transient works, temporary publics

anneke jaspers: one day sculpture symposium, wellington, nz

Billy Apple, Less is Moore, Wellington, 28 March 2009. Commissioned by Adam Art Gallery for One Day Sculpture

Billy Apple, Less is Moore, Wellington, 28 March 2009. Commissioned by Adam Art Gallery for One Day Sculpture

Billy Apple, Less is Moore, Wellington, 28 March 2009. Commissioned by Adam Art Gallery for One Day Sculpture

REALTIME MIGHT SEEM AN UNLIKELY CONTEXT FOR EXPLORING APPROACHES TO SCULPTURE, PHENOMENOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES ON THE VIEWING EXPERIENCE NOTWITHSTANDING. HOWEVER, THE YEAR-LONG PROJECT ONE DAY SCULPTURE THAT HAS BEEN UNFOLDING ACROSS NEW ZEALAND SINCE JUNE 2008 OFFERS AN EXPANSIVE INTERPRETATION OF THIS GENRE FOCUSED ON PERFORMATIVITY, TRANSIENCE, DISPERSAL AND INSTABILITY.

Conceived by UK-based curator and theorist Claire Doherty, One Day Sculpture is a collaborative production with the Litmus Research Initiative at Massey University in Wellington, directed by Australian David Cross. According to Doherty, it is explicitly “not an exhibition”, but operates instead as a platform for a series of discrete works to be commissioned and considered in relation to an overarching set of ideas concerned primarily with duration and place (Curatorial Statement, http://www.onedaysculpture.org.nz). In turn, One Day Sculpture has initiated a network of partnerships with local institutions and independent curators across the country, devolving responsibility for commissioning and delivering much of the series. By the time the program winds up mid-year, 21 enormously diverse projects by international and local artists will have been staged, each within their own 24-hour time period, at venues spanning Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch, Taranaki and Dunedin.

In association with the commissioning series, a two-day symposium was held in March that sought to tease out the relationship of the project to current discourses and, in particular, the intersection between performativity, place, temporality and collaboration where One Day Sculpture largely resides. The symposium program was arranged as a series of four sessions within which a number of concurrent activities took place, such that the experience mirrored the partial and contingent encounter of a temporary, place-responsive artwork. Likewise, within the commissioning series, the dispersal of the program across a 12-month period and between different social and geographic locations has ensured an in-built itinerancy, which reflects the broader circulation of artists, curators and audiences between sites that is a significant effect of place-based commissioning practices. Both of these strategies point to the research interests of the project: its focus on sculpture as an activating agent within the public sphere, and attention to the related challenges of finding responsive ways to present work of this kind and articulate its impacts.

In his position paper on the symposium’s first day, Dr Mick Wilson broached these themes by reflecting on the experience economy in which temporary art events circulate. Wilson addressed the ways ‘the public’ has been conceptualised within site-responsive art practices over the past two decades and considered the impact of market forces on how such works function in the public sphere. Within a context where art is now frequently instrumentalised for the purposes of city branding, urban renewal and cultural tourism, Wilson proposed a rethinking of how we consider the ‘public’ within this schema. Drawing on the philosophy of Giorgio Agamben, Wilson suggested an understanding of the public not as an already existing body of subjects ‘in-common’, but as temporally produced by the artwork and constituted only by those to whom it matters; for whom it disrupts the continuity of experience and in doing so creates a shift in consciousness. This logic effectively works against an understanding of the public of place-based artworks as being represented, and proposes instead that it is through contact with the work that a public is created.

Documentation, in print and online, during and after the experience of these works, might play a significant role in evolving a public. Billy Apple’s billboard project Less is Moore, staged March 28 in the Wellington Botanic Gardens, subtly engaged with this idea by problematising the notion of a direct encounter. Simultaneously playful and incisive, Apple’s work was erected on the Salamanca Lawn next to a permanently installed bronze sculpture by Henry Moore, with which it formed a dialogue. Moore’s sculpture, titled Inner Form, was donated to the City of Wellington in 1988 and, at the time, the wishes of the artist were made clear in a fax that addressed the treatment of the sculpture’s surface. More than 20 years later, Apple used his own sculpture as a mechanism for directing attention to Moore’s, reproducing the fax in full alongside a cheeky declaration that the City had undermined Moore’s artistic intentions by applying a protective lacquer and wax to its surface as a means of maintaining the sculpture’s gold patina. Alongside Apple’s request to remove the protective layer on Inner Form and “allow its surface to react naturally with the environment”, the reproduced (and massively enlarged) fax attested to the City’s deliberate resistance on this account.

While the overt theme of Apple’s work might be considered ethical – exploring the impact of institutionalised frameworks on artistic intention and audience reception – Less is Moore also worked to unsettle a clear delineation between immediate and mediated encounter. Standing before Moore’s sculpture in 2009 with Apple’s billboard alongside, it became apparent that the Inner Form being experienced was stuck in a time warp, frozen in its virtually pristine original form. Since its deteriorated surface could only be imagined via the notations in the reproduced fax, the decades since its installation were collapsed. At the same time, the impervious, shiny protective layer that separated the audience literally and metaphorically from Moore’s sculpture undermined the idea that this present-day encounter was couched in the integrity of situated contact.

Apple’s concern with a dynamics of artwork-audience exchange was echoed at the symposium in Berlin-based theorist Jan Verwoert’s paper regarding the ways temporary art projects invoke a cycle of expectation and delivery. On the second day, Verwoert spoke to how temporary site-responsive projects interface with an increasingly pervasive event culture. Developing out of the question “What is it we expect from such work?”, he teased out the dynamic of anticipation and actuality in which the capacity to deliver an event, to be ‘eventful’, becomes a measure of an artwork’s accomplishment and shapes an audience’s willingness to engage. Proposing that artists can undermine this logic by resisting the pressure to produce something spectacular, Verwoert turned our attention to the values inherent in work that is overtly uneventful and un-monumental.

Roman Ondák, Camouflaged Building, Wellington, 27 March 2009. Commissioned by Litmus Research Initiative, Massey University for One Day Sculpture

Roman Ondák, Camouflaged Building, Wellington, 27 March 2009. Commissioned by Litmus Research Initiative, Massey University for One Day Sculpture

Roman Ondák, Camouflaged Building, Wellington, 27 March 2009. Commissioned by Litmus Research Initiative, Massey University for One Day Sculpture

Roman Ondák’s project, Camouflaged Building, which took place on March 27 at the site of the Old Government Building on Lambton Quay, reconciled effortlessly with Verwoert’s proposition for public intervention as non-event. Designed in an Italian Renaissance-style and erected on land reclaimed from the sea, the Old Government Building is made entirely from native New Zealand kauri and is the largest wooden building in the southern hemisphere. The structure is emblematic of colonial conquest and exemplifies pretence; the painstakingly carved timber appears as stone and has been subsumed into an overbearing narrative of Eurocentrism.

Ondák’s sculptural intervention comprised a handful of unassuming sawdust piles that were installed around the exterior of the building, pressing up against its facade. The piles hovered ambiguously between the suggestion of construction excess—thus drawing attention to the material of the building—and the opposing notion of deterioration, as though termites were surreptitiously corrupting the architecture’s domineering sturdiness. Ondák’s work operated as a subtle interruption to the daily order within this space, in which the certainty of permanence was revealed as a fiction, just as the building presents itself as something it is not. It demanded of its audience an element of attentiveness and exploration, though it delivered very little by way of something to physically examine when it was found. For many people who moved through the site on the day, Camouflaged Building was so restrained it might have passed unnoticed.

Of course, for a major audience contingent, the site was treated as a destination and the prospect of not noticing Ondák’s work was undone on account of knowing it was there and going specifically to bear witness. On the day, the sight of clusters of knowing art spectators peering intently at the sawdust piles seemed to highlight the difficulty of reconciling some of the more compelling perspectives expressed at the symposium with the pragmatics of the One Day Sculpture undertaking. The value of uneventfulness as a strategy to resist embedded audience expectations, and the ideal of maintaining a critical distance from the experience economy, for instance, played off against a highly visible and savvy marketing campaign around Wellington urging people not to miss the current projects with the strap line: “Here today, gone tomorrow.”

Likewise, the symposium’s inherent reliance on secondary documentation as an avenue for providing access to a range of works from the series was under-investigated—at least in this reviewer’s experience—in relation to how the publics of a project positioned as practice-based research might themselves be accessed and articulated in empirical terms. Wilson’s notion of the public as formed through contact with a work, rather than being represented by it, is certainly persuasive. But it raises the significant question of how the impacts of an artwork on a radically abstracted public might be accounted for and not just assumed or imagined, both in the immediate aftermath of a project’s presentation and over time. This topic was left virtually unexplored during the symposium, though perhaps it will surface in the research publication to be released after the commissioning series draws to a close. Whether this is addressed in the project’s public archive will be a telling measure of the extent to which One Day Sculpture has really explored the potential for temporary, place-responsive artworks to engage new publics in new ways outside of conventional art frameworks.

One Day Sculpture: An International Symposium on Art, Place and Time, concept Claire Doherty, convened by Litmus Research Initiative, School of Fine Arts, Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand in conjunction with the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, March 26-28; www.onedaysculpture.org.nz

RealTime issue #91 June-July 2009 pg.

1 June 2009