When someone asks me what kind of artist am I, I reply that I have a socially engaged practice. ‘What does that mean?’ Many ask with a confused look on their face. Most of my work can’t happen without some kind of engagement with one or more participants. Through my practice, I hope to facilitate dialogues between artist and participant, participant and participant, and artist, participant and the work. When one works in this socially engaged way, one never quite knows if an event is going to be successful. I try to say to myself, ‘that it is art and therefore cannot fail’. Yes, it is possible that an event might not turn out as I had hoped but it cannot ‘fail’. The worst that can happen is that no one turns up or that they don’t engage as I had hoped and so I learn and make adjustments for next time.
Croshare at the Site Festival exceeded my expectations. People did show up and they engaged in ways that were surprising, exciting and fun. They were generous with their time and energy and they were open minded about what Croshare was all about. Our very first participant arrived with a cup of tea and a slice of cake and asked if we minded if she tucked in as we chatted. ‘Not at all’, we replied with a huge smile, ‘In fact, that is just the kind of participation that we love.’
At one point, I looked around the room and saw concentrated faces as beginners got to grips with a new skill that, to be honest, is very tricky to master. Those faces were also soon smiling and animated as they chatted with their ‘neighbour’ not only about crochet, but also about their lives. Experienced crocheters passed on their skills to complete strangers and contact details were swapped as new friendships were formed – and promises to meet up in a café soon were made.
As an artist, this kind of engagement thrills me. Sometimes, art practice can be a lonely affair. That is why I choose to collaborate. I was never going to be the kind of artist who creates whilst alone in a studio cave. To me, art is a group effort and working together is fun. I am always amazed at how generous and receptive participants are and despite the jitters that I get before any event, I have never yet had one ‘fail’.
All photography © Dan McDermott