Public Practice


Public Practice

October-December 2009

Featuring an old typewriter, text and videos, as well as drawings, photographs, and even a public photo booth, the opportunity for interaction is here.  The installation, created by Laura Brent, the director of Valhall Arts, is an open invitation for the viewer to be involved in the creativity, and offers a glimpse into the artist's mind and process, as well as an opportunity for the viewer to experience their own mind. 

The gallery is transformed into a think tank for ideas, a cesspool of aphorisms, from bumper-sticker ideologies to insightful wisdom, with funny quips and thought provoking questions, as well as visual stimulation with three separate videos.   The opening reception in October was a lively affair with new statements posted to the walls by visitors, and over 100 images collected for the public portrait project planned in the future.

See the other videos featured in the project on YouTube.

Installation views:

Making Faces in

the Photo Booth

Related Article Printed in the January issue of the “SCENE” magazine:

Valhall Arts: The bleeding edge of artistic practice

By Sarah Vaeth

Laura Brent, Director of Valhall Arts, has just wrapped up the audience-interactive phase of Public Practice. Brent used sketches and fragments of writing from old journals of her own as creative seeds, peppering the walls of the intimate basement gallery. These pieces together with a mysterious video playing against one wall, invited responses from the audience, who were encouraged to type out short statements (whatever came to mind) on an ancient typewriter.

These responses were added to the walls and in turn elicited new responses, and the artwork grew unpredictably. Alongside the evolving textual piece, a photo booth was set up, inviting a paralleled self-presentation. The 300-some gallery goers who formed the “medium” of the art piece were likely too immersed in the playfulness of the project to notice they were the art. Brent explains: “The moment the audience member interacts with the work, they become a part of it. This is in contrast to those who remain only traditional audience members simply witnessing the exhibit...”

Brent defines the structure of Public Practice as post-postmodern because of the emphasis on relationships out of which the artwork is created. Here, a touch of theory is warranted: Modernism posited the talent-endowed artist as the creator of art objects, which should be judged according to formal aesthetic merits. Postmodernism cast doubt on the boundaries between art object and non-art object, artist and non-artist; it introduced new forms of art that didn’t result in objects at all – like performance and happening. New (or post-postmodern) frameworks take an orchestrated event, like a happening, and shift it into a conversation between artist and audience; where the audience has authority to change the artwork. Collaborative relationships are key to a range of new approaches belonging to social practice. Creative projects arise out of partnerships, often between art professionals, professionals from other fields, and non-professionals. Often there’s a social benefit to these projects – cultural, political, or environmental.

Valhall Arts’ contemporary framework extends to Brent’s own blended role. Artist-as-curator? Curator-as-artist? Each exhibit requires something new from her. When she opened the exhibit space in the basement of M.O.C.A. in 2007, it was a place to show her own photography. But Brent was soon frustrated with the demands of exhibiting every month. She started looking around for co-exhibitors who meshed philosophically. Now an exhibit at Valhall Arts may be Brent’s work, or a collaborative piece between Brent and other artists, or the work of an invited artist or group. The requirements for an exhibit have evolved as Brent’s own relationship to art making and theory has deepened. An involvement that began with drawing, painting, and photography has shifted to greater emphasis on process and dialog. Visitors to Brent’s exhibits will still see art objects in addition to art actions... but not necessarily ones you can buy, and not necessarily ones you can regard as “art-for-art’s-sake.”

Future projects include a performance piece designed to force confrontation with myths and superstitions that persist in our culture. Audience/participants will face their own latent fears, and tempt fate by breaking superstitious taboos. Brent is still working out the details, but mirrors will definitely be smashed. Look for this event in August; that’s when the next Friday the 13th occurs. Meanwhile, Brent has several irons in the fire. She’s working on a second phase of Public Practice in which images from a photo booth are video-collaged in a multimedia “public portrait,” to be included in Masks at M.O.C.A. in April. She’s also capitalizing on a family connection in Yemen to seek Yemeni artists to exhibit and share their culture.

Most intriguing to me is an exhibit of photographs by the Maasai Photographers for Conservation (date TBD). The photographers (not professionals) communicate their own experience of coexistence with wildlife in the Amboseli ecosystem, and the devastation of drought brought on by climate change. The exhibit and newly formed NGO come out of a research project by Joanna Roque de Pinho, a PhD student in Ecology at CSU. De Pinho’s work engages multiple perspectives in a dialog about conservation, ultimately with aims of shaping policy and creating the conditions for social sustainability. De Pinho’s project comes out of a scientific discipline, but the case can be made for framing the entire project as social practice art. The ingredients are all there: A relationship is created between professionals from multiple fields and members of a community where change is to be affected, and at the heart is a creative action (photography), which serves to benefit the community. I suppose the question of whether such a project is “art” depends on the context in which you encounter it. The conservation project becomes social practice art when it’s presented in a gallery. At the same time, by hosting this kind of project, Valhall Arts is offering new answers to the question, “What is an art gallery?”

Valhall Arts is located at 201 S. College Avenue, Fort Collins, in the basement of the Fort Collins Museum of Contemporary Art. Open the first Friday of every month, 6-9 pm or by appointment.

All works copyright of the Artists

Valhall Arts is a Registered Trademark

Staircase Study

One of three videos featured in the exhibition.