The gallery presents two complementary exhibitions this October. In the main gallery, the solo exhibition 'John Dugger: Ergonic Messenger' concentrates on the artist's participatory works of the 1970s. At the same time, in the lower gallery project space, 'Beneath the Radar in 1970s London' shows works by other artists from London's avant garde of the 1970s including Judy Clark, David Medalla, Liliane Lijn, Tina Keane and Michael Druks.
John Dugger was born in Los Angeles in 1948 and arrived in London in 1967. As a participant in the Exploding Galaxy group, he met the Filipino artist, David Medalla with whom he created and organized participatory art events, as were other expatriate artists then working in London such as the South American artists Lygia Clark and Helio Oiticica. These events with Medalla included the 'Buddha Ballet', a weekly audience-participation performance event on Parliament Hill in the summer of 1968; and Dugger's 'People Weave A House!' project at the ICA in 1972.
In 1971, Dugger exhibited his multiple sculptures, the 'Perennials', in the Whitechapel Gallery's Multiples show, and was included in the exhibition 'Pioneers of Participation Art' at MOMA, Oxford. This period culminated with Dugger being asked by Harold Szeemann to curate his own pavilion as part of 'Documenta 5' in 1972. The resulting People's Participation Pavilion included David Medalla's 'A Stitch in Time' and Dugger's 'Body Conductors'.
Dugger was a founder of The Artists Liberation Front in 1971, and in 1972 was invited as part of a youth delegation to visit China during the closing phases of the Cultural revolution, thus becoming the first American artist to visit China since the 1949 revolution. In the early 1970s Dugger began to work with cut-fabric appliqué banners, founding Banner Arts. His vast 'Chile Vencera Banner' was made for a mass rally in Trafalgar Square in 1974 and was exhibited recently in 'Textiles: Art and the Social Fabric' at MuHKA in Antwerp. Studies and documentation relating to the 'Chile Vencera Banner' are featured in this exhibition.
Dugger first created his 'Perennials' in Paris in 1970: these simple flower-like sculptures made from modern plastic materials are activated by participation ('ergonic' in Dugger's personal terminology) ' the work is coiled up, folded back on itself and set down to unwind ' and responds kinetically, utilising the 'plastic memory' of its molecular form. A Perennial's unwinding it is like a flower in its cycle of growth, 'opening up and declining into rest', like 'the unfolding of a blossom or the sprouting of a seed in the Spring'.
In his manifesto, 'The Ergonic Messenger', Dugger explains how in Participation Art, the body or hand of the viewer is 'used to give forceful impetus to the artwork by articulating or positioning the sculptural elements manuallyâ¦ relying on the power of the human hand to provide action or motion.' This 'labour' is 'shared between the artist's manual effort in creation and the participant's manual effort in appreciating and opening the work of artâ¦ .' Participation Art is 'an art that evolves and grows through contact with the creative interaction of people engaging their bodies, senses and activating hands.'
John Dugger featured in the recent exhibition 'This Could Happen to You: Ikon in the 1970s', at the Ikon gallery Birmingham.