The Art of Invitation – Part 1
‘Beacon’ 2016, Installation on an ancient beacon site where the audience is invited by the light rather than by a selective process.
My work is the investigation of pathways, migrations and unplanned encounters.
It is only with hindsight that I can understand the rationale behind my creative practice. I call this retrospective research; looking back to understand why I have made what I have made. In these three parts I will show how I have evolved my artist’s statement and understood my role as an artist by gathering and analysing evidence.
In the summer of 1996, during my graduation exhibition at the Royal College of Art, Prince Philip spent some time trying to understand my work. It was a time when a nominated Royal would be sent to the MA show to meet each student and I tried, in return, to assist in his quest for understanding. However, the situation became ever more farcical.
I had been making drawings which plotted the paths of dog walkers and their dogs; the lines I drew were determined by the paths that the dogs and their owners took across an open field. I was exploring the notion that my artwork only existed in response to people’s interaction and that the patterns generated were a direct result of the participants behaviour.
‘The Paths of Dog Walkers and Their dogs’ 1996
My installation was an interactive artwork which illuminated in different sequences according to the viewers position in a dark room. Two heavily built bodyguards stood at the blacked out entrance to my installation while the Prince asked “What’s it for?”. I replied that if he entered the space he would find out. However, before he could do so, his bodyguards blocked the entrance. The Prince looked at me again and repeated “What’s it for?”. I appealed to the guards to stand aside and allow the Prince to explore my work. They refused and glared at me as if to say ‘you expect us to allow the highest tier of aristocracy into a pitch dark space in which lurks something that you refuse to explain?’. The Prince repeated, in a more determined manner, “What’s it for?”
At this point I realised that there was no hope of the installation working as intended and so I moved into the space myself while the Prince and two bemused guards poked their heads through the dark doorway. I darted around like someone pretending to be a crowd of people enjoying the coloured illuminations and re-emerged with a smile on my face ready to receive reviews from my unusual audience. There was a long silence while the Prince considered his response. At last he looked at me directly and asked in a despairing tone “What’s it for?”
That was the entirety of my conversation with Prince Philip and I have reflected on it ever since. Back then I had no answer….. but now I believe I do. My work has changed little in the way it engages people to make sense of its existence. The Prince was not the first to cast doubt on my practice; for two years at college I fought with my tutor who labelled my work as ‘cheating its audience by requiring them to participate in making the work’. Again I did not have the experience to explain – or understand – what I was doing.
Today I explain it as ‘The Art of Invitation’ and it is the investigation of pathways, migrations and unplanned encounters.
I will share my artist’s statement and rationale for making in Part 2.
Neil’s work can be seen at mussonretallick.com
‘Hearth and Home’ 2017, conversational performance at the Venice Biennale
‘In My Father’s House’ 2019, conversational performance at the Venice Biennale