Isn’t all art a ‘Work in Progress’?
Our current exhibition focuses on breaking away from the traditional boundaries of what it means to call something art. The curatorial narrative leads the visitor away from the relative ‘safety’ of traditionally-presented sculptures by Conor Hurford to the more experimental positioning of Ryan Heath’s work including a wall vinyl at floor-level. This theme of contrasting the traditional with the experimental continues with Emily Simpson’s work being traditionally framed but hung at a jumble of different heights beside Sam Goddard’s pieces which appear to be stacked on top of one another in places whilst incorporating a sense of the traditional through the use of a display plinth for the blue chest.
Two of our artists, Bethany Nugent and Alasdair Ambrose, have presented work on changing mediums and so are in a perpetual state of progression. Bethany’s photographs are positioned behind a layer of tracing paper so as to alter the visual effect for the viewer depending upon the time of day and the quantity of light streaming through the windows. In Alasdair’s case, the medium of video changes each time it is played; therefore, a visitor could view his installation several times and continue to see new material.
Alasdair’s unconventional use of speakers, by playing them into the floor, is in direct contrast to the traditional presentation of Clare Parr’s work utilizing headphones, as has become the norm, and so continues the subtle questions of what it is to fit, or not, into the traditional ‘regulations’ of art.
Sarah Watts’ work poses a fresh contrast to convention as her sculpture is suspended from the ceiling and replicated across the walls of the gallery space, invoking a sense of the creation process and the journey which led to the sculpture now on display.
In breaking with tradition and convention, we are assuming that there is some unspoken code not only regarding what art is but, also, how art is to be presented. On the contrary, art has always been attempting to defy convention and change taste. Thus, one might say that all art is a ‘Work in Progress’ as it constantly re-asserts our understanding of it.
A key example of this is the misunderstanding of the marble statues seen in Roman and Greek ruins by those on the Grand Tour. Within these ruins were beautiful, white marble statues, polished by time and weathered by rain, which immediately led to a British mania for polished-white marble statues.
However, we now know that the originals were heavily painted during the ancient period. Thus, attempts to conform to supposed traditions of art were actually inadvertent acts of subversion against classical traditions. Had a participant in the Grand Tour been shown an ancient sculpture as it was when the artist had finished it, they would have been shocked and seen it as a ‘Work in Progress’ which lacked a good polish in order to reveal the beautiful marble underneath.
Therefore, we must never name any artwork ‘finished’ as it will forever be a ‘Work in Progress’, changing in the eyes of each person who encounters it and, as Sam Goddard said, “constantly decaying”. In this sense, the decay is no bad thing. It is the very decay which brought the beauty of the ancient sculptures into their renaissance and which still constantly asks us to further explore questions such as “What is art?”, “When is art no longer a ‘Work in Progress’?” and “How should we display art?” with this final question making even the curatorial process a ‘Work in Progress’.
Nicholas William Thompson
Figure 1: Boardman, J., Griffin, J., and Murray, O. (1986). Korē dedicated on the Athenian Acropolis [Photograph]. In The Oxford History of the Classical World, facing p. 119.
Figure 2: Goddard, S. (2017). Blue Chest [Photograph taken by Thompson, N.W.]. In Work in Progress by the Crop Up Gallery.