All works of art are experiments, really multiple experiments at multiple levels of experimentation. At one level, for instance, artists experiment with the way they interact with society. How does this activity relate to the more “normal” kind of experimentation that occurs when an artist doodles, paints or molds clay? What is at stake for an artist actively experimenting at this level? The installation “Thread”, commissioned for the Good Gift Fair and created by a duo of artists previously unacquainted with one another, provides a nice case through which to examine these questions.
“Thread” is comprised of clothing lines that converge on a bamboo structure built by the Swedish artist Robin Andersson and threaded with clothing silhouettes made by the Dutch artist Loes Venker-de Noo. The installation is a fluttering, dreamlike procession of shapes that variously enclose and reveal the people moving about throughout the fair.
At the level of materials, experimentation proceeds for each artist in a similar way. “I dyed some fabric pieces with different kinds of tea, black tea giving a stronger color than green tea. I think it is nice,” says Venker-de Noo. Andersson cuts incisions in a pole in order to bend it into a curve, but then rejects this technique. He needs to cover more ground in learning the basic capabilities of the medium, but both are making adjustments according to practical and aesthetic criteria.
Neither has been in this kind of artist partnership before. Testing one another’s aesthetic criteria in dialogue is itself a form of experimentation, a way of learning how this collaboration may be viable. Emails fly back and forth, images are exchanged, all the preparatory work is completed, and on the morning of the event the two artists work side by side to assemble and fine tune the installation. In retrospect, they make the same guarded remark about this way of working: “it is interesting.”
In truth this partnership has been remarkable for its absence of conflict. This is either due to an overlap in aesthetic sensibilities or their tolerance for aesthetic tension. After all artists take their work seriously. Aesthetics is not just a matter of the superficial appearance of things, but something that connects deeply to personal values and notions of morality.
And therein is the linkage between artists and society. Representing personal values in outward form is an act of trust which when reciprocated puts values in play. In the case of aesthetic overlap there is harmony and reaffirmation. In the case of conflict there is repulsion, but the resulting tension is subtly charged with the possibility of personal growth, and by extension social change.
Installed in such a way that it is literally threaded throughout the event, the artwork negotiates demands of the physical site (in fact eclipsing them and spilling out into the street), as well as those implicit in the motivations and expectations of fairgoers, organizers, and other stakeholders. Unlike a work of commercial art it does not so much serve these demands as acknowledge them. Yes, the installation seems to fulfill the role of decoration, providing a festive aura conducive to generosity towards the participating NGOs. Yes, the installation seems to provide a creative aura which fulfills the expectations of participating artists and others seeking affiliation with a creative scene. It may provide an aura of domesticity too, responding to expectations of the host authorities and neighbors. The fair itself is an experiment, however, and the meanings that are ultimately attributed to it emerge from the artists’ aesthetic realizations as much as from anything else.
Those aesthetic realizations are worthy of further discussion, but for starters their mere choice to work with one another and furthermore extend their practice into this contested field, where harmony and tension occurs within complex layers of inter-related social engagement and experimentation, indicates a concern for connectivity coupled with action.
For more information about the Good Gift Fair and photos of the event please visit the website.