I’ve been out of habit of reflecting on work, due largely to having taken on a little too much the past two years or thereabouts. With Tattiefields having been finally installed and launched last month, I have finally had the opportunity to consider the project as a whole. Here are the first considerations:
The process of leaving a work
I don’t enter into making work half-heartedly. Works have to spend long periods of time being mulled over in my mind and on paper long before they become communicable, never mind entering the physical world, and even then, they do so tentatively, and through a form of extended internal discussion around process and material.
Tattiefields began as a work for me in November 2016 – although the site and back story existed long before – and over the course of two years the work has lived with me more or less constantly, before arriving on site in September this year to begin it’s life ‘on site’. The production phase lasted near enough nine months, with various intensive periods interspersed by periods of waiting, and slow pace.
By comparison, the installation was a whirlwind of movement, change and finality as at the end of the day, we were required to pack up and go home, leaving the works to grow their evening shadows across the park.
In the run up to the final installation – a date which was unsettled and ever moving during the summer, I mused over the act of leaving a work in a place. The Tattiefields sculptures, which are intended to be permanent additions to the site, are hoped to settle into the place, to become part of the landscaping and surrounding area.
A public artwork, has certain aspects of gift-giving attached, in that I was spending large portions of time considering, and creating with the intention of then placing it within a location to develop a new, and somewhat independent relationship with the other residents of the location. But it was also unlike traditional gift giving, I was aspiring for associations of gift not to be primarily about value, or necessarily a relationship with artist and reciever, but about creating a relationship between artwork and receiver – in this case, residents of the place and the objects themselves.1
The work is also intrinsically a part of me. I have grown with the work, and developed new interests and approaches as a consequence of the project, (as well as having earned the title Princess Tattie, Tattie Lady etc.) To leave ‘casually’ the work to the elements and the place has imprinted the work into my memory. I check back regularly, driving a circular route around the site, and pausing to touch and check each element of the work.
It is settling in already.
Following the conclusion of this project I’ve been left with the sense that Public Art is a series of relationships between
the artist – and the artwork
the artist – and other makers and contributors – and artwork
the artist – and place – and artwork
the artist – and residents – and artwork
Each of these relationships forms a new network that informs the work, and our on-going understanding of the place. In this way, it is not possible to claim exact authorship, even with a project that has been heavily developed independently, as each of the relationships created has grown the project in new ways.
Many of these were built through chance encounters, casual conversations with neighbours and the generosity of local residents who gave their time and efforts to support the projects development.
The relationship with other makers and contributors was a new one for me personally, as the first project where I have worked extensively with others to create an artwork. The process has been intensely rewarding and humbling, and I have so appreciated the calm, patient and sharing nature of each of these contributors.
Creating works like these draws some interesting questions about the balance between authorship and ownership. The authorship I explain a little bit more about in an earlier blog2, the ownership in that for these works to be truly successful, the ownership cannot be solely with the artist or client – in this case the housing partnership who officially ‘own’ the works. For an artwork to truly belong to a space they also need to belong to the people who occupy and reside within and surrounding the space. Each of the houses immediate to the site overlook the work, and hopefully as they become part of the place, the residents too can feel a sense of ownership towards them.
At a recent workshop I led collectively as part of an interior architecture course, I asked the question ‘what does it mean to be resident of a place?’ How do we ‘reside’ I, or occupy place? In the development of the Tattiefields site this has been one of my on-going questions. The sculpture too will become a resident of the place, but this also asks a bigger question of us as people, and as citizens of a place, to reside are you also an active citizen, or is being resident a passive role?
Public art and the monument
In many ways, this is the stereotype of public art – monuments in places (‘what do you think it’s going to be?’ ‘A giant tattie, for sure.’). In a certain way, Tattiefields is a monument, albeit to a vegetable rather than a historical figure, but it also seeks to determine an alternative approach to permanent public artworks. One that plays a close relationship with the place and the people, whilst also drawing out the less well known narratives of a place, celebrating the everyday and commemorating unique memories and identities of the places we live in. It’s all a question of scale.
1 For more on gift giving, have a look at Lewis Hyde’s The Gift, a book I have never yet finished but has influenced my thinking about gift giving.