By accident, I have just read a 2009 article: “Demolish a wall? No problem”, by Jonathan Jones in the Guardian. I have no idea why when I opened the Guardian online on my computer today it opened on that page. I’ve certainly not read it before because I would remember it. I think it is the only article I’ve ever read about how a show is installed and the complexity that involves.
For over 15 years I have been installing work, checking out equipment and sourcing strange things from Screwfix, the Internet and elsewhere. It includes finding a whole set of cinema seats on Ebay; a specialist joiner who knows how to get around the restrictions that a listed building presents; visiting industrial manufacturers; negotiating with sheet steel suppliers; seeking a solution to preventing deer from nibbling through hundreds of metres of audio cable in a forest (we failed, it needed checking every day and taping where required); how to stop keen visitors from touching a wire deer by Sophie Ryder on a sculpture trail, which was damaging it (simple, keep moving it, don’t map it and make it fun to find). The list goes on.
I love the Simpson’s quote Jones refers to: “I’ve got an installation to installate”. It reminds me of a song rewritten by artist Louise Short and other ex-students of John Gingell to the tune of Johnny Be Good – to celebrate John’s 60th. It included and “my how he can installate.” (John was the much loved course leader of my, and many others, MA course in Cardiff.) Hum it to yourself and you’ll get it.
The other thing that caught my eye in Jones’s article was near the end:
Art is a world, and I don’t mean in the nebulous, ugly sense of the “art world”. I mean a real social process, in which people come together in complex ways to make things. It is relational, as Bourriaud and his theoretical followers would say. No one is an island, to put it another way: we’re all part of the archipelago.
Yes, yes and yes – a real social process it is. The visitors that see the shows have no idea about what goes on behind the scenes. Just like the theatre, they don’t want or need to know, it’s part of the magic. Talk about the art economy and most people think about rich artists like Hirst, or wealthy dealers and gallerists, auction houses etc. But there is another economy behind the front stage – there’s all the people that make things happen, the jobs created by this, the industries that are involved, the cogs that turn the system. Publishers, graphic designers, foundries, researchers, industrial makers, hand stitchers, paper makers, picture framers, electricians, plasterers, builders and yet again, the list is endless.
As I imply in my article in Arts Professional – the artworld is a system and it is part of the whole-world system. And that system comprises of people and things. And together they are able to create new things that have never been seen before and experiences unknown and unexpected.
Economy is important to the survival of the system, but is not the only reason for its existence. Emotions matter too. The art sector is a holistic system − organisations, artists and audiences are all part of it. You can’t have a holistic body without organs, there would be no pulse.