What a stimulating afternoon spent in the company of a group of people who were keen to talk about the work and issues around it. We covered a lot of ground and tried to unpick some ideas which came up as the result of our chat about the exhibition – so many that it’s going to take a while for me to absorb and make sense of them.

I came to the gallery with the feeling that to talk about the relevance or merits of individual belief systems would, in a way, be to miss the point of Grayson’s work, which sets out, I think, to explore how and why people try to make sense of the world rather than to take a stance about religion as a whole. We talked about how perhaps the spiral format of the first works in the show, “Ways the World Ends”, makes them deliberately difficult to read, suggesting that, in this context, their content is less relevant than the fact that, as Grayson says, they each “constitute a truth for a number of people”.

“Seven Seals” from the series “Ways the World Ends”, Richard Grayson

This idea came up again during Thinking Aloud, when discussion about the importance given to The Magpie Index by the huge screen installation within a small space brought up the question of why such emphasis should be placed upon the ideas of one individual, regardless of how considered and reasoned those ideas and opinions might be. A comment amused me from a lady who said that listening to The Magpie Index was like “being trapped at a dinner party with someone who didn’t know when to stop”.

The Magpie Index, Richard Grayson

More questions about The Magpie Index came up: why is it so long? Are people really expected to spend 80 minutes listening to one man’s opinions? Is a gallery space really the right place to show it? Would we be happier to watch it on tv as a documentary? Slowly our thinking began to come round to the idea that actually, maybe we’re not supposed to watch it all. Perhaps the fact it is so long can be compared to the spiral format of “Ways the World Ends”, transferring attention from the content of the monologue to the portrayal of the struggles of a man who, like the scientists of Hadron Colliders, is grappling with difficult questions; trying to find a way to explain the unexplainable.

In more discussions about the presentation and content of the video pieces, we touched upon ideas about what might contribute to making people believe the unbelievable: the authority given to words by various means both in print and presentation; the physical and emotional momentum built by the power of music and singing or chanting; the security offered by being part of a community sharing a common belief.

The last few of us to remain at the end of the afternoon finished with a discussion about the benefits and value of this sort of informal exchange of thoughts and ideas, through which we were able to pick at some of the knotty problems and questions which we found in this thought provoking work.

Posted by Ryan Coleman on Saturday 30 January 2010