because you might as well make a world that sort of works…

because you might as well make a world that sort of works

By Joanna Brown

ARCHIPELAGO is an experiment in democracy; an attempt at crossing the ever increasing divides that exist in our culture. This is seen in the positioning of ARCHIPELAGO in a gallery which sits beside a children’s playground in a park. It is shown in Claire Blundell Jones’ work The crow who didn’t know… in which the viewer is invited to collaborate with Blundell-Jones and tell her what ‘Crow didn’t know’ and in Michelle Griffiths’ Human Folk Bird where we are invited to write a folk song we remember and place it on a tree. My song was about a bird, inspired perhaps by sitting opposite Blundell-Jones’ taxidermy black crow.

As a viewer I am constantly finding connections between the works. I see consumerism and materiality throughout; most obviously in the display of American dollars in Make It Rain by Steve Ounanian but yet again in the increasing number of jigsaws, in the hundreds of post-it notes that cover the walls with stories of ducks and duck, in Blundell-Jones’ increasing collection of pictures of a crow and in Fiona Templeton’s evolving collection of books. Whether or not these parallels exist is not important. I am finding them because that’s what we do.

We meet people, we network, we add friends on Facebook and we create our own little islands of family and friends. We attempt to bridge difference and social divides through shared interests and a democratisation of society. We come together with others, perhaps giving up a little autonomy along the way in an attempt to make things better as a whole.

The artists in ARCHIPELAGO have come together as separate artists yet what they are creating is more than the sum of their work. In this, perhaps, their work might be different to their first imaginings. What they have made and continue to make are viewed in the context of the other islands. Gary Stevens’ idea of an artwork which is not curated by theme but by the existence of people working beside each other has the potential for some gentle conversations and silent collaborations. There is a sense of meeting, the viewer making connections between one exhibit and another, one artist’s work physically spilling over into another, an object from one exhibit integrated into another. Sometimes these meetings make sense. Sometimes the meetings seem more contrived. On the day I was there I noticed a folk song which had been written for Griffiths’ exhibition had been split into two verses. A verse about hair had been placed in Helena Goldwater’s work Funnel of love which features hair. Another verse which mentioned money had been placed next to Ounanian’s dollars. The obviousness of the action left no space for imagination to take hold and the connections lost their meanings.

Then there is work which seems content to stay in its own island, distinct from the rest.

I become part of the process of creation. I watch pieces of jigsaws being placed on the wall and I wonder about the choices made by the artist. I view a faint picture on the wall which is slowly being drawn over to bring it into the foreground; details evolve, are revealed, ideas are manifest before me. I see the artists making. I become familiar with the process. I find my own way onto the islands.

We need these islands. And we also need bridges. We need the democracy, the labour, the attempt. And now more than ever we need to find relevance in our islands of art so that they don’t sink into the sea. In an ever changing landscape – and in the words of Graeme Miller in his work Conjunction- we ‘might as well attempt to make a world that sort of works.’

ARCHIPELAGO continues this week and next, open Wed – Sun 12 – 6pm.

Image: Make It Rain (2011), Steve Ounanian. Photo by Laura Milnes

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