The Art Assignment is a new YouTube channel where artists create projects, looking at a specific ideas about artistic practice. Also it’s just a really nice channel. I’ve grown up surrounded by art (my parents both teach art) and I’m often sad I don’t get to interact with it more these days. So for this week’s blog I decided to do the first four Art Assignment projects. This is what I did, and what it made me think.
The brief: Pick a friend, and calculate the exact geographic midpoint between where the two of you live. Decide on a date and a time to meet there, and don’t communicate until then.
Sian and I met three years ago in Newcastle at the National Young Writers Festival. Now we’re neighbours. When boyfriend and I were looking for an apartment, we didn’t set out to live in the one next door to Sian. It just sort of happened that way.
Technically speaking, the exact midpoint between my apartment and Sian’s is somewhere in the apartment beside mine. Considering we couldn’t really knock on the door of number seven and ask to sit in the lounge room for ten minutes, we met outside on the footpath. I bought cake. Sian bought a letter for me that had been accidentally delivered to her house.
This project made me think about distance. Having just moved into an apartment, I’ve been thinking a lot about living very close to other people. Getting out the measuring tape and calculating the exact midpoint between our apartments made me realise that we’re always extremely close to other people. Sian and I live approximately fourteen metres apart. Right now, as I sit at my table typing this, Sian is only fourteen metres away. There’s something simultaneously comforting and disconcerting about that. Even when you’re alone, chances are there’s only a few metres between you and another human being.
The brief: Find an interesting or intriguing object. Place the object in a public spot where people can interact with it. Pick a location to observe these interactions, and observe the interactions.
This one was hard. I picked my object: two badges, pinned to a This is Not Art postcard (appropriate, I thought) and went for a walk, camera in hand, to set my object free. I was going to leave it outside the KFC and hide inside, behind the protective glass. But that seemed too obvious, too vulnerable. I tried leaving it at the tram stop, sitting at a nearby bus stop to watch, but the card blew off its vantage point. In the end I went home without having achieved anything. The challenge of this project was suddenly very, very obvious: how to observe without being observed yourself?
Later, I took the card with me on the tram. I perched it, purposefully, on a seat opposite me and then ignored it. Someone glanced at it as he got off the tram. A man in a tie, stared at it briefly from a distant seat. Largely though, it was ignored or unseen. Then a women in red jeans got on a tram. Instead of moving the card she slid past it to sit on the far side of the seat, very careful not to disturb the card. After a moment she picked it up, looked at it, turned it over in her hands. She must have read the two words I’d written on the back: TAKE ME. She put it back on the seat, carefully propping it up in exactly the same position as before. Then she got out her phone and stared at the screen for the remainder of the journey. When she stood up to get off, there was a moment when she glanced at the card again, clearly considered it. She left without picking it up.
I took the card with me when I got off the tram. I could have left it to be picked up by a stranger later on but somehow it didn’t seem right to leave that moment unobserved.
The brief: Think of something intimate that is indispensable to you. Depict it in the form of a GIF.
I went through half a dozen ideas for this project. I thought about cooking, about my boyfriend, about the objects I chose to bring with me when we moved interstate. Then the answer became suddenly and immediately obvious.
I’ve been keeping a diary for a decade now. The Christmas holidays before I started high school I decided, for reasons I can’t remember, that is was something I wanted to do. Since 2009, I’ve been writing in my diary every day. I write one page each day, every day, before I go to sleep. This gif depicts my diaries since August 2010.
Obviously, these are intimate. They’re my days, the way I was feeling, the things I did. A lot of the things I record are mundane but some of them are important. Part of the reason I continue to keep a diary is that I’ve realised you don’t always know which days are going to be the important ones. Sometimes it’s only with hindsight that you realise that moment was worth recording. My diaries are indispensable because they hold memory in a way my brain never could. They allow me to look back at things not just with hindsight but through the eyes of the person I was then, in that instant of time.
The brief: Think of something that exists that you’ve never seen, and probably never will. Articulate it (any medium will do).
A while ago I bought a packet of whole nutmeg from the independent grocer near our house. I love nutmeg and the joy of seeing them in whole little, wrinkled balls was too much to resist. When I grated one, I was surprised by how intricate the inside of the nut was. I’d expected a mass of solid brown but instead there were thick black lines, dense whirls of colour. Immediately, it reminded me of a brain.
I’ve never seen a human brain and I almost certainly won’t. Yet it’s something that’s so close. Nutmeg remindsme of a brain, even though I have no real idea what a brain looks like. When I was Googling a diagram to help me label this picture, I realised how little I know about how brains work. They’re everything. My brain controls literally everything I do and yet I’ve got no idea how it works. I’ll never see one. It’s a mystery, just out of reach.