The curator looks on as artwork by Joanne Tatham and Tom O'Sullivan is explored. Photo: Caroline Lewis © 24 Hour Museum.
Some people don’t understand modern art. Some people don’t want to understand modern art and choose to ignore it. Not ‘Spectator T’. He doesn’t ignore art, he actively hates it and will take any opportunity to smash it up.
This is the audience member to which artists are responding in Art Sheffield 05, a city-wide event running for one month, until November 27, 2005. Don’t take that to mean that it’s all accessible, but it has resulted in some varied ideas.
Gavin Wade is curating the exhibitions at eight venues: Arundel Works, BLOC Space, The End Gallery, S1 Artspace, Site Gallery, Sylvester Works, Millennium Galleries and Yorkshire Artspace at Persistence Works.
David Alston, Chair of Sheffield Contemporary Art Forum (left) with Gavin Wade. Photo: Caroline Lewis © 24 Hour Museum.
He came up with the concept of Spectator T following an incident in 2002, when a young man called Tony T took offence at a public artwork Gavin was producing in Sheffield, and destroyed it one night. The art-hating vandal was transformed into the fictional character Spectator T in a cross-reference to the theory of Spectators A and B, who each interpret art in different manners. Another theorist came up with Spectator C, who just ignores art.
“It’s vital to a complete understanding of the project,” says Gavin of the concept. “It deals with delivering art for a specific purpose.”
Gavin received about 250 propositions from artists wanting to be involved and found that Tony T provoked different reactions – some wanted to have the fictional character (and thus any like-minded spectators) positively engage with their work while others were unsympathetic. The artists’ attitudes are sometimes obvious in their work, but not always.
Still from Christian Jankowski's work, Rosa. Courtesy the artist and Klosterfelde Gallery.
The Site Gallery is showing films by three artists, Christian Jankowski, Damon Packard and Antoine Prum. All of them are concerned with the subversion of the mass-market media form, referencing famous films and genres. Prum takes the structure of a western, uses a film set of Venice and fills the action with samples of esoteric theoretical debate on the art world.
Jankowski puts forward some far more easily understood comments on contemporary art. His work, Rosa, is presented as part of a German feature film called Viktor Vogel – Commercial Man. Jankowski allowed the director to use his artworks in the film in return for the production of his own video work using the same sets and actors.
The feature film pauses to allow the actors to respond, in their own words, to Jankowski’s questions about the nature of art e.g. how free are free artists? What is the role of longing? What is beauty in art? Spectator T might have something to say about the flick being interrupted by these comments, but then again he might find it interesting.
Still from Josephine Flynn's Stuff 3. Courtesy the artist.
One actor responds to the question about humour in art by saying that “art is art, neither serious nor funny”. Damon Packard’s work surely refutes this in many instances, delivering blows to Hollywood by mocking the overuse of CGI in Star Wars (a team of T-shirted techies are over-dubbed repeating the mantra “CGI rules”) and providing his own, modified version of Star Trek. The red-sweatered character who features in the latter is doing a good job of zapping enemies until he rips his trousers open at the front.
S1 Artspace (Milton Street) has some more humour in the form of a video collage by Josephine Flynn, Stuff 3. The fast-paced cut-up work of animation, video, text and 80s pop music blurs the line between entertainment and commentary art, again, while leaving meaning to the viewer.
Simon & Tom Bloor’s work occupies the wall next to Stuff 3. Swirling lines of stickers in bright pink, blue and green adorn the length of the room, bearing quotes from Kurt Vonnegut: ‘Hate that superior intellect of yours’, ‘Love may fail but courtesy will prevail’ and ‘Nobody here believes there is such a thing as innocence’.
Simon and Tom Bloor in front of the stickered wall. Photo: Caroline Lewis © 24HM.
Piles of the stickers will be disseminated in the city – leaving an aspect of the artwork to the public.
“It doesn’t say anywhere that it’s an art project,” says Simon Bloor. “Part of our thinking is that Tony might pick it up not knowing it’s art and he’ll engage with it anyway.”
That’s what quickly happened to some of the ‘Gifts to the City of Sheffield’ – six public artworks made by London-based artists. The artworks were all dumped in different places in the city and photographed before they were left to their fate. The photos can be seen at Sylvester Works, Eyre Lane.
From Gifts to the City of Sheffield series. Courtesy the artist/24 Hour Museum.
A huge, chunky rendition of the word pimp, in capital letters and painted gold was left outside the Roxy (a former nightclub). Artist Mark Pearson explained that the six-foot-long sign was taken from its position within a few minutes, by kids who had been standing at a nearby bus stop. The ‘thieves’ were captured on film, including the moment when they tried to take the pimp on the bus and the driver told them “You’re not bringing that on here”. They left the artwork in the bus stop.
Lisa Mahony’s piece Captain Cock Quiff, a larger-than-life plaster head, disappeared more mysteriously. “I did expect it to last a bit longer,” she said.
The head was placed on top of a pole on a street corner on Wednedsay. By Thursday morning it was gone, with just a few pieces of plaster left as evidence that the heavy artwork had been dropped as the takers absconded. Given that it wasn’t smashed on the spot, the takers must have either liked it or else not been of the Spectator T character.
One of Gelitin's Hard-on photos. Courtesy the artists and Gagosian and Meyer Kainer galleries.
“It was meant to be a subversive superhero,” explained Lisa, “it’s a take on public art, which you have no relationship with usually. It’s usually a bronze statue from the 1890s or something.”
Landscape photography might evoke the sublime, but Austrian artist group Gelitin have managed to lend a human touch to vivid scenes on show at the End Gallery (located at the Psalter Lane Hallam University campus). Five photos, each of sumptuous panoramas in Australia and Switzerland (a sandy beach, a farm, mountains) feature a lone male figure, clothed only on top and sporting an erection.
What Tony T would make of all this could fill many a debate, and there’s far more on show than can be mentioned here - plenty of spectacle to fill a month. The programme has full details (available in galleries) or see the Art Sheffield website.
Spectator T is co-ordinated by Sheffield Contemporary Art Forum (SCAF).