About a month ago I had the pleasure of invigilating at the Mark Wallinger presents exhibition showcasing his choice of twelve works from artists from the Bow Arts studios. Standing with the artworks on both the opening night and the following days of the exhibition gave me over a full day in their company.
In describing the job of invigilating it seems as if I am describing literally sitting and doing nothing; and yet it was an enjoyable experience. From it I have two trains of thought:
The first is about how different this was to usual ‘art encounters’. The other is more generally about volunteering.
The amount of time spent in the gallery predetermined by what I had committed to before, and not relative to the work itself. I think I am safe in saying that one would not usually chose to just sit in an exhibition for such long period of time. Each individual visitor spends different amounts of time with different work, depending on interest or perhaps they have certain time restraints dictating their stay – either way the choice tends to be mostly theirs as to when they leave.
The obvious benefit to this length of time is a more detailed visual unpacking of the work in front of me. Take, for a crude example, the clear plastic on top of the horse’s head. It was only after several hours that I saw this shape as an admiral’s hat, not something I think I would have noticed after visiting just the once. The surreal, oneiric quality of the works chosen unquestionably grants many aspects to decipher; the dreamy landscapes by Litchfield allowing for repeated redefining of forms and paths while one can spend equal amounts of time pulling out patterns in the movement of Stripling’s figures.
On the other hand, perhaps there is only so much looking a person can do; after a certain amount of time your eyes just stop absorbing information. After this point you might think this occupation would lend itself to daydreaming – and you would be right – but you have to feel safe to daydream. What were initially alien objects in a foreign space become like furniture – not because of a feeling of indifference but rather an expectation of their presence. Turning the corner of the gallery and my eye has already anticipated the Dordolo’s great rearing orange horse, and what was initially a considerably unnerving soundtrack to Scully’s video is soon more conspicuous in the moments of silence before the loop starts again. Switching everything off at the end of one day and returning to it all exactly as expected the next makes you feel somewhat at home. (In fact I will admit that I occasionally found myself thinking of visitors as interruptions to the tranquillity.)
Anyone studying the arts will be aware of how common it is for non-professionals to give up their time in return for ‘experience’. I’m sure it’s a concern of many that this can be a somewhat one sided deal, not necessarily providing any real benefit to the volunteer. Nonetheless it is a practice well ingrained in the arts sector and as such feels somewhat like a rite of passage.
However having volunteered for Bow Arts Trust I can happily say it was time well spent. The actual job of invigilating is not one that I really feel has given me an explicit skill to add to my CV but what it has done is provide me with an interesting perspective on gallery visits. Any engagement with art, however trivial it seems initially, just highlights to me how enjoyable I find it. More than that though, with the end my final year of university fast approaching, the positive experience created by the contemporary art professionals of Bow Arts is ultimately something very calming.
Emma Wilson, Goldsmiths University