Putting Space into Action


Friday 30 September 2016
Heritage Quay, University of Huddersfield

To coincide with the launch of Huw Wahl’s film about the 1970s radical art movement Action Space, this one-day symposium, hosted by the Centre for Sculptural Thinking, explores how spaces – public and civic – can be put into action.

Founded by artist-educators Ken and Mary Turner in 1968, Action Space used large inflatable sculptures to create interventions with members of the public and different communities. Bringing together artists, performers, dancers, painters and musicians, the movement sought to produce cultural democratic spaces for art, education and creative play outside of the restrictive space of the gallery system.

Wahl’s award winning film (Prix d'Argent, 2016) features archive footage of the first ten years of Action Space in operation, alongside interviews with key members of the movement, present-day writers and theorists. It also presents a new iteration of an inflatable sculpture within which contemporary performances and happenings are staged.

This symposium explores artistic projects, past and present, which have sought to put space-into-action, and presents an opportunity for a day event which brings together different approaches to the dynamics of activating space in art and culture. Two of the speakers are part of the Henry Moore Institute Visiting Research Fellowship scheme - Dr Dawna Schuld and Dr Tim Stott - and are sharing their expertise in this area with the Centre for Sculptural Thinking.

Read a review of the exhibition on 3rd Direction: https://3rd-dimensionpmsa.org.uk/reviews/2016-11-18-putting-space-into-action-symposium


Schedule for the day

09:00 - 09:45 Registration and Tea/Coffee
09:45 - 10:00 Introduction: Rowan Bailey
Session 1
10:00 Dawna Schuld (Department of Visualisation, Texas A&M University and Henry Moore Institute Senior Visiting Research Fellow 2014-15), Happenstance and Presence: Incident as Sculpture in the Work of Maria Nordman
10:20 Ana Torok (Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London), "An Inspiring Wreck": Rooms, P.S. 1 and the Work of the IAUR as an Enactment of Henri Lefebvre's Right to the City
10:40 Anna-Maria Kanta (Department of the History of Art, University College London), Ferdinand Kriwet in Televisual Space: Mass Media, the Public as Sculpture and the Architecture of a Counter Public Sphere
11:00 - 11:30 Q&A. Chaired by Rowan Bailey
11:30 - 11:45 15min break
Session 2
11:45 Elisabetta Rattalino (School of Art History, University of St. Andrews), Curating the Invisible: Ecological Implications in Maria Lai's Legarsi alla Montagna
12:05 Rose Butler and Becky Shaw (Sheffield Hallam University), Hide and Seek: Playing with Visibility
12:25 Boris Oicherman and Laura Steenberge (Department of Art and Art History and Department of Music, Stanford University) 49 Days for Space: Reflections on an Experiment in Public Learning
12:45 - 13:15 Q&A. Chaired by Dawna Schuld
13:20 - 14:20 Lunch
Session 3
14:30 - 16:00 Film Screening of Action Space Film - filmmaker Huw Wahl
16:00 - 16:30

General discussion with participants in project - Amanda Ravetz, Ken Turner, Huw Wahl, Artúr van Balen.

Chaired by Tim Stott (Dublin School of Creative Arts, Dublin Institute of Technology and current Henry Moore Institute Visiting Research Fellow)



List of Abstracts and Contributors

Session 1

0.1: Happenstance and Presence: Incident as Sculpture in the Work of Maria Nordman

Dawna Schuld (Department of Visualization, Texas A&M University and Henry Moore Institute Senior Visiting Research Fellow 2014-15)

In the summer of 1979, a passerby walking along Washington Boulevard in Venice, California, motivated only by curiosity, might have stepped through an unmarked door and found herself subject to a kind of perceptual cleansing in a space of intense whiteness. The artist, Maria Nordman, announced the work by leaving the door open. Since the late 1960s, happenstance has played a productive role in Nordman's work, wherein the participant transforms space into place by being present, i.e. taking notice, but also physically inhabiting the work. The artist's tacit invocation of presence by way of an unmarked door contravenes the authority conceded to art world didactics and criticism, and foregoes intepretation in favor of what Hans Gumbrecht calls "the non-hermeneutics of Being".

Happenstance, unlike happenings, is un-appointed; it not only accommodates coincidence, but invites it. Nordman's employment of happenstance as an aesthetic device takes place at the conscious and literal threshold between public and private space. By leaving the work unlocked at all hours Nordman relinquishes the autonomous privilege of the studio but does not accept the sanction of the gallery either, placing the work in semi-public limbo. Nordman's environments are closely associated with the work of West Coast minimalists such as Robert Irwin or James Turrell and are similarly intepreted as primarily perceptual and therefore personal. But her use of happenstance foregrounds the work's social dimension. While adopting none of the overt politicization of the Situationists, Nordman manages to interrupt the "diffuse spectacle" of contemporary urban life by invoking curiosity as catalyst. The work's indeterminacy correlates with what Gumbrecht calls the oscillatory nature of presence, ceding meaning-making to the passerby who, unlike the modernist beholder, may be misinformed, uninformed, or even unaware of it as art. She embodies the work, carrying its perceptual effects like a virus back onto the street and into everyday urban existence.

Dr Dawna Schuld received her PhD from The University of Chicago in 2009 and she now teaches Modern and Contemporary Art History in the Department of Visualization at Texas A&M University. Her research focuses on the intersections between art, technology, and the sciences, with an emphasis on how the phenomena of perception are implemented as artistic media. Recent publications include a book entitled The Conscious Medium and the Phenomenal Minimal (forthcoming, The University of California Press), which explores the expansion of sculpture into phenomenal and perception-based practices in and around the Los Angeles area in the 1970s. She is also co-editor, with Cristina Albu (University of Missouri, Kansas City), of a collected volume of essays that explore reciprocal connections between contemporary art, phenomenology, and cognitive studies (Perception and Agency in Shared Spaces of Contemporary Art: forthcoming, Routledge).


0.2: "An Inspiring Wreck": Rooms, P.S. 1 and the Work of the IAUR as an Enactment of Henri Lefebvre's Right to the City

Ana Torok (Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London)

Rotting floorboards, flaking paint, and the strong scent of mildew1. The decrepit interior of a nineteenth-centry school building in Queens, New York, was approached by artists of the mid-1970s as a void waiting to be filled with a history begging to be mined. Overcoming bureaucratic and financial obstacles, the Institute for Art and Urban Resources (IAUR) took control of the edifice in 1976, and just six weeks later, mounted one of the largest and most radical exhibitions of the decade. Rooms, during which seventy-eight artists used the building as physical and conceptual material for their site-specific interventions, effectively created the sort of urban space Henri Lefebvre imagined in his 1967 essay "The Right to the City" - a place for exchange, not to commercial ends, but to creative ones.

Due to the effects of deindustrialisation and suburbanisation, New York City contained an abundant supply of vacant buildings. While these empty edifices were representative of loss and instability to the wider urban community. they presented for artists a unique potentiality depsite "rest[ing] in a limbo of bureaucratic inertia"2. By leveraging the political and economic situation, the IAUR was able to negotiate with municipal agents, ultimately serving as the missing link between the artistic community and the space and time those artists needed to situate and develop the 'scattered' artwork of the 1970s.3

Through the use of primary source material - such as IAUR records, photo-documentation, oral history interviews and art criticism from the 1970s - as well as scholarship on urban theory and related topics, this paper demonstrates how the operations of the IAUR, specifically the development of a new form of administrative 'art worker', were crucial in connecting artists with the resources necessary to their experimental artwork and, furthermore, allowed them to successfully exercise their right to the city.

Ana Torok is an MA student at the Courtauld Institute of Art and earned a BA in Art History from Barnard College, Columbia University. She has held positions in the curatorial departments of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art, while curating exhibitions independently. Her research interests include artists of the 1960s and 1970s, artwork engaged with the current technological condition, and the development of curatorial practice from the 1960s to the present.

1 The quotation in the title is pulled from John Perreault's article, "Report Card: P.S. One I Love You" published in the New York Post on June 17, 1976, inwhich the critic describes the dilapidated, but galvanising atmosphere of P.S.1

2 Alanna Heiss, "WORKSPACE: Working Studio Project", MoMA PS1 Archives, III.B.97, The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York

3 Nancy Foote, "The Apotheosis of Crummy Space", Artforum Vol. 15 No. 2 (October 1976): 37. Artwork of the seventies was often characterised as pluralistic, indexical and scattered, as Foote remarked in her review of Rooms


0.3: Ferdinand Kriwet in Televisual Space: Mass Media, the Public as Sculpture and the Architecture of a Counter Public Sphere

Anna-Maria Kanta (Department of the History of Art, University College London)

This paper focuses on German mixed-media artist Ferdinand Kriwet and the televisual staging and broadcast of his installation TV_LIVE on the cologne-based ARD channel on the 14th May 1971. An overtly under-examined work in the historiography of installation and new media art TV_LIVE reconfigured - if only transiently within the duration of its transmission - the televisual set into a space of collective and potentially subversive action. The work, as I will argue, is one of the least expected aftereffects of the Düsseldorf bar Creamcheese, which was conceived as a 'permanent action space' by ZERO artist Günther Uecker, filmmaker Lutz Mommartz, and Kriwet himself.

Opening in 1967, Creamcheese brought together artists who believed in the transformative and disruptive capacities of technology and were invested in creating spaces within which the audience merged with art installations. Such multimedia experiments aimed at manipulating and altering the human sensorium, making use of the materiality of the participants’ own bodies, turning thusly the public into ‘sculpture’ and creating transient collectivities. This was particularly the case for Kriwet who in the late 1960s moved from concrete poetry to the installation of ‘textsigns’ and inflatable texts in cities across West Germany with the ambition to produce, what he called, ‘PUBLIT’, i.e. public literature, that was directed against the all pervasive presence of media advertising. Addressed to the passersby these installations bore the potential of opening up spaces of political emancipation and civic engagement.

In the paper I wish to assess the consequences of transferring these installations from the public space to the televisual set. How was the dematerialized mediascape turned into a ‘space-into-action’? In which ways was the individual, private viewing of TV-LIVE part of a collective experience? How did the work create community beyond the confines of actual, material spaces? To answer these questions, I will turn to Negt and Kluge’s contemporaneous work Public Sphere and Experience (1972) and argue that TV-LIVE opened up a ‘counter-public sphere’, which far from immaterial emerged through multiple bodies and the organic sensorium. Such a historical account, I hope, may contribute to current discussions on the criticality and potentialities of community- and public-oriented, participatory art practices within our own media landscape.

Anna-Maria Kanta was born in Athens. She studied Law at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and continued with her masters in Contemporary Art Theory at Goldsmiths University of London, and Museum Studies at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. She has worked for the Athens University History Museum (researcher) and Tate (intern). In 2013 she curated the exhibition ‘Vanguard’ at the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki (Action Field Kodra) in collaboration with the Parallel Program of the 4th Thessaloniki Biennale. She is a PhD candidate at the History of Art Department, UCL. Her research addresses the broader ideological and sociopolitical implications of intermedia, genre-crossing artistic practices in West and East Germany within the context of the cold war.


Session 2

0.4: Curating the Invisible: Ecological Implications in Maria Lai’s Legarsi alla Montagna.

Elisabetta Rattalino (School of Art History, University of St. Andrews).

In early September 1981, the Italian artist Maria Lai orchestrated a performance titled Legarsi alla Montagna (Connecting to the mountain) in Ulassai, a remote village in the Ogliastra region of Sardinia. On that occasion, the local community collaborated in making visible the invisible network of relationships between neighbours by running a blue ribbon from house to house, which later was linked to the rocky mountain that overlooks the settlement. This performance, the result of years of negotiation between the artist and the local dwellers, inaugurated a series of Lai’s artistic intervention within and for Ulassai.

Similar collaborations between artists and both urban and rural communities were not a novelty in 1970s Italy, as demonstrated by the art projects presented by the art critic Enrico Crispolti (b. 1935) at the 1976 Venice Biennale. With this exhibition, and with the publication Arti visive e partecipazione sociale (1977), Cripolti investigated the role that artists had played in the unprecedented contemporary context of socio-political and cultural participation of 1970s Italy. Discussing plastic interventions that were often developed in collaboration with local communities in public spaces, the critic defined the artists’ role as one of “critical mediation” between vernacular traditions and local cultural institutions. Furthermore, he framed it within a Marxist understanding of space as socially constructed, thus explicitly arguing for the political implications of such operations.

This paper discusses Lai’s Legarsi alla Montagna and her public works in Ulassai in relation to Crispolti’s theoretical framework. It argues for the wider ecological implications of the 1981 performance, beyond the direct political connotations often attributed to the artist’s work. Deeply rooted in the local culture and context, Legarsi alla Montagna reflected a subtle relationship with the environment, and of our way of making sense of the space in which we dwell.

Elisabetta Rattalino is a PhD candidate in the School of Art History at the University of St Andrews, supervised by Dr Alistair Rider. Her thesis, titled The Seasons in the City. Artists and the Rural World in the Era con Calvino and Pasolini, examines rural and agricultural themed artworks and art projects to investigates the unresolved relationship between the city and the countryside in 1970s Italy. Elisabetta received her BA in Sciences of Cultural Heritage from the University of Turin, and her MA in Art History from the University “Carlo Bo” of Urbino. After achieving her Master in Landscape, Culture and Art Management from the Trentino School of Management (Trento, Italy), she collaborated with Cittadellarte - Fondazione Pistoletto (Biella, Italy) and Deveron Arts (Huntly, Scotland) to develop socially-engaged art projects, and with and Love Difference (Biella, Italy) and artway of thinking (Venice, Italy) to research into participatory art practices.


0.5: Hide and Seek: Playing with Visibility.

Rose Butler (Sheffield Hallam University).

Becky Shaw (Sheffield Hallam University).

Metaphors and practices of visibility are central to debate about participatory art practices, including: the way institutions seek visible evidence of community engagement (Pollock & Sharp 2012); how artists may intend to make marginalized people visible (Wright 2008); how participation can make participants less, not more visible (Wright, 2008); how collaboration may be conceived as a way of seeing each other (Shaw, 2013); and how critical art practices seek to make hidden power structures visible (Lütticken, 2015). In the following, a collaborative project with a group of nursing and midwifery research students is explored, focusing particularly on practical experiments with visibility.

In 2016 Kings College London and Somerset House’s Utopia project celebrated the 500th anniversary of More’s novel, with artworks and student engagement. From early conversations about utopia as a no-place, the students focused on transition between expert practitioners to novice researchers. Anxiety about how they ‘appear’ as researchers evolved into a conversation about the visibility of patients and research subjects, and a task to explore the value of seeing, witnessing, observing, experiencing and feeling, as researcher and practitioner. Later we spent time playing hide and seek at a medical ward simulation centre- itself a place between real and fiction and where performance is measured.

Initially doubting the feasibility of hiding in a transparent, clinical space, the research students became experts, using subterfuge, distraction and bluff. Hiders and seekers took camera footage, so catching the person’s image was innately tied to hiding or seeking. In exploring the qualities of visibility in roles for our Kings’ students, the work also openly problematizes their visible presence as participants in our art process too. The work then, offers the means to see the social mechanism by which things and people become visible.

Rose Butler is an artist, doctoral research scholar and Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam University. Her research examines the relationship between contemporary art practice and surveillance methodology, technology and ethics. Her new interactive installation Come and Go was recently exhibited at The Lowry and her digital short Lines of Resistance produced following a residency at Centrum, Berlin in 2013, was exhibited at Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival in 2014. Last year she screened work at Sheffield Fringe, Quays Culture, Salford, The Newbridge Project, Newcastle and Cube Cinema, Bristol and work was included as part of Cobra Res: DVD, publication and screening, London. She received an award at the Becks Futures Student Prize for Digital Video in 2005 and was shortlisted for the Jerwood Prize for Moving Image in 2006.

Dr Becky Shaw instigates social art works that explore the relationship between the individual and institution, at the same time as questioning the role of art in public life. Since 1995, she has worked to public commission, devising live, photographic, sculptural, written and print responses to large organisations including schools, universities, workplaces, public housing centres, hospitals and galleries. Her current work includes a commission for the City of Calgary, and working with curator Frances Williams to explore the visibility of art in healthcare. She also works with the architect Paul Sullivan, as Static (Liverpool), instigating projects that examine social and architectural spaces. Her 1998 PhD explored the value of making sculpture for palliative care patients at Liverpool Marie Curie Centre. She is currently Postgraduate Research Tutor for Art and Design in the interdisciplinary research institute, C3Ri at Sheffield Hallam University. She leads a University-wide conference on research method.


0.6: 49 Days for Space: Reflections on an Experiment in Public Learning.

Boris Oicherman (Department of Art and Art History, Stanford University).

Laura Steenberge (Department of Music, Stanford University).

The public face of a university is distinct from the academic work within its walls. 49 Days for Space was an experiment in breaking this distinction. Every day over seven weeks the artist (Boris) and the composer (Laura) were present in a reverberant public passageway at Stanford University, learning how to compose music for it. A 25-meter-long glass vitrine was made into a loudspeaker that amplified an electric guitar. The glass surface filled the space with quiet omnidirectional music, a pool of sounds that did not have a distinct source. Practicing for several hours a day, Boris learned to play the guitar under Laura’s tutelage, who in turn learned how to compose for someone who learns in public. The products of this mutual learning were played it back into the space, constructing a continuous soundscape that merged with the ambient street sounds.

By taking the classroom outside, the interior and exterior of the University merged to create a process in which the quest for knowledge and the needs of public space mutually influenced each other: to learn was perform; to teach was to compose. As artist and composer discussed the metaphor of space as a musical instrument the project turned from a sound installation into a course, with questions shifting from “how to make a piece” to “how to learn.” The location turned into a public research studio where the composer and the artist together learned to transform the stories of place into an organized simultaneity of sounds, of stories, of space. Above all, this project was an attempt at constructing a working model of artistic engagement with the academic environment where both artists and academic art departments can be the catalysts to democratize the production of knowledge.

Dr Boris Oicherman was born in 1973 in Leningrad, former USSR.  Boris’s practice focuses on site specific public art and cross-disciplinary collaborative projects. His body of work includes sculptural installations, sound art, performance, architectural interventions, land-art and video. He is the recipient of the Asia Pacific Fellowship of the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul, South Korea (2012), the Artport Residency by the Ted Arison Family Foundation (2013-2014), and the Artist in Residence Fellowship at the Faculty of Life Sciences in The Hebrew University in Jerusalem (2013-2014). Boris has received his PhD in Colour Science from the University of Leeds, UK, in 2006, and currently is an MFA graduate fellow at Stanford University, CA, USA. www.oicherman.net/boris

For the past ten years, composer and multi-instrumentalist Laura Steenberge has been developing site-specific performances in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, including SF MOMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Hammer Museum, the Sutro Baths, Cantor Arts Center and the Stanford Memorial Church. Her work builds on the relationship between language and music, informed by studies of harmony, acoustics, linguistics, mythology, ritual and perception. She plays viola da gamba, contrabass, piano, guitar and a number of makeshift instruments. Laura received her BA in Music and Linguistics from the University of Southern California; MFA in composition, performance and integrated media from the California Institute of the Arts, and DMA in Music Composition from Stanford University.


Session 3

0.5: Film Screening of Action Space Film – filmmaker Huw Wahl

0.6: General discussion with participants in project - Amanda Ravetz, Ken Turner, Huw Wahl, Artúr van Balen.

Chaired by Tim Stott (Dublin School of Creative Arts, Dublin Institute of Technology and current Henry Moore Institute Visiting Research Fellow).

Ken Turner is one of the founding initiators of Action Space. He is author of Crashing Cultures 1954 to 2016 (CreateSpace, 2016), an artist’s notebook covering six decades of professional work in painting and performance art.

Huw Wahl is a filmmaker

Dr Amanda Ravetz is a writer and filmmaker. She is a Senior Research Fellow at Manchester School of Art.

Artúr van Balen (founder of Tools for Action) - Tools for Action is a community project, using inflatables as a tool for intervention. Since its founding by van Balen in 2012, the ensemble gives skill-share workshops in the manufacture of inflatable sculptures and how to use them for direct action. Workshops have been given to various actors such as art and activist groups, NGO's and even to public schools. Tools for Action believes in nonviolent resistance, tactical frivolity and the power of poetry. Watch the video clip of "Barricade Ballet" here.

Tim Stott is a Lecturer in Art History and Theory at Dublin Institute of Technology and Associate Researcher at the Graduate School of Creative Arts and Media. His research interests concern the history and criticism of contemporary art, in particular the organisational turn, systems aesthetics, artistic uses of play and games, and convergences of art and design through ornamentation and information design. His monograph Play and Participation in Contemporary Arts Practice was published by Routledge in 2015. He will be Visiting Research Fellow at the Henry Moore Institute in 2016 where he will work on another book project that investigates ludic modes of artistic production and organisation in the post-war period. With Francis Halsall, he is also co-writing the book Systems of Modernism, which analyses uses of complex systems across artistic modernisms, for the Meaning Systems series at Fordham University Press.


For further enquiries:
Dr Rowan Bailey , Centre for Sculptural Thinking , University of Huddersfield , r.bailey@hud.ac.uk