Wednesday, September 13, 2006
The normal participation of arts in social work is normally connected to educational groups and workshops. Artists few times are able to introduce their practice outside a framework of a workshop since the technical skills and educational background of the artist usually make of him a tutor.
History of art practices can quickly remind us about the nature of the public monumental and decorative arts and other approaches more and more connected with the social exchanges that have been happening in the everyday places for the last decades. The strategies differ from one artist to another and the results are in most of the cases the outcome of an internal logic of work of the artist.
From past experiences I’ve done different sorts of public interventions that were involved with different ways of looking the “social work”. And I still keep asking why does exist (in the art field) the frustration of “giving in the quality” of the artwork. But isn’t this also one of the aims of the social projects (?), to encourage an artist to make this negotiation (the quality) in form of dialogue (which in this case takes the form of the artwork)?
In February 2006 I came from Porto (Portugal) to Hoorn (Netherlands) under the programme Artists in Context. I was granted a period of six months at Hotel Mariakapel (an artist run space based in the heart of Hoorn) and given all the freedom to develop projects. After a period of six months I would go back. In total it would correspond to half a year away from my hometown and daily routines. Therefore I couldn’t set myself in as if I had migrated. I am a traveller in passage between different places.
In one long bike ride around Hoorn I found (on an industrial landscaped area) a big strange beautiful building. The map signalled it as a prison. And some elements (the barbed wire, the colossal walls) indicated it clearly. The architecture of the building fascinated me. Especially since the preconceived image I had from a prison was a greyish concrete building resembling the old mental institutions from the movies of the beginning of the last century.
The will to acquaint the insides of a prison (at least the look of such place) gave birth to Different Places. Its name is related to the fact that this is a place where prisoners are waiting to be sent somewhere else or released. In a way they also are lost between locations. The starting point of the project was then the notion of the passenger/traveller.
The recreation creative space (KREA) was defined as the better place to be with the prisoners. A prisoner might opt for having a weekly session at KREA (about 45 minutes per week) usually spending the time doing all sorts of artistic work or just talking, since is not often that you are in presence of other people and because 45 minutes a week doesn’t give you much possibilities. To avoid interfering with such precious time, an introduction was made during KREA time and the participant would be allowed to carry on the project in the cell.
The volunteers received a roll of paper which has draw on it the outline of a jacket. These shapes correspond to the different parts of the coat (if folded and attached to one another). In one of the parts of this jacket there is already a drawing (I mean a paper cut drawing) that I made. The drawing I started to make allude to elements of traditional Portuguese decorative motifs and some words.
The participants continued the drawing process with pen, pencils, or cutting, even deciding if they want to write something instead or to remove the previous intervention. The only request is that the nature of “being in passage”, the nature of being a traveller, the fact that you are in between something and away from your starting point is kept.
The project finished with a set of pictures of a man wearing the jackets made outside the limits of the prison. The initial plan was that the prisoners themselves would wear their own jackets. Unfortunately the lack of time and the impossibility of any identification of the participants required the use of someone else. Then the coat was worn by someone travelling from the insides to the outsides of the prison.
Overall the importance of this project might even be interpreted as leisure. But considering that the participants were offered another possibility (which is not very common in such a scrutinized environment) makes it worth and a valuable practice. At least as something that demonstrates that you are offering when you are not obliged to do so.
Art is a practice that lays aside the normal understandings of logic and function. As far as one can tell the nature of art goes from exercise of beauty till a philosophical analysis of the world.
The increasing field of the social work had also absorbed art practice and artists participations as one of the privileged tools to access interaction. And with this it brings a question to the art field: in what sense is someone (besides of the artist) part of the creating act. This question unbalances the authority of the artist since it reveals a participation of “others” in the creating of the work. The artwork becomes a bate for the interaction and for the main purposes of the social project. Then is this social work threatening the essence of arts by threatening its results?
Questions like these might not have a clear answer. My opinion is that the tools of art (as any other technique) can be useful just as a device to achieve something radically different. And the results might not correspond to the technical expertise of the artist but something fundamental is still kept: the nature of expectation and surprise. The artist and the participants exchange between themselves the phenomenon of expectation and wait to see the results of what the other is doing. And this is what is brought to the art practice: that the collaborators are curious to know how the artist reacted and the artist concerned to see the results. It is a process of fascination that is not just between the artwork and the audience anymore but between the different participants of the making. One could even point that perhaps in this sense the artist is learned to regain his place as a spectator.