I created my first Room on The Edge in Barcelona in 2002. I was doing my MA in Fine Art and this was my first art installation, ever.
Literally presented with a white cube of an exhibition space and a opening date I couldn’t get out of – it was part of the course to put on your own solo exhibition – I racked my brains for a while of what kind of amazingly creative and different show I could put together. I agonized about it – I’d done painting exhibitions lots of times before and had always secretly admired those crazy installation artists -
‘Call that art?’ I can hear my father mocking!
‘But what do you know about that type of art anyway?’ I can hear myself trying to sabotage any attempts to try something new and unknown.
But I had to do something for this show and, as my thinking would have it, I envisioned white on white – something quite subtle and so I started to get on with it. Intuition at full power, caution to the wind, I found myself in the shop next door asking to borrow their supermarket label gun – you know, the type that bar codes have almost made extinct. Then I bought rolls and rolls of white labels to use with it.
The shop owners needed the label gun during the day, so I borrowed it every evening and set about covering the entire white cube with white labels, one next to the other in as straight rows as I could stick them, or gun them, to the walls – obviously I couldn’t make them straight, so there were some wobbly bits, but I decided that was ok. I needed a wow factor, so I borrowed a fluorescent light from some friends who’d just had a party and positioned it deep in a corner of the label-covered cube.
When I turned it on, it transformed the space – bathed in a blue fluorescent glow, the humble labels suddenly seemed to have a life of their own, jumping about on the walls, almost dancing with each other, whereas before you could hardly see them at all – you just had the sense that there was something on the walls – you had to squint to see them. It was amazing the difference.
As students and tutors came to see it, I had comments like, ‘it’s so peaceful, like being underwater’, ‘it’s beautiful and calming’, ‘I feel like I’m swimming’… and so on. A few thousand little moonlit actions of sticking labels on the wall had created something else, something very special to myself and other people.
And yes, there were lots of ‘wow!’s.
On the evening of the opening, the first people to visit the exhibition were a family who literally saw the poster for ‘Autoadhesiva’ (self-sticking) as I’d titled the exhibition, outside in the street as they were passing and came in out of curiosity.
They stepped into the cube and looked up and around, open-mouthed, gaping like tourists, eyes full of wonder – what was this all about?
It took me 4 long nights shooting labels to cover the entire 27 square metres of walls from top to bottom, or bottom to top, I can’t quite remember!
Their four-year old little girl stepped forward to one of the walls and put out her hands to touch the labels to find out what they were.Her parents looked at me ‘Is that ok?’ and I nodded.
With an excited smile, she proceeded to peel off two or three of the labels and stick them back on the wall in a slightly different place, just like children are supposed to, a bit more wonky and out of line. She was delighted. Her parents were horrified – this was totally outside of their comfort zone. I loved it and laughed. She’d connected with it. It didn’t matter. I still smile thinking about that beautiful moment.
In my Room on The Edge, my own edges, my self-imposed boundaries, my own comfort zone had been moved and expanded. I’d grown. I’d taken a risk and done something I’d never done before, without having a clue if I could do it. It was something I’d imagined for ages that only other people – ‘specialists’ could do. I went through doubt, fear, hard work and ultimately transformation in the process. Most of all I enjoyed it, I learnt something about myself and other people and I felt more alive and present and more like the myself I know I am for attempting it.
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Room on The Edge – Where’s Yours?
If you’d like to see more of my artwork, please hop across to Michelle Rumney: Fine Art // Photography