Ruth Barker

Ruth Barker

Artist and Writer

Placed Upon The Horizon
Permanent Public Artwork Commissioned by South Lanarkshire Council, 2005-2006
Undertaken in collaboration with Niall Macdonald

Placed Upon The Horizon is published book that is itself a permanent public artwork. The book comprised 28 interviews with individuals engaged with the field of public / socially inclusive practice in various capacities (artists, commissioners, educators, thinkers etc etc). By engaging these individuals in conversation and re-presenting their – often contradictory – views on a parallel platform, the work hoped to offer insight into the variety of contemporary practice.

The book became a catalyst for critique and debate, and a number of distinct questions emerged from the work:

  • Why do the definitions and language of specialisms differ, and what are the implications of that in term of communication as well as discourse?
  • Do we need a new model to chart difference as well as similarity across the board, and, if so, what might this be?
  • How can a ‘multiplicity of understandings’ be used to chart a multiplicity of needs?
  • How has the changing understanding of ‘community’ – from a series of homogenised groups with internally shared desires, priorities and economies to a post post-modern conception of a series of interconnected moments within the diaspora – affected our understanding of ‘the public’ and, by implication, our understanding of public practice?

Practice or Research?

Placed Upon The Horizon occupies the unusual position of being conceived and produced as an artwork, but having an additional (and continuing) ‘afterlife’ as a piece of critical research. The play between these two functions remains a subtle one, but the spaces between the identification of each can lead to a fruitful dialogue.
Key to understanding the work is consideration of the processes gone through in the process of production, including the editing of the work, and the degree of ‘self censorship’ to which individuals felt that they had to bow. Almost everyone (25 out of 28 participants) who contributed removed sensitive sections of their transcripts prior to publication.

The dissonance between the voices in the book clearly reflects the variety and complexity of the field. One central discussion therefore becomes the presence and articulacy of a ‘specialist language’ for public practice, and the implications of having multiple specialist languages within one field. Can the multiplicity of understandings of the field be used to chart a multiplicity of needs?

Perhaps at the core of the work as it existed in its final form, was the suggestion that as our understandings of ‘community’ and public shift to increasingly complex models, our perception of public practice must co-evolve. Lines between definitions must consistently challenge and break the rules if they are to stay relevant. Does this mean we need a new model of practice to follow in these changing times? Only if we realise that to define it might be to render it obsolete.

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