Saturday, 7 March 2009

Thursday 5th March

An art student, who wants to write a report on infusoria for school. She wants photos to use in their project, but the deadline is tomorrow, my photos are still on the camera / laptop, she hasn’t got a printer at home… we think she might be able to print some of my photos in the office. I hope so. She was up for the full guided tour, I had fun.

An older gentleman told me that in a computer age it is rare to still ‘find objects.’

It’s easier today. I’ve stopped being nervous of people or (even mildly) disappointed when they walk out after a few seconds.

A crowd of people came in after the performances this evening, and I was immediately struck by how differently they reacted to the work. Until about six in the evening, the visitors are people who primarily come to see the book fair or the children’s workshops. The evening visitors are people who come to hear the poetry, and I was surprised to notice within a few seconds that they were looking at the pieces in an entirely different way. I’m not sure I can describe the physical gestures (approaching, stepping back, considering, reading the information sheets, occasionally laughing out loud) as opposed to how the daytime people approached the exhibition (wandering, gazing, sometimes touching things, picking them up: something more like window-shopping). But it was immediately clear that the evening people had experience of looking at exhibitions … and that many of the daytime people didn’t. I had forgotten that it is a skill to be learned.

I remember ‘sneaking in’ to an exhibition of paintings with my sister when we were teenagers. We just saw a sign, admission free, and my sister dared me to go in so we did. I thought art galleries were like shops: you would only go in there if you had the money to buy a painting and we obviously didn’t, so I was just waiting to get thrown out. I think I spent more time with an eye on the ‘security guard’ (guard? just an attendant, surely) than looking at the paintings.

There are a couple of obvious things I could improve, such as having more French-language information about the work, and putting the information beside the work instead of on a sheet on the desk. Doing that would mess things up a bit visually, but it would help people out. And housing an exhibition in a place where all kinds of people pass in and out is one way to lower a threshold. I’m enjoying working in a community centre, and I like that all the various events this week are free of charge. But it’s not enough. If people are interested enough to put their head round the door, they have a right not to be excluded by invisible barriers. Holding lots of exhibitions in community centres is one way to make things easier for people, simply because it makes the concept more familiar. Guided tours are probably good too, and I’d get better at showing people round if I had more experience. I could learn what they are seeing, what they are missing, what they might be interested in seeing if I could point them in that direction. With the kids it’s easier, I’m better at imagining what might interest them and what they might figure out for themselves with a couple of hints.

It’s very, very cool that all the staff of the Maison des Cultures have dropped in, though. Office staff, bar staff, workshop leaders and co-ordinators, technicians and maintenance guys, the lot. I’ve worked with Krikri at plenty of places where the organisers and everyday staff seem completely indifferent to whatever is going on at their own event.

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