Today was my first day back at Wolverhampton and I and the other Level 6 students were set a challenge to be completed in 27 hours. The challenge read thus:
Process / Context
- Take last year’s work as a starting point.
- Define an action which can be repeated.
- What material can carry out the process, at what point do you lose control of the material and the material controls you?
- To what extent can this action be repeated / is there an end point?
- How do you document the process?
At first, I was stuck. I don’t generally consider myself an artist of process. I’m not a messy artist. I wasn’t interested in being fluid with paint or other art materials or in exploring how I could make paint behave under a given set of conditions. I’m not a free artist. I don’t want to explore my inner ego by way of bodily action and the like. I’d rather live in ignorance about what is going on inside my head. I am an explorer and an observer of people and objects. I’m an outward facing artist. This project, I concluded, was not for me. (Although I felt that I should try these things.) Also, the idea of doing something repetitive didn’t appeal. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do.
I then came up with a few vague ideas but mainly because I felt that I had to: a time-lapse video of change (people going in and out of the lift, the light changing in the studio), mapping traffic of people in a graphic way or logging something about my day. But then, talking to one of the tutors just as we were about to start on our ‘ideas’, he gave me a better idea. I sort of stole his idea. But it became mine so I ran with it.
All of the students had been split into two groups and this tutor and I decided that our group should have a name. He came up with the idea of The Free Republic of Repetition. We decided that this should be tweeted and shared on social media. This appealed to me. I love social media. What’s not to love? He said, ‘It needs to go viral!’ My response, ‘challenge accepted!’
I then thought that despite what I had previously concluded about this project, perhaps I am an artist of process. The balloon project of last year was 90% process and only about 10% final product. I loved the development of that project. At the time I worried that it was too much process. In fact, my final piece in the degree show looked rather pathetic if you judge it on quantity. It was quite small (a sound piece and three bronze objects). I just hadn’t connected that sort of process with the sort of process needed for this mini-project. So in fact, this task was written for me!
I started by tweeting #freerepublicofrepetition. I tagged Fine Art Wolverhampton and Wolverhampton Fine Arts (or variations thereof). They liked and retweated. I then turned to Facebook. I updated my status with the hashtag sentence. I added it to local groups, art groups, Wolverhampton groups and random other groups.
I also found some paper and a pen and started making strips to put around the building.
My hand soon got tired. It is hard to write #freerepublicofrepetition over and over again. Indeed, repetition is hard. I became quite determined to create as many as I could in the time I had. It was a laborous activity. It wasn’t creative. I worked feverishly.
Then, bored of just writing the same sentence over and over again, I started to add my own thoughts below. Sentences such as: ‘What is it all about?’ ‘I’ll be saying this in my sleep’, ‘Who is Keith?’, and ‘Is this art?’ Also ‘My hand hurts’ and ‘I have a headache’.
Every hour I tweeted again, tagged random people (optimistically, Justin Bieber and Brittany Spears). Some people retweeted. Most didn’t (neither Justin or Brittany did). But some is enough. The Facebook response has been less enthusiastic so far.
On the way home, I carried on creating notes using post-it notes and I posted them on the train, at the train station, and on random lampposts on the way home. My children helped me.
These post-it notes (and also the strips of paper) are leaving a trace of my movements and my thoughts over the 27-hour period. I feel like Gretel. But I like that aspect of this strange project. There are bits of me from Shrewsbury train station, to Crowmoor Primary School, and from Crowmoor Primary School, to my house.
At home, I decided to ‘write’ the sentence using different materials.
In bits of wool, being watched by a cat.
Every hour, I tweeted these images. I also recorded my children and husband saying ‘hashtag free republic of repetition’ and posted these. If I had more time, I’d get strangers to do it too.
It is now 10pm. I am exhausted. I have a headache. I can’t take any more. I am writing this blog with very little energy left to put out there. But I will persevere a bit longer today and keep going until I’ve written this at least.
If I were twenty years younger I’d set my alarm for every hour and post an hourly countdown to 3pm Thursday when the project ends.
So what’s the point?
The point is to spread a sentence and to create a virus. After all, a virus is fairly pointless. If it isn’t a killer virus, it has no evolutionary purpose. It just makes you feel ill for a couple of days and keeps you off work. So it has very little reason to exist. Just like this virus. It has no ultimate meaning. It just wanted to spread as far as possible and I am acting as the facilitator.
What I am doing is also repetitive and I want to see what I can learn from carrying out something monotonous and laborious. I hoped to get an online reaction. I’m not sure that I have spread the sentence a very far out there in the stratosphere of social media but I’ve done my best in the few hours I’ve had so far. I have certainly spent the time doing something very laborious to the extent that I can’t take much more of it today. I have had some reaction from the public: mostly passive, some slightly confused and some slightly positive.
The ultimate aim is to generate excitement and interest in something that is intangible. Why? Because it is fun and it passes the time. The sentence is meaningless. There is no great event at 3pm on 29th September. The Free Republic of Repetition isn’t an organization. It is just a name conjured out of nowhere to describe half of the Level 6 students carrying out a small task. But I want people to think that there is something exciting going on. They are involved in the process. They are part of the process. The process is an imagined excitement that builds up to nothing: the second will pass, and it will soon be 3.01pm. We will all move on and start thinking about what to eat for tea.
There is no end product. That doesn’t matter. There will be nothing to hold on to from these two days except the experience and photographs. The tweets and status updates on Facebook and Instagram will very shortly drift into the past and be forgotten. The social media world is terribly fickle.
I wanted to create a momentum. It has been interesting.
What have I learnt?
I get quite obsessed quite easily and quickly. Repetition can be addictive.
How much fun it can be to create something out of nothing and big up something that doesn’t exist. I’ve also learnt that people expect to understand everything and if they don’t, they are confused. But that confusion in itself is interesting.
I’ve also learnt that it doesn’t matter how many times you write something down, you (or I) still can’t spell the words correctly. If you write the words in a different media, then that makes it worse.
To answer the original questions:
- Take last year’s work as a starting point. I guess I sort of did. Last year’s work was about collecting something (balloons), getting people excited by something (balloons), and creating an artwork to document the process (a sound piece listing the balloon finds).
- Define an action which can be repeated. Typing and writing #freerepublicofrepetition over and over again. And again.
- What material can carry out the process, at what point do you lose control of the material and the material controls you? My hands and social media, post-it notes, paper and a pen. I feel as if I have lost control. My head is aching, my eyes are swimming. I feel nauseous. My mind is balancing on the edge of sanity (or is that just me being a little dramatic?)
- To what extent can this action be repeated / is there an end point? The end point is 3pm tomorrow. I can do as much or as little as I want within waking hours between then and now.
- How do you document the process? With my iPhone and in this blog.
So that’s what #freerepublicofrepetition means.