Invisibility is a tricky juxtaposition in the art world, where it’s so much about the visual but so much happens and is created in isolation. My experience thus far has been that most of us in this world embrace isolation (Introverts, unite! Individually, not together, of course). Despite this I've come to embrace and champion the invisible: the systems; the inner-workings; the 'process as product' way of practicing public art.
If we struggle so much to have visual art supported and entrenched as a part of peoples' experiences, do we want to keep it hidden, unidentifiable and remote? Even when the public art project is a broadly accessible and noticeable visual display, seen far and wide, there are many important parts which remain hidden: like how the artist engaged with the many people who are inevitably part of the process; how s/he had others inform, help or create within the work, inevitably contributing to the outcome. And what about site narrative, the stories which already create community ownership of their neighborhood instead of us imposing one. I know many might disagree with me, because the underlying principle within public art is for art to be public, but I have found what ends up happening is that goal supersedes the rest; we fulfill the visual and lose the rest. Hence why there is often not a connection between the artist, place or people. This may also be why often public artworks don’t stand up in the critical context of good art.
Despite an artist naturally wanting to share their work especially one created through a public art process, I think there are times when we don’t need to point to the ideas, we just need to have them and include them as part of bigger thinking. Veer away from display and spectacle, and dig underneath the basics and there are fascinating images that can be created.
A friend and colleague had this idea about shifting the way we can access art and the artists' process, both economically and personally, and started a business that focuses on investment in production, so that you pay into a staged process rather than simply buying the end result (and end up with a more enriched and learned experience, and the art work of course). I see this very much relating to the creative process of public art, by which there are so many implications beyond the artists' final work, that investment in making visible the invisible throughout the entire process is hugely worthwhile.
I think in Hamilton right now we need both (desperately) – we need more responses and artistic ideas about place, more public art interpretations in our city. Right now, it doesn’t feel like public art is infused with the same energy that exists in other realms of the arts in our city; public art does not feel present and needs more visibility.
Simultaneously, why don’t we talk about the invisible things that take place in our city: the inner systems; the workings of a city; of people, time and place - public art is a way to communicate but also to ask questions and prod criticality into existence, and that is an outcome that will surely be plenty visible.