Today is my last official open day and so it is natural to want to reflect on how things went this season. This year was so different from last year--last year was an attempt to make it all work perfectly in one go, to solve all the problems, to be everything all at once. This year, I have been going slower, trying to be more true to my original intent whether or not it jives with what people are expecting when they walk through the door. Of course I want everyone to have an interesting experience and become engaged in what I have here but I realized that last year I was trying to guess what each visitor wanted and bend into that shape. Whew! Talk about a futile, and exhausting, endeavor! This year, I have kept two ideas in my head as a kind of guiding philosophy for this project.
I made the discovery of these two ideas through two experience over last winter. The first was to go to the Sunday salon that the artist Louise Bourgeios holds each weekend in her house in Chelsea in Manhattan. Louise was sleeping that day (she is well into her 90s) so two men took her place as the leader of the discussion. What happens is that anyone can come and bring a sample of their work. Each person is allowed a few minutes to describe it and then the rest of the group talks about it. The two men, one was the former director of The Brooklyn Museum and one was a curator from Brazil (and this why I will never be a successful, famous artist--I can't remember their names!!!), invited each person to sit in the special chair and say their piece. They were remarkably good considering the range of work and the range of quality of work was pretty broad--they were not insulting or demeaning but they were critical in the best way. On my turn, I discussed THM and shared some photographs of the place. The Brazilian curator said that, in a place where there is no real notion of visual art (and he meant like here in Gillams), then I had the opportunity, or perhaps the challenge, to invent one. At first I felt some loyalty to my fellow residents of Gillams and thought "hey! we got art!" but later I understood what he meant more clearly. My making this museum and calling it art in a place where there is not really a complex idea about what art can be means that I have the ability to break new ground and establish new boundaries and definitions--a very exciting place to be and one worth pushing.
The other experience was attending a lecture given by Mierle Ukeles at Erika DeVries' photography class at NYU. Mierle was speaking about her project called "Touch Sanitation" where she shook the hand of every garbage collector in New York City (along with other things) in the 1970s. I asked her how she gained their trust, how she entered this all-male, rough-edged community which would seem pretty closed off to a female artist. She answered that she did it by being completely honest with them. Each morning she went to the garage where the trucks were in whatever district she was to be in that day and she gave a little speech about what she was doing and why. And perhaps most importantly, she made it very clear that what she was doing was art. She said that her honesty broke down the barriers and she only had one person refuse to shake her hand.
Since most of my most recent work has been with non-artist communities, the idea of gaining trust is often at the forefront of my mind and shapes my ability to create whatever project I am working on at the time. When Mierle answered my question, I realized that my bending into a pretzel to provide the experience that I imagined each person wanted was a form of dishonesty. So this year I have greeted each person who comes to the door with a very brief speech about what this place is and its intention. And guess what? People have really responded in a very open way. Hmmmmm...honesty is the best policy....must remember that....
I have kept these two thoughts in my head all summer and I think they have helped to shape this summer's experience. I feel good about how things have gone and I feel excited about where things seem to be heading.