This year we are shining a spotlight on our AMA conference 2018 — The Power of Play speakers, finding out how ‘play’ helps them in their organisations.
The third speaker under the spotlight is Alice Procter, creator of The Exhibitionist and Uncomfortable Art Tours:
What does ‘The Power of Play’ mean to you?
Play might not be an obvious theme in my work. I teach and write mainly about the history of colonialism and empire, with all the violence, racism and pain that accompanies that. My Uncomfortable Art Tours grew out of the research I started at uni, looking at how national identity is created and enacted in museums and galleries: the idea behind them is to create a discursive space in those institutions, to unravel their stories and critique their history. My work isn’t exactly fun, but it is playful – it subverts the expectations of what a museum is, and brings in contemporary political debate. It’s all about creative, collaborative learning, through storytelling.
When you go into museums or art galleries, you are interacting with an official narrative. There are curatorial choices in everything, from lighting to display technologies, to what’s actually on show. We bring our own narratives in too, and experience everything through our own personal contexts: no two visitors have the same encounter. I think that’s something that institutions have to learn to embrace, because ultimately they can only provide a space to act in, but it’s not alive until there’s an audience there. The audience has all the power, but they don’t necessarily know it. That’s the space we can play in.
What is the biggest risk you have ever taken, as part of your job?
When I was organising exhibitions with my university’s art society, we ran an event on destruction. Somehow, we persuaded the uni to let us have a fire in the middle of the quad! We had basically no budget and no experience, but they let us light a brazier so people could burn drawings and work they weren’t happy with. The event was completely wild, so cathartic and chaotic. We could have burnt down a listed building (and we did spend a few hours scrubbing paint off the walls…) but somehow we pulled it off.
Did that risk pay off and what did you learn from it?
You can get away with basically anything if you’re wearing a high-vis jacket and holding a clipboard.
None of the exhibitions or projects I’ve run have ever had official approval or anything more than a tiny budget, which is terrifying, but it means that I’ve learnt to attract an audience with basically nothing but enthusiasm and an idea. My tours started as free events with absolutely no plan, my podcast was originally recorded on my phone, and last year I crowdfunded an exhibition for the first time. I’ve been so lucky to make this work, because it requires a huge amount of privilege and support, but I’ve got pretty good at asking for forgiveness, not permission. I could plan forever, but at some point you just have to start and see what happens.
What are you most looking forward to about AMA conference 2018?
I’m so keen to meet people! And for the inevitable conference twitter jokes. I’m also planning a high-speed gallery crawl of Liverpool, there’s so much to see, so if anyone wants a museum date let me know…
What do you hope delegates will get out of your session?
A little bit of fun, but hopefully some creative ideas for tackling controversial and painful subjects. I hope I can encourage having the bravery to talk about traumatic history, welcome subversion, and learn to embrace radical forms of storytelling.
24 — 26 July | ACC Liverpool
Member rate: £518 + VAT
Non-member rate: £577 + VAT
Our full list of rates can be found on the AMA conference 2018 web page.