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Lost and Found

June 3, 2016 by Rebecca Collins   Comments (0)

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While in London last weekend, after visiting the National Gallery and stopping for lunch, I paid a visit to the Found exhibition, curated by Cornelia Parker at the Foundling Museum. I had heard about this exhibition on Radio 4 the week before and my ears had pricked up with interest as lost and found objects feature hugely in my art practice (at least they have of recent years). Currently, I am searching for the lost and abandoned balloons of Britain (and there were some abandoned balloons in this exhibition - read on).

The Foundling Museum itself is a fascinating place, started off as a place for foundling babies of the early 18th century. It was founded in 1739 by Thomas Coram to care for the abandoned children of London. Many of the mothers who left their children at the hospital would leave an object with which to identify themselves with and as a keepsake for their child. They simply couldn't give up the hope that they might be able to return and reclaim their child. These objects are on display in the museum and they are very poignant and also fascinating in their own right for providing a glimpse into the lives of these mostly impoverished 18th-century women.

The Found exhibition itself came about as Cornelia Parker was asked to respond to the museum's collection in some way as part of her role as Hogarth Fellow. She decided to ask artists from all sorts of practices (including music) to lend the museum a found object of theirs for display. The object could be an actual object they themselves had acquired, or an object they were given, or an art work in response to an object. Some of the objects chosen are intangible - such as sound pieces. Some of the submissions were video in response to an object. But most are just things.

What is it about the notion of the 'found' object that excites people's imagination so much? I think it is an innate desire to share a love of something, or a story about something, with others. We feel such joy at the ownership of our rare objects that we feel the need to share that feeling.

The notion of the found object is interesting because even before we acquire the object, it has gathered a history. I believe that objects are full of narrative. They absorb our stories and those stories stay within them, perhaps locked away, for ever. But there is some glimpse of that story we can feel through those objects, that is the 'trace' that Derrida talks about. Once you own an object, you are adding your own narrative to it. Along with that narrative goes emotion. We put emotion into objects and that is where the pull of things comes from. We also use objects as a proxy for our emotions. Perhaps there is something we are not ready to face head on, so we put that into the object. Those strong emotions stay with the object and move on as the object moves on to someone else.

When I see such objects I find it hard not to feel moved. This was certainly the case with the Foundling Hospital foundling objects left by the mothers. They almost screamed with longing and the pain of separation.

To me, the Found exhibition is about the human obsession with recognising something emotional in objects. We all have a part of ourselves that is lost through the things we have become detached from. Those little lost parts of ourselves of us are adopted by the new owners. Generally we connect the idea of emotion with living beings, however, there is a huge amount of emotion in the things around us.

There were many pieces in the exhibition that touched me. I won't go into too much detail here because I hope that anyone reading this will be intrigued enough to go and see the exhibition themselves. My personal highlights were contributions from Christian Marclay (for bottle tops substitute balloons), Guy Turk (bronze casting on a monumental scale), John Smith (my current favourite video artist - I loved his piece), Rachel Whiteread (another bronze casting), Bob and Roberta Smith (creating a story on a found object), Mark Wallinger (found sleeping people), David Shrigley (humour in the lost) and Graeme Miller (another obsessive street collector).

The exhibition is quirky and eclectic and is thought-provoking about the role things play in our lives.

Just before I finish, I need to get something off my chest. Cornelia Parker is a big fat copy cat! One of her 'found' objects was a collection of three balloons.

And afterward, I wondered out into the park in Russell Square and found this. I wonder who lost it?


Nature in all its nakedness: George Shaw 'My Back to Nature' exhibition

June 2, 2016 by Rebecca Collins   Comments (0)

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Last weekend I went to London, and what do most art students do in London? Go to an art gallery.

Ever since I first stumbled across George Shaw's work when at Shrewsbury College I became fascinated with staircases I've been a bit of a fan of his and I've sought out his paintings whenever I could (one in Coventry and another in Liverpool). So when I heard he was exhibiting at the National Gallery after a two-and-a-half year residency I knew that I had to go. This would be the first time I'd ever get to see more than one of his paintings in one room at one time.

The exhibition is called 'My Back to Nature' and it is in response to the collection at the National Gallery. George Shaw, known as a painter of gritty scenes from a modern estate, and the National Gallery, seem odd bedfellows.

The paintings and drawings of the exhibition are displayed together in one section in the centre of the museum. They are circled by centuries of great masters. And being the National Gallery (steeped in tradition and Britishness), the rooms are dark and foreboding, just like the subject matter: the woods.

Stepping into those rooms was like stepping into woodland in the middle of West London. The paintings themselves were beautiful and much larger than I expected (the previous two paintings by George Shaw I'd seen had been tiny in comparison so somehow I'd expected the same). The colours were vibrant and luminous.

On one level, George Shaw has created paintings of contemporary scenes of woodland on the edge of suburbia. They speak of our modern relationship to nature. We use it to hide in, to experiment, to relax, to be alone or to be together. The woodland scenes he has painted are beautiful but are punctured by signs of human activity - tarpaulin, cans, pornographic magazines.  As with many of George Shaw's previous work, human presence in these paintings is conspicuous in its absence.

However, there are many more levels to these paintings. They are utterly absorbing. Looking at them, I felt part of myself being absorbed into them. I could feel a sense of history in them, as if they weren't in fact showing contemporary scenes but scenes that have been played out for centuries. They were somehow able to suck energy from me. I found it hard to leave them.

The scenes, although very real and spontaneous, are full of symbolism: trees (memory, age, history, ghosts), blood (death, femininity , religion, sacrifice, horror), cloth (modesty, secret, religion), blue (a very strong colour in these paintings: innocence, water, purity, cleanliness), texture (imagery, abstract, sexuality, nakedness). These paintings are about much more than a look at the woods of today.

For inspiration for these paintings, George Shaw took himself back to his teenage self who used to come to London from his hometown of Coventry and spend time at the National Gallery (it was free) and walk amongst and sketch some of the great, immense artworks of Titan, Pollaiuolo and the like. Their works had a great impact on him and this comes out strongly in this collection. The My Back to Nature works link back to the symbolism and the voyerism of those other works. The younger George Shaw would admire these old paintings and wonder at the staging of them, the significance, the narrative and the meaning of the objects depicted in them.

I felt so many emotions looking at Shaw's paintings: the child exploring the woodlands and stumbling across some grubby pornographic magazines (yes, that really did happen to me and I remember running away in case the 'dirty old man' came back); the teenager hanging around the woodlands waiting for horror to happen, warmed by the taste of cheap cider; the adult annoyed by the spoilt natural beauty; and the artist creating the narrative behind the objects and the textures in the paintings.

I found it interesting that the only 'man-made' colours in the images are traditionally deeply symbolic of Catholicism: red, blue, flesh. Was this a conscious decision? The painting of George Shaw pissing up a tree has him in blue. The tarpaulin is blue. The tree is marked by brilliant red (blood, paint?), the magazines are flesh.

The number '3' appears a lot as well: 3 paintings, 3 trees, 3 cans, 3 points of the tarpulin.

There was also something auto-biographical about the works. At the entrance to the exhibition are a number of self-portrait life studies which show a raw nakedness of the artist that oddly connect to the tree paintings and that element of being with nature when surrounded by nature. It is almost as if he is saying: This is me. These paintings are about me. I am back to nature in my nakedness.

I was very moved by it all and I'm sure there are more levels to the paintings that I didn't get. I was absorbed into them. I want to go back.


'Making it out there' - my thoughts

May 26, 2016 by Rebecca Collins   Comments (0)


When I started my foundation degree in contemporary art practice at Shrewsbuiry College back in 2012, I didn't anticipate how much common sense I'd learn as well as experience and development in my art practice. One of the main purposes of the course was to teach students how to survive out there in the Big Wide World as an artist. This was a fantanstic learning opportunity for me as previously I had no idea how to be an artist. I just liked to draw. Period. To pass the course, I had to exhibit outside the college; I had to liaise with galleries and curators; and I had to consider issues such as health and safety, cost, income, pricing and How To Survive out there. I now realise that the content of this course, run by Staffordshire University and taking place in a number of local colleges, is actually quite a rarity at the higher education level. Although it didn't go to full BA level, it gave me a really solid grounding for my time now spent finishing my BA in Fine Art at Wolverhampton. I learnt a huge amount about being an artist on that course which I have been able to apply at Wolverhampton for the end-of-year show.

Given that the modules directed towards working as an artist are not the norm on many more formal BA courses in Fine Art at universities, I believe that for anyone serious about a career in fine art an association with AA2A could be extremely useful. The AA2A guide 'Making it out there', provides much essential information for graduating students wishing to make a career in art. One point which sticks out for me from this guide is that life after graduating isn't an 'either / or' scenario. The graduating artist doesn't have to spend all their time egaged in art. They can work anywhere, they can do other things, and they can earn money in art and in other ways at the same time. It depends on the nature of the art practice. Life isn't black and white. Living in the grey is actually very rewarding.

As for my situation, I am currently freelance as a online publishing project manager and when I'm not doing that, I'm a part-time art student and blogger. I also do voluntary work at my sons' school and I'm a parent governor. I like to keep my feet in many camps. I don't make any money at all out of the art or the voluntary work. When I finish my art education I will continue to work freelance in publishing and, hopefully, spend time pursuing my art (and perhaps not expecting to earn much from it if any). But there are certain things that anyone wanting to make a career in art needs to know: building a creative career as a freelancer takes time, networking is essential, paperwork is essential, and low expectations (at least initially) are also essential.

If the new graduate needs a single source of useful information on how to get started, this guide provides that information in a concise and readible way. It also includes much-needed encouragement in the form of comments and advice from those that are in the freelance art world. It is an insecure life, so encouragement is vital.

My own advice: Never, ever give up and never say no!

Is that all I have to show?

May 20, 2016 by Rebecca Collins   Comments (0)

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I'm fast approaching the end of my first year as a final year student at the University of Wolverhampton. (Being part-time I am studying the final year over two years.) So now is a good time to reflect on what I've achieved this year. I started the year with a blank studio, and now I've just cleared away to end up the year with the same blank studio.

My art over the last 8 months, since I began the first semester with no idea what to do, has focused on one object: the abandoned balloon. That is how I work. I find something to be obsessed with and I obsess over it for a long period until I get to the point when I can't obsess any longer and I have to exhibit something. That is where I am today.

Since October when the first semester begain, I've found or been sent nearly 300 balloons in various stages of abandonment. This all started when I found an orange balloon on the pavement in Wolverhampton and thought 'that looks interesting'. Since then, I've drawn them, I've photographed them, I've written about them, I've logged them in a folder and in Excel, I've blogged about them, I've talked about them, I've even turned them into bronze objects. I have had a fantastic year with my balloons. They have served me well. I love them. I can't let them go, at least, not just yet. Soon, but not quite yet.

I will be exhibiting at the End of Year Degree Show next month and then after that at the Asylum Gallery in Wolverhampton. Then, I think, I will say goodbye to my balloons and move onto something new (who knows what at this point).

My final pieces will consist of just two elements: an audio piece and bronze castings. Part of me wonders how 8 months work can be condensed into just two very small things: one that isn't even tangible. But, in fact, this doesn't worry me. That is what art is. Art isn't quantity, art is thought as well as object. Art is about research, exploration, experimentation and, ultimately, provoking thought in others and myself.

When you visit an exhibition (and indeed a final degree show) you will see one or two pieces per artist or student. This might not look much for one year's work but it is. There is a lot of invisible stuffing that goes into each visible, tangible art object. That is what I love about being an art student. I just love the research and thinking. I can spend days just thinking: thinking on trains, in the car, at Zumba, in the shower, at 3am and even, sometimes, in my studio space. I spend far more time thinking than I do creating.

I have created something, two things. And I can't wait to show them to the world.


Scanning, scanning, scanning...

May 11, 2016 by Rory Buckland   Comments (0)

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So as you might have guessed from the title the last couple of weeks of my residency have mostly been about scanning!

Well all that analogue output has a price I suppose, and that price is hours at the scanner, but all in a good cause. Its great to be able to see the images closely on screen and start to get a feel for how the main project as a whole might come together.

Its now time to optimise the files and give serious thought to the final ooutput. Im hoping I can exhibit / display them in some way within the host institution.

A commission piece for Wolverhampton Museum and Gallery exhibition opens May 2016

May 2, 2016 by Rebecca Woodcock   Comments (0)

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I was asked to make a piece of work in reposnce to the museum collection. i chose a piece of work painted by my great grandfather Oliver Clare. The work is in porcerlain, mounted on steal into Cherry wood. The work will be on display form 27th May 2016. 

AA2A Exhibitions galore!

April 28, 2016 by AA2A Georgia Rodger   Comments (0)

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Hi AA2A fans,

It's fantastic to see there are so many AA2A artists who've been uploaded images and blogs about their exhibitions as they come to the end of their schemes:

- 'Parallax'; AA2A artists and AA2A Plus artists at Constantine Gallery, Middlesbrough Tower, Teesside University, see Susan Gough's blog

- AA2A exhibition at University of Bedfordshire School of Art and Design, 21 Apr 2016 - 28 Apr 2016, see Gayle Storey's exhibition album

- 'Inprogress'; AA2A artists at the Cornerstone Gallery, Liverpool Hope University, see Fiona Candy's album

These are just a small selection, sorry I haven't featured more here, but if you're an artist from this year please who's putting on an exhibition or evenlet us know as we'd love to see your documentation of these shows on Dotbiz.

All the best



April 28, 2016 by Susan Gough   Comments (0)

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This first third of my year has been somewhat fraught to say the least; a birth (my grandson), a wedding, illness and a death. . . .  not all of which I have been prepared for and certainly not the best situation to be in when trying to make new work for the AA2A scheme, which has suffered as a consequence.

However, it is all part of life's rich tapestry, I am beginning to resurface from it all and trying to be kind to myself and not plan any major new things for the whole of the rest of this year. My original plans for the work will get made eventually, and will hopefully get shown in some galleries once I have the energy to sort it out.

What I am showing for this exhibition entitled Parallax, is a compilation of my research so far in the form of 3 banners on Chinese paper using print, drawing and collage.  I have managed to produce something that is visually arresting, I think, and which has masses of information about fracking when you look closer; something I have always aimed to achieve.

The People You Meet

April 26, 2016 by Rory Buckland   Comments (0)

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I spent yesterday shooting what was likely the last roll of fim for the core project of my AA2AC residency. The weather was just how I needed it - overcast, giving a nice even soft light. A bit of rain, but that was easily enough worked around.

One of the things I like about photographing out on the street is the people you meet. The curious ones, that enqiire about what you're photographing, or recognice the Mamiya RB from their days of shooting meduim format film before everything went digital.

The facilities at Solent are getting pretty busy with the impending deadlines for the students to hand their work in. Comfroting to see students still leave it all to the last moment!

So now its all about editing, tidying up the scans and deciding what and how to have an outcome from the project. Ill also be able to get more material in my sketchbook for the project.

Weeks 21, 22, 23, 24

April 25, 2016 by Victoria Walters   Comments (0)

Week 24

It is great to finally get to Plymouth this week.  The studios need clearing for the shows, so taking the laminate along is out, but this is fine, I am working in the workshops.  On Thursday I go along to the Carnegie Wave Seminar, organized both by the private sector wave energy company of that name and by the University.  This kind of collaboration is very common nowadays and can work extremely well, although it's important to take the commercial element into account.  It emerges that as yet, a lot of the work in generating energy from wave power has been heavily funded by the public sector and that it will take a while before it can self-sustain commercially.  A big contributor in terms of funding is the EU - on my way home an ‘In’ campaigner gives me a leaflet outlining the investments the EU are making to research into green energy.

We are given several interesting talks about work going on at Plymouth, Carnegie's work and operations at Falmouth-based wave energy test site Wave Lab.  Several of the academics and industry specialists talk about the “survivability” of the technical apparatus, its ability to withstand waves intact, a term which interests me in relation to my focus on survival. We are then given a tour around the COaST (Coastal Ocean and Sediment Transport) Lab within the University, which is fascinating.  It is an amazing facility and incredibly useful for testing; it is apparently even possible to simulate curvature in wave forms.  It has a moving floor (should my false floor be moving I wonder?!)  While we are there, a buoy test is in process.  After the tour, I ask several of the academics within the Lab about groundswell. Gerd Masselink had already sent me a really helpful email and explained that the term is not a scientific one used by oceanographers, but rather used by divers and surfers.  In response to my question, the academics I speak to concede that “rogue” waves and extreme waves are hard to simulate in the lab. I am interested by the way we speak about power in the environment, in terms of disobedience. 

I find myself wondering what Leonardo Da Vinci would make of all this (!) and how his early hydraulics experiments are seen by oceanographers today.  He would be fascinated by the lab, I think, but I imagine would point to the need for direct observation too, which I am sure oceanographers would entirely agree with.  I also think about that early Renaissance spiritual dynamic in Leonardo's writings, which shows itself in his desire to get inside the spirit of the bird that inhabits his work on flying machines, and wonder if that also inhabits his experiments in hydraulics, which I seem to remember had its successes and failures. I don't know, I should look. The idea of desiring to get inside a wave would probably seems very odd today, but not for a surfer of course!  Perhaps it is no coincidence that many oceanographers and industry specialists are also surfers, and I wonder how that direct encounter is integrated in their work.  There is something there to learn from Leonardo's work, perhaps, still.  Not all developments are linear. Does this have something to do with the spiritual side of observation that Goethe and Beuys talk about and how it can transform you?  The idea of 'spirit' is quite problematic today.

For myself as a very early career artist trying to make an installation piece, I feel a bit foolish, and wonder if I am asking silly questions.  I am definitely awed by the engineering prowess of the people working in wave energy capture and the wave lab.  I think to myself, I cannot possibly enter into that equation with my low level work!  But I am trying to do what these guys are doing.  There is an issue around distance and proximity.  In terms of climate change, a major challenge is to communicate things that may be geographically distant but which have an impact, to communicate both complex science and an affective element.  It reminds me of discussions of immersion in installation practice - immersion can address the cognitive and the sensory.  I will come back to that.  Perhaps things will filter through. 

Plymouth COaAST Laboratory

Plymouth COaAST Laboratory - image source: Hufton and Crow

On Friday I have a really helpful chat with Richard Wood, who feels that the tiling approach with plaster and wood for the installation, rather than working with laminate, is probably the way forward. He mentions that laminate has to be installed on a dead straight surface, 2mm out and it can misbehave, so he warns that it could be a bit of a nightmare given that I do not know enough about the space where we will be showing.  He also raises the issue of all the engineering challenges of installing a false floor.  I am really grateful for the advice, the different challenges I am working with – in terms of geographical distance (also a part of the work!) – make a modular approach a useful solution and at the same time, it has that sense of the domestic.  I go and have a chat with Simon about working with plaster tiles and he suggests that instead of a gel flex mould, I may be best working with a wood frame, which I can reuse again and again.  I go up to the postgrad room to plan the tiling out and assess that I need a 300mm x 300mm tile.  I go over to Rob in woodwork, who is a star and knocks me up a 30cm x 30cm frame, he does such a great job!  Off back to casting for the first tile test.  I am going to have to break the work down time-wise and get a certain number done each time I come.  There is a lot to do.

On Saturday I finally get up to the ICIA at the Edge Arts centre, on Bath University’s main campus, to see Grace Schwindt’s feature-length film, “Only a Free Individual Can Create a Free Society”.  I think it is worth mentioning here because it relates to some of the broader questions I am trying to get to grips with.  The film is based around an interview the artist undertook with a taxi driver, who had been an activist in West Germany during the 1960s and 1970s.  The discussion focuses around the group he had been part of and their discussions of what freedom was.  In this interview with the artist published in The Skinny, she explains, “I chose this guy because he wasn't going to offer me a solution,” she explains. “What is freedom? There are different ideas on how to live freer, as with the student movement, revolution and family, all of which are palling. These situations relate to the film's set.”

Grace Schwindt, "Only a Free Individual Can Create a Free Society"

                        Grace Schwindt, "Only a Free Individual Can Create a Free Society" (2014)
                          Medium: Full HD, single channel video, sound, colour; English language
                                                          Running time: 80 minutes

There were all sorts of issues of interest to me: the form in which Schwindt explored these issues being the principal one. The performers within the work juddered slightly, as though travelling in the taxi and spoke in a rote, robotic manner. There was an awareness, it seemed to me, of the political texts being discussed and the search for a new language of engagement in the work of the Frankfurt School, including that of Herbert Marcuse. The interview confirms this,"One point of critical reference comes from Frankfurt, Schwindt’s place of birth. More specifically, the Frankfurt School's critical teachings spilled into Grace Schwindt's home life. With this comes certain readings of the work as a meditation on the freedom and unfreedom of communication, which we're led to believe is open to as many interpretations as the seer pertains and not just cultural associations assigned to the ‘norm.’ As a take-down of these kind of indolently habitual assumptions, the film can be experienced as questioning whether language is not in itself a self-reflexive and metalinguistical form." 

I am reminded me a tiny bit of my talk for Dexter’s session on my practice and states of emergency.  “The artist does this.  The artist makes that.  The artist uses the other” in a very deadpan way, interrupted by an emergency broadcast. But Schwindt’s orchestration was far more sophisticated and more fully informed, yet it is a language I recognise.  The costumes, which she had a team working on, also delighted and appealed to me, as a kind of defamiliarisation and a clowning too (perhaps from Adorno's Negative Dialectics?)  The question: what new forms are needed? comes up for me as something Schwindt is clearly exploring, and it was certainly central for Beuys too, post-war. 

There was a handout accompanying the film, which explained the socio-political post-war context in Germany and I found it so helpful.  It shed some light on terms Beuys had used and perhaps explained why he became disaffected by the Green party who, I had not realized, emerged from the APO, an “extra-parliamentary opposition” called for by the leader of the Socialist German Students’ party (SDS), Rudi Dutschke (I am reminded of a poem within "Beuys: In Memoriam" where the writer reminds Beuys, "Remember Rudi, remember Dutschke").  It emerged in the film that the term Freedom was often used as a way to refer to the attempt to forge an alternative to capitalism; capitalism being seen as yet another form of social coercion and not a sufficient break from fascism.  It seems that Schwindt is very much of the optinion that capitalism constraints freedom, but I am not entirely sure she is offering very clear alternatives either.  The interview ends with her comment, “There is a very limited possibility of freedom in capitalism, because you never reach promise, and that's my point.”  I wonder if she means confirmation, or acceptance, or commitment, rather than promise, alternative translations of Zusage, which can also mean promise in English. 

In some respects this could really feed into my thinking about my own practice and into the FAB installation.  It reminded me a bit of my feeling during the PGDip that another form of garment was needed for this work that tries to deal with contemporary contexts, with a society of precarity.  Is what I am planning a kind of replay, a remediation, of previous work and if so is it appropriate to new contexts?  To UK contexts?  I may sit with the work in my hilarious "survival" suit, but does this offer something of value in the present?  The film reminds me of what Camilla said to me, that "It is OK to work with serious content".  This points me back in the direction of work I had done at PhD level, about critical theory, that I was trying to bring into my work on the MA, but perhaps, without either the technical or critical cogency and coherence I had hoped for.  What is going on in a UK and US context?  Obama's speeches were heartening, and I am not for Brexit, but I am questioning of what security is on offer.

Week 23

I heard back on the interview, not successful this time, so, somewhat disappointed. On the weekend I went to the Michael Beutler exhibition at Spike Island, a real treat.  The work made me feel hopeful, playful.  By comparison my own plans seem rather depressing!  There is something of Thomas Hirschhorn in there – the use of materials you might have to hand – without the obvious polemic, perhaps, and of Andrea Zittel too, although the everyday industrial materials were less crafted.  But such a lovely sensitivity to materials and an interesting architectural language!  Admittedly I suppose this is Fine Art though, rather than architecture, the work would not withstand weathering.  But perhaps it is a kind of provocation to come up with ideas, to co-produce, to keep that zone of creativity safe even where the socio-political contexts have become extremely rigid.  This makes me think about Bernard Tschumi again, that notion of an erotics of working in relation to confinement.  But for Beutler, it feels more as though a separate zone is needed, partly libidinal perhaps, but not sado-masochistic, there are no overtones of Bataille. I would really like to read more about the artist, hear a talk. I may try to make it along to the family day on 30th April.

Michael Beutler, Haus Beutler (2014). Installation view, La Loge, Brussels


                        Michael Beutler, Haus Beutler (2014).  Installation view, La Loge, Brussels

I spend the rest of the week working on the FAB proposal and thinking about the Plymouth placement.  I had hoped to use some oak that was thin enough to break, but that did not work out.  But as I am not wood bending – oak is one of the best woods for bending – is that the most appropriate material anyway?  What messages would it have sent?   I start thinking about alternatives; working with veneers, cladding, laminate.  Mum has some laminate I think I could play with, which can give a wave-like effect.  As it has a kind of back board, I can’t get the kind of splintering I had initially hoped for, but I can get create some distressing and signs of fixings at the end to suggest breakage or splitting.  Please note all blog readers, this is NOT how to take a professional photograph it is just a note!


Week 22

I spent most of this week preparing for the interview, I decided to give it all I had got.  I also continue with my FAB proposal, and have some really helpful discussion from a friend, Cliff, who has long been fascinated by Goethe, Steiner and Beuys’ work.  He was a science teacher and worked for a long time with plants.  I was very touched when he sent me scanned excerpts of books which mentioned the notion of a “warmth time machine”, knowing that so many of my books have to be kept in store at the moment.

Week 21

I have been invited for a job interview which would mean teaching into Fine Art Digital Media, so it is time to refresh and reconnect with a somewhat distant past practice in digital media and head to London to the exhibition “Electronic Superhighway” at the Whitechapel Gallery.  It proves really valuable trip on a number of levels.  I studied for my MA Digital Media at UWE from 2000-3 and completed the course with a sense that I was far more interested in what fine artists were doing with new technologies than I was in being a web designer or a producer of commercial multimedia projects.  That was fine, the course was taught in an art school, it was understood that there were a number of different possible career trajectories.  But I didn’t fully understand how I could develop as an artist without a sense of where my digital practice was situated in relation to contemporary practice, I didn’t really understand what it meant to be an artist and I lacked confidence.  I also enjoyed the theory side and was a bit academic so I was happy to move in that direction at the time.  So seeing the work of the artists on display at the Whitechapel, I could finally understand why I felt the need to go and do a Foundation after my MA, and why I felt I had to come back to studying Fine Art, to fill in a missing piece in a way, to understand why I felt so drawn towards doing, or at least exploring that kind of work.

One of the first pieces of work on display immediately connected into my own research concerns.  It was a very small installation work called “Homo Sacer” by James Bridle.  According to the Whitechapel website, Bridle is an “artist, writer, publisher and technologist”.  The work is a hologram projected onto a board, redolent of the kind of holograms that are starting to be used in airports and government buildings to give instructions.  “Homo Sacer” is a legal concept discussed in a series of books on this theme by Italian philosopher Georgio Agamben, a term referring to the notion of “bare life”.  I won't got into this too much in a blog, but this outlines the degree to which the state can define a person’s status as a human being; When I was researching during the PGDip Fine Art, I looked at this concept, because the work I was doing seemed to connect with issues around the state of emergency and exception, discussions of what is justified in the interests of “protecting” the public.  Interestingly, in relation to our current discussions about whether to stay in the EU, the blurb explains that “The female hologram figure in Homo Sacer (2014) speaks lines from UK, EU and UN legislation, as well as quotations from government ministers. Her script describes the nature of citizenship in the 21st century, and how it can be revoked with potentially fatal consequences.”

Homo Sacer (2014)
Digital video, perspex, rear projection 7:05, dimensions variable

Another treat at the exhibition was seeing a piece of work by Wafaa Bilal, an Iraqi artist I had the good fortune to meet at the Winchester Centre for Global Futures in Art & Design Conference, held at Mosaic Rooms in 2013.  I was familiar with the piece, “Domestic Tension”, which had both disturbed and impressed me at the time.  Rather than talk about this in too much detail here, I have referred to the work on this blog post, which I created for the interview and which discusses his work briefly in the context of digital media fine art installation practice.

I was sad that I had to rather rush the upstairs space at Whitechapel dedicated to histories of digital and other time-based practices.  But one thing really struck me about the work I did see was that women were well represented, some of them women I had never heard of, for example Lynn Schwarz and her wonderful animations!  Another impression I got was that even in the earliest days of interactive installation there have been critiques of the dangers, as well as the potentials, of technology. I was intrigued, but also rather disconcerted by "Lorna", her installation on display at the Whitechapel, which invited you in to sit in Lorna’s living room where, as an agoraphobic, she had spent most of the previous 4 years.  The work has three potential outcomes –Lorna shoots herself, shoots the television, or moves to LA. In an interview, Herschman Leeson suggests that the last may be the worst!

Later in the week, two friends mention that they are curating a week’s creative work at Fringe Arts Bath.  They are looking for additional contributions for their theme, “Time Machine”.  I put forward a proposal that is a homage to Beuys, relating to his notion of a “warmth time machine”.  The piece, entitled “Emergency Conference”, will need to go up for 31st May.  It is a piece that I can show near to home and I am (doing my best at) keeping it simple so that I can deliver for Plymouth.