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Wearable, Portable, Interactive Art

by James on December 17th, 2010

Over the last couple of months I’ve been working with English Heritage and The National Trust, running the Stonehenge Explorers project with local families to develop backpack based interpretation, for Stonehenge and the surrounding landscape.

My individual practice has always been about exploring, interacting with and documenting my experiences¬† of ‘out there’ or about representing the issues that I am interested in, which relate to how we perceive the world around us and how we can move from a position of observer to something nearer the reality of our true nature, in being an integral part of landscapes and ecosystems.

So its not surprising that a lot of my work deals with movement through landscape, collects found objects, takes photographs, and brings together evidence of these explorations in the form of objects or artworks that link with the body. Whether it’s work that reflects back on experiences, and uses body imagery or wearable elements within it, or whether it’s work that is actually used whilst out exploring, it all somehow is either portable or body/landscape related.

Whilst working on the backpack project, I’ve been thinking more and more about how art would function that was created by an artist, and provided for visitors to a specific place, to use and interact with as they explore. Now of course I am an artist and I have been developing a resource for people to use in the Stonehenge Landscape, and that directly informs and feeds off of my other work, but it necessarily comes with a guiding framework of how the backpacks and their contents will function, and what they need to be able to do.

What if an artist was commissioned to develop portable or wearable artwork, through dialogue with place and people, and not given such specific guidelines? What if I were to create an interactive, tactile artwork that people carry with them and add to, change or alter in some way? An artwork that facilitates them to have a ‘conversation’ with the site that they are visiting?

I visited the ‘Aware: Art, Fashion & Identity’ exhibition this week at The Royal Academy’s GSK Contemporary gallery, and was interested to see some wearable work by Lucy Corta. The four pieces on show were ‘kits’ for surviving in different theoretical environments.

Artwork by Lucy Orta

As well as practicing as a visual artist, Orta is also Professor of Art Fashion and the Environment at the London College of Fashion and one of the curators of the exhibition. These piece started to hint at what I’m interested in creating, but are theoretical, about ideas and concepts rather than the reality of being created for and used within a specific place.

Also at the exhibition was a piece of work called Waters that Tie/Waters that Untie by Handan Borutecene, a female Turkish artist. Borutecene attached pieces of Byzantine pottery to a green silk dress inspired by Byzantine fashions, then took a series of photographs of the dress hanging in a series of locations around the Mediterranean coast. The dress and images were exhibited alongside each other.

This piece really connected with me, again partly because of work at Stonehenge, where we have been exploring how to bring locations around the landscape alive for people through including artefacts or fragments of flint, Sarsen and Bluestone within the packs, along with other related activities.

This relationship between art, artefact and interpretation is a continuing fascination for me, as art steps away from the need to be kept in a box all of its own, it offers us countless possibilities to interpret and reinterpret the world around us.

Although I’ve not seen or touched them in person, the Object-Dialogue Boxes made by Headsor (Kimberly and Karl Foster), which developed out of a working relationship with Bridget McKenzie during her time at The British Library, seem to offer a portable, interactive artwork that uses handling objects to offer a alternative way of viewing a particular environment. Esssentially a handling collection commissioned from an artist.

There is a lot of interesting work happening around hand-held audio-visual interpretation, with apps to download for phones and other digital devices, but relatively little that deals with the sense of touch, with a physically real artwork or artefact that encourages the user to alter the work by using it, enabling it to evolve through interaction with person and place.

If you’ve heard of anything similar or related I’d love to hear about it. Similarly if you fancy working on or commissioning me to work on a related project please get in touch! (well you never know….)

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