The People’s Tartan - A socially engaged participatory artwork

Published on 22 November 2023

Ian Coleman, MFA Art & Humanities student at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, speaks of the importance of involving community in artwork.

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As a part-time student of MFA Art & Humanities, Ian Coleman gave insight into his ongoing artworks and projects reflecting his views that individuals are at the core of society, and collectively more can achieved as a community. His artworks also touch on ideas of individuality, connectivity, inclusivity, repetition, and the temporary nature of existence. They are a representation of community, an interplay of intention. 

“There are a lot of people out there who feel they have little or no perceived connection to art, even though it is all pervasive and touches them all the time through design, architecture etc. Likewise, there is a viewpoint that the art world and academia has little to do with the ‘real world’ and operates in a bubble. I like to think that I can straddle these two ideas by taking my artworks to the people directly.” 

Ian’s practice can be described as long durational, socially engaged participatory artwork.  This involves him asking passers-by if they would like to become a part of an artwork by signing their names. The participants then become a part of the artwork through the act of confirmation i.e. to sign one’s name.  

“Most of the time, people get it straight away, but sometimes I explain to them that this was a blank piece of paper last week, and its only through people agreeing to participate that it reveals itself as an artwork. Without people getting involved it would still be piece of white paper.”

“I invite people into a creative space where they can make a statement by becoming part of an artwork. The process of signing one’s name can be described as a conscious act by an unconscious hand. Sometime people are invited to do a ‘big Rock'n'roll autograph’, or to do a ‘big shout out’, which is something they may never get a chance to do again.’ In this way it becomes a positive experience. Some have gone so far as to name it ‘an exercise in positivity!”

The idea behind the artwork came to Ian in 1987 when he was studying art at Dundee College. “I had an idea to try and do this thing. Nobody, including me, really knew what it was at that point.” After producing a piece depicting the Dundee Law which he produced in one day, and later in 1992 another piece completed in Valencia, Spain, it seemed that the idea had ran its course. 

“As a young guy from a Dundonian working class background I had no idea where to take it. I went on to work in Spain for a while, coming back to Dundee to work in bars, before ‘settling down’ and getting a ‘proper job’. “ 

Following his acceptance on to the MFA-Humanities course, he decided to give his concept another chance. “This is a fantastic opportunity for me, and doing the course part-time allows me the space I need as a mature student returning to Higher Education after a period away from it. The facilities at DJCAD are first class, and everyone has been helpful. The University course has provided me with opportunities to expand on my practice and research in ways that I couldn’t have imagined last year.”

Ian is currently working on community-based projects producing ‘The Peoples Tartans’, which will be displayed in the V&A from 10 December 2023 to 12 January 2024.

Ian’s collections can also be seen on Instagram - #D3M0GR4PH1CS. 

Written by Ian Coleman, MFA Art & Humanities student, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design