How the Audit fits in (and how it doesn’t)

rough sketch of my installation?

Here’s a rough sketch of what my contribution (in the physical gallery space) might look like when it opens at the MCA towards the end of next week. (My bit is the dark shaded bit).

In a bold and curious curatorial move, my work will be placed in the “resource room”. This room, at the top of the stairs on the third floor, is often used as a place for browsing books or watching documentaries: supplementary material about the exhibition, within the exhibition.

Here’s a sketch of the whole show, with the location of each artist’s work indicated by their name in black:

mca floor plan for enviro exhibition

Several weeks ago, when Glenn first told me that I’d be in the resource room, I was a bit resistant – I thought that my Audit project should be allocated its own “legitimate” space within the show.

But since then, I’ve grown to like the idea of being in there with the supplementary info. Gallery visitors can snuggle into a couch, dive into a book, get their paws on this auxillary stuff which isn’t precious. (You should see the “exhibition copies” of the books and catalogues after a few months in the show – they get totally filthy and their spines crack apart from use).

So, in a way – as a project which operates as a reflection on the exhibition, but which is also a work within the exhibition, I think the resource room is just right for me.

During the run of the show (From August 20 to October 31), I’ll be delivering and pinning up one print per week in my resource-room home. I envisage that these prints (which I’ll be making on the Big Fag Press) will consist of the diagrams which have been evolving as I struggle to come to grips with all the inputs and outcomes of various aspects of the show (including my own processes).

So it’ll be one of those pieces that grows over the course of ten weeks, rather than being already complete at the time of the launch. (There is of course a tradition of this sort of thing. Continuous Project Altered Daily (1969) by Robert Morris, and Allan Kaprow’s Push and Pull (1964) are two of my faves amongst many).

The danger, of course, is that this kind of work might (quite rightly) seem a bit “empty” at the start of the show. For this reason, I’ve asked the MCA’s preparators to paint “my” walls with blackboard paint, which I will pin my prints onto. I can then chalk up further annotations surrounding each print, as well as info about the date and time that visitors might expect me to rock up and deliver the next print in the series.

I wasn’t sure what the MCA’s curatorial gang would think of this blackboard suggestion. However, they seem to like it (at least, they’ve “approved” it).

But this morning when I bailed up Glenn in the office he said “Yeah, it’s a good idea. But you can’t leave chalk in there”.

In other words, no chalk for visitors to use to write back to me.

Interlude: Just as I wrote these words, Glenn walked past my desk again. He pointed at the registration/conservation department, implicating them as the “baddies” in my chalk-ban. One of the problems with chalk in the gallery, of course, is that it can go walkabout (chalkabout?) and end up being used for mischief in more fragile artworks (thus rendering the chalk perilous from a conservation viewpoint).

How to get around this?

Artworks which are physically complete before the exhibition opens do not (within their own structures) allow gallery visitors to “speak back”. It’s a one-way communication. But a work like mine, which evolves during the time that the exhibition is live, can benefit from the wisdom (and suffer from the banality) of visitor talk-back. Of course, this can happen right here online through the blog. But chalking on a board is quite pleasurable, visceral, doesn’t require any technological savvy, you don’t need to construct full sentences, you can draw diagrams of your own, etc.

(It’s also a bit daggy. That’s a risk I’m quite happy to take.)

So the museum context, drawing thousands of visitors per week, is also precisely what makes it hard to do this kind of thing. What to do?

6 thoughts on “How the Audit fits in (and how it doesn’t)

  1. hi lucas,
    a suggestion is to have a computer (preferably an imac) with a large wacom tablet and pen so that visitors can write/draw their comments or feedback. these b&w image-comments could be then automatically posted to your blog, as enlargeable thumbnails. the pen could be set up with a white chalkboard nib for a dark grey background (or whatever colour the wall is painted). when the computer is not being used, recent comments could be viewed on screen as a slideshow. the wacom pen would need to be secured somehow.
    all the best with it,

  2. Thanks rf.

    Ooh, that sounds techy. Although, it’s true, I like to blog, I’m not really (to channel Tony Abbott) a “tech-head”. Your solution would be perfect for some artists, but it doesn’t really “feel right” for me.

    I like the limitlessness of chalk, the fact that you can sweep with your whole arm, the way that the dust comes off when you draw, the “schoolishness” of the whole thing.

    My feeling right now, to solve this impasse, is that I might set up a small office within the resource room, and work regularly from there, during the course of the exhibition.

    That way, I can be “chalk monitor” (carrying my own stash but not leaving it behind), thus satisfying the MCA’s need for chalk-control. And also meeting my own desire to chat with gallery visitors, maybe getting them to do their own audit diagrams on the blackboard while I’m there…

  3. Here’s another possible low-tech solution. Glenn the curator sketched this up for me just now:

    chalk holder drawing by glenn

    It’s a device to hold a piece of chalk, a bit like a “propelling pencil” (wikipedia calls it a “mechanical pencil”) or what in Australia is best known as a “Pacer”.

    The drawing on the bottom left shows a “chalk protractor”, used by maths teachers of yore to inscribe circles on the blackboard. Whatever system was used to hold the chalk in place could be adapted for this “chalk-pacer” device of Glenn’s.

    With such a device, you could cable down the back end of it so it doesn’t go walkabout. You’d just have to make sure that only a small amount of chalk protrudes from the front end, so it couldn’t get broken off.

  4. Once again the MCA leads the way! We may finally be free of the previously unreported blight of chalk terrorism that has stalked the art world for, oh, centuries at least.

    Will the MCA now institute a zero-tolerance-for-writing-implements policy? Will we all be screened, x-rayed. and groped as we enter to ensure that there is no possibility whatsoever that we might improve on art works we don’t like? Biros, fountain pens, pencils, lipstick, mascara and other makeup, they all must be confiscated at the door and destroyed. Can we be confident that the MCA will now lobby to have all websites that reference the manufacture and use of chalk blocked by Conroy’s web filter? Think of the children! They are particularly vulnerable, indeed often introduced to chalk in kindergarten by irresponsible adults!

    Given that everybody finds the temptation to scrawl on boring art impossible to resist this has no doubt been an overwhelming problem at the MCA so why has this chalk ban been so long in coming? We should hunt down and punish whoever is to blame for this cover-up given the millions of previous incidents of chalk abuse that must have been swept under the carpet.

    Next: MCA will deal with the problems caused by people breathing near art works – mandatory space suits for all museum visitors.

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