Sarah Evans and David Kefford: Playful Process

Following their first one-day artist project, Aid & Abet (Sarah Evans and David Kefford)  returned to the UH Gallery to invite students to find playful “relationships between two things”. With the same “co-production” approach as their first project, Evans and Kefford guided participants in the creation of abstract objects, which then formed the basis of stop-motion animations.

Evans and Kefford noted that this activity felt more coherent than their first one-day project, which, by contrast, felt “chaotic” and “unruly”. The artists felt that they had a greater sense of direction when speaking to students, and Kefford suggests that this focus may have arisen from their decision to provide a “stripped back” box of materials that limited the number of options available to participants.

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By limiting participants’ palette, not just by reducing the available materials, but also by declaring that each artefact must be constructed from only “two things” (images or objects),  the artists hoped to encourage more thoughtful selection of materials, and more reflection on the significance of their interaction. Kefford hopes that the limited palette will encourage defamiliarization of these objects, with familiar objects made strange as a consequence of abstract and unexpected partnerships with other images and objects.

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Another significant difference between this and the previous event was the layout of the gallery space. The gallery is a “transitory space”, experienced by most students on their journeys between their study spaces. On this occasion, however, the artists chose to fill the centre of the gallery with an arrangement of tables, and to locate activities around those tables. As a result, the space was transformed from one that feels transitory to one that invites students to stay and participate. This, suggests Kefford, helped to contribute to the sense of focus that had been missing from the earlier event. The position of the table encouraged students to remain engaged for longer, and so to participate more fully in the project.

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While at the table, participants dedicated themselves to the task of considering and forming relationships between their selected “things”. The students relished this opportunity to “play”, freed from the pressure to succeed that might limit their experiments in the classroom. They felt liberated from the risk of creating something that could be labeled “right” or “wrong”. This freedom was promoted in part by the knowledge that they would leave their completed artefacts behind in the gallery. Having removed the need to construct an artefact worthy of taking away with them at the end of the session, the artists were able to encourage students to focus entirely on the process, not the outcome. The “playful process of experimentation” became the goal of the day, and the focus on process lifted any burden of expectation that students might have had in relation to the objects that they would create.

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This focus on process aligns Evans and Kefford’s project with the burgeoning trend for experience-as-art. Evans and Kefford are offering their participants the chance to experience a process, and in doing so, are equipping their audience with the tools to apply that process again in the future, in their own context. Even though the participants do not take their creations away with them, they do take the knowledge of that process. To that extent, the artists are gifting their process to participants, relinquishing control of how that process might be applied by students in their future projects. Evans remarks that “there is no ownership in process”. As they offer their process to the participants, the artists take, in return, a new understanding of their own approaches. Familiar processes are interpreted by “new voices”, and in this way it is revealed that there are “different approaches to our process [sic]”. Observing as students interpret Evans and Kefford’s guidance in a range of different ways, the artists are able to reflect on what they do, and how they do it.

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