My project is an experiment. It will play with participatory art, which was once confined to the education departments of museums and galleries but has recently been taken over by contemporary artists. This really took off in the nineties, but Futurist and Paris Dada performances and mass spectacles back in the early 20th century set the tone. I want to try and liberate this form from the gallery space and the education room and put it back onto the street: the very London street that I live on…
I’m not an artist or a social worker, but it would be interesting to see whether a participatory art project could build new relationships between neighbours, something that lives on and doesn’t just sit in a cobwebby archive or unopened coffee-table book. This kind of ‘art’ is difficult to record and has no particular aesthetic or material outcome, so a blog full of thoughts and some photos seems a good way to share it with anyone who might be interested!
This is how it will start:
Instead of knocking on doors I’ve come up with a spin on ‘mail art’ which was used in pre-internet days by non-commercial artists who could collaborate across the seas via the back of a postcard. This idea now thrives on the internet too; the PostSecret blog (made up of people’s confessions written on decorated postcards) has millions of followers, whilst you can email One Million Lovely Letters and get a personal hand-written letter in return. But I want to forget the web for a bit because I reckon my long, seemingly dull street is already pretty international; East London has been proudly multicultural for a very long time.
I realised that I should make use of the street’s big symmetrical windows and so this letter will land on every doormat along the street in a nice clear envelope along with some crayons and a blob of blu-tack…
Disclaimer: don’t underestimate the humble wax crayon. Andy Warhol used them so they’re not just for children!
This should be a nice break from bills and junk mail and I’ll post it by hand on a Sunday. The party bag-like envelope contains everything the neighbours will need to get involved without having to leave the house and I’ve got an illustrator on board not only so it looks inviting but because the diagram is a visual translation of the all-important instructions. I want EVERYONE to get involved but I know that’s unrealistic, so at least the residents who don’t pick up their crayons will be my critics and become the audience of our pop-up art gallery as they walk along the street. The choice not to participate is really valid, it will help me reflect on the plan and determine whether anything further happens.
It will be interesting to see how many households join in and whether the street really will resemble an art gallery. By this point there will have been some passing comments in a few different households and on the pavement, you can imagine things like: “Who’s this Jemima?”, “This is stupid!”, “Ooh how interesting!”, “I didn’t know there are kids next door.”
Hopefully, people will find it fun and it’ll be a good talking point. Conversations will start, and perhaps there’ll be some smiles, laughs, and disagreements too. Neighbours might acknowledge each other for the first time. This could be a good thing, and would open a door (or window) for more stuff to happen. My idea is essentially a way of approaching my neighbours on neutral ground, to see if they might like to participate in something bigger, better and on their terms.
To see what actually happens, keep an eye on the blog…