Like Susan, I like to start with a nature story which inspired my thoughts.
As I was running through a field onto a narrow path last week, I saw a small mouse laying on her side, in the process of dying (I called her a “she”, as in French, mouse is feminine). I stopped to watch her for a while, hesitant to interfere and give her a fatal helping hand. Two bugs were crawling around her awaiting for their feed. I was struck by her determination to make them wait as she turned around on herself and stood on her feet, still unable to move further. I was intimidated by her resilience or maybe simply unable to carry out a death sentence; I chose not to interfere. It is her turning around and facing me which made me carry on running and leave nature do its course. Her image stayed with me; like a small mirror lost in the grass.
In my mind,I went back, thinking of all possible actions I could have taken;the openness of multiple choices with no certainty but its fatal outcome for the mouse – Only possible difference was the process, easing or increasing suffering of one( by which of my potential action?) , feeding new lives, making new sense for me and for others.
I thought of the ‘body in the car’, in Susan Francis’ story.
I thought of nature as a whole, not always lovely. Its process justified by what ‘needs to be’ and not by ‘what we, humans, may or may not feel’.
I thought of “An Inspector Calls” concluding line in J.B Priestley’s classic;“We are not alone in this world. We are one body. We are all responsible for each other.”
On starting the laboratory of dissent, I was mostly interested to explore the question of responsibility, of citizenship and of audience focus within art practice.
Who are we making art for?
What is the true value of what we do?
What is it that we do, exactly?
I looked into my past work and pulled out some materials that would help the enquiry; 800m of knotted red ribbon, a ball of hand spun, hand dyed, red wool, black cards and white pens, words and questions.
Week 2 group, which I was part of, had decided to act as agitators for the full duration of the project in order to provoke/create/invite connections to be made with the full spectrum of artists and art practices engaged (including the visitors, students, Uni staff…).
My intervention started on week 1, when invading the space of the gallery allocated to group 1 with a pop up tent and a ‘chock question’; ‘What can art do for the migrants drowning at sea?’ The ‘Agitation’ aimed to stimulate reflection on the social impact of Art, and on social activism as an Art form inside and outside the gallery.
As the occupation of the gallery with the tent continued, other underlying questions surfaced; I placed myself within the tent, reading Gaston Bachelard’s
“ Poetics of Space”(the very book I was ‘accused’ not to have read by a WSA tutor while applying for an MA place, 10 years ago. I was then refused entry to the course). It is no wonder that I entered the exhibition space of the Winchester Gallery, adjacent to WSA, showing a will to fit in the academic frame but under my own terms.
A further layer of enquiry came to me when acting in the space and discovering that I had created a ‘poetic private space’ within the public space of the gallery; a ‘safe’ haven to hide in, if necessary, during the collaboration.
The inside of the tent became a parallel imaginary world within which I could plot, listen to others, hide and change character. By week 2, the tent had become a changing room for a set of experimental characters to emerge from.
The tent intended to make us all reflect on our own practice, brought in as a performance, I left it in the space as an installation to invite interaction. Unexpected interaction happened while I was away in Paris. Lydia Heath invaded the space, and slipped into my costume; the notion of public and private space was again challenged. The threat of being disowned of my work by others triggered a new enquiry; a pure mirror of my own previous invasive act.
Simon Sheikh qualifies art as “a locus of possibilities, of exchange and comparative analysis…a field of alternatives, proposals and models” in his essay “ Pedagogy of the not known”. (mentioned by Elizabeth Fisher in her book On Not knowing How Artists Think, p.12)
from the ‘Ship of Fools’
On entering the space left by group 1, I discovered Isaac Withcoombes words; “Port, Starboard, Bow… analogy to his reference of us as embarking on the “Ship of Fools”, on a voyage of discovery motivated by the “not-Knowing” as referred by Elizabeth Fisher in her introduction of her book
Art draws us into a space of not knowing, a space of thinking in the widest possible sense, in which to test what it means to be in the world”.
I embarked on the ship only knowing that social engagement was an intrinsect part of my work, but willing to test and re-learn my own practice. I used the microcosm of our group to observe and test the effects one’s practice and actions can have on the OTHER, offering to echo the observation onto the current migrants crisis as an evident model of a wider conflict.(which I felt very increasingly affected by over the past 6 months, to the point of questioning the validity of my art practice)
The ship of fools followed the tent in an organic way. The red knot I hung in the space on day one was brought in as an invitation for the impossible task of untying the knots of complex relationships developing in the gallery space and within CAS. When looking at it in the space it became something else, something bigger and wider than the sum of the small possible conflicts that may arise within the limited space and the group.
I was also interested to use another artist’s words as a way to create a conversation between two practices; the words were offered in the space, I invited them in my work to create new meanings. (No reaction as yet come from Isaac who did not claim ownership over the words or the statement.)
I am interested to open the question of artistic ownership and integrity within collaborative practice to be discussed at the symposium.
I did not mark the work as my own either when presented in the gallery or the blog.
The Hunger Strike;
On facing “Dissent” as a way of working, I was eager to act in ways that I was not expected to act. Exploring acts of social activism in the world, I decided to start a hunger strike on day one of my week at the gallery, asking artists the impossible task to Define (and not question) the ‘True Value of Art’.
This extreme act aimed to force artists into shared self reflection and for me to measure their will to engage with the rest of the group.
As an artist experimenting with the language of performance, this allowed me to explore the edges between truth, and make-believe, the level of trust needed to be created between the artist and the audience and the limits between the private and the public body.
As the project developed, characters emerged from the tent, into the space, in turns the French, the artist and the mother, sometimes dissenting all at once in the space or online.
We used the gallery as a studio where the work evolved organically over the week. The conversations we had everyday became part of the work. The all week became a performance which we all ‘acted’ in our personalised ‘Lab Coats’, as we opened the process to the audience. Each visitor had an input mostly in the shape of a conversation, transforming our thinking and opening new enquiries.
The relationship with all artists involved and with August as a curator became a series of problems or questions raised and solved rather than ‘conflicts’. We domesticated them, discussing and negotiating every possibilities and acknowledging them as part of the artistic process.
While the conversations we had in the space during the week brought us and our work closer, as Mothers, as Artists and as Foreigners, a great sense of play grew. I had previously compared the CAS group as an 18 pieces orchestra needing to tune our instruments to each other’s. I invited my fellow week 2 artists to unveil their hidden musical instruments, part of an unaccomplished dream or simply part of our motherhood process (children learning to play)
In our final performance, we related to each other creating ‘musical’ vibrations in the gallery space, offering a link between the various works presented in the gallery. The sound of arising conflicts, some discussed, some felt and experienced during the week.
Our ‘Finale’, the lunch with no food, invited artists from CAS to join our enquiries while empathising with people suffering from hunger and deprivation in wider conflicts.
Artists were fed a grain of rice asking to feed them, dust collected from their own home by artist Yonat Nitzan Green and questions shaped during the week by the group.
The lunch ended with home made cakes, to regain friendship and trust; playing once more with another instrument of manipulation and control so inherent to motherhood.
A further peaceful cryptic agitation;
The Dissenters’ Challenge;
“Are we tough enough”? ,asked the Dissenter Character in her work dungarees, wearing her race number 20001(reference to the number of migrants allowed in the UK+1)
I visited week 4 challenging game space of the gallery, echoing once more the possible links between our doing in the gallery with a wider conflict. Will our work rise up to the challenge of responding to wider conflicts in the world but also will we be strong enough together to maintain our relationship and will this further our impact in the art world and in the society?
I will finish with a quote;
Not knowing contains within it the possibility of the ‘Not Yet’ and ‘Still to Be’. It holds an ‘ethical promise’ that in recent years has been taken up in the epistemological analysis of what might be termed ‘constitutive ignorance’ alongside the practice of knowledge production. The same ethical promise underpins artists’ engagement with the world, and shapes a space in which to encounter the other”… “the shifting status of the art object and the re-contextualisation of artistic practice within expanded fields of research, politics and the social, open new ways of approaching an ethical position in relation to how we know as well as what we know and do not know-…”
…” Art draws us into a space of not knowing, a space of thinking in the widest sense possible sense, in which to test what it means to be in the world”.
On Not Knowing How artists Think
By Elizabeth Fisher and Rebecca Fortnum, Black Dog Publishing, 2013