Tony O’Keefe set gallery visitors loose on his latest sculpture / March 2017
In March 2017 Artbay Gallery Exclusive Exhibitions (our brand-new exhibition space in the Eichardt’s building) played host to creative live performances from sculptor Tony O’Keefe and adventurous Queenstown art collective Pick Up Sticks.
The live performances, dubbed ‘The Autumn Psyphony’ began with a large steel and concrete sculpture.
“It started out as a single structure, this ‘Psyphon’ machine,” said Tony.
“It’s actually a psychic transmitter, designed to take an artist’s idea and transmit it into the minds of the public.”
One such idea is the reusability of materials used in Tony’s artwork. Much of Tony’s work is created from recycled steel he has found and hoarded in his studio for many years. Chunks of the demolished Remarkables NZSki base building, old oil barrels and everyday metallic objects can be found in his sculptures. In ‘The Autumn Psyphony’, these discarded materials are picked up again, handled and played with by the participating audience.
After Tony and the Pick Up Sticks team set the original structure up in Artbay’s Exclusive Exhibitions space, on Friday 17th March the public were invited to get involved and move some of the 150 steel bars which made up the structure. The interactive art experience saw people of all ages gets hands on with Psyphon and make their own impression on the piece. This phase was called ‘Making FreedoM’. The result was a colourful and chaotic piece with many personalities, brought to the artwork by the many personalities who helped to shape it.
A week later, the piece transformed again in front of a live audience. This time called ‘The Sum of All Fears’, the bars were arranged into a valley shape, framing two characters, a sculpture depicting an elder and young boy. The audience was again invited to move around some of the steel bars and shapes incorporated in the Psyphon structure; a ruler, a spatula, an electronic gadget, an upturned cross. Each item represented the fears and difficulties a young man often faces when walking down the path, or valley, towards adulthood.
“Domestic duties, warfare, governments, religions; they’re all things which historically have or currently do trip up a young man on his journey into adulthood,” said Tony.
Tony maintained more control over this phase of the artwork’s transformation and developed a system whereby the audience could only move certain pieces. However, the public’s involvement and interaction with the piece were still a major part of the artwork’s final form.
After three live performances and some final arrangements by Tony O’Keefe and the Pick Up Sticks collective, the finished artwork is now for sale at Artbay Gallery Exclusive Exhibitions. The piece can still be tweaked and altered; it is not a passive artwork, but one which invites hands-on on interaction by the ‘viewer’.
Why go to such lengths to create an interactive piece?
“The idea came in part from visits to major art galleries as a child,” said Tony.
“All those ‘Do Not Touch’ signs and red velvet ropes… you could never get close to the art, never mind touch them. I’m in favour of people having tactile experiences with art, I like the idea that people can engage with, touch and feel the artwork.”