Written for the catalogue of ‘Immediate Territory’, a one day pop-up art event at Magdalen Road Studios, Oxford
‘Take note dear person, of your immediate position.’ 1
Immediate Territory was a site-specific exhibition, but the specificity of the site was not easy to define absolutely. Art works infiltrated an East Oxford street lined with houses, cafés and shops, leading into the car park outside the Magdalen Road Studios, purposefully cleared of vehicles for the event, and finally inside the studios themselves. The site of the exhibition could be more specifically described as ‘here and now’. The boundary between the everyday and the realm of the art exhibition remained unclear; Atalya Laufer and Agi Nagasaka’s work ‘Project, Potentially no-one sees it’ secreted inside the fish tank of a pet shop window may have gone unnoticed by most passers by, unused to looking for art in the cracks between the pavement.
‘You still haven’t looked at anything, you’ve merely picked out what you’ve long ago picked out.’2
As sculptor Scott Burton once observed, ‘sometimes the difference between [art and life] is sheer-consciousness, the awareness that what seemed to be a stain on the wall is in fact a work of art.’ It is the same heightened state of awareness associated with visiting somewhere we have never been to before; the tourist finding poetry within the grind of everyday life. Of course, like the writer George Perec, we could study our commute to work with the same level of detail if we wanted to.
Until the scene becomes improbable
Until you have the impression, for the briefest of movements, that you are in a strange town, or, better still, until you can no longer understand what is happening or is not happening.’2
Art works are unexpected additions to our neighbourhood street. By contrast, visitors to a gallery expect to see almost anything. Spatially sequestered between the two in the layout of the exhibition, the artworks placed in the empty car park outside Magdalen Road Studios started to creep out of the concrete. Perhaps on the return journey, more visitors noticed a small painting hanging silently under water in the window of a pet shop.
In responding to the ‘site’ of Magdalen Road, the exhibiting artists defined the space in different ways, considering its past and its present as well as the act of visitation by the audience. As a one day only pop-up art event the sense of occasion helped to encourage an atmosphere of immediacy: an experience on a particular day in early October with a specific group of artists, their work and their audience. Such locations in time and place are conceptual tools that orientate and allow the narration of stories. On the surface, the tale has a beginning, a middle and an end. Linearity allows for ease of understanding and organisation, but experience often connect and overlap in unexpected ways. Memories can relate to each other across decades and continents.
A space becomes a place when we come to know it better, but we can only know it in relation to other places and other times, and the shared memories of others. Our understanding of a place is coloured by its past and ours. ‘Where shall we go?’ asked Min Kyong Lee of the audience to her performance piece ‘be.there.not.’ Sat in a circle and sharing a drink in the darkening car park, the group visited places they knew or came to know collectively, travelling in the present to memories of other cities and countries. In doing so, the group defined their ‘immediate territory’ in relation to other places, times and also each other. Inside the warmth of the studios, Maris Boldis-Wallner took photographs of visitors and artists gathering around a table laid with food and drink. Throughout the day this became the unofficial hub of the event; a place to meet and discuss the exhibition, amongst other things. Bodis-Wallner casually documented this exchange. Whilst staged, her work captured the temporary formation of a real community, defined like any community by a place and a time: a territory.
Delineated by boundaries, the word territory suggests ownership; it is known and named by a group of people and their activities within it. The site of ‘Immediate Territory’ was carved out as such for a day. Yet its boundaries were blurred with the everyday space of the street. Like Katalin Hausel’s geometric sculptures, Immediate Territory explored how our concept of place is a carnival of mirrors, reflecting different angles, viewpoints and definitions from the perspective of other places and times. At what point did visitors walk through the imaginary glass doors of the gallery and at what point did they walk out again?
‘To live is to pass from one space to another, while doing your very best not to bump yourself.’2
With reference to:
1. Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues
2. George Perec, Species of Spaces