The Social Contract

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“It’s not the medium that’s important… it’s just the fact that you have fun while doing it,” explains a stranger, rather eloquently, to a tank of squirming, slippery eels. There are other people around him, watching him take part in the art project Explaining Contemporary Art to Live Eels. He’s one of many strangers that have talked, sang and whistled at the eels, before the denizens of the deep are released again into the sea by the artists.

“We have done this project four times since 2004,” explains the Australian duo, Jacqueline Riva and Geoff Lowe, who together make up the collective A Constructed World. “We like to believe that art is not just unsayable and unknowable, and that there is always a hope or chance that something can be communicated.”

Funny, then, that they can’t communicate a single iota of information about their latest ultra-secretive project, coming to Hong Kong at the beginning of November. A Constructed World, which formed in 1993, presents The Social Contract, hosted in Wong Chuk Hang’s Spring Workshop. The project operates by having its visitors sign a contract before entering the room; this piece of paper is a strict confidentiality agreement between the visitor, Spring Workshop and A Constructed World, which means nobody can speak about, photograph or tweet the contents within – for the duration of the exhibition. The duo have presented this work twice before, in Milan and then Singapore. Interestingly, the effect of the exhibition lies not in its physical exhibits, but in the way that it invigorates the personal art-visitor relationship.

“Marie, who is in our research group in Paris, remarked that ‘individuals who refuse to be in a group, by their action are in a group of people who refuse to be in groups’,” Lowe and Riva say, implying that everyone – whether they visit the exhibition or not – is an integral part of the artwork. “When someone decides they are looking at an oil painting of a bowl of cherries rather than the actual thing, it takes a long conversation over a period of time to describe and discover how this is so. This is the work of the audience that is ongoing.” By taking away that conversation, however, Lowe and Riva are essentially handing the power back to each individual to form their own opinions, free from the constraints of others’ reactions and assessments. “The audience makes this work, so we, as the artists, have to wait to see as well,” the pair concludes.

The Social Contract is one in a series of collaborations that kicked off earlier this year. Spring Workshop, along with Rotterdam’s Witte de With, appointed curator Heman Chong to steer the series. Recent projects have included A Fictional Residency, where six writers lived, wrote and edited at Spring to print a short-story collection in just four days. The workshop also offers boutique rooms for artists and curators to reside in, an offer that A Constructed World took up while building their project. When prodded to disclose more, though, they simply say, with an air of mystery: “We believe we create a space where people can think about art, without the demand of having to say anything.”
Ysabelle Cheung

The Social Contract Spring Workshop, Nov 1-Dec 15;
springworkshop,org

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