Being a cog

A year or two ago, a conversation happened and the idea of The Art Machine was born – create a structure with artists and tools inside where visitors put stuff in one end, the artists process it, and art is deposited from the other end. It went dormant for a while, but then another potential collaborator, Amy Scott-Pillow, appeared. We’ve worked together before (e.g. I curated her installation The Hope in The Art House) and it was clear our art interests overlapped significantly – in particular making stuff into other stuff. Using junk. Wasting little. Being driven in part by available materials. Amy likes to create spaces and I like to fill them. So, the idea of The Art Machine was resuscitated, and we borrowed Arch4 –  the exhibition space at The Arches Studios (thanks a space arts). So, how did it work?

Essentially there is a mouth and an anus. Take a cloakroom ticket, attach it to junk, put numbered junk into the mouth. Wait in the waiting room. Collect numbered art when it appears from the anus. Easy. So, what was the response like?

As far as I can tell, pretty good. I was going to give a formal(ish) introduction at the opening night, but (aside from being shattered after a long week), I decided, pretty much on the spot, to leave it open-ended and simply explain how the idea came about. Visitors could then interpret it unimpeded. This assumes any interpretation is needed; in essence it is what it is – bring stuff, get art made from it (quickly) – but of course the whole set-up, including a waiting room and bar-by-donations is part of the piece. The waiting room consists of formal rows of chairs while the bar invites socialisation. We trusted people to read (and follow) the instructions without guidance from us. The artists are cogs trying to resist the urge to interact with punters (difficult, we’re both chatty), making fast-fast-fast during busy periods. This is interesting as a half-hour wait was seen as a long time. Art would normally take longer to make, but that would have happened prior to purchase. This is free, but payment is in time spent waiting. I could cite Hirschhorn’s 2009 Bijlmer Spinoza-Festival, but that’s to imply a depth beyond what was planned and intended, so I won’t.  It’s collaborative. It’s mechanical in concept. It’s also democratic – don’t like what you got? Put it back in the mouth. Art refection if you will…

It was interesting to overhear conversations. Some were quite analytical, some were rude (much likening of pieces to genitals, only some of which was intentional), and there was much laughter. And the latter point is the main one – this is play. It is to be enjoyed and there is an element of performance even if the artists can’t be seen. Laughter being a big part of the exhibition – we’ll take that to be a win. Plenty of the output pieces were taken away, not only by those who brought the materials. Joy was expressed. So, a successful experiment? We think so – as a trial run for a funding application, certainly – and there have already been enquries about repeating it at events. Art as festival-booth? Pieces may have been pushed out of an anus, but it wasn’t shit. There would be changes for next time e.g. more ‘cogs’ as busy periods are difficult to keep up with, more of an ‘airlock’ system so visitors can’t look in through the mouth, and invigilators to screen what’s put in if this becomes a fully ‘exposed’ public event. As ever, here are some images – enjoy!

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