Artist's Statement: An art gallery's first Philosopher-in-Residence

| 07 May 2014

Dr Panayiota Vassilopoulou, from the University of Liverpool, on becoming the Philosopher-in-Residence at The Bluecoat in Liverpool

A photo of a woman standing by a window next to a wooden desk
© Maddy Bell
“Residencies take us out of our familiar environments and habits and force us to reassess our own values. Contemporary life is riddled with crises, whether financial, environmental, or existential, but crises are a chance to reflect and change.

This residency is not about popularising philosophy or theorising art. It is about exploring the mutual ways in which philosophical reflection and art can transform us.

What really fascinates me about art galleries that are located in city centres is that they make us think about what distinguishes a work of art from other objects. This is another way of asking: what is the value of art?

What is the difference between seeing something, often the very same object, as art when part of an exhibition, or an ordinary object - a commodity - when in a shop window display?

It is a bold and important move on the part of the Bluecoat to introduce this residency programme.

The residency has been funded through a creative partnership between the University of Liverpool and the Bluecoat.

It was the result of a long-term collaboration between the Philosophy Department at the university and the Bluecoat. It included the Philosophy in the City project, a series of research events I co-organised with Liverpool Biennial 2012, one of which was with the Bluecoat and, more recently, a project that I led called Patterns of Thought.

During the two years of the residency, the intention is to develop a conception of philosophy as reflexive practice rather than a detached academic or intellectual endeavour, as it is often believed to be.

Through a series of lectures, workshops, and informal discussions we hope to highlight the importance of philosophical reflection in transforming the way we understand art and our engagement with gallery spaces – in particular the Bluecoat, of course.

To understand the value and relevance of art involves reflecting on art as much as on oneself, and the insights or narratives that emerge from this process of reflection in turn add to the value of art and our life more generally.

I strongly believe that this expresses not only my, or the Bluecoat's, expectations: the response of the public has been really strong.

All the events that we have offered so far have been fully booked and my conversations with members of the public at the cafe or via email show that this expectation is also shared and further developed by the public – contrary, perhaps, to the idea that philosophy, art, or the humanities more generally, which have been so seriously affected by funding cuts, are not a priority.”

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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