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.
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.
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 - 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" (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.
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
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!
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.
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.
After visiting the Andy Warhol exhibition at the Ashmolean I took a trip to the top of the building to watch Elizabeth Price's video piece about the collections at the Ashmolean and the Pitt-RIvers Museum which is the culmination of her time spent in Oxford. She had been commissioned to create a piece about some aspect of the museums' collections. The work was two years in the making.
As I dip my toe in video art I'm a bit of a fan of Elizabeth Price and much admired her Turner Prize piece about the fire at Woolworths called The Woolworths Choir of 1979. I love the style of her work in which she is seemingly able to match rhythm with images effortlessly. I know how much work actually goes into getting this effect.
This new piece did not disappoint. It is a 18-minute long video called A RESTORATION shown over two large screens in a darkened room. I found it utterly compeling and engaging. It shares with the Woolworths video that sense of a perfect matching of audio and visual and a beat which keeps the viewer watching. It is intellectual and thought-provoking. It is fast paced but not too much so. It builds up. It takes you with it. I felt it in my stomach. It has a narrative and narratives within that narrative. I won't give too much away: it is very much worth a visit.
I loved the mix of contemporary (almost science fiction) audio with imagesthat were reminiscent of Victorian obsessions with collecting and archiving. The visual text reminded me of the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the bit with the Babel Fish). The voice was synthasized but just had something about it that was odd but somehow completely appropriate.
The video has so many messages played on many levels as well, about collecting, colonization, posession, obsession, history, our relationship with objects and civilization. I haven't stopped thinking about it a week later.
I am currently working on a video for my The Museum of the Lost Balloon project and this has given me a lot of inspiration just when I needed it, when I was stuck in that all too familiar pit of artistic angst.
Last weekend I found myself in Oxford and, while I was there I paid a visit to the Ashmolean (it would have been rude not to). The Ashmolean is currently running an exhibition of the art of Andy Warhol.
Until recently, I didn't feel particularly inspired by Pop Art as a movement generally and the art of Andy Warhol in particular. I admired the philosophy behind Pop Art but didn't feel the emotion of it.
However, a few months ago I came across a story about Andy Warhol that sparked my interest in him, as an artist and as a person. This was the story of Andy Warhol and 25 cats name(d) Sam which I came across completely by chance while googling idley on the Internet. I wrote a blog about this amazing story, and ever since then I've been on a quest to obtain the book he and his mother created about Sam and Sam, Sam and Sam etc. (I haven't been able to yet as it isn't very cheap.)
I appreciate anyone who is quirky. I love quirkiness. And this story showed me that Andy Warhol was quirky. I knew he was quirky but quirky with cats? In my mind, that is someone to admire. I love cats. Artists who love cats are like-minded souls.
Visiting this exhibition, which displays pieces from a private collection and contains an eccelectic mix of video, print, drawing and painting, made me realise that Andy Warhol was a true 'Renaissance' man. What I mean by that is that he was able to dip and delve in all sorts of areas and take advantage of moods and themes of the age. He was a man who loved to play (and he was quite shrewd in what he chose to play with too). He was an entrepeneur but also, and first and foremost, an artist. He was opportunistic and constantly alert (open, and willing) to new ventures. He could morph from artist to printmaker to video maker and film maker.
Art for him didn't just happen in the studio. It happened in undefined social spaces. He helped move art from the studio to the community. He was an observer of society and that is what I think I also have in common with him (besides cats). I would decscribe myself as an observer too. I wish I could have met him (perhaps in a lift somewhere).
The exhibition is well worth a visit. I found much to be inspired by (especially the weewee paintings) on display. The exhibition runs for another month so if anyone reading this finds themself in Oxford with a few hours to spare over the next few weeks, I recommend a trip to the Ashmolean.
So Im aware thst I havent been on here and writing as much as I had hoped or intended.
I understand the scheme is drawing to a close for some, however I was lucky enough to be offered an extension at my interview. Which is a relief as I am still in production of the project I pitched at my interview.
I have had many internal ongoing questions about what I was doing, and if it is the right approach. However I deciede to go with my instincts and carry on as I had decided. See what the end result is when its completed, hopefully a good one.
Becoming reaquainted with analogue photography has been really enjoybale and may well have changed my practice for the longterm. I have been using 35mm for sketchbook purposes, whilst shooting final images on medium format (120) for fininshed pieces. this last week I have commenced a little side project on 5x4 which I will write about iin another post.
I have had some assitance form students with the project, which has been helpful and hopefully useful for them as well. If Im honest there my have been scope for more, but I can be a bit controlling when it comes to my work. So relinquishing that and the inherent quality control can be tricky. Something I need to work on I dare say.
Thats all for now. I will try and visit again sooner!
Hello! So, recently we performed The Chance at Poolsbrooke Farm, courtesy of the lovely CIA in Chesterfield. We had a live stream running to the Kunstt Vardo channel, who comissioned us to create a work with political undertones.
CIA have a dress-up horse parade every solstiuce and equinox, which tied in beautifully with our work. This was not shown on the live footage but it will be included in the edited film.
Streaming live from a rural area was, I think, one of the most stressfull situations we have been in! As luck would have it, ten minutes befor show time our WiFi signal disapeared, we managed to get it back 45 minutes later though! Luckily the University have been fantastic loaning us tech equipment, and our camera man on the day was wonderful.
For the AA2A show we will probably show the film and possibly arrange another performance. It would be good to get into the 3D workshop to make an even bigger pinãta. We made the original the usual papier mache way but coated the outside with cocoon strippings. This is a wonderful natural material and extremely durable. You stretch it out over baking paper, lightly wet it, cover it with another layer of baking paper and iron it. The result is a beautiful, durable, wasp nest like material that is extremely malleable. It is traditionally used to make fancy paper, but it's great for 3D sculpture and costumes as well.
I think we will also show our sketch books, something I've never liked before but am currenly really enjoying. However, I believe two of them may be at my fathers house in in Scotland which we will have to retrieve. We attended the Glasgow International Festival last week, which is amazing. We would recommend visting Transmission, Avant Garde, The CCA,The Savoy Centre, Kelvin Hall and Buzzcut, who aren't listed but have some exciteing live works. The are 73 venues so either be selective or take a week to look around...you won't be disapointed.
Building on our idead of alchemy and the Four Temperaments, I have started looking into The Saturn Cycle. There's a lot of words and themes flying around our heads at the moment, which we need to coalate and form some kind of meaning and central purpose of them all. I feel like I have lost a limb witthout those sketchbooks as they have so much research in them!
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 galleries. 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. The cave-like construction was created to mirror a copper mine and the purpose of using cardboard boxes is that they represent displaced objects or ideas. The aim is to explore the creative destruction that is caused by construction.
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. These boxes represent the 'ore' from the mine. 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.