Mark Wilsher was born in Croydon, Surrey.
He is currently completing his PhD at Norwich University College of Art.
Wilsher lives and works in Norwich, England.
A conversation between Ellie Morgan and Mark Wilsher late March 2010
Ellie Morgan: By replacing and presenting elements of the gallery’s make-up your show interrogates a chain of institutional relationships and a series of dependencies and communication. Have the re-presented elements become symbols of funding and discussion?
Mark Wilsher: Not just symbols exactly. But certainly they are used to indicate the parameters of what's been permitted, or the extent to which you have trusted me. I think I would like to de-emphasise the role of the physical objects presented on the wall (which are after all just one part of a larger set of tangible and intangible aspects that go together to make up the exhibition). I knew I wanted to end up with something in the gallery, and these displaced bits and pieces seemed to do the job.
EM:You could have chosen more practical elements though; in a way you chose objects which are visually interesting or may be imbued with something- the finger plates for example. You have spoken of these objects potentially traveling elsewhere to represent the show or OUTPOST...
MW: I'm not averse to people reading them as imbued with history. That might be one way into thinking about the overall project for some sections of the audience, and I'm happy to provide some element of narrative or "content" that people feel comfortable with immediately. After all, if I have picked this set of visually interesting hardware because of how the parts look then it's likely that other people will find some purely aesthetic pleasure in them too. As for traveling elsewhere... I think it would work, although that would become a very different kind of exhibition.
EM: Although your recent research has focused on the importance of antagonistic negotiation in the presentation of public art, your show was proposed as a 'win-win' scenario. Could you discuss how The Yesable Proposition relates to your proposition of negotiation over dialogue?
MW: The concept of negotiation is really contained within the concept of antagonism (or to use Chantal Mouffe's neologism "agonism", meaning a kind of lesser friction). Dialogue is dependent on the idea of a pleasant situation where everyone is happy to talk and share their views. This might happen at a social event among equals but most of the time out in the world there are a lot of vested interests and subtle hierarchies going on. My recent work has been questioning the notion of dialogue as a panacea in contemporary art. Many artists who make work with other people or in the public realm will say that they are engaged in a process of dialogue, indeed it has become a kind of orthodoxy in the world of socially-engaged art in the last fifteen years or so. But I feel that this glosses over a whole load of issues.
I have been using negotiation theory borrowed from the world of business to set up a different kind of model. It offers a more detailed analysis of the processes and 'moves' that might take place within a relationship, especially where the two parties are unequal and they are both trying to push for their preferred outcome. Rather than the old idea of starting with high demands and conceding until you reach some sort of a midpoint, modern negotiation theory (specifically the branch labeled 'integrative') suggests that it is often possible to find agreements that both parties find satisfactory. Hence the concept of a win-win proposition that forms the basis for this project.
EM:So your show directly enters into the model you have set; your proposal directly uses integrative negotiation to explore the relationship between you, the artist, and OUTPOST, the gallery. Through this win-win model, are you indirectly engaging other groups in negotiation through the reallocation of funds, or do you see your actions as more of a commentary?
MW: Absolutely. It's typical of my broader working methods which often borrow or inhabit a way of operating, from which I can then produce a set of artworks that are shaped by that approach. It's a kind of meta-method... where I'm experimenting with different vocabularies and ways of being an artist. Right now it's all about negotiation and relationships, seeing if I am able to formalise those in any kind of constructive way. The result will be a real consequence of real relationships, something that really happened at a particular time and place rather than just me making it up.
EM: The Yesable Proposition is the fourth project of your PhD. Do you think that undertaking a PhD has altered your methods and practice?
MW: When I was a student I used to move very quickly from one thing to another, never sticking with one approach for longer than a single piece. Then, about seven years ago I had a rethink of my practice and as a consequence began to produce work in series that allowed me to develop an idea in more depth and also release some of the pressure that can fall upon a singular statement. I guess the PhD has extended this trajectory even further as I have spent three years essentially elaborating one theoretical model, even though this has been manifested as four distinct projects. But I wouldn't say it has changed the essential way that I operate. There is a bit of a tendency in practice-led art research to make the work illustrate the theory, or else to become paralysed completely by anxiety, but hopefully I have managed to keep some rough edges and random elements to undermine a completely illustrative reading. At least I hope so.
EM: I was wondering if you thought there was one object in OUTPOST which you wouldn’t dare to replace, or that you think is irreplaceable?
MW: I wouldn't mess with the computer, that always leads to trouble. Mind you, the keyboard could really do with a clean.
EM: Be my guest.