Wednesday, 13 April 2011

In what ways are artists working with both the concept and the reality of the crowd, and what does this mean for the plight of the individual?

Antony Gormley, Domain Field, 2003

Productivity in the print rooms ground to a halt in March as we were writing our main essays for the course. I have been looking at identity and the crowd but feeling a bit all over the place, its hard to know what research is relevant until you have the benefit of hindsight. This essay was a chance to collect and review ideas in depth as well as maybe gain some kind of order in my work, which I feel has been a little chaotic. I have been reading books such as After Identity by Jonathan Rutherford, and I am finding it very difficult to link the academic and the visual aspects of my research. I suppose this is the most basic problem faced by every visual communicator responding to a brief (even if they set the brief themselves, as is the case here).

Antony Gormley, American Field, 1991

For my essay I looked at 3 case contemporary artists, Antony Gormley, Ai Weiwei and Spencer Tunick. They each explore the themes of identity and crowds in their work, although their starting points and ambitions are very different. One of my tutors also pointed out that each of these artists rely on other people to produce their artwork, so the identity of the makers is sacrificed in a way the identity of the artist never is. For example, American Field by Antony Gormley was created by an extended family of bricklayers in Mexico. There are around 40,000 clay figures, each one unique. In earlier versions of Field Antony Gormley 'finished' the figures by poking the eyes himself. American Field relied on collective making by individuals responding to a set of basic instructions provided by the artist.

Ai Weiwei, Sunflower Seeds, Tate Modern Turbine Hall, 2010-2011

Ai Weiwei's work has many layers. I'm not going to rehash my entire essay but one thing I did find interesting was in an interview for the exhibition catalog Ai talks about the idea that in China objects are mass produced for the west without an understanding of the context for what these objects are intended.

Spencer Tunick at Newcastle Gateshead 2005

Spencer Tunick creates large installations of naked figures. His work explores our relationship with our surroundings. His installations take place in cities such as in the image above, which was for his 2005 exhibition. Tunick states that the intended audience for his work is the participant. All films and photos documenting the installations and shown in galleries after the event are a by product of the actual artwork. He aims to create ties in communities. Personally I find this image and the others on his website ( both amazing and disturbing. There is something vulnerable about mass nudity, and especially when the individuals are lying down or are piled up on each other. In the documentary for this event you see the odd clothed individual with a megaphone herding the participants. There is a certain tension there which is a little uncomfortable.

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