Sunday, 28 February 2010

The artist's questions, and a first date

This week the Saturday discussions in the gallery were informed enormously by having Richard Grayson himself in to talk about the exhibition and answer questions. More on that shortly. Informal chats in the gallery beforehand with people viewing the work. As Bern has said in the previous post, it is very interesting how this work seems to open up discussion in some fairly revealing areas of people's lives and beliefs with very little preamble. My favourite anecdote however was from one couple I went up to speak to about the work. I introduced myself and asked how they were finding the exhibition, what they made of the work, and the young man looked at me and said, "We're actually on a first date, so to be honest I'm not really taking much of it in!" I decided that it probably wasn't the time to try and discuss art and left them to it. (I do hope the date went well - one of the many functions of art at work!) One couple I spoke to for some time raised the issue of compatibility of different belief systems, how an individual's belief system may have accommodate several others simultaneously. They were interested in the representations of astrology and Christianity, and in their own lives professed a belief in both. However they also knew people close to them who didn't feel that was tenable, and that astrology was un-Christian. Our discussion was focused on the ways in which all of us incorporate aspects of different systems, rituals and so on, into something that is coherent for us, and that for all of us there was a limit to how far we would go beyond our own comfort zone in having our beliefs challenged.

There is much I could write about Richard Grayson's Q&A (led by Andrew Brighton). Richard was warm, engaging, entertaining, and disarmingly open about his own lack of certainty around issues of belief. Although inspired in part by his concern that there seems to be a movement of specific religious beliefs back into the political sphere, he was keen to stress that he had no intention with the work to make fun of anyone's beliefs, nor to directly criticise, but rather to examine "belief in operation", "the functions of belief, rather than what the beliefs actually are."
He spoke at length about his problem with the (post-modern) idea of equivalence - the notion that one belief system offers exactly the same weight and validity as another - but he also struggles with any belief system that claims absolute truth and rightness. He described his own position as "fluttery" and that the work essentially is about examining rather than supporting or decrying the content of individuals' belief systems.

There is much else besides that was covered, and it made for an engaging walk and talk afterwards, although such was the level of engagement that the group never moved from beyond the beginning of the exhibition! All those taking part had seen the work previously and been present at Richard's talk, so the focus was on the questions raised by what they had seen and heard, rather than re-engaging with individual pieces. Questions that were raised included: how far is it one's responsibility when viewing work to be informed? This was in response to a reply from Richard to the effect that he presumed an audience for his work who understand the aesthetic - "a slightly art-geek audience". Some people in discussion felt it is the artist's responsibility to create work where the aesthetic engages the audience to get to grips with the ideas - others felt that the responsibility lies with the viewer, who on entering a gallery is engaging in a kind of unspoken contract to interrogate the work. This led on to a wider discussion of the relationship the DLWP has with the local community in Bexhill - which no doubt could have gone on for much longer! All those participating were Bexhill residents which is great.

A very full afternoon of thinking and discussion, which I could write ten times more about. This is a thought-provoking exhibition and the discussions have been fascinating.