with her and without them the festival would not happen. All they receive are their travel expenses. This was due to the small budgets she had to work with.
Although the work clearly was successful in the interest it was receiving I was interested to know if it was a work of art. I had never created anything like this before although I had learnt a lot being part of the Art Club I had set up. We had discussed Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ in the previous art club where the ideas behind the work were far more important than any craft on behalf of the artist. So it could be viewed as conceptual art. However, I felt this was not enough to explain the interest. I realised that one of the main reasons for this, was that it was working well with the other pieces.
I wondered if there was such a thing as contextual art and found via Google there was a Polish artist, called Jan Świdziński, who used this word in relation to his own work. He had an interesting quote which I liked and thought related directly to my art installation:
“For the act of drinking a glass of water to become art, it has to be performed in the right place, at the right time, and in the right company.”
Clearly the place was right for my piece as it was in an art exhibition called Recurring, in the right time as it was launched on Light Night and the right company as it was amongst work by artists who all had volunteered in order to help their own dreams of making it in the art world come true.
It is highly unlikely I will do another art work like this, however, I have learnt a lot from it. This includes a greater understanding of the importance of the title, an appreciation of the role of the curator and a gratitude to the many aspiring artists who work really hard for very little or no money to enable art festivals, galleries and websites, like Art in Liverpool, to exist in my city.
I welcome any comments about the work.
Originally published on Art in Liverpool