In the context of our TOK (Theory of Knowledge) Art Day we visited an art gallery yesterday. Well, the actual question is: was it an art exhibition? Was that really art? The title of the exhibition: ‘MARKET FORCES. Whither contemporary art?‘ It was a project by the Osage Art Foundation, which according to its website is an “international not-for-profit philanthropic organisation devoted to building creative communities and promoting cultural cooperation”.
The exhibition which we went to see, was created by thirteen artists from Hong Kong and other close countries. In their works, the artists depict the meaning of artistic value in historical, political, social or any other context and portray the production, consumption and aim of art. The exhibition is made up of different rooms, which are loosely connected by paper walls, transparent curtains or similar boundaries, and thus become connected to create one big room. White light shines onto the audience and its thoughts. Paper rolls hang on the walls, coins are scattered in a corner and information booklets hang from wooden constructions that appear like fragile gallows. The ‘art works’ by the artists can probably not be generally defined as art. Some might rather describe them as simple pre-existing products of all-day-life, manipulated and pushed into a deeper meaning. And other might declare exactly that as ‘art’. But what is art? Let’s see what the exhibition had to say on that.
In several places of the exhibition room, big, colorful tablets were hanging from the ceiling. The artist had named the ‘paintings’ Something about you, here and now. On one side they simply wakened the audiences’ consciousness about the present: Who are you? What time is it? What are you doing? Why are you here? On the other side, the audience was offered various answers, categorized by their first letter. Who are you? Atheist? Beginner? Camper? Dreamer? Engineer? Fairy? Grandfather? Hero? Idealist? Joker? …. The list went on and on and on. These tablets, these inspirational ‘reminders’ – were they art? The artist himself writes the following about that topic: “‘Doing art’ for me is a way of self-caring, of demanding vigilance of the self. The process, in effect and exercise in clearing away all the distracting thoughts in my mind, creates the end products of my art, which are either the action or gestures involved in the clearing process, or the traces or products it leaves behind.” What do you think of that statement? Does that sound like art to you?
Another ‘art piece’ that struck me at first sight, and which I still think about in terms of if it was really art, was the ‘Transform Bar’ by an artist from Hong Kong. This bar is actually a juice bar, constructed by wooden boxes in which one has planted grass. The planters can be pushed away from their original position in order to expand the bar and let the sunlight shine onto the grass at different angles. The artist had also aligned green, sour apples inside the juice bar and had set up an apple-juice-producer. The audience could cut the apples and then press them into delicious, fresh and natural apple juice. The artist claims that the aim of this ‘art work’ was “bringing forward the message of paying awareness to our food source and extending art appreciation to the sense of taste and consumption”. Artistic interaction with the audience beyond touch, sound and sight, and – once again, similar to the question-tablets I talked about above – the aim of reminding the audience of something? Sound’s good to me! But is it worth being called ‘art’? Once again: What do you think?
I must admit, that even though we had about 90 minutes to explore the exhibition, many were not able or willing to concentrate on such philosophical questions any more after more than an hour. The exhibition space was not very big and the number of presented objects was not overwhelming. Yet I must say that they offered various starting points for intensive discussions – whether with the others or with oneself. Does art need a purpose? Does art need to be extraordinary? Does art need to be art to the artist or to the audience? If the audience doesn’t understand an art piece, is it still art? Who decides, what is art? Must art be more than just creation? And if yes, what more must it be? If producing apple juice and becoming aware of food sources in front of some exceptional frame in a special location can become art – am I an artist at home, when making my own food and reflecting on where the ingredients came from? Is it art if I stick gigantic posters into public, painted with questions about life? I don’t think so – but others might do.
The question ‘What is art?’ is probably one of the most difficult ones you could ever come across. It clearly ranges between ‘What is music?’ and ‘What is the sense of life?’ I think, there are no answers to these questions and that one should simply accept that. On a gigantic poster in the exhibition you could read in both Chinese and English: “There are two kinds of art in the world. One is that when you see it you know it is art. One is that when you see it you don’t even know it is art.” A great statement, which not only tries to come to a conclusion in terms of the discussion about art, but also opens our eyes for the fact that our knowledge is simply very limited and we might never find the answers to some of our questions. Yet we should never stop to try, by reflection, by creativity, to widen our horizon. And I think that was the main thing I was reminded of by that exhibition yesterday.