Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Licking would probably be outside the rules, too

Took the kids to be part of Olivia Plender's Rise Early, Be Industrious, the installation at MKG, the small but impressive art gallery of Milton Keynes.

I say, be part of, because this type of art isn't about looking from the outside and going ooh. It's about taking part in your environment, lolling on cushions, stacking piles of bricks (or in Grit's case showing off her autism by obsessively lining them up) and rolling gold counters in a board game, wondering what they mean.

However, there are limits to how feely and transforming we can be in this space with the touchy experience. One borderline, for example, is tapping your finger end on the model which looks like a fantasy version of the Yemeni palace on a rock, to see if it's made of modroc and glue. The desk lady comes over and tells you off. I wonder if blowing your nose over the art is permissible or not. I make Dig do that so I can see what happens. (Nothing. I can take it therefore that use of space for personal emission is okay.)

But this is odd, isn't it? The artists and gallery assume we can be positioned as audience, consumers, or participants and we will obligingly follow any specific but unspoken rules about behaviour - even when the artists themselves are challenging conventional assumptions, questioning what they are, inviting different forms of physical response to the environment and, in the case of the bricks, pushing at the form of art by inviting you to pick up the installation and walk about with it.

As a visitor I'm afraid I have to confess to my sad amusement on this line: put me in an art gallery and I still get my kicks deliberately seeking those activities which don't follow any rules but don't break any either. The sort of behaviour that confounds the art guard but does not get me marched out by security.

Triplets have been a godsend to this outsider amusement. They have given me licence to squat in front of a Hockney to whip out of my handbag a pair of scissors, a tampax box and some crayons, and encourage my team to create an auto-response to a swimming pool.

But with the straw and the game and headphones, and though there are limits on the touchy-feely, Olivia Plender allows for a little lost behaviour, so I enjoyed her installation. In terms of her choice of pieces to bring together, I thought it's neither head nor tail; it's a collection which requires you to watch the video if you're to bring sense from it all.

She deals with ambitious ideas - maybe too ambitious given she has a couple of rooms and a foyer - like how does culture reproduce itself over time, and in what forms do social distinctions emerge over generations, but I admire her for taking it on and trying to represent abstract ideas in a physical way. Dig was amused to see the OU course TAD292 playing in the 1970s space, a course which he tells me set the tabloid pulse racing about summer schools and got the OU thrown out of Sussex.

Educationally the day was positive, so yahboosucks to the naysayers. I was able to reassure Shark, Squirrel and Tiger that answers to the question What is art? are still up for grabs, so never be shy of advancing an idea. Which they did, thankfully. And I wondered if the local EWO has visited the exhibition? Honestly, on the days we'd have something to say, we never get collared outside Tesco.

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