Various Artists

Dedicated to you, but you weren't listening


Assembly of works that grow from the collaborative and performative spirit of Conceptual practice, looking specifically to those transformed or composed in relation to something outside the artist’s direct control.

Curated by Reid Shier

When American artist Robert Morris wrote, "The experience of the [art] work exists in time,"1 he synthesized a growing reaction in the late 1960s against the idea of an essential "presentness" to the appreciation of painting and sculpture. Though Morris’s declaration was essentially formalist, it foreshadowed a complex new terrain for artists that invited questions about the contextual nature of art and the emancipatory potential of engagement. Emerging from these new possibilities, Conceptualism spurred investigations in which the audience not only became a subject of interest but, for some artists, an increasingly integral part of the artwork itself. Dan Graham’s explorations with video time delay in the early 1970s, for example, exist in the relationship between a viewer and the work’s technical apparatus. Walking within one of Graham’s video pieces is the work.
 
Artists continue to elaborate on the nature of Conceptualism through increasingly elastic strategies and provocative methods of making art. Dedicated to you, but you weren’t listening assembles a small group of works that grow from the collaborative and performative spirit of Conceptual practice, looking specifically to those transformed or composed in relation to something outside the artist’s direct control. The exhibition draws distinction between works that might rely on or ask for audience involvement – however indeterminate – in favour of projects that are actively realized through some form of participation. What is the nature of authorship when multiple, perhaps contradictory, voices are invited to come together in the production of a work?
 
Could a comparison be made, for example, between British artist Jeremy Deller’s Acid Brass Band and Russian artists Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid’s Most Wanted Paintings? The Most Wanted Paintings are an ongoing series completed through opinion surveys that ask respondents in a given country about the most desirable features in a painting. The (culturally slanted) results are tabulated, and a painting is produced according to majority opinion. Acid Brass also begins with an invitation, in this case by Deller to the Williams Fairey Band, a brass ensemble based in Stockport, south of Manchester, England. Deller asked the group to perform acid house dance songs just as they would more traditional compositions for a brass instrument band. Effectively, Deller and the Williams Fairey Band invented a genre that the band would continue to pursue. It has since gone on to tour local and international rock/pop festivals and record a single with the acid house group KLF.
 
Both Acid Brass and Most Wanted are participatory, but with distinct results. The Most Wanted project sets in motion a conceptual system that ends with a product – paintings – but avoids any relational dialogue between the artists and the surveyed audience. Deller’s Acid Brass project, in contrast, pairs separate interests in a shared venture that leads to the development of a distinct musical idiom. Invoking this spirit Dedicated to you, but you weren’t listening explores the unscripted (and possibly unforeseen) outcomes that might result from a request to help make an artwork. For Searching for the centre of a piece of A4 paper (2002), British artist Jonathan Monk asked two of his commercial dealers to pinpoint, without measuring, the centre of a sheet of office paper. Animating their repeated attempts, Monk projects the results against one another to form a curious dance of two subjective and competing ideas. In a similar fashion, Toronto artist Derek Sullivan’s Endless Kiosk (2005) recreates Constantin Brancusi’s Endless Column as a site for commercial advertising. Brancusi imagined his column as a modular structure that could potentially grow to monumental height. Sullivan invites visitors to The Power Plant to use his variation as a site for posters, paper and advertisements. The gallery will provide adhesive for visitors to glue on contributions, with the proviso that the first-come first-served policy might mean that original images are covered by those that follow. In principle Sullivan’s kiosk will grow endlessly in girth to complement the possibility of its endless height.
 
The Mirrored Catalogue d‘Oiseaux (2002–3), by Scottish artist Dave Allen, grows from the artist’s interest in the French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908–92). In 1959 Messiaen composed the “Catalogue d‘Oiseaux;" thirteen pieces for solo piano based on his interpretation of natural birdsong. Each piece deals with a specific bird, along with other birds found in the same area. Messiaen would compose in the birds’ natural habitat – fields, meadows etc., writing his notation as he listened. As Allen states, “in the work, I reverse/mirror this process of direct composition by playing back Messiaen through a stereo to an aviary housing birds (either mockingbirds or starlings), who are adept at mimicry. In theory the birds will tonally mimic Messiaen’s interpretation of birdsong and process of composition: Messiaen mimics the birds, and the birds mimic him mimicking the birds, returning the composition, in a modified form, to the ‘natural’.”
 
Other artists in Dedicated to you, but you weren’t listening extend and elaborate this theme of transformation, exploring a wide variety of means to put their authorial voice at risk. Assembled together, works by fourteen artists from Canada, the United States, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Europe construct a site that is mutable and invitational.
 
1 Morris, Robert, “Notes on Sculpture II” in Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (eds.), Art & Theory 1900-2000, Blackwell Publishers, 2003, p. 832.


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