Friday, 29 April 2011

Reflecting on the 'Boundaries?' Conference

I have recently returned to Edinburgh having attended the 'Boundaries?' postgraduate conference at the University of Bristol's History of Art department. The day-long conference brought together papers reflecting a wide variety of art historical research.

What I particularly enjoyed about the day was that every single paper was interesting and well presented, despite different types of presentation techniques being employed. The first session was on the theme of 'Borders' and consisted of two papers: From 'The Loop' (1997) to 'Sumision (formerly Word of Fire' (2007): Decennial Sketches of 'La Frontera' by Andres Montenegro and The Vanishing Berlin Wall: the representation of an old boundary within a new city by Georgina Webb-Dickin.

Andres' paper focused on the works of Francis Alys and Santiago Serra. I was particularly intrigued by Paradox of Praxis I in which the artist pushed a large block of ice through the streets of the Historical Centre of Mexico City until it had melted. This was an exhausting task which ultimately resulted in 'nothing'. It is strange as both an art historian and as someone who has worked in a gallery environment to consider an artwork which has no tangible result, other than its documentation, especially when the great effort involved in tapestry results in a piece in which the weaver's labour is clear to see.

Georgina's paper addressed the different ways in which fragments of the Berlin Wall have been redisplayed or 'fixed' in different sites within Berlin. Many of these are displayed with very little information about their original location or the fact that they have been 'fixed'; the pieces on display in the Potsdamer Platz are sited to look as though they always stood there, however they must have been moved and the street beneath them has been repaved.
detail from quick, slow (2010)
My talk on Claire Barclay's quick, slow (2010) was well received and the feedback from delegates will be really useful when I expand the talk for an upcoming event at the Ruthin Craft Centre in Wales (further details to follow soon). The session I took part in was titled 'Material Limits?' and my fellow speaker was Laura Gray presenting The Space In Between: the transgressive nature of ceramics. Not surprisingly there were similarities in both our presentations. We both felt that our research needed to be placed in the context of the ongoing art/craft hierarchy dispute, although refrained from going into detail due to time constraints. We also both made reference to common craft events, such as the COLLECT. Our papers both referenced the movement of a craft 'discipline' into sculpture; this point was picked up in the Prof Stephen Bann's response at the end of the conference, in which he stated that we could consider sculpture 'as a category which has exploded or dissolved', no longer following the traditional restraints as to what sculpture is, or should, be.

All in all, well worth the trip to Bristol!

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