Openings are always the worst places to actually see any art. Views of works are obscured, there’s a queue for the headphones and most of the conversations seem to be about other people’s exhibitions. They have more to do with being seen than seeing. It’s only when the artist or curator steps forward to say their few words that a respectful hush falls on the audience, as if in acknowledgement that the pretense of ‘the exhibition’ must be maintained at all costs.
“Well, I don’t think you do… you make your own conclusions too fast and I am not surprised… no, I didn’t say that, please, just listen to, can you… listen to me?… I have never said that!… well, I have never said that, you made that up, it is in your head, not mine, and I have never said that!”
In Annika Strom’s exhibition From the Community Hall at Temple Bar Gallery, the speeches which attended its opening are relayed on a video monitor in the exhibition itself. The black-and-white footage shows these introductions disrupted by a seemingly thoughtless man arguing into his mobile phone, wandering amongst the crowds, walking in front of the speakers, rapt in his conversation and unaware (or uncaring) of any so-called exhibition protocol. At one point, he sits on the apparent centre-piece of the exhibition, a wooden stage covered with Swedish embroidered textiles, before being asked to move by gallery staff. He does so, begrudgingly. In the documentation of this intervention, the audience’s gradual awareness is slowly revealed, as the actor moves between the back of the stage (where his script has been handwritten) and the centre ground, and as clues within the prepared text allude to the action at hand. The stage, then, can be seen as a proxy artwork, a stage only in the sense that it serves as a prop within a wider tableau.
This frustration of the viewer’s expectations, the obstruction of the designated artwork by an interloper who, in turn, is exposed as the work itself, recurs in another video here; a woman whose position on stage blocks the view of the recorded documentation of other, earlier performances. Timed to occur at specific intervals throughout the looped screening, Standing in the Way Woman (all works 2010) not only disrupts the extant footage but is integrated into it, adjusted to accommodate its duration and structured in a way that acknowledges this fact. As in The Upset Man mentioned above, the arrangement of the intervention both conforms to and subverts the theatrical notion of the fourth wall. The actors perform their roles naturally, as if oblivious to the audience’s reaction. However, the viewer’s implication as an unwitting accomplice positions Strom’s works within modernist theatrical traditions, recalling Bertolt Brecht’s alienation of the spectator, Antonin Artaud’s tactics of shock and repulsion, and Julian Beck and Judith Malina’s occupation of non-conventional spaces.
The art gallery represents a location, and a history, that carries its own conventions and expectations. Strom’s interventionist practice must therefore be read in this parallel context, where the spatial dimensions of the gallery often operate as a site of designation, where what happens within its walls is, by definition, art itself. The performances co-opt the everyday, functional aspects of the exhibition venue (welcome speeches, health-and-safety instructions, conversations over glasses of free wine) in order to incorporate them into the artistic gestures. These moments, which generally fall outside the exhibition proper, are brought into the open. It is this response, caught between artistic appraisal and social embarrassment, which Strom initiates and captures.
From the Community Hall ran from 10 December 2010 – 4 February 2011 and was curated by Aoife Tunney.