Putting yourself in the picture: how to experience art in the 21st century

#bros #beach #OMG_sculpture. Taking selfies with works of art; is this how to enjoy art in the modern world. Photo: Su Leslie, 2015.

#bros #beach #OMG_sculpture. How to enjoy art in the modern world. The sculpture is Dust by Norton Flavel. Image: Su Leslie, 2015.

My post for Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge is very late this week. I’ve been in Sydney to visit the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition, and found posting from my iPad more than a little challenging!

Sculpture by the Sea is an annual outdoor exhibition that locates around 100 works of three dimensional art along a stretch of coastal walkway from Bondi Beach to Tamarama Beach, Sydney*. The exhibition is free to attend and attracts many thousands of visitors — most of whom (like me) seemed to descend on it last Sunday.

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Visitors to Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi 2015, NSW, Australia. Image: Su Leslie, 2015.

Experiencing art amongst a crowd is never particularly easy. It’s almost impossible to get an uninterrupted view of a work, and as for quiet contemplation ….

The flip-side of course, is that there is pleasure to be had in watching and listening to others’ enjoyment of particular works — especially children, who haven’t yet developed the self-censorship that inhibits adults.

But what I noticed about the Bondi exhibition that I didn’t see (or at least register) at last year’s NZ Sculpture OnShore exhibition in Auckland, was the huge number of visitors who seemed to regard the artworks as little more than a backdrop for their selfies. Now, as someone for whom photographing art has become a major passion (and who travelled over 2000km to Sydney to do just that), I’m hardly going to criticize other camera-wielding visitors.Ā  But I watched group after group race up to a work, pose themselves with a smart phone at arms’ length, snap a photo and move on, barely glancing at the sculpture itself. Some posed themselves (or their children) on works — despite the prominent “do not climb on sculpture” signs — to get “better” photos.

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Did you get the shot? Tamarama Beach, NSW. Background sculpture is The Bottles, RCM Collective. Image: Su Leslie, 2015.

The experience of art is uniquely personal, and free exhibitions like Bondi make it possible for many people who would never dream of visiting a gallery to see and engage with the creative output of a large group of talented artists. How sad then, that for some visitors, the focus seemed to be on themselves as central characters in a landscape that contained so much else to appreciate.

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Flying fish, by Gillie and Marc Schattner forms the backdrop for a photo. Image: Su Leslie, 2015.

One sculpture in the exhibition specifically referenced the way mobile technologies have changed our world-view. Fabio Pietrantonio has sculpted two figures; boys playing video games on hand-held devices. Set against the backdrop of dazzling blue water, their focus entirely on the object in their hands, the work acts as a reminder of how easy it is to turn inward and ignore the beauty of the world around us.

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Figure from Fabio Pietrantonio’s Quotidanity “the brothers” Image: Su Leslie, 2015

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*There is also a sister exhibition at Cottesloe, Western Australia.

 

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23 thoughts on “Putting yourself in the picture: how to experience art in the 21st century

  1. You must live in a wonderland of art, especially sculpture. Very impressive and joyful that you are able to see so much public art. Your trip certainly proved inspiring. But this craze for self absorption and the selfies staggers. It disappoints that so many are more interested in themselves than the greater world that offers so much. Happy Photo Challenge.

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    • Since I became involved in one art event, I’m acutely aware of others. There is an amazing amount of public sculpture, and I think a lot of it is overlooked. I totally agree with you about the selfie craze; I can’t think of anything worse than an image of a beautiful piece of art obscured by my grinning face. šŸ™‚

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  3. It is something you see everywhere you go … people with their noses to their phone rather than the world around them.
    It looks like an amazing exhibition … but I would have found all the people really distracting.
    I really liked the fish with wings šŸ™‚

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    • I made two visits — the second quite early on a weekday morning. That was a much more serene experience, although, because the exhibition is on a public walkway, there were lots of joggers and walkers out too. But both visits were on beautiful sunny days and life doesn’t get much better than being able to enjoy art and sunshine (and coffee).

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  4. Love the flying fish! I find looking at things in crowds tricky too – and not just sculptures. Some people only seem to see beautiful scenery through a lens. Or concerts through a phone screen. Maybe they do then study the images / footage carefully when they get home? I don’t know. I just wish they’d get out of the way when I want a people-free picture, but I suppose my view is no more important than anyone else’s.

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    • Hehe. I feel exactly the same way. Many people at the Bondi exhibition tried really hard to get out of the way of photographs, but it was sooooo busy at the weekend, that was impossible. I am probably guilty of seeing things in terms of a “shot” that I can capture, but I have learned to slow down and try to appreciate the moment as well. Patience has never been my strong point however.

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  5. Thanks for sharing this, Su. Quite an exhibit. I’m also astonished by the selfie craze. I guess it’s another instance of “me” being the center of the universe all too often. Climbing on the sculpture, though, is really beyond the pale!! Just shaking my head as I read and think about that.

    janet

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    • Hi Janet. I found myself telling people off for climbing on the sculptures. I’m glad my boy-child wasn’t with me; he gets so embarrassed when I do things like that. But really, there were people standing right next to the “don’t climb” sign, posing their friends inside one sculpture to take a photo. When I pointed it out, the young man tried to tell me they weren’t climbing, just sitting. I guess my grumpy face was pretty obvious though, because they did all get off and slink away.

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    • Hi Angeline. Thank you; there were some amazing works and it is a beautiful setting. I’m with you on the selfie craze; I wonder if it is a status thing — posting photos of yourself in new situations proves you are there and somehow cool? I don’t know. Self-absorption is exactly right!

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  6. When we brought the kids to the Grand Canyon years ago, I told the kids to get out of the car and see the landscape. They glanced up from their GameBoys (remember those?) and said, “Yup! I can see it from here.” I was SO angry! Well, they did get out, after much tears and foot-stomping (and that was just me). Haha! The gadgets have their uses. It kept them from whining on the plane, for instance. But now that we have these beasts, it is up to us to tame them!

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    • That reminds me of a joke I heard years ago about tourists going to the Grand Canyon. They leaped out of the car and the father took dozens of photos of the family with the Canyon in the background, then ordered the family back into the car. The kids complained that they hadn’t seen anything (pre Gameboy I guess), but the father said “get back in the car, you’ll see it when we get home. That’s kind of how I felt at the exhibition, except that “at home” now means “online” and all people would see would be themselves obscuring the work. I’m grateful that my son is a photographer and actually wants to get out and see places we go.

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  7. I know that some museums and galleries ban selfie sticks. you have shown some beautiful works of art and they do enhance the setting. I am like you, I would never dream of taking selfies. Being a photographer or artist makes us more aware of what is around us, so that we appreciate our surroundings. I think that those who indulge in all those selfies are very self absorbed.

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    • I totally agree; and I was really quite shocked to see so many people ignore the art, and see it only as a backdrop. When we were in Europe earlier in the year, many places had banned selfie sticks, and I don’t see many round Auckland, but they were everywhere in Sydney. More tourists I guess.

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  8. Like you, I wouldn’t want my face detracting from a beautiful work of art. But wherever I am I find it useful to have at least one photo with either myself or a family member in it to remind me where I was when…. it doesn’t have to be a close up though! I know one can tag photos these days but I like the visual reminder.

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    • I understand that; I think family photography has always included snaps to remind us of the times we spend with friends and loved ones. Where would family history be without those mysterious images that we spend hours poring over, trying to identify the church in the background, of figure out the year from the clothing and passing cars. šŸ™‚

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