Thursday, June 30, 2011

On guard

We have mentioned Walter’s Prize-finalist Fiona Connor’s installation What you bring with you to work (now in the Christchurch Art Gallery’s collection) before, but when you are visiting a lot of art museums it takes on added resonance. One element that every large art institution has in common is its complement of guards and when you have encountered a large number of them, patterns emerge. 

Fiona Connor's work was an exemplar of engaging the guards. The work was first shown at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) in Melbourne and it was the guards of that specific place who Fiona worked with. She interviewed them and was invited to have a meal with them in their homes making the resulting work very personal to them. What you bring to work is a set of replicas of their bedroom windows to be installed into the gallery’s walls in a classic mash-up of public and private space. It was part of their lives on display and of course they wanted visitors to make the connection. 

It can be a tough job, being a guard. Many of them have to be on their feet all day and for those of us who have spent even a couple of hours standing in a museum this would have to be almost unbelievable torture. To mitigate the strain some have chairs and some are even allowed to read, although that is unusual. 

The most common guard mode is the passive-passive-passive-“DON’T TOUCH!” passive-passive one. On the plus side it probably adds a little drama for them as they watch and wait for someone to breach the rules. On the negative it is alarming for visitors. In Denmark we saw a Bizarro World version of this behaviour. There the guards slipped unnoticed from gallery to gallery, taking lifts and quietly disappearing into alcoves so as not to interrupt the visitor experience.

Now with performance art being collected, there are added opportunities to engage the day watch. At Frankfurt’s MMK one of the guards was charged with showing a pearl to a small number of visitors each day and in doing so performing Massimo Bartolini’s Two shells. Beats sitting on a chair.
Image: Performing Massimo Bartolini’s Two shells

Other OTN museum guard stories: