Over a three month period, with the support of two residency programs, I have completed one new installation work.
Interestingly, the final form of this work did not fully take it's current shape until the final week.
In another post I'll talk about the work itself.
But for now I want to offer some thoughts about the process I use to make installation work, how and why that process has changed, and to talk about the value I place in criticism.
Leaving the outcome open
One of the recurring themes in my practice, particularly since conversations with Tobias Rosenberger last year, has been openness to change.
As both an artist and software engineer I should point out that there is a trend in software engineering which promotes openness to change (agile). But this is more about being responsive to changes you can't predict, and managing and encouraging that change with project stakeholders.
To the engineer in me, change is something to be managed effectively; to the artist, change and experimentation are vital, and at the forefront of my process. Given that my installations generally require custom software, I'm pleased to say the two approaches can be complimentary.
I tend to characterise the open-ended process as a cascade, like in the image. (Not to be confused with the Waterfall software design model.)
In a cascade, when you begin at the top, you have no idea which point at the end of the journey you will end up. Several times on the journey you will hit forks, and will choose (or be forced to choose) new directions. As you travel, your idea may become more or less clear about where you are headed, but is still open to dramatic change.
When the outcome of a project was left open, you can look back across it and see lots of not-taken routes. These routes, although not present in the final work, played a very important role in leading to the final outcome. I won't say that they necessarily 'add layers' to the final work, but they do add layers to the journey which produced it, in whatever form it finally takes.
How do you know when you've hit a fork, and which route to take?
It's hard to see something with fresh eyes when you are working on it every day, and you need fresh eyes to get a sense of the alignment between your intentions and what you have created.
This is where a trusted group of critics comes in. Other artists, friends, people at institutions and organisations you are related to - and genuine audiences, for example in open studios.
Crits at CAC
The crits at CAC take the form of group studio visits. They are weekly, all resident artists take part, and they are timed to about 10-15 minutes per artist.
Each artist is invited to present his or her work, and to opt for just 'eyes and ears' or for a bounds-free, open ended discussion. The former is useful if you are at a certain stage of your process and aren't ready for a full crit yet, but most weeks many artists opt for the latter.
I found the most useful way to take advantage of this process was to set up a 'sketch' installation each week, representing the direction I was going at that moment (ready or not, mature or not). I would organise the space in a way similar to how I would present the work in a gallery, because installation is very experiential, and the space around the piece is just as important.
Not adding layers
I would then let the group walk into the space in front of me, and then wait and not say anything. In any group, even shy ones, there are opinions bubbling under the surface and it doesn't make sense to pre-shape or pre-censor those opinions by 'framing' your work verbally.
I've heard that crits can be impassioned affairs, although I've never experienced this personally. Most artists seem to recognise that it is important in crits for the group to be able to talk openly and critically about the work they see.
Points of change
The cascading effect, aided by criticism, provides you as an artist with a approach in which you can explore openly - intellectually, visually, experientially and so on.
You can 'feel out' literally any direction, knowing that critical feedback will aid you. It may augment the direction by adding previously unconsidered layers. It may deaden the direction by pointing out potential flaws. It may highlight potential forks in the road, or it may confirm a direction by demonstrating that your critical audience is thinking about the subjects, questions and ideas you intended.
Each of these are valuable and allow you to bounce from one direction to another, and to zero in on a landing spot as you get closer to it.
Criticism and Approval
One final note - it's important to bear in mind that asking for criticism is not the same as asking for approval. Asking for approval leaves you in a weak position, and it is far better to ask for criticism and be supplied with a compliment than vice-versa.
By contrast, when asking for criticism you need to be prepared to accept that criticism on it's own terms. You may not agree with the criticism, but that doesn't mean it isn't valid. I find it helpful to try to understand the critique within the contextual framework from which it came. This often means asking questions back and trying to flesh out the context.
But, finally it will always be down to you which feedback to respond to, if at all. And ultimately it's an approach that helps you learn to trust your intuition.