Arc: Unit 2

This 'narrative arc' describes the journey I went on from the start of the second year in April until November 2019.  With the most recent stages at the top and working back downwards over time, the Arc describes how I've progressed to this point in exploring my research question: “Can everyone be a fine artist?

'I as in...' used as a guide and inspiration for participants November 2019

Work with a material, not against it

The largest size possible of the work 'I as in...' had been produced on the Wimbledon digital printing machine.  However, I yearned for a person-height version so that the viewer would literally see eye to eye with it. 

So I commissioned a much larger print from another source.  A test strip was done on 315 gsm Giclee smooth fine art on a 15 meter roll which meant the curl was too tight - paper memory is powerful.

So the product used instead was OCE smooth 265gsm watercolour fine art paper on a 10 colour Epson Eco -Solvent printer.  This makes for an easier curl because the roll is 30 meters and the paper is less rigid, not having been coated for Giclee printing.

A run-on after the graphic image of an un-printed area would curl inside to give extra strength.  It might also suggest an infinite number of artists.

Using a completed work to role model the next one

 

My dilemma is how to reconcile the two aspects of my approach?  The conceiving and implementing of a participation, versus the creative aggregation of contributions into an art work for presentation.

A private view is a great opportunity to enroll collaborators who, by definition, are interested in art.  But my participation process isn't a live performance worth watching for any length of time. 

A solution is to display a finished work as a guide and inspiration.  In the Canteen people made an easy connection between a completed and potential work.

This model, which combines some theatre in terms of participation, and the aesthetics of a finished artwork, is one I'm continuing to research.

Hamish Pringle 'I as in…’ installation for Unit 2 Assessment 28th November 2019

How to preserve the illusion?

 

From my experiments, I knew that a print on reasonably heavy paper would be self-supporting when allowed to curl and stood on its end.  However, I was concerned that a paper column could be toppled over quite easily if someone were to bump into it during an exhibition.

 

So it seemed essential to have some kind of supporting structure or armature to guard against this.  But as far as possible I wanted to maintain the illusion of the print column standing unaided, and thus create the magic of a 3D sculptural form.

‘I as in…’ printed by Charlotte Brown, November 2019

Turning print from 2D to 3D

During the summer holiday I grappled with the problem of how to present the finished product of my participatory collaborations.

I knew that for the most part these would be prints, but how to display them?  I considered alternatives including frames, grommets, magnets, bulldog clips, and pins.  Apart from lack of originality, all these techniques have to fight against the curvature that is embedded in the DNA of paper.

I had some A3 tests printed and as they were standing there on their ends I saw that they were small columns which echoed the letter ‘i’.

 

Like Wallinger’s self-portrait they also had an anthropomorphic quality which reinforced the concept.   Going with the grain of paper to create a sculptural volume was a breakthrough for me.

‘I as in…’ printed by Charlotte Brown, November 2019

A tight brief can be liberating

21 MFA colleagues participated in this work.  It took about five minutes each for them  to go through the process. This included my explanation, their enrolment, some experimental writing, and then the completion of the word ‘art st’ ink-stamped on two postcards.

I asked each person to sign one of their cards because I wanted to explore the question of authorship and ownership.  A signature on the surface of a painting becomes part of the work and can be detrimental to it.  

‘I as in…’ MFA participants, November 2019

However I was anxious to minimise the risk that I might be seen as having written all the ‘i’s.  I also wanted the contributors to be able to identify their part the finished work, and hopefully have pride in co-ownership.

In a similar way to 'Time Tubes’, I was struck by the care and consideration of my participants. Their contributions were characteristic , and they were giving graphic affirmation of their claim to individuality as artists.

Can constraints lead to creativity?

Synthesising a summer of reflection and research I decided to embark on the answering of a new research question: "can everyone be a fine artist?"

To establish my ‘base camp’ I wanted to see if my MFA peers would be comfortable in declaring that they were artists.  Easy enough, but how would they express themselves?  Learning lessons from Wohnseifer and Nazareth I established a tight format to see how my participants interpreted the rules.

Mark Wallinger 'Self Portrait (Modern No.20 Bold) 2007

Can everyone be a fine artist?

Ever since I helped Joseph Beuys assemble 'The Pack' at StrategyGetArts in Edinburgh 1970, he's been an inspiration to me.

In working through my phase of object-centered participatory art, and thinking more deeply about the relationship with the people taking part (or not) his famous saying "everyone is an artist" came to mind.

 

Could I encourage more people to join in with my artworks if there was more in it for them?  What if the process was really easy?  Perhaps participation could tap into the deep-seated desire to be creative that Beuys contended everyone has?  Maybe an appeal to the psyche could unlock the potential for mass participation?

I've been encouraged in this thinking having discovered the campaigning work of Bob and Roberta Smith.  Together these strands have come together in my research question: “Can everyone be a fine artist?”

‘art st’, ‘ rt’ and ‘co rt’ stamps made by Blade Rubber, October 2019

Bedevilled by doubts…

Being an artist is a doubtful existence.  Many doubts surround us.  One of them is the fear that you will walk into an exhibition and see someone else doing what you do but considerably better.

Occasionally I see a work which is encouraging because it’s related conceptually, though not in the realm of participation: it answers the same question.  Therefore I was excited to see Mark Wallinger’s ‘Self Portrait’.

I had already been exploring the idea of getting people to complete the word ‘art st’ using their handwriting to express their individuality and to affirm their aspiration.  Wallinger’s upper case ‘I’ was imposing and cleverly anthropomorphic – an idea that must have sunk into my unconscious to resurface as a columnar print weeks later.

Bob and Roberta Smith ‘Art Is In All Of Us’, 2019

Making something meaningful, to keep

Covering the wall were 48 framed prints of a knife.  On the table was a woodblock, an ink pad for stamping, and a stack of blank sheets of paper.  Visitors were invited to ink up the block and make their own knife print which they could keep as a souvenir.

I was taken by the elegance and simplicity of Nazareth's ink stamp methodology, seeing it as a simple way for almost anybody to execute an artwork.  The product was also sufficiently low cost to be given away free.

Paulo Nazareth, ‘Arma Branca’, 2013

Opportunity to add, or subtract?

Experiencing Wohnseifer's 'Black Tape' artwork had a major impact on me.  Using the sticky tape provided, I decided to add something which was irrelevant to the concept.  As I looked at what I'd done I was embarrassed - it was an unattractive excrescence.  And other people's contributions  weren't much better.  This seemed too much like participation for the sake of it.  My conclusion was that I should create participative artworks which are constraining yet enable collaborators to add something relevant, and which contributes to the work's meaning and aesthetics.

Johannes Wohnseifer, ’Black Tape’, 2017

Walter & Zoniel, ‘WZ RainbowCam’, 2019 

Offline/online participation

 

This installation by Walter & Zoniel for Matches Fashion at Frieze 2019 was of great interest.  I had been wondering how best to combine audience participation with a desirable finished product.  And in what ways could digital technologies be deployed to achieve this?  Here was a working model and perhaps proof of concept.

 

I was struck by how many people were prepared to take the time to in role by using the on-screen keyboard to type in their email address and they didn't seem to mind queuing to do so.

 

Although the set up of the scanners limited the possibilities for creativity – my placing of my mobile phone with my Instagram page showing was deemed rather innovative by the invigilator – the participants seemed happy enough to be recording their faces and hand prints.

 

The follow-up was also impressive.  I received an email with an image of my scan a few days later.  And not long afterwards they made an offer to create my portrait, starting at £2,500 for black and white unframed!

However, I was left feeling there was something missing.  Was this anything more than a flashy scanner and a naked 'freemium' business model?  The medium was in need of a message which gave meaning to the art work.

Making personal impressions

Rudolph Stingel's work covers a large expanse of wall, adjacent to a busy thoroughfare with a man-made carpet-like material of a striking colour.

Passing visitors seemed to enjoy making marks using the nap of the fabric to add to the palimpsest.

This was an important confirmation to me that offering people the opportunity to do one of the simplest things, namely write with their finger, could be a solution to my emerging research question as to whether “Can every human being be an artist?”

Rudolf Stingel 'Untitled' 1993 at Tate Modern

Give participants a sense of pride in co-authorship

A week after the Private View, I emailed each of the 47 participants with a photo of the work they’d helped complete.  I ensured their shot showed their word and the response suggested a strong sense of ownership.

Over 26% of them replied, which is high.  I used three different e-mail texts and there were as many responses to the one containing a questionnaire as to the short and medium-length versions.

Their feedback was universally positive and although the sample is tiny, it seems as if for these people this was a pretty unique art experience, and one they'd like to repeat.

Hamish Pringle ‘101: fear and…’ following 47 participations 7th November 2019

Ensure there’s something in it for participants

 

As a key part of the enrolment process, I asked each participant to give me their email address.  In nearly every case there was a momentary hesitation.

This was overcome when I said it was that so I could send them a photo of the finished work.  They were reassured and many said it was a good idea.

I also asked them to sign my permission form giving me the right to use their contribution in my work.  No-one declined, and when I suggested to some that I might offer them an Artists Proof at a favourable price, they were intrigued.

Hamish Pringle ‘101: fear and…’ following 47 participations 7th November 2019

Role modelling for collaborators

There are two parts to my participatory activities – the collaboration and the product - but I don't currently consider the former to be a performance.  I see it as the means to an end - producing an artwork which  has a special quality because it is the product of a particular collective working together at a particular place and time.

 

I decided to be the first person to immure a word in the wet cement because thought it could be helpful to other people to have an example to follow.

I had gone into this new experiment in participatory art with some trepidation.  Would it work in practical terms? Would people want to take part?  Would they be put off by my enrolment process?  If they did collaborate, would they enjoy it?  Would I have to tout for business?

Perhaps most importantly, would the finished work have  merit?  Would the combined effort of a random number of strangers, drawn together by the invitation to attend a Private View, add up to anything worthwhile?

Hamish Pringle '101: fear and...' pre-participation 7th November 2019

Curation can enhance

During the tutors’ curatorial tour of 'Immurement', the wooden pew was substituted for the studio table and chair.  Not only was this more in keeping aesthetically, it was much more practical.  I was able to sit beside participants and talk them through what was involved.

 

The tutors also recommended using graphite instead of felt tip pen as this too would be more congruent with the other materials in the work.  I welcomed both these interventions and the work was much improved as a result of adopting them.

Hamish Pringle '101: fear and...' pre-participation 7th November 2019

Yoko Ono 'Wish Tree' 1966-

Maquettes really matter

Inevitably I was inspired by Alexander Calder in creating my design for my 'Time Tubes'. And in seeing his retrospective exhibition and watching videos, I realised how important working models are to the fabricators of mobiles.

However, in the vast majority of cases, once a mobile is made in its finely balanced form, that's how it stays. But that wasn't what was going to happen in the MFA studio. The individual weights of 38 test tubes would change three times over the life of the mobile. This meant that the whole structure would need to be rebalanced during each iteration.

It would have been impossible to compute the relationship between these weights and thus where the individual items had to be located in order to achieve stability and balance.  The only way to work out a solution was by making a working  maquette.

 

In practice the answer came quickly – cords with slipknots which could be moved individually up and down the poles.  And this flexibility and adjustability was crucial to the design.  It turned out that quite tiny changes in weight could lead to significant changes in the orientation of the poles because of the leverage effect.

Crystallising and capturing

 

Yoko Ono has been creating versions of this work since 1996.  Perhaps nowadays it may have lost the element of surprise but it still engenders mass participation wherever an orchard of her 'Wish Trees' is exhibited.

 

I like the idea of making a public declaration of something personal.  Crystallising a thought by giving it concrete expression and then sharing with others can be cathartic.  The misgiving I have about this ritual is what happens to the wishes left on the trees?  Might there be a way of preserving them for posterity (and the wishers) in a collective form which participants could have?

MFA students's 1st participation in 'Time Tubes' October 2019

Record, record, record

While it was not my intention to make archiving a central feature of my work, I realised that it would be an essential support to it.  With three participations in Time Tubes' by 38 students, it would be easy to lose track.

 

I hadn't anticipated that my co-students would be as pleased as they seemed to be by my bureaucracy – indeed I had been slightly apprehensive about it.

My inference was that they appreciated my efficiency of process, but I also think they saw this recording of their contributions as respectful.

Record of MFA students's 1st participation in 'Time Tubes' October 2019

Make it easy, fun, and personal

I realised that asking 38 people to participate in my work could be akin to 'herding cats’!  So I decided to make it as easy, fun and as personal as possible.

I wanted the sculpture mobile to comprise time capsules for everyone.  And to be meaningful and representative of our final year, I wanted there to be a participation for each of the three terms.

To inaugurate the project I asked everyone to bring in 10g of their favourite coloured pigment.  For the second term they’re requested to provide the ticket to an inspiring exhibition.  For the summer, they're to bring a passport-sized photo of themselves so that in future they can look back and see how they were at that point in time.

The final item to be placed in each tube before its owner takes it away will be something from me to complete the work.

MFA students's 1st participation in 'Time Tubes' October 2019

Antony Gormley 'Field' 1989-2004

Give simple, ‘do-able’ instructions

For his installation work ‘Field’, Antony Gormley needed a multitude of little clay figurines made locally.  He recruited 100 volunteers to whom he gave very simple instructions: “Hand-sized, stand up and have eyes.”

The result was 40,000 individual sculptures unified by these mandated characteristics.  There’s enough idiosyncrasy in them to create interest and a sense of the maker, whilst having a collective impact.

 

 

 

In contrast, Yoko Ono’s instructions in her book ‘Grapefruit’ are much less precise.  Their whimsical nature has a charm all its own, but in most cases leaves the participant pretty much to their own devices

 

So this raised a fundamental question: to what degree do I wish to control the outcome of a collective work?  Do I create a strict format with a largely predetermined result? 

 

Or should the approach be much more open and encourage participant creativity, with a less certain product?  Either way, simple and ‘do-able’ instructions are needed.

Yoko Ono 'Pond Piece' 1956

Think about the light in a site

The brief for the open competition for a sculpture To be made for the new MFA studio asked for a work which would inspire all the students in their new environment. However it should not intrude into the space too much for obvious reasons – there would be 38 students sharing it.

Inspecting the site it became obvious that the best solution would be something suspended from the ceiling so that neither wall nor floorspace would be taken up.  It was also clear that the light coming from the windows in the roof should be capitalised upon by the work.

Imagining the variations in the light with the time of day and the changing seasons led me to think about translucent structures.  I also wanted to produce a collaborative, collective, and participative artwork.

 

Involving all my student colleagues would increase the chances of them feeling some ownership and hopefully a sense of pride in our joint creation.

As the source of light in a room catches the eye naturally, I hoped that there would be daily glances skyward and that people would be inspired by their sculpture above.

Hamish Pringle ‘Time Tubes’ 2019

Be more present in my work

To illustrate more directly William James’ ‘As if’ theory, and how it had underpinned my ‘object-centred’ approach, I presented the ‘pencil frown’ at a group session.

 

Research shows that when someone frowns it makes them feel unhappy.  So there’s a feedback loop from behaviour to attitudes, which is not widely known.

 

Most models of communications rely on changing attitudes in order to change behaviour, which is often harder and slower to do.

The reaction to my demonstration of this behavioural experiment was well-received, and I resolved to consider how I might involve myself in future participatory works. 

Hamish Pringle ‘Pencil Frown’ 2019

Help people to participate

Inviting someone to play ‘Mikado’, the traditional game of ‘pick-up-sticks’, proved to be a much more direct way of involving them in a piece of participative art.

The action of dropping the bundle of sticks made a pleasing clattering sound and the random pattern created was appealing too.

However there was a challenge as to whether it was appropriate for a cis male artist to be tackling LGBT issues, regardless of how familiar he might be with them.

The advice, which I heeded, was to seek a territory with more direct personal relevance.  I also concluded that I needed to find ways of getting people to participate more – my ‘Rub Out Plastic’, ‘Re-Re-Referendum Ballot Box’, and ‘Gender Seesaw’, had engaged far too few people.

Hamish Pringle ‘Rainbow Mikado’ 2019

    Hamish Pringle 'I as in..