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Room for interpretation

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Musing on @capriccio’s comment (on another thread) on the malleability of music, lead me to consider the idea of malleability in other art forms - the room that an artist leaves for interpretation.  What is it about particular artforms, and the works of particular artists/composers that gives them such malleability?

I guess that even when an artist hands over their art in a fully realised state, there is still malleability in the eyes, the ears, the mind of those that experience the artwork; we will all interact with the work in different ways.  And, of course, there is always scope for one artist to inspire another; to quote, to re-imagine a work in different ways.

But I’m thinking more specifically about those artworks that the artist hands over in an incomplete state: a score, a script, a printing plate, a blueprint, a set of instructions for others to realise.

There are so many layers of potential malleability - and something delightful in the idea that one artist creates a concept for others to interpret as they wish.

I saw Antony Gormley’s Field recently.  An intriguing work of tens of thousands of hand-sized hand-made clay figures with eyes, all standing shoulder-to-shoulder crowding the space they occupy.  The concept, the brief for making the figures, and the guidance for placing them, are all Gormley’s.  Numerous people are involved in the creation of the figures, and the creation of each (quite different) realisation of the installation; each installation is a performance.  And what do we, the observers, make of all these eyes looking up at us.  Who is looking, us or them?  Do we judge or do they?  What can they say: they have no mouths, do they have a voice?  So many questions!

It struck me how similar - and also how different - this experience was to attending a concert.  Gormley is the composer, the people who make and place the figures are the musicians, and we are the audience (or are they?).

At every stage there is room for interpretation.

What do you think?


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Thy intriguing "musings" @jen! 😉

I (personally) think that modern art in general is usually much more open to interpretation/ reinterpretation, than, say, classical art forms?

I had never known about Gormley or his art before, so I looked him up (I have you to thank for that 🙏).

His works look very interesting, and indeed trigger more questions than answers! 

Even though I'm not particularly fond of modern art (there are some exceptions, though), I found myself browsing his website for more insight into his world.

(Have you ever stumbled upon his page?)

I was also surprised that he's involved in dance choreography?!


As for his FIELD itself, it is indeed a very fascinating project, from conception to installation.

The photos I saw left me with mixed reactions: I was awed and frightened in equal measures. I don't know how to describe it really, but I don't think I would have been very comfortable seeing it in real life! That sea of little figurines, spilling through the space, looking as if racing towards me, crowding me out, getting too close to my personal space ... I don't know, but it looks a little bit intimidating?! And yet again, as you pointed out, they don't seem to have mouths?! I felt sympathy for them, I felt these poor creatures can't even speak for themselves, they can't even reassure me they mean no harm, or ask me for help?!

It must be a very psychological experience, viewing that creation in person?!


Your comments about who is viewing whom :

Posted by: @jen

And what do we, the observers, make of all these eyes looking up at us.  Who is looking, us or them?  Do we judge or do they?  What can they say: they have no mouths, do they have a voice? 

reminds me of the opening Prologue of the Bard of Béla Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle, itself an opera full of symbolism and open to many, many interpretations as well. (I think we discussed it in the old Primephonic community forums):

"Once upon a time ...
Where did this happen?
Outside, or within?
Ancient fable, what does it mean,
Ladies and gentlemen?
The song goes on,
You look at me, my eyes are on you.
The curtain of our eyelids is raised:
Where is the stage: outside or within,
Ladies and gentlemen?
Bitter and joyous
Are the events around us.
But the world’s armies
Do not determine our fate,
Ladies and gentlemen.
We see each other,
We tell our own tales.
Wherever we come from,
We listen with amazement,
Ladies and gentlemen!
[The curtain rises behind the Bard.]
The music sounds, the flames are lit.
Let the play begin.
The curtain of my eyelids is raised.
Take notice until it drops again,
Ladies and gentlemen!
Old is this castle,
Old is the tale enclosed by its walls.
Observe carefully.  "

Eldarboy, Jen and capriccio reacted
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Lots to unpack here from both of you, @dinah and @jen. But as I have to go make dinner in a minute, I'll keep this brief.

Looking at Field, words popped into my head first: over-population, horde. And then the phrase: "We are the voiceless."

In a society where power and resources are consolidated in the hands of so few, many of us feel voiceless, to various degrees. But there is a voice simply in overwhelming numbers.

I agree, Dinah, that it's rather disturbing, but I'd love to see it. 

Dinner time! Crispy tofu with cashews and blistered snap peas, with an apple ginger mocktail and a lovely cheddar to get us settled in.

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Topic starter  
Posted by: @capriccio

But there is a voice simply in overwhelming numbers.

So true!  I’m also often reminded that none of us is too small to have a voice.

Field: covid restrictions meant that my partner and I had the privilege of 20 minutes on our own with the forty thousand.  Could anyone resist the chance to lie on the floor and meet all these characters eye to eye?  

For me the experience was neither intimidating nor disturbing, but humbling and overwhelming… and it continues to provoke so many questions.

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Is not one goal of the artist, at times, to take us out of our average everyday-ness to open a vista on life, whether via negativa or via positiva?


We can understand the true nature of existence via its beauties or its horrors. Think of the end of Wozzeck, for example. 
Sometimes we need to be dragged kicking and screaming into a new path of thought.

Hugh reacted