Maree Bracker talks of her installation Desire Lines, which was recently exhibited at the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane. She discusses the work’s relationship with fractal time, the rewards and risks of ephemeral interactive art practice and the place of ritual in art.
Kim Mahood One point which you made in earlier discussion is that all your work is related to time. Would you like to expand on that?
Maree Bracker In my reading of philosophy, it seems that at the crux of a description of reality is a construction of time.
So, it appears that if I'm going to make sense of my life and of this reality, the first thing I need to grapple with is what time means-both what it means to me personally, and how the world I live in is constructed through certain understandings o f time.
One central idea that I came across was that time is a system in which the events in one moment actually create the next moment. This affects our ideas of memory, a bout how we construct our past, our present and our future, and again, this thing about boundaries. There are no boundaries. It's a continuous cycle.
But we need to create boundaries in order to function.
Yes, if you can't construct your time frames then where do you start with any type of thinking? That seems to me to be the first layer of construction.
So how would you relate that into this work, given that you had a long contemplative time to create it, and then it was destroyed very quickly?
That's what I'm reflecting upon now, and I don't know really what it means for me yet. I find the ephemeral aspects of work very satisfying, there's a mini-cycle, and maybe a cycle that I control with the work. It's not a beginning, though, because there are streams that come from past things. But I intervene in that stream at a particular time which I might call the beginning.
That stream you're talking about is your own stream?
It's my own stream, but I intersect with a lot of other streams-other people, society, the events that I'm living through. Some of those events are in my internal landscape and some are intrusions from outside. So the stream is an inter-penetration of those two things.
When you were constructing the work, how were you relating the elements that were actually in the installation to your ideas of time?
They come from my interest in an idea posited by Jean Houston, that there are time fractals, just as there are spatial fractals, fractal patterns in geometry.
Fractals being the patterns that are repeated on a smaller and smaller scale, maintaining the same pattern no matter how small one goes?
Or larger and larger, so there are similarities that happen at different scales. The idea that I took from Jean Houston was about time fractals: the possibility that moments of experience are linked over time back into the past and into the future, and I'm suggesting also across dimensions of time. How we get from one experience to another is what I'm calling a desire line. That's taking the architectural, spatial meaning of the term 'desire lines', which is used in the situation where an architect has designed a space with paths for people to walk through, but people actually go from one point to another in their own way.
They choose their own pathway?
Yes, and those pathways are called desire lines by some architects. My point is that these bits in time which have a self-similarity are linked by what I call temporal desire lines. These ideas form a theoretical landscape that I have constructed for myself to inhabit in order to think about wider issues.
I decided that the sites of action in the installation, with which viewers would interact, would involve actions that are very common, like pressing one's thumb or tying. When an individual does that simple action of tying, it is connected then with every other action of tying in their lives, both past and future. I've intercepted that action in the installation, and it's become a time fractal, as has the plucking of the string and the broom. The actions needed to be reasonably mundane – actions that could be part of people's lives. People will, in a sense, always carry with them a part of that work because they've intervened and every time they repeat that action they'll be linked back.
And you've made an intervention in their lives, so your life has crossed through theirs at that point and remains there.
It's also about body memory. You know how once you're familiar with a certain action, for instance riding a bike, then every time you ride a bike it's connected to every other time you've ridden a bike.
What about the floor design of the talcum powder, is it part of that relationship?
No, that wasn't connected. The talc came from my desire to make the floor part of the landscape that I was creating. In a way it was the unfamiliar. I let the audience into the space to do these very familiar actions but I also had the opposite, a very unfamiliar rhythm, where the body memory was experiencing something unfamiliar as well as something very familiar.
So you're dislocating one kind of expectation and fulfilling another?
Yes, and the floor was very much my stuff; it has things to do with my history, the way I've laid out floors in other installations.
So that's where you're linking back in your own time fractal.
One of the other things I was thinking about in the work was that when people came into the space, the floor would almost swamp them in its visual effect. They had to negotiate that to come to the sites of intervention. I wasn't making it easy for them. However, people found a way to move through that space very easily and that was to disregard the pattern on the floor.
Obviously at the time it felt as though they were disregarding something that you had established and had assumed they would regard, at least to some extent. That throws control back into your court, doesn't it?
Yes, and I think now, that it would have been disappointing if people had tip-toed through and not acted as they did. I wouldn't have got so much back from the work. I realised all of this when it was going on, and I was able to observe myself. This is a new experience for me, because in my other works, people have followed the rules.
Let's talk about the process of laying the work down, what you anticipated would occur and what actually did occur.
When the floor was complete, I was anticipating that there would be two processes, that people would add to the work on the wall, which would grow, while the order of the floor would become disorder. I thought it would be gradual, from extreme order to less order, so it was quite a surprise that the order of the floor dissolved in one night.
So you wanted it to be interactive, but you imagined it would still be, to some extent, upon your terms?
Absolutely. On one level I envisaged what happened, that was my area of risk. On an intellectual level I was prepared for it, but at an emotional level I wasn't prepared. It showed up those two aspects of how I come to the work and how I interact with my working process. I guess it's a tension between the intellectual and conceptual parts of the work, and my intuitive and intimate relationship with it when I'm doing it. On the night of the opening those two parts of the work were brought into opposition and I had to deal with that.
You were obviously confronted at some level by the chaos.
When I saw people running through the powder, on one level I was saying "that's exactly what I set up-when I set that up I had these parameters and this is what I've allowed," and on the other hand I was saying "but there could have been more reflective actions". Because I had such an intimate relationship with the space I guess I was looking down that particular narrow field, and I had an expectation that other people's experience of the relationship with the work would be similar to mine. Of course that's not so, and I wouldn't expect it and I wouldn't want it on any other level, but that's how I was feeling on an emotional level.
What was the main impact it had on you?
I've just been through a process where I was feeling that one has to let things go. I was telling myself to "open this out and take the next step", then "to open it out more" -really it's like taking a position of vulnerability. Now I'm saying to myself that I don't have to be that vulnerable, I can actually say "no, I'm not going to go that far". I'll allow people to participate, but I'm the artist and these are my terms. However, I needed to go to the end of that continuum to know that I can stand in the middle somewhere. My move from making objects to installation has been on this continuum too. I've wanted people to be in the space of the work, not just in the physical space but to be more involved in the psychological space of the work.
Your work is often interactive, why is that?
For me it's been to have a sense of connection, I need to feel connected to the audience. I don't want to be an artist who never comes into contact with the audience, so I've gone out of my way to find ways to allow that contact, and that's been mainly to give people a part of the work. I also have an interest in ritual, and in what ritual in art might be.
I'm curious as to what you think about the place of ritual in art. Do you think that, given the lack of other forms of spiritual space for ritual in our culture, that art is a place for those things to occur?
For me the creative process is transformative. I don't believe art is religion, but what I'm talking about is a sort of bleeding between those areas. I think it's a pity that our society has put art here, religion there, science there, and I guess I'm trying to find a way to connect them on some levels. Though I don't have an expectation that people who come into the spaces where my work is will have a religious experience. That's not part of it. But I do think there can be something very exciting about people coming into an art space and having some sort of transformative experience. It mightn't be a spiritual experience but it can be transformative. Perhaps less in this work than in the work I did for the exhibition, Mater, in 1993, where I asked people to write the name of their mother on a piece of linen and to sew it to a shield. Because of its archetypal and other symbolic content that work can probably more easily be seen in terms of ritual.
It's not that I see this work itself as a ritual, but that I've looked at the construction of ritual, I've been involved in actions with other people that have allowed some sort of transformative process. So what I want to do is to take some of that and to see if I can locate it within my art, to allow the possibility of an interaction that is more than an intellectual or an analytical process, even if people come in and simply feel happy or amused. It's really a letting go of parameters and inviting the possibility of other things happening. I think now, after doing this piece, that given the possibility, a lot of other things will happen, too. The removal of all filters doesn't necessarily mean that you only get what you expect. Rather you will have to come to terms with the unexpected. To me that has a spiritual dimension, because it challenges me in particular ways to think about my own life.
You often work outside galleries, but with this exhibition you've intersected with the edifice of the art world. How do you see your relationship with that edifice?
I must say I haven't thought about it much. I often feel I don't fit in, that my concerns aren't the concerns of many people who seem very active. But that's fine. It's quite a novelty to be showing in a gallery. It's not a compromise. But if I'm not exhibiting in a gallery usually that doesn't mean that I don't have an art practice. I've always got an independent practice. My art practice is woven closely into the other cycles of my life. Every part of my life is fodder or fuel for my work.
Maree Bracker and Kim Mahood are Queensland-based artists. Both work predominantly with installation.