inserting moments and embedding memories, catalogue essay

Earlier this year I was commissioned to write a catalogue essay for The Bed Race Project, a series of interventions and performances made in response to The Great Knaresborough Bed Race, Yorkshire.


Photo credit: Julian Hughes, work by Garry Winters

Curated by Amelia Beavis-Harrison and featuring artists Liam Aitken, Garry Winters and Samuel Mercer, the project made insertions into the bed race held on 14 June 2014.

Below is an extract from my essay:

The artist Ben Parry describes certain public artworks, ones that are less noiseless, less unobtrusive and instead more politically-grounded, as examples of ‘cultural hijacking.’ Flash mobs, viral marketing techniques and the exploitation of institutional loopholes would come under this category. He notes these types of work are the ‘unannounced, unregulated, spontaneous creation of a moment when something grabs your attention.’[1] Such charged contexts result, often, in spectacles that exploit the essential fragility of the civic restrictions we all adhere too. Art, then, offers us a possible release from such strictures, albeit only temporarily. Works like these do not have to be aggressive, do not have to trick or purposefully perplex an audience, they may be very subtle. But they must open up a space for thought and for conversation.

How then does art compare and compete with other cultural spectacles? With pageants, parties, competitions, parades and the other rich stories that we all tell? If inserted within events or situations which are already theatrical, already different from everyday experiences, art may be difficult to recognise. Such works might not appear any aesthetically different to the context into which they are inserted. Does it matter if an audience cannot decode the thing in front of them as art? Naming it art does not change the gesture made. But the impact upon the audience alters. This is a kind of work, almost covert, which makes its insertion quietly, incognito, and leaves a different kind of mark upon its audience and its own history. A mark like this is more slippery, more difficult to describe. It is infinitely more difficult to measure its success. But it has the ability to make, away from the trappings and labels of art, a bigger and more profound impact upon an audience.

[1] Ben Parry, ed. Cultural Hijack: Rethinking Intervention. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2011, p. 28

More information about the project is available on Amelia’s website.

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