with Jo Thomas and Jack Brown
JB: Do you want to come and join us?
GM: Sure… are you the group?
JB: How are you, have you been around the festival? Are you knackered?
GM: Fairly knackered, I’ve been working with Louisa Fairclough and her film installation…
JB: How has that piece been received so far?
GM: Generally I think it’s gone down pretty well, I’ve just visited it now to see how it was going, the room was full of people sat on the floor, communing with it
JB: Where is that piece?
GM: It’s in the Museum and Art gallery just across the road there... I was sort of interested to see what you were up to…
JB: Well this is the start of a two year road trip, not a continuous road trip but its an occasional road trip over two years. And we are trying to visit ‘publically engaged artists’ or ‘publically engaged art organisations.’ We are, already, finding these terms difficult because they are so widely over used.
GM: Yeah, I was just wondering if there is any precision in how you use these sorts of terms…
JT - There is a tolerance, I think, in the way different people use them, there seems to be so many people working in this field – it’s almost like ‘working in the world’
JB: So, maybe we could describe it as ‘people who aren’t just studio based’… people who are outside making work.
GM: There was that phrase ‘public realm’ for a while, that came and went…
JB: So, the idea is that after two years we will have collected what is kind of happening at the moment, in certain places. I don’t think we are going to try and define it in some way. We will, instead be taking a snap shot of what is happening at that time.
GM: So is this something to inform your own practice? Rather than you forming work out of it, there is work that’s being formed during it, which is this research. But is there a trajectory – post research - that you want to try to follow?
JB: Well I think it’s still so early on, we haven't honestly got that far ahead
JT: We have done a series of projects before, we have quietly been talking with artists working in places and working out what it is that they do.
GM: Well, OK, my ideas about what publically engaged art
is... there is one model where you engage the public in the development of an artwork, but then half of the time the artist uses that as a foil and then they make work they wanted to anyway.
JB: Yes, we were talking about this earlier; that’s more like cooperation really, as opposed to collaboration, you are basically getting people to cooperate with your project, you know ‘can you finish this artwork off for me’..
Also, public art from the public’s point of view would be more like a sculpture in a town centre, a permanent piece of work.
GM: There is a great phrase, I don’t know if you have read the book by Miwon Kwon – One Place After Another, she has got this phrase called ‘plop art’ it’s quite disgusting, but it’s that idea of placing sculptures in public space that bear no relationship to where they are placed.
JT: It’s almost like ‘we’ll have one of them in the town, one of them here, they always go by the station don’t they…’
JT: So, what’s your practice?
GM: Well, I‘m the co-director of a space in Stroud where I live, in Gloucestershire. So the idea of facing the public is sort of there but it is also guided by the phrase ‘work first!’ so if people didn’t turn up it was OK as long as it was good work. In a rural setting you can’t always expect big audiences, they do sometimes appear…
I wouldn’t call myself particularly publicly engaged now…
JB – You were before and you’ve changed?
GM – I was very interested in it, but over time I became critical of it as a method or methodology. I didn’t have a clear methodology, so if I was to criticise my work I felt it was a little bit indistinct, a bit hazy. I couldn’t quite embrace the open-endedness of it. One of the things for me about it is if you are engaging with a community you really have to have some genuine relationships. Those sorts of relationships are formed over interchange or exchange. It has to be genuine and that’s where I was critical of my work because I wasn’t sure if I could commit to that sort of level of engagement. Not because I'm insincere but because I couldn’t go and move into a place (to work as an artist)
JT – One thing I’ve found challenging is how you leave places (as an artist)
GM – That’s right, I think there is the idea of legacy there… I did do a project, it was a waste project. It was like a propaganda thing for the local Council to talk to villagers about the concept of zero waste. So I did a research project based on their waste, then made a series of heads, and something was going to be cast out of the iron I got from the local mechanic, from used break disks he had.
The project never quite finished and in a way I’m quite please because it means I’ve got this ongoing contact, I’m still having a conversation with them, those people and that place, just because the work isn’t quite finished. So, we have, or at least I have the ambition of part of it becoming first prize for ‘recycling on the allotment’ and it would become part of the village fete. This object called the Riseley Bird was going to be awarded annually at the fete, and therefore get passed around the village. The idea being that this object was derived through my residency there and then stayed there. The other important thing for me was that it belonged to the community. By awarding it as an annual project it would then circulate and people’s names would be written on it, it would become a catalogue or an index almost…
One of the artists I wanted to mention was Nevil Gabie, he’s good at these long term engagements with people, he’s currently doing something up in the Orkney Islands, he is re-buildling a wooden boat…
JB – So, his long term is years long? Months long?
GM – Years, he’s been going up there for two years and has been making various video pieces…
JB – So, he’s not living there
GM– He visits periodically. In Bristol not so long ago, Suzanne Lacy went and did a residency there. She was forming the ‘University of Common Knowledge’ but that was heavily criticised by people there because she would just come in, and she had somebody and the media centre who just managed it on a day to day level. She just stipulated the parameters by which the thing took place. The fact it was being managed from a far, remotely as it were, via email that authenticity of relationship existed only by proxy… so therefore it’s being undermined in some way. So I think there is something about the artist being present in all of this.
Visitor to the caravan that has been listening for a while – So, what kind of art are you making?
GM – Who me!
Visitor – yes
GM – well, I hadn’t got that far! So, what I’m doing at the moment...
JB – Yes, how would you describe it?
GM – So, there is the gallery, which is run on a cooperative basis, so these ideas of cooperative working are still present in my practice. So the gallery is a coop, I established it, but I don’t run it, I’m part of it. Then my own practice is sculptural, I did a performance last week were I re-made Robert Morris’s ‘Box with the sound of its own making’. Robert Morris as a sculptor is interesting to me because he came out of dance, so a lot of his early works were props from dances or from movement works, so then you get to ideas about residue, I also think process is one of the key words with socially engaged work. It is process, it is process driven, so the engagement is almost – the work… its quite open ended, and the reason that Robert Morris’s work is really open ended is the moment you start to go in for meaning it almost vanishes, because its (the meaning) in the process, it’s in the act of doing, it’s in the making, the being there, being present.
That’s, I suppose is the Mecca when you are doing socially engaged work, or maybe that’s where I would like to go with it.
So, me re-making the box as a live event is a sort of comment on this. It was a durational piece, it took me five hours flat out.
Now, my workshop is right next to the gallery space, as well as this my practice changes all the time, so right now, I’ve had to pack up my artists materials and I’m running it as a workshop, just trying to make ends meet, so I make bookshelves and things for people. So this work became a dialogue about me having to convert my workshop back into an art studio. Also it was open studios that weekend in Stroud, so people were touring the area looking at artists in their studios and looking at their work. But I had a glass door so you couldn’t actually enter, you could just hear the sound, look through the door and see me working. So it became like a museum piece, with this idea of the removed artist, isolated in his work, and then sort of broadcasting this live sound into the gallery next door.
So that’s a public work, in so much as it was open to the public, it wasn’t out on the street but it was contextualised within the Open studios and also within that dialogue about art, work and making money. So I guess that’s where I am right now…
The whole space is a community project, you know, we are a community of artists, we hold this space together by our own perspiration and financial input