Steven Duval, Abergreen: A Social Laboratory, Peacock Visual Arts, Aberdeen, 8 April – 24 June 2005.

Review first published, ‘a-n’, July 2005.

Steven Duval, ‘Abergreen: A Social Laboratory’, 2005 (installation shot)

With July’s salient case-study of G8 dignitaries convening behind the impressive perimeter fence which surrounded Perthshire’s Gleneagles Hotel, much recent civic and artistic attention in Scotland has understandably been focused on what opportunities there are beyond the occasional non-proportional election for individuals to discursively engage with issues of public concern.

As the second artist of Peacock Visual Arts’ ambitious ‘Locale’ residencies, Steven Duval has presented a series of possibilities for public participation in debate about the environmental ecology of Aberdeen City. Here, Duval continues his long-standing interest in protecting the ideal of a vital public domain through the construction of innovative instances of micro-public happenings. And Peacock, as Aberdeen’s contemporary art trailblazer, continues to make clear its determination to be a generator of accessible discourse of ‘glocal’ significance.

‘Abergreen: A Social Laboratory’ transforms Peacock’s gallery space into an opportunity for the general public to be collective authors of the work by taking part in various activities, from ongoing computer simulations of social spaces, to open reading groups. But, as Duval knows from previous projects, even when you present your local public with a chance to engage, how can you ensure that they turn up? Well you can’t, and this presents a thorny problem for all relational art practice.

Yet, however pious this sounds, a civil society can’t afford not to present, via cultural and political mechanisms, open forums for the exploration of matters of public import. What’s more, it will take the persistence of artists like Duval and organisations like Peacock to firstly dismantle perimeter fences and to thereafter tutor a public accustomed to being non grata in how to step forward into discourse in the spirit of collective interest. As part of that agenda Duval and Peacock continue to excite.

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