Jane Fawns Watt
Exhibition shown at:
Collective Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland,
July 11 – August 1 1998
In your head.
One-time fire-watcher Jack Kerouac is the ignition behind a group show which wonders what we see when we look.
Hey. Jack Kerouac! You’ve got a lot to answer for. Apart from the slew of literary descendants who’ve attempted to master your beat, speed-rush literacy style, you’ve also inspired the title of an exhibition at the Collective which looks at ways of looking at, if not always seeing, art.
As any beat buff will tell you, Desolation Angels was not only one of Kerouac’s longer works, but also his most blissed-out. Our thinly disguised narrator/author works as a fire-watcher, observing Mount Hozomeen for solitary 90-day stretches – boozing, hallucinating and generally going off on some wild, zenned-out inner tangents en route. ‘He was looking for something that didn’t exist but would if he saw it’ explains Seeing Hozomeen curator Iain Irving. ‘We wanted to use that as a springboard to looking at how you look at art’
The idea came from A Fast Moving Car, a previous exhibition curated by Irving at his home, north of Aberdeen, ‘In Aberdeenshire, you’re always driving around.’ Irving explains, ‘and always thinking about something completely different what you’re looking at’ So we decided to extend that idea for this exhibition, re-jigging it and looking at what goes through your head when you ‘re looking at art.’
Irving questions how responses to art are influenced.’Is it reading the text or what’s on the gallery notes? And how does it make a difference if you’re seeing the stuff cold without the benefit of any of those aids?’
Maybe more relevant to lateral thinking guru Edward De Bono that to Saint Jack, but this is where the notions of ‘good art’ and ‘bad art’ come into play. ‘An artist may have all these huge concepts about their work,’ Irving says, ‘but an audience isn’t necessarily going to see them, because they’re going to base what they see on their own expectations and experiences. And when you watch people in art galleries, it’s a funny old thing because they’re not actually looking at what’s in front of them, but have already gone off on a tangent caused by a whole set of signals and external forces.’
‘You look at the work and start constructing little narratives of them,’he continues. ‘A lot of the work on show was already in existence, and seemed to fit in with what we were trying to achieve. But when I first approached a lot of the artists, about doing something in the exhibition, they got very excited about it, but then started gearing their work towards a very definite theme. So while this opens up a whole new layer of meaning, it’s not really in the spirit of things.’
Despite Irving’s good-humoured approach to things, this peeling-the -banana-of-perception approach is not intended as a joke. ‘It’s a very serious look at how we view art.’ Irving concludes. ‘There are hundreds of artists out there making things, but we have to decide whether what we see is actually art or just something that looks like it. It’s a crazy game.’
text from ‘The List’, ‘Art : Preview’,
page 69, 9-23 July 1998.