A New Representation of People’s Reality, 1982
From: Stephen Willats, The New Reality, Orchard Gallery Catalogue, 1982, pp. 15 & 16
In stating that a co-operative relationship between people is an essential part of the development of the artwork, the artist is then in a position to determine a number of important factors as to the relevance and meaning of the piece in advance. The first possibility in this radical departure from modernistic practices is that the artist can specify himself the audience, and the context in which the work is to be received in advance of its development. These two factors are interrelated with the physical world in which the references of the work are to be rooted and the attitudes and perceptions manifest by people. Instead of a detached self-referenced artwork, responsible only to some internal criteria held by the artist, there is a direct responsibility to a real life situation, and to the persons co-operating with the artist in participating in the work’s development, to the extent that the finished work is mutually determined by both parties.
In order to realize such a radical departure from traditional practice, the artist has to be able to approach the people with whom he wants to co-operate, and to explain his intentions for their co-operation to be gained. Of course no one will voluntarily get involved in something they do not understand or find meaningful to themselves in some way. If a person agrees to participate then the means employed for them to externalize their own reality, their own references into the work, need to be found. There are a variety of means for externalizing that reality into the artwork that can be used which range from tape recorded interviews, photographic documentations of people and their environment, to the collection of people’s discarded rubbish for recycling into the piece itself. What is externalized from this interactive process forms a territory of interrelated elements derived from the participants’ reality that can be drawn upon. The audience, by making their own connections between disparate references, between quotations, photographic prints, actual objects etc., use it as a personal heuristic for then re-looking at their own reality. The instigatory power of these heuristics on the audience’s perception is that they refer straight back to an actual reality. The audience’s reality is connected to the symbolic reality held in the work, and this in turn is richly connected to the actual reality of the participant. The presenting of disparate elements to the audience from which they can establish connections between the gaps is generative, as they bridge them so new cognitions are formed, the act of so doing is an active act on the audience’s part, an act of insightful involvement.
A basic trigger has to be provided for such an active audience involvement to happen, something that gets them to interact within the territory set up in the artwork as a symbolic world. A very fundamental mechanism for interaction is the question, and this consequently can be used as an access point for the audience into the participant’s reality. In responding to the question (also a product of the mutual co-operation between artist and participant) the audience immediately start to make explicit what they have taken as implicit, and by further entering into the symbolic world held in the artwork and conjoining the references into a model, bit by bit they construct their own parallel world into a coherent resistance to the determinism of the New Reality.