I was very confused upon arriving at the “Slow Listening” exhibition. I had seen it around campus being advertised by the Kinetic Imaging department, so I assumed that it would consist of video and animation work. Instead, I walked into an exhibit full of an oddly mismatched collection of work. One wall was covered in marker and pen sketches/drawings done on yellow and purple paper; one wall had photographs of scratches and marks on tabletops; one wall showed a photograph of a performance piece; and on the last wall a video was being projected and played on loop. From looking at the pieces and listening to the artists speak I slowly gleaned that these works came out of a residency called the Rauschenberg residency (I had to look it up to learn more about Robert Rauschenberg and the residency program itself, which takes place in the house which was Rauschenberg’s home and studio in Captiva Island, Florida). Danny McCarthy and Mick O’Shea are both artists in residence at the Rauschenberg house, which greatly influenced the work that they put forth in this exhibition.
I was still very confused (being a philistine who doesn’t know my art history and didn’t even know who Rauschenberg was), but I knew that the artists were supposed to do a talk, so I thought that that would help to explain the exhibit to me. But even in their brief talk, I didn’t fully grasp what was happening in the exhibit. I didn’t understand why the pieces that were on display had been chosen, or even any background behind the individual pieces. There was very little information given to the viewer, so someone like me who didn’t know anything about the artists on display and just showed up to the exhibit would have a hard time getting a handle on what was going on.
In regard to the drawings, I learned from the artist talk that Rauschenberg collected paper, and that paper became a resource that artists in residence could take advantage of. It was faded and curling slightly at the edges, making the material almost as interesting as the drawings that the artist had done on them. It’s interesting to me that despite the drawings being quite different from the type of work Rauschenberg did, and despite taking place decades later, this use of Rauschenberg’s own belongings as material draws a physical, material connection between the past artist and the present artist’s work. The photographs, as well, are directly connected to Rauschenberg – the subject matter is the surface of the work table at the Rauschenberg house, covered in marks, scratches, and rings from decades of being used as the work station for Rauschenberg and the many artists in residence since.
Overall, I felt that the show had some interesting elements, but it was very difficult to connect with it because I felt like I was missing the context for the pieces, leading me to feel that I didn’t really know what they were attempting to do. Even though I understood a little bit better after I came home and googled Rauschenberg and the Rauschenberg residency program, I think I could have appreciated the exhibition even more if some explanation of the program or of Rauschenberg’s work were given as part of the presentation, to help situate the viewer in relation to the work being presented.