Exeter Spacex Random Acts of Art project

Engaging the public in Random Acts of Art. Volkhardt Muller on the Exeter Spacex project

Exeter Spacex Random Acts of Art project

Exeter-based artist Volkhardt Muller is one of three artists with a residency at the Spacex gallery working on the project Random Acts of Art, which aims to focus the gallery on its environs – Exeter’s West Quarter. We got in touch to find out more….

The blurb about Random Acts of Art mentions ‘relational aesthetics’. We’ve boiled that down to ‘engage through doing’. Would you agree with that, and what engagement has been noticeable during Random Acts of Art?
The way I understand the term it is more of an attempt to categorise certain strands of 1990s arts practice from a then contemporary perspective rather than an artistic manifesto. I generally don’t find such categories particularly useful as a starting point for my own practice. While I have done work that might be considered relational previously, I was neither explicitly commissioned to do a piece that complies with academic criteria nor did I strive to do so. In that context it might be worth mentioning that Random Acts of Art is a residency and not a commission, and as such it allows artists for an open approach. The interpretation of my work I prefer to leave it to the audiences.

The engagement has happened on a number of levels during a research process in which I led street interviews with residents and people who have a connection with the West Quarter. When it came to negotiating access to various buildings, private and public, which I needed to do the filming and performance work. When the actual filming happened there were more exchanges and encounters both with residents and members of the public.

Why involve the audience in the artistic process?
Whether the people I involved on street level will be audience in the gallery remains to be seen, although most of them seemed genuinely interested. I did not directly involve residents in the making of the work, but I incorporated their viewpoints, metaphorically and literally.

How important is it that this work is in the environs of the art gallery? Would you be able to carry out this process in areas that didn’t have an art gallery on its doorstep?
I consider every conversation on the street as part of the product. Having worked with performance process and imagery in public space, I know that certain encounters/situations will leave a lasting impression with passers by. I am interested in that imprint a situation leaves with people, the iconic snap shot that has the potential to develop into a whole story.

This entirely street-based process led to the final video installation, which is made for the gallery space specifically.

Are you involving your audience in the creative process or are you gaining new audience?
Do you mean either or? I don’t see these things as forming a choice. From my research I put a fairly clear framework in place which I then executed with the help of residents and volunteers who were key to the process, and involved to varying degrees.

How willing have people been to participate?
I decided to work on street level instead of, for example, approaching organisations or institutions with a connection to the quarter. Such a process takes time and mixed responses are what you get. Generally people were curious, sometimes enthusiastic and a number of relationships with residents were build in a very short time frame.

How does this reflect your usual practice?
Some of my practice involves social interaction dealing with issues regarding public and private space (see Blind Ditch’s Global Player), some of it are sculptural responses to site (Cell) and some of it befits neither of these categories.

Much of my work is political in a sense that it deals with life in the polis, concepts of ownership and civility as well as the built environment both urban and rural. My work on Random Acts of Art sits well within these interests.

And has the work coloured your view of the area?
Very much so. I have learned a lot about the West Quarter, its history and residents and its somewhat traditional status within Exeter. Being an Exeter resident it has been interesting to research an area of town to which I always had a strong instinctive response, mostly with regards to the built environment.