Reservoir–An Experiment in Viewer Collaboration

For me, making art has always been about dipping into my reservoir of motifs and techniques, refining them, discovering new ones, and then combining the old and new in fresh ways. My recent series, Reservoir, continues that approach, but in a modular format, so that the resulting abstract paintings can be arranged in multiple ways, thus inviting collaboration.

This series was born of a desire to explore the reservoir of life experience. My experience with materials finds concrete manifestation in the techniques and motifs that have developed in my work, so I chose three additive elements (stamped circles in a grid, stamped random circles, spatters) and three subtractive elements (scratches, carved fragments, and carved concentric circles), as the foundation of all the pieces. Each piece contains the same six elements applied in a different order and using different colors.CindyMorefield-Reservoir_–_an_experiment_in_viewer_collaboration-reservoir6_10

The paintings are modular: they have no “correct” orientation and can be combined with each other in multiple arrangements. Modularity gives viewers more ways to experience the work by seeing new configurations or by actually creating them. This interactivity echoes the way we process our life experiences –we have a reservoir of memory, but we create narratives by choosing, arranging and rearranging those memories according to our current context and perspective. CindyMorefield-Reservoir_–_an_experiment_in_viewer_collaboration-reservoir_9_18_17-v3Even when our materials remain the same, our stories are not static: we are in a continual process of revision.

The Reservoir pieces are created with acrylic paint, charcoal and metal leaf on wood panels. I build the surface by repeatedly adding and then removing materials — spackling, stamping, CindyMorefield-Reservoir_–_an_experiment_in_viewer_collaboration-reservoir_9_18_17-v2spattering, and dripping, then sanding, carving, scratching, scraping, and drilling to create a rich interplay of textures. (Go to to see a video of one of the paintings from start to finish.) I challenge myself to make the richness visual as well as tactile. I want every element to invite a second look, and a third, and a fourth.

Early in the process of exhibiting this series, it became clear that the interactive nature of these paintings did not come across automatically. When the paintings were displayed in a gallery, the configurations were already determined, and most viewers thought that the groupings they encountered were the “correct” arrangements. Furthermore, viewers do not generally assume that they can rearrange the paintings in an exhibit, even if they are allowed, and it is feasible, to do so. So I had to come up with some strategies to showcase the modularity of Reservoir.

Even in my own studio, I lack the table or floor space to create new combinations with the actual paintings easily, so I would experiment using scaled-down images I’d printed on paper. Doing so gave me the idea of creating a set of magnets using Reservoir images, so that people could actually manipulate the images themselves and experience first-hand the variety of possible arrangements. The first set of magnets contained eight small-scale images from the series (the 24×24 images were reproduced as 4×4 inch magnets, and the 11.5×11.5 images as 1.9×1.9 inch magnets). I offered them for sale on my web site in November, 2012.


Next, I invited people to collaborate with me to make Reservoir arrangements for an exhibit. I created a web page where viewers could vote on various Reservoir combinations, and even add their own. The voting page was live on April 4, 2013, and images could be uploaded and voted on through April 24, 2013. I used the top-rated combinations in my Modular Interactions show at the Page-Walker Arts & History Center in Cary, NC, from April 24 –May 28, 2013, which featured the Reservoir series. The invitation to collaborate, via a link to the Modular Interactions page on my web site, was distributed in the Town of Cary Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Program Brochure, my email newsletter, my FaceBook page, printed postcards, and the descriptive postcard included with each set of magnets. Quite a few votes were cast for the combinations I’d posted, but only one viewer uploaded her own combinations. Still, viewers who voted did indeed determine which Reservoir combinations were hung in the show.CindyMorefield-Reservoir_–_an_experiment_in_viewer_collaboration-reservoir_1_24_20_12

Both of these projects –the magnets and interactive voting site –have increased viewers’ engagement with the paintings, as I had hoped. I am still looking for new ways to increase viewer participation with this series, and to make future paintings more interactive, as well. I would like to upsize the magnet idea into an installation with metal-covered walls to which full-scale reproductions of the Reservoir paintings would be attached with magnets; viewers could then arrange and rearrange the magnetized reproductions. In addition to collaborating with viewers, I am also exploring ways to collaboratively create work with other artists. I just completed three small collaborative pieces with my sister, Tammy Knorr, who is a fiber artist, and we have more pieces planned. I am also eager to try Tunisian Collaborative Painting, a process by which three to seven artists complete a painting together according to a set of simple rules.