While hanging the exhibition ‘Are we there yet? Mapping the Labyrinth’ at Lighthouse in Poole, I decided to leave one piece of work untitled and invite visitors to name it instead. I really wanted them to look again at the work and get involved in the piece themselves, and as so many visitors were from the local area, I reasoned that many on them would know many of the places on the map and have an immediate personal ‘way in’ to the artwork.
The work: ‘Untitled’
The piece is a collaged labyrinth on canvas made up of 3 Ordnance Survey maps of the local area – Landranger 157, Bournemouth and the Purbecks 1974, 1991 and 2014. These 3 editions of the same map have been carefully pieced together to create the labyrinth, which is based on a traditional maze design dating from the 1800s. The walls marking the pathways are blue and are made up of strips of sea from the maps, whilst the pathways themselves are made up of ‘A’ roads and ‘B’ roads in the various colour codes that we are so familiar with from OS maps.
On this map, all the roads and pathways lead to Worth Matravers, a small village in the Isle of Purbeck with an infamous pub, The Square and Compass at its centre. It’s literally one of my favourite places on the planet, overlooking the fields that lead down to the sea, and always full of characters, stories, laughter, music and dogs. They serve an eclectic range of local ales and ciders from a single bar hatch, they only take cash, and food there is a simple choice of homemade veggie or meat pie/pasty, crisps or nuts… fantastic! I thought a fitting prize for the winning entry was a trip to this special place to sample it all for themselves if they haven’t already. This seemed to go down well as an incentive.
The process: Crowd-Titling
There was a special visitors’ book by the work where people could add their Title Suggestion and their contact details, just in case their suggestion was picked. At every opportunity, I would tell people about the competition and invite them to join in. Some of them were reluctant at first – “ooh, no I couldn’t… I wouldn’t know what to call it… “ but with a little encouragement they seemed ok with at least the idea that they could.
When I was in the gallery, it was fascinating to observe this happening; sometimes I could literally see people’s thoughts processing as they got more engaged with the naming idea – that their suggestion counted – they might wander round the gallery looking at the other work again, then they’d come back for another look at ‘Untitled’… and then they’d commit their idea into the suggestions book… (yeah!). Other people would just write something down straight away, as if it was totally obvious what it should be called. The people-watching part of the naming process was fascinating.
Lighthouse put it out on their Twitter feed and we put a piece in the Bournemouth Echo too. Gradually, the pages started filling with suggestions – from all sorts of people of all ages.
On the last day of the exhibition I transcribed all 65 entries onto cards, so that we could separate them from their owners names and be unbiased in our selection.
With the help of my sister-in-law Netty, we made a shortlist of 5 entries. Our criteria were simply that the Title should enrich or add to your experience of viewing the work. There were many similar names, and there were some gloriously ‘out there’ ones too. I was impressed with people’s engagement with the process. We taped our shortlist next to the piece and let the names and the piece they were meant for sit together for a while… and we kept coming back to them through the day.
Ultimately two titles, both very different, stuck with the piece and in my view, enriched or altered the viewer’s reading of the work. The first was the simplest and most obvious of them all:
suggested by Chris D from Manchester
The second was the wordiest and for me, even as the artist who knows every inch of this work in detail, made me totally re-look at the piece and allows me to experience it in a whole different way:
“finding each other again in the paradise of free souls” (for Helene Leivis, Batlan 2015)
suggested by David Hunt from OKSO in Poole
Which was typical really, because David just happens to be my partner! He’d been very moved by a comment by the father of a woman who died in the Paris attacks by ISIS earlier in the month and when he looked at the piece, he thought his words were fitting. For me, reading the piece as if at least two people are involved changes my experience completely on so many levels. It’s no longer a simple searching for the centre or awareness of the pathways or a personal 1:1 experience between myself and the piece. Now there’s another person (or more) involved and the ‘goal’ could moving, more elusive to find – everything changes.
So, I decided both titles were equally worthy and so there are two winners, both of whom will be treated to a visit to The Square and Compass in Worth Matravers as a thank you this spring.
‘The Square: finding each other again in the paradise of free souls…’
Collage: map pieces, graphite & gesso on canvas
h 126.5 x w 126.5 x d 4 cm, 2015