To what extent can you prevent hazards in life? By over-regulating our lives in the name of safety, aren’t we waiving the whole essence of life away? In his artwork “Health and safety violation #7, 9/10 of an iceberg is hidden from view”, the artist Ben Woodeson meditates on the disclaimer concept. On the floor of the exhibition hall there are countless small metal beads. To enjoy the artwork, the viewer may tread on the small balls. However, before you can enter the area, there is a massive sign blocking the entry, asking the viewer to sign a liability waiver first, in case an accident happens while treading on the balls.
There is a discrepancy between the size of the disclaimer note is and how big the accident risk truly is; the disclaimer occupies a considerable space, as well as attention, in the artwork. The harmless little beads on the floor seem quite puny in relation to the disclaimer. The effect is that walking on the metal beads is now impossible without constantly thinking about the health hazards proclaimed. The whole experience is tainted with thoughts of danger! Of course, the probability of anyone hurting themselves on the beads is infinitesimally small. Yet this possibility always exists, as you can never rule out the effects of chance in your life.
Seeing the artwork in Kunsthal Charlottenborg in Copenhagen, Denmark, (on the final day of the exhibition,) I very much enjoyed the subtle comedy conjured by the artwork experience. Great humor concerning a very current issue!
Here’s a short interview with the artist Ben Woodeson:
hanbablog: “How many people actually asked for the rights waiver form at the reception??”
B.W.: I’m not sure, I’ve emailed the gallery to ask, but it was certainly true that the crowd on the opening night really went for it. I’d guess a couple of hundred actually signed and entered. Of course that has to be seen in the context of an opening night crowd of maybe 2500! An awful lot of the crowd was content to simply watch. Those who entered really got into the work, but in a strange way so did those who although reluctant to assume the risk were still deriving pleasure from it (the work) existing and from the fact that people were actually in there doing it.
It was also very interesting that the degree of risk was relevant; there is a theory that we each have a personal “level” of risk that we are willing to take, for example when compulsory seat belt use in cars was made law in the UK, the injuries and deaths for car drivers and passengers went down, but there was a marked increase in the accidents and injuries suffered by other road users. So we can extrapolate that the car drivers were driving faster and taking more risks as they felt safer. When I was presenting the liability waiver form on the opening night of the exhibition, the choice of words and the intonation had a very clear effect on people’s decision whether to sign or not. There is an incredibly, ridiculously small risk that a person could die as a result of the work, falling head backwards onto a ball for example, so interestingly, if I used terms like “risk of death or severe injury” rather than just “risk of severe injury” people were statistically much less likely to enter the work, even though the evidence provided by their eyes was of course the same.
hanbablog: “Are you working on more health and safety violation projects? If so, what materials will you will be using?”
B.W.: This Saturday, I have work in an open exhibition selected by the artist Mark Wallinger, a series of mobile trip wires rise and fall 35cm: Health & Safety Violation #8 – Randomly Activated Tripwires will be up on my web site next week, but this was the original proposal drawing:
I also have the Borstal space show opening next Friday, I’m making two new violation works for their space, people will have to negotiate their way past an electric fence intended for livestock, which will be located in the space outside the gallery. It will also be impossible to get to the bar without either crossing the fence or persuading someone else to get your beer for you… Once in the gallery space, a motion detector will activate a chunky electric motor resting against the wall. The context for this is that Borstal Space is a shipping container, and the motor is actually a vacuum pump, so as the viewer enters, the door closes, the motor switches on and the atmosphere is being sucked out of the space. The longer they stay, the higher the risk of suffocation becomes… again, images will be on the web site soon.
Hanba is very thankful to Mr. Woodeson for granting the interview!! 🙂
The exhibition in Copenhagen has now closed. To see more of Woodeson, you can check out Creekside Open exhibition at APT gallery in Deptford, London starting June 6th. Also, there is a show called “Evacuation” opening on the 12th June at Borstal Space (a new artist run venue near to London Fields in Hackney, London). In both, Woodeson will be exhibiting more “dangerous” works.
Link to hanba’s earlier post the myth of insurances.
Ps. Confession: hanba entered the artwork without signing the waiver… please don’t tell anyone of this violation…
Ps 2. The next post will be about highways in Tibet and Milan Kundera’s novel Slowness.