Since reading an article in the NY Times (“Getting Art out on the Streets”) I have maintained a passion to produce work in an outdoor environment. For my Foundation Diploma, I was starting college in a new town: Blackburn. The landscape of Blackburn is at times bleak; the town centre has empty shops, boarded windows and derelict buildings on all sides of the campus. Being surrounded by such a colourless backdrop on a daily basis urged me to want to infuse colour into the town. Creating art work outside of galleries is very significant to me as it accesses a larger audience, and communicates to people who may have never step foot in a gallery, helping to gain a larger appreciation of art. Although, it could also create controversy, as people may see it as intrusive or destructive. Before beginning outdoor practice, I had to accept the idea of my art becoming disposable, as it was to be left outdoors for anyone to manipulate, though this did become part of the nature of my project. Since visiting the Camden Street Art tour I have felt heavily motivated to practice outside. It seems that the world of street art is up and rising in the 21st century, and with me moving to London in September, it could be the perfect practice.
When beginning Unit 7 I was initially planning on continuing with the work which I had been producing within Unit 5, which entailed placing colourful weaves into ‘holes’ around different neglected areas of Blackburn. Within Unit 5 I was primarily influenced by the works of artist Jan Vormann, who exploited his concern and question of why we are brought up playing with bright toys as children, to then be filtered out to live in dull urban setting – lacking in colour. Vormann rebuilds ruined walls with Lego brick pieces, communicating nostalgic throw backs for an older audience and an excitement for the younger.
In order to extend Unit 5 into Unit 7, my original intention was to create larger scale installations (weaves in particular) with influence from the likes of Gabriel Dawe and Claes Oldenburg. I contacted Blackburn Council asking of any buildings in the centre which were due to be demolished, explaining my desire to transform a space which I felt looked neglected and dull. They ignored my request to transform a building due for demolition, which at first disheartened me. After looking at Steve Wheen’s pot hole gardens, I realised that large scale was not essential. Through experimentation, I began to move away from the idea of installing weaves. I realised that I was really aiming for the viewer to feel a random unexpected moment of happiness, curiosity and excitement. Within my future practice at university I aim to explore larger scale installations and sculptures, though I felt that for my FMP that there may not be enough time to create a successful piece.
Adam Bartholl creates outdoor installations of a small scale – such as the USB stick plugged into a brick wall. His piece was humorous, and such a simple idea. He creates a hazy terrain between digital and public art. I thought that it would be interesting to create a similar idea by creating scenarios outdoors in which it appears that electrical objects are being plugged into walls/buildings/trees. One of my installations was of a telephone, which I attached to a brick wall of derelict building using silicone. To exaggerate the juxtaposition of this piece I painted the telephone bright vibrant colours – another quality of the object which you would not expect. With the telephone being a cable phone, it was already out of context due to their neglect in a modern day household. Overall I was pleased with the aesthetic of this piece and felt that I would expand on this idea and concept.
Half way through my project, my cousin asked me if I wanted a box of her old pot dolls. There were around 20. At first I laughed it off, but then I realised that it could be the perfect component for a chain of work. Mark Jenkins creates hyper-realistic humanoid sculptures, each of a similar style and nature to each other. His work adopts an absurdist sense of humour, compelling an engaging response from the viewer. Jenkins ‘strives to create a moment of pure theatricality in the street, and turn everyday space into art and drama’. This approach to street art is very unique and shocking. Engaging such an impacting response and connection from a viewer makes a piece more memorable and entertaining. I decided that with placing dolls outdoors, and in urban settings, I would also be adopting a slight theatricality, with a strange humourous twist. With the dolls often being described as ‘creepy’ I believe that when people see them alone in the street, it may be quite memorable for them.
Before deciding on a final idea, I explored other ways of adding colour to the outdoors. Matthew Sawyers tin can project of taking the littered cans, painting, and placing them back where he found them inspired me to paint a banana skin with bright colours and leave it on a pathway in Blackburn centre. I felt that this idea could have also been expanded, though did not hold the potential of the pot doll idea – as I could not create personification as I could with the dolls. Another idea which I experimented with was rebuilding a broken post with colourful plastic cubes, though the process was too time consuming and though it looked striking when photographed, it was quite unnoticeable when passing it physically.
I also experimented with placing colourful items such as weaved ropes and plaster casts which I had previously made within an abandoned power station. Though the images did prove successful and aesthetically pleasing, I did not feel that they accomplished my original target. Originally I had hoped to add colour to settings which lacked it. The power station was already lavished with the colours of the paints used by graffiti artists.
After a critique with the class and a discussion with my tutor, I decided that I would use the dolls for the final idea of my FMP. Seeing the ‘curious project’, which is based in London, confirmed that creating a participant active project is an exciting and engaging idea. I first of all planned on leaving the dolls only in Blackburn. I was hoping to show a map within my final display, pin pointing the areas in which I left the dolls. I searched around shops for a map which I could use to display in the exhibition. Finding a map of Blackburn alone was a struggle. After a long search I come across an ordinance survey map which depicted Burnley, Blackburn and all the surrounding towns. From seeing this, I decided that it would be more interesting and exciting if I expanded my project to further regions, and therefore bought the ordinance survey map.
I selected different towns which were displayed on the map. The towns which I chose were; Rawtenstall, Burnley, Blackburn, Accrington, Colne, Clitheroe, Barnoldswick, Todmorden and Barrowford. I chose these destinations as they displayed an even spread across the map, and showed a variety of wealth and class within the different areas. After confirming with my nanna and boyfriend that they would help me access these areas, I began planning dates for which I could ‘plant’ the dolls – and how I would go about doing it.
All of my dolls had been spray painted. I run through with the theme of bright vibrant colours, echoing colour schemes by artists such as Holton Rower and Dave Kaufman. The colours of my dolls grab the attention of the viewer, with some of them being fluorescent, and some being clashing, achieving exactly what I wanted with them. In my opinion, the colours are uplifting and energetic. My prediction was, that if someone was to find a doll of such wild colours on the street they would feel much more excited about it, than if they were to find a doll of the traditional colours or of dull colour.
Leaving the first doll outdoors was daunting. Due to the nature of my project, and with it requiring interactivity from the public, I was to leave it in a highly populated area. At this point, I felt as though my art was adopting a performance element, similar to Ralph Hall, as I was merely doing something strange and unexpected in front of an audience. As I was alone I was quite fearful, and it give me a huge adrenaline rush. In hindsight I realise that due to my emotion at the time I did not capture enough range of images – this was with the red doll left in Blackburn. Despite this I still chose to include this doll within my project, as it was all part of the learning and developing process. From studying the photography work of Max Shuster I decided how I wanted to position the dolls in order to create a crisp image with juxtaposing qualities. Shuster creates absurd examples of both mischievous and grotesque objects, but also incorporates a link into the familiar. By distorting the pot dolls, I am also echoing a similar style. With influence from Shuster I chose to place the dolls on rather plain backgrounds, although still to exploit the neglect and damage of some of the areas which I visited. The red doll in Blackburn was placed on a dirty step. The purple doll left in Colne, she was resting against a garage door, of which the paint was peeling.
With the idea of creating an interactive platform, I created new accounts on social media sites. It was made apparent to me that many artists are criticised for entering the digital world, and hunting for ‘followers’ of their work. My intention was to follow the pathways of the dolls, and create a body of work which would become recognisable to a larger audience. I feel the importance of keeping in keep with the world in which I am creating art about, so why not utilise the facilities? I created an account on Twitter and Instagram: @vividiurbanart and an email address: firstname.lastname@example.org . ‘Vividi’ was a shortened abbreviation of ‘vividiorqui’, meaning vibrant in Latin. Urban art described the nature of my work.
Around the neck of each doll I attached a note which read, “MOVE ME. Send a picture of me in my new destination, along with a note of your name and age to: email@example.com or tag me on Instagram or Twitter @vividiurbanart”. By attaching this I was hoping to create movement with the dolls through participation of the public. I was successful of 4 occasions. Participants of a variety of ages moved the dolls and responded to my note. Receiving such responses made the project worthwhile. I now know that I had inflicted a random moment of excitement and curiosity into someone’s day, to the point where they had been willing to interact with a stranger. I kept six dolls which I had painted in college, so that at the exhibition I can exhibit them as sculpture, and then allow the audience to take them at the end of the show. My desire is to have one of the dolls travel abroad, but I can only request this to the visitors of the show. By doing so I am allowing my project to continue, as a platform for me to begin on at university.
After dispersing all of the dolls, it was time to think about the presentation of my project at the exhibition. I knew that I was going to pinpoint the destinations of each doll on my ordinance survey map – but I did not feel that this alone was enough. With the nature of my project being to encourage people to interact I decided to elaborate on how this could be achieved within the exhibition. My first idea was to place the dolls around the remaining 6 dolls around the college, and give a map to the visitors, in order for them to find the dolls in a treasure hunt manner. I was told that this may become too time consuming, and that it may take away the focus of the gallery space. It was then suggested to me that I look into creating QR codes. This way I would be bringing in the digital aspect of the project, whilst creating a display which viewers are forced to interact with in order to uncover the art work. This was the idea which I settled on. For each doll which I had left in a destination I was to select one image and create an URL link to this image, which could then be transformed into a QR code. I did all of this online. Each QR code that I made corresponded with the colour of the doll which it displayed. Therefore, I would have a more aesthetically pleasing selection of codes on display at the exhibition, in keeping with my theme of vibrant colours. For each QR code I painted a pin the same colour, so that it could be matched and found to its destination on the map.
My initial plan for the map display was to use the original ordinance survey map. My reasoning for this was that the recognisable fold creases in the map would make it feel like a real hunt. After attempting to place the pins in the map, I found that the colours of the pins were drowned out by the map, making it difficult for them to be seen. In response to this, I chose to photograph the map, and reprint it in black and white. After doing so I replaced the pins in their destinations and was happy with the display.
As my project held a narrative and movement, I decided that it would be a good idea to create a book. Here I could explain the journeys of the dolls which had been moved by members of the public. Matthew Sawyer displays many of his ‘document works’ on sheets with a short narrative. I felt that this turn of display created enigmas. His document works influenced the style and layout of my book. Within the book I included minimalistic information of the destination of the dolls, hoping that this may encourage the viewer to want to explore and visit my work or the destinations of my work even further.
Thinking about how to arrange the remaining dolls at exhibition was difficult. Originally I was planning to place them on the wall in a row, but it come apparent that this was way to organised, and if I was hoping for people the take them to place elsewhere that they would be less likely to want to pull them from the wall. After visiting the KAWS exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the John Latham exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute, I found that the ability to walk around a sculptural piece and view it from all angles made the piece feel much more interesting. One of Latham’s pieces was suspended around twenty ft off the ground, but again the viewers would be less likely to take a doll if they were so far off the ground. Placing the dolls on the floor was also an option, but I felt that the gallery space was too small, and this would be a risk giving the expectation of how many people were to visit the exhibition. It was for all these reasons that I decided to place the dolls on plinths. It was suggested to me that I pile all of the dolls on one plinth in an organised fashion, as they were not precious pieces of art, and this displayed that, but I felt that I wanted for the dolls to engage with the viewer more vividly. The perfect composition which I found was to have the dolls on two plinths in the centre of the gallery space, with three dolls on each plinth. As the dolls are facing back to back, their menacing glare is facing every direction, and with the paint glazing over their eyes, this was sure to create a connection with the viewer. I felt that having the dolls upright created an element of personification as it felt as though they were looking at the viewer.
On display I also placed ten of my favourite images of each of the dolls in their destination at A3 size. For each image I altered its brightness and contrast levels on Photoshop to enhance the intensity of the colours of the doll against the background.
To conclude I am pleased with the outcome of my project and exhibition display. My project was not made to exploit or communicate any issues, which many people believe to be the sole purpose of creating art work. Instead I wished to create a project which may be open for interpretation by the viewer. When people look at art work they question what it is about, and if I do not define what it is about in my description – I am creating many meanings for it, depending on the mind of the viewer. One peer told me that it makes them think of children left behind at war. After hearing this another peer said that it could even represent the belonging left behind at the homes of children who were executed in gas chambers at concentration camps during the war. When I looked at current issues which I felt that it could communicate ideology with, I felt as though it could resemble the current refugee crisis, as families and children are being forced to flee and move to destinations which they may not hope or know for, and many of the time it is beyond their will. From a more positive perspective, the project communicates ideas of freedom, and how we have the ability to travel so easily to places all over the world in the 21st century. No matter what way people look at the project, I feel that I succeeded with my intentions of creating an interactive platform, whilst infusing beautiful colours into dull societies, which I was then able to display successfully at exhibition.