Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Author's Note: an investigation with Katheryn Owens

For one year, Katheryn Owens and I shared the same art studio, before she moved 80 miles away to Wimbledon College of Arts to undertake an MA degree. 
Our tutor, Julie Smith, later drew a connection between our practices’, and suggested I participated in my former peer’s final show. 
The interesting part about this reunion, was that it was the first time we ever met.

"...Without any distractions or link to the world outside, 
do we stay contained and focused on the interaction, 
or do we find a way to mentally escape?"

Katheryns show is now available online for you to learn more here.

Over the course of eight days, 7 solitary participants arrived to be ushered into an isolated room. Personal items were immediately surrendered and each of us prescribed headphones to ensure washroom visits were undisturbed. The idea was to submerge the individual into an entirely controlled environment wherein Katheryn offered the sole object of  social focus. 

"Do any status relations play out?"
Ironically, a technical mishap on my half led to Katheryn rescuing me from outside Wimbledon Station, upsetting the arranged agenda of the experience. This exposure shaped the day, later subverting my initial role as the panicky participant into a calm and reflective listener for my host. This interested us both – the slippage of authority between two strangers moving from public space to an unnaturally closed off domain.

"... neither one of us feeling in control and both with an anxiety about responsibility..." 
After all - could we really designate Katheryn as the host? Or was I the one influencing our choices?

"...I want to make as clear a possible, that even through I have set up the experiment, that the participants have as much information as I do..."
Having already disturbed the ritualism, the day began to unravel on its own accord. Having similar threads running between our practices, discussion naturally fell onto the experiment itself.

"How do we fill the space available?" 
We concluded that the mood of the room acted as a personification of the new arrivals - after having exposed a less than composed side of my personality before starting Katheryn's performance piece, my usually calmer head space germinated the ambiance of the day - quiet and reflective.
Despite an unexpectedly large room to work with, we remained rooted to a central parameter, close to one another throughout the entire 9 1/2 hours. 
Was the mere potential to take on this territory enough to qualm a need to physically move through it?
Or was this an ample amount of 'space to breathe'? 
After all, almost all of the participants admitted to Katheryn that they had anticipated a small, claustrophobic space in their mind's eye; something the artist herself had overlooked since she was the only one with a prior knowledge of what to expect.
"...How is the days interaction authored?"
This experience adapted our perception of the room, whose mood seemed determined by our interaction.The traces of the participants varied depending on their personalities. The first visual artist, Julie Smith, was also  the first to leave physical marks of her presence in the room. These were still evident when I arrived: small tacks of paper tracking a project the host and tutor had devised throughout the day, a minute photograph of a rose hung in the centre of a large empty wall, opposite to which was the original flower itself - silently recording the passing of time as it drank from a small vase.
My own observations of our visual traces were more transitory - sketch booked reflections upon the movement of the rooms' basic furnishings around our own interactions. The role of using outside participants as direct resource material is something my own practise relates to. Despite a primary focus on drawing, by using a performance to  inform compositional decisions enables me to create more insightful works in relation to their subject matter. The theoretical intentions need raw material to develop and refine the physical outcome.

"...Together we document our experiences and display this for the viewer..."

Excited to find myself on the other side of this equation, I had expected to leave much more in my sketchbook detailing the experience, yet hadn't anticipated I would feel inhibited about drawing while having conversations with a stranger. Regardless, Katheryn didn't mind this doodling (she even affirmed it to be relaxing, reminding of her old habit of knitting whilst talking to others).

The parallels of these experiences and our chosen themes in practice are highly significant to me. 
We are both researching social interaction as shaped through, or starved by, modern technology's perception. Katheryn's experiment takes a step into the polar hemisphere of my own work, which attempts to define how modern devices act as frameworks; as people become instantaneously objectified yet intangible within a box, whose contents  is controlled from without. 
In here, Katheryn also observes how social interaction is subject to a physical container, one without controls or connection outside of itself.

And here we were again, sharing a single room in the name of art practice; first 9 months of education and now 9 1/2 hours of final performance work. Despite sharing physical space and interests for an entire year, it was an online resource which strung us into realising just how much we had in common.

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