Mediation instruments for contemporary art in public space: a debate-workshop with Allan Siegel at Aquamediale IX.
“I do not get it!” sure you have heard it while in front of a contemporary art piece. Indeed contemporary art can be sometimes a bit “cryptic” as its message is mostly contained within a plastic materialisation of complex concepts and ideas.
How can we (art managers, curators and even artists) help audiences to better understand and enjoy contemporary art?
Art mediation is in fact the tool or practise aimed to help audiences to approach contemporary art practises. It was within the context of Aquamediale IX in Lübben (DE) that Allan Siegel conducted an interesting debate-workshop in which key factors and considerations about art mediation practises were disclosed. (Under this lines, further biography it is included for your convenience).
What do we have to consider when working with contemporary art in public space? 4 basic facts that must be taken in account:
1. Present it clearly, be aware of your public profile.
When audiences visit museums or art galleries they are already predisposed to face art works. They are already there to enjoy art; but when audiences are faced with contemporary art in public spaces they might be there just for some other reason and art might not be expected. It is therefore important to invite them (clearly) to stop and observe. Also consider that audiences might have variable cultural backgrounds and experiences with art. The more you know about your potential audience, the better you can plan and develop specific mediating strategies.
2. Try to manage expectative, create meaningful experiences.
Within the post WWII, global, hyper connected, fast and changing world, most audiences expect to be entertained. “Spectacular is the new normal” and therefore you have to present your proposal in an attractive way in order to balance and manage expectations. Also consider that our present context is surrounded by consumerist practises (selling and buying) and that when we are not trying to sell something (i.e. enjoying art), establishing a dialogue with audiences might be a bit more complicated. The challenge: engaging audiences in a meaningful kind of way: create dialogue, facilitate experience, consider social and educational approaches. The Quality of the experience is what should be evaluated. (i.e. introduce gaming strategies; set up routes or rewards; motivate and rise curiosity, etc.)
3. Show comprehension and facilitate reflection.
All interpretations of a give work of art are valid. In many cases it happens that artist intention differs from audience experience and interpretation. Give guidance, offer “the official” explanation, but still encourage self and personal interpretations. Consider that understanding the work of art helps to “like it” and to “connect with it”; two positive steps towards a satisfactory art experience when the “Aha moment” might occur. Understanding one work of art will lead audiences to engage for the next one! Or in other words, one work of art can mediate to approach the next one.
4. Tools and instruments: imagination sets the limit.
One might be still asking him/herself: “Which are then the best tools, instruments or strategies to mediate contemporary art in public space?” Sure you already know some common art mediation instruments or facilitators like: artists or curators tours, audio guides, descriptions of a piece in a museums wall, signage, flyers or catalogues, didactic activities, workshops, etc. Yes, mediating can be materialized by means of a specific activity or element within or around the exhibition/work of art; even the art piece’s title or the gallery room map are mediating tools. But mediating also has to be understood as a long time process. As we mediate, we are not only facilitating access to a given work of art but educating: a positive subtract will remain. Taking in consideration your audience and all factors in and around the art event are the key factors at the core of the mediating process: you can mediate publishing related articles on the local press, educating children on loving art since early age by means of programing regular exhibition visits or you can offer art courses to your gallery or festival employees including security people, doorman and maintenance staff!
Just remember that mediating has to be comprehend from the widest possible perspective: as the process of granting access to understanding art. Every work of art, exhibition or festival will allow us to define specific mediation tools. Observe your particular “challenging situation”, consider all factors, analyse facts strategically and define your own tools: only our imagination (and budget) sets the limits on how art can be mediated.
Aquamediale is a festival dedicated to promote art in public space. Promoted by the administrative district Dahme-Spreewald since 2005, international artists are invited to Lübben to analyze and comprehend the world of water in dialogues held at locations where nature and art meet. More about Aquamediale at: http://www.aquamediale.de/
Mediation and Social History of Art
About mediation of art International Symposium (CAfE)
Manifesta Art Mediation
Manifesta Art Mediation Workbooks
Teaching Contemporary Art
Understanding contemporary art