It’s been a long month. The equinox came and went without me even realising it. I was down in Wakefield at The Art House printing work for OutsideIn which will be taking some of it to Manchester Art Fair. It’s a long time since I have been to one – I really don’t like them. They seem harsh and brutal places to be an artist, plus I am not particularly good at the skills needed to schmooz and sell.
This isn’t another of my random tangential ramblings. I mention the art fair as I feel there is a lot of similarity between that and the way in which the majority of the ‘visual art offer’ at Unlimited Festival at Southbank is presented. Let’s face it, it is about appealing to the masses, to get the footfall, and couching it in the commercial consumerist ‘experiential’ milieu helps contextualise it.
Perhaps another way of viewing it is as if you are in an Ikea showroom, where each mini area is focussed and presented as a whole experience….the compact bathroom, the studio, the office, the kitchen….moving from one to the other without any real distinction or sense of changing the location. A homogeneous visual domestic Muzac.
What I write here is not a comment or critique on the artwork presented at Unlimited Festival at Southbank. However, it is concerned with how the artwork is presented.
As a curator and artist, I believe in the art having room to breathe, to exist in its own space. With room for the art to breathe the audience can breathe too. Get up close and personal and stand back and experience the work occupying its own space, to gain a bit of perspective, time and space to reflect. Having four artists within this space with another in an anteroom of it means the space is full, one body of work runs into another.
This appears more exaggerated because so much of the work contained similar palates. With works in close proximity, the lack of distinction regarding space between artists and the colour palates used, an uniformed visitor could be forgiven for thinking the visual arts produced by disabled artists was surprisingly homogenous. All this together with sound bleed from upstairs, particularly with musicians rehearsing and playing, there was a lot of audio and visual ‘Static’ which at times was quite overwhelming.
The basement space at the Southbank is not an ideal space for the display of visual art, I can see why and understand totally why artists agree to show their work there and in this context. The national and international profile it receives by being exhibited in this space in this context can be invaluable, particularly this year when tours were conducted and the British Council were hosting international delegates.
The above images show views up and down the gallery to illustrate the close proximity of the works of each artist.
I have written extensively on how the bar has been raised in performance led by disabled artists. Much of this to my mind is the investment not of finance, although that helps, but in it being critiqued, encouraged to withstand rigour and being shown in the best possible ways – in proper theatres, on proper stages with good tech and design. No one would ever think about putting 2 or 3 shows on the same stage at the same time and expect the audience and artistes to have a rich satisfactory experience, although this is the expectation of audiences and artists within the visual arts.
Yes, it is a start to be exhibited but the bar must be raised for artists and audiences, with the work withstanding critique and rigour. If we get to the end of this funding cycle of Unlimited and we do not have representation of rigorous, critically relevant work in more galleries then I fear for the legacy and future of disabled artists who produce object-based ‘traditionally shown in a gallery’ work.