If artwork goes over the heads–or under the feet–of the audience, has the artist achieved his or her goal? What responsibility does the audience have in the process?These were questions raised during a lively artists' talk for the exhibition (S)HOW, currently on at Medulla Art Gallery in Woodbrook.
The collaborative show features works of contemporary art by artists Jaime Lee Loy, Alicia Milne, Nikolai Noel, Tamara Tam-Cruickshank and Luis Vasquez La Roche.The discussion, moderated by art student Taya Serrao, took place on July 1. (S)HOW, curated by Milne, includes works in various media including clay pieces, portraiture, graphite drawings, photography and cut paper–as well as less traditional materials like rose petals, audio and salt.
Noel's Salt Line 1 and Salt Line 3 comprised sea salt that he made into straight lines on the floor of the gallery. The work generated much discussion. Many patrons did not see the white crystals intersecting the white floor and simply walked through it.Noel said the work was "disturbed, displaced, destroyed," many times. "I did not expect it to happen with such frequency."He had to reorder the work several times using a plastic card on opening night.
He said his chosen medium brought with it "cultural baggage, including mythologies, spiritual practices and history."Venezuela-born Vasquez La Roche also faced the issue of communication with the audience.His audio piece, dealing with pervasive racist attitudes in Latin America, was recorded in his native Spanish and met with varying levels of understanding.
He presented 365, a collection of 144 small self-portraits in various media, a selection from an extended practice of doing one daily. He, too, said his materials and process influenced the work, adding that "experimentation created evolutions in his style" over time.
Tam-Cruickshank said her process greatly influenced her product and caused her to be very deliberate. She said the work dealt with the idea of nation and of national narrative. She said "our built heritage represents visual cues in environment that are laden with shared meaning."Her pieces included fractured images of iconic local architecture that she manipulated in Microsoft Word and printed on glass. She also created fretwork-like designs on adhesive paper interpreting the watchwords of T&T: "Discipline," "Produce" and "Tolerate."
Lee Loy presented a collection of personal family photographs which she altered using household chemicals. The images depicted familiar domestic scenes and wedding photos. The faces of the subjects had been removed, creating an eerie effect.She also showed a text piece in rose petals, Sorry, which was well received.
Milne showed several works in clay, including replicas of matchboxes which she said were inspired by growing up in an Arima suburb that never lived up to its promise of edenic bliss. She said her slip-cast sculptures also explored themes of family heritage.Her work had also been damaged by a patron on opening night.
One patron asked the artist panel: "What did you want audience to receive?"Milne said contemporary art is not easy to read and it was encouraging to hear people asking questions and discussing the work.Noel said, "There is so much given to audiences, there is not much room for the audience to interpret, think about and put themselves in the work.
"We wanted to leave some room for the audience to confront the art."Lee Loy added she is trying to move away from explaining her work to people in an attempt to avoid influencing their interpretation.Another guest noted that not all the works were listed for sale.The artists said they had discussed pricing for their unconventional works.
"We were aware the work is very different and that people might not be encouraged to buy them," Milne said. They had even considered not putting any of the work up for sale."Then we asked ourselves, are we selling ourselves short? We decided to price the work to what we think it's worth." The works range from $3,000 to $25,000.
Noel's salt lines, Lee Loy's Sorry, Vasquez La Roche's audio item and the collaborative piece Space Cookie Mountain–made of a small pile of concrete rubble with nails and a rum bottle cover–were among those not listed for sale.All the artists in (S)HOW have studied together, have collaborated in the past and shown jointly before. They are involved in an informal collective to read art theory and learn from and support one another.
"There is something about being an artist in Trinidad that makes you want to go it alone," said Noel."But we think it's important to bring an atmosphere of criticality to the work: informed feedback and open, honest conversation about the art.(S)HOW continues at Medulla Art Gallery, 17 Fitt Street, Woodbrook, until July 15.