Artist Joe Fletcher Orr sees contemporary art exhibitions at venues ranging from large municipal art galleries to small independent artist–led spaces. After visits, particularly to preview events, he frequently finds a crumpled yet unread exhibition handout stuffed into his back pocket.
For the exhibition I Would Like to Join a Club and Hit Myself with It (Castlefield Gallery 11th July- August 17th 2014), Orr proposed that the interpretation for the exhibition be printed on rice paper with edible ink, and be made available for visitors to eat. Just Eat 2014 was a play on the idea of literally consuming information and the ephemeral nature of exhibition handouts. The work also related to other works in the exhibition, which expressed the way it is often difficult to distinguish the content of contemporary art works from the structures of exhibitions and institutions.
There was no direction from Orr about what the nature of the handout text should be or what it should contain. It was simply understood that it is the job of the curator or in this case Castlefield Gallery’s Programme Manager, Matthew Pendergast, to write handout texts for visitors to exhibitions.
Pendergast responded to Orr’s intervention by acknowledging in his text the mixed feelings around gallery interpretation; that some may consider it to be ‘… an unnecessary excess, full of tenuously related surplus information’ by writing a text which begins with a dense reference to the Philosopher Slavoj Zizek, Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein.
The reference and the following two pages of text where intended to satirise this perception of gallery interpretation whilst also attempting to present a genuinely relevant and potentially useful contextualisation of the exhibition. Together the work and the text presented a playful antagonism between artist, curator and institution, for visitors to consider when negotiating what an exhibition of contemporary art might mean to them.
Good news! Following last year’s period of planning and development, it’s a tremendous pleasure to announce that Interpretation Matters has been awarded project funding from Arts Council England!
This means that over the next two years, we can further develop and animate this website, work more closely with galleries and their audiences, and continue to facilitate discussion and debate about written interpretation produced by galleries.
In the summer months, you should see a presence for Interpretation Matters in many galleries across the country and on many more websites, as we reach out to gallery visitors and ask them to feedback on their textual experiences in the country’s galleries. This site will provide a neutral platform for that feedback and discussion to take place between galleries and their visitors. Do you have something to say about your gallery experience? Comment on any page on this site, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
With the help of artist Alistair Gentry, I will be working with project partners the De La Warr Pavilion and the Bluecoat to run a series of workshops with staff and visitors looking in detail at how their written interpretation is produced and received. There will also be an interactive text-exhibition at the Bluecoat, to further stimulate discussion with their visitors.
Around autumn, watch out for The Interpretation Matters Handbook, which will be published by Black Dog Publishing. Aimed at a general interested-in-art audience, it will be packed with contributions from a very interesting range of artists, curators, academics and, er, me. It will include audience voxpops, so if you are a gallery keen to facilitate this, or a gallery visitor and fancy getting your quote and picture in the book, please do contact us on email@example.com
Do you work at a gallery and want to get involved? There are two ways to do this:
First, if you are interested in gathering honest and unselfconscious feedback from your visitors, please do contact me for a display poster, and the Interpretation Matters Call to Action for your website.
Second, if you want to review your own process of producing written interpretation, Alistair and I have developed a workshop programme that facilitates this in an effective and painfree way!
We’re also looking for destination marketing and local authority websites who would like to upload the Interpretation Matters Call to Action on their visual arts page.
Finally, we are always looking for more resources, whether in the form of guides, discussion of models, personal or organisational experience, or simply an interest and informed knowledge in this area. Again, if you would like to contribute, don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope to hear from a lot of you over the coming weeks and months, and I thank you for your continued support and interest.
Interpretation Matters is all about the written material found in galleries - the text panels on the walls, providing context for the work on show, and the printed booklets that describe the works or overall programme. Usually "under-the-radar", the aim of this site is to highlight this important area of gallery practice.
Interpretation Matters is conceived and directed by arts writer Dany Louise.>