For the first installment of the RBC Work Room, artist Zachary Ayotte and music duo Nulle Part worked together on an on-site creative collaboration for a developmental period of six weeks. The artists worked in the space and revealed their creative practices to the public and allowed gallery visitors to see the progressive development of the exhibition from beginning to end.
Working with sound, installation and photography, Shelter is an exhibition that plays with the boundaries between public and private, light and dark, seen and unseen. Artist Zachary Ayotte shares his experience with “Ten Thoughts on Shelter” that will be shared over the course of three installments.
The gels that form the structure hanging in the east side of the gallery reflect light across the floor and walls. The patterns look like light reflections bouncing off water. I think the subtle (and at times not so subtle) movement of the gels helps to give the room that feeling of fluidity. The movement of the gels is a product of airflow in the room. This movement is perhaps one of the aspects of the project that I am the most satisfied with partially because I didn't know it would happen in quite the way that it did. In discovering the effect of light on the swaying gels, two things were actualized. The first was that the invisible became visible. Air flow, indeed air itself, is invisible. We can only see it by seeing what it affects. The movement of the gels in response to the airflow of the room has the benefit of transforming wind into light. The ripples on the wall shift and change depending on the movement of air through the room. They are, in a way, an extension of the circulation of air.
The second thing that the gels helped to realize was the desire to include the public, or more accurately acknowledge the participation of the public, in the project. The circulation of air in the room is affected by a few things, the three most prominent being the air conditioning, the movement of bodies through the space and the opening and closing of the doors on either end of the room. Two of those three things are the direct result of people moving in, through and out of the space. The way the gels behave is a result of the presence of people, bringing some concreteness to the observer effect.
As the weeks progressed, I started to consider the nature of collaboration. For the first few weeks, Jason and Ben (Nulle Part) worked largely in the West room and I worked primarily in the East room. We had worked together prior to the opening of the show but now felt a bit more like neighbours than collaborators. I think they had a similar feeling.
I started spending more time on their side of the space and they moved some of their equipment over to my side. The results were fascinating. They ended up removing almost all of the percussion from the piece. The work became lighter. More ambient. It started to shape how I was thinking about photos in the space.
Collaboration is interesting when you are dealing with two different mediums because it is not entirely necessary that you work together. Were we both musicians or both photographers it might be different. Our works complement each other rather than compete. I think it took us a little time to realize what collaboration would look like for us.
I had initially intended for building the structure to take two weeks, photography to take two weeks and editing to take two weeks. Once the structure was done, though, I needed some time. I came into the space just to sit and observe. I also came to make little touch ups and changes and simply to see what happened to the structure over time.
During this week, the gels began to feel like a space that flowed back and forth between being one of two things: a sanctuary or a prison. It was at this time that I decided to add the stool. It started to become obvious that we were making something weightless. The project was composed primarily of light and sound. No part of it touched the ground and it could basically be shut off with the flip of a switch. It needed something to ground it.
I also wanted people to know that they could go inside the structure. My hope all along was that people would see it from both sides. I had initially considered adding a chair of some sort but I didn't want to dictate which way someone should face when they sat in the space. A stool seemed like the right answer. I wanted to find a stool that would walk the line between sanctuary and prison. Not too domestic but not too cold and clinical either.
The stool was an invitation but also a suggestion. It invites people into the space but it also suggests the presence/absence of a body. It suggests that perhaps someone was sitting there. For me it became a sort of echo of a body.
At some point shortly before I started taking photos in the space, I started thinking about Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon. The panopticon is a penitentiary designed so that all inmates can be observed by a single guard without knowing when they are or aren't being watched. The design of the prison – a round room with cells all along the perimeter and a single guard tower at its centre - depends on the separation of each prisoner from the others and the intentional use of lighting to clearly display the inmates and to backlight (and thus obscure) the guard, who stands watch in a central tower. Never knowing if they are being watched and unable to communicate with other inmates, each prisoner operates under the assumption that the guard may be watching them at any moment and as such always behave as if they are under observation even when they are not. As a result, behaviour changes because of the assumption of observation.
I realized that I had in some ways built an inverse panopticon. One cell at the centre of the room with space all around for “guards” and lighting that illuminated the centre of the room.