Cornford & Cross
‘Unrealized Projects 1997—2002’
Chapter for book edited by Malcolm Miles New Practices/New Pedagogies
Taylor & Francis (Routledge), Lisse, Netherlands, 2005, pp. 53-61
For us, a key function of contemporary art in an open society is to test concepts, assumptions and boundaries. One way we do this is through making site-specific art works in public places; our projects are often satirical or polemic in nature, and involve a degree of risk and uncertainty. While they have resulted in very different sculptural or spatial forms, each project has made a critical engagement with its given context, which includes the physical site, the social situation and the historical moment. This engagement demands intensive interaction with the people and organisations that occupy places and influence events. As well as the visible artwork, we recognise that the outcomes include exchanged attitudes between ourselves, our associates, and the people who respond as our audience.
All our projects so far have been conceived and presented in response to invitations from arts organisations, or to published calls for proposals. In making a proposal we test our own preconceptions and impressions of a situation through lengthy, intensive and often adversarial debate, and discussion that equally tolerates over-determination and irrelevance. Gradually, this thinking is condensed into a single page of text, which together with an image forms the basis of each project proposal.
Our first solo exhibition in London was held in October 2002 at Nylon, a private gallery directed by Mary Jane Aladren in the East End. In accepting the roles and responsibilities of ‘gallery artists’, we aimed to question two related assumptions: firstly that public funding for the arts is closely aligned with notions of cultural production and reception that are discursive, educational and democratic; and secondly that as a private gallery relies on the selling of art objects, the nature of its engagement with social and political issues tends to be conservative.
At the time of planning the exhibition, the number of projects we had realised with official support and public funds was equal to the number of our proposals that had been officially rejected. As we knew of no practical reason for these rejections, we thought they might concern matters of aesthetic taste or political tendency. We imagined that by returning from such obscurity to critical attention in a commercial gallery, the projects might connect our discursive practice with the commodity system, and perhaps broker some cultural exchange between the public and private spheres. So we developed and presented our rejected proposal drawings, photographs, objects and texts, in the hope that the works might still be ‘realised’, at least in terms of producing a shift in understanding such as can follow the sharing of an idea.
At the end of the exhibition period we held a public colloquium in the gallery, to explore the issues raised by the individual proposals and by the exhibition overall. The colloquium was widely advertised, open to everyone and admission was free. Papers were presented by Lynda Morris, Director of the Norwich Gallery, and by artist and writer John Timberlake; the session was chaired by Edgar Schmitz, artist and lecturer in visual theory at Goldsmiths College, London. As a starting point to the debate, Cornford & Cross offered three questions: ‘Can the public expect ‘public service’ in curating and commissioning, as in broadcasting?’ ‘Does ideological engagement compromise the artistic or aesthetic impulse?’ and ‘Is there a consensus on what constitutes appropriate subject matter for the arts?’