2006 Samsara Unlimited: Towards an Ecology of Compassion
Systems Based Social Artwork
MFA Thesis Exhibition
Gordon-Snelgrove Gallery, Universty of Saskatchewan
Samsara Unlimited Product: Chocolate Buddha Truffle sitting on Smarties inside a Siamese Fighting Fish Bowl
Student Artists and Public interact as Samsara Unlimited is installed in the Exhibition Space
Samsara Unlimited Concept Store Showroom
Sample Art Products in the Exhibition Space - Retail Store Front
Chocolate Buddha Heads filled with Smarties, Skittles, and Gummy Bears; Postcards with aphorisms; Chocolate Buddha Truffles sitting on Smarties in Siamese Fighting Fish Bowls
Prints of Hands in Mudra
Engaging the Public through familiar consumer marketing tropes
Public Outreach Teaser Ad for Exhibition
This relational artwork engaged art students and interested publics in developing a collaborative multidisciplinary network. As expected the creation and execution of the work attracted student and academic participants from the visual arts community but perhaps more importantly a wide variety of individuals and groups from engineering, commerce, and religious studies were drawn to the initiative. The document of the work - a website and an interactive PDF - won two international awards for Innovation and Learning from Adobe.
The project sought to create a process through which the general public could become familiar with the perceptive processes engaged by artists in reconstructing everyday reality. It was posited that the ability to engage these perceptive processes would potentially lead to an ontological shift. Using established high art aesthetics and familiar consumer based signifiers; the gallery was transformed over a week into a production, design and retail facility so that people that entered the gallery space could alter between the functional reality of a concept store and the altered reality of an art gallery. The public was encouraged to visit over the week of the installation to ask questions, get involved the project or simply socialize with the creatives involved in the project.
In the second week of the exhibition the Samsara Unlimited exhibition was fully active as an open concept design and production facility and showroom. Visitors could talk to staff working on designing or manufacturing art projects as well as view products in the “retail” showroom. Although all the products in the store seemed mass manufactured each was actually either unique, editioned, or hand crafted. Furthermore each product was designed to function simultaneously as both art object and a consumer object. The familiarity of the space encouraged those who were not inclined to enter an art gallery to do so. For those who were familiar with an art gallery, the consumer façade allowed for an inquiry into the functioning of art in contemporary consumer society.
In terms of connective aesthetics, the collaborative nature of the exhibition created working relationships between various individuals and groups involved with generating the art production system and those who became interested in its activist nature. Some student artists felt that their practice would never be the same and left the project determined to develop projects that explored local and global humanitarian and environmental issues through the arts.
Activating the Artwork and Exhibition Space
In order to exist, Samsara Unlimited required the active incorporation of individual will and abilities of people who were interested in developing a socially engaged collaborative artwork. The sense of social engagement was engendered through four functional areas of the project. First, a performance space was installed in the gallery to generate social interaction based on compassion between artist-performers themselves and between the artist-performers and the creative and business partners as well as the gallery visitors. This relationship building was initiated through the creation, administration, marketing and sales interactions surrounding art products. Second, artists and publics were actively included in the installation, execution and de-installation process of the performance space in order to build both alignment with, and ownership of, the principles underlying the project. Third, artists and participants were included in the promotion of the exhibition and the extension of the social network and its values that were based on compassion. Finally a web site was developed to extend the ideas behind project to a global audience and to provide a method of feedback for participants.
The Performative Exhibition Space
Once visitors arrived at the exhibition space they found an interior that utilized visual signifiers from contemporary consumer and art culture and commonly found in medium to high end concept stores. The layout of the exhibition space focused on three main areas, a retail showroom, an office and a design laboratory, incorporated in an open concept interior design.
The retail showroom included a lounge and displayed art product prototypes on clothing racks and mannequins, in product cases and on walls in a salon wall-type organization and a lounge. The prototypes for sale ranged from chocolate Buddha truffles to unique t-shirts to unique silk-screened wall hangings. Detailed descriptions about the products as well as the product development process could be found in the product catalogue and design process sections of the project website. This on-line catalogue was accessible from the gallery space. The curated lounge in the space was available for visitors to rest and relax. To encourage social engagement, at 3PM each day a salon with tea, fruit and muffins was held in the lounge. Both artists and visitors were invited to participate and discussions were wide ranging.