This project involved marking out an arena for action. This action was distributed across a range of registers including the sculptural, material, spatial, institutional and social. Within this arena, the presence of sculptural elements such as a cinder-block wall, a sandstone boulder, ten cubic meters of dirt and various cast and fabricated forms dominated, indicating a preoccupation with materiality. However this focus upon materiality depended upon ephemerality, transition and change. States of change were solicited through programming ‘interruptions’ of the work by inviting beings (both human and non-human) to activate or perform, intermittently. This was initiated in order to set the whole project into motion and position ‘mutability’ as it’s subject. Alongside these staged interruptions, spontaneous engagements and interventions by the audience emerged throughout the duration of the exhibition, which effectively tested its limits in ways that couldn’t be anticipated in advance. This was a gift from the audience that brought an incredible energy to the project as well as contributing to my understanding of public space and processes of negotiation.
These negotiations took place between all involved throughout the weave of the project: including its objects, materials, audiences, invigilators, the invited performers, the curators, and myself. As a consequence the work shifted from day to day, depending on what was going on (or not), who happened to be present, or which invigilator was hosting. We’ve learnt from the 60’s and the associated ‘performative turn’ in much contemporary art that this is the case for all artwork: that the activity of perception coupled with the object of that perception within a social (or institutional) context – gives rise to work that is co-produced as an event. This is as much the case for abstract painting as it is for installation. From this perspective, art emerges perpetually through a process of encounter. This inevitably depends on how you come at it and according to your position. This makes it a really slippery situation. I wanted this work to exaggerate and ‘exhibit’ this slippery process.
This situation demanded a constant process of ‘tending’. Like a garden, which calls out for compost, light, heat, water, pollen, seed – this project was not a thing to be finished and departed from – but became a complicated (and at times intensely challenging situation) which compelled an ongoing process of engagement, re-thinking and experiment.
As the exhibition continued, inscriptions of actions that charted bodily engagements accumulated upon the architecture such as skid marks on the floor where cyclists had ridden, blue scuff markings where a metal hoop had been rotated along the stretch of a white wall, and residues of mud and manure from a horse who entered the work now and again, gracing the situation with his earthy smell and energizing presence. The work accumulated these traces and they became a score for future action – provoking further responses that involved audiences (and other artists) to elaborate some of the work’s latent possibilities.
This project demanded being open to forces, energies, processes and challenges that were unforeseeable in advance – to occurrences that emerged within the pulse of the situation or which entered unexpectedly. In the essay Personal Support: how to care? Jan Verwoert refers to the painting by Niccolo Antonio Colantonio and Lorenzo Monaco, and discusses how Saint Jerome removes a thorn in the paw of a lion who has happened to enter into his study. Verwoert’s point is that the most poignant gesture offered by Saint Jerome is not the performance of care enacted by the thorn’s removal, but the fact that St Jerome left the door of his study open in the first place.1
Leaving a door open provokes a commitment to being responsive no matter what happens to enter and no matter how different or unsettling this may be to the plans that we fashion in advance. In committing to responding, what is affirmed is the willingness to both encounter and grapple with what enters, even if uncertain or radically unprepared.
Bianca Hester is an artist whose practice explores the convergences between social space, materiality and embodiment as processes in motion. She is represented by Sarah Scout, Melbourne and is currently a Post-doctoral research fellow at the Sydney College of the Arts.
1 Verwoert, Jan, “Personal Support: How to Care?” in Support Structures, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2009, p 172.