Artist: Pawel Althamer, Chris Evans, Mierle Laderman Ukeles
Curated by Alex Farquharson, Tirdad Zolghadr and Le Consortium, Dijon
Tuesday 25 July 2006 to Saturday 12 August 2006
Private View: Tuesday 25 July 2006, 5:30PM to 7:30PM
One and One and One is Three: Three Shows About the Group Show*
Show One: What Have I Done to Deserve This?
Pawel Althamer, Chris Evans, Mierle Laderman Ukeles
Curated by Alex Farquharson
What Have I Done to Deserve This? is an exhibition of re-activated documentation relating to three ‘random acts of kindness’, by Pawel Althamer (Warsaw), Chris Evans (Berlin) and Mierle Laderman Ukeles (New York).
The attitudes and motivations of these projects vary, but in each instance a generous deed, involving hard work and self-sacrifice, becomes a means of making contact with others — excluded kids from Warsaw (Althamer), a museum’s maintenance staff (Ukeles), artists in need of production money (Evans) — from which working relationships evolve.
Altruism, in these practices, also serves as a Trojan horse through which the artists intervene in relations between groups of people and the institutions that are supposedly responsible for their interests: an American art museum, various funding bodies in the U.K. and the Polish school system.
‘Work’, as in ‘work of art’ and work in the general sense, acquires special meaning as each artist takes as their medium a form of ‘real world’ labour — school teaching, public maintenance and form filling — conventionally considered alien to the creative act.
Through hard graft the artists locate ludic and desirous openings in structures often experienced as excessively hierarchical, bureaucratic, unresponsive and disciplinary by those threaded through them.
Pawel Althamer, ‘Einstein Class’, 2005
Commissioned to make a project as part of a major celebration of Einstein’s centenary in and around Berlin, Althamer used the funds to give physics classes to a group of twelve to sixteen year old boys who rarely attend school, face problems of various kinds, and hang out in the deprived neighbourhood in Warsaw where the artist’s studio is situated. Led by a maverick physics teacher, who’d recently been made redundant, the boys learnt about Einstein’s discoveries through practical experimentation in a rented building that served as their classroom. During the six months the project lasted, the kids went on trips to the countryside, had a week’s vacation by the sea and travelled to Berlin for the opening, which for some was the first time they’d been outside Warsaw. It culminated with an outdoor science day on their own street for family, friends and neighbours. The children’s experiences are documented in a half hour feature film, which receives its UK debut at Cubitt. In addition, to benefit the participants and perpetuate the project, two children who took part in ‘Einstein Class’ will be given a short holiday in London. ‘Einstein Class’ has an autobiographical dimension: Althamer, who was disenchanted at school, devised the project according to what he would have wished for as a young boy. The project itself was an experiment: it involved considerable risk and its outcome was unknown.
Chris Evans, ‘UK Arts Board Agency’, 2000
‘For the UK Arts Board Agency (UKABA) I put advertisements in various magazines and distributed 7000 flyers asking artists to put forward ideas for work that needed funding from both regional and national arts boards. I then took these ideas — often not more than one or two lines in length — and turned them into fully costed applications to the appropriate funding bodies [The National Lottery, Scottish Arts Council and Arts Council of England]. The only restriction, hinted at by the logo, was that all proposals had to relate to the theme of ‘trees’. Freed from having to balance the chore of making an application against the realistic chance of success, artists put forward plans they might otherwise have shelved. For example Alan Currall proposed building a bridge from Plymouth to Cape Cod, following the route of the Mayflower pilgrimage, using only English oak trees (a project to be completed by the year 3000). I applied to the Arts Council of England for £700 to build the first stretch of the bridge leaving Plymouth but was unfortunately unsuccessful. I was trying to intervene between artists and state funding, to work my way into the set-up that decides what gets made, by whom and for whom. What kept me going, for the year I worked on this project, was the thought of an arts board officer faced with an inexplicable rush of interest in the tree as a contemporary theme’. (Chris Evans in ‘Art and its Institutions’, edited by Nina Montmann, Black Dog Publishing, 2006)
Mierle Laderman Ukeles, ‘The Keeping of the Keys’, 1973
The Second action, on Friday July 20, was ‘The Keeping of the Keys: Maintenance as Security’ (1973). In a hand-to-hand gesture, Ukeles took control of the metal keys held by the guards who stood watch in each room of the building. Enacting the guards, work, she chose to ‘secure’ the museum’s main entrances, and room after room throughout the museum, during open hours, for specifically designated periods of time. The public involved was fully informed: notices were placed at each door explaining that an artwork was taking place and that the doors would be temporarily locked. Museum visitors were part of the performance and could choose to stay within or to move on to different locations. Some willingly stayed. Others resented the interruption to their visit, caused by a live artist having taken up new tools (keys) and thereby gaining (brief) control over the entire institution. This reversal of the hierarchy of authority, made clear by the intervention of the artist, was nowhere more apparent than in the administrative offices, where curators and others flew from their desks in outrage before the doors were locked behind them.’ (From the guide to the exhibition ‘Mierle Laderman Ukeles / Matrix 137’ at Wadsworth Museum, 1998).
The Keeping of the Keys, was one of four performances Ukeles undertook at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticutt as part of `7500′, an exhibition of women conceptual artists curated by Lucy Lippard. Each of the four performances were choreographed around a task undertaken by the museum’s maintenance staff. Together they represent a unique convergence of first generation feminist performance art and institutional critique. Since 1970 Ukeles has been the unsalaried artist-in-residence for New York City’s Sanitation Department where she orchestrates major public projects that explore the social and ecological issues of waste management.
*What Have I Done to Deserve This? is part of One and One and One is Three, a series of three guest-curated group shows, premised on the idea that the smallest number of works – and the smallest number of artists — needed to make up a group show is three. Importantly, the three guest curators of the series are all figures known for working on exhibitions and biennales that feature many tens, if not hundreds, of artists and works. These curators are: Alex Farquharson, Tirdad Zolghadr, and Le Consortium, Dijon (Xavier Douroux, Franck Gautherot and Eric Troncy).
Cubitt curator Tom Morton has invited these guest curators to each select three works, each of them by a different artist, for a show that will run for three weeks. No other stipulations were given, and the guest curators were free to title and theme their shows as they wished.
In a sense, One and One and One is Three is a response to the current preoccupation with exploring the question “what is a group show?” through large-scale curatorial projects. Although One and One is Three is restrictive, it is by no means regressive — instead, it reaffirms and hopefully re-invigorates one of the core enterprises of curating, and offers its guest curators the opportunity to produce something closer to a haiku than an epic poem.
- Alex Farquharson: What Have I Done to Deserve This? — 26 July – 13 August.
- Tirdad Zolghadr and Meg Cranston: The Wonder and the Horror of the Human Head — 19 August – 3 September.
- Le Consortium: Title Pending — 6 September – 24 September.