Starting Points

An open sketchbook post in preparation for 5 days residency-style alongside Play Ground. See this initial post for more background. Open to influence, rather than just on display: all constructive conversations and contributions welcomed. All posts in this series can be found under the Play Ground tag.

In this post I unpick the exhibition blurb, looking for a way in.


The Learning Officer for the exhibition is giving me free rein on this project. My brief, such that it is, is to instigate activities that encourage people to work together whilst having a sense of fun. This could be in the form of competing against each other within a game, but the example she’s used a few times is like the feeling of community after it’s snowed.

The expected audience is predominantly families: “some with large quantities of kids, some a mum and a pushchair”. The activities therefore need to be interesting and accessible for potentially very young children getting involved for, say 20 minutes. My games-based work has mostly been with adults though, so I’ll be wanting to provide more challenging things for that sort of audience – say hello, let me know if you’re interested in visiting, so I can cater for you too!

So that’s it then. Blank piece of paper.

I started by dissecting the listings blurb:

At an art gallery we usually have to follow a series of rules. Don’t touch the work, don’t run, don’t shout, don’t play. Don’t, in short, have fun. We thought it would be good to try something else – this exhibition shows contemporary artists that treat the gallery like a fairground rather than a church.

What follows is a reproduced version of a list from my paper sketchbook, tidied up a bit and with more added as I think about it again now. I’d have preferred to have mind-mapped this stage, but was out and about without a large surface to work across. Oh for a large portable whiteboard!

Trying to capture the thoughts as fast as they pop into my head

A series of rules.

  • What rules do artists have to follow when making work for galleries?
  • Can we make a piece of work that, in being experienced, requires you to break all the rules?
  • Series? The sum of a sequence of rules?
    • To me implies one after the other, in a particular order.
    • How many rules in a row in the sequence?
    • How many rules in a row before you give up?
    • Who writes the rules?
    • Who teaches us the rules?
    • Are the rules the same everywhere?
    • What rules, Nineteen Eighty Four style, would stop you from having fun outside the gallery?
    • Panopticon gallery design to ensure rules are enforced.

Don’t touch the work,

  • Is remote touching an option? How would that work?
  • Can you have a member of gallery staff who is an authorised toucher? They then relate the sensations back to you…
  • What about work we’re allowed to touch, but don’t want to?
    • Electrified work?
    • Sharp work?
    • Fleshy work?
    • Work that smells?
    • Work that stains

don’t run,

  • Can we slob around then?
  • Take a nap?
  • How fast can you go?
  • Is there a lower limit on speed?

don’t shout,

  • Would people notice if there was absolute silence?
  • What would you like to shout?
  • Do we actually do much shouting elsewhere?
  • Gallery Tourettes

don’t play.

  • Is it not already an elaborate type of game?
  • There’s a particular article I’m thinking of, trying to find the reference…

Don’t, in short, have fun.

  • What constitutes fun?
  • Do we go to the gallery looking for fun?
  • If we were offered fun, would we be comfortable accepting it in those surroundings
  • Consensual? Same thing fun for all? Does everyone want to have fun?
  • Can you accommodate fun and not-fun in the space at the same time?
  • Covert fun vs overt fun.

We thought it would be good to try something else

  • I like the empirical approach! What can we get away with?

this exhibition shows contemporary artists that treat the gallery like a fairground rather than a church.

  • Imagining the artists themselves on display. A rogues gallery or police line up of people who flout the rules!
  • The artists may treat the gallery as a fairground, but what happens when the gallery re-appropriates the work and displays it under its own rules? Still can’t touch etc
  • Fairgrounds: Thrills, entertainment, paying for the ride, going on the ride again and again, sensory overload, eating candy until you are sick…

So, lots of questions – which is a good start for a residency!

I think taking the theme of “rules” would be a good starting point: from here we can link to the exhibition text, rulesets for games and also a lot of my work where I use rules as frameworks for exploration.

I also think it would be good to start off with a brainstorm in the space at the beginning of the residency. I’ll use the signtific approach which is a really nice way of getting away from your initial (predictable?) ideas and into new territory. I wrote about the process when I first came across it, and have used it in schools since then with some nice results. It’s also a nice way to plaster a wall or floor with post-it notes and get away from the scary empty space we start off with!