The first stop on my MIF tour is the Do It exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery. It’s on approaching the gallery that I hear a familiar voice hanging in the hot air, it’s the voice of 6 Music DJ Mark Radcliffe. He is enthusiastically announcing ‘A time sale! A time sale!’ whether it’s the jolly tone of voice or the familiarity of its putting me in a buoyant mood.
I work through the gallery my clomply footsteps echoing off the other visitor’s quiet contemplation of art. Noticing that across the floor there as numbers of small brightly coloured rectangles suspecting that they might be connected to the exhibition I scoop one up and discover I was right. It’s an element of Suzannes Lacy’s contribution to Do It.
To see its completion I head towards the main space and I’m faced by the memorial wall of artists names or should that be rota of artists who stepped forward to undertake prewritten instructions of other artists. Getting in the exhibition space proper I am confronted by a number of objects, a vending machines, upturned fridge-freezer, walls made from doors and volunteers. It’s busy.
Wondering whether to approach it methodically trying and pondering each one or just wander to whatever one takes my fancy. I fall in-between and methodically wander around. One of the first pieces I decide to interact with is Andreas Slaninski bike seat lemon squeezer. The instruction is tip a bike seat so it can squeeze lemons, and with a half a lemon in hand I set out to make lemonade. Something happens I attempt to move the seat thinking that it has been configured to squeeze the lemon in a new exciting way.
Only it hasn’t it is a literary undertaking of the instruction. This feels like a problem one that runs throughout the exhibition that most of the instructions are done in quite a straightforward manner. I keep mentally referring to La Monte Young’s Composition1960 the Fluxus and Conceptual movements. Which have seen the production of similar ‘instruction pieces’ in part to challenge and reconfigure the conventional artist/viewer modes but ultimate to allow the viewer the preceptor to complete the work.
To stimulate something unique within the viewer to allow them to become part of the work. As I carry on looking around the exhibition I feel a sense of distance, of eavesdropping into other peoples conversations. For this viewer the concept that underlines the exhibition has thrown up a barrier of sorts that I’m not involved in the work somehow. Even if I climb the ladder, move the clothes, squeeze the lemons I’m not involved in the completion of the work. I am adding to a system which has already decided the outcome.
From feeling buoyant I move to feeling less buoyant? It seems to be a contradiction it is a good exhibition and there are interesting pieces including having to hum to an uncaring security guard. Ultimately I felt there was something missing somehow perhaps a return visit might fill that gap.