A Socially Engaged Practice?

Heard a great radio interview yesterday by Frances Barrett talking to two artists Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, and Zanny Begg, together with the exhibition curator Megan Monte, about an upcoming show at Campbelltown Arts Centre in South Western Sydney. The exhibition is called “The List’ and the short version of the curatorial premise is seeking to socially engage with different groups of young people in the local area.

At one point Marvin Gaye Chetwynd outlined one of her work practices as putting an idea to a group and watching and waiting for the response if any. The quality of that response then drove the next stage of her work.

While an element of my practice has always been an engagement with community in the process of producing art, I reflected that often for me the production of the physical art object whether it be sound, video, installation, object whatever is then layered with additional engagement by a community post production. The physical work ” the art’ serves as a touch stone or means of putting an idea to a group or individual and then watching and waiting for the response. This process of engagement mostly in terms of conversation then becomes a totally ephemeral un-documented art work in its own right layered on top of the initial physical art.

My formative experience of this process was by accident. I hadn’t thought it through. I hadn’t designed it in any way. Following the medicalised death of my father I made an installation in the church of the town where he grew up. Aberdeen in NSW is a former meat works town of about 1500, now a dormitory suburb for the coal mines further down the valley. I had originally approached the rector about putting an installation in the church hall and his response was suggesting moving it into the church. Coincidentally on the day I opened the show the town’s pumpkin festival was being celebrated in the closed off street next to the church. That resulted in a lot of people coming to the exhibition without it being a big deal for them and coming almost by accident. With every group that came in I talked about the background to the installation i.e. the death and dying of my father. Nearly all of the visitors told me in response stories from their lives about when they watched and waited as someone died in intensive care, in emergency, at home wherever. These stories were the response that would not be shared between us without the physical presence of the art installation combined with the stories I told of my father’s death.

Listen to the original interview on demand on http://ondemand.fbiradio.com/stream.php?show=canvas

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