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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hot Topics– Micah Lexier & Kelly Mark: Head-to-Head

Hot Topics—Micah Lexier & Kelly Mark: Head-to-Head

We are pleased to introduce a new blog category this week called Hot Topics. These posts come from the desk of Jacquie Severs, our Manager, Communications & Social Media. 

Most of the invitations we produce for our exhibitions are created in my office. We have a standard size and shape and more often lately, we’ve been using e-vites. Communicating what we do and the various events we have going on at the RMG is always a challenge because there are so many. So when I was told artist Micah Lexier would be creating the invitation for Head-to-Head and it would be delivered to me, complete with envelope, I have to admit I was more than excited to see what would arrive.

Invitation

(my copy of the poster is up on the wall in my office)

They came in the mail by mid-October. There were two parts, one part was a printed envelope that included the dates of the exhibition and opening reception, the other a folded poster, which I was told was an artist multiple. An artist multiple is a series of identical art objects, usually produced in limited quantities. This multiple was a folded poster that advertised the upcoming exhibition that would be seen at both Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery in Halifax, as well as in our own space.

I was thrilled with the design and I knew it would be something unusual for our members and friends to receive in the mail. Because the exhibition was opening in January, I decided to hold off and mail them just before we closed over the holidays, hoping it would arrive in the midst of holiday cards. I thought this meant it would get a little bit more attention and raise curiosity about the exhibition.

What happened next was not what I expected.

In life we sometimes fail to see things from others’ perspectives. I had failed to see that some might not understand or appreciate receiving this package in the mail. It is also true that sometimes a bit of controversy can be a good thing: as has been said “no press is bad press”. As a communications manager, dealing with controversy is part of my job, but it can also help raise discussion and that can be invaluable.

We received three calls in one day from people asking to be removed from our mailing list.

One caller left a lengthy message questioning why he had received something so wasteful. Coming at the issue from an environmentalist perspective, he wasn’t clear on the point of the package or its contents. I did return his call and left a message explaining the contents, and he was satisfied by the explanation. But not all were: some insisted they be removed from the RMG list and receive no more communication from us in the mail.

I started to wonder if this had happened at Saint Mary’s end, so I got in touch with them. They too had been contacted with a similar complaint. Curator Robin Metcalfe, in an email, replied: 

While I myself am very concerned about the environment and rather obsessive about reducing my carbon footprint, it often strikes me as curious how people focus on one small item rather than the big picture. The arts are particularly susceptible to this, since people tend to think of them as frivolous and expendable. Compare the furor around Jana Sterbak’s Vanitas (the so-called “meat dress”), over its supposed waste of food. The average McDonald’s throws out more food than that every day, but they don’t get picketed. 

The posterwork… is meant as a permanent keepsake, more of an artists’ multiple than an ephemeral invitation.

I continued on my quest for feedback, and our curator contacted the artist himself. He explains the idea behind the poster,

It is strategy that I have used many times before—printing an envelope with the technical information and logos, and then placing something inside that envelope that is a multiple or stand alone work. Basically we are both telling the audience about the event and giving them something that only exists in that form. It is intended as a stand alone item that commemorated the exhibition. The poster was supposed to be this special, surprising, minimal record of the one work in the show that we worked on as a collaboration. It was also about taking something that we all see every day (an email) and giving it some presence and special treatment.

As the installation continued last week, I started to learn more about the works in the exhibition, and started to think that if the package had made people a little bit confused or concerned that perhaps it was a fitting introduction to the experience. Art isn’t always about beauty and clarity; at its best it can be about raising debate, either with others or with oneself.

The idea of the artist’s multiple is central to this exhibition. In one work, titled Gallery Hours, Micah Lexier quantifies, through minted coins, visitors to the gallery. There is one coin available for each hour the show is open. Yesterday I went down to take a walk through and saw the small sign that read “Please ask for this hour’s coin at reception.” So I did. I received a small envelope with a coin inside. In return, I had to initial a form indicating I had taken that hour’s coin. If the coin is not requested during that hour, it is added to a piggy bank in the installation. 

Exploring ideas about interaction, participation, the comfort levels people have with art, procedures of counting and other repetitive functions are at play here. The poster invitation is an introduction to that and perhaps was more effective than could have been anticipated.  If you had an interest in the poster concept, I encourage you to come to the RMG and see if this hour’s coin is still available. If it isn’t, you may have to wait until next hour. It isn’t often that we are given artwork for free (or anything for free, for that matter) and that in and of itself is an intriguing concept to me. 

The exhibition Micah Lexier & Kelly Mark: Head-to-Head is at once witty, challenging and even disturbing. Mark’s Public Disturbance might make you as uncomfortable as a poster made from an emailed argument. The interplay between genders and personalities can create unease. It is that feeling of unease that makes me excited about this exhibition, and I’m curious to hear feedback from our visitors about how it makes them feel.

Next Steps: 

Did you receive a poster? What did you think when you opened the envelope? Leave a comment.

Come to the Head-to-Head Artist Walk & Talk at RMG First Fridays, 3 February.

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