Art is Long, and Time is Fleeting

Programming

“I worry about the British public,” said performance artist Marina Abramovic in an interview with the BBC before the opening of her new durational work at the Serpentine Gallery, 512 Hours, adding that the public’s cynicism might get in the way of creating “a pure emotional connection”.

If the feedback cards published online are anything to go by, it seems that the dreaded British public is reacting quite nicely so far:

Better than yoga

Marina participants feedback

Instead, it’s the British press she should have worried about:

 … what I was seeing is what I imagine the open ward of a mental hospital in which the inmates have been heavily sedated must be like.
Richard Dorment, The Telegraph

 It goes without saying that each interaction with the artist will be a unique and subjective experience. You might cry. You might laugh. You might feel bashful. You might feel irritated. But you might do and feel all those things when you see your gynaecologist. This makes neither your gynaecologist a great artist, nor your last smear test a great work of art. — Fisun Güner, The Arts Desk

Abramovic is currently establishing the Marina Abramovic Institute for Long Durational Work in Hudson, New York, which, according to the website, “will be the only institute of its size dedicated to long durational works: works of art that elapse over extreme lengths of time.”

Given the controversy raging over her claim to pioneer the ‘art of nothing’, I thought it’d be worth listing a few actually very long works, so long that they will span across several generations, to set the standards for Marina’s Institute and avoid a further “row over nothing“.

(Turns out I’m not the only one concerned about Marina: some kind souls have set up the Marina Abramovic Retirement Fund of America to help her stop having to make art).

– –

FUTURE VIEWERS

Jonathon Keats & Team Titanic: Century Camera – an intergenerational surveillance program

In May 2014, the Team Titanic gallery distributed 100 pinhole cameras to Berlin residents, to be hidden on the streets and take a 100-long-exposure record of the ups and downs of the city’s build environment. Camera custodians have to ensure that the secret location is passed on from generation to generation, until the camera is returned to the organisers – or whoever will be in charge – in May 2114.

century camera tin pinhole century cam

From the press release:

WORLD’S SLOWEST SURVEILLANCE CAMERAS WILL SPY ON BERLIN FOR NEXT 100 YEARS

The city of Berlin, currently undergoing the biggest real estate boom since German reunification, has been chosen to pilot a global initiative monitoring urban development and decay over the next century. Instigated by experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats in cooperation with the Berlin-based team titanic gallery, the unauthorized surveillance program will use ultra-long-exposure cameras to continuously document 100 years of municipal growth and decay for scrutiny and judgment by future generations.

 This is the latest project by Jonathon Keats, a rather prolific inventor, who previously copyrighted his mind (2003), attempted to genetically engineer God (2004), choreographed a ballet for honeybees (2006), released a mobile phone ringtone based on Cage’s 4’3” titled “My Cage (Silence for Cellphone)” (2007) and created “The Longest Story Ever”  (2009) for the cover of a magazine – only 9 words in length but printed to appear at a rate of one per century.

The ‘century camera’ is adapted from the traditional pinhole camera, using black card stock instead of photographic paper to considerably slow down the exposure process. The project is meant to be intergenerational and participatory, and going low-tech is a way to withstand the test of time: the simpler the technology, the more likely it will be usable in the future, whatever the circumstances (this brings to mind the ill-fated floppy disk and VHS tape). The pinhole cameras will act as visual time capsules, capturing timelapse records of the changing cityscape for future generations, but perhaps also influencing planning decisions by placing on the streets a watchful eye that never sleeps.

The process of returning the cameras in 100 years brings up a whole lot of questions: whilst the artist will most certainly be dead, will the gallery still exist? How will any change be communicated to the camera-keepers of the next century? Will the value of the €10 deposit dramatically increase or decrease? Will the euro actually still exist?

Team Titanic
Jonathon Keats
(Twitter)

 

FUTURE READERS

Katie Paterson & Situations: Future Library

Another 100-year long project that has just been launched a few days ago, Future Library is both growing a forest and commissioning writers, to create a completely new body of work – physical and immaterial – for future readers.

It’s produced by Situations, the Bristol-based cultural producers who published a few months ago The New Rules of Public Art, a manifesto challenging what public art looks and feels like.

Adapted from the press release:

Scottish artist Katie Paterson has launched a 100-year artwork – Future Library – Framtidsbiblioteket – for the city of Oslo in Norway.

A thousand trees have been planted in Nordmarka, a forest just outside Oslo, which will supply paper for a special anthology of books to be printed in one hundred years time. Between now and then, one writer every year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unpublished, until 2114.

The texts will be held in a specially designed room in the New Public Deichmanske Library, Oslo. Tending the forest and ensuring its preservation for the 100-year duration of the artwork finds a conceptual counterpoint in the invitation extended to each writer: to conceive and produce a work in the hopes of finding a receptive reader in an unknown future.

One author a year will be selected by Katie Paterson and the Future Library Trust, with the first to be announced in September 2014.

Future Library is part of Slow Space, a wider programme of public art projects, events & publications produced by Situations in Bjørvika, Oslo’s former container port, over the next four years.

Situations
Future Library
Slow Space

 

FUTURE LISTENERS

Jem Finer & Artangel: Longplayer, a one-thousand year composition

1,000-second timelapse video of first performance of Longplayer Live at Roundhouse, 2009

Jem Finer is an artist and composer with an interest in “deep time and space, self-organising systems and long-durational processes” (and also, for a bit of pop trivia, one of the founding members of The Pogues).

Between 1995 and 1999, with the support of producers Artangel, he developed and composed Longplayer, a continuously playing and ever-changing score written to last 1,000 years. Longplayer started on 1st January 2000 and can be heard in the lighthouse at Trinity Buoy Wharf, London, at other listening posts (currently in London and San Francisco) and online via a live stream.

Longplayer was conceived by the artist as an exploration of time, “as it is experienced and as it is understood from the perspectives of philosophy, physics and cosmology”. It is based on a 20’20” score for Tibetan Singing Bowls, the ‘source music’, and five transpositions that vary in pitch and duration and are combined in always unique ways, for exactly 1,000 years. For now, this process is computerised, but other methods are considered – mechanical, human – to ensure that the work will survive technological obsolescence.

Ensuring preservation is an integral part of the work, and the Longplayer Trust has been set up “to make the music available to as wide an audience as possible and to research and implement sustainable platforms for Longplayer’s future”.

Jem Finer
Longplayer
Artangel

The Art of Evaluation

Tools of the Trade

On my third day in London, I got lucky and was offered a place on a sold-out workshop hosted by the Live Art Development Agency that just sounded too intriguing to be missed. Here’s the description that caught my attention:

Fed up with the standard evaluation surveys? Situations and the University of Central Lancashire have been developing an innovative new group based evaluation method to move beyond overt measures of impact and unlock the deeper story of an artwork’s effects on the imagination.

Titled Thinking Beyond Measure, the day-long event, part of the Public Art Now national programme of events, promised a mixture of practice and theory to explore the scope of results and potential applications of what the research team calls the Visual Matrix: an interpretation process based on a series of images that act as prompts to elicit associative thinking and make it easier for people to think and talk about their experience.

The case studies we discussed were Nowhereisland, an itinerant, durational and participatory project by artist Alex Hartley produced by Situations in 2012 as part of Artists Taking the Lead, the Cultural Olympiad series of major commissions –  and Verity, the Damien Hirst’s half-sliced pregnant bronze warrior loaned for 20 years to the Devon resort of Ilfracombe, one of Nowhereisland’s port of call.

The research team, led by Professor Lynn Froggett and Dr. Ali Roy from UCLAN in association with Situations, conducted an evaluation in Ilfracombe on both works in 2013, one year on. They used the Visual Matrix alongside other forms of evaluation to explore Nowhereisland and Verity’s respective role in reflecting local engagement and citizenship, as well as their legacy in terms of change and transformation.

I’ve summarised a few key points from the day but there would be much more to say – not least about the contrasts in findings between the two selected works and between different methods.

Process

First, some disclaimers: the workshops featured two sample 20-minute Visual Matrix and participant feedback sessions, one on each work, so a short version of the 2 first steps of the full process. Besides, workshop participants had, for the vast majority, no direct experience of the artworks – this was meant to be an exercise. By contrast, the case studies that we were somehow reproducing had gathered people with a varied range of exposure to both artworks, from passer-bys to contributors, all living in Ilfracombe and therefore able to reflect on a personal and community level on the effect of these two artworks on citizenship and their legacy of change.

1. The Visual Matrix

Ideal group size should be between 6 and 20, with at least 2 facilitators.

– Chairs are arranged in a snowflake formation – concentric circles that are slightly out of alignment to avoid direct eye contact.

No introductions are made: this is to avoid the bias of expertise and authority that can sometimes be overwhelming in a traditional focus group.

– Participants are explained that they will be shown a slideshow of 20 to 30 images, each lasting for 10 seconds, about which they can then express what they feel – what it reminds them of, in which state of mind they find themselves. They are expressedly ask to suspend judgement and refrain from interpreting or analysing what they see, and instead to feel what the images do to them.

– In the ensuing 1-hour session, which can occasionally be stirred – but not chaired – by the facilitators, participants should be reaching a state of “rêverie”, gliding from one idea to the other. They are not quite holding a group conversation, but rather letting their mind go back to the images and the experience itself  and absorb the new thoughts and images produced by the group.

– A form of documentation, such as note-taking, audio and/or video recording – whichever is most practical and less intrusive – is essential to this stage of the process.

2. Feedback with participants

After a short break, the participants, guided by the facilitators, start pulling together the themes that emerge from the Visual Matrix. This was an interesting process of convergence, pulling together the threads of information produced in the first part of the session, and we worked as a group to make sense of what had been expressed. One of the facilitator organised the ideas in a visual form.

3. Feedback with research group

Reconvening after another break, the research group – now on their own – starts to analyse the participants’ responses, working on their memories and notes of the Visual Matrix session as well as the synthesis co-produced by the participants. The nature and quality of the metaphors and the vitality – or lack of – with which they were produced are equally taken into consideration.

4. Wider discussion

The last phase of the process looks once again at the Matrix results and the layers of interpretation created by the participants and the research group, and can involve external advisors if appropriate: the aim here is to expand and generalise the results, for example to the realm of policy-making.

Benefits of the Visual Matrix

The Visual Matrix is inspired by Social Dreaming and aims at unlocking the deeper effects of an artwork on the imagination. Because it is based on imagery and metaphors, and not on expertise or status, such process makes it easier for anyone to participate. All thoughts are valid and they feed into one another to express a rich and nuanced response to an artwork or situation.

It is essentially a collective, participatory process, which seems appropriate to explore the collective resonance of complex works of public art (or other situations in the public realm).

It is also an open-ended creative process, and as such closer to the artistic process itself than sliding scales of enjoyment or debates about taxpayers’ ROI.

Considerations

The workshop allowed plenty of time for a group exchange about theoretical and practical considerations, and here are the ones that stuck out for me.

A. Training

The Visual Matrix method has been used for a while in different settings, but introducing it as part of a new evaluation framework for the arts would take some dissemination and training. It would be interesting to get to practice the interpretation steps and to be guided by an experienced mentor, to be able to reap the full benefits in a set amount of time.

B. Participants

Results are highly influenced by the group composition, and the dynamics between the participants will have a bearing not just on what they produce, but also on the ‘quality’ of the matrix – whether it is solid and keeps going in a steady state of “rêverie”, or breaks down into analysis and critical judgement.

Participants for the two case studies presented mostly responded to invitations from mailing lists and in the local media; they were self-selected and not screened against specific criteria.

My concerns here are as much about outreach – to attract a varied group of participants – and effective facilitation, to create the right setting and understand barriers and biases.

C. Image selection

The matrix is supported by visual materials – although other types of sensory prompts could be used, such as sound or movement – so it seems rather important to choose them well. It is probably also worth stating to the participants that the sequence of images is not meant to form a narrative sequence.

Practical Applications

This is an interesting method not just for evaluating the effects and legacy of public art, but also any collective experience: for example, applied to a volunteer programme, this method would allow to go much deeper than focus groups to uncover the intrinsic motivations of arts volunteers and the benefits of volunteering. It enables to measure success in terms of effect, not just figures.

Just like any other evaluation method, the trick is in the interpretation of the findings – and as it’s the part of the Matrix that we didn’t get to do by ourselves, I look forward to more workshops and guided applications to learn more about the process.

 

www.situations.org.uk
www.uclan.ac.uk
www.publicartnow.com

Sustaining Great Art

Tools of the Trade

I have no idea how Julie’s Bicycle got their name but I know what they do: they help arts and creative organisations to become sustainable. Or in their own words:

Julie’s Bicycle is a not for profit organisation making sustainability intrinsic to the business, art and ethics of the creative industries.

Founded by the music industry, with expertise from the arts and sustainability, Julie’s Bicycle bridges the gap between the creative industries and sustainability. Based on a foundation of peer-reviewed research, we sustain creativity, enabling the arts to create change.

We work with over 1000 arts organisations across the UK and internationally, large and small, to help them measure, manage and reduce their environmental impacts.

They’re unique in their deep knowledge of both the arts & culture sector – their founder and CEO Alison Tickell comes from the music scene – and environmental standards and best practices.

They’ve recently been working with Arts Council England as a strategic partner to create indicators and tools to help arts organisations – for now, National Portfolio Organisations and Major Museum Partnerships – report on their environmental impact  – and they just co-published a nice report to draw the lessons from the first year of this project.

In 2012, Arts Council England became the first arts funding body in the world to embed environmental sustainability into the funding agreements of its major programmes. Arts organisations are an integral part of the fabric of their host cities and regions, and environmental sustainability is now, as Alan Davey, Chief Executive of Arts Council England, puts it, “both (an) ethical concern and economic imperative”.

Or to quote Anthony Sargent, General Director, Sage Gateshead:

There is no more essential task for us all – as citizens and as companies – than to start to live within the sustainable means of our planet.

Julie’s Bicyle has designed free tools and resources to support arts organisations in evaluating and reducing their environmental impact. It also provides useful case studies spanning a range of settings and scales:

Some interesting insights from the report:

Engagement and Impact

  • In the first year an outstanding 90% of all 704 organisations engaged in some capacity with the environmental reporting programme. These results represent the single biggest dataset from arts organisations globally.

  • In a survey, nearly 90% of funded organisations agreed or strongly agreed that “Arts Council Environmental Reporting has made or can make a positive difference to the arts sector as a whole”.

Size, shape, readiness and artform really do matter

Significant differences in reporting levels and reliability were observed across settings and artforms. Unsurprisingly, it is easier for cultural buildings and office-based organisations than for touring and outdoor events to assess their environmental impact; but the ability to report is also affected by the support and cooperation (or lack of) of landlords (for small organisations) and local authorities (for all).

In terms of artforms, “levels of engagement and reporting have generally been higher for theatre, Major partner museums  and visual arts, compared with literature, dance and music. Museums and theatres in particular have already been targeted by specific environmental initiatives, something which has not been the case for the other art forms”.

There is an appetite for learning through exchange and collaboration

A number of groups are already demonstrating the benefits of collaboration, including:

London Theatre Consortium, 13 theatres working to develop strategic, creative initiatives and share expertise and resources, including a sustainability strand.

Manchester Arts Sustainability Team, 13 arts organisations, venues and events, collaborating to support their own sustainability goals and Manchester’s climate change strategy.

Newcastle Gateshead Cultural Venues, 10 venues working to share learning and maximise their positive environmental, social, cultural and economic impact, with different workstreams, including a Green Campaign and Capital Investment Strategy which explores longer-termsustainable capital projects for the group

Royal Opera House, Royal National Theatre and Royal Albert Hall, who entered into a three-year contract for collective energy procurement known as ‘The Arts Basket’ provided by the energy broker Power Efficiency in 2012. Other organisations have since joined and benefits include reduced costs, better risk management and longer-term price certainty on a green tariff supply.

There is a clear need for a more differentiated strategy for year two and beyond

This is a significant outcome: defining categories of organisations based on their access to data – with relevant environmental indicators.

“Smaller organisations, offices and events (are) unable to provide meaningful energy and water data, and for organisations whose primary activity is touring and events, (…) reporting on other sources of environmental impact, e.g. transport and waste, may be more meaningful.”

Findings and recommendations from the Year 1 report will inform future funding agreements (2016-2018), including “continu(ing) to ask organisations to collect data and to develop policies and action plans that improve environmental performance and carbon emissions” as well as “ensur(ing) that what we ask is proportionate, as part of a differentiated strategy.”

Choreographing Our Future

The Long Read

In the post-institution-building era, how is art created and supported? Should – and can – public funding be as innovative as the contemporary practices and experiments it is meant to enable?

These are questions addressed in a recent report written by Shannon Litzenberger, a practising artist (a dancer, as the title might give it away) and arts policy researcher during her Innovation Fellowship at Canadian private foundation Metcalf.

The report is introduced as such on the foundation’s website:

As our cultural expression evolves, there is a need to re-look at some of the fundamental assumptions regarding how the arts are supported and sustained in Canada. The environment in which we are operating is radically different than in decades past. New technologies, changing demographics, global interconnectedness, and the evolving nature of public engagement in the arts have transformed our industry. Consequently, the working practice of the emerging generation is increasingly misaligned with current arts funding policies.

The author spent three years investigating industry trends in Canada, the UK, the US and Australia, meeting over 100 cultural leaders and reflecting on context and process. Her report is full of ideas and examples from artists, arts organisations, granting agencies and strategic consultants in the 4 countries of research – from Arts Council England’s project-based, continuous-intake funding programme Grants for the Arts to Toronto’s leading collaborative platform and shared workspaces Centre for Social Innovation and Artscape, via insights from DEMOS associate John Holden and WolfBrown’s consultant Alan Brown.

Litzenberger is careful to mention that “the recommendations contained in Choreographing our Future are not intended as prescribed solutions. They are designed to trigger a more informed debate within the sector about new ways to address future arts development.” The debate was there right from the launch event, where three Toronto-based arts advocate – a granting officer, an independent theatre creator and a consultant – presented to a full room their own views and reaction to the findings. What emerged from the public discussion was a strong desire to go further – but where?

The report conclusion contains clues to a possible direction: towards collaboration, between genres, generations and even industries.

It is not our intellect that will propel us forward, but our courage. We must be willing to erase the line that separates artist and institution, that polarizes the traditional from the contemporary, that pits disciplines of practice against each other, and isolates generations and cultural groups. In this new age of the arts — this newly celebrated creative economy — I am optimistic about the possibilities for artists, arts organizations, and funders to work together as creative innovators, as facilitators of engagement in creative life, and as ambassadors of a healthy, thriving, vibrant arts sector.

Summer Summary 2: Audience Experiences

Tools of the Trade

I’ve only managed to cover a few of my recent wonderful (and free!) aesthetic experiences in the first part of my Summer Summary, so I’ll just mention here quickly my visits to the Walker Art Gallery (Liverpool), the Tate Modern & Britain and the Whitechapel Gallery (London) – although I do intend to come back to my wonderful time at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao with the full-fledged post it deserves.

The second part is going to be all about the “working” side of my working holiday, but it’s not so much of a leap, because much of my work is actually concerned with the audience experience.

Part 2: The Audience Experience

The workshop: Growing Audiences for Jazz

One of the reasons for my summer(ish) European escapade was to deliver a workshop on audience development for NorVolJazz, a network of not-for-profit jazz promoters based in the north of England. My presentation is available online, and preparing it was a great way to reflect on what audience development means to me.

I started with a broad definition by Arts Council England, of which I like not only the multi-function approach (which suits my generalist nature), but also the distinction between audience development as a process (which is where most organisations stop) and ethos:

The term Audience Development describes activity which is undertaken specifically to meet the needs of existing and potential audiences and to help arts [and cultural] organisations to develop ongoing relationships with audiences. It can include aspects of marketing, commissioning, programming, education, customer care and distribution.

Audience development can focus on finding audiences outside the mainstream –i.e. “new audiences” or “audiences from socially excluded groups”. Audience development also reflects the relationship with audiences that develops over time with a focus on the long term.

As a process, audience development employs a range of marketing tools such as research, publicity, communication and customer relationship management.

As an ethos, audience development places the audience at the heart of everything the organisation does.

(source: Wikipedia / Arts Council England)

The last sentence is particularly relevant to the small organisations and independent promoters I was talking to: it’s about a reversal of perspective, from perceiving audience development efforts as an extra – and optional – financial or time cost to thinking first and foremost about people who come – or don’t come yet – to the gig: they ARE the gig.

Of course, it’s easier said than done, and it takes time and commitment, but the mistake would be to think that if audiences don’t come, it’s because you lack money or special skills. Sure, it might help – but the key here is to adopt the audience’s point of view and to think through their complete experience, from the moment they hear about the gig to after they’ve left the venue. I approached this in my workshop with a narrative structure, getting participants to think about how to “make them come”, “make them stay” (a personal worry, with jazz) and “make them come back”. This all goes well beyond the music: knowing in advance about the length of the sets or when the kitchen closes, for example, could make all the difference in the decision to come or not.

Going further, this 2009 series of briefings on audience development commissioned by East Midland Jazz was developed to be used directly by small promoters, avoiding jargon and helping out with decision-making. Although it is based on a specific regional audience and offer, most of it can be used as a starting point for a reflection on motivations and barriers, developing younger audiences, persuading more people to come to jazz more often and pricing.

In 2011, US-based Technology in the Arts published a guide called Online Audience Engagement: Strategies for Developing Jazz and Classical Audiences, also very practical and action-oriented, with some interesting case studies to provide best practice examples.

The Meeting: The Experience Business

Looking for inspiration for my workshop, I researched a few different case studies, some of which I’ve summarised in a previous post about innovative audience development initiatives for classical music. I also stumbled upon a goldmine of tips and insights when I discovered The Experience Business, a UK-based arts consultancy that has truly taken to heart the audience-centered ethos advocated by Arts Council England.

I met with founder and director Lisa Baxter just between her lecturing and workshop tour in Australia and the Mindcamp Creativity Conference in Canada that she attends regularly. Her approach is resolutely boundary-crossing, breathing fresh life into arts marketing by drawing from design thinking and user experience design, applying advanced creative facilitation methods and working with full organisations (and not just the marketing or senior executive team).

On her website, she’s sharing the books and quotes that influence her thinking, as well as this video by Tedde van Gelderen, CEO of Akendi, that presents what Experience Design is and can do:

The Book: The Audience Experience

Fittingly, Lisa Baxter contributed a chapter to a book that I had ordered just before meeting her, The Audience Experience: A Critical Analysis of Audiences in the Performing Arts. Written by a wide range of arts research academics and practitioners, it aims at addressing the following question: “What are audiences thinking, feeling and doing as a product of their engagement with arts practices?” It is redefining the now-ubiquitous term ‘audience engagement’ as “audiences that are engaged in both experiencing and remembering”, hence going much, much further than the traditional bums-on-seats approach.

The chapters explore, amongst other topics, audience response to new trends in arts presentation, such as ‘Alternative Content’ (i.e. live streaming of a performance in a cinema, used for opera, theatre, ballet and music) (CH. 2, Barker); the influence of venues and settings in shaping the audience experience and participation pattern (CH. 4, Brown); new methodologies to understand in greater depth the meaning of performing arts experiences (CH 5, Foremand-Wernet and Dervin; CH. 8, Baxter, O’Reilly and Carnegie; CH. 10, Radbourne; CH. 11, Johanson); and the relation between playing and listening to music, or studying and watching dance, and its influence in shaping the audience experience (CH. 6, Pitts; CH. 9, Vincs).

It’s probably best to leave it to the audience to describe what the audience experience actually is, so here are a couple of quotes gathered through some of the book’s case studies:

What I love about audiences in the theatre is that collective surge that can sometimes happen. It’s not always palpable but there’s a sense of everyone moving forward, or of relief, or maybe of being uncomfortable, or feeling the next person next to you, reacting. It’s a reflection of the emotional character of what’s going on.

When you go to a live performance, it’s happening, it’s in the zone, it’s transcendent. You feel like you’re a part of something special: you’ve actually been present, you’ve borne witness to something.

And a final one from an audience member whose life might very well have been changed by a successful audience development campaign:

Wow, I have never given much respect or thought to this classical music genre, but this was actually very delightful music … Why haven’t I been introduced to this music before? … I have often been told that classical music is boring or not ‘great’ music. I’m disappointed that I let other people’s point of of view distort my taste in music … This music definitely changed my opinion on the genre, not to mention I will be listening to this stuff more than I have.