Having worked for three years on the development of a series of palimpsests exploring the art of healing, I was deeply immersed in my own understanding of the work. I sensed that there had been a shift in my experience and understanding of each of the works individually, but it was important for me to have the opportunity to see them in relationship with one another as an exhibition; a body of work. It was also important to hear from other people with regard to what they were seeing in the work, in order to support my own capacity for reflexive distance. I opened the exhibition as Untitled and invited viewers to offer titles for any or all of the works.
What did we see?
Whilst the exhibition was open viewer’s responses were collected in sealed boxes in the Chapel on Station Gallery. I was aware that when the exhibition closed, I would need to bring the entire body of work home and also make room in the studio for the participant responses. Before I dismantled the exhibition I took the time to thoroughly clean the studio, clearing it of all unnecessary clutter. I bought a clean carpet for the centre of the room and rearranged the furniture. In doing all of this, I was preparing space for the next phase of the research project. Eventually I was ready to read and respond to the participants’ ideas. There were three boxes of responses and as I opened them I systematically recorded the participants’ ideas. Before moving on to the next participant, I took time to offer a prayer of thanks for the person who had shared these things with me. I then checked in with my own responses to what had just been shared and noted how I was affected by what I was reading.
Once the responses were collected, they were collated and then coded in various ways. There were 104 written responses in total. It was evident that the participants had generally taken great care to engage with the work and clearly articulate their responses. One participant took the time to go around the exhibition twice, identifying which title emerged in the first viewing and then naming what may have shifted in a second round of viewing. The gallery staff reported that a woman had photographed all of the work and taken the response sheet home saying that she wanted to sit with the ideas for a few days and then come back with her response. Yet another participant took the time to create two columns on the response form, assigning a sound for each of the images in the first column and then noting a corresponding word in the second. This particular response form was folded into the shape of a boat and then deposited in the box. It was interesting to note that the participant chose the title for the exhibition and then clearly ensured that her response was intentionally and intricately. This response and method of posting seemed to speak clearly of the experience of paradox that was held within the exhibition for so many people.
The following is a record of my own ideas about the theme being explored in each artwork and the basic themes identified in the viewers’ responses to each piece. The works are displayed in order according to their place in the exhibition, which in turn correlates with the order in which participants were asked to respond.
1. Is it Finished?
Existence in Time and Space
2. Desiring and Shedding Form
Solid and Fluid held in tension
Chaos and Order
Control is Suspended
Order Emerges from Chaos
4. Letting Go
Liberation and Entrapment
Freedom and Oppression
5. The Wound of Wonder
Clarity and Obscurity
Known and Unknown
6. An encounter by the billabong
Transcendence and Immanence – A Meeting Point
Into my Body: The Depths of my Being
7. Learning to Breathe
From the Particular to the Universal
Existence and Non- Existence
Alone in a Vast and Complex Landscape – But Also Alive
A Truthful Contradiction
Faith and Fear
I am here, Underneath it all
10. Containing Canvas
To Hold or Release?
The invitation to title the artwork was an opportunity for viewers to become engaged with a conversation that led us to collectively make sense of what we were seeing. The invitation framed the exhibition as a question requiring a response and the number of responses received, reflected the significance of this question for the audience. The themes that were identified suggest that viewers saw their involvement with the exhibition as a relational dynamic of Open Question and Response. Whilst viewers were aware that this body of work was an inquiry into The Art of Healing, they had no information about the particular themes that had been explored in the individual works. Despite this apparent gap in the viewers’ knowledge of the work, the titles that were offered seemed to articulate strong relationships between the artist’s intentions and the themes identified by the viewers.