COUNTDOWN TO MEMORY #10: Not That There’s Anything Wrong With Audience

impressing your audience - Pyragraph

channel I, detail (EXPERIENCE, 2000)

T-Minus 10! This post is part of an 18-post countdown to Amy Stacey Curtis’ next and final solo biennial in Maine mill space. After MEMORY, her upcoming biennial, she will have completed nine solo biennials over 18 years, with 81 massive interactive works, all told. She’s been unloading her process on Pyragraph as we countdown to MEMORY. Read the series here.

My first two solo biennials (EXPERIENCE in 2000 and MOVEMENT in 2002) had interactive installations which involved entering, perceiving, maintaining, perpetuating, and moving things around (including the participants themselves).

Non-doers feel more like “audience” than participants. Not that there’s anything wrong with audience.

For one of the nine installations at EXPERIENCE, meniscus, participants maintained nine menisci (the upper-curved surface of water in each of nine glass cylindrical containers) for the duration of the exhibit, adding water whenever necessary. For one of the nine installations at MOVEMENT, abacus II, participants were instructed to move nine beads one inch left on parallel lines of cable, keeping the beads vertically aligned. When the beads reached the left-most point: “Move all nine beads one inch right keeping beads vertical,” and so on. If the participant was unsure of the direction the beads were traveling, he or she was asked to choose.

At my third solo biennial (CHANGE, 2004), I presented my first interactive works with more obvious beginnings and desired ends—the start instigated by me the artist, the end only reached with the audience’s participation.

From the start of my 18-year project, I made it clear that I felt my installations were incomplete without audience, literally unfinished, static. Well, with the installations like this one at CHANGE, it would be like priming a canvas for a painting you are about to do, and then never doing the painting.

At the start of CHANGE, inversion I was 2,916 wood cubes on a platform to the left, grain pointing down. Each participant was asked to move nine cubes to the right platform, in a specific order, placing them in the same compact configuration, with grain pointing up. Once all cubes reached the right platform, or the exhibit ended (whichever came first), the installation was complete.

With these “whichever comes first” installations, I prefer the exhibit not end first. Even though the installation is “finished,” I’m a little disappointed.

If inversion I’s cubes hadn’t made it to the right, the efforts I put into making the cubes, sanding them, arranging them, wouldn’t have been balanced with enough participation.

It’s like I’ve invited a certain number of people to paint the painting I’ve envisioned and begun. I’ve decided what I’d like the painting to look like, bought the materials, stretched and primed that canvas, provided the colors and tools, conveyed what I want the painting to look like. Now I want my audience to complete the painting.

I know. How could I possibly expect the audience to paint the painting exactly as I instructed? That’s a different post.

A point of this post is that it took 20 months to decide, buy the materials, stretch and prime, etc. If the painting isn’t actually finished by the audience, it’s kind of a let down…

I figured, after giving 40 artist talks, the number of participants would increase from 250 (at EXPERIENCE) to 350 at CHANGE). So, 2,916 cubes, each participant moving nine, I would need 324 participants to perpetuate inversion I. In the end, I had 750 people at CHANGE.

Yes, I count.

You would think inversion I would be complete by about the solo biennial’s half-way point. Instead, it was finished on the 15th day of my 18-day biennial.

Not everyone participates. Those who don’t are usually in small groups, one or two “does it” while a third watches. Or, one does it while two or three watch.

“Non-doers” are just as much a part of my work as my “doers.” But, non-doers feel more like “audience” than participants. Not that there’s anything wrong with audience.

I just don’t think non-doers are getting the full effect of my work. It’s like the paint is there, but they can’t see it. They’re not seeing the paint (nor the point).

Then again, I wouldn’t want non-doers touching my work if they don’t want to. My work is my guts.

Amy Stacey Curtis - Pyragraph

inversion I, detail (CHANGE, 2004)

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About Amy Stacey Curtis

In 1998, artist and writer Amy Stacey Curtis began an 18-year commitment to interactive installation art, nine solo-biennial exhibits from 2000 to 2016. In the end, Amy will have installed 81 large-in-scope, participatory works in the vast mills of eight or nine Maine towns. Each solo-biennial exhibit is a 22-month process, each exhibit exploring a different theme while requiring her audience to perpetuate its nine unique installations. As part of each biennial process, Amy scrubs by hand its respective mill; the spaces averaging 25,000 square feet.

The Maine Arts Commission’s 2005 Individual Artist Fellow for Visual Art, and recipient of numerous grants including those from the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Amy committed to this ambitious and ephemeral project to convey that everyone and everything affects everyone and everything, no matter how small or fleeting the impact. MEMORY, Amy’s last solo biennial, will be open for participation September 17-October 28, 2016 in a Maine mill to be announced. MEMORY will be worth the trip from wherever you are.

Amy (and the thousands of objects she stores to mount her massive exhibits) lives with her husband Bill in Lyman, Maine.


  1. […] me install, using the teensie-est movements possible, waiting a little while before they became a big part of my […]

  2. COUNTDOWN TO MEMORY #1: Ground Rush - Pyragraph on September 19, 2016 at 9:01 am

    […] I was excited and scared to open these doors to an audience about to experience and activate what I had just laid upon this mill floor with all I had, excited and scared to open the doors to their eyes and hands. […]

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