In Helen Marriage’s (LF 2013) final "Cultural Disruption” conversation, Michael Morris shared his experiences as the co-director of Artangel, which has commissioned and produced art across the UK. Marriage introduced Morris admiringly as making an "uncompromised commitment to artists” throughout his two decade career. With his policy to have "no building, no festivals, no biennales” he’s been able to put the art first.
Artangel tries to never have any rules and begins from scratch on each new project, but there is a clear trend in how the work is developed. Most projects start by talking to a selected artist and teasing out latent ideas or by finding a site that is removed geographically or conceptually from the orthodox art world. By eliminating traditional schedules and deadlines, Artangel is able to give projects the right amount of time and energy. This is particularly remarkable given that commissioned works range from a minute to a thousand years and from audiences of one to many thousands.
Three projects were particularly interesting in the context of the GSD and the Cultural Disruption series.
"House” by Rachel Whiteread in 1993 was a poured concrete sculpture that recorded all the negative space in a terraced row house about to be demolished in London’s East End. The monument was demolished after 80 days, but it brought art to a part of the city with little access to it at the time. Rather than being a permanent memorial that eventually faded into the landscape, its temporality etched a special history onto the architecture and the sociopolitical space.
In contrast to much of the public art discussed as "spectacle” in previous conversations, "The Battle of Orgreave” by Jeremy Deller in 2001 was particularly serious. The detailed historical reenactment of a 1984 miner’s strike used police footage and former miners to choreograph the entire confrontation. Yet in order to legitimize the project to the owner of the field where the events took place, the piece was turned into another form of art by filming it with funding from Channel 4. This transformed it into a much less ephemeral piece than the original proposal had conceived.
The "no building” policy was seemingly set aside for a year with Artangel’s commission of "A Room for London:” a hotel room and studio modeled after a steamship and perched atop Queen Elizabeth Hall. As art, it engaged viewers who saw the architecturally elegant building from the street or across the river. Additionally it served as a studio for thirty-six other commissioned works of art that were produced inside it and it fostered creativity with monthly "idea dinners.”
Marriage and Morris discussed their aversion to replicating projects. Yet Artangel projects recorded as films have been donated to the Tate. While he acknowledges that documentation is not the same as experience, Morris points to the importance of archives in his organization’s decision to maintain an extensive web archive. Morris also reflected on a recent trend where communities that are initially resistant to intentionally ephemeral art often fight to keep and protect works that are not designed to remain over time.
Artangel has been actively working to keep "Longplayer” in operation for a full millennium, but most of its work can only be experienced for a brief period of time. As London has become "more culturally congested,” Morris and his colleagues have begun to branch out with works in Iceland, Spain, and the U.S. "Mobile Homestead” opens in Detroit next month.
Photos: copyright Charles Hosea