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Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Art or entertainment and the joy of queueing for it!

Still slightly hungover from the festivities of Christmas and New Year, my friends and I found ourselves late at Tate last weekend in search of something more 'wholesome'! We were there to catch the Cildo Meireles exhibition before it closed.

Meireles' work is grounded in the social and political history of Brazil, he was part of the Neo-Concretism movement, which emerged during the late 1950s, taking inspiration from Merleau-Ponty's philosophies about art and life, it embraced embodiment and participation in art, opposing the 'extreme rationalism of the geometric abstraction' of the time. The exhibition was made up of some objects and a series of immersive installations, that stimulated the emotions before knowing much at all about the work. We (and the many other visitors) trampled over broken glass in 'Through' whilst weaving around barriers made up of various familiar objects such as shower curtains, fencing and fishing nets. Parents and their children played with rubber balls of varying weights, rolling them across the floor like a game of bowls in 'Eureka/Blindhotland' in an area masked off with red netting. I became tangled up and felt a little bit 'crazy' when I wound my way through the 6,000 rulers, 1,000 ticking clocks and 500,000 vinyl numbers that hung in the small room that was 'Fontes', it really did feel quite psychotic in there! From the tick-tock madness to a cosmic tower of 800 radios of varying ages stacked up high and all tuned into different channels, another manic experience. More children, this time in a tranquil 'magical' space, were sat round a rectangle filled with 600,000 coins, mesmerized by the treasure before them, above the ceiling was made up of 2,000 bones. The piece was called 'Mission/Missions (How to build cathedrals)' and is a comment on 'the human cost of missionary work and its connection with the exploitation of wealth in the colonies...' there was also a symbolic column of 800 communion wafers joining the bones and coins.

Finally the ultimate in 'duration' pieces - the queue to 'Volatile', a good hours wait, in which we and the hoards of fellow 'culture vultures' all politely stood in line so that we could have some kind of 'enlightening' experience that night! I have to admit, it was actually quite spiritual, once inside the talcum powder filled room. We chose to go barefoot rather than don the wellies and dust-masks that were on offer, the fact that only 4 people were allowed in at a time did make it a more powerful experience, detached from the rabble of other gallery-goers. Once the door shut behind us, we were immersed in the powder, that became kind of squidgy beneath our feet, it was dark and misty in there, a candle light glowering around the corner, it felt like we were somewhere else dreamlike, like Narnia. Although brief in comparison to the waiting time to get in there, the experience was intense and memorable and I hesitate to say this but i think it was worth the wait! However, we did miss 'Red Shift', a domestic environment where everything is red, due to the fact that we had lost the will as far as getting into another queue was concerned!

Queueing up to see art in big institutions is something that I have come to expect when visiting on a weekend, that and viewing it through gaps in the crowds of people that swarm to these 'blockbuster' shows. Why did art have to become so popular?! Of course it's a good thing that more people want to see art, but it has changed the way we experience it, sometimes making it feel more like a trip to the zoo or an amusement arcade! Does it matter how well if at all the audience understands the work, if they are having an enjoyable time? The children rolling the rubber balls for example were fully involved with the installation but it was more like a playground to them than something to contemplate... Participatory art like this has been criticized for being mere entertainment or a cheap trick to pull in the punters, one thinks of Holler's slides that dominated the Turbine hall in 2006/7. Personally I enjoy this type of artwork and find that the more I am allowed to interact with the art, the longer I will spend with it mulling over the ideas and making connections...

As art becomes more mainstream, the lines between art and entertainment are becoming more blurred, is this a problem or is it par for the course in a society that demands to be instantly stimulated by what it consumes in this 'fast-food-techno' age?!

And what with the broken glass, crowds of people and general hubbub, our evening of culture wasn't that dissimilar to a night down the pub!


Riaz said...

MMMM, very interesting Meireles'seems to be quite a unique artist from what i read on this blog. Using the likes of glass, shower curtains and fishing nets as a physical barriers in his work is definatly inspirirng. He seems to very experimental and qunique artist and definatly somebody id like to keep future tabs on.

A great Blog Holly !!!! :)very interesting, it really helped me imagine what it would be like to be at this exhibition :D

Anonymous said...

I love your comment about the queue being the durational piece.

I don't know if i would call this kind of work Participatory art, maybe more interactive art?

Joanne said...

It did feel interactive, yes, not participatory. Although I do think that all art is interactive really, in engaging the mind, emotion etc... Distinctions are not what matter though here,

I think a lot of Mierles' work did look really amazing. And I could see the thought process behind alot of it, the Cathedral piece was really clear, the Radio Tower.

The queue for the floured room was like another durational piece! Waiting in line did create anticipation though which was exciting. It felt quite medieval, quiet. It was meant to play on the side of fear, but I didn't fell scared, but rather at piece. Perhaps the dark and unknown was the fear and the light and flour comforting?