Last week, during a short break on the Welsh coast, we paid a visit to the Aberystwyth Arts Centre. Every time we are close by I insist on a day there. It is a fabulous venue with book shop, cafe, cinema and art galliers. I can easily spend a few hours there. Last summer I was much influenced by an exhibition of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe to the extent that I devoured Just Kids by Patti Smith that summer. This time we came across a one-off interactive sculpture by Jenny Hall called 'Hollow'. This sculpture consists of a raised platform with a mirrored floor and a huge cave-like construction made up of cuboid cardboard boxes attached together by magnets.
On arrival in the gallery, we were advised that so long as we were shoe-less, we could walk on the mirrored platform and enter the centre of the sculpture. The only restriction was no climbing on the boxes. We were told that we could, however, play with the huge pile of boxes to the side of the mirrored platform. So my three children and I threw our shoes off with relish and took this opportunity to explore an art work. We walked around, in, around and in and out of it. We loved it. The interesting effect for me was how vertiginous one of my children felt walking on the mirrored surface. As the large box-construction was reflected in the floor, to him it felt as if he was walking on a glass plane above a large drop of boxes on top of each other. He didn't like it and the only way he could move around confortably was on all fours.
What I liked about this exhibition was that it only contained two pieces. We didn't feel saturated by art. We only had two things to look at and explore in a huge art gallery. So as a consequence, we spent almost an hour in there walking around, looking, thinking, and building. The interactive nature of the artwork meant that we felt much freer than we might otherwise feel in an art gallery. We were able to relax and explore. Also, the act of taking your shoes off enabled this further. It felt slightly rebelious at first but then it felt normal.
Art should be about the reaction of the viewer, and in this case, the participant. I wanted to ask whether the staff had noticed any patterns with the way that different genders reacted to the pile of boxes they could move around. My three boys built a building, an igloo and then a wall.
So if you find yourself in Aberystwyth - go to the Arts Centre. There is always something there to see.
I also like to look at what is called 'The Box' which shows a piece of video art, and it shows something different every day.
Last weekend I managed to persuade two of my children to come with me to the I AM ____ Contemporary Art Fair at the Newhampton Arts Centre in Wolverhampton and we found much there to be inspired by. There was an eccelctic mix of art and artistic activity to view and participate in, from the doddles and scribbles of Emily Scarrott to the distorted human scupltures of Keith Gilbert (which my children particularly admired for how odd they made them feel).
My personal favourite was the art and, more so, the artist statement, of Jimmy Lannon which talked about how an artist should just do what comes naturally and not feel that they have to be influenced by or follow a style or movement. His passion for persuing his instinctive need, urge, or compulsion, to create was, ironically, very inspiring to me.
Although the art fair is now over, it is worth checking the Newhampton Arts Centre and the Asylum Gallery websites to find out more about the artists who have exhibited there (and who will be exhibiting in the future - including me!). There are so many creative people around, with lots to say.
An ongoing project we learnt about at the art fair which I will be keeping an eye on is the knitters and crocheters of Woolverhampton who are understaking an ambitious project to knit the whole of Wolverhampton. What a fabulous idea! I told them that they simply must include the Wolverhampton School of Art. I eagerly await the final result.
Ann is a ceramics artist with an AA2A placement at the University of Wolverhampton and as AA2A artist representative’s Rebecca Collins and I were keen to introduce ourselves and find out a little about Ann’s practice. We met Ann in her studio space where she is currently experimenting with printing techniques onto clay. She fuses her practice with her passionate interest in history. Her work with an archaeological site in Szazhalombatta, a Bronze Age tell settlement, over the past four years has informed her current project. This involves printing on to clay motifs influenced by Bronze Age mark making. To progress this project Ann has taken full advantage of the facilities that the placement enables access to, for example screen printing as well as the help and advice that technicians are on hand to provide.
For the past couple of months I've been too busy doing other things to go in to uni - applying for a PhD place and getting it, applying for the funding to do it (waiting for the result now, but suspect I'll have to apply again...), then doing freelance work to earn the money I need to be able to afford to make the most of my AA2A placement at Teesside (access is important, but it isn't everything). The net result is that in March I only had time to spend one day doing AA2A work. It's frustrating, but that's life.
I did make the most of that one day though, using Teesside's fantastic 3D workshops to make a test piece using negatives from a three colour lazer printing process. I stuck each neg sheet onto a piece of thick perspex, roughly lined them up, and cemented them together - cyan bottom, mag centre, and yellow top, so that the front surface has a gold sheen. Unless the thing is back lit you can't see the image, and there's something vaguely holographic about the image when you can see it.
This isn't the only way I could use these neg sheets, but it's a good start? Before beginning I had no idea whether this material would be interesting to work with, what the results might look like, but this test seems to indicate that it's worth pursuing - just have to work out what to do with it now.
If you are looking for something to do this weekend then I would urge you to pay a visit to the I AM ___ Contemporary Art Fair that is taking place at the Newhampton Arts Centre, Dunkley Street, in Wolverhampton. Mental Spaces CIC in conjunction with the arts centre is presenting a three-day long art fair which will showcase a diverse and eclectic range of local artists' work. There will be all sorts of things to see including live performances, dance, installation, photography, film and sculpture. There will also be various workshops and other activities to take part in. I think it is well-worth a visit, especially if you are a local artist or art maker. It will provide the chance to mingle, get inspiration and enjoy many creative activities.
The theme of the Art Fair is an exploration of identity in the current ever-changing multi-cultural world where identity is a fluid concept. How can we be sure of our identity in such an uncertain world? How does identity change? What is the nature of our innermost identity?
The small part I am playing is to explore the narratives and emotional connection we have with objects through my ongoing balloon project. There will be balloons at the Art Fair and each one will be attached with a label which offers the owner of that balloon the chance to take part in my exploration. The questions I have been asking include: What happens to a balloon once it has been inflated and given to someone? Is that person just the temporary custodian of the balloon? How long will it live? If it does have a long life, what happens eventually? What emotional attachment is given that balloon? Will it be loved? As someone who actually fears balloons and would not want to possess one, this topic interests me. How do we feel once the balloon has been lost or once it has burst? How long does it remain in our consciousness? Can it have more than one owner?
I look forward to logging the results of this experiment on my balloon blog and exploring them in my art: www.burstballoons.co.uk.
The week is spent chasing software to reinvigorate my rather sad and sorry laptop, which has had everything wiped from it by mistake! Luckily my documents are backed up but my software and my photos are gone. I am heart-broken and have to buy and run software to recuperate all that I can and find ways of updating the software through my employer, which is a blessed relief. I only really get a brush with art on Thursday evening, seeing the work of Corsham-based alumni of Bath Spa at 44AD, which was really lovely. One gentleman, Simon Chadwick, chats to me about his sculpture and process. It is somehow very comforting after the drama of the week to talk to a mature, established artist. They have had their triumphs and struggles and still make work! I take my digital camera out with me on Friday, walking around Bath taking pictures with a friend, trying to reflect on all that Alan Winn taught me last week. I drop him a line with a few questions arising from our session last week. As far as my 3D work is concerned, I have to find some way of making without a studio in Bath, or to get to Plymouth more often. I may need to rejoin Bath City College evening classes again so that I can actually make a mess!
Going to Plymouth on Wednesday was exciting and nerve wracking as we have all been asked to be interviewed. I worry I have forgotten everything Dexter told us about considering how we present ourselves! I look through notes I have taken during his helpful sessions and draw out a few key points, but I am not sure I have all the answers prepared for interview! I find the following points, which I am including here as they may be helpful to others - I may even write them down separately and put them up to make me think:
"Where do you place what you do? Where do you want to be? What is the slot you wish to operate in? Every decade presses reset. Artists who know how to ring the changes acknowledge the decade. Think about two key figures, Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richte. Polke used a mixed language, found images, photography, he was often messy, working things out. Richter undertook a controlled experiment – systematic and dogmatic. Different approaches. Ask: what sort of artist are you? Do you do something and then see what you learn from it? Or are you more controlled? Reflect on Houdini in relation to art. (We were reading Adam Phillips' 'Houdini's Box'). Are you exposing yourself and learning from that? Houdini was prepared to act out a mythic way of being. Are you drawing from a mesh of understanding, not just the unconscious? If people are pack animals, how are you going “against the grain”. Try to find out about what you are interested in, develop a self-critical position. The professional artist has to jump through hoops. Perhaps you want to keep what you do vague – it can be valuable to keep your outcomes vague but your interests clear. Follow the intuitive energy you have with something. Recognise that it is rarely possible to be objective about the work – listen to others to an extent, if many are saying the same thing you need to listen to this. Perhaps there are key people you can turn to to show the work to, to get an informed view. Recognise that what you think your strengths are may not be your strengths. Have a playful turnover of work. Play more, get through stuff."
When I got to Plymouth Alys was relaxed and helpful, which put me at ease. I did my best to explain where I am coming from, but was quite scattered, I suspect it will be tough edit for her! I am very grateful for the hard work both Alys and Oskar are putting into this. It is a really helpful process for us as developing artists.
After the interview I play for a while with my sticks and tights! I am struck by the challenge of trying to make something look precarious while making sure it is robust enough to stand up! I am genuinely not sure how this play fits into the groundswell piece. But at the same time, I like having something more intuitive on the go at the same time as something more planned. I get the sense that the tights piece has much more to do with the personal, it feels as though it has much more to do with precarity than anything else.
After lunch I have a super helpful induction with Alan Winn. Alan quite simply opens up the world of the camera to me, explaining depth of field and exposure, and showing me how to use the camera and what I need to take account of, which is incredibly helpful. He gives me some really helpful pointers in relation to photographing installation work, above all the value of having control over the aperture. I am struck by how long I have been taking photographs in an entirely intuitive, uninformed way, with very little knowledge about taking control of the camera. He helps me book out a camera that is appropriate to start with and I will start to take images on it and come back to him if I get into any difficulty.
On Thursday I have a helpful health and safety induction with Linda, who shows me the do’s and don’ts of working in the ceramic area. I then go down to work in the sculpture room to see if I might have an induction with Simon. He kindly agrees to let me work there and using the small pieces of wood I have brought with me, finally I have a small breakthrough in terms of how to make the groundswell piece. I take a small tub and set the wooden ‘upswell’ up in plaster, albeit on a very small scale and only partially, it is a messy effort, but gives me the fractured feeling I am after.
In this way I see that rather than making a large piece at this stage, I could make small tiled sections which I can then set up in the Artspace 101 gallery. I am not sure I will get this done for a proposed April show, however. But I suppose I can work on this in Bath, I don’t have to do this in Plymouth. I wonder if the plaster I have left at Brian’s has now gone off (it goes off really quickly) and if Steve would allow me to work on this at Bath City College. I reflect that I need wood (and I need to think about what messages I am going to give with the kind of wood I select, ideally it will be found, recycled material) and a tub that I can create a kind of plaster tile in. But I know I also need to think much more about what is being done in installation. I did a lot of research for this piece which I discussed in the artist’s talk at Plymouth, but I need to stay abreast of contemporary practice.
After working in the 3D area I go back to the studio to take some pictures of the sticks and tights! I select aperture priority auto exposure. This means that I select the aperture and the camera calculates the correct shutter speed for the exposure. This is because there is no movement, so I don't really need control over shutter priority. Still, I learn that I may choose a priority (aperture or shutter speed) but still need to keep an eye on the other! I take a few close up shots and, as with the "straw men" piece I made at the beginning of my studies at Bath, in many ways I actually like the close ups as much if not more than the piece itself.
The first part of this week is spent in Dundee and Edinburgh. On landing in Edinburgh and taking the bus to the station, I pass the Royal Scottish Academy and there is the work of one of my students hanging from the front of the gallery - the prime spot in Edinburgh I would say! Through the tutorial process, I am struck with how the students' practice and confidence is developing; this is the first time I have taught into practice and I am often moved. The course I am working into, the MFA in Art and Humanities needs new students, I will do all I can to keep up the numbers! It is such a fantastic course, if anyone interested is reading this blog do look it up! On my return to Edinburgh, I meet with an artist friend Khalid Alsayed and he takes me to see Jonny Lyons' work at the Ingleby Gallery, then we to go to the Young Contemporaries Exhibition. I love the way Lyons makes photographs and beautifully made wooden objects, using the objects, or activating them in the photographs. There is a pathos there as well as great humour.
I finally get time to play on Thursday and start playing around with the shattered wood, using the plaster pieces as a kind of prop to build them up on. It looks contrived and is far too precarious, and I don't like the fact that the plaster pieces, which were part of a separate work, are now just a kind of support, a distributed plinth, but maybe that isn’t a bad idea and also it's a start.
On Saturday I start playing with some of the pieces of wood and some old tights I had been about to throw away. The tights contain the wood, but allow me to articulate it and also give the sense of precarity I am after, a kind of simultaneous humour and threat that I like. I am not sure this has anything to do with groundswell though, in the sense I meant it, but I like the idea of building this out at scale. There is something here about women, something about radicalism and extremism, something about humour, something about precarity. I am not sure yet, for some reason "Victory of the Precariat" seems to resonate. I need to work on it further. I would really like to continue to work on this in a studio context as I am aware that it is difficult to take professional shots at home!
I wonder whether the plaster pieces will constitute one piece and the "tights" piece another. The plaster pieces were intended for a piece about fallen idols. There is a definite humour and pathos in what I do. I am really aware of it, wish that somehow my work was more progressive, more activist. But I remember what Isabell Lorey argues, that what is called for is an activism of precarity, rather than an attempt to try to recuperate some notion of security, when security has become so problematic in terms of civil liberties and privacy. Here I am, writing this on a blog!
On Saturday evening I go to see a film screening in Bristol, largely to support one of the film makers, Katie Davies, who is a friend. The films being screened are “The Lawes of the Marches”, Davies’ film about the annual ridings on the border between England and Scotland and two films by William Raban, “Island Race” and Time and the Wave”. "Island Race" was about life on the Isle of Dogs and included footage shot across a period of time, 6 months or so I think, including particular events, the local elections where the BNP hover awaiting the number of votes they have got and a VE Day celebration showing the community, including the children of immigrants, celebrating with the full paraphernalia of the Union Jack, from painted faces to plastic bowler hats and flags. I can't help fearing these symbols of national identity and thinking about the Parekh report, which recognised the dangers a kind of unifying singulary UK identity for the needs of special interest groups.
I also go because analogy of “Time and the Wave” speaks to me in relation to what I am trying to do with groundswell. The blurb explains that waves look as though they are ever changing, when in fact they are largely made up of similar particles and Raban draws from this as an analogy for the fact that the world can appear to change, but the present is often made up massively of elements of the past. I would suggest that this is particularly true when historical issues have acute and contested repercussions; if you live in Northern Ireland, this sense of the past being present is keenly felt.
I was very impressed by Katie’s work. Her framing was beautiful and her approach both humorous and serious, but the sound in particular struck me. She had picked out ambient sound in the general area of the shots she had taken, but also recorded ambient material recorded in pubs where she had gone to talk to local people, later integrating some of this sound with sound recorded outside. It gave the film a beautiful texture. I wonder what the piece would have looked like as a 3-screen installation as initially created. The expanse of the border across fields with the riders moving across is beautiful sight on a single screen and would doubtless be even more powerful across 3. The Raban films are also very powerful. Although the “Time and the Wave” film was perhaps less interesting to me than I had thought in terms of its use of imagery of waves – long shots of waves begin the film but are not really integrated within it – its careful ruminations on history and national identity are fascinating and rarely didactic (with the exception of the inclusion of Charles Dickens’ wonderful criticism of state funerals, read over footage of Thatcher’s funeral!)
All the films deal with national identity and its markers, its dangers. As an audience member says in the discussion afterwards this feels terribly pressing because of contemporary contexts, as “Brexit” is being discussed. What kind of notion of national identity are we trumpeting by considering such a move? Again, things have drifted so far to the right. Listening to the film makers and audience talk, I remember some PhD work I did on Gadamer’s interpretative notion of history, the idea that at any given time, there is a “horizon” of events inviting particular interpretations of the past which meld with the current moment. In short, for Gadamer, there is no objective account of history, people reinterpret and shape history.
I feel that we are drifting further and further to the right and that what Beuys wanted to do so much was to intervene in some respect, recognise the human as being a history maker, acknowledging that the terrible scenarios of the 20th Century could happen again. I wonder: What can I do? How can I “brush history against the grain” through my work? I think also of John Akomfrah’s discussion of the way in which he seeks to work against a “sea of amnesia” with respect to history; in “Vertigo Sea”, for example.
This week I am carrying on with the marking, but I try at least to keep the practice in mind. I go along to a talk at BRLSI about tectonics entitled "Tectonics: Did the Earth Move For You?", an academic from Imperial College working in "predictive stratiography" discussing how tectonic activity causes the earth to move, how this affects the landscape and whether climate change is affecting this. He and his colleagues try to make predictions about how the earth's strata have been, and will be, affected by tectonic activity. I found it hugely complex, but interesting, although I am no longer sure that groundswell is always caused by tectonic pressure, but rather a distant storm. I really must contact academics working on wave forms at Plymouth.
On Saturday I go and see the new Coen Brothers movie. As ever with the Coens’ work, it is intelligent and hilarious, and seems to me takes some swipes at the film industry that simply would not have been possible until this point in their career. A lot of the references were to known movie stars of the apogee of Hollywood move-making. The next day, I prepare to see the students and head off to Dundee.
You can nominate your favourite AA2A artist of 2015-16, whether you're a student at a participating uni or a member of the public (including AA2A artists, students from other institutions and college staff). n.b. You can only make one nomination.
Vote now for your favourite artist of 2015-16: http:/
Last week, Keiko has been water jet cutting repeated glass pieces using the kimono shape, a traditional garment from Japan.
She is drawing on her heritage to make her family tree through creating a series of hanging pieces to form an exhibition in Scotland.
She plans to apply surface decoration onto the pieces using decals and then slump them to create form.
Look forward to seeing this idea take shape and will try to update...
29/02/16 - 04/03/16
Last week with Art History I had the amazing opportunity to visit Washington D.C the capitol of America. We left early on the 29th and after nearly a 20 hour journey we landed at our destination. The trip was a once in a life time experience, we arrived to a night bus tour of the city just before desperately running for our beds. Throughout the 3 days there we visited the treasured monuments scattered around the city from the Washington monument, the Lincoln monument, the World War 2 Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans memorial and the list goes on. Once we had strutted all around the city we would then move on to one of the galleries or museums, I visited the National Gallery of Art where I got to see Leonardo da Vinci's painting of Ginevra de’ Benci, the Smithsonian Gallery of American art and the National Museum of the American Indian. Out of all the Museums I personally found the Smithsonian gallery the most interesting. The art works were all so diverse there was a range of American Indian art, American art of the 1950s, classical American landscapes and modern Contemporary art. If given the time I would have gone back and visited it before leaving, there was just so much to see in such a little space of time I wanted to explore the galleries and paintings in finer detail. Although extremely exhausting I thoroughly enjoyed the days that I spent in Washington and would jump back on the plane tomorrow if I could.