Climbing on Art – do you?

When you visit a art gallery, do you touch the paintings? Do you run your fingers over the sculptures? Or do you simply caress with your eyes?

I find the look but don’t touch concept challenging. I believe strongly in preserving art for all people and that sticky fingers will certainly damage works. But I am also very tactile, at times I need to feel something to truly connect with it.

I have always been a rule-abider, never touching the works, hands behind my back, standing behind the line because the social construct required me to do so. I was shocked the day I saw a friend happily touching the concrete sculpture. I was a little thrilled too. Who says that a lump of concrete has become untouchable simply because its label has changed from an everyday object into a conceptual, highly priced art work?

I was in Sydney recently and a artwork had been installed on the lawn in the Botanic Gardens. It was made of rock and sticks, rose 2 metres into the air and cried out for climbing on. The signage clearly said no climbing, but untamed children were eagerly climbing up to the top.

What if it had broken and the child had fell, who would be responsible? The artwork or the parent? is the child reducing the value of the work by their lack of regard for it? We tut tutted in the background but secretly I wanted to climb up and around and explore the structure with the curiosity of a baby when it first discoverers its feet.

Is the intention of the physical exploration that matters? Is respecting art more important than retaining our boundaries between it?

Every summer the Serpentine Gallery in London commissions an artist to create an external structure that serves as a meeting place for gallery visitors.

This year the structure was made of perspex and metal pipe (below). It invited you to collect your drink from inside the structure and climb the see-through stairs to perch on high. It invited you to explore, to climb, sit, stare and engage with the structure and the environment it was in.

It doesn’t come naturally though. Years of being silently told to stay off the art means I was cautious, hesitant and slightly offended by those who climbed with abandon. Once I embraced the exploration I enjoyed the journey.

It is curious to see how societal structures impact our behaviour, how accepting we are of things that are at times ridiculous.

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