It was an intriguing, and upon reflection, powerful art experience.
We were two adults and three little girls ages four to nine. We had come to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria because of a great partnership between the Gallery and our local library by which it is possible to get a free one-week pass to the gallery.
We did not care what was showing at the gallery; it was free and an art experience is always good for children. But we had not quite anticipated the experience of art that was in store for our little entourage.
Mostly, the gallery was traditional artwork – pictures hanging on walls and sculptures or, in this case mostly pottery, standing in cases. There were a few audio visual screens providing talking-head commentary that, simply because they were primitive multi-media, attracted the attention of at least one of our number. Most of the gallery did not really engage the under ten-year-olds among us.
But, as we moved from gallery to gallery, we passed glass doors that offered a view into one gallery that was clearly an exhibit under construction. Through the glass doors, it was possible to see stacks of lumber somewhat haphazardly lying around on the floor, a cheap work table with folding legs, a pile of rough timber arranged in what looked like the beginning of a staircase, and what appeared to be a large pile of timber wrapped in plastic hanging precariously from the ceiling. The whole thing was a disorganized jumble, apparently waiting to be given some kind of final shape.
Curiously, on the wall by one of the glass doors into this gallery hung a small modest sign inviting, “Please enter.” But, even with this quiet invitation, it was not until one of us saw a staff person leaving this central gallery and realized he had not locked the door behind him, that we began to wonder.
Surely, an exhibit under construction would be kept behind locked doors. But this one was abandoned unprotected. No one was around. There were no signs or security guards barring our way. Gingerly we opened the door and tentatively stepped inside. No one rushed to shoo us away. No alarms sounded.
Then it began to happen; three little girls started to investigate. Tentatively at first, but with growing enthusiasm, they explored. They discovered, crushed pop tins, crank handles doing nothing, and a worker’s coat hanging from a handle above their heads.
After a few minutes we stopped and looked at a projected image on the wall announcing: “It’s In The Making.”
Their explorations became more active and engaged. They jumped from piles of lumber onto the ground. They climbed on to the table and up a ladder disappearing into a cavernous dark space above. They mounted the unfinished staircase. They ran!
This was NOT art gallery behaviour. But, we were completely alone in this one room. There were no signs saying, “DO NOT TOUCH.” There was no supervision; no security personnel came to impose the rules of gallery etiquette.
Gradually, it began to dawn on us that perhaps this is the way the exhibition was meant to be. We were supposed to explore, discover, and take little risks. The exhibit remained “In The Making” until we showed up and completed this installation by participating in the act of creation.
I was struck by the lessons art “In The Making” might carry.
All art is always “In The Making.” It is incomplete until someone engages with the piece of art. Even then, no matter how fixed, the artistic creation remains a work in progress as people interact with the artist’s work in different ways and with varied responses.
Mostly, we remain too afraid to really engage with art (nb: in the twenty minutes we spent with this exhibit, not one other person entered the room). Art is always about pushing beyond boundaries and being willing to enter places we have never gone before.
Good art does not leave us as passive observers. It requires some risk on our part, just as it required risk on the part of the artist. In order for the creation to do its work on us, we must invest something in the process.
There is always a risk that social convention, expectation, and the straight-jacket of propriety, will destroy the artistic endeavour, binding either the artist, the participant, or both.
Children have a lot to teach us about how to encounter art.
I hope that, as they grow, this art experience will help our grandchildren grow in their ability to appreciate more fully any conventional works of art they may encounter.
This exhibit remains upon until 12 February 2017: http://www.aggv.ca/exhibitions/its-making