Presentation at Winter Residency 2018 Mexico City, Mexico: Raw Notes and Reflection for myself and others.
For me the purpose of this presentation was to observe how spectators, when given the opportunity, would interact with paintings in a non-traditional space and presentation format. The space was a large landing in the upstairs office/seminar room area of Soma, an artist directed cultural space for dialogue and learning [learning through dialogue?] in San Pedro de los Pines, Mexico City. The area is a multi-functional and transitional space; a place for the community to gather, to read, to work, to eat, or to converse around a large wooden table and benches occupying. The periphery contains wall mounted shelves for the library and at one end a galley kitchen. The remainder of the space, an 'L' around the table, functions as a hallway between the various rooms and offices.
Originally, this presentation was designed to take place over three days. The first day was to be the 10-15 minute 'telling' to the group and four guest reviewers. This would have taken place in the seminar room used for presentations -albeit without the use of a projector or technology beyond the note cards pictured below. The second and third days would have been four shorter presentations also about 10 minutes each, the 'showing' of the work, to a smaller group of approximately 10 people including each of the four guest reviewers. I had envisioned possibly not showing all the work in each of these shorter presentations but introducing only a fragment of a work to the group. This would have meant the guest reviewers, who were meant to change with each presentation would have only responded to a limited amount of what I had brought with me but the remainder of the group would have been given the space to respond to the work as a whole over a period of time. This element of the slow unfolding, with time between each part to reflect, is missing from the presentation I was actually able to give, which in my opinion is very unfortunate for both the spectators and myself.
The presentation I gave was compressed into 60 minutes with the entire group and only two of the four guest reviewers present. I believe an experienced and open reviewer can and will find entry points into any work and provide meaningful feedback. Reflecting on the presentation and comments provided by the reviewers a week later I don't feel this was the case. I think if the original format had been followed each reviewer would have had the time and space to engage with a smaller portion of the work in a smaller group the feedback and the relationship between the telling and showing might have yielded more useful feedback.
Below is the raw (unedited) documentation of the presentation. First is the video of the 'telling'. Except for a quick scan of the space and the people in it, it was filmed with my iPhone attached to a small tripod from a stationary position on a bookshelf to my left. I am mostly seen in profile and from the back because I am not speaking to the camera but to the people standing in front of me. I begin by explaining the format of the presentation, then I gave the 12 minute prepared talk from the note cards shown below. Finally, I end the portion of the presentation I recorded by introducing the work - placing it on the table and providing the minimal direction to engage with the paintings however they saw fit. I intentionally decided not to record the 'showing' half of the presentation (40 minutes) because I wanted the viewers to feel free to engage with the work without the feeling of being watched over, their words and actions documented - although this is exactly what I was doing. I did not ask anyone to photograph the presentation, however I am grateful Veronica Fazzio-Welf did take photographs and shared them with me (below).
This was the only presentation during the residency to take place fully outside the dark room with screen, projector and rows of chairs and using no Powerpoint/Keynote/Prezi presentation, projected images, videos or web pages. Instead, this presentation took place in a larger, open area with a combination of natural light from the skylight directly above the table and artificial lights in the high ceiling. There were no chairs and people were asked to stand for the 60 minutes, although they were not expected to stand still (because I was not and could not) and for the majority of the time were encouraged to move around to engage with the work. I announced at the very beginning (before recording) the structure of the presentation, what I would and would not be recording, I would be timing the presentation myself by setting the alarm on my phone simultaneous to beginning the videoing -when it rang the presentation would end, and that there would be no moderated Q & A but people should speak up and ask me directly as their questions arose from the work before them in relation to what they had heard in the 'telling'. Another difference was not only were we standing around a table, with me at the head, but directly behind me was an open stairwell. People not associated with the presentation, people from Soma, were still moving through the space to get to the rooms they were using. In the stairwell below a painter was painting the wall.
I established conditions for the presentation which were the antithesis of those the group had come to expect and establish for themselves; subverting the idea of what a presentation 'should be' based on the group definition and dynamic [Note: the original presentation structure/guidelines encouraged doing this, however the group prior to my delayed arrival had instigated a change to a structure more conducive to 'traditional' presentation formats]. I knew that presenting in this manner would be taking the group outside its comfort zone and challenging well established beliefs obvious by the change requested along with the presentations I was witnessing. Furthermore, during the 'showing' portion of the the presentation one of the members of the group did try to step in and 'moderate' a Q & A, at which point I stopped it by reminding the group I had said there would be no moderated Q & A. I am not sure how/if I offended this person, but it did tell me that there was a feeling from within the group that this was not proceeding in a way in which they thought it should according to their belief of what a presentation and the successive Q & A is. This came up again the next morning when I arrived to find a colleague sitting at the table I presented at working on her own presentation to be given that morning. She immediately tried to console me by saying "sorry you're presentation didn't go well" or as planned, or something to that effect. I asked her what she meant, which might have taken her back a bit when she realized I did not see it the same way she did. I explained why I thought it had gone well. I had treated the presentation as an experiment, a forum to observe how people engage with a painting which may or may not be determined by how they might define what painting 'is' ... the identity of the objects I call paintings. I established a hypothesis and I tested it. The colleague seemed surprised or at least never had considered that a presentation could be this, rather a presentation had to be that.
This brings me to how the work was engaged with by the group. Although I introduced each work individually and gave some information to what it was, and by whom and how it was made, within moments people began to mix the pieces up. This could have happened for a number of reasons ranging from the number of people present, the space, the number of components some of the works consist of, and, importantly, experience with a previous work [Sonata shown as part of MFA Dialogue with Claire Elizabeth Barratt and Spacebodies II in the Transart Triennale, July/August 2016 at Uferstudios, Berlin, Germany]. In the photos below you will see how part of the group first began playing with the birch wood panel paintings to create sculptural objects by stacking and leaning the individual panels on and against each other. Meanwhile, at the other end of the table another part of the group looked closely at the papers upon which Melusine had written out her poems in Sütterlin script. The work Concertinaed as I presented it I had set up on the table as a vaguely circular object, positioning it so that the ends almost touched - in the way I had played with it on a table in my studio. I noticed people immediately took it out of that position and tried to 'read it' like a book. After a few minutes a colleague with an assertive personality and who's definition of what makes a painting a painting is well known to me and with which I don't agree began to move the panels from the table and find ways to hang them around the space from the bookshelves and other protruding objects ... essentially making them fit the definition of painting espoused by the colleague. Interesting was how the others followed suit and soon the table was empty not only of the panels, but the poems of Melusine together with Concertinaed has been 'shelved' on the library bookshelves between Soma's collection! At this point the discussion began ...
To conclude this reflection on the Winter Residency 2018 Presentation I think if I had been able to present as originally intended, in the smaller group and spread out over time, the feedback on the work itself would have been much richer. There were questions and discussion directly pertaining to the personas, their roles, and my research question, which I found helpful though less directly to the point of what I was trying to tweak out of this experimental presentation. It did provide me with useful material in how painting, and identity, is perceived when presented in contexts challenging or contradicting fixed notions of 'what it is' which is relevant to articulating the personas as tools of my practice. It is important to clarify that I did say a few times this was an experiment, the work should be understood as 'unfinished' and the experience approached in a manner similar to a studio visit. I told of my thoughts on how I was thinking of exhibiting the work which is quite different than the format they were engaging with it in. It also was very clear to me probably no one present has 'prepared' for the presentation by looking at the blog/research website. Finally, from the colleague with a very fixed understanding of what painting is came the response that my research is of no personal interest to them and they feel shut out by it because it will not accommodate them. As it turns out we have not only differences in how we define what a painting is but also the goal of research. Unlike my colleague I do not believe my or any practice-led research can accommodate everyone just as not all research can accommodate me; nor should it. Important is that some, not all, are convinced and others have at least been challenge by my research to take into deeper consideration ideas that might contradict or be foreign to their own - such as what a painting, a painter, a persona or presentation 'is'.
photos courtesy of Veronica Fazzio-Welf