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Curate the Campus this year was designed to fit with students preparing for impending exams by asking artists what silence, memory and reflection meant to them. During the fortnight of 29th April to 10th May, the programme intended to offset the pressure of revision with a different form of quiet time.
Events offered audiences sensory experience. Chris Watson, famed for capturing the symphony of the natural world for Sir David Attenborough, each morning from 3am recorded the sounds of woodlands on campus to create a Dawn Chorus Concert. His recordings were replayed in the cage-like structure of the LICA building with the dawn still visible through the skylight. Each bird call culminated to form a sound sculpture, showing that art does not have to be fixed or material to produce sensation. To compliment this was ‘Stilled’, a slow motion dance installation by company Fevered Sleep at the Nuffield Theatre. Inspired by the scientific process of X-ray crystallography, the performers explored the creative dynamics of process and product through the lens of pinhole cameras. The gloom provided freedom of movement for the audience and a dark room was set up in one of the dressing rooms so that photographs were developed live and stuck onto the walls during the performance. In such a fast-paced image laden world, ‘Stilled’ opened viewer’s eyes to the beauty of static, patient spectatorship and encouraged new ways of seeing.
Compositions also worked to disrupt conventional artist-audience relationships of space and models of art ownership. In Lancaster city centre and across the university campus, photographer William Titley’s pop-up exhibition ‘Lahore to Chandigarh’ appeared in live process with a mastery of space akin to photographic guerrilla warfare. The two hundred images on display represented Pakistani and Indian cities Titley captured during his visits. His keen interest in the interactive process of curation led to the suggestions of local people and students helping him towards the final installation. Similarly, artist Andy Smith’s exhibition ‘Exquisite Corpse’ in the Peter Scott Gallery asked for public curation and allowed audiences to enter into an exciting game of artistic consequences. Looking around the gallery now, abounding with ideas written on the walls, it is clear that many are delighted in being a part of Andy Smith’s art-in-process.
Interestingly, students themselves were involved in the production of events. Perhaps you have seen the video recently posted on the facebook group ‘Overheard at Lancaster’ where students are dancing randomly in Alexandra Square with I-Pods? This was in fact a ‘Dance Walk’ in association with Ludus Dance; a silent moving disco that covered three miles around campus. You may have also witnessed an equally curious occurrence involving strange animals roaming the university in October 2012? These were masked LU theatre students participating in an open workshop ‘Wildlife’. The anthropomorphic creatures were photographed by Lancaster University’s own history undergraduate Matthew Fleming for LEAP, a Lancaster based emerging artist support organisation. They were exhibited during Curate the Campus in the Making Time Garden at the Peter Scott Gallery and attracted many visitors. It is not often that one gets the opportunity to see a fox getting off the X1 bus and standing outside Greggs. And who would have thought that badgers read SCAN?
Theano Psara, MA Contemporary Arts Practice student, worked with artists involved to produce a blog for the Live at Lica website. I asked her if she thought artistic projects in unusual spaces change the nature of art spectatorship and she said; “In a traditional gallery space a person is aware that there will be art, which may well be intellectually challenging, and so they will mentally prepare for this. Outside the gallery, and especially in chance encounters such as ‘Lahore and Chandigarh’ by William Titley, a person has little or no preconceptions. Therefore, their response is far more spontaneous and genuine.”
Overall, the success of this year’s Curate the Campus translates into the art world’s larger movement towards interactive art. Who would you be in the audience of such a sociable artistic event? Would you be a participatory member or simply a bystander? Will the relational aesthetics of today convert contemporary art haters and avoiders, or simply push them further away from the gallery doors? There is one thing that is certain; as a spectator we do not always have to travel to see art because it is continually being constructed in our own spaces. Contemporary art is no longer confined to a static canvas but is repeatedly being exhibited as a dynamic event. Surely the fact that art is now moving beyond the frame is a good thing? That’s what I think anyway. I feel privileged that relational art has been taking place on our own doorstep.