From the unexplained workings of the universe to the random everyday interactions we have with the people and places around us, chance is everywhere. It adds danger to our lives but is also what makes life interesting. It provides liberation from the impression of order or routine that can govern our sense of reality. And by breaking ‘the rules’, chance helps us to experience and understand the world anew, welcoming in the freedom to play.
For these reasons, it’s little surprise that chance has proven to be one of the most fertile sources of creativity for many artists over the last century – from the Dada and Surrealist’s first systematic explorations onwards (and arguably well before). Expect the Unexpected, a new exhibition opening at the Lowry this summer, turns its attention to the subject, bringing together works by major contemporary artists, including Yoko Ono (who headlines this year’s MIF), Gillian Wearing and Keith Tyson, who intentionally seek chance out and devise ways to foreground it within their practice.
The exhibition is chiefly inspired by John Cage’s landmark 4’33” – a ‘silent’ performance experienced differently each time it is given as the ambient noises of the audience and space ‘create’ the piece. Indeed, it could be said that Cage made the art of chance a discipline in itself through his attempts to eradicate the authority of the composer in his Variations series and other works.
Highlights of the show will include a video of Ono’s famous ‘Cut Piece’ (1964) – a classic example of one of her instruction-based ‘scores’ – where the audience was asked to cut away pieces of her clothing; the different ways in which they chose to interpret or perform the task providing the content of the piece. Wearing’s iconic ‘Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say’ (1992-3) – a photographic series based on the thoughts of the random people she passed on a busy London street – will also feature, alongside other pieces such as Joel Goodman’s photograph of Manchester city centre on New Year’s Day in 2016 which went viral.
The mechanisms of society often seek to eradicate the element of danger and threat posed by chance. Yet, experienced together, the artworks in this exhibition should remind us to re-connect with the beauty and joy it can offer. To celebrate the unexpected, as well as to expect it.
The full list of artists includes: Mark Bloomfield, Greig Burgoyne, Joel Goodman, Paul Kenny, Yoko Ono, Eugenie Scrase, Sarah Sze, Merel Theloesen, Keith Tyson and Gillian Wearing.