Inter-media must not forget to be
Critic JOAN LOWNDES analyses the successes and failures of Intermedia Week at the Art Gallery and sums up the prospects for it's future.
Intermedia's Electrical Connection at the Vancouver Art Gallery was conceived as a big spring party. Now that the guests have departed comes the moment of truth: how good was it?
It started off beautifully but as the week progressed unevenness appeared in the special events, and even before opening night was over a misunderstanding had developed between certain artists and the public.
This exhibition was the most participatory we have experienced. If we compare it with Pacific Chrysanthemum we noted that the Japanese sculptures related to us on a one to one basis. Whether on floor or pedestal they were just right for us to peer into, stroke or manipulate.
Yet it was part of its cleverness that, even while coaxing us into touching them they could also be self sufficient.
A lot of pieces in the Electrical Connection, on the other hand, were planned for mass movement, two of the most striking examples being the maze and the room.
Even the TV mural defended in part for its effectiveness on incrustations of people at the telephone and seated on the chair, or standing in front of it to give the scale.
The Vancouver audience, realizing that they were the cast in a happening, responded enthusiastically - in the opinion of some artists.
The heart of the controversy was Gathy Falk's highly original sculpture consisting of two tall forms: a bound bale of excelsior and a plastic bin containing loose excelsior.
She had thought of it in purely visual terms but a small child, responding to its tactile appeal, began to pull out bits of the shredded newspaper. Soon the movement caught on with people assuming, as I did, that it was the artist's intention to free us of our ideas about excelsior and reveal to us it's interesting texture.
At this stage we were only strewing about the loose excelsior in the bin but later on the bale itselv was pulled apart. The morning after the opening, paper was all over the gallery and a very upset Gathy Falk had to rebuild her sculpture.
A "Do not touch"- sign was put on it, but removed by a resentful public. Another sign replaced it, this time taped to the floor, and another was placed across the threshold of Glen Lewis' environment of sparkling white gravel saying: "Do not enter." The gravel at one point had been thrown right out of the room.
Gathy Falk, still hurt, feels that the audience will not respect what an artist wants. "Some people think that art is therapeutic. Well all art is to a certain extent but it is only therapeutic it's not for me."
Ed Varney, that wise and gentle young poet who, from his kitchen transported into the area just opposite these two exhibits, saw everything happening as you would looking out onto a busy street, made this comment:
"The audience used the works of art in every sense of the word and really well, but rougher than what was intended. This was a very far out show for which there were no patterns from the past.
"So the audience and the artist learn what goes on between them. There's a lot of learning to be done, thats the crux of it."
Such also was the attitude of Doris Shadbolt and Intermedia director Werner Aellen. The latter said that he could see, in retrospect, that when you place "objects that are static or of a contemplative nature in an environment laced with participatory things you demand too much of the public."
Another time he would evolve the exhibition in such a way that the non-participatory pieces would be grouped together, leading them into those that demanded interaction.
In any over-all assessment of Electrical Connection, a high value must be placed on its power to attract the under- thirties generation. I talked with grade 10 student from Point Grey, Steven Rupp, who had turned down an offer of a trip to Seattle to spend his Easter holiday at the VAG.
His investment of $2 in a week's pass brought him a lot of fun but he had some criticisms, mostly of the performances.
"Basically they were little things. Most of the stuff had no polish on it and you got the impression at times that Intermedia was just fooling around. On the poets night there were long pauses while discussions took place among various groups about who was going to read next.
"Richard Anstey was really top notch but the tapes on Wednesday noon were a bust. I got nothing from them."
Again the problem of communication. The prologue to the Vance-Rimmer concert was composed of sounds made by the audience itself as it bought tickets and come into the Gallery. However, since the sounds were amplified and distorted the audience did not recognize the play back. Surely this could have been anticipated and some verbal explanation given? Intermedia must not forget to be inter-people.
Ed Varney, who took part in the poet's night, gave his side of the story. The concert gallery, he said "Is a hard performance space to fill. There's a kind of milling crowd on the fringes of performances that partly refuses to remain still an listen. If there had been seats, even in the first ten rows the concentration would have been different."
Werner Aellen told me that at least one of the pauses on the poets program was caused by the fact that a visitor had tripped over a wire and made a short. But he added that he wants the atmosphere to remain fairly casual.
"I don't think that everything has to run like a Rowen and Martin Laugh-In. There was a poet who was not scheduled but who got up and said he would like to read. This kind of flexibility is just beautiful and something to look for in the future."
He feels gratified that the VAG has asked him to organize another week next year and also that a number of artists have approached him about working at Intermedia.
From this of post party opinions, consensus emerges on one thing; Ed Varney and his wife Bonnie in their kitchen were both the most far-out and the easiest to take of all of the "exhibits".
With unobtrusive hospitality they served cups of tea and talked to people from 11am to 10 pm . During the day they met mostly the older generation and children, while in the evening it was more like a party with about thirty of their contemporaries grouped about.
Ed found it tiring but enlightening." People that I didn't know came six hours a day, and one couple three days in a row." He and his wife were neither PR's or docents: they provided a quiet space for discussion and human contact. In so doing they pointed up a crying need in all public galleries.
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