Stephen Willats

Practice in the Art Museum, 2001

Extracted from: Stephen Willats, Multichannel Workshop – Practice in the Art Museum, Control Magazine Issue 16, 2001

Within the institutional reality in which contemporary art predominately currently exists, a realm of art museums, art journals, art schools, art collectors etc., there is still an innate aversion to the agencing of practices in art that are founded on the complexities of social exchange. Thus the ‘art museum’ is represented as a context that defines a social environment that from the outside is to be looked up to as a symbol of transmissional authority, and from the inside operates as a modus operandi for society’s institutions that is increasingly at odds with the social processes of exchange that are actually shaping modern daily life.

It is in other areas of art activity, in other social environments in which art exists such as in educational art, community art, psychiatric art, that models of exchange in communication between people and the rich complexity that they generate are seen as valued practice.

But within the realm of the institutional art world these more mutualistic social practices in art are at best marginalised, if not excluded altogether as they are deemed to undermine the authoritative criteria of authorship and of ownership based on possession. And this is the crux of the problem for within these social practices there is an implicit divestment of authorship, and the emphasis on art practice being a process-based experience, a process in time, not contained in an immortalised object. But the point I wish to emphasise is that the way in which we approach an institutionalised space is all dependent on our starting point, ie. the physical environment may be beyond our capabilities to rebuild as we desire, but what we represent within it, how we use that space, can enable our psychological approach to change and embrace quite divergent ideologies and perceptions. For the space in reality is relative to how we enter it, what perceptual framework we bring to bear on the experience.