The world of art is unknown to many people. Because of their fear of the unknown, many people make assumptions based on what they’ve seen or heard, and generally come up with the same conclusion: the art world is a stuffy, pretentious place. A new exhibition located at the Niagara Artists’ Company (NAC) attempts to demolish these preconceptions.Behave, an interactive installation that fills most of NAC’s main gallery, is the work of Regina artist Christine Shaw. The piece is made up of over 1,000 square feet of plywood, meticulously positioned on large blocks of foam. The installation consists of three overlapping ramps that stretch out across the gallery floor.
Upon entering the gallery, one also enters and becomes part of the artwork. Viewers are encouraged not just to look at the exhibit, but to step on the boards and walk, run, and jump across the piece of art. When stepping on the plywood, the viewer moves up and down along with the foam blocks. In a sense, the movements created by the individual viewers create and shape the piece, giving it a different meaning to each person experiencing it.
It is near impossible to walk “normally” on this piece of art. The bounce of the foam pushes the viewer into motion and it becomes hard to express the urge to jump around and have fun with the exhibit. In this way, Shaw successfully forces the viewer to do the opposite of the exhibit’s title — to misbehave.
The title, Behave, cleverly pokes fun at our normative view of art galleries with this innovative piece of art and all that it represents. The title becomes an ironic statement about the art world and the social expectations associated with it. In this piece, the long suppressed urge to break free from these bonds is clearly shown as people are enabled to have fun within a cultured setting.
Upon first glance, Behave appears to be quite simplistic. Once stepping foot on it, however, one realizes the degree to which Shaw had to plan the exact placements of foam and plywood in order for the exhibit to work and maintain its structure.
Perhaps Shaw wanted her piece to look simple and flat until people step on it, when parts of it lurch upward and move around. The old adage, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” comes into play here. There are assumptions based on the flatness of the piece: it looks stiff, unmoving (not unlike our previously discussed opinion of the art world). Yet when one takes the chance and actually sets foot on it, the world becomes different and moving. Art, like the installation, is a world of movement and change, and the effect is interpreted by each individual person’s reaction to it.
It is important to bear in mind that this exhibition is not for everyone. But if you happen to be in the downtown area, its worth taking a few minutes to explore this different way of viewing art.
Behave can be viewed at NAC’s Main Gallery space at 2 Bond Street, until Oct. 12.