The Artist's Guide to Backhanded Belationships
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Think of this as an art experiment: I want you to follow me to an art gallery, to imagine all the art hanging from the walls, to try to see the art through these here sound waves. What do you see? The Mona Lisa? A girl wearing oil painted pearl earrings? OK, we’re doing this all wrong. Try something different.

Tom Little shows me his string. “So it’s just a wall of string,” he explains.

At the Stew Gallery on Fishergate, Little watched as gallery goers walked around in the room of string he’s assembled. Next to the string, put a television on the wall that records gallery dwellers. But, it’s on a 30 second delay.

People came in through the maze of string, saw the TV, stared at it for awhile, and then 30 seconds later, they would see themselves staring at the TV. And then they'd realize the absurdity of it all. They would stop thinking about what the string could possibly mean, and just have fun with it.

“So, people kind of forget that they're actually looking at art and then move around and look at themselves and they completely forget they have to critique it in this very academic way,” Little said. “They can come in, and are freaked out, and just leave. It's not like this deep philosophical thing. It's just maybe funny. It's all about the relationship between the gallery.”

That’s why Little helped curate an exhibition called Backhanded Relationships with the help of other members of the 906 Collective. It’s a collective of six friends, who graduated from the Norwich Art University and decided they wanted to keep making art forever. It turns out: most relationships are complicated in a backhanded sort of way. Take trees, for instance. We like them, and we also want to chop them up. That’s what some of Alec Game's work represents.

“I had this question in my head,” Game said. “Like, do we see a tree or do we see a chair nowadays?”

Game's photographs depict felled trees like those at Thetford Forest.

“Do we really see it for what it is and appreciate it for what it is or do we just see it as like disposable things that we can use for our own benefit as opposed to something we could really embrace and admire?” Game asked.

“One day I am thinking of a color: cling film,” Eleanor Chandler says, reading from her poem.

In case you didn’t just hear that, that’s Eleanor Chandler and Zoe Kingsley reading a poem entitled ‘Notes on Cling film.’

“I write a line about cling film. Pretty soon it is a whole page of words, not lines. Then another page. There should be so much more, not of cling film, of words, of how terrible cling film is and life,” the poem continues.

What does that mean? Well, nothing. Chandler and Kingsley wanted to see what would happen if they threw the word ‘cling film’ in now and again in different pieces of literature and literary theory.

“You know, within the kind of scope of art and literary criticism...the pressure on that language. That's what we wanted to emphasize....how far you could stretch it,” Kingsley said.

They both have a backhanded relationship with words. As writers, they’re trying to use words in new ways. As readers, they know everything they’re trying to do has been done before.

In another part of the room, people are assembled in a circle while a tape recording tells them what to do with some bean bags and noodles they are holding. For instance, when the tape recorded says, Blue, they must try to touch the blue bean bag. This goes on for about 15 minutes before the tape recorded commands, “Become the Art.”

The participants freeze. Nicole Hudson is the master behind this all.

The gallery and gallery viewers have such a Do Not Touch relationship,” Hudson said. “In my piece, you become the work.”

Many of the artwork and performances at the gallery exhibition are about anxiety artists feel about art, what it can do, and who it can reach. But near the entrance of the Stew Gallery, Issy Mitchell quietly, through her paintings, invites anyone who passes by into her bedroom.

“So, it's an image of me flung across a bed with my arms down and then Elliot on the floor reaching out for my hands. And it's kind of an example of us both together but very much alone,” Mitchell said. “It's exaggerated by the fact that I have my eyes closed and we're kind of separate.”

Mitchell reads out loud from the mission statement for her artwork.

“Together we build two spaces where passion and privacy correlate. Now, together, the two of us may shrink away from the world,” she reads.

In the Stew Gallery, at the Backhanded Relationship exhibition, artists attempted to change the backhanded relationship artists have with the outside world. They do it with cling film and and they do it with string. This time, artists would let the world into their bedrooms.

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