I see tarmac and the horizon. Clouds diffuse the light outside the huge window. A toddler is squealing, leaving his lunch in a line of prints across the massive window. I hear the flow of people in the hallway near my seat. I think of travel and wait for an airplane to taxi past my window and stop. I am all too familiar with watching pilots unbuckle their seats and commence their final checks. Any minute now travel-weary passengers could appear. I feel the fizz of excitement that comes with travel and going to a different place.
I am practically hard-wired to contemplate where else I might be. Once I sat in a Vienna café and talked about Paris. ‘Where ever you are, there you are!’ my friend sang to me. Fair point. But there is some fun – and a little something else – to be had in changing up a space.
Take Andrea Fraser’s 1989 video, Museum Highlights: a Gallery Talk. Fraser plays a museum guide (a visiting lecturer, no less) who pays as much heed to the toilets, café, water fountains and telephones as she does the Art and precious Artefacts. I loved the way it both celebrated and denigrated the institution, and questioned our expectations of space.
Fraser’s play on perception in museum spaces reminds me of an awkward moment I once had at ACCA. I was visiting New10, an exhibition that celebrated the work of emerging artists. Entering the first gallery space I noticed a series of windows along a wall. I presumed this was the first piece of the exhibition being presented to me.
Arms crossed and face in earnest I peered inside the windows. I searched for clues as to the inherent meaning of the piece. I asked myself questions to help me intellectually unwrap it. What’s behind the windows? An alleyway. What kind of alleyway? A kind of interior alleyway, like the behind-the-scenes of a stage. Why would it be here? Actually…this looks a lot like behind-the-scenes at ACCA would. Why would the artist punch holes in the wall to show me the behind the scenes?
In asking this question I froze in pre-humiliation. Oh my, was… was this actually the Art? Or was it a feature of the space? Am I some loser in the gallery trying to find meaning in a wall of the gallery?
Worried that I’d misapplied the codes of the space I panicked and began asking different questions. Who had seen me looking meaningfully at a wall of the gallery? Was I spotted trying to find meaning in something that wasn’t Art? Or was it Art? By virtue of the fact that it was in the gallery I’d presumed it was Art but now I was not sure. I searched for a plaque confirming the wall as Art and found none. Embarrassed – yet somewhat piqued – I fled the gallery. My expectations of space had completely short-circuited.
Robert Hughes wrote of Carl Andre’s work, ‘A Rodin in a parking lot is still a misplaced Rodin; Equivalent VIII in the same lot is just bricks.’ I suppose the same goes for an Andre left in the wrong part of the gallery – in the toilets perhaps, or over by the water fountain.
It’s over thirty years since Andre made his Equivalents. Back then this work was largely dependent on the gallery for its denotation as Art. But now that artists like Andre have shown us how to apply our imaginations, what’s to stop us applying them everywhere we go? Were I to see a stack of Andre-like bricks in a parking lot I think I’d be delighted. I’d certainly revel in the layers of meaning such an experience provides.
For those of us who like ideas there’s a lot of room to blur the lines between Art and life. I’ve since established it was indeed a work of Art at ACCA (my sincerest apologies to the artist, Fiona Connor). In hindsight this fact should have been obvious. ACCA is a thoroughly contemporary building and the frames on the windows were not. But I’m grateful for the inversions I felt and for the opportunity to reflect on the codes of space. There ever you are, where are you?
My eyes peal from the traffic on the tarmac to the toddler waddling away from the window. He’s still eating. We are, after all, in the food hall at Doncaster Shopping Centre rather than the airport gate-lounge I’d imagined.
After daydreaming a little longer, I stand to leave. At a table nearby is a lady with a huge suitcase. It still had the shop labels on it (after all she’s just bought it). But as far as pseudo-spatial-kismet goes, that moment makes my day.
Pepi Ronalds (@pepironalds) is a freelance writer based in Melbourne. Her work has been published in Meanjin, Open Manifesto, A List Apart and more. She keeps a blog for writers, Future of Long Form: which explores the space between writers and readers in the new media galaxy. It was selected as an official Emerging Blog for the 2012 Melbourne Writers Festival. Learn more on her website www.pepironalds.com.