On the 8th of November 2014 Grizedale’s ‘Office of Useuful Art’ (or OUA) opened at Tate Liverpool as part of the show ‘Art Turning Left: How Values Changed Making 1789–2013’.
This was the first of several manifestations that the OUA has had over the next few years. As Alistair describes it, “The Office is part classroom part propaganda machine for the idea of Useful Art, recruiting for the Useful Art Association and working in parallel to the Museum of Arte Util at the Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven where we will also be press ganging people into Useology from December 7th”.
The OUA at Tate Liverpool provided a complex, multi-purpose space in which ideas could be discussed and plans for futures could begin to be hatched and materialized. As well as providing an open drop-in space for visitors to the ‘Art Turning Left Show’, the OUA also provided a bookable space for anybody to hold discussions, talks, interventions or re-thinks about the show and/or the possible use of art.
The OUA at Tate Liverpool also provided a very successful model for integrating students within the infrastructure of a live show. Around 25 undergraduate BA (Hons) Fine Art students from Liverpool John Moores University signed up to work in the office and to recruit exhibition visitors to the Useful Art Association. Also, a group of my MA Fine Art students have become very interested in how the OUA attempts to work and rethink the conventional gallery/museum space as a site for information, intervention and exchange.
We also used the OUA as a location for a first meeting of the L’Internationale Mediation group who will be develop a series of seminars, interventions, discussions, publications and collaborations with us over the course of the ‘Uses of Art’ project (which will run for the next 5 years). The OUA itself, as an ongoing, developing, changing, mutating phenomena will also act as one of the key examples of how we can begin to rethink the role and relationship between art, education and use.
Although we are only beginning to look back at the impact, successes and pitfalls of the OUA’s first manifestation (as it will soon be travelling to different locations, in different guises, and working in different ways) it has already acted as a real means to think through complex and overlapping issues surrounding the production, distribution and reception of art. Rather than acting as a simple ‘information point’ – by which visitors to the exhibition could re-affirm their experience of the show by accessing the official ‘rationale’ or have the show ‘explained to them’ in ‘layman’s terms’ – the first iteration of the OUA has acted as a real space in which ideas of education and the production of meaning began to happen within a traditional galley space. As different people, from a wide variety of backgrounds, began to use and re-use the propositions found in Art Turning Left both the show, and the Office of Useful Art, began to act as a toolkit for producing new meanings. As Steven Wright argues in his recent book ‘Towards a Lexicon of Usership’ (which can be downloaded at the online Museum Of Arte Útil) we, passive spectatorship is currently being replaced by active usership. This, in turn, enables a more radical re-think of how institutions can begin to re-think or re-invent themselves as civic institutions for the production of knowledge.
The link between the OUA at Tate Liverpool and the simultaneous presence of Grizedale Arts at Van Abbemuseum’s ‘Museum of Useful Art’ show is crucial here. This has also begun to offer ways of thinking through different kinds of simultaneous usership, in different locations, and across different timescales – offering a way of beginning to think of alternative and overlapping temporalities (of uses and re-uses of histories and imagined futures, as well as contemporary materials that are ready to hand, which overlap and replay themselves as non-linear possibility). This also offers an opportunity for us to re-purpose and to revivify the role and function of the art institution (be it museum, gallery, education or production based) as a collaborative maker of histories and futures, one that relies on its users to help produce and reproduces an active civic role.