In the last week I finally feel like I’ve broken the back of my as yet still untitled book, based on the interviews I did with people about Lilliane Lijn’s sculpture ‘Atom Body Was Light.’ I have a very rough draft copy that I have printed out and though there is still quite a lot of work to do on the design/layout, I think I am happy with the content that I have selected. I am going to spend this week not looking at it. I have another project I need to do this week anyway for an upcoming exhibition at Mexico and Soscastoa, so it’s a good chance to take a break and come back to it with fresh eyes.
Before I move on to that work though, I have been thinking about why I have been finding this book such a struggle? I think it is to do with a feeling of awkwardness or uncertainty around how I am using and manipulating other people’s words. In the recent past I have done two projects that involved interviewing or talking to members of the public to generate content for art pieces (What will the family think if they pull up outside? and Kindness Is… – the latter with Jonathan Turner). These projects were really enjoyable, I loved going to speak to people about a particular topic. However I found the process of turning the gathered verbal content into an outcome artwork/exhibition was constrained by a my feeling of a need – real or imagined – not to manipulate or misrepresent what people said. Although the artworks were not designed to ‘represent’ the communities involved as such, I felt like I couldn’t really muck about with the language content. I realised that when I spoke to people they did then often have a desire that what they had said would be part of the project. They wanted to hear themselves in the outcome. So in this project, I tried to be clear with the people that it was an experiment, that I didn’t know what I was going to do with their words. The conversations were a starting point and what they said may or may not be included and that I might play around with the words I received. Still I have been finding it hard to know how far to push the words, how much can they be removed from their original content within the conversation and how much can I miss out? I had some very long and interesting conversations with people about art and their perceptions (or otherwise) of its value. I also spoke a lot to people about what they do and what they find of value in their own lives. A lot of this content has now been jettisoned because, although it is interesting it doesn’t make a coherent artwork. My perception of what the project is, has also shifted a bit. I am interested in ‘value’ which was the starting point, but talking about value in a general sense is too vague. So I am tending to keep only content that is tied more directly to the sculpture and what it reminded people of. This inevitably means that a lot of content has been culled. This is probably why the project is taking longer than I expected. I need some distance from the interviews to be able to be so brutal!
I wonder whether the people who I spoke to at Leeds Art Gallery will remain interested in the final outcome when it happens at such a distance from our initial conversations. There is also definitely still a power dynamic involved in me taking their words and using them for my own ends, so I wonder how people will feel about this?!
I didn’t remember to take a photo of everyone I spoke to for the project, and not everyone wanted to have their picture taken but the photos above are of those who were willing! Thanks again to everyone who spoke to me.