22.09.06 — 22.10.06 ‘The Great Travelling Art Exhibition’, Ben Long

‘The Great Travelling Art Exhibition’ is an ongoing public art project that I started in 2001. Under this ‘umbrella’ title I devise activities which attempt to engage an audience who might otherwise have little or no involvement in the visual arts. By doing this I hope to make art a surprising and integral part of our everyday lives and to encourage individual growth through involvement and participation in the project.

For the first phase of ‘The Great Travelling Art Exhibition’ I have created a series of drawings by removing the dirt that collects on the rear shutters of haulage trucks. The majority of these drawings have been created at New Covent Garden Market, London. They are done using only my fingers. Working directly onto the surface is a process I enjoy because it is much less remote than using a brush or a pencil to make a mark. On leaving the market the vehicles travel around the country making their regular deliveries, taking my drawings into the wider world for the public to see. Each drawing takes me two or three hours to create and may be visible on the truck for up to six months. Most of the drawings are unsolicited, but usually I attempt to meet with the driver of the vehicle and travel with him to document the artwork. This process enables me to strike up unlikely friendships and create a lasting record of art in a transient state.

During the period of 1996 to 2001 I studied art and funded my education by working as a laborer in the academic holidays. Scaffolding Sculptures, the second phase of ‘The Great Travelling Art Exhibition’, is inspired partly by the experiences and attitudes I encountered during this time in the construction industry. For this project I have used conventional scaffolding materials to form the basis of a sculptural kit. The scaffolding has been transported to different building sites around the UK where I have constructed sculpture from this kit. Generally it takes a working week to complete each sculpture. Once again, this is an artwork that exists in a temporary state and the sculpture is erected and remains for a period agreed with the contractors or until the time of site completion. When the piece is eventually dismantled the components are transported to the next venue where another permutation is attempted. The constant evolution of sculpture ensures that many people get to see the work first hand, the artwork remains integral to the building environment and I continue to develop my skill as a Scaffolding Sculptor.

There are several common threads that run through both phases of ‘The Great Travelling Art Exhibition’, the first being the type of images I have chosen to work with. These images are selected on their ability to communicate and appeal to a mass audience. They are archetypes. e.g. themes that we might see employed in logos, on pub signs, in picture post cards, on key rings, and they can often be interpreted as idealised expressions of power, love, grace, nature, freedom etc. Crucially, they are images familiar in domestic and decorative art and reflect the tastes typical of many UK households.

Another obvious similarity is the temporal nature of the two works. In both cases it is likely that the physical lifespan of the art will not exceed a six month time period. Although this is fleeting, I believe it is this quality that makes each piece compelling to the viewer. Furthermore, while we might associate this impermanence with fragility, my own personal view is that both the drawings and the sculptures are surprisingly robust.

Finally, in both projects it has been my intension to re-contextualise materials we might normally consider ugly by making something beautiful from them. My hope with The Great Travelling Art Exhibition is to inspire thoughts on transforming the mundane, seeing art in the uninspiring and repetitive that is part of daily life.

Ben Long 2006