Segmentation and Culture


I have been working for around ten days now on some of the components for one of the works. It is hard to keep the porcelain fresh to handle and yet not become deformed under its own weight at this scale. The material dictates much of the formal essence and I am working hard to maintain the traces of making as well as the underlying structure of segmentation. Although what I am making is not a vessel and forms part of a larger work, working in this way is giving me a wealth of ideas for future work. 

I have been inspired by prehistoric pottery such as the beaker culture terracotta artefacts. This archaeological idea comes together with the biological creating another layer in my toing and froing between the past and future, centred around the self and aspects of what it is to be human. My aim is to decentralise the work from an overt iconography of the now and widen the scope for reflection which inevitably comes back onto contemporary contexts from a different perspective. A perspective that sees the human condition not stuck in the present but a chronologically universal one. Namely, the tension between the animal self grounded in a physical reality, and the conceptual self as a construct of the mind. This I believe is something that people have tried to come to terms with continually in different ways over time. Today this struggle is framed in the context of technology in its many forms and macro socio-economics. These are having the tendency perhaps to fragment and confound a sense of the whole in a way that has not been previously encountered on such a scale. 


Helmet of the Sun God


Yesterday I bought an automatic welding helmet. This will make welding much easier and accurate as it will free the hand that normally has to lower the visor just before arcing. 

Slanted like a Corinthian helmet, the work of Hephaestos is done behind its gaze as its eye is rendered miraculously half blind in the instant the spark is ignited. The mask conceals, protects and like an armoured baboon, intrudes menacingly onto a landscape made of gentler things.  

Subwoofers: To Port or To Seal



I pulled these out from storage a few days ago. They work well as subwoofers and also deliver on high frequencies. They need rehousing though; I do not like the shapes of the boxes and the black fabric coverings. Then there is the question of whether to port or seal the boxes. The speaker on the right is ported hence the difference in size and shape. 

The functional difference between ported and sealed speakers is, the former are louder and the latter deliver a higher fidelity. Seeing as I intend to use them in a gallery setting, sealed is the more appropriate option. This is fortunate because the calculations and design choices are simpler for the sealed speaker type. It is also smaller and the size tolerance is much greater. With a ported speaker, the measurements need to be much more precise because the air wave leaving the box needs to match the fundamental frequency of the monitor exactly if constructive interference is to amplify the membrane displacement and hence enhance volume. 

The best material for cost and ease of construction is thick MDF which I can get cut accurately to size. For now I am thinking of leaving the MDF bare and only sealing it for aesthetic and conceptual reasons. The speakers are what they are and to try to hide them would miss the point. They are sentinels of the sculpture, not just relayers of sound. Additionally, at the moment I feel that to paint them or cover them is to deny their real nature and contrast with the sculpture. 

This web site gives all the information I need to construct the boxes and fit the subwoofers.


Speaker Box Enclosure Designer / Calculator

Use the Speaker Box Designer to determine the optimal volume for your enclosure.

Gesture, Imprint, Matrix

This morning, I was going through an old batch of porcelain which had developed some mould. I did not want to add this to my current work as it might affect the integrity of the whole in some way. This encounter opened out an opportunity. Rather than just throwing it away I adapted an idea I have been thinking about and used in previous shows. The opportunity for people to use touch in the context of work which is too fragile to handle. The show pieces are about a deep aspect of humanity. This brought up the idea of gesture which is part of the work I have critically incorporated into the sculptures. The emotional input, as I have mentioned before, is finely balanced with rational world building. In the process of mediating between these two states I leave imprints.

The piece of porcelain as I have handled is the first of a series of matrices created from an imprint which can be ‘followed’ by someone else as a moment of tactile communion. It is a personal gesture whilst universal – it is both human and animal. It reminds me of handling ancient objects. It reaches out in a physical way to others.

Hand Axe, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, 1.2 – 1.4 million years old

It brings to mind, the Krell hand print in Forbidden Planet. More recently, Neil MacGregor’s second and third broadcasts in The History of the World in One Hundred Objects on the Olduvai Gorge stone chopping tool and hand axe respectively.

Light of the Fading Day: A Start


Today, in the fading daylight of the studio, I began the next work for the final show. This is the largest and most technically ambitious of the set. It is quite daunting because despite having rehearsed it in my mind countless times, it is all new to me. I have never worked like this on this scale with porcelain, so I have left plenty of time to deal with what might come up. For porcelain, it is a very large work requiring a deft control of water content without loosing spontaneity and an overall vision. In addition, I am not using moulds or armatures which makes the handling of form that much more difficult and unpredictable, but that is good, it keeps things dynamic. Then there is the question of assemblage, mounting and display. Each stage will have its own challenges which will dictate the final outcome. I have a vision which will have to adapt to what emerges along the way and how this will entangle with sound is something that will need a heuristic approach. I have already altered the question of where the sound will be coming from. It will be more overt, creating a tension between two sources of interest although its control will remain with the sculpture: the sound, a guardian of sorts. 

How refined, how brutal must I be to set this plasma into shape and keep the gesture and the thought intact against a stubborn bend? For this body is not wont to be thought rude and so tempering my power, I must bear its growing freedom with careful wit and patiently hold my nerve so we might come to journey’s end more whole than at the start. 




The alembic comes to mind: from the Arabic al-anbiq, the word has its roots in the Greek ambix which is of even more ancient origins, perhaps Hebrew. Ambix means cup, used by alchemists to distill potions and elixirs. I see it as a symbol for the transmutation from the unreal to the real through the distillation of an admixture of experience and ideas. Another circle turned on the axis of the idea of vessel. (See previous post, Conversation, intersubjectivity and the Suspension of Reality.)

The Gut


An umbilical to the most distant cousins came as a gossamer sack. I could not move with food just floating about inside me, subject to the vagaries of diffusion, how could I. A second opening appeared, like an eye on the world, the sac stretched and narrowed bathing food in acids and enzymes squirted into a sphinctered environment. Enough energy was assured so I could cease my sessile existence and developing kinetic strategies left behind the ceaseless rocking of the waves. Hunter, prey, grazer, became the hidden rules of day and night in a circadian rhythm of fear. This is what I am in its most fundamental form, keeping entropy at bay.

The nervous system, servant to this messy kitchen, reached round its synaptic fingers, holding the tactics of feeding in its grasp and throwing open a blind race towards sentience. Sight, sound, smell, taste, touch conjured constellations of qualia igniting engines of thought. The self became inevitable. Traversing the threshold of knowledge I left behind the crawling and slavering of my infancy on slimy slopes where hope and fear could not be understood, and produced a soul. Self built, a DIY god that lives within me, another symbiont sharing a body with countless others, keeping at bay the chaos of imagining.

Metamerism: Why Make It So Difficult


The works in porcelain are hard to do because of my process. Why make my life difficult and not model them as I would a figure, or anything else for that matter?

The answer is simple, the consequences for me are not. Life has evolved so that each and every animal more advanced than the simplest forms has a body plan organised in segments or somites. These are repeating units which can be identical to one another or structurally very different. Segmentation or metamerism can be clearly seen in arthropods and earthworms but is less obvious in vertebrates. differentiation takes place at the embryo stage and is something we have in common with all complex animals. 

My process involves building the body with coils of porcelain in much the same way as a basic ceramic pot is built without using a wheel. A pot is more or less symmetrical and it is relatively easy to control its shape as it is being made. However, building the bodies is a much more difficult thing to do because they are very asymmetrical and the flow of lines depend on fine adjustments. As I build the body, I have to imagine cross sections of the piece as it is built and visualise how it will be several layers on or when completed.

As the porcelain dries and after it is fired, the traces of the coiling show through as the material shrinks. This trace of how the form was made renders visible its making. It brings to focus a reflection I wrote back in August, 

‘As I work, I continually rediscover that to leave traces of how a work has been done, is to allow its continual remaking once my part is completed.’

This trace corresponds to the trace of metazoan evolution, our evolution. It is seeing the making under an opaque skin rendered visible. The layered coiling correlates with the physical way in which a 3D printer layers or disintegrates material to build or reveal the form. 

I have never worked in this way but it does extend the process when I was  compiling Chaos Contained. Then, it was molecular accretion to build complex structures. The result was organic but architectural in form. Now, the forms are organic, felt from the gut and not the head: preparing the way for another form of living-presence.

Reflections on Concept Sketches



Sketches showing the possible arrangement for the sculptures as part of Enshrinement. The Raft of the Medusa comes to mind as does a lamenting trinity after the deposition.  But these are not people, they are other worldly, poised to utter the narratives of transformation.

The contrapposto of classical statues confers on them a semblance of life as they sit still or lie motionless. Sound will be their given motion, bounded by the environment in which they will be placed: passively subject and resistant at one and the same time. My control is not their loss of freedom,  they are extensions of my mind, compliant to a will but resistant in their material making dictating their own aesthetic and meaning. 



They are not immersed in struggle as is another work, they are released momentarily from it, on the threshold of being to world building. Cryptic anatomy intimates a distant fellowship with the simplest of complex life and ourselves. Each latent form encased in a chrysalid, crawls past another, conforming its shape to a dance choreographed in the dark, lit in a frozen moment of the imagination. A moment that never ceases to change: therein lies the resistant element of their making.




Passive Resistance


I have been wondering over the past couple of days about the nature of the agency I am working on for the project proposal. My work is not performative in a kinetic way. It is still, passive, motionless. Sound disrupts this passivity by moving through time, projecting onto corporeal senses perceived through vibration. It cannot be avoided. No longer does the work’s agency wholly rely on the viewers volitional behaviour.

But what of the three-dimensional object itself? I see the agency in the bodily work I make as presenting a passive resistance. The viewer, unless an iconoclast, cannot change the work at the point of viewing. This implies the exertion of a power to affect the viewer through its own stillness, its own passivity, particularly since the works have an ambivalent organic correspondence with human anatomy.

I often deal with the relationship between passive resistance and the projective quality of sound. The context and aims determine the balance between the two, between stillness, silence, intangibility and a state characterised by their disruption.

The project proposal is planned with this dynamic in mind. Aimed at bringing to light the content of the work through an engagement premised on distance, as I wrote in the previous blog, it is designed to alter the index/recipient relationship or object/subject balance. 

Conversation, Intersubjectivity and the Suspension of Reality


Conversation is an often used word implying an informal exchange of ideas and thoughts, perhaps altering these in the process. Useful as it might be as a term, I have always felt uneasy using it with respect to artwork. I am talking here about visual arts and motionless works in particular, not performing arts, artificial intelligence or certain forms of interactive art. In these latter cases the argument is different on account of the degree to which a two way interactivity may take place between art and the recipient. With performances, it is likely that the performer is affected more or less than the audience. With visual arts such painting, sculpture and video, the relationship is one way.

An artworks such as mine would be better described as agent; aiming to affect the recipient in some way through a social nexus. This status as agent is applicable to other art forms, but it is particularly pertinent to visual arts of inanimate nature and passivity of kinetic response: stillness, silence and in the case of video, intangibility. Audiences project their individual or collective feelings, ideas, beliefs onto the art object. The one way nature of this behaviour precludes a full intersubjective relationship. Whitney Davis says that, ‘Artworks are never subjects, but always objects; only subjects are subjects.’ The asymmetry of action that arises when considering an object-subject exchange is something I foster or disrupt according to my intention.

Intersubjectivity is the exchange that takes place between two equivalent subjects. As the status or autonomy of one subject is reduced the intersubjectivity becomes increasingly asymmetric to the point where it is meaningless. I  think that this inverse relationship needs to be considered if one is to talk about a conversation with any sort of clarity.

In order for an art object to fulfil its full capacity as agent for social interaction, there needs to be a suspension of a sense of reality. The recipient enters into a contract where they accept certain premises set by the work or context. The consensual nature of this behaviour gives the artwork a fragile hold over the recipient while the contract holds. This is not necessarily self delusion but part of the artistic process. Without it, a purely literal or rational stance would create a difficulty in imagining and affecting the recipient as might be intended with an artwork. 

I feel that this suspension is necessary as part of creating an imaginary universe. It is not enough for me to adhere purely to representation, commentary or illustration although these do form part of my practice. The non-enforceable contract I enter with the recipient is that they too suspend a sense of ‘reality’, their reality. In this way, a dialectic can take place between the ideas behind the artwork and the recipients own. How this is done is a matter for delineating those prototype ideas, give them form within a coherent narrative however irrational, and curate the outcome. But principle above all is the freedom to break the rules and traverse into new realities. In short, art is about creating a reality out of something that we know is not real and making it real.

Going full circle, the word conversation is perhaps apt when confronted with an artwork. However, entering into such a relationship requires a consensual agreement either individually or collectively that permits the work to exert its presence or power and affect the recipient(s). This does not mean that critical thinking cannot be applied but there is a place for both. It is here that prior knowledge of what one is experiences can be beneficial in understanding a novel work. But this does not preclude whether a work works for one or not, it just might help.



Aby Warburg exchanged a great banking fortune for a life studying human activity. He gave his inheritance as eldest child to his brother so long as the brother would buy him any book he wanted. Warburg together with Erwin Panowsky is considered the father of iconology.1 Warburg’s final endeavour was an atlas of human culture. This comprised forty black panels to which he pinning nearly one thousand images arranging them according to themes. The work remained unfinished at the time of his death. There is little text and the viewer is left to make connections and associations between the items. Warburg named this series Mnemosyne after the muse of memory.2

Perhaps what Warburg’s Mnemosyne represents, is a looking back on human culture as a memory built of images, symbols and objects left behind as art and artefacts. From these traces, a speculative view of the evolution of culture and the visual arts can be constructed analogous to how an individual uses memory to compose a narrative of the past. The fragmented nature of this process is one that allows for constant reformation of that narrative and thereby leave great scope for the imagination. This is an important aspect of what I do, making objects and images as icons that connect ideas. I started the MA, by looking to bring together the disparate branches of my practice into one narrative. The story is latent, the ideas fragmentary, shaped by works that outline the spaces in between. These spaces are opened out to scrutiny, the imagination, new narratives. Mnemosyne could be another good title for a work, installation or collection. 


  1. Iconology contrasts with the more tightly defined iconography. Whereas iconology is the study of the history of culture and visual arts through imagery and symbols, iconography is more specifically the study of specific symbols with respect to given art genres or forms. Many make no distinction between the two terms and use them synonymously. The grey area that exists between the two terms is a source of debate amongst academics but so long as one specifies the parameters of an argument probably bears little import on discussions about art.[]
  2. Mnemosyne is a Titanide and minor goddess of memory and sister to Calliope who Hesiod and Ovid considered chief amongst the muses.[]

Subject-Object Relationship

I have thought a great deal about the role of the sculpture, display and sound in the final show, What is the relationship between these apparently distinct elements and the viewer? This is not primarily about making a multimedia work, it is an exploration of how the stillness of a sculpture, a statue in particular, can be disrupted meaningfully. I see statuary sculptures as passive objects. Their performativity is one of passive resistance to the motility and volitional interaction of the viewer. The viewer can walk around it, touch it, threaten its integrity, choose his or her distance of view, asserting their kinetic capabilities as an expression of their living essence.

A statue is made of inanimate matter yet, as Alfred Gell suggests, can be treated in some ways as though it were living. But this is not living in a biological sense, the living-presence response refers to something that has agency in a social sense. However, a sculpture is not a subject in the  ‘conversation’ generated, it is only an object. Its object status distinguishes it from the viewer because of its stillness. This passive silence is underlined by a lack of movement. And even if it were to be animated, this would not change its objecthood. In Ode to a Grecian Urn, Keats’ speaks for the object in a pretence that the object speaks for itself. Clearly the poet’s interpretation, his apparent conversation is one way as though it were a dialogue. The virtue of the vase lies in its silence, allowing the poet to exercise a dominion over the object. 

David Getsy explores this power play between object and subject in his essay,  Acts of Stillness: Statues, Perfomativity, and Passive Resistance. A statue’s ambivalence with respect to its position vis a viz the viewer is also its strength. As passive object, a statue is subject to the actions of the viewer(s). However this very inability of a statue to be physically volitional towards a viewer, alters the latter’s behaviour through its passive resistance. It exerts a form of power that is used in monuments, sacred art and gallery based works. I explored this notion in Chaos Contained. The works were displayed openly in museum and gallery settings, vulnerable in their fragility and delicacy of form. This created a tension between the act of looking and the desire to touch whilst offering a jeopardy in the very act of viewing. This altered the viewers’ behaviours, largely from being dominantly motile to cautious and circumspect. The works were approached often with trepidation which was accentuated by the deliberately aesthetic structures which proclaimed their brittle integrity. Although the works in Chaos Contained exerted a power and agency by virtue of their formal and material properties, they were not subjects in a conversation. I was aware of their agency, they were conceived as such, but I saw them as objects and referred to them as objects of the mind. In these conversations I remained largely hidden behind the act of completion of the works. This view of the art object does not discount performativity of the works themselves, just as listening to a recording does not alter the fact that what one is listening to is an acoustic object in a one way conversation at the time of listening. With a static statue, the performance is its stillness, its silence, its resistance by virtue of its non-motility.

Gell’s view of the art object as a social agent is all well and good, but a sculpture cannot speak for itself. Meaning and the social nexus can only come as a function of the nexus formed by the recipient, the context, prototype and index, to use Gell’s terminology. But is that all? I think not, what Gell does not take into account is the agency of the artist, who is hidden in all probability. (However, I must say at this point that the nexus can become largely distorted in contemporary contexts as to whether the artist is known, unknown, famous or notorious.) Perhaps this omission is  on account of Gell’s anthropological standpoint. The artist is reduced to artisan level, interpreting the idea being represented, with skill and according to the current view of things. I think that the artist is far more than an artisan but not because the work cannot come about without the artist’s action. A work of art is in my view, not only a reflection of the social setting but has a point of poietic origin within the artist’s inner self. There is a danger in extrapolating Gell’s anthropological work, set in well established, relatively stable social contexts, where tradition dictates the artisan’s work. This is not the case in Western tradition of art which despite the constraints of contemporary established cannons, has always displayed a great capacity for experimentation and innovative change. 

This complex relationship between artwork, context and viewer is often reduced to the metaphor of conversation. But there is more going on here than an exchange that alters viewpoints. An artwork does not just have agency on a rational or dialectic level, it affects the emotions in some way. One could argue that this is its prime function, to affect the recipient beyond rhetoric. This is not so much a conversation as an experience that is processed more rationally after the encounter. 

Where does this take me in relation to the project proposal? The works I am currently engaged with could be left as still representations of an idea. But I am also working with sound and display. The aim is to break through the silence, the stillness of the statue. Rather than exert its affect passively, dependent on how the viewer decides to approach it, I am looking at ways of controlling the motility of the viewer in various ways. Khadija von Zinnenberg Carroll sees the vitrine as a performative element in its own right. It only takes a little observation to see how a vitrine can affect the behaviour of visitors in a museum. Their physicality changes with respect to other forms of display. A vitrine not only alters the way a work is viewed but also how it is experienced. A vitrine creates a barrier that frustrates the impulse to touch and approach closely paradoxically forcing the viewer to come as close as they can. This is something that von Zinnenberg plays with in the video accompanying her essay Vitrinenedenken: Vectors Between Subject and Object.  The vitrine becomes, not just a means to display, but an object in itself, an interactive participant in the work with its own agency.

I am using a vitrine in one of the works, I aim to create that barrier between the work and the viewer as the recipient is distanced from the subject matter in time. This transparent tegument is, however, pierced allowing sound narratives to transpire across the membrane. The permeability is designed to draw the viewer closer creating a sort of intimacy, scent the inner world and lower the resistance to engage. The stillness of the statue is broken yet it remains immotile. A painting’s frame circumscribes the limits of its world, untouchable yet tangible, that thingliness that forms an aura. The three dimensional frame alters the statue to something removed, as are the notions (prototypes) indexed by it, and its passivity and aloofness is disrupted by the sound. This idea has arisen out of consideration for the subject matter: the unreachability of the past, contingency and the vulnerability of meaning in language through interpretation, a form of Babel. Yet, the devices I mention here stand alone as conceptual works in themselves, as demonstrations of process. 

I also look to use sound as an invisible ‘vitrine’ with its own performativity. This time the membrane is not rendered permeable by means of piercing a physical integument but by creating a kinetic relationship with the sculpture Again the viewer can control and is controlled by their kinetics and those of the sound, choreographing movements in a different way. In this case, the acoustic vibrations ‘encase’ the sculpture as an electron cloud might enclose the nucleus of its atom. It affects the properties with a charge of energy, indeterminate and diffuse

Both these works take from the notion of the statue as a vessel with an internal and external world. The integument created by the modes of display I am planning, are to be permeable with elements of distal-proximal engagements. 


Angles, Atoms and Rhythm: A Reference



Something I wrote in the previous post More Studies and Why regarding atoms and caves, made me think of the rhythm of movement, the natural flow of inanimate things that is also found in the way life is constructed. Taken down to the smallest unit of matter before becoming subject to the uncertainty of probability, the atom’s uncannily and mindful symmetry dictates a precision of angles when neighbour attracts neighbour to form a molecule, a structure that possesses a graceful efficiency of space.



So, the components of the sculpture can take from this principle of angles to trace a rhythmic line and entrain the eye as the sounds might with the ear: as the shape of a line in a poem might shape the meaning of its verse.

More Studies and Why



A second set of studies. They are still crude in their visualisation. I am working without any references, images or models. I am as blind but for the illumination of touch. The aim is to become familiar with every aspect, with every angle of view, so that when it comes to it, the process of making is free and spontaneous. Each angle, every intersection, plane and proportion is to become second nature. This is necessary as I have never worked with such a form or idea before and there will be practical challenges along the way. In addition, with the idea clear in my mind, the mode of making, the handling of the porcelain will not be a necessarily defining element. 

Incidentally, the form of the sculpture is emerging as something that reminds me of a molecular structure and the cast of a cave system. The micro and macro coming together in a gut form, bringing together elements of the narrative that partially underlies current work.

In the meantime I continue with the third component of the work  Enshrinement  which I hope to have formed well before the New Year. 



Skype Chat 4.8: Unit 2


Summary Explication of Unit 2


Unit 2 Learning Outcomes

1. Present a resolved body of original creative practice that has evidenced the systematic enhancement of your knowledge and understanding.

Resolved body of work does not mean ‘complete’ or ‘finished’ or ‘ended’… it is a subtle but important difference… and it is more than simply ‘work in progress’. Resolved means you have worked through your ideas and this is the body of work that has resulted from your research and practice. Most likely, your ongoing work will build on what you have done in the MA course, so the body of work cannot be ‘final’ or ‘complete’.

Jonathan, do you mean it points towards the future rather than represent a final resting point?

Alexis – it has that possibility at least – but ‘resting point’ is quite a nice phrase, the resolved body of work and the show is a pause – it does mark a completion of two years but you don’t need to fear it being the ‘end’ and therefore the work needs to be perfect and complete in some way.

I think that is clear – the final show demonstrates what you have worked out during the two years; it is not essential for the work to look finished, although that does help, but it must show cohesion and clarity. It needs also to show that there is room for it to grow further or into something else – coherently

and learning outcome 2 uses exactly the word – coherent…

2. Analyse and critically reflect coherently upon your own practice and its context.

This is your ongoing blog posts, the reflective process – keep doing the blog and you will meet this learning outcome.

3. Summarise and evaluate your overall progress and formulate a constructive plan for continuing Personal and Professional Development.

Again this is covered in the blog but there is one short written post that I will address specifically in a minute.


Unit Components

1. Symposium II
In May you will all make a 5 minute video summarising your research and practice and we will have one of those long days of watching and discussing your work and ideas. The Symposium is not a silent crit, you will be able to speak. 

2. Critical Evaluation
This is the only extra specific written work you now need to do, it is a simple blog post – about 500 words that does 2 things:

a. critically reflects on the 2 years on the course, 
b. describes your future plans post the MA course.

3. Reflective Journal
It says word count of 2000 – you can ignore that – it is more for MA illustration students who generally just have sketch books but often not much reflective writing – for you, you will all have done more than 2000 words easily on your blogs.

4. Practical work
This is your art – your work – resolved and presented on your blog and in the show.

Hopefully you can see that if you continue making work and reflecting – then you will meet the learning outcomes.

Pav – Is the work assessed against the project proposal? I meant, do I need to keep updating my proposal in the light of new developments and changes?

Jonathan – The proposal is still the start point but of course things continue to develop and change – so the story has a beginning but you may and probably will have wandered in many different directions! so yes updating the proposal is useful. 

5. Research Discussions

We will be running these over 5 weeks of next term. You will all have half of a chat session to lead a discussion about some of the ideas in your research paper – so you will have 45 minutes to 1 hour and you will be responsible for facilitating the discussion – then the other weeks taking part in the discussions.

I suggest that you focus on something from your paper (you wont have time to cover everything) — you then think through some material that will help us discuss the ideas and move towards a better understanding of your ideas. For example, you might want to write 3 or 4 short blog posts that we read then discuss, or make 2 or 3 minute videos that introduce the ideas and raise questions that take us step by step through your thinking. You can include the link to your own practice if you want to and we can discuss that as well.

For some people like Pav and Matt and Alexis, who have done some teaching or like Pav who does loads of it! – then this is more familiar territory but for everyone it is great practice at summarising your ideas and research and thinking through how best to give access to these ideas for other people. The London based students will be doing the same thing — we will keep these as two separate sessions: London based 10.00-12.00 UK time and online 13.00-15.00 UK time.

I think we will try live streaming the discussion in the studio for anyone who has time and wants to join in and also I will invite all the students to the typed chat sessions in skype. Not everyone will be able to attend everything but you do need to attend one lot of sessions, ie for most of you it is the online sessions. You all have some important material in your papers, it is important to share it and gain more from the process of research.

My research paper has led me from considering an artwork as a living entity as an analogue for a biological organism, to a living entity in a social sense. i.e social agent. Could this be the centre of the discussion rather than dwelling on the research paper which forms the foundation for this transition but is only part of the story?

Alexis yes, that could work. We know that there is too much to cover in such a short period of time so a focus is important.

Sessions will start in week 4 of next term on Tuesday 28 Jan – I will put a timetable on the wiki soon. 

Between Theory and Practice



There is a world of difference between thinking art and doing it. That seems obvious, I know, but it is easily forgotten with the blurring of boundaries between disciplines in the arts today. It is good that things intermix, heterozygosity is so much healthier than the alternative. However, it is also good to bear in mind the distinction between theory and practice. I cannot see how making an artwork can be anything but practice based. To theorise is not the same as to do, theory is seldom wholly applicable in the real world: metal buckles, clay slumps, paint is hard to handle and planning never quite fits the vagaries of  time. This is where the role of the imagination comes in and can cause problems. Imagination is essential for idea formation and ambition but is it enough? Can an artwork exist and be produced through the imagination alone?

An artwork can stimulate the imagination but I do not see it as the sole element in the making of that artwork. To go from imagining making to actually making is a very large step indeed. One that needs years of practice, failure and training for it to be possible to think of something and then do it without encountering technical, skill and practicability boundaries. An artwork, albeit the product of imaginative thinking, is not its sole product. There is the techne, the episteme and the phronesis; the craft, the knowledge and the wisdom to use it, whether writing poetry or designing a monumental work. Often it seems that the ancient Greeks found a word for everything that is not technologically based.

In the previous post, I mentioned how the latest work is a hybrid of a number of other ideas and models I have gone through in the past year. It presents challenges both of concept and making, two things that constrain the translation of an unfettered notion, product of the imagination into a physical artwork in a given material. 

Amy Kind in her article on Aeon describes how she approaches the dichotomy, or ambivalence, that can arise from the ways in which the imagination has traditionally been thought of exemplified by Immanuel Kant’s classification. What Kant called productive imagination and reproductive imagination are differences in kind and perhaps do not help much in deciding which the role of imaginative thinking in a given situation. Kant and others before him noted the difference between cognitive rational productive imagination, constrained by the ‘rules of the game’ which forms concepts, and the ability to form a mental world view in the mind, using reproductive imagination which is divorced from reality but based on what we infer using the former kind.

Kind resolves ambivalences that arise from this classification by looking, not at different kinds but different uses of the imagination. She suggests that imagination can be transcendent or instructive in function. Science and problem solving are instructive ways constrained by convention and purpose. Art and literature lean more towards the transcendent form of imagination. This can seem frivolous at times, without obvious utilitarian purpose which may go some way to explain why artists are always be called to justify themselves by doing something ‘useful’. But this is a discussion for another time.

Art can transgress boundaries and ignore the constraint of practicality. But even here there is problem solving and constraints when translating from that space in the mind and its embodiment. This is something that purely process led art practice has largely resolved by allowing things to take their course once set in motion with the artist as facilitator. But even hear, there are needs to be met when designing the execution of such thought experiments. 



My practice is very much orientated towards outcome through process. This means, that the way something is done is an essential part of an envisaged outcome: behaviours and circumstances change the direction of travel during making. However, because my work is dependent on chosen materials with their specific behaviours I need to be in control of those behaviours. I could make the behaviours themselves be the content of the work itself and relinquish any formal part in the process but that is not in my nature. So in this project, planning and practice form an essential part of the process. Drawing and modelling are part of using the instructive imagination to explore the practical possibility for transcendent visualisations to be brought into the physical field. By drawing and looking at every aspect and detail in a cognitive fashion, I gradually resolve the inconsistencies that would render the work less free to behave during its making. By this freedom I mean, allowing the unexpected to play a positive role instead of frustrating the process. I feel fortunate because I can draw the idea and develop a felt detailed knowledge of how it comes together. I am aware of the danger of overcontrolling the outcome and that poietic spontaneity is important during making. However, knowing the material thoroughly and understanding the formal elements and making process goes a long way to maintaining material vigour and allowing surprises hitherto unseen to play their part: behaviours are given boundaries within which they can meaningfully become express. 



A Time for Reflection

Being away from the studio is always a time for reviewing my practice and current work. Today is such a day, and reflection has given me insight into a number of things. Work is cyclical and directional. The project proposal is taking physical shape and what is emerging is not only according to the latest proposal version but harks back to the original one in which I was looking at the relationship between statuary and sound in the context of mythological ideas.

A second reflection regards the suspended sculpture. This piece has gone through significant changes from Oracle to Icon to its current iteration just a couple of days ago. What I am thinking of now incorporates elements of various ideas including horizontality, sound, cave systems, molecular structures and the form of Icon and Oracle. It is more dynamic and presents a number of challenges in its assemblage and display. It is a matter of stability which needs careful thinking regarding the unit parts and their fitting together. 

I have also had the idea of displaying work on iron stands. The idea came to me from the most unlikely of sources. Watching the Netflix serial Bolivar the starring props, as far as I am concerned, have been the candle sticks or candelabra. Iron work in all manner of designs; functional, decorative and votive objects that permeate almost every interior scene. The works I am doing are in a way votive objects that enter the sacred sphere.  This solution offers relatively easy fabrication and logistics as well as the capability to order and reorder elements in the show according to spatial disposition and light. The structures would also be relatively unobtrusive and be in keeping with the material, form and content of the sculptures.

The video Mythopoeia V – Hope is the first time I truly bring together my physical work with video techniques. I worked intuitively with a number of clips to compose the short film. I allowed the experience gained in the previous films in the series to merge with the work I am doing. Working from the gut rather than the head, I gave myself only a day, a morning truth be told, to edit the clips and add the sound track. It is only with hindsight that I see what I was doing. 

The principle idea when editing and composing the video was to dislocate time by overlaying two different viewpoints asynchronous. I did this to add depth to the visuals and give a sense of the manifold aspects that underpin the making of the ceramic work. By showing the action from two points diametrically opposed, overlaying one another, the action is slowed and given a greater weight and significance. It is a way of creating a double take, a deja vue and at the same time giving the narrative a multiplicity: that this action does not only apply to this particular moment but is a universal speaking of other circumstances. 

The action is divided in two parts. Again this was a spontaneous decision which fits the narrative, a before and after. These two moments linked by a tension of opposites were not planned but arose naturally out of the process of making and remaking. I don’t have to plan the details of this, only be aware of when it happens. Then, talking of awareness – after the fact – there are details such as the stone sculpture with her hands on her head. A fortuitous accident of placement, one of so many. When all is considered. life and art is all a coincidence of place and time, making something out of contingent events, if one is only willful enough to see things through. 


Mythopoeia V – Hope



Video for Entanglement show next week, Wednesday, 11 December.

The video is both part of the project proposal, orbiting the work Enshrinement and the latest in the series that has emerged since the first term. Each video is a stand alone exploration of an idea, using the contingency of what is available, made within a very restricted time frame. Each one is an extemporaneous projection of thought emerging from notions that have subliminally evolved in my mind. They have been catalysed in the moment by the materials and circumstances at hand using the video medium as an available tool to expose these thoughts to the light of day. 

Each video suggest a notion or instance congruent with my overall vision, penetrating into a part of my mental metabolism that can remain blind to itself until it is unearthed in the process of reflection, after having used a means other than that with which I work normally such as digital video. 

Randomness and Contingency

Predictability arises out of unpredictability. This strikes at the core of the apparent contradictions between the infinitesimal at the quantum level and the macro scale that we experience. What we see around us, experience, perceived reality, is actually made of countless random events that when massed together even out to a mean across a distribution curve. This counterintuitive thinking is allied to that of the accumulated contingent events giving the impression of inevitability, of purpose. What I see as hindsight is the result of such things falling into place and shaping my expectation of future events. Probability and randomness are close cousins. We have not evolved to think in such terms but with certainty. I have mentioned this before. Certainty ensures that the tigre hidden in the undergrowth does not eat you. 



This video on Aeon a couple of weeks ago explores this counterintuitive world, the construction of meaning from something ultimately meaningless. A Borgesian library of possibilities extending infinitely in all directions and all we can do is stay in one room with one book and pore over it, re-arranging its letters like some Aristotle playing with syllogisms of what we might call truth. Every so often, a page offers up an image, a sound, a feel, a touch that fills this existence with more than a desperate fear of dissolution or delirious joy of survival. It can sing a song of love of existence and the world.

This thinking has given me an idea for ‘composing’ the sound element for Enshrinement. It is a way of amalgamating sacred and secular text in a holistic expression in different voices. Meaning is deconstructed an reconstructed stochastically, a new sense is made from the combination of chaos and randomness. Perhaps this says something about our humanity having arisen out of the chaos of creation.  

I am here touching on some of the elements I hinted at in Grappling with the Angel earlier this year. It deals with words, focusing on a single work and letting others orbit under its influence. This has given rise to the video I composed today for the pop up show Entanglement going up next week. I have not used the video as a medium but rather as a sensitive tool. For this reason I choose to work with the software Vinci Resolve which is simple to use but allows me to employ just the right amount of technical devices to get the message across. 

Assessing Nuances and Focus



I have finished another component of Enshrinement, one of the main works for the final show. there is still so much to do. There is not only the modelling and finishing, but firing, setting and mounting, audio and its embedding, testing, packing, photography and so on. As I work on the pieces, ideas come to me and it is hard to stay on the path. I bear in mind what Jonathan says in his Unit 1 Assessment:

As you continue to experiment, adding sound and possibly interaction from the audience, remain flexible, adaptable and willing to discard elements if they don’t absolutely meet your exacting standards or the purpose you need them to fulfil. Obviously there will continue to be surprises and exiting discoveries that may suggest other paths to explore, choose wisely which to follow. Not everything needs to be resolved in the timespan of the masters, many ideas and concepts will need to continue way beyond the next 8 months.

What I get from this is that I can simplify, clarify, focus my intentions on a single moment and radiate other ideas across many other moments. To realise that the final show is only one moment of many and not try to bring all notions to bear on one single point. So many ideas have come to me over the past months that I have to remind myself of this. I feel the freedom to not complicate matters is a luxury but it is in fact a necessity. Fortunately, the core idea is flexible enough to allow me to nuance the work in different ways. The common thread that has led me here is strong enough to withstand such turns of perspective. Above all, I must not confuse things by over complicating them.

Jonathan also mentioned that,

… building on a granular approach to time-based media, could be a way for you to move forward with your sound work.

This statement underlines an aspect of the work which I have been thinking about. The granularity of the audio takes me back to Ed’s workshop last year. How linear things can be fragmented and reformed to create a different sense of the same content. This idea is consistent with much of what I have been thinking. Breaking sound and reconstructing it either as a composition, stochastically or most probably a bit of both. This could be a way to introduce the sound element in Enshrinement. The intention would be to trickle notions into the inferences catalysed by the sculptural forms. This is a form of nuance and I feel the acoustic source material is important but less so in the context of the whole: it must serve its function. Is the approach I am taking led by process or content? I feel I am having to carefully pick my way between the two. Making those choices is a honing of two sides of a blade I constantly cut myself on: intended meaning and constructed inference. Central to all this, however, is making and experimenting.


The wrapping above was incidental rather than experimental. It was to keep the porcelain from drying out. But as Jonathan says, there will be ‘surprises and discoveries’ which need to be thought of carefully and used wisely. I do not have time to ramble as in the past fourteen months. It is not easy as I continually work with a paradox, that is, to clarify through ambiguity and ambiguity by definition can lead in many directions. Jonathan pointed this out by quoting me back:

Reality is smooth and simultaneous, granular and causal.

I had forgotten I said this and had to think hard what I meant. Things appear to be infinitely and infinitesimally connected however distant they might be. There is a sequentiality to events, yet things connected happen at the same time. Matter and time can be broken down into component parts, parts of a whole without disconnecting from it. Science tells us this, matter and time are continuous while things are broken into quanta and quarks, and those into strings and granular gravity. The world is split and whole, we experience reality yet we cannot know the true nature of things as we are locked in our way of perceiving. Light appears to  behave as discrete particles and continuous smooth waves at one and the same time. Predictability is the illusion of massed random events and the moment at which an inevitable catastrophe on a large scale ensues cannot be pinpointed with any accuracy if at all. 

Wrapping inflects the work in a powerful way, as sacrifice, enigma, suffocation, preciousness; an ambiguity that raises questions and sets me to think deeply about what I am seeing. I also see that it might allow the sound element in the installation to breath; the sound’s granularity permeating the continuous material forms. The sound may or may not be sequential, intended towards a narrative that cannot sit still, being contingent, balanced on the knife’s edge of an imputed catastrophe. A catastrophe made by humans but in the making long before we were ever here: the laws of the universe are immutable. 

NB Wrapping reminds me of visiting the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nice where there are a number of drawings and maquettes by Christo who worked with his wife Jeanne-Claude. 


Skype Chat 4.6: Economics of Being an Artist

This week Jonathan catalysed a discussion on how economic strategies affect artists. We talked about the value of time over money and possible government interventions such as universal basic income, universal basic services. The talked ended with the idea of artists’ cooperatives and tactics to access resources to continue working as artists. 

Ideas on vocation, or calling, spanned the spectrum from  Homo habilis and Homo sapiens, to  Homo ludens: the inventor, the thinker, and the game player. Deep rooted intentions in artistic practice is something I wrote about briefly in this recent post. Whatever the motivation, money is clearly useful and time is precious. Universal basic income and services in an ideal world would free the artist from having to think about gathering survival resources. We do not live in an ideal world, but talking about such things feeds vision. As far as I am concerned, that is the underlying process an artist works with. It is not only the eyesight. It is also the act of seeing into the future, seeing something beyond what is being experienced in the now, using the imagination to create narratives and solve problems. These are things that create surprising and novel things. They enrich and change the world. 

I have found the lamentable situation where artists do not work unless they have funding. To stymie oneself in such a way is a sad state of affairs. All you need is paper and pencil to create a world. All else is a scaling up of ideas. One can always work as an artist, to expect work to be funded a priori before picking up the tools is putting the artist in the position of labour. This is a compromise of idea and vision. It is perfectly valid to look for funding for projects and ambitious work but to not create in the interim? That brings into question many things, intention, motivation, viability. 

We finished with a link from Jonathan to a European cooperative:

Smart Coop

Smart enables workers, entrepreneurs and organisations to invoice, to work together with other professionals and to manage a budget on an occasional or a long-term basis. Smart places the worker, bearer of economic and social value, at the centre of its mission so that he/she can acquire social rights and develop his or her professional activities to the fullest.

The UK is not part of this organisation but it perhaps is not needed. There are different organisation here that function variously to cover what smart does. The UK is actually quite advanced with respect to this and processes are well developed, from procurement, invoicing, information etc. Organisations such as AN, Axis (which has been scaled down), DACS, Arts Councils. The main difference is that the arts professional actually make a contract with Smart. Smart then partners the worker(s) through the processes for the completion of a project, mentoring and dealing with organisational issues. Each country has its own way of doing things and in fact, the respective site for each nation is quite different in how it explains the workings of the organisation. However, Smart has an overarching structure so I imagine that workers can work across borders with relative ease. 

The biggest difference at first sight between the UK and Smart countries is that in the UK, the artist is pretty well on their own at the outset and has to harvest expertise and help from a fragmented infrastructure. Smart appears to be a place to go which can help bring these decisions in one place. Obviously being in the UK this is not of any immediate use but with Brexit looking it may prove useful in the future in the event of possible relocations. 

Living Presence Response: A Description of the Ineffable?



This post was written before and subsequently posted after the previous one. This explains any anachronisms that appear in the text.

In my previous-but-one post, I started by describing how the reconstruction of a narrative by its very nature is at best an approximate endeavour. The description of a past reality in and of itself is in all probability a chimera made of many parts pieced together as best as one can with the sensory and intellectual tools at one’s disposal. This is the main thrust of Donald Hoffman’s thesis that proposes the impossibility to see the world as it really is. He explains that we experience reality in terms of ‘fitness payoff’ and that this evolutionary pressure has shaped the way we perceive things in terms of what is the best way for us to survive in the world, not the most accurate description of it. So is a narrative a question of convenience and advantage?

Hoffman’s shift in the way the age old problem of describing reality is approached is another example of how contemporary paradigms are shifting and being replaced at an ever increasing rate. Thanks to an increasing knowledge base ever more accessible, the ability to bring together disparate areas of interest in one place has stimulated holistic approaches to almost every area of study. Crossing disciplines is essential if new insights are sought.

Alfred Gell’s revision of how artworks might function in society, is another example of seeing things differently. His book, Art and Agency singles out precisely the mechanism by which viewers interact with art as though the latter were similar to living beings. Gell sees this in terms of agency, i.e. influencing viewers to behave as though they were engaging with something alive rather than inanimate. An artwork lies within a context, a social environment or art nexus, as van Eck calls it. Van Eck puts it rather well: 

[Gell] considers objects of art not in terms of their formal or aesthetic value or appreciation within the culture that produced them. Neither does [he] consider them as signs, visual codes to be deciphered or symbolic communications. Instead, Gell define[s] art objects in performative terms as systems of actions, intended to change the world rather than encode symbolic propositions about it. Art works thus considered are the equivalents of persons, more particularly social agents.

Gell identified one mechanism by which viewers can be influenced as technical virtuosity. This presents something made in a way that is hard to comprehend, functioning as a form of ideal or magic. The key is that this thing  is achieves what viewers try to do in other areas. This technical virtuosity can take many forms and is not confined to the skill of carving or painting. 

This view of art as a performative agent is at first sight somewhat at odds with Richard Anderson’s view of skilfully encoding culturally significant meaning in a sensuous affecting medium. The skill element is common to both as is the significant meaning. However, in Anderson, emphasis is placed on encoding meaning, whereas Gell’s hypothesis sees agency as the main function for the art work.

Anderson in his anthropological idea is trying to bring together very disparate areas of creativity. In his book Calliope’s Sisters his examples are taken from across very different societies some of which do not recognise the idea of art. Gell’s approach is more art historical. Both Anderson and Gell are trying to identify art and its function in a way that does not fall into Western artistic paradigms of aesthetics and semiotics. Anderson’s hypothesis focuses on the semiotic content of an art object whereas Gell’s focuses on the mechanism by which an art object exerts influence. Gell’s idea is closer to Bayles and Orlando’s proposition that art changes the world in that he states that the agency of the object [or event] consolidates or reforms a world view in a social setting. This is very much the case in sacred contexts but also in the way art is perceived and responded to in secular white cube spaces to mention just one of many possible examples.  

Gell borrows from Peircian semiotics and TAG analysis and replaces terms such as object, meaning, interpreter, sign, signifier etc with words that are more readily applicable to the arts. 

  • Agency: the power to influence the viewer, this is mediated by the
  • Index: the material object that elicits responses
  • Prototype: the thing the index is representing. 
  • Artist: the immediate cause or author of the existence of the index and its properties
  • Recipients: those affected by the work or intended to be by the index.

Semiotics, structuralism and post-structuralism originally resided in the literary and anthropological domains. What this does is to slim down the complexities that arise when analysing work in terms of their function in a humanities context. Focus is placed on the visual arts aspect without losing contact with the humanities.  Most significantly, the term meaning is exchanged with prototype. This reminds me of the Jungian idea of archetypes. But rather than presenting as a Platonic overarching concept, the prototype can be specific to the index in question.

Prototype is an important departure from meaning because it enables the representation of something ineffable. The living presence of the object is enhanced by, in many cases dependent on, its social context. So the art object becomes the explanation of the ineffable rather than ‘the problem to be explained’. 1 Because of the social nexus, in appropriately reinforcing circumstances, the effect becomes proofed against rational explanation. A response mechanism is created that is emotional and volitional rather than rational and cognitive. 

These taxonomies are useful when attempting to disentangle relationships and the role of each player in the social nexus in which they are enmeshed. This system of analysis may be a helpful tool in confirming putative or identifying actual causal relationships between the art object its social, anthropological and psychological effects. This form of analysis has been used primarily in art historical context but I can see how I can apply it to tease out aims and objectives from intentions in artistic practice.

I see aims and objectives as analytical descriptions of process. They are the functional and purposeful surface ideas that have to be worked out, arrived at and articulated through cognitive processes. Intentions on the other hand are more deeply rooted. They lie beneath reason, often unrevealed or tacit. To find one’s intention is like holding one’s beating heart. It can be dangerous or bring well being, we often keep intentions well hidden inside the mind; somewhere deep in the brain. Intentions are tinder waiting to be lit. They can give light and warmth or burn everything to ashes. 

  1. Van Eck,[]

Living Presence Response



I was watching a video featuring the blue ringed octopus, a poisonous creature that warns would-be predators by the appearance of iridescent blue rings as part of a rapid colour change. Unusually bright colours in animals and plants are often protective warning signs that they are poisonous, a strategy used advantageously by innocuous opportunistic mimics. Equally, bright colours can also attract as part of courtship and mating in many animals as well as a means of plants encouraging the ingestion and subsequent dissemination of their seed. Animals respond to such cues just as we are attracted or repelled by colours, movement, smells and sounds. This raises the question, is there a correlation between the living presence response elicited by artworks and the way we respond to the natural world?

Gell, van Eck and others have looked at the phenomenon of living presence response from an art historical stance but it seems to me that a lot can be learnt from observing our responses to the natural world. Van Eck in Particular talks about the role of the sublime. The sublime as a topos has been written about copiously since the enlightenment, however, this is as much an area for behavioural and evolutionary psychologists as it is for those interested in art history and theory.  Responses of awe, terror, pleasure and overwhelming presence have been used by artists ever since people have been making things. Authors and facilitators have employed notions of scale, beauty and technical virtuosity to great effect. These are amongst a number of properties found in nature and religion. What could be more sublime than an idyllic landscape or an all encompassing deity whose beauty is such that it cannot be imagined let alone looked upon, maker of all the world?

Authors and enablers of art have often been motivated by the desire to possess at least a small piece of the cause for awe, sublimity, beauty and power through the facilitating and making of great works. And we raise such things to mythical heights, from the Sistine Chapel to the Pyramids. It is this close relationship between our emotional response to natural things and art objects that interests me: the reason we look upon certain art as though it were alive despite knowing it to be inanimate. We speak of such works as speaking to us, living, and we respond to them with emotions and thoughts that are close to those with which we react to animals, plants and indeed other human beings. We treasure them, often above other humans, and we make pilgrimages to see them in the hope of experiencing their purported transformative properties. Centres of power have long recognised this as self evident. 

Religious icons, large painting cycles, marble statues, tribal carvings and video installations vary in the way they create responses but all hold in common the desire for us to engage with them beyond cognitive interactions. The aim in such cases. to engender a gut reaction, a psychological jolt that brings us into an emotional-volitional nexus with it. This entanglement is most often set in a social context. The art object gives rise to a dialectic and perhaps consensus of its meaning and function. There is a toing and froing between the art object and the viewers of response, inference and rule making. In this way, the art work’s agency could be seen as not only being defined by social conventions and interactions but its characteristics which are then assimilated into the social nexus and become part of the way in which it is viewed. 

How this agency is created is largely the role of the artist. The artist’s charge is to imbue the work with sufficient information for the work to act with agency in its respective social setting. However, this of itself is not enough. The social setting must be receptive either by prior knowledge of the domain in which the art object functions or be informed of the aims or function of the art object so that the viewers can be guided in their response by a set of rules of reaction.

The skill of the artist is to enable this nexus of meaning and function. The artist can employ many strategies and tactics to do so, but for the work to elicit the living presence response, he or she much be aware of the context and receptivity of its audience. 

NB: the terms I have used so far could be replaced with Gell’s. This would make the writing and reading of the text much simpler as in my previous post, namely: artist, index, prototype, recipient, agency.

I have not mentioned examples as this sort of post is more of a place holder for a fuller text. 


Constructing Irretrievable Narratives to Living Presence Response


Trying to Grasp the Irretrievable

To connect with the past through an atavist organic self, is to reconstruct not only events but the notion of sentience in another time. How can this be possible if the past is out of reach? Humans have grappled with this problem of creating an uninterrupted narrative in one way or another since people have wondered what it is to be. Ultimately, is it not about trying to explain the world as it is and how we got here, and perhaps by discovering some best explanation, for that is all it can be, have a glimpse of purpose, or if indeed there is one? Abductive reasoning is at the core of this, there is no certain conclusion, only evolving ideas that change as evidence accrues or new paradigms are installed as others are packed away.

Describing such a narrative is about filling the spaces between what we know to create mass. An uncertain substance yes, but it is something to hold on to, to shape our view of the world. Mass is a speculative place holder for something we can probably never come to know, experience for certain, only through projections and models that we build of the world, again as best fit explanations for their time. Knowledge is at best, one long sequential series of inferences that bring the world to life, a vision limited to our lives and senses in this four dimensional existence.

Personal memory, collective memory are acts of reconstruction, constantly discarding and reforming narratives in a dough constantly kneaded into shape. We sail in a ship of Theseus of the self, shedding and accreting thoughts that keep our sense of momentary self in some sort of integrity. 

A medium is a metaphor, an analogue even of part of such mass, malleable, reformable. Clay is such a medium, however, the conversion of clay into ceramic stone, the alchemical process of firing, is the consolidation of an idea into what could be seen as a dogmatic shape, no longer responding of itself but only capable of being responded to. It is at this point that making ceases.

The process that gives rise to a work of art becomes translated into another behaviour. The work of art becomes more than the frozen embodiment of the intentions of its maker. It becomes an agent, a social agent not just of those aims and desires but a vessel accruing the actions and feelings of those that experience it. The work of art is kept alive in this sense, by the communion of the recipient. In that way the work leaves the hermit shell of the artist and grows into something else. Something undetermined but possibly significant. It is fed by the context it inhabits; living, dying, resurrecting as circumstances may change, paradigms shift, society attempt to reconstruct a narrative, a new narrative, so long as it survives the vicissitudes of history and nature. 

I have given a preliminary look at Alfred Gell’s seminal work on art anthropology, Art and Agency. It is a continuation of Dewey’s idea of art as experience. Gell applies this to situations in which artefacts become objects of ritual, veneration and even fetishism. It is a fascinating area for me because it forms a way in which I can articulate some of what I am doing. This in turn has its origins in Sanders Peirce’s work on semiotics. It is a way of explaining the relationship between artwork and viewer when the viewer treats the object as a living entity. Caroline van Eck explains this dynamic in clear terms in her paper, Living Statues: Alfred Gell’s Art and Agency, Living Presence Response and the Sublime. It contextualises my practice in that domain, where the object is treated as living without the need to talk of it as a biological metabolic organism. This ties in with my paper on Evolutionary Space: Looking at Artistic Practice in a Disparate Art Ecology. It is about the transfer of information. And this transfer of information is not necessarily one in which free will or even action is required on behalf of the art object. The art object  is the carrier of information in much the same way as a printed book or screen does. The container of information is a vehicle and its intrinsic value as art is perceived, just as a sacred rock is seen as such even though it is physically no different to any other rock. Both Gell and Eck extend the argument to looking at why an inanimate object should illicit a response of the kind that art objects and artefacts do, a living presence response. These texts are of course mainly written in the context of ritual anthropology and pre-contemporary art history. However, they can be useful in considering the function and affect of a contemporary artwork and how this might influence art practice. It certainly is not applicable to all forms of art but the future destiny of an artwork is often if not always beyond the grasp of the artist or their contemporaries. 

I may write more about this as it enters into domains directly pertinent to my own interest but I need to study the texts further before doing so. these texts deal with salient aspects of my very first project proposal draft, A contract with the Ineffable, and may be useful in my explication of what I am currently doing. Eck concludes her paper pretty well where I began with my first draft project proposal, ‘[the] living presence response considered as an experience of the representation of the unrepresentable’.

Flowers for Algernon

These days I  hear a great deal about neuroscience, identity, empathy and so on. All matters that address the question, what makes us who we are, where does the seat of the self reside? Just as philosophers have wondered about the soul, today we scratch around in search of explanations for the mind. Before neuroscience was anything at all, writers speculated on the workings of the brain, the distinctions that make each one of us unique and yet closely alike. This seems all the more pertinent today as we learn about the working of not only our brains but those of other vertebrates. Indeed, sentience itself is at the very core of such empirical and metaphysical enquiry. 

I read Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes in my teens. It is a moving tale of Charlie, a janitor with an IQ of 68, volunteering to have an experimental surgical procedure that has been shown to increase the intelligence of a laboratory mouse called Algernon. This is successful, but as Charlie reaches the height of his intellectual powers, Algernon’s increased intelligence starts to reverse. Charlie discovers that he too will revert to his former self and desperately tries to find the flaw in the procedure. As he finishes his work, it is too late to halt the reversal and rapidly regresses to his former state. He attempts to return to his job as a janitor but cannot bear the realisation that he would be tolerated by his work colleagues out of pity. Charlie leaves home to wander away from the city. His last wish is that flowers be put on the Algernon’s grave buried in his back garden.

This book is considered to be a science fiction work but it is much more than this. It is a commentary on society’s attitudes towards the vulnerable, drawing from Keyes’ experiences teaching special needs. The narrative contains other autobiographical references, drawing from his conflicted relationship with parents who wanted him to study medicine and time at university. It is also a masterful work of empathy, the mouse itself becoming an object of transference of emotions as one hopes against hope that things will go well for Charlie. However, the story ends in reverting to reality and the status quo, leaving behind the quasi scientific ideal of enhanced intelligence.

I remember the story possessing a tender claustrophobia. It questions normative judgements about mental capacity. Human behaviours are seen through the narrative of the people around the main character and the psychological tension between him and the mouse is kept taught by the changes that affect the sense of self of Charlie. It is a tragedy of self realisation. The journey that Charlie undertakes is not too dissimilar to that of Mary Shelley’s monster, one of awakening to the knowledge of life, and like Frankenstein’s creature, doomed to dissolution and despair. It is a moral tale of the dangers of playing with the laws of nature, akin to the search for immortality in The Monkey’s Paw. A case of, ‘careful what you wish for’.

This story has always stayed with me and was brought back sharply in focus when we returned back from being abroad and found a new inhabitant had moved into our home. A field mouse had made its presence clear, evidenced by its physical traces and the noises it made at night as its tiny claws tapped on the wooden floor. Not wishing to kill the creature, I ordered a humane trap and set it the very night it arrived. The trap branded itself as professional, notwithstanding its low price, and indeed fulfilled its every promise. Janet went to bed while I worked a little more on this blog. No sooner were the main lights out, Janet called out, ‘he’s caught’. It had taken only a few minutes for the naïve creature to enter the metal box and release the trap doors shut.

We kept the creature until the following afternoon in an acrylic display case. It was at this point of capture, observing its behaviour, making itself at home with half a grape and a few grains of muesli, that the mouse became a quasi mythical creature endowed with anthropomorphic characteristics. I felt a joy at not having killed the animal and at its release a few hours later by a hedgerow where it promptly jumped and skipped its way back to live out its short natural life.

I say all this because this experience made me reflect on the porcelain creatures I have been making for Spes Contra Spem. Being encased but observed made me wonder about the mouse and how conscious it was of its life, capture and release: what might be the quality of its sentience? Obviously any empathy felt towards the little animal was purely coming from me. I have not delusions that given the chance, the animal in all its innocence, would have caused harm had it stayed in the building.

This event started a thought pattern which led to the resolution of a problem I had been struggling with for some time in relation to embedding sounds in the sculptures. I was bothered by the conceptual relationship between the sound and the porcelain sculptures. I asked myself, what should this relationship be like; is there a synthesis between the two modalities in the context of the porcelain pieces; what sounds would be consonant with such a pairing?

A week after the mouse’s release, just a few days ago. The encasement of the mouse in an acrylic display case made me think of the porcelain being encased. This idea goes hand in hand with the nominal theme of the project proposal, Enshrinement. An idea that emerged during the preceding tutorial to this post. However, this could not just be a means of display. A vitrine is not terribly interesting in and of itself, it is a curatorial convenience and could even be seen as a lazy way of conferring status to a work with its associations of museums. Additionally, I would be removing the works from the ability to touch them.  

The encasement of the porcelain I see as creating a sealed space not only inhabited by the solid works but also the sounds of the work. The case creates a boundary, a separation, a sacred space where the sound is sealed and barely audible. However, by creating perforations in the acrylic glass, a possibility is created to approach the case and listen in, eavesdrop on the conversant pieces. This invitation to the viewer, becomes a physical act of engagement aimed at bringing one into closer proximity with the work whilst remaining separated, another theme of the project. My aim is to raise questions, infer ideas parallel to those others offered by the installation as a whole. For me, these questions lie in the domain of sentience, empathy, curiosity, purpose, sacredness and profanity.

However, such a scenario remains a relatively static one. In a world where movement is so evident in everyday life, I have thought of converting the vitrine from a piece of furniture to a mode of movement. The aim is to imply potential movement in which the viewer is encumbered with its psychological inertia. A connection is therefore thickened between the work and a no longer passive viewer. The aim is that inferences of ritual, procession, celebration and burden become part of the narrative unfolding in the project proposal, forging connections in which the self is only part of a wider ecology of selves, past, present and future.

I do not want to disclose images of the proposed work at the moment but would rather disclose parts, documented during making, as a puzzle slowly pieced together. This is a way of keeping the work alive in an evolving process and narrative – a secret in the open.


A Place for Tags and Categories

It has taken me all this time to work out a useful function (for me) for these two classification criteria. This has been an important result of the blog curation process. Simply put, categories are very wide groupings similar to chapters in a book. They tell something of the area of interest but not its content. Tags can be likened to the contents section of a book. It is there where one searches for a particular term used, name, place, process, etc. Tags like content will list all the relevant words that I might find useful in the future if I wish to search for something. For example, if I want to look up a particular artist I have written about and cannot remember where to find it, I type the name and all the posts that contain that name will appear. There is an even more powerful function, and that is, if I want to refine the search because too many posts appear in the search, I can type two or more keywords, or tags. This will narrow the search results to only those posts that contain all those words. 

So far I have 1092 tags. This may seem a large number and no doubt will continue to increase. However, the number is of no consequence. It is only important if one wants the tag cloud plugin to say something useful. But the cloud plugins only deal with a small and limited number of tags. For this reason I have decided to remove the tag cloud widget from the side bar. As for categories, I have been able to cull them to be less confusing.

Skype Chat 4.5: Andy Lomas


On Tuesday we had a visit from Andy Lomas, a former mathematician turned creative computer artist. His work stems from an interest in dynamic systems simulating biological growth. An interest stemming from his encounter with the work of Darcy Thompson, particularly his pioneering book Growth and Form, became after a period in the film and television industry, curiosity in what can be done that could not be done before. Lomas works on the edge of control and predictability wanting to be surprised rather than being in control of algorithms whose outcomes are directed by the exigencies of the film industry. 

He sees himself more as influencing than controlling events when setting up his algorithmic simplified systems, which while not trying to replicate nature, bear strong correspondences with biological rules of growth. 

The systems he works with are bounded in themselves and do not relate to an outside environment. The parameters or rules of engagement between cell entities are contained within and between the cells rather than communicating with an exterior world even though some simulation, such as how much light falls on a cell try to emulate real life conditions. 

Something that struck me during the talk was how the artistic domain gives him the freedom to experiment and play with mathematical models and their aesthetic outcomes. However, it does seem to stay within that sphere, the personal perspective. His relationship with the work is more that of a craftsman than an artist. He is curious about his methodology, he extends the limits of what he is doing, he controls the material with mastery. However, the work itself says little about the person than made it other than their obvious skill. Little of him comes across in the work as algorithms do not in and of themselves depend on any particular person or thing that either generates them or uses them. They are autonomous abstract entities depending only on being implemented in some way to have any meaning. Taking Margaret Boden’s idea of creativity, the results are certainly creative, as for artistic, perhaps that is in the gift of the viewer. 

What does this tell me about the work and the worker. The work can certainly be viewed as art, but is Lomas working as an artist or a craftsman? All depends on his intentions and when asked what these were, we were left wondering if he himself knew. He enjoys making the animations and work arising out of them, and he does appreciate their aesthetic appeal, but I for one would want to look more into the content itself of the work. What does it say about me, the world, society and how does it function in different contexts?

All these questions were left mute by virtue of Lomas’ immersion in the process itself, often by necessity. I feel that it is not enough for something to be art simply because it is creative. And if context is everything, perhaps what happens is that the work is taken up as art by others, leaving its maker behind so to speak, personally, as a creative rather than artist. 

If all this seems rather harsh, I am only applying the same criteria I have applied to myself. As someone who studied sciences, I have often been frustrated, no infuriated, by how artists all to easily append the label, art science to what they do, appropriating the domain of science without really understanding what they are dealing with. That is why I made the decision not to do scientific art, i.e. appropriate techniques and methods, illustrate ideas, pretend to be doing science that in some way turns into art. All an artist can do is draw inspiration, be influenced by, illustrate yes, the scientific. Likewise, a scientist cannot be an artist simply because they make something aesthetic or useful to artists or illustrates some artistic trope. A scientist can be influenced by, borrow from, be contextualised by art, but that in itself is not enough.

For a scientist to be an artist, they must think as one with every fibre of their body and likewise if an artist wishes to be a scientist they need to fully understand the paradigms that govern the scientific mind. The two domains work so differently that one has to give way to the other. You can be a poet and a scientist, a scientist and a painter, but you cannot be both at once. Science relies on being replicable and independent of personal input, art conversely is deeply personal in terms of the ideas and relies on an element of uniqueness, aura. Artists that attempt to remove any trace of the personal and make an idea or method doable by anyone, still function under artistic paradigms and do not fall within the scientific. Likewise, an electron photomicrograph of a pollen grain, however beautiful, cannot be a work of art unless it is transformed to say something other than what it is. In neither scenario is there a transformation from one paradigm to the other. They both enter the sphere of the other but cannot be the other. It is a nuanced view that can be argued with, but nevertheless, is serves to illustrate the point that science and art are separate, yet have an entangled relationship,   

This places Lomas’ work in somewhat of a no man’s land, albeit a comfortable one. The renderings of the algorithms can be seen as art just as Blosfeldt’s photographs are considered artistic photographs. However, in the case of Blosfeldt, the images were made for a very practical purpose, as source material for art students. The fact that they have entered into the artistic canon does not necessarily make Karl Blosfeldt an artist at the moment of making them but more of an artisan. The art resides in the way the photographs have been received and experienced. Similarly, Lomas’ renditions are a search for the limits of what certain algorithms can do and how resolved the animations can become. They are visual illustrations of mathematical curiosity, how they are perceived is another journey towards an artistic conversation which does not necessitate knowledge of their maker. This in some way is what he said adding that he would be only too happy to explicate their genesis to those interested. 

Perhaps one day Lomas will consider the wider poetic implications of what he has done and engage new poetic criteria which will undoubtedly alter his process and conceptual horizons.  

Project Proposal V 3.1




Spes Contra Spem
A Dialectic Between the Sacred and the Profane Essence of Material Separation 



I change but I cannot die

Shelley, ‘The Cloud’ 76

To unfold and merge creation myths and evolutionary ideas into layered, mythopoietic narratives addressing existential concerns in the recently defined Anthropocene:

  • engendering a sense of our part in a story that lies beyond our own time;
  • seen through a window onto another world that reflects tensions in the narratives as a way of asserting dynamic relationships.



To research and develop means for encoding and implementing information carrying the aims embodied in the narrative,

employing a variety of digital and non-digital strategies to create different modes of engagement,

layering respective modalities catalysing interdependent inferences by means of reciprocating with the viewer,

using sculpture based on ceramic material, sound, words, and moving and still images.

also incorporating the idea of evolutionary space formulated in the Research.



Contemporary and Modern

Artists dealing with the deep past using a variety of modalities, particularly sound, sculpture, virtual reality and words, including: Marguerite Hameau, Mohshin Allayaii, Mimmo Paladino. Andrew Lord – ceramic sculptures that have correspondence with my work.

Poetry: Ted Hughes and Rebecca Elson – cosmological and existential

Sound – Wolfgang Gil creating invisible form in which geometry is delineated with sound.

Science Fiction – Philip K. Dick – political, social and philosophical explorations in monopolistic societies; Walter M. Miller Jr. – A Canticle for Liebowitz – the cyclical nature of history and religion vs secularism.

Studio – shared with Janet Waring Rago in continual conversation and reciprocal interrogation. A chapel in rural Lincolnshire: removed from the artificiality of the city amidst a man-made countryside; a paradox reflected in my work which questions the place of humans in nature whilst being part of nature and ours effect on it.

MA Peer group



Evolutionary theories – Richard Dawkins, Stephen J Gould, Darwin, Pinker, Wilson and others.

Spes Contra Spem – the enigmatic Latin phrase from Romans 4.18, in the KJV, “who against hope believed in hope”. This phrase has many meanings and has been paraphrased in a variety of ways, variations of which can be found in the Bible.

Evolutionary Space – A term coined in the Research Statement which describes art practice as continually adapting to an ever-changing ecosystem.

Process Philosophy – everything is continually changing.

John DeweyArt in Experience. Art and its meaning, contextually residing in how it is perceived and experienced rather than in the artwork itself.

Martin HeideggerThe Origin of the Work of Art – describing the artist’s relationship with their work, the nature of that work, and its relationship with the world.

Kraft von Maltzhan – ‘Nature as Landscape’, a brief history of knowledge and our changing relationship with nature.

Roberto Mangabeira – human agency and the dynamics between the individual, state and nature.

Gareth Jones The Object of Sculpture, traces the history of the reciprocal relationship between sound, music, sculpture, and architecture.

Wolfgang Gil sonic plasticity. Using sound and its physical geometry in space

On Art – Richard L. Anderson “culturally significant meaning skilfully encoded in an affective sensual medium”; David Bayles and Ted Orlando, art changes the artist and the world.



Magic and  myth – Religious and secular texts: Graves, The White Goddess; Fraser, The Golden Bough, Lucretius, De Rerum Natura; Aristotle, Plato and pre-Socratics, etc.

Natural History and Art – Ernst Haeckel, Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka, Rodin.

Florence – formative period of ten years immersed in the Classical, Humanist and Renaissance culture, and Romanticism, engendering a strong sense of the materiality of art both in content and experience.

Biology graduate of Manchester University. Life processes, structure, connectedness.

Linnean Society – Fellow of  the oldest extant natural history society in the world.

Religious and sacred iconography



Separation – (or awakening) of the human self from nature. Influential texts include those of Martin Buber, Robert Graves, Richard Dawkins, and Kraft von Maltzhan, amongst others. The emergence of life and traversals of complexity; the emergence of the “I”, labels and language.

Metamorphosis – of substance and idea and continuity in a world of constant and cyclical change.

Language – as a vehicle for communication and miscommunication.

Struggle – Life, contingency and inevitability.

The Anthropocene – The Gardener and Eden

Creation myth and religion – explicator of mysteries? Principle sources include amongst others: Ovid’s Metamorphoses; The Bible; texts on evolution including Darwin’s, On the Evolution of Species.



My practice is driven by the feeling of flux being the natural state of things and that I am connected to the most distant time by an unbroken thread of contingent events: the indissoluble strength of the past and the vulnerability of a fragile future existence. I give this shape, expressed at the point of giving material form and meaning, synthesising rational and poetic thought. I aim to make this corporeal through ceramic material. The alchemical process it undergoes links me with the past through its brittle archaeology and beyond that as a fossil of its living, malleable self. This enables me to create a space in which layered with sound, intersecting meanings can come into existence, catalysed and unfolded as a multitude of inferences occupying the same space. A space shared with words, all three modes delivering resonances at differing rates and on various levels. Modularity of thought and making come together using strategies of engagement that offer me an adaptive flexibility for working in what I identified in the research statement as evolutionary space.


  • Techniques and methods
  • hermeneutics of sacred texts,
  • modern and contemporary scientific evolutionary theory,
  • philosophy and history of science,
  • world creation myths,
  • poetry,
  • historical and contemporary art practices,
  • archaeology and anthropology.

Research Methods

  • practice based,
  • text based,
  • conversations with peers, staff and audience,
  • collaborations,
  • analysis and reviews of works and exhibitions,
  • reflective critical writing.


  • ceramics
  • images
  • sound
  • painting and drawing

Techniques (principle)

  • modelling
  • carving
  • digital
  • voice
  • video
  • text
  • projection (shadows)
  • drawing
  • virtual reality
  • embedding sound in sculpture mixed media display fabrication


  • blog journal containing
  • sound recordings



An installation which gives a sense of being a space containing sacred and profane associations with the following possible works:

  • ceramic sculptures in a vitrine with sound filling the inner space perceptible through grill openings in the transparent walls.
  • Horizontal, suspended, ceramic sculpture with responsive low frequency sound/vibrations.
  • Wall or stand mounted sculpture collecting environmental sound emitting it after passing through its body.
  • Smaller contextualising works and handling pieces
  • recorded verbal narratives heard through headphones
  • Handling pieces
  • Possibly image printed and or on-screen



October – January 2019

Period of orientation: identify and develop the area of study and work for the MA period; Project Proposal, exploratory drawings, maquettes, develop critical and reflective writing in blog journal, build on video editing and digital sound software, explore theoretical, contextual and poetry texts. Experiment, research, develop, filter and select.

January – April 2019

Continue with the above, filter ideas, theory and techniques. Start developing an artist statement in the context of the proposal for the eventual final show. Build on Low Residency experience.

May – September

Test first prototypes; develop work further; research digital sound techniques for real-time interactions. Research Statement, develop Project Proposal, curate work for Unit 1 Assessment.

October – November

Complete Unit 1 – crystallise ideas for the final show


start Unit 2 – A period of intense developing and making in the context of previous research and experimentation to deliver project proposal. Throughout this period work on text and drawings for sound narratives.


Finished sculpture pair and half way through large horizontal sculpture. If time allows also explore an idea for puppets.

January 2020

Complete large horizontal sculpture and begin wall mounted work and free-standing silent work.


Continue work on sculptures and other work; Low residency period; begin to plan and make display and curatorial elements.


Complete works and begin silent sculpture and begin to finish works and curatorial elements.


Continue with silent sculpture and complete other work.


By end of May all work should be completed and show planning well underway, also procure materials for packing and transport of work

June – July

Pack work, curate and prepare for final show, review project proposal and prepare for unit 2 assessment. Delivery of work, installation, final show and de-install.



(Principle sources)

Anderson, R.L. (1990) Calliope’s Sisters: A comparative study of philosophies of art. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, p.238.

Arber, A. (1950) The natural philosophy of plant form. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Arber, A. (1954) The mind and the eye: A study of the biologist’s standpoint. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Arber, A. (1957) The manifold and the one. (1957) London: John Murray.

Bayles, D. Orlando, T. (2002). Art and fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking. UK: Image Continuum Press

Esslin, M. (1961) The theatre of the absurd. 3rd edn. London: Penguin Books.

McCormack, J. (2012). Creative ecosystems: Computers and creativity. Eds. McCormack, J. d’Inverno, M. Springer: Heidelberg. DOI 10.1007/978-3-642-31727-9_2 [accessed: 19 August 2019].

Boden, M. A. (2010). Creativity and art: Three roads to surprise. London: Oxford University Press.

Coen, E. (2012) Cells to civilizations: The principles of change that shape life. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press

Dawkins, R. (1976). The selfish gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dawkins, R. (1996). Climbing mount improbable. New York: Norton

Dennett, Daniel C. (1995). Darwin’s dangerous idea: Evolution and the meanings of life. Penguin Books, London.

Dennett, D. C. (1995) Darwin’s dangerous idea: Evolution and the meanings of life. London: Penguin.

Dewey, J. (1934) Art and experience. London: George Allen and Unwin.

Esslin, M. (1961) The theatre of the absurd. 3rd edn. London: Penguin Books.

Fry, H. (2018). Hello world. [s.l.]: Doubleday.

Genesis 1-4, Holy Bible: King James Version.

Gil, W. (2018) Sonic plasticity, an introduction. [Online] Medium. Available at: [Accessed 13 August 2018].

Gould, S. J. (1991) Wonderful life: The burgess shale and the nature of history. London: Penguin Books.

Graves, R. (1961) The white goddess: A historical grammar of poetic myth. London: Faber and Faber.

Griffin, J. (2011). First published in Art Review, Issue 47, JanFeb 2011

Heidegger, M. (). The origin of the work of art. Translated by Roger Berkowitz and Philippe Nonet. Draft, December 2006. PN revised. PDF downloaded from ger

Herodotus (1890) The history of herodotus volume 1. Translated by G. C. Macaulay. London:

Macmillan & Co, [Online] Gutenberg Project. Updated 2013. Available at: [Accessed 14 Sep. 2018]

Hughes, T. (1998) Lupercal. London: Faber and Faber.

Hughes, T. (2001) Crow: From the life and songs of the crow. London: Faber and Faber.

Jones, G. (2007) ‘The object of sculpture’ in Hulks, D. Wood, J. Potts, A. (eds) Modern sculpture reader. 1st edn. Leeds: Henry Moore Institute, pp.426-436.

Lewis-Hamilton, D. (2002) The mind in the cave. London: Thames and Hudson.

Margullis, L. (1998) The symbiotic planet: A new look at evolution. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

O’Connor, D. (2010) ‘The horror of creation: Ted Hughes’ re-writing of Genesis in Crow’, Peer English, Issue 5. pp 47-58. Available at: (Accessed: 16 November 2018).

Ovid () Metamorphose. Trans. Kline, A. S. available at

Rescher, N. (1996 ) Process Metaphysics: An Introduction to Process Philosophy, SUNY Press. p. 60., (2016) Roberto Mangabeira Unger. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Sep. 2018].

Smith, K. A. (1992) Structure of the visual book: Book 95. Fairport: The Sigma Foundation.

Tucker, W. (1977) The language of sculpture. London: Thames and Hudson.

Von Maltzahn, K. E. (1994) Nature as landscape: Dwelling and understanding. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.  

Wengrow, D. (2014). The origins of monsters: Image and cognition in the first age of mechanical reproduction. Princeton University Press, Princeton & Oxford


Other Key Texts: To Be Referenced

  • Purusha Sukta – Shatapatha Brahmana
  • Upanishads
  • Pre-Socratics
  • Aristotle – Poetics, Physics
  • Plato
  • Virgil
  • Lucretius
  • Herodotus
  • Milton – Paradise Lost
  • Berkley
  • Darwin – The Origin of the Species
  • Frazer – The Golden Bough
  • Freud – Totem and Taboo
  • Aquinas
  • Da Vinci – Note Books
  • Spinoza
  • Mircea
  • Buber – I and Thou – Man and Man
  • Benjamin
  • Darwin
  • E.O. Wilson

Skype Chat 4.4: On Focus and Attention Span

This Skype chat had a very practical aim, probably aimed at those of us easily distracted by social media and the demands the internet and web make on our attention. Attention, concentration and focus are key when making art works. 

Jonathan presented recent evidence that suggests our way of thinking, our brain architecture, so to speak, is being altered by the way we interact with computers and the internet; how the ever increasing processing speed with the commensurate increase in our responses. He also presented a quote regarding how this effect can hide in plain site:

People will come to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
Neil Postman Amusing Ourselves to Death 1985

This was said early on in the context of the world wide web. The difference between this and other technological innovations in the past is the speed at which it has developed and proliferated. 

A recent paper “the ‘online brain'” comes to three conclusions:

Internet is becoming highly proficient at capturing our attention, while producing a global shift in how people gather information, and connect with one another.
…found emerging support for several hypotheses…
…Internet is influencing our brains and cognitive processes…
3 specific areas…

1. …multi-faceted stream of incoming information…

[Attention switching and ‘multi-tasking, rather than sustained focus]

2. …ubiquitous and rapid access to online factual information…

[outcompeting previous transactive systems potentially even internal memory processes]

3. …online social world paralleling ‘real world’ cognitive processes…

[possibility for the special properties of social media to impact on ‘real life’ in unforeseen ways]

Firth, J., Et Al. (2019). The “Online Brain”: How The Internet May Be Changing Our Cognition. World Psychiatry, 18: 119-129

This speeding up of things occludes the spaces where subliminal, independent thought can take place. I feel that it could be seen as a form of indoctrination which uses the malleability of brain architecture. 

Jonathan then went through the conclusions to unpack what all this might mean.

conclusion 1 – important to note that most experts agree there is no such thing as ‘multi-tasking’ – it is only possible when one this is ‘automatic’ like walking and talking at the same time – the walking element is automatic…
therefore we are creatures of very fast attention switching.

…they found emerging evidence that the online brain is bombarded with so mush stuff that fast switching means it is increasingly hard to sustain focus.

… that is the sort of evidence that is emerging – but they are not saying it is positive or negative – just that there is evidence for this — we have to decide what to do about this ourselves.

…the challenge is – does the very medium of the web demand this reduced focus – or has it just been hijacked by commerical forces!

I feel that this may be so, but the highjacking may not always be commercial, there are also attention seeking forces as well as lobby groups. I guess the major influences, however, can be traced back to some commercial motivation. 

there is clear evidence that when we switch attention quickly – it means nothing is deep and concentrated – we have to decide if that is doing us harm or not (more likely there are times when fast switching is incredibly useful and times we need sustained attention but we may need to work harder to develop the sustained focus skills?)

There is competition for attention and space for information of whatever sort. 

The point made here is that making is a great training for sustained focus skills. Particularly hand-eye making with material, not computer based making. We are physical beings and so need physical, and not just mental,  interaction with the world. This means that focus needs time and computers, ‘steal’ time from us. 

2. …ubiquitous and rapid access to online factual information… outcompeting previous transactive systems
potentially even internal memory processes
this point it more subtle but equally important to the first point
transactive knowledge – idea developed by Daniel Wegner 1985 – groups collectively encode, store, and retrieve knowledge

I feel that this point is about our being rewarded by fact acquisition, ‘fact gluttony’. This satiates our curiosity but leaves us with a diminished sense of wonder… and wondering again is about have the time to engage in it. We are exchanging information for our time. This makes me think that we need to be more discerning about the information we seek. 

This idea regarding factual information posited by Jonathan is very much about collective memory…

on transactive memory – Wegner suggested – transactive memory system can provide the group members with more and better knowledge than any individual could access on their own

This collective memory is vulnerable to political and commercial forces which can influence it. This is particularly the case with social media. However, social media can also be used by counter movements. It could be argued that propaganda in the past was more effective because it was the main source of information for the population at large. Today, there are many sources of information… it is a constant struggle between competing positions. 

so their conclusion is that the online brain having so much access to instant ‘factual’ information means there is evidence now of it changing the way our brains function  and maybe even our internal memory systems —
whatever we think of this we need to be aware of this emerging evidence

What might we lose with we engage less in transactive memory – the building of memory by exchanging memories and ideas between individuals? Intelligence but above all wisdom. And the challenge in today’s society is that transactive memory is difficult to sustain when people leave disparate, asynchronous lives. 

Finally we came to how all this might affect our work as artists

as artist does our work suffer with the instant access to the ubiquitous and rapid online factual information?
or are we enabled like never before because we have access to the ubiquitous and rapid online factual information?

I feel that too much information can lead to a form of artistic paralysis. The availability of so many paths and directions can be confusing and preclude one from entering into work with depth. In addition, some skills require many years to acquire. However, Aristotle did mention an interesting idea: T-shaped skills arrangement where a main skill is formed in depth over time adding other minor ones on top of it.

There is one physical problem I see with the growth of computers as sources of information in the future. Computers are highly sophisticated and cannot be easily made with simple tools and technologies as books and printing presses can. Also, computers are needing an increasingly large amount of electric energy. What will happen when everything runs on electricity as is being proposed? These two points make us very vulnerable to technological catastrophes.  

3. …online social world paralleling ‘real world’ cognitive processes…
possibility for the special properties of social media to impact on ‘real life’ in unforeseen ways

3rd conclusion is less certain and is more speculative – they are aware of the growing impact but importantly there are many unforeseen ways that might impact on us

“The problem with the internet,” Firth explained, “is that our brains seem to quickly figure out it’s there – and outsource.” This would be fine if we could rely on the internet for information the same way we rely on, say, the British Library. But what happens when we subconsciously outsource a complex cognitive function to an unreliable online world manipulated by capitalist interests and agents of distortion? “What happens to children born in a world where transactive memory is no longer as widely exercised as a cognitive function?” he asked.   

the Guardian newspaper, article

The outcome to this conversation was an awareness of the need to develop response strategies as artists to the emerging evidence that the online brain is changing us

This conversation was useful in terms of raising my awareness of the influence of the computers and the web on my workflow and ways of thinking and how I need to be vigilant.

The following are some of the strategies I have adopted:

Use the computer as a tool to making, documenting and communicating during interludes in making. This interlude creates a space from the physical, material activity which changes the mental space and refreshes the mind. I find myself stepping from making to writing and post-producing photographs in a constant cycle of production with my brain engaging in two forms of function linked by the same activity. This physical workflow is a conversation between the outer and inner-world interacting physically. I feel it is dangerous to ignore the fact that we are physical beings, symbolic life is not actual life. 

Jonathan introduced Doug Belshaw’s response:

Doug Belshaw who writes a lot about ‘digital literacies’ has 3 initial thoughts on how to respond:
1. seek other networks
2. look for voices you want to give attention to
3. avoid constipation!
1. deliberately look for networks to engage with – eg this course right now, or more decentralised online networks – where money making is not the main issue
2. look for interesting people – not just on social media – look for newsletters, zines, blogs, podcasts – slower forms of online engagement?
3. horrible metaphor!! but — massive info consumption – gets stuck – need better throughput! — careful reflective writing can really help – extract the nutrients from what reading listening to etc.

Jonathan ended the chat with the same statement he started with:

our attention is sovereign
1. we decide where we put our attention
2. in acknowledging this – we take responsibility
— where we put our attention
— past and future

Maquette for Suspended Sculpture

Yesterday I worked on the idea of creating a porcelain sculpture that lets light pass through. On a small scale the above form worked well and looks elegant, but on a large scale I felt that it may present as impressive but boring. I would be reproducing, more or less, the form on a larger scale which would be more of an engineering problem than artistic one. It is the sort of thing one would pass on to technicians. 

The conversation I have been having with Taiyo comes to mind, in which I made a distinction between interest, meaning and significance. On a large scale I feel the skeletal form, shown beneath, may be more interesting. By this I mean that it may engender a greater curiosity, catalyse more questions. This would be more in keeping with the idea of layered interpretations I have talked about in the project proposal: to open out rather than enclose the narrative. 

Both approaches are valid. This is yet another example of my dialectic between the rational and the emotional. If I were to go with the more recent idea, it would present different technical problems and perhaps lead to new discoveries. I have never worked like this. In the end, on a large scale, the degree of detail possible offers a perhaps more interesting making experience. One in which I learn new things. After all, I could also show the sleek model as an idealisation in contrast to the reality; much in the way that religions work and can give rise to ambitious and magnificent sacred art. Distant from every day life. 

I also feel that the ‘skeletal’ piece, apart from being potentially lighter and easier to display, is more visceral, closer to the ethnographic artefacts that so engage me. Made using simple technology that challenges the skill base of the maker to bring together the spiritual and the everyday, the imagination and the earthy, the touchable essence of material. 

I could argue that the earlier approach transcends the everyday into a different plane of existence, belief and imagination, but is the narrative I am building not based on the immediacy of a world that is beyond my grasp and yet I feel is ever present? Should this immediacy not be reflected in the process; a directness of making that the earlier approach would occlude by virtue of its aesthetic form and finish? However, if I am to keep the sense of preciousness of a sacred object, making the piece in porcelain would be enough to transcend the conceptual content. I am stepping into both domains, is that not how belief works, constantly moving between reality and the ideal? What is the relationship between reality and the ideal, are they entangled or separate, joined only in our minds? 

The entanglement of sound and material I propose is better served by the skeletal form in relation to low frequencies: more permeable, affected, conjoined. 

If I am to go with my current inclination, does the final form need to be what it is now? Does this form of making not invite an exploration of new dispositions of parts and indeed change the whole character of the work. This brings me in conflict with time. I have only so many months to draw the form, make, fire, finish and mount. Do I have the time to do this with everything else I need to do?

Over the next few days I shall experiment with some ideas and see where that takes me. What I want to avoid is indecision during making, that would slow the whole process. In the meantime I can continue with other works and keep an open mind. I hope to have something more definitive before December which would give me realistically, six months in which to complete the work.


A Conversation With Taiyo

Over the past days I have had a very interesting conversation with Taiyo. It covers some of our ideas regarding appropriation, collage, content…

Taiyo has published excerpts of this conversation, typos and all. It is valuable to exchange thoughts and open out to new ideas. I was initially intrigued by the animations she has started to post and contacted her because I found correspondences with what she was saying and doing with my current thinking. It is fascinating how correspondences manifest in things which appear at the outset very different. Is this because there are common threads, are these links an artefact of perception, is it a response to the context and environment? I suspect it is a little of all three. 

The documentation of this sort of dialogue is very valuable and unfortunately not that common. It arose spontaneously and without the aim of compiling a document. I must thank Taiyo for having formalised this ongoing exchange from the seemingly fragmented format of the email. 

A more complete copy can be found here: PDF .

Spes Contra Spem

I first came across this latin phrase while living in Montespertoli as the title for Renato Guttuso’s largely autobiographical triptych painted towards the end of the artist’s life after being diagnosed with lung cancer. 

Literally meaning hope against hope, this phrase is not only intriguing for its ambivalent meaning but the word spes is transformed into spem by its context. The nominative ‘against’ the accusative, subject vs object. I love the way words are transformed by where they sit in the sentence, it is like a game. 

But what does hope against hope actually mean? Is it to hope against all hope, hope despite hope, or the need for hoping becoming hope itself? There have been many interpretations and this kind of phrase appears repeatedly in the Bible. 

The preposition contra, meaning against can also be taken to mean towards. It could be taken to imply that it is not enough to hope, but that one needs to become hope. This is mentioned in Paul, Romans 4:18, where Abraham becomes the hope of his people. An alternative reading is that he hopes against hope that he becomes the leader of his people despite being childless. 

Contra here acts as allative case, a form not found in Latin but has been used in other languages such as old Finnish and Latvian. Denoting movement towards, in Latin something similar is used to mean towards a place. The place here would be hope itself, in which case one could interpret the meaning as, moving towards hope as a place in which one might inhabit.

Hope: an act and a place, verb and locus



Hieronymus Bosch had the motto, “contra spem spero . . . Et rideo” – “against all hope I hope… And I laugh”. This could be interpreted as Bosch laughing in the face of despair aided by hope. The ever optimistic pessimist, or perhaps the optimistic cynic.

But what does all this have to do with my work? During a tutorial with Jonathan my feelings towards existence and humanity came up in relation to the maquette What is the Difference I had just completed. Am I angry, despairing, curious, regarding the human condition? I think the Latin phrase partly sums how I feel, and I have some kind of kinship with the idea of the optimist cynic. This does not mean I think people are bad, on the contrary, I think that our nature, often self interested in many ways, is such that bad things happen; that individual dynamics are very different to group dynamics and it is for the individual to act in a way that enhances, rather than diminishes the world. This approach may not change the world radically, but it can halt negative cycles of behaviour and start new positive ones. Mahatma Gandhi expressed this as, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’.

My work is a personal response to the idea of humanity: one of connected continuity with things that might appear alien or separate but with which we share common elements that become manifest in a multitude of ways. 

Finding a Title


Two small models to accompany the recumbent copy of the larger conversant piece. I feel I can now continue with making the larger work. These models will help me in deciding its size in relation to the already finished work which as it dries will shrink. This is why I made the measurements yesterday.

It differs in many aspects but the two emerge from the same formal stable of ideas but with different psychological aspects. The idea of spes contra spem, a phrase with many interpretations I have been fascinated with for years, seems to fit the works. I think I have found the title for these works which brings together belief and science, myth and theory. With this I can now move forward with sounds and words… It reminds me of what Picasso said, ‘I do not seek, I find’. Although this can be understood in many ways, Picasso was a great appropriator, I prefer to think that ideas often emerge after a time of subliminal thought when the conditions are right. As much was variously described by Henri Poincaré.

Restarting Blender… and Making

I have been back two full days and restarting making as always is hard. The excitement of returning to work is tempered by the reality of settling in and organising a workflow. Having spent half the day on Blender tutorials I said to my self, making is so much more satisfying. Mid-afternoon I made a sketch of the conversant piece while still not dry, and took measurements to keep its companion piece on the same scale.  Then I made a tiny model for which I shall make tomorrow its companion maquette before starting on the large scale piece.



Over the Summer I looked at Blender and how to use it to create 3D renderings. However, some time has passed and I have forgotten a lot of it as I had never worked with it before. So, I am restarting my learning from the top with videos on the fundamentals. I feel much more at home with the user interface which means I can get on quickly. 

The plan is to go through several videos every day, in between making and writing. By December I should be able to do pretty much what I want for the final show if needed. This seems late in the day to be starting this in earnest but my aims with respect to  3D rendering are relatively modest for now.

See links to videos in Resources with the aim of building a library of tutorials. 

Skype Chat 4.3: A Philosophical Interlude

Tomorrow is the deadline for the Research Statement submission which probably explains why there were fewer of us online today. This meant that we had a more free wheeling discussion taking a philosophical direction towards the end. 

We also talked about the blog curation process. How it can help to highlight repeating patterns, continuous thread of thought, and the provenance of apparently spontaneous ideas. 

But first we were asked a few questions regarding the structure of the course in relation the Research Statement. The main benefits I have experienced have been, the ample time frame allowing flexibility to develop, change and mature ideas. 

Although it has affected the time available for making, it has broadened my horizons within a focused beam of 4000 words. A limited number that has meant I have had to pare away to get to the core of an idea; this core bearing many buds for future thoughts: an exercise in prioritising ideas. 

It also helped to focus the aims and objectives of the project proposal and given me a framework for formulating a new artist’s statement. The RS can also be adapted to essay form for publication and is a starting point for further academic studies should I wish to pursue such a direction. 

The statement also moved my centre of interest squarely onto my practice rather than focusing on hobby horses and peripheral concerns, which is my tendency. These are still embedded in the RS but in the background and not as principle notions. 

Jonathan said: “Alexis – yes the essence of the content can easily be restructured to other contexts, for example if you were applying for funding and needed to write a section of ‘rationale’ you might use a couple of paragraphs from the research paper?”

Another thing pointed out is that 4000 words equates roughly to a 20 minute talk which is a standard time allocation in conferences.

Writing a research paper is possibly the most ‘critical’ way of developing conceptual and abstract skills than might be useful in the future helping to: formulate and articulate and argue ideas.

The philosophical discussion centred on the existential idea of purpose  

A PDF of the whole dialogue can be read here.

Research Statement


Evolutionary Space: Looking at Artistic Practice in a Disparate Art Ecology


The full research statement can be viewed here.



The disparate but interconnected nature of contemporary artistic practice is examined in the cases of cell automation, computer-generated life, and ceramic sculpture. It is argued that creative systems involve the encoding and implementation of pure information into perceptible modes, manifested, propagated, and proliferated in a process involving the flow of information. This is arrived at, in the context of Dennett’s concept of algorithm, Olson’s ideas on computer-generated life, and biological and cultural systems. A distinction is made between phenotype and hardware, and symbolic or virtual life and organic life subject to physical laws. The possibility of physical life as opposed to symbolic life being generated by computers of the future is speculatively touched on. This in turn leads to the suggestion that there is a symbolic correspondence between art practices and life processes. An artwork in design space within a given ecosystem is seen as a step in the development of a practice arising from what is called here evolutionary space. Evolutionary space is presented as a way of looking at art practices in terms of how they develop, adapt, and operate, in a dynamic relationship with an ever-changing environment. It extends Esslin’s artist-centric approach to evaluating artistic practice consistent with Anderson’s anthropological, and Bayles and Orlando’s sociological notions of art. Evolutionary space may be a way of mitigating some of the complications that subjective criteria might cause when discussing differing practices. In conclusion, evolutionary space offers a flexible and adaptable means of considering art practices, their taxonomies, processes, and outcomes, forming a starting point for further discussion and research into the nature of artistic practice and the role of artists.    

Key words: evolutionary space, ecosystem, artistic practice, information, aesthetics.  

Tutorial 6: 15 October 2019. Jonathan Kearney

Tuesday’s tutorial covered a number of points I would like to pursue further in future blogs. We talked about two main things: the sound element of the project proposal and the challenges that these and other aspects present in terms of the exhibition space. 

The time away from the studio has allowed me to think about my practice in a more objective way and select out or rather prioritise elements, focusing what I do to concentrate its effect while making it possible for it to be more open. 

We discussed three principle acoustic elements in the proposal: ultra low frequency, normal sounds embedded in the sculptures, and separate narrative audio.

It was a very good thing I spent a lot of time familiarising myself with the spaces and the show dynamics during the Summer. The spaces can be quite challenging and there is also the question of logistics and installation. These challenges also present opportunities to create a show that is flexible and modular capable of being shown in other spaces and contexts.

The interactive bass sounds aim at: drawing people in, mitigating any disruption in collective spaces, affecting the space at a physical / corporeal level.

The narrative sounds work on a different level altogether. We discussed how the bass and narrative sounds would interact. This will need a lot of experimentation and testing so that the bass is audible while listening to the narrative on headphones. I think that because the bass will fluctuate in volume as opposed to the headphone’s constant narrative, a dislocation will result in further layering of meaning.

A third sound layer will be provided by the sounds embedded in the sculptures. Talking with Jonathan clarified the direction I should take with these sounds. The pieces would probably work best with abstract sounds correlating with the sculptural forms. To have spoken or representational sounds appear to me at odds with the static, ‘silent’ nature of sculptural form. This is another technical matter to experiment.  

We briefly discussed the Arduino and headphones, whether the latter should be wireless to allow visitors to walk around setting a spatial conversation between the sounds, sculptures and any other visual element that might be included.

The idea of different scales of listening creating circumscribed or diffuse space in the installation is an interesting idea but again will need careful working out:

  • the diffuse bass interactively fluctuating in volume and vibrating the space
  • the abstract embedded sounds circumscribing a tight horizon of perception, drawing in the listener
  • the headphone narrative being a more rational layer creating that tension between the rational and the emotional I often talk about.

I mentioned that the installation is a form of shrine. But on reflection what I am doing is not so much building a shrine as enshrining notions. I think this is a much looser and and open term that gives me much greater freedom than what I had thought earlier – mythopoeia. I can still use the term mythopoeia but in narrower contexts to describe part of what I am doing. 

I believe that this idea of enshrinement come at a critical moment in the current process before I start to immerse myself in the final project  

We also discussed the opening night as a moment in which the work might not be fully appreciated because of the nature of such gatherings. I see the opening as more of a social event , P.R, that may or may not yield appropriate interest. Really, if someone wants to see work, they will not come on the opening night, something I know from experience. 

I explained how part of my methodology is to make the sculptures empathetic to a certain extent. Not with a covert anthropomorphic form, but something more alien. So far the unfired porcelain gives me a sense of this but after the firing process it will be interesting to see how this affects my ideas, display and handling of the works. 

I am still incorporating the idea of an alimentary canal, digesting and assimilating ideas from a world of ancestry and connectedness; an alien landscape that is part of us. 

With respect to the large suspended sculpture, and the word Icon, Jonathan spoke about religious icons being ‘written’ after after many hours of meditating before painting. This process creates a space that allows an icon to be a window to another world. 

I told Jonathan that at the beginning of the course I was open to explore new and familiar materials and methods. He asked If this had been a challenge, that is to say, trying to push processes that had been previously defined and clear. 

I have found the process immensely enjoyable, getting underneath the process and it has developed my ability to better articulate what I am doing and why to myself. The PP is now less dispersed; I have used my energy to look at different things gradually delineating a clearer picture that can be taken into the future making a methodology without wondering what if I did this or that. My endeavour has been to work within a chaotic coherence out of which can emerge a more focused trajectory that draws in ideas in its wake. 

We finally discussed the Amputation post and the amputation video at the end of it. This is something I would like to continue and formalise into a more polished performance.

Jonathan said that the ideas make sense with what I have been doing and that there is a clear trajectory and evidence of testing and pushing this along. Although there is still a lot to do, technical issues to resolve with testing, but he can visualise the coherence of what I am doing. 



What to do next

Explore the ideas of shrine and icon and the relationship between them.

Look at the idea of a tent, reveal and enclose as in shrine and icon.

Middle Eastern stone shrines to the invisible god

Consider / plan / curate the making of further amputation videos.

Design audio experiments to assess questions of balance, comprehensibility and significance between the varying sources.

Think about displaying text on screen as well as through headphones offering alternative ways of delivering.


Experiment 3 for Conversant Pieces

Third porcelain conversant piece.

This piece sets the tone for subsequent works. The large suspended piece will follow that felt sense that this has. I have resolved many aspects of making so when I return to the studio I will be able to immerse myself in the making rather than problem solving. 

I was originally thinking of having a large number of pieces on a raised surface near the ground. I have changed my mind. This is going to be one of two pieces, placed on surfaces so that they can be looked at and listened to closely:  waist height most probably. I had thought of plinths but I think that two flat surfaces, interlocking, held up with very thin metal legs might work better. I don’t want the sense of space to be blocked by solid plinths but rather have the porcelain pieces almost hovering off the ground. One recumbent like this one and the other vertical, more active. The horizontal extension of this one against the verticality of the other will form an L shape seen from above and the side. But this depends on the exhibition space.

Experiment 2 for conversant pieces

Porcelain components for second conversant piece.

This piece, the second in the series, was a departure from the vertical vessel. I count this as the second failure of the series. It moves on from the former work but I am still not happy with how I relate the form. I am not feeling it enough; working too much from the head; the work is too rigid. Perhaps this is because I am contemporaneously resolving some practical problems such as how to embed the sound and making the pieces so they fit the large kiln. I am pleased, though, with the material quality, its surface but not its formal quality. It does not convey the organic sense I am looking for. It has, however, crossed some boundaries and as a stand alone piece it could well work – just not as part of the installation as I envisage it at the moment, but that could change and it may still appear in the final show depending on its context and how it is displayed.

I am looking to make something that is like a body, but not a recognisable one. To have human elements without any human iconography. To engender an empathy in an alien form; to convey the animal in the human, with the human trapped in the body, latent, nascent, trembling with what it might become. 

About to Start Unit 2

I have been away from the studio now for over four weeks. I shall be back in around a week after a prolonged period abroad. I worked over the Summer months on 3D works, coded and learned some VR rendering. This has been a belated Summer coming at the right time. A chance to complete the Research Statement, curate the blog, reacquainting myself with the past year and clarifying the Project Proposal. I have flown, walked, swum, eaten and looked at some art but I have made none.  

Being away from my work has brought it closer and into greater focus. The work for the coming nine months is now much clearer: what to do, and more importantly, what not to do. Had I continued as I was, I would have been in a process of desperate and confusing accretion rather than distillation and consolidation.

The research statement is submitted, although I will continue to revise and resubmit it – it is a nervy process and something might come up nearer the deadline; I don’t think I have ever been so in hand with a piece of writing as this. The blog curation is nearly completed and I shall keep sifting through it, milling the information ever more finely. As for the Project Proposal, that is an ongoing document which for now has the lineaments of the final show and future work. 

I still have a great deal of learning and experimenting ahead, particularly with the digital and display aspects of the work. However, when I get back into the studio next week, I will be able to immerse myself fully in making with a clear direction of where to go and how to get there.

Experiment 1 for conversant pieces

Making a porcelain stand for first conversant piece.

This piece was the first of three I made during the Summer before going away in September. I was highly disappointed with the outcome but it indicated the way for the next piece. I learnt a great deal along the way. How to break away from preconceptions. I played with the surface but found that all the details added simply made the work neither one thing nor the other. 

It was a good way of finding out how to embed the sound apparatus and making procedure but not the artistic content. I consider this a failure well worth making as it has led to more interesting ideas. 


An idea I worked with was the imprisoning of sound, not allowing it to escape but making it audibly entrapped in the ceramic body. The protuberances making the whole fragile, the brittle pieces creating a further barrier to the sounds from inside. 

I have moved on from this idea. I feel that at times, ideas that appear to work when described in words do not necessarily come together as a work in another medium. The Project Proposal now reflects this as I pare it down.

Skype Chat 4.2: Making Sense of the World

Jonathan presented a video split in four parts, looking at William Kentridge describing aspects of his methodology. Full video

Kentridge is one of the few artists today that makes sense in that what he says matches with what he does, yet he leaves things open to the imagination and does not close his argument. His very straight forward description of how he works is refreshing and authentic, telling us how his work has arisen out of his own shortcomings. This reminds me of what Delcroix once said, (I have mentioned this elsewhere in the blog) make your weaknesses your strengths).

Kentridge’s work arises out of the process of its own making, finding its purpose in the moment. Not withstanding this, his videos and animations are carefully planned, they could not be otherwise. He works with contingencies that arise out of his process, not as one might think uncertainty. 

Whereas contingency is about events that can not be predicted, uncertainty is the psychological state of anticipation of contingent or uncertain events. Kentridge allows contingency to direct his process, certain of what he is doing but unable to predict the outcome. 

His working process for the animations gives him time to reflect in action between takes and therefore develop a narrative that evolves spontaneously under his direction. This last aspect is very important because he is in full control of what he does but allows the material to e itself from which he infers his direction. This also produces discontinuities that subliminally offer interpretations that become more concrete as moments in the narrative accrete not to mention surprising aesthetic moments. 

We talked about our respective speeds of working and how that impacts on our work. How time is needed to reflect and think about what we are doing and next steps. Also using process surprises as a source of inspiration and ideas. How the unpredictable is a source of creativity. This brings to mind Margaret Boden’s idea of creativity being something surprising, novel and of value. What value means in this context is an interesting question, one I shall leave for now.

The fracturing of narratives and of objects could be seen as a reflection of contemporary society. And his fracturing of time and coalescing dialogues in conversation over different time frames in one scene to me is like the reformation of the self. An internal dialogue made external in the work. It holds up a mirror to how we think and act. Kentridge to my mind is attempting to express an order out of chaos, bring to light evanescent correspondences. He is rediscovering the world.

 ‘make sense of the world, rather than an instruction of what the world means’

What Kentridge appears to be doing is to reform his perception of the world in an act of reconciliation with it. He is coming to terms with the world as it is rather than trying to explain why it is like that at all. He is perhaps saying that one does not have to look for meaning, for purpose; rather just wonder at it and discover how marvellous it is; how subjectivity is important in our perception of the world. 

Jonathan asked me, Alexis in your working process are you ‘making sense of the world’?
Me: I suppose I [am] by embracing the world as it is and responding to it in some way.
Jonathan: Alexis through the material first and foremost?
Me: I suppose I a materialist in the way I work
But material without thought is inert
material can be moved by the imagination and flexed into different modes

Another thing Kentridge says is that looking for certainty is futile. The future is a question of probabilites, and that way of thinking is counterintuitive for us humans. We are programmed to seek certainty: if you are certain that that tiger will eat you, you live on to pass on that idea. Certainty is how we try to make sense of the world, but uncertainty is the way the world works. The two concepts are at odds. The former is comforting, the latter disquieting.

However, what Kentridge is getting at is perhaps more socio-political. Certainty leads to being dogmatic, being uncertain more likely to engender exploration. He describes how dogmatic individuals raise their voice and assert they standpoint loudly as though to counteract the quiet voice of uncertainty, of questioning.

Jonathan always bring things back to artistic practice, which is so useful:

certainty can be dogmatic and arrogant but often the perceived certainty is not very solid and the reality is much more uncertain – the value of art can be argued is in that it actively engages with uncertainty in order to discover new possibilities, ideas, surprises etc etc

Another notion briefly alighted on was that of undertainty and purpose being entwinned but decoupled, not necessarily causally related. This is the point where I thought of the term used in quantum theory, entanglement. 

The final video clip catalysed a discussion about self criticism of one’s own practice. How fragile one can be in the moment of observing one’s own work. Jonathan left us with these quotes:

‘The sane human being is satisfied that the best he/she can do at any given moment is the best he/she can do at any given moment…

Making art provides uncomfortably accurate feedback about the gap that inevitably exists between what you intended to do, and what you did…

To all viewers but yourself, what matters is the product: the finished artwork.

To you, and you alone, what matters is the process: the experience of shaping that artwork.

The viewers’ concerns are not your concerns (although it’s dangerously easy to adopt their attitudes.) Their job is whatever it is: to be moved by art, to be entertained by it, to make a killing off it, whatever.

Your job is to learn to work on your work.



Collected these treasures on a beach in the South of France the day before yesterday. Janet picked up the biofacts and mineral objects. I was drawn to the glass worn by the incessant wave action. What would our distant, and perhaps not so distant ancestors have given for these coloured jewels? They would have certainly used them to adorn themselves and decorate their most precious possessions; traded them inland and held them as symbols of status, wealth and beauty. The irony is that these are today’s waste cast into the sea, transformed and neglected in the sands of a affluent watering hole. 

What will our descendants think of the pebbles and algae washed up on shore? The pebbles will always be there, or somewhere else. The algae, who knows. All too often, the natural environment is entangled with plastic and other detritus from our ‘evolved’ world. How will clean, natural things be seen in the future?

Janet and I collected different things, One the natural historian, the other the archaeologist. The two go hand in hand, and we did not ‘fight’ over any particular object. The truth is, that we helped each other to find the objects we sought. A meaningful juxtaposition arising out of a collaborative exploration on a modest scale.

Tutorial 5: 04 October 2019. Gareth Polmeer

Research Statement Tutorial

Earlier today, I was able to get feedback from Gareth regarding the RS. We had a very interesting conversation around some of the subject areas touched on in the paper. 

I am happy that the paper has focus and am grateful to Gareth for the suggestions he made in the last tutorial, namely William Latham’s Mutator. The paper works better than the original drafts, in that it avoids many of the former complexities which were hard to resolve within the word count of the paper while still keeping some original elements. 

One of the things I have to add is a line or two to say that some ideas presented are subject to current debate. This goes particularly for the first paragraph in Part 2 which deals with, yes you’ve guessed it, aesthetics. No single area of art causes more debate than aesthetics, or perhaps be more interesting. And that is perhaps why the Research Statement proposes a way of mitigating subjectivity when discussing more than one artistic practice at a time. 

This does not mean I have found a universal and infallible modus operandi. It is more of a gateway to further discussion and debate, perhaps future research. In fact, there are many potential papers nested in the RS. All these side branches or spurs to other areas, can only be hinted at in a four thousand word paper. So this is another thing I should mention in the paper, the potential areas to be investigated. Areas such as the idea of whether AI can make art, final causality and autonomy of action. 

I have one hundred and sixty four words left. This should be enough for any corrections and additions. One thing I was glad of was that I do not need any further citations. They just take up on the word count. This makes life so much easier. There is just one I could add in paragraph 1 of Part 2 where I could explain where the idea is coming from: the part that mentions … not requiring teleological control. This paragraph is debatable which in the context a short paper can be moved through. These are things many books have been written on.

The first paragraph of Part 2 could go in many directions, and I am aware of this. The paper tests ideas and does not sit on its own. Gareth mentioned Paul Crowther who has written on the phenomenological theory of art, Phenomenology of Visual Arts which would be interesting to read in the future. 

I have been concerned with the way the paper transitions from life simulation to looking at art practice as a life process, whether I have been clear enough. Gareth mentioned the Hegelian idea of Geist and in Hegel’s terms art practice is a form of sublation, in which something evolves and changes, and parts are negated to become something else.

Look at Heraclitus in the context of  process philosophy which predates and counters the Aristotelian and Platonic ideas of being, the four causes and the realm of the ideal.   

All the ideas touched on are a rich field to take forward but most importantly they are never far from practice based work. 


Skype Chat 4.1: Unit 1 Assessment and Process & Ars Electronica

We talked about the Unit 1 Assessment process and criteria. 

Jonathan also showed us some works being shown at the Linz  Ars Electronica 2019. 



I found it interesting the correspondence Wu Juehui’s installation,  Bit Tower,  has with installations I made in 2010, 2013 and 2014 using sacred spaces and low frequency sounds. 

In 2010, I experimented with sculpture and sound during a residency at Nottingham Trent University. The result was Contingent Ceremony, an installation in a small redundant church looking at worship and the sacred in the light of mystery and magic.

I also showed a version of this at the Crypt Gallery St Pancras in the same year. Incidentally, the same show as Genetic Moo, graduates from this very same course long before I ever knew about it.



2013, the next installation was more ambitious in scale, in the large Chad Varah Chapel. Here I used a variety of sound sources enveloping the space and emanating from a central sculpture. I remember the highlight for me was when one of the festival organisers was brought to tears by the associations she made with the work. It is humbling when such things happen and also bring to mind the responsibility one has to others when doing something affecting. 



The next installation was in 2014 as part of the touring show Chaos Contained. The installation was in the Bell Tower of St John’s Church in Scunthorpe. This time I used the sounds of the tower clock together with low frequencies. 

For the project proposal I am thinking of using low frequencies but this time with a digital control mechanism which interacts with the audience. I worked with the Arduino earlier this Summer, learning how to use it and code. I shall continue this as soon as I get back to the studio. This period away has been useful for writing the Research Statement, thinking about the Project Proposal and curating the blog. 

Adrien M and Claire B from Lyon are artists I was already familiar with through social media. Their work is interesting in the simplicity of use of technology. However, I do think that it is more style than content. The work at Ars Electronica I particularly liked. It is lovely to see when seen from the right place. But the fact that it is limited in its angle of view is a shame and seeing it is made with an ipad reflecting from glass at 45 degrees does give me the sense of a simple magic trick demystified and laid bare to disappointment. Nevertheless, I think that the simplicity itself is the trick and not what it shows. This sort of augmented reality is beguiling for a moment until I become habituated, then I want to seek something deeper. Despite my misgivings about the nature of this kind of work, it is entertaining and creates associations and gives me ideas. That certainly cannot be a bad thing. 

Akinori Goto’s work is a holographic zoetrope reminding me of Matt Collishaw’s Massacre of the Innocents. It is more ethereal and less theatre but I much prefer Collishaws’s subject matter. Goto’s dancing figure seems more of a demonstration of a technique and again lacks subject matter. At least, Adrien and Claire’s particulate bombardment of a block of crystal is cosmological, a dancing figure is too much like a computer generated film effect of a fairy dancing on a table. 

Despite all the things I say, hats off to these artists for their ingenuity and technical savvy, although in some cases I am sure there are some backroom boys, or girls, involved, who knows, they are hardly ever named, at least in the headline credits.

Memo Akten and his crew do some very impressive work in Istanbul. It is a little disturbing, especially with how beguiling it is. The work again seems a demonstration of technology. It makes me think that the artistic content of the work lies in one’s inference of its nature. The technology is the content itself rather than a means to express something else. That is how it seems to me very often. It is left for later generations to pick things up and take them further. 

And as for Luca Zanotto’s Eyes – emoticons on steroids.


My initial project proposal was full of interrogatives and unknowns. I was looking for connective tissue, a means to create a whole, to move the making into a deep well of notions. This is perhaps what I have previously called the ineffable. I used to think that we are ruled by the tyranny of words. But words make up much of what we think and who we are. Today we live in a tyranny of image, graphic, moving, symbols and shortcuts to thought that like idioms, clichés and figures of speech. What is the difference? They all tug at one’s own reality. 

I mean to inhabit multitudes and contain more than I can express. This is the conversation I seek with others…

Wolfgang Gil: Maleable Sound as Sculpture


Resonant Body I - Wolfgang Gil


Gareth Jones, in his essay, describes the historical changes in the relationship between sculpture and sound. This dichotomous tension is straddled by Gil’s work in Sonic Plasticity proposes the use of sound as a malleable material – one that can be stretched in all dimensions, encompassing height, width, and depth, with curves, edges, and changing geometries. His Aural Fields and Resonant Bodies combine physical structures set to vibrate, creating geometric fields of sound perceivable in space with edges and form.

This is an interesting field I am currently investigating with respect to the final proposal with respect to sculptures. I am not proposing to do the same sort of thing but Gil’s work does have correspondence with how I see sound as creating a physical entity in itself.

My idea is to counterpoise the readability and sensuality of the solid pieces with the pure perception and sensuality in another modality of sound. I am concerned about the cancelling out of one another: should solid sculpture reside in silence, should sound be disembodied? These are questions I intend to explore and aim to resolve in some way. The use of digital interactive devices is something I have been working with enabling an element of audience interaction. But then again, the work in silence also speaks of itself. This is an interesting area of empirical research which needs a trial and error, or heuristic, approach.