i saw you there – conversation

Transcription from i saw you there, Hand in Glove in conversation with Anne Deeming, 11 July, 2013
Hand in Glove (HiG): Anne Deeming’s project i didn’t see you there is the result of the Hand in Glove public realm commission, to enable an artist to push the boundaries of their practice, experiment with how artwork is produced, how it’s presented and how people come across it, After an open call out, our panel (Katie Daley Yates, Sean Edwards, Louisa Fairclough and Hand in Glove) selected Anne’s proposal. Since then we’ve been working with Anne to develop the project.

Anne Deeming, If you haven't got anything nice to say don't say anything at all, 2012

Anne Deeming, If you haven’t got anything nice to say don’t say anything at all, 2012
Anne Deeming (AD): It came at the perfect time because I was just finishing an MA at Bath Spa (University). I’d been working on a body of work for two years that was investigating areas of slippage between functional and non-functional objects and things that look useful in some way but aren’t. I was experimenting with making works that were deliberately ambiguous in their nature then amplifying their ambiguity by siting them in transitional or unusual spaces; reception areas, corridors and lift spaces.
HiG: The project ended up being twelve sculptures: a series made for benches, a series for bike racks and a series for bins, but what were your initial intentions for the project?
AD: For a long time my influences have been drawn from photographs of things I’d found and it seemed like a really logical step to take works that were influenced by photographs of things that I’d found in the street, back into the street. My investigation started with a lot of walking around and thinking about points of interface: benches, bins, bike racks and lampposts. They’re all points where people connect and share similar attributes and I wanted the objects I made to have a relationship to one another as well as the street furniture they were sited on.

Anne Deeming - Research image

Anne Deeming – Research Image
HiG: That’s something we’ve talked about all the way through developing the project; if people see one work and then another one, they could connect them up. Even if they see a bike rack piece then a bench piece, that sense of a sculpture with a similar aesthetic or relationship to street furniture would link them up as part of a series. It’s always been about subtlety; whether people make connections between the series.
AD: Yes and it’s been led by the materials. The bench piece naturally suggested a soft material, which was silicone. Most commonly that comes in pink, which introduced colour into my practice; I haven’t made bright colourful things before. It felt like quite a leap for me to really embrace colour and make the other works more colourful to form a series.

Anne Deeming, i didnt see you there (bench), 2013 (c) Jake Hancock (46)

Anne Deeming, i didnt see you there (bench), 2013 (c) Jake Hancock 
HiG: We also talked a lot about locations and why you chose this particular part of central Bristol.
AD: I was interested in people seeing them as part of their habitual activity on their way to work or back from work. I was thinking about how people use those spaces when they’re walking around; they’re pretty much always on their phones or texting. I wanted these objects to be a visual disruption which perhaps people might not fully pay attention to, or notice, or know what they might be.
HiG: When we first started talking, the proposal was very broad but as it was refined, we were all drawn to the idea of quite a closed area or trail.
AD: I think it had to be quite focused because of the limitations of the budget. It made most sense to work in quite a concentrated way. Some of the works are in sight of one another, sharing space so I wanted to see what that might look like as well.
HiG: It’s a conversation we had during the selection process – you suggested a commuter route and we thought, perfect! We’re all thinking along similar lines of how your project could work within the budget.
AD: I still think twelve pieces of work was quite ambitious within the budgetary restraints but by limiting the work to only three types of street furniture, it made me more able to develop each of these series.
When I first met you at the interview I was thinking that the works should be really surreptitious. The title i didn’t see you there was because you genuinely wouldn’t notice the object at first. Through our process of developing the project, the objects became more bold and colourful than my original intention. Now the i didn’t see you there relates more to the pieces of street furniture that they’re actually sited on as opposed to my objects. All around you, in a public environment, you don’t notice how designed benches or bins are and the work, time and effort that has gone into making them functional and permanent. I was installing very temporary, very tactile works on valuable solid objects.
The bike rack pieces came about as I kept seeing lost or abandoned bike locks on bike racks, then the bench pieces came from a lost jumper on a bench. The relationship with bins is a little bit different, people would leave a cup on top of them or use them as an ashtray; they have a trace of someone left behind.

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Anne Deeming, i didnt see you there (bike rack), 2013 (c) Jake Hancock
HiG: There’s been quite particular associations made with the objects, for instance the bench piece is likened to lego or duplo; to something quite playful. How much of these associations were intentional and how much just came out in experimenting with things or responding to the space you were working with?
AD: When I saw a jumper on the back of a bench, I was thinking about how when I was a kid we’d take these horrible shower mats out of the bath, you’d have to pull it off and hang it over the bath to dry it off. I like that relationship with domestic alongside utilitarian and again it comes back to the human trace. The bench piece kind of made itself – once I’d decided on the material I knew that I wanted it to mimic a person sat there.

annedeemingbenchwork

Anne Deeming, i didnt see you there (bench), 2013 (c) Jake Hancock
With the bike racks, I saw a slightly different relationship because they wouldn’t be used in the same way. These works were a visual disruption and had more of a passive relationship with the racks. Then with the bin pieces I was thinking again about how people use them; people would stand near them to have a fag or a drink, which triggered thinking about drinks holders and that led to thinking about attaching to the bin and just exploring those things; making a connection with an already existing functional object and pairing them with a utilitarian thing.
HiG: The work is drawing so much physical interest because they do make those things out in the streets feel more homely. The domestic connections soften up those edges and that’s why people are touching them and sitting on them. How much had you expected people to really warm to them and spend time with them?
AD: Maybe more so with the bench pieces because they are so tactile; they’re really rubbery. People had a really nice relationship with them. There were these gentle moments when people were stroking them and one guy had even gone to sleep next to one of them. Some people have tried to pull them off and two pieces went missing but I think that’s understandable.

i saw you there! (bench work by Anne Deeming)

Anne Deeming, i didnt see you there (bench), 2013 (c) Jake Hancock
HiG: It doesn’t seem as if it was to vandalise or damage them. They’ve gone because people really want them.
AD: I think so. I like to imagine that they’ve found a new home somewhere.
HiG: How has your relationship with the work changed since being out in the public realm after having quite a personal relationship with them in the studio?
AD: Immediately when you’re putting work out there you have to get a little less precious and you have to let go a little bit; even in gallery spaces.
I think we were quite gentle with how we tried to attach them at first. We’d stick them down and thought that if people tried to pick them up and weren’t able to then that would be enough but we spent quite a bit of time re-sticking them. I tried to mitigate that.
HiG: As a series of objects there’s a friction that’s come about that we weren’t necessarily aware of. The bench piece is functional and tactile, the bike rack piece is not functional at all and the bin piece has become quite functional. It wasn’t until we installed the work that we discovered how they would function. It’s not obvious, they are ambiguous and people don’t quite understand what they’re for or what they’re supposed to do with them.
The bike rack works seem to have provoked the strongest reaction, which is surprising because they are the least functional.
AD: I’ve had to replace two entirely and some were taken. There was something about the newness of them, whereas now they’ve become part of the fabric, they’re being left alone. People are ok with them now; they’re familiar.
I’ve been reading quite a bit about intentional blindness and how if you’re busy focussing on a particular task then you’re unaware of your surroundings, or you see it but your memory doesn’t log it or record it. I think it’s a really interesting idea that now they are more familiar they’re more forgotten.
It would be interesting to see if I didn’t do anymore to them or didn’t take them away, how long they would last. There’s still seven of the original twelve, which is quite an achievement after two and a half weeks.
HiG: You mentioned the other day that ‘it’s time for them to fend for themselves’. People have been interested in that part of the project: seeing how these ambiguous objects withstand people’s curiosity.

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Anne Deeming, i didnt see you there (bin), 2013 (c) Jake Hancock
AD: I’ve been documenting that whole process of gradual attrition. The reason I went and repaired them was that I felt if I didn’t then the project would have failed slightly. I wanted them to exist in the world a bit longer. I’ve got some really beautiful photos of people sitting with them, spending time with them and I think that if I hadn’t, maybe I wouldn’t have captured those moments.
That said, I’ve thought about whether I would do things differently; would I make the work differently, would I have tried to make it more vandal-resistant. Again it comes back to the budget and back to the original intention for interpreting the work. If you spend so much time making something vandal-proof do you lose a little bit of what the work is in the first place? I think it would have done and they wouldn’t have been as gentle or approachable.
HiG: If people are that desperate to steal something they’ll go to some lengths. It’s quite a task to make something vandal-proof.
AD: I’m not sure we could actually manage that, even with a massive budget, more time and a huge team of people; I’m not sure that’s achievable.
HiG: Public art in Bristol gets a reaction. People want to have those conversations about it and it will also get damaged. Searching “Bristol sculpture” on the BBC website comes up with an old report from when the gorilla sculptures were damaged. We’re not the first ones to have this issue and only a week later one of the charity sculpture Gromits was also smashed to bits. People haven’t actually been that aggressive towards i didn’t see you there.
AD: I agree.
HiG: Most of the damage has probably been incidental, people have picked one up and maybe dropped it a bit heavily. With the bike rack works it may be bikes bashing against them and chipping bits off or the interest in them is in wanting to pull them.
AD: It’s an interesting one isn’t it; when there is no threshold for people to pass over they feel like they can behave in a different way. People do go into galleries and damage work but if you’re putting something in the street it does come with the territory.
HiG: It’s curiosity isn’t it? We knew people would want to know what they were and would want to feel it because they’re such tactile objects. When you brought the first sample and we were looking at the silicone, you put four nodules on the table and the first thing we did was touch it. We didn’t stop touching it for about half an hour.
AD: It’s interesting though because it has happened to my work in gallery environments. People have picked up stuff or taken down work that’s hanging on the wall. I am making things that are tactile and hand finished and you would want to pick up. I suppose some of them are quite portable and hand sized but it shouldn’t be such a hassle to prevent that happening in an art gallery environment.

1.You'll meet yourself coming back

Anne Deeming, You’ll meet yourself coming back, 2012
HiG: So how has this experience affected your practice now? Has it put you off working in the public realm, do you want to stick to that more protected gallery environment or are you more determined?
AD: It hasn’t put me off; it’s made me think more deeply about the objects I’m making. If I’m making objects that are useful, functional, or purposeful then it’s made more interesting by taking them out of the gallery environment and having them in the world, in relationship to other objects that we surround ourselves with. It’s made me more determined to investigate those relationships further. That wouldn’t always necessarily be in a street, I’d like to explore other environments.
HiG: It feels that one of the key aspects in making the work has been thinking about the site and the people walking through it; the things they’re going to be walking past and their behaviour. At all points we’ve been referring back to who is going to encounter this and how they are going to be encountering it. The thing we then had to consider was how do we tell those people that this is an art project and how they could find out more about it. It was a case of considering what the most effective way for people that know nothing about the work or Hand in Glove was. We had to go through that in conversation with you, in relation to the work and we decided to incorporate the title of the project, our web address and a hashtag on a sticker placed near the works. What seems like a really simple thing, actually needed loads of consideration and it certainly made us look again at other public art in Bristol. The whole point of the sticker was to not interfere with the work or interrupt the space. Had we gone with a plaque or something similar, would that have protected it?
AD: It would have felt quite clumsy. When we think about how people use street furniture, they use them for advertising: stickers seemed like a better fit.

I didnt see you there Jake Hancock (12)

Anne Deeming, i didnt see you there (bike rack), 2013 (c) Jake Hancock
HiG: Also, when there are people rushing through, they’re more likely to look it up on the phone they’ve got it in their hand, or take a picture and look up the hashtag to then find links through to more information if they’re interested.
AD: When I have been out checking the work and I have seen somebody sitting with it, I have taken a sneaky little snap so there’s some kind of recognition. When I’ve been out fixing works I’ve had lots of conversations with people asking what I’m doing and from those people interested enough to ask, I haven’t had a single negative response.

I didnt see you there Jake Hancock (36)

Tour with Anne Deeming for the launch of i didn’t see you there, 2013 (c) Jake Hancock
HiG: There have been some really nice reactions and we wouldn’t have been having the talk here at Friska if it hadn’t been for the interest of the owner. In conversation he asked where the work was even though there was one right outside: he thought a builder had left it behind. It was great that someone who was walking past it quite often had spotted it, it had crossed their mind and they wondered what it was.
AD: On the launch night, one of my mates came along on one of the tours and when we got to one of the yellow works he asked if I’d made any blue things. He looked a bit sheepish and said he was going to nick one of them on the way here but then thought he’d get it on the way back.
i didn’t see you there took place in central Bristol 22 June – 14 July 2013. Click here for more info.