And so what does all of this mean…
I love that people ventured out on a very cold evening in January in Maine to view the local art scene. I am grateful for the attention that my art is given. I love also that people are sometimes curious and mostly trusting. I like very much the sense of community that sharing can bring. However…
At dinner after the event we discussed what happened and what we each observed. Many times during the evening we uttered to each other that we wished it was being captured on film or recorded. This piece this time was not about surveillance. This piece was about literacy and being aware of one’s surroundings. I feel that if I had filmed or recorded it with the intent to replay people’s mistakes there would have been some malice on my part. Many people who drank the “wine” were embarrassed that they had. Displaying images of people being embarrassed for one’s own amusement is causing harm. And I had no intent to cause harm.
One of the points that we discussed at dinner was the recent purposeful poisoning of restaurant food bars. In these cases, a terrorist (yes, terrorist as their intent is to cause harm) walks up to a food buffet or food bar and sprinkles cyanide or other toxin on the food. Because it dissolves into the food, patrons get sick after eating the food and think that they only have food poisoning. In some cases that victims have died of cyanide poisoning before anyone thought to look in that direction.
The connection with my harmless vinegar in wine bottles is that people assumed that the “wine” was safe even though it smelled bad, looked dirty and had been told using many cues that it was not for drinking. Because they expected and were expected to drink wine on the Art Walk this is what people did, damn the consequences.
Also evident in the piece were people’s lack of visual thinking. When told to “read” the piece, most people assumed that they were supposed to read words and look at the fine print. They didn’t understand perhaps because it has either been schooled out of us or else they never learned how to see patterns and logical progressions of information. Even though with this piece I purposefully chose a pattern consisting of 5, most people did not or refused to see the pattern.
There is also a fear with art. We have a cultural fear that if we can’t understand art, then we are somehow deficient and stupid even though we have often not be taught how to engage with it. Or else we are yelled at if we talk about it at all. This I think was what the comments of being “elitist” were about.
Finally we assume safety. One woman said she didn’t want to drink the wine because it didn’t look clean. Her partner said it smelled bad. Neither drank it and when I talked with them they had said that their thoughts were confirmed by listening to somebody talk about what the piece meant and the visual break down of the piece. In short, the couple had a hunch and eavesdropped to confirm their hunch. In turn they told someone who was about to drink that it wasn’t wine. That person didn’t listen. The couple was shocked.
I wondered throughout the evening if I would have fallen prey to my own trap. Who knows? I would like to think I wouldn’t but then again. I hope that I have learned a thing or two about assumptions and trust and about engagement.
And finally, speaking up about something that is not right is a good idea.