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Where is the art in COCOA?

Wikipedia entry:

'Relational art or relational aesthetics is a mode or tendency in fine art practice originally observed and highlighted by French art critic Nicolas Bourriaud. Bourriaud defined the approach as "a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space." The artist can be more accurately viewed as the "catalyst" in relational art, rather than being at the centre.’

Studios are not galleries and Studio COCOA’s pop-up studio at Castlegate Festival was no exception.

Studios are places where artists experiment, take risks, and create a mess. To use an industry analogy, it’s where the process of assembly takes place before the art hits the showroom floor. There were not many ‘finished’ artworks in Studio COCOA, except perhaps the Ray Gun museum created by Martin Currie; and even that is a piece that resists the finality of categorisation, because it seems to function equally well as an installation as it does as a performance prop. Most of the art created in Studio COCOA had a rough and ready feel, having the appearance of works in progress: working drawings, sketches, maquettes…

We would, however, expect to find the odd thing of beauty in a studio – perhaps a piece that is close to completion, which is coming out of its experimental or developmental form like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. In this case, again, Studio COCOA was no exception… seeing Joe Scarborough make a window drawing with Russ Young was one example: an intergenerational conversation in drawing. Russ’s process led workshop concept, which offered a ‘window’ into the mind of the participant through mark making, became occupied at that moment by Joe’s signature draughtsmanship – an economical reference to a one-man tradition.

But the real beauty in Studio COCOA, for me at least, was in the reactions – some might even say the chemistry – that occurred in the place. A lot has been said recently about the role of the artist or curator as catalyst (Hans Ulrich Obrist refers to this in his recent book Ways of Curating and the definition of relational aesthetics quoted above from Wikipedia references this too) but, as we may remember from our school chemistry lessons, the catalyst disappears … as if by magic.

This is why I enjoyed the magical spectacle of very young children repurposing the cardboard ‘post-modernist’ structure that Steve Pool had made into dens and playground equipment – this resonated beautifully (although, perhaps, with a hint of irreverence) with the Re-Make Castlegate Project model created by University of Sheffield architects that took a central position on the floor of Castle House. I was also moved by the close concentration manifested in the body positions of the young people participating in Jon Harrison’s ‘Battle of Sheffield’ stop motion animation – and by Jon’s subsequent desire to continue the project beyond the confines of Studio COCOA – a kind of post-pop-up studio practise.

Which leads me nicely into the future of the COCOA project. Our plans now are to take the Castlegate Open Community Of Artists back out of the studio to engage with Castlegate’s varied workers, residents and other constituencies outdoors, ‘en plein air’. Partnerships are being built and approaches and negotiations for further catalytic reactions are currently taking place … so please watch this (inclusive, mobile, non-private) space for further details.

Studio COCOA Photo Album: