A key aspect of David Wilson's artistic practice lies in creating spaces that nurture creativity and collaboration. Initially, this meant something as simple as organizing events in the woods at which artists could connect and perform together. Now, he is attempting something much bigger than that. After more than a year of preparation, Wilson has brought together more than one hundred artists to take over the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley), transforming it into The Possible — an experimental exhibition in which the museum visitors become the artists.
The exhibit (if we can call it that) offers opportunities for engagement such as a textile studio, an inspiration library, an experimental music studio, and an inhabitable wooden sculpture for children. To facilitate participation, Wilson has invited a host of artists to come in every Sunday and oversee workshops at different stations, allowing visitors to get ink on their hands and clay under their fingernails. Then, participants are asked to leave their artwork to be displayed, rather than take it home. In that way, the exhibit is shaped by the community, even if that may feel counterintuitive for both participants and planners. "In working with an institution, there's a lot of times when you have to describe what's happening, whether it's through grant-writing or through calendar announcements .... It just became clearer and clearer that we needed to communicate that this is a show that begins unformed," said Wilson.
He aims to recalibrate this uneasiness toward interacting with art in a museum setting by highlighting the potential for museums to serve as creative hubs in communities rather than simply institutions for passive learning. When we walk into museums, we automatically hush our voices, slow our pace, and keep our hands to our sides. The Possible loudly calls attention to the constructedness of the public's relationship to museums and art, breaking the distinctions between viewer and artist, process and product, and museum and studio in a way that expands rather than restricts the visitors' agency.
One way that Wilson accomplishes this is by giving the space an intimate, DIY aesthetic. Galleries feel homey because of the artifacts left by participants — the screen-prints on worktables and drying ceramics on shelves — which cleverly allow visitors to help welcome others by making the space their own. Perhaps the best example of this effect is the massive, crocheted rug that artist Fritz Haeg has situated in the center of the museum. Strips of fabric are strewn to the sides of it, and every once in a while someone will pick one up and crochet it onto the outer ring of the rug, contributing to a common ground on which visitors may converse and collaborate.
The name for the show refers to Wilson's interest in the latent, untapped potential of experiences, places, and people. "I think that idea of potential is really important to try something this experimental and kind of tap into the playful improvisation of a situation," he said. Indeed, the Sunday gatherings do display a sense of improvisation in that the workshops aren't structured in the way that an art class might be. Participants aren't given specific tools, tasks, or directions, but instead are treated as equals to the artists. The result is a consistent, slightly awkward situation in which newcomers will hover around a worktable or an artist and await instruction. Then comes the powerful moment when they realize they can do whatever they want, and go for it. It is in that moment that the show's key lesson is learned — the realization of one's potential in the face of unlimited possibility.
The Possible runs through May 25. Opening ceremony on Friday, February 28. $10; $7 for seniors, students, and youths age 13-17; free for members, UC Berkeley students and staff, and children under age 12. 510-642-0808 or BAMPFA.Berkeley.edu