Crowdsourced, at SPACE Gallery is Robert Raczka’s latest version in a series of exhibitions that he has curated for more than a decade. In each, he prompts invited artists to create work on site during an eight-hour time frame in front of an audience. For this incarnation, Raczka also included directives for the artists to interact with the audience and engage them in the making of the work. This expanded set of variables afforded the artists a greater range of conceptual and formal approaches; consequently a richer and more engrossing experience for the audience. Raczka’s roster of artists includes a mix of established and emerging artists, some with ties to the academic community, all living and practicing in the region.
One of the more significant outcomes of the endeavor was how the group of artists chose to make their work based on these parameters. In particular issues about authorship; how much control / lack thereof artists were prepared to hand over to the audience. In any exhibition in which the curator establishes the ‘rules of engagement’ it is always interesting to see if the artists fit their current modus operandi within the overarching structure or let go of the familiar and allow that new framework to dictate the approach. I found that the artists with practices specifically connected to medium were more inclined to stick with the familiar and the artists less tied to medium based production were more apt to allow the curator’s parameters to dictate their approach. This related to the flexibility of the artist, perhaps their sensibility, and also reflective of their perceptions about the role of the artist in the making of art. For some, especially Tom Sarver who made his career on the performative often with improvisation as the vehicle for the work, it was a natural fit. In his piece Asittle, Sarver created an installation/sculpture on the spot, from various items that the audience supplied. For others more accustomed to working in the confines of their studio and then presenting the finished work to an audience this framework forced them out of their comfort zones.
William Kofmehl III, an installation artist whose production is not medium based, took the conceptual route in his piece, Pittsburgh Revealed. By giving carte blanche to the audience to navigate the piece and ultimately determine its outcome, Kofmehl played the role of a hands off director with his willing participants the actors in the performance. He set up easels with drawing pads and drawing tools, arranged in a semicircle around a partially clothed male model; an environment still found in most art programs. The audience could then make a drawing of the model and display it on the wall behind the model. Because Kofmehl’s piece functions on many levels with multiple entry points, it has the ability to involve the lay person as well as the art indoctrinated and most importantly all with an appropriate dose of humor.
Maritza Mosquera’s Fracking the Body: Name It #1 and Shaun Slifer’s Bandit Signs also included humor as an integral component. Both used recognizable iconic imagery as their hook to capture the attention of the audience. Mosquera created a floor to ceiling drawing of the patient in the 70’s board game Operation and then imposed block text of various surgical procedures gleaned from audience responses to a questionnaire, similar to which you might fill out in a doctor’s office. Slifer created a wall of signs on site with his vinyl printer. The clever sayings and or commentary mimicked the appearance of lawn and roadside signs used to advertise consumer goods and political campaigns but with an ironic twist. The text-based plaques of Jenny Holzer come to mind.
Another relevant byproduct of the curator’s structure for the show was whether or not the artists chose to use technology, either in the making of the work or in how they engaged the audience. The exhibition coincided with the Gallery Crawl, which draws huge crowds on the opening night, essentially ensuring a live audience and potential participants. Still, a number of artists chose to filter their engagement with the audience through the ‘device’ as opposed to face to face interaction, placing a buffer between themselves and the live audience. Barbara Weissberger, who has been making highly crafted, tightly orchestrated, digitally manipulated photographic work with an underlying obsession related to meat and its ability to reflect and critique consumer culture, chose to stick with food for her piece Fooding but greatly loosened the reins on the final outcome by allowing the audience to e-mail her photographs of food taken on cell phones which she then printed on site and fashioned into an improvised wall installation.
Kim Beck and Matt Forrest also relied on technology in their piece Redactions/Highlights, but with an old school result. The artists asked the audience to e-mail physical addresses to them. After printing black and white images of the locations pulled from Google Map’s street view, Kim and Matt altered the images with black marker and white out. The resultant images became part of a ‘zine,’ known for their low tech and DIY qualities, distributed for free in the gallery. Much like Beck, Forrest and Weissberger, Lori Hepner also straddled the digital divide in her piece, #Suntime #Screentime. By utilizing the ever pervasive social media as a conduit for audience participation, Hepner generated (from a home built machine) abstract cyanotype prints produced from the texts of tweets and posts she received. These examples show artists who chose to filter audience interaction through existing communication modes yet still clung to older modes of production for their final products, perhaps a reflection of how to locate themselves and their production within the ever-changing boundaries of our current milieu.
The low tech approach of Gabe Felice occupied the other side of the pendulum. In Psychic Drawings, the artist constructed a modified carnavelesque fortune teller experience tempting a would be participant with an on the spot drawing based on the dropping of a superball sized ball into a Rube Goldberg type of gadget which revealed their ‘aura’. Felice’s approach fit seamlessly into the format of the show with the end result amounting to a whimsically engaging mural sized wall of his improvised drawings with text. Two other artists, who like Felice eschewed the use of technology in favor of a more traditional approach, were Paul Zelevansky, Structure and Character, and Renee Ickes, Word Generator. Both artists relied on face-to-face communication for input to determine the works’ outcome. Perhaps as a nod to Rivane Neuenschwander’s I wish your wish, Casey Droege and Corey Escoto, in another low tech venture, partnered to create Tell Me What You Want (What You Really, Really Want). The artists invited the audience to write wishes on Styrofoam coffee cups which they then arranged sculpturally into a faux wishing well.
The seemingly disparate notion of simultaneously defining, while at the same time blurring the boundaries between artist, audience, and art production played a significant role in this exhibition. Raczka’s structure for the exhibition prompted the artists to examine more closely the role of artist and audience and also to reflect on what type of responsibility the artist has in fostering that interaction. Installation, conceptual and performance art expanded the role of the audience from that of the traditional notion of audience as passive observer, to an active participant. For the artists who stepped outside their traditional model of artist as maker, who then presents finished work in a traditional gallery setting, perhaps this new approach will provide the impetus to further explore possibilities associated with this prototype. For those already accustomed to this arrangement … just another day at the office.
The exhibition brought to light the complicated nature of how to approach the making of art and how to define its place in today’s environment. Should artists reflect our culture or subculture by either working within an established tradition of craft, which typically offers a tangible outcome, or by working within the world of thought? Embrace the most current modes of communication or rely on time tested gestures of human touch? Consider a wide audience or cater to the art educated? Like an art laboratory, SPACE tackled all of these questions thrown at it resulting in an eclectic mix of outcomes.
Crowdsourced runs through September 1, 2013.
812 Liberty Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Scott Turri hails from suburban Philadelphia but now calls Pittsburgh home, where he divides his labor amongst: making art, writing, and educating. View more articles by Scott Turri.