Touch - A Happening
On Wednesday, July 27th I had the opportunity to share my most recent social art project entitled "Touch" with a select few at Salon Contra. It was a slightly secretive event. The invite was vague and sounded kind of risqué ... “come bearing skin.” No other instructions were provided. Around twenty people showed up. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen and I don’t think anyone else did either. At least I hope not… that was the purpose.
To provide some quick backstory, I’m a local artist working in the vein of conceptual art. I use art as a tool to investigate transitional states of mind, body, and the environment. My projects are experiential in nature and encapsulate the personal connections we share with our surroundings and each other. Happenings are one of the modes that I work in and the Touch project was a fun departure for me from similar events that I have held in the past. Four years ago I began hosting community-based happenings called “draw-ins” that transformed galleries into sites of social intervention. I was interested in exploring the social politics of galleries by addressing the functional roles that they play in their communities. These projects enabled people from the neighborhood to congregate under one roof to draw and share in conversation while repurposing the gallery space for an afternoon or evening. With consent from the gallery owners I was able to carry out this project that dealt with solving two larger issues in my mind, simultaneously: how to help galleries expand their overall purpose and how to use art as a binder within the community at large. The Touch happening continues part of this sensibility of togetherness and community and also takes it in a new direction. Although planning is still involved, it has more to do with issues of uncertainty and spontaneity. It’s a surprise meeting, a vague outline of a get-together. No one knows what’s going to happen until they’re there. In it’s procession, this happening is about getting to know each other on a more intimate level by physically painting on one-another. It celebrates the human experience directly, involving elements of physicality, behavior, and trust. Here, communication is experienced in a different format within a domestic setting.
I’ve always intended my happenings to be fun. Something like a party. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time. I really love people and witnessing even the simplest acts of human engagement. I find human behavior to be totally fascinating. I think about what we perform over and over again, day-in, day-out, overtly and subconsciously, individually and collectively, and how that affects us. What does that say about our culture, our values, our nature? What does that say about us? How do new behaviors and rituals come to be?
Organizing a group of people to perform a unified act has evolved societies for thousands of years. It’s pretty amazing. “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” and such. The Touch project has a lot to do with that basic idea of collective growth. It’s about organizing people, creating a ritual, and growing together through the experience. It’s about generating something with meaning that serves a purpose, something that can continue if need be. It's about confronting our daily rhythms and patterns of behavior in a new light, challenging them and our perceived expectations. It’s about providing a window of opportunity that has the potential to keep our dreams and imaginations alive.
Since no one who attended the happening knew what they were getting into, there was a large component of blind trust interwoven into the project. With it I felt a huge responsibility for making sure that my intentions would be well received and that participants would leave feeling inspired or positively altered and not carrying home with them a battered or bruised ego. I understood going into this project that my vision of a good time isn’t necessarily everyone else’s. But I had to relinquish total control and just try it nonetheless—hopefully without offending anyone. There were a lot of potential barriers that could have been problematic for the event to take place in the way that I roughly intended. What if no one showed up? That would be straight-up embarrassing. What if people showed up but didn’t want to participate? Sad, but acceptable. What if too many people showed up? It would be a zoo and the project would be side-lined while attendees milled about and socialized—not the worst result though. And perhaps what if there was one bad seed, that dude who just didn’t get it and made the night a living hell for everyone else involved? Damn! Instead I was totally overwhelmed by a great response and was surprised by how involved people became.
Thanks Philippa and everyone who showed up that night!
*all images courtesy of Page Carr
Short URL: http://bit.ly/ogbPTa