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Emma Sorensen: Centre of attention in a Winnebago

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News, Analysis and Comment

Centre of attention in a Winnebago
Arts Hub
Monday, April 02, 2007

Which artist doesn’t secretly want to be the centre of attention? But how many artists would sit in a town square, in a Winnebago, and invite the public to draw them?

Curators and artists, Pierre Coinde and Gary O’Dwyer from the London based Centre of Attention are actively seeking attention – no secret about it. As one of the activities in the launch of last Saturday’s The Event arts festival in Birmingham, Pierre and Gary sat in a Winnebago in Chamberlain Square all day. Describing it as 'a performance', they were making themselves available for members of the public wishing to draw them.

Drawing materials were provided for any interested members of the public wishing to take part in what Gary and Pierre called their 'installation/production/performance'. The drawings produced will be documented and available to view on their website. But the originals of the drawings were given away at the launch party that evening.

Arts Hub was puzzled - what's it all about? 'We wanted to produce a work where we can meet the public with the aim of realising something tangible'they said. But why a Winnebago we asked them? 'The construction that we are calling a Winnebago is in fact a constructed Kiosk (some drawings here)'Pierre and Gary explained. So, thankfully, no American campervans were harmed in the making of art.

Their event questions what art is, and the value of it. 'For us the audience is the art. For the audience we are. For the market the drawing is. The drawing acts as a contract between us and the audience, as well as a receipt, as well as a by product of an action. It is also evidence that people met, came into contact, performed and hopefully had a meaningful interaction.'

But Gary and Pierre take it even further, saying 'It also allows a comparison to be made between different creative skills: in this case eye/ hand co-ordination (craft) with mind/ language co-ordination (or conceptualism). To what end is unclear or ambivalent'.

Founded in 1999 the Centre of Attention have built themselves a solid reputation, based on creative, off-beat events and exhibitions. Its experimental approach stems from an ongoing enquiry into the phenomenon of art production, presentation, consumption and heritage-ization. They take no fees, and ask only that exhibiting artists donate an artwork in return.

Gary and Pierre explain that the Centre of Attention has a strand of its practice that aims to pursue the ideal of the total art work. 'This is, in our reckoning, an art work comprised of sound, image, movement, space and theatre, (cinema can come close but has restrictions; screen bound for instance) and so often our work has a curious or unusual mix'. Clearly, they are also interested in the idea of the curator as precious performer or star – hence their decision to centre themselves in the 'solitude'of the Winnebago.

But perhaps Arts Hub’s confusion about the piece, and the questions it provoked us to ask Gary and Pierre was in fact the point. As their reply indicates – they aren’t interested in providing answers. 'The piece is something we felt curiously compelled to do. We can produce a rationale but we would prefer others to decide why?'

It also seems that Birmingham is getting very serious about its visual arts. In mid March, New Art Birmingham was held, following on the success of the inaugural event in 2005 this art fair is destined for big things. The Event runs until 15 April in various locations around Birmingham.