Participation

I haven’t really blogged about my PGPD in any direct way yet. It feels kind of rude not sticking up a link about it though. So here you go. Regardless of any dissatisfaction I may feel with it, it did help me think through a lot of things, and I’m finding I’m taking a few things more seriously as a result of it. I’ve already said that haven’t I? I’ve also already said that it’s left me with more questions than answers. But such is the way of these things.

I think one of the key reasons I’ve been getting interested in participatory art leading up to writing my PGPD is remembering an exhibition we had at the house gallery years ago, back when it was still just a gallery and not a gallery and cafe. The exhibition was called the Library of Unpublished Books by a woman called Caroline Jupp. I thought it was rather wonderful, not least because my friend Ben and I contributed a book to the project, which in itself was brilliant fun. My memories of the show are that it had a lovely feeling about it. It was very open. And I felt truly privileged to have been asked to take part, even though Caroline obviously just wanted to get as many books as she could. It was quite liberating creatively to do something for sake of it. We ended up binding the finished book together with old socks.

Beyond that, though, I was really won over by her show proposal and previous work. It was very professionally presented and more importantly the work in it was great. The two things in it which stick in my mind are ‘Limo (no such thing as a free ride)’ – in which Caroline dressed up as a limo driver, hired a limo, gave people lifts around Leicester and filmed the resulting encounters, and a piece in which she borrowed lots of famous people’s shoes, laid out a red carpet in the back room of a department store and gave people the opportunity to take a walk in a pair of purple velvet platforms once worn by Lenny Henry. Looking at the photos it was obvious that people had a whale of a time, especially young kids. That really stayed with me, quite strongly. Why shouldn’t art be about people having a whale of a time? Why is it that art is so rarely any fun at all? This saddens me.

Caroline Jupp’s work is often about fulfilling dreams. It has a sense of meeting people, us, me, in our quite grey existences and brightening them up in a way that offered the chance to do (perhaps just a shadow of) something many people only dream of doing. Walking in Lenny Henry’s shoes might be the closest you’ll ever get to fame. It’s a good way to reflect on one’s own yearning for a more glamourous existence. This may also be compounded by the fact that Lenny Henry isn’t even that famous anymore. The potential for deeper reflection is here, if you want it to be.

I think getting people involved in the process of the work is surely the way forward for art. Not the only way forward, but a truly significant way forward. Thinking about it purely on the level of my questionnaire, if you’re asking people to do a lot of thinking there’s a good argument for being direct in the way you guide that thinking. And the process of putting that thinking on a page or screen, seeing it there in front of you has the potential to take those thoughts to another level, to become more solid. I’m still cogitating my way through some underlying questions here, though. I might well need a few weeks off thinking about cheese, dumb films and random novels to let my brain slacken off before I can properly come back to it.

I’m glad the show we’re doing at the gallery is taking this participation theme in. It’s something I really want to explore more and see in action. One thing I learned from my PGPD was that there are ways and means of making it work. This is likely to be partially down to trial and error so I’ll be taking notes at the show.

I started writing this post ages ago and in the meantime wrote my Discussion Paper, which takes in similar themes so i may as well link it here. As I say, I’m still thinking all of this through. What’s exciting me, though, is the fact that it feels like a path forward after this course. My final show in July will be a step on to my next project rather than a finished ‘masterwork’. This is probably as it should be, I feel.

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