Berkeley Art Museum redefines the ‘Possible’

Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

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No photography. No large bags or backpacks. Remain two feet away from the art. Most importantly: Do not touch the art.

While most museums force their visitors to distance themselves from the art displayed, the Berkeley Art Museum’s current evolving exhibition, “The Possible,” completely redefines the museum experience.

Gone are the rules that govern museum-goers the moment they enter the premises. At “The Possible,” visitors are encouraged to express their creativity alongside guest artists as they visit the workspaces that have replaced the galleries. Every Sunday during the course of the exhibition, the museum hosts different public workshops, inviting audiences to participate in discussions, performances and field trips.

Last Sunday, “The Possible” workshop included a DIY Club meeting for kids, a talk by scholar and UC Berkeley philosophy professor Alison Gopnik and a performance by Horaflora, as well as mail-art creation.

After Gopnik spoke on developmental psychology and play theory, eager children had the opportunity to involve themselves in the creative process that fuels the exhibit. Whether they chose to create clay sculptures in the Kids Club, make sound and video in “The Something” gallery or dance alongside the female dancers performing with Horaflora, children let their imaginations run wild. But he flow of creativity did not stop at the children.

In “The Something,” a gallery that looked more like a garage sale than a museum, people of all ages enjoyed sound-building and video-recording. The surreal, carnival-like space gave visitors access to wigs, costumes, keyboards, electric guitars, aluminum runways and distorting mirrors — everything they needed to translate their artistic visions. The sounds made by “The Something’s” visitors echoed throughout the entire museum, providing a live soundtrack to the space.

The soundtrack of the people was put on pause for a performance by Bay Area noise artist Horaflora. In its attempt to redefine live music, the band used balloons and CD’s as instruments, creating rather unpleasant squeaks and screeches. While certainly innovative and boundary-breaking, the music left audience members confused with no understanding of why traditional music boundaries needed to be broken.

On the main level of the exhibit, artists and guests gathered around a table to work on a mail-art project that involved sending old postcards and remnants of the past back to their location of origin. With a focus on the passage and reversion of time, the hope was to begin a correspondence with those who once possessed the articles sent through the timeloop.

Beyond entertaining and interactive, this experiment of an exhibit calls into question the role of a museum and artist, along with the purpose of art. In the world of contemporary art, the process and intention of the artist have gained increasing significance. No longer about product, the art world has emphasized what it means to be an artist rather than artistic technique.

As a consequence, the quality and worth of art is no longer measured by the technical skill of the artist. Moving work from a studio to a gallery to a museum has become little more than a game of finances. In an attempt to open up the art world, the world of art has become even more elitist.

Even though “The Possible” creates an environment that unquestionably focuses on process by involving the community in the process and creating a space that fosters collaboration, the elitist aspect of contemporary art vanishes. But does the art created belong in a museum? “The Possible” blurs the lines between community center and museum. If, however, the power of art lies within communication, creativity, exploration and expression, “The Possible” raises the question of why these lines should exist. By encouraging its visitors not only to touch, but also to create, art in the weekly public workshops, the exhibit allows everyone to experience the creative process — an experience far more impactful and valuable than the bystanding done at most museums.

“The Possible” runs at the Berkeley Art Museum until May 25. Entrance is free with a valid student ID.

Contact Sophia Weltman at [email protected].