Ghostings: creating intangible, plugged in art

Barbara Bolt

(L to R) John Rodgers & Jeffrey Erbacher (Hydromys Chrysogaster), Jill Barker, Jay Younger (Curator) and Jeremy Hynes. (Adam Donovan is currently overseas)

(L to R) John Rodgers & Jeffrey Erbacher (Hydromys Chrysogaster), Jill Barker, Jay Younger (Curator) and Jeremy Hynes. (Adam Donovan is currently overseas)

(L to R) John Rodgers & Jeffrey Erbacher (Hydromys Chrysogaster), Jill Barker, Jay Younger (Curator) and Jeremy Hynes. (Adam Donovan is currently overseas)

Queensland’s new Centre of Contemporary Arts, due for completion in July 2001, is one of the winners in a state government initiative, Art Built-in which requires capital works projects worth over $250,000 to allocate 2% of the budget to public art. Curator Jay Younger and artists Jill Barker, Adam Donovan, Jeremy Hynes, and Hydromys Chrysogaster’s John Rodgers and Jeffrey Erbacher were selected by Arts Queensland to develop a collaborative, integrated artwork suitable for the Centre of Contemporary Arts. Barbara Bolt talks with Jay Younger (JY) and commissioned artists Jill Barker (JB) and John Rodgers (JR) about the progress of the project.

Jay, you were appointed as the curator. What was your vision?

JY There is a long history of relating architecture to the body and that became useful to me to think about public art and how to integrate it with the building as a whole. I envisaged the building as the body and the public art as the prosthesis. I didn’t want to see public art as being static, permanent ‘plonk’ art that becomes irrelevant in a certain time frame. One of the major aims was to create an infrastructure that could actually show temporal work. Work will be programmed into the infrastructure for a certain lifespan and then other artists who show casework in the space can use that infrastructure.

JB Because we were able to work with the architects before the building was renovated, we actually looked at things that could be absolutely built into the building, for example videos and screens. And then the art, the content, becomes something that you plug in. If the art that we make for that infrastructure can be plugged into it, then so can any other work…art the tenants want to insert while our work is running, or afterwards, or a combination of both. It makes it very flexible.

While the project was designed as a collaborative one, the selected artists didn’t have a history of working together; in fact, they didn’t all know each other. What motivated the choice of participating artists and how did you imagine they would work together?

JY It became a question of looking at the various kinds of skills and trying to get differences in terms of disciplines, philosophy and ways of working. For example, one of the things that interested the Public Art Advisory Group (PAAG) was Jill’s minimalist aesthetic and her restrained approach to relating her work to the body. Some of the artists are quite excessive in the way they produce. When you draw together a number of people who wouldn’t necessarily produce an homogenous result, there are tensions and conflicts and agreements and strange kinds of things that go on between these different ideas and people and ways of working. You don’t have control; the result can never be something you would predict because of the way it takes you somewhere else.

JB The work is minimal, but I don’t know that I’d call myself a minimalist. I just think everyone else is maximalist. I guess my work is economical, finding the simplest way of doing things. I think I edit a lot before anything actually happens and in that way there is an economy.

How then did you as an “economical” artist negotiate working with artists who could be seen as excessive or maximalist?

JB I think part of it is generosity, going in there fairly open and talking about things and then seeing what happens and interests people. I try not to have very defined intentions. That’s part of the economy of working. It doesn’t help to have your intentions already formed at certain points.

The whole group has been fluid then?

JB I think that’s really important. At some point it is a matter of holding up everything as a possibility and at other points obviously some of those possibilities have to coalesce, become probabilities or definite. It is knowing when to do that, when to hold everything up in the air.

JY It becomes a really interesting situation though when it is about the polarities of where something is solid and where something is fluid. I guess in terms of collaborative process, people may be reticent to take control or be seen to be overbearing. While the artists all have collaborative experiences, the one formed here is unique. The artists decide what is acceptable and what is not. A particular approach is created between the participants and a specific process and language emerges.

JR We had an impossibly small introduction to each other’s work and that’s all in some cases that we knew. And then we spent 2 weeks around a table bringing stuff in, talking about it. And at the end, it did have a shape.

JB We actually came up with quite a number of proposals of various kinds so we didn’t fix on the final work at that point.

JR We possibly had 10 times the amount of work.

JB And 50 times the budget.

In the conceptual phase you can imagine anything, you can afford to be generous. What happens when it comes to decision time?

JB At that point we went to a meeting with the Public Art Advisory Group and the tenants.

JY We prioritised.

JB And they agreed, actually.

JR We did come up with the notion of ghosting and that’s how it managed to hang itself together. ‘Intangibility’ or ‘ghosting’ seemed to cover the range of things people wanted to work with. My media, sound, is a perfect one for something that is very intangible. Because there were plug-ins, we wanted it to be something that was changing and ethereal and resonating.

JB It also seemed to connect with the nature of the building and its history, and the idea of bodies ghosting is like the final prosthetic, the final prosthesis of the body: the last thing that is left of the body could be thought to be a ghost. We weren’t really thinking of it in terms of ghost quite so literally, so we chose the word ‘ghosting.’

JY I guess it is about form mutating, something that might have been solid at one point has become intangible.

JB We were also linking it to the idea of contemporary art in the sense that what art is, is really hard to pin down. We then prioritised the ideas which seemed to have some kind of flow through the building, conscious of how they would operate for visitors entering the public spaces. The infrastructure for the works is like a haunting of the building.

How will the viewer apprehend this ghosting?

JR You mean, what you would actually experience entering the space? The obvious thing is the video ghost, which involves a large sloping glass wall as you walk into the building. Behind this glass wall presumably there will be a restaurant. A video image reflects down onto this glass from the ceiling and you experience this as a reflection a further distance behind the glass…a ‘ghostingly’ real presence in the restaurant.

JB It can be programmed video material interacting with live performance with sound in 3 dimensions in the space.

RealTime issue #41 Feb-March 2001 pg. 31

© Barbara Bolt; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2001