Making something small happen

art of the everyday

Month: November, 2011

Good Intentions – a summary

The Project

Title: Good Intentions (working title was “otherwise engaged”)

Location: Cornmarket, Belfast

Duration: 10-12 daily 10th – 15th November

Artist: Julie Miller

This work was included in FIX XI (http://fix11.wordpress.com)

The project had three main phases, the production of a tract, the distribution of this tract, a voicemail service to allow participants to hear an excuse of the day and leave any excuses of their own.

A tract is a term used to describe religious literature however the term itself originally meant any leaflet used to distribute literature of any kind. In Belfast it remains a regular sight to see street evangelists distribute Christian literature in various ways around the city centre. With this in mind I began a series of tracts, the first being Good Intentions. The tract (shown in the previous post) uses a modern-day parable to share an easily recognised experience. The need to share the experience is precisely because of its common nature, things that are commonplace or everyday have lost their criticality and have lost their interest for many people.

The tract was distributed everyday from 10-12 at Cornmarket, this site was chosen has often been used by street preachers. Each day I dressed sensibly always in the same trousers, shoes, jacket and scarf and handed the tracts personally to passersby. The daily experience can be found in earlier posts.

Each tract was numbered as a print edition would be, this was a subtle clue that this tract differed slightly from others and also allowed for me to measure how many I was able to distribute. Each tract included a telephone number which linked directly to a voicemail recording of my daily excuses for missing an event I intended to attend. It was not mentioned within the message what the event was and each message was designed sound like a personal message for the caller. Everyone has received a voicemail like this before when a friend cannot make something you planned together. The recording was changed every day.

 

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Good Intentions – The first Tract

Daily excuses (Good Intentions)

Day one

Hi, I’m not going to make it today I had the best on intentions but I’m not feeling that well and I’ve actually got to go and visit my Grampa. Leave me a message!

Day two

Hi, It’s me I didn’t even make it to visit my Grampa I had so much to do and by the time I got home and made my tea I was just too tired but I’ll try and make it tomorrow. Leave me a message!

Day three

Hi, I am so annoyed I’m really trying my best to make it but I’ve just realised my library books are due back tomorrow so I’m going to have to read some of them before I take them back and I promised my mum I’d help her alter a top of hers before she goes on holiday so I will do my best but I might not make it. Leave me a message!

Day four

Hi its me, im still not feeling that well so I’m just going to stay in the house today and do some tidying up but it’s stuff that I really need to get done anyway so maybe I’ll make it tomorrow. Leave me a message!

Day five

Hi, I really have to get my christmas shopping started so I might not make it I’ve also got to nip home and check if a letter has arrived for me it’s really important and I’ve been waiting on it for ages so if I can make it in after that then I’ll maybe see you but if not I’ll try my best to make it tomorrow. Leave me a message!

Day six

Hi, I’ve got to clean out my hamsters cage tonight and besides I totally forgot I was meant to meet you, so I have said yes to meeting someone else and I can’t let them down. Leave me a message!

 

These excuses are a collection of truths, lies and borrowed excuses or variations on them that I have used or had used on me. There are intentionally mundane as most excuses are. Although it is not mentioned in the voicemail these excuses are offered as reasons why I did not attend FIX X1. In honesty I do not attend a lot of art exhibitions in Belfast and the majority I do attend are in support of friends but I have resolved to change this on the completion of this work.

I also must confess that even my intention to not attend FIX went slightly awry, I participated in support of a friend with Metonymic Time Machine Prototype # 1 and as I began to question the importance of not attending it dawned on me that I also participated in Democratea as those running it are my course mates. There is still an importance for me in not attending the events, it kept my work removed from the wider audience allowing its anonymity and it allowed me to focus on each event I was missing as I distributed tracts, I read more about the works than I usually do when I attend an exhibition. This work began as an exploration of why we do not follow through in our Good Intentions and what the consequences of our absence can be, I will be adding more as I plan my next tract and evaluate how this work evolved and where it failed.

 

Good Intentions Day 6

I had several encounters today which tested my conviction. A man asked “Why do you do this? Are you a Christian yourself?” I replied “no” as I was unwilling to say yes but this led to obvious need for further explanation of the project. I said its an art project, that it reads like a modern-day parable but it is not about religion. (This sound as messily explained here as it was in person.)

Next was an experience of double rejection. Again a man spoke to me but this one asked “what are you selling” ah! an easy one I thought “I’m not selling anything” “Oh it looks like a religious thing” he suggested to which I replied “yes it does but it’s an art work” he required more detail so I began to explain “it has become a lot about rejection, people refuse to read or look at the tract because of what they assume about it” he retorted “Right, I understand that it is art but I still have no interest” It seems art and religion in Belfast have the same dilemma often they are preaching to the choir. (but if the choirs not there then it is very lonely)

 

 

 

Good Intentions- Day 5

Today began with great conviction to give away a lot of tracts. I was determined to make up for not distributing literature yesterday. The day began well I even received some bible ‘facts’ from a passerby who seemed delighted to take a leaflet and asked “did I know that God is mentioned more in Genesis than any other book of the Bible?” this he explained, had been told to him (via tape) by Billy Graham’s daughter, Anne Graham Lotz. He got her Genesis tape but wished he had the other tapes. He came back several times but didn’t say very much he left with a jaunty ” If you see her tell her I say hello!”

Another woman pleased to see tracts being distributed greeted me with a “Hallelujah, make sure and give those to the people who are going to Hell, I’m not going there!”

This was followed by about an hour of being pretty much ignored, then I began to offer anyone who looked lost help with directions. I thought it would be important to seem helpful and friendly and maybe that would help with distributing the tracts. I was busy laughing to myself having watched 3 people take a tract and then without even looking at it scrunch it up and throw it in the nearest bin, when a man said “what a nice smily face, where is Marks and Spencer’s?” I think because most people were throwing the tracts out I was keen that he would realise it wasn’t a real tract, after giving directions and handing him a tract he asked what it was about. He said he had four hours to kill waiting on a passport so he was happy to read it, I said that he would have time to phone the number and check the blog out in that time too, and time to realise it was an art project not really a religious thing. He laughed asked did I write it and off he went. I am a bit cross with myself for breaking my cover so I need a confident script to follow for the next tracts.

I am considering using a tagline on the rest of the series that reveals that the tracts are not religious, but I am aware there are consequences either way. I will continue to put the tracts up online as I am working on them and the finished works will be added after the originals are distributed.

My daily excuses ( the voicemail messages left on +447933999268) These excuses are the reasons I have not attended any part of the FIX festival, some (visiting my Grampa) are true others are fabricated or borrowed from people who have used them as reasons they cannot meet up with me. The work is taking responsibility for the nonsense reasons we all use for not attending things we had no intention of attending in the first place, the action is holding myself accountable for the excuses I give and after its completion I will make a concerted effort to attend more art exhibitions and support the arts in Belfast.

Good Intentions Day 4

What is the Spirit of Belfast?

How would we sum up the city as a whole? If you just look at the activities that happen round the sculpture with this title you can get a taster of several identities of Belfast – street Preachers, Street performers, break dancers, club promoters, accordion players and this all between 10 and 12 while I was assuming the role of tract giver on my 3rd day.

 

 

I am finding the pretence of this role very demanding and am grateful to be at home writing about the work rather than out there doing it. I am prepared for two more days giving out this tract but will I be comfortable with the next 11 tracts being so removed from the art context?

The first time I used tracts in an artwork it was in the relative safety of a gallery space (http://juliemillerart.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/come-let-me-lighten-your-ironing-load-after-the-show/), with these new tracts so close visually to religious tracts and the location giving no clues at all to this being a work of art I am aware of how clinging to art as your reason for doing something can be a comfort. I had decided that when asked by anyone about the project, apart from those who knew it was an artwork, that I would not reveal that it was but offer it as literature and hope that they would check the blog or phone the telephone number to discover more.

I need more incentive for people to call this number of a quicker trigger to make them realise it is not a normal tract, this is where the difficulty lies and will give me plenty to work on for my next tract.

 

 

 

Good Intentions FIX 2011 – Day 3

Today was the toughest day, I began at 10 as usual and a local man stationed himself next to me and began to tell me all about how awful it is that people who aren’t from the UK end up begging here. He believed that the Romanians, often seen playing musical instruments in Belfast City Centre, had paid off City Hall so they would be allowed the run of the City. He also suggested that the accordion contained a tape recording and that the man couldn’t even really play the accordion. He was angry, very angry but this all stemmed from hearing that a local man who lived on the streets had been sent to jail for a week for begging. He insisted the man didn’t openly ask for money so he shouldn’t even have been accused of begging.

After this man wandered off a local church (Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle)  set up a healing station and played Christian music whilst preaching. This is the first ‘direct competition’ I have faced. Passersby assumed I was with this Church and I became aware that those who accepted my tracts told the other people handing out literature that they already had one and in turn told me that they already had literature from someone else in my group. I explained I wasn’t with them and when one man asked who I represented I simply answered ‘someone else’. I swapped a tract with one of the Whitewell group which felt very odd.

Several people were outspoken about not want tracts and I felt strange to have their annoyance directed at me. One lady in particular was very annoyed at the tagline on my tract raising her voice saying ‘For Goodness Sake, Why do they always go on about Hell, I go to Chapel every Sunday, I felt bad not taking a tract but she deserves it!’ Another man asked ‘it that religious?’ I began to say ‘well if you read it’ . . . he interrupted saying ‘no’ he did not believe me, assuming I was trying to trick him into reading it anyway and pushed past. However it wasn’t those who were annoyed that unnerved me it was those who genuinely accepted the tracts with a ‘God Bless you’ or asked for a tract and seemed in genuine need. Are there really people who get comfort from reading tracts?

The majority of people rejected tracts today and the rejection is starting to feel personal, if this was my faith how would I feel? would it strengthen my conviction that these people need reached by God and see the delivery as my burden to bear or would the rejection slowly discourage me?

I will return to Cornmarket on Monday 10-12 I am aware that leaves tomorrow unattended but I feel that as its Remembrance Sunday and the shops would not be open yet that a true tract giver would not be there on a Sunday. These excuses for not fulfilling my Good Intentions to be there everyday will be available on the voicemail so call +447933999268 and feel free to leave a message!

Good Intentions FIX 2011 DAY 2

Today I realised how uncomfortable the pretence of being a Christian Literature giver is. It hit me hard when I noticed a woman I knew from my church-going years and wondered how she would have received this project. It was very slow going today I only managed to give away about 20 tracts, partially it was bad planning on my part as the deliveries for Victoria Square and the recycling trucks all arrived during the 10-12 time slot so I spent a considerable amount of time trying not to get run over.

I met a friend I studied with previously and on giving him a tract I instantly started babbling “it’s not what it looks like and its part of a performance festival”. I’m not sure if this was because I didn’t want him to think I was doing street Evangelism or because he is gay and I didn’t want him to think I held the views on homosexuality that are often associated with Christians.

The Good Intentions tract is a practical exploration of how the art scene in Belfast functions. How regularly we intend to attend art events and don’t make it or we rely on the opinion of others to form views of exhibitions we have not seen. The recent closure of Ormeau Baths Gallery seemed to shock a lot of my friends yet we were discussing the last time we had been and personally I havent attended since Hugh Mulholland left as Curator.

As part of the Good Intentions work I am not attending FIX 2011 which includes my work. The recorded phone messages contain my mundane excuses for missing the exhibition without giving details of what it is I am missing. They will be included on the blog along with transcripts of any messages that are left for me.  I have chosen 10-12 as my work ends before any other the other works start so it remains disjointed from the other performances which allows my work to remain unrecognised as art by the majority of passersby.

As this tract is the first of twelve each of the others will be informed by their predecessor and the work will evolve as changes are made and different approaches are tried.

Good Intentions

Cornmarket

10-12 again tomorrow

 

 

Good Intentions/FIX 2011 DAY 1

Literature Distribution

I have been distributing the literature from 10 – 12 today, I gave away just short of 70 tracts in the 2 hours. Many people refused to take the tracts but most people were friendly and politely took a tract without really looking to see what it was. I remained smiling regardless of the acceptance or refusal of each tract but was somewhat baffled by the few people who obviously wanted to be polite and helpful in taking a tract but could only retain ownership of it between myself and the nearest bin. Only 1 tract was openly discarded with a cry of “Oh my God she’s a Christian” which made me feel strangely defensive. Should I blow my cover say I’m a non-theist that this is an artwork? No, I chose to remain smiling and rush to pick the tract up before the wind carried it away or the litter warden who had been taking great interest in me for the duration decided to fine me for being the distributer of potential litter.

I had not expected to feel so strange handing out the literature alone. I was aware that most people would assume it was a Christian leaflet (with this being the point) but had not taken this to the logical conclusion that they would think of me as a Christian. Having been a Christian for several years it was a mixed feeling as I stood handing out the literature. Obviously true tracts are given in the hope of converting their reader to the Christian faith or at least awakening a question within them about whether God exists and what purpose he has in the life. I am keen to question the purpose of art in Belfast through these tracts and am keen to see if anyone phones the number included on the tracts to leave a message.

The venue of Cornmarket was chosen as it was regularly used by preachers to instruct and educate on the scriptures. With the ‘Spirit of Belfast’ replacing the old bandstand the meaning has shifted slightly but preachers can still be heard there occasionally. The space is mostly used now by promoters for local clubs and shops. These promoters have a definite style which identifies them from a distance before you ever see the leaflet they are distributing. I had chosen carefully to wear plain clothes, sensible trainers and a raincoat. The lack of fashion being a subconscious sign to passersby  that I was not promoting a business or event and inspired by other tract givers I have seen in Belfast.

 

The Good Intentions tract will be distributed again tomorrow from 10-12 in Cornmarket, Belfast.

Press Release Good Intentions

Press Release

Good Intentions
a public intervention by artist Julie Miller

Under the guise of Religious literature known as tracts and using a modern day parable Good Intentions is the first in a series of explorations. It tells the tale of an invitation accepted but unfulfilled. The work addresses the consequences of good intentions gone awry. Literature will be distributed daily. Participants are invited to call the number provided to hear an account of why that days intention remained unfulfilled.There will be a space to record your own failed good intention.

Thursday, 10th November to Tuesday, 15th November
10am – 12pm
Where: Cornmarket, Belfast

Contact: telephone number is provided on tract distributed daily during FIX
Blog:     makingsomethingsmallhappen.wordpress.com
and

juliemillerart.wordpress.com

Good Intentions is part of the 9th edition of FIX performance art festival will be held 10th-15th November 2011 in Catalyst Arts and around the city centre of Belfast. Blog: https://fix11.wordpress.com/

Julie Miller is an artist and currently undertaking the MA Art in Public course at the University of Belfast.
Blog: http://masterartinpublic.wordpress.com