Drawing Attention: Oceanic Time with the Others   October 8, 2016
A durational, participatory performance work by Nancy Murphy Spicer

nmurpyspicer@saic.edu   www.murphyspicer.com 

The work of art takes up the viewer and returns her to herself strange, unfamiliar.”
- Gregg Bordowitz, Artist, Poet, Writer and Educator

 This is a durational, participatory performance piece. The structure is:

 1. Choose a work of art in a museum that is made by an artist who is NOT among the canon of primarily white male cisgender artists who have been held up consistently for centuries as the finest artists. The work of art should be one that pulls you in for whatever reason.

2.  Commit to be with that work of art for at least 20 minutes. The duration of your performance can extend as long as you want beyond 20 minutes (into “oceanic time”) but make that the minimum amount of time you spend with the work.  

3.  The primary focus: Be with the work in whatever ways that you find help you to comprehend the work in the fullest sense and understand it more deeply. That can be simply looking in one stationary spot, sitting or standing. It could mean testing out what you see at three different distances from the work: right up close, eight feet away and then across the room. Rather than using a camera or phone to record the work, the preferred method to deepen your experience is drawing or writing so that your attention while with the work is not on the device you use to record the work but instead to use all of your senses to experience the work. While you typically can’t touch a work, you can get a haptic sense of the work (What is the texture? What is the nature of the material? What might it feel like to run your hand over it? How might it have felt to the artist’s hand to make this work?) You can’t always hear a work but you can imagine the sound it would make if it did make a sound. Most works don’t smell but some do. And some may imply a smell. And then there’s the visual which is almost always available. Bring your awareness to all of your senses and how you might most comprehensively experience the work. That’s the primary focus.

4. The secondary focus: What is happening in the gallery? This can be acknowledged out of the corner of your eye. How do museum goers behave in the same room in which you are in? Do they take note of the power of your attention in the space? Do they mimic your behavior? Does it seem to provoke curiosity? Do they pause in front of the same work with which you are engaged? Do they take time to read the wall text? Do they ignore you? Do they choose other works with which to spend time?

It could be good to have a partner for this part of the exercise to help you record these observations. But I would caution against hanging out and chatting as that defeats the purpose of the project which is the focused, solitary relationship between you and the work of art.

My thesis is that if you draw your attention to this work some of the other museum visitors will be magnetically drawn to also bring their attention, implicitly sensing that it must be important if you are giving it such regard.

The genesis of this piece comes out of decades long research of looking at artwork in major cities throughout the world. It also comes out of sitting for countless hours in lectures and art history classes, even most recently at SAIC, where artworks presented as the standard, as the important works to pay attention to and learn from, are invariably made by white cisgender men. This canon gets repeated over and over again and other great artists are marginalized. As a woman artist who cares deeply about “the Others” including female, LBGTQ and minority artists, all of the others who have been marginalized, even still in 2016, this is my small attempt to heal my pain around that marginalization and to expand the canon, to make space for the Others, of which I am one. And I invite others to join me in this practice.

Well over half of the people in Art school today are women and XX% minorities XX% LGBTQ. We need to see role models that are held in high regard and not the same names coming at us over and over again. This project is an attempt to broaden the canon and include the Others. My method of doing that is one – person – at – a – time. Starting with myself…and whomever else is in the room. I invite you to join me. Choose your artwork. Stay. And see what the power of drawing attention yields. For yourself. And for those who share the gallery space with you.

Expanded Participation
If you find a work that pulls you in and raises your curiosity further, research the artist and the work. Return to that particular work in the museum and experience another round of Drawing Attention. This time, if museumgoers interact with you, feel free to share your knowledge and passion about the artist and the work before you.

It is not a requirement for participation, but if you would like to share a drawing and a 300 max. piece of writing about the artwork you selected, please email it to nmurphyspicer@saic.edu and it will be included in the project webpage. You may also choose to fill out the debrief form to further share about your experience of participating in this project.


Why this project?
The more closely one examines art-world statistics, the more glaringly obvious it becomes that, despite decades of postcolonial, feminist, anti-racist, and queer activism and theorizing, the majority continues to be defined as white, Euro-American, heterosexual, privileged, and, above all, male. Sexism is still so insidiously woven into the institutional fabric, language, and logic of the mainstream art world that it often goes undetected.
- Maura Reilly, ArtNews, May 2015

How was this project conceived?
I am a graduate student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. My practice over the past two decades has included many types of participatory projects. With daily free access to the Art Institute of Chicago, I have begun spending significant time with single works of art by artists who represent the Others. While I have avidly spent time in museums my whole life, it was this summer studying with Molly Zuckerman-Hartung that I experienced “oceanic time” in relation to a work of art. Zuckerman-Hartung would meet students at the museum and select one work with which to engage for over an hour, deeply looking and discussing. Her passion and discipline and curiosity was infectious amongst our group of students as well as museumgoers who entered the gallery. They began to be drawn in and join with us in our focus. I wondered if this experience could be intentionally replicated.

Why in the museum?
The museum is the gold standard of reification of the artist. The museum is a space designed to present and solidify the reputation of the most important artwork of an era. These are the works the establishment decides speak the truth of a people, a time and a place.  While there is small progress in including more of the Others, overwhelmingly the establishment persists in favoring a narrow range of white cisgender men. And even when the work of the Others is presented it can be overlooked in favor of more well-known big names.

What is “oceanic time”?
This is a term Zuckerman-Hartung used to describe a sense of time that is not circumscribed by tight constraints. It’s a large expansive sense of time. The time expands as long as needed and allows for a different kind of experience and engagement.

What does this project hope to accomplish?
This is a grassroots effort at transformation which stands beside the many similarly-spirited actions throughout the world demanding justice and equity for the Others. The durational aspect of the work is an invitation to practice being awake to, and thereby honor, the work that is before you and invite others to do the same in their own way.

Who can participate?
Anyone! The directions are straightforward and anyone from children to seniors can engage and benefit from this project. Feel free to go to the museum with a group of friends, working separately in different galleries and then meeting up afterwards to debrief about the experience.

I invite you to join in this project and allow yourself to soak in the presence of an artwork, to open yourself to an intimate, transformational experience.


Taking the Measure of Sexism: Facts, Figures and Fixes

MOMA Modern Women’s Project

National Museum of Women in the Arts

City Landscape by Joan Mitchell