Treasure

 

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.

Return

I have been away from my journal for the last ten days, helping Janet to set up her final show at Camberwell as well as others showing with her. But my mind has not been idle and I have been collecting a number of thoughts regarding work during this period. The insight I have gained regarding how the whole thing works in the context of Camberwell has given me ideas to work on and develop.

Low Residency – Day 2: Group Tutorials

 

The group tutorial was led with a light touch by former student Andrew Fairley. This allowed us to navigate one another’s practice openly. My presentation, based on the blog journal, allowed me to summarise what I have done during the course period in the context of my previous work.

Pav asked me what challenge, what question am I posing with my work? This question that can be opened out in many ways. For some, it is a simple case of stating concerns regarding an issue of social or cultural significance, for others it may be a technical or philosophical matter about their practice. However, I feel that it is important to allow the receiver to infer from what I present and do, any questions or challenges that they might see in the work. It is not for me to impose the questions I pose myself onto their contextual standpoint. Of course I have my own questions and challenges, they are in this sense a framework around which my practice is built. However, at the moment of presenting I am more concerned with what the response might be. 

Nevertheless, what I do feel important is, to give the receiver some sort of lead as to the provenance of the synthesis embodied in the work in the form of some text or conversation. Enigmatic presentations are all well and good in engendering debate, but they can also risk work being dismissed or, perhaps less importantly, deeply misunderstood. Minimalist works are especially susceptible to this as are conceptual works, particularly in the case of the latter if they are no aesthetically engaging. With more complex works, the obvious tensions and relationships between parts of a given work can furnish plenty of cues for conversation and polemics.

In the past, my work has succeeded in transmitting much of its content and given rise to much else without my having to give much of an explanation. But the nature of the affect is very much dependent on what the receiver brings: this is true conversation, an exchange of ideas, experience and perception. I find that people react very differently, from fascination and delight to repulsion and unease; they may wonder at the making process or pass it by and react to associations and allusions. All these response feedback directions and insights that help inform how I might go about things subsequently. But above all they give me a sense of external context.

I feel that all too often challenges and disruptions can become vehicles for some sort of power play. I feel that responses and reactions to life’s vicissitudes are important, no essential, but I also seek a balance between what is in my nature and how I navigate the social world. I am not about power play, if authentic an artwork should have a power from within to speak out in its own way. And whether this matches some current political issue or not is a matter of chance.

MPR Comments and Response

Yesterday we had the silent crit of everyone’s mid point reviews. It was a long day and I am glad I had prepared my comments and questions, there was a lot going on and seven minutes for commentary after viewing each presentation made it almost mandatory that responses should be prepared. 

Below is the studio based discussion as audio and transcript followed by the written Skype comments from online students. 

I felt that I gained a great deal in thinking of the work of others and the responses I gave in writing can be found here.

The whole video of the day can be found here.

I found the comments thought provoking, affirming, and stimulating; in time I shall respond to them, in the meantime…

 

Sound file of the studio comments

Transcript

Edited for clarity endeavouring to maintain content.

Ben:
These sculptures remind of video games such as [inaudible] group simulations that focus around evolution. I don’t know if they would be any use. There are lots of simulations on line that kind of simulate evolution and a lot of creatures end up looking like that. So, if he is looking going more into digital that might be quite useful.   

Dannii:
I really like the ideas that he is exploring the alternative the alternative forms of creation. There is one particular image in there that resonates with me it brings together all of his ideas in a single image that’s got ceramics in a bowl with different combinations of materials that it speaks [of] anthropology, archaeology and science fiction. The fact that they are made out of ceramics has this ambiguity about whether they are from the past or not or whether they are future artefacts, the way they look is quite science fiction. It holds you in this wonder space where you don’t know where these objects exist in time and space and that for me was the most powerful out of all the images.

Ed:
I’ve got a question which is, is there a way of imagining an ecosystem in which these fictional beings have an interrelationship

Jonathan: what, like in a whole universe, similar to what Ben said [ about] simulations… a whole environment 

Ed: Because I mean they have an organic style and if you were to put several of them on a table together, as has been suggested in some of the images we saw where you start to try and work out how they feed off one another or how they co-habit, that could be a useful tool in…research.

Ed:
I was wonder, suddenly there were two churches in there and then everything went back to the organic, you see that there was a church and then a mosque then it was…  we’re back, we’re back to the fluidity of form… like there is an existential angst to his work that is represented in the faces crying out from this [inaudible] thing… maybe I’m misreading

Dannii:
They seem more like sacred artefacts that have been displayed they are very different, they are   much more ordered, elegant, symmetrical they were very very different from the other more organic [inaudible]

Ed:
There was one large sculpture that had the kind of almost Jewish candle, almost, form, ceremonial form

Dannii:
That’s the culture that’s connected to the organic life forms that’s the human culture that’s evolved from the same environment that these other organisms have evolved from that’s the link between the [two] that’s the human culture relative to the…

Ed:
These might just be the narratives we develop [as] the audience and maybe it should stay on video.

 Betty:
There’s an artist that Alexis might find interesting called Marguerite Humeau, she’s French she’s quite young, she had a room in Tate Britain quite recently and she calls herself the Indian Jones of Google Times.  She makes sculptures of animals or things that could have been but hadn’t been so she’s worked with scientists and all that but she displays them very differently to how Alexis shows his work. It is very slick it’s almost like you’re in a designer store but she incorporates sound into her work as well. It might be someone you could look at, Alexis.

Dannii:
It made me think, what about, a lot about the legacy of life forms and what they leave behind […] because ceramics is one of those things they leave behind because it is so durable but maybe the thing that we leave behind is plastic everywhere maybe there is this plastic after that, maybe explore materials and explore and contrasts things like plastics and other materials with ceramics.

Ed:
There are lots of different… I think the thing is with his work it just touches on so many different areas and you almost want to say, alright, go for the archaeology, go for the anthropology.

Jonathan:
[Jonathan reads the second half of Pav’s comment adding] at this time in the course it still quite big and broad

Ed: and speculative and that’s fine.

Will:
You can tell the way he’s thinking in quite a dense way, I actually would like it if he went full on maximalist and maybe really immersed in this whole room of objects not necessarily interconnected.

Danni: Like the British Museum          

Ed: Like a Hieronymus Bosch triptych or something like that, where you have an overwhelming deluge of material

Will:  I think I would go that way because that’s where his head is at with it and embrace the quantity then the role of [inaudible]

Donald: I think, when you look at pictures of his studio, he’s doing that anyway

Will: That’s what I said, it looks like the Chapman Brother’s studio, there is so much stuff in there, l really like that.

Ed: Well, the Chapman Brothers definitely reference Bosch, ‘Hell and Fucking Hell’ are like three-dimensional Heironymus Bosch triptychs there is a conscious appropriation of that.

Dannii:
I was wondering whether [he’d] be interested in trying in a practical process way to explore the edge-lands of his work, particularly in ecology where the sea meets the land and we have this incredible explosion of creativity whether his singular practices he can bring them together and they can almost cross-pollinate each other and what that would turn into

Ed: Hybrid. He is all hybrids, everything he is doing is a hybrid of one thing or another. I guess it does cross-pollinate. The question is how the ideas cross pollinate in curatorial [setting].

Betty:
How important is that people understand his work because I think I would need to take away his artist’s statement and spend a couple of hours before I could understand all the ideas that he is trying to articulate and does that matter. Do you care if someone just takes your work at a very face value…

Dannii: I don’t know, I think there is a possibility to discover the language into something much clearer and purer with a more simple language that can make it much easier and accessible, just simply using more common words for example

Ed: So you are asking him to be less literary

Dannii: He is using very specific words to articulate himself

Ed: It is very sophisticated

Dannii: He could be a bit more generalist in his language and then I think more people could potentially could [noise] the work.

Ed: But I think presenting it in a gallery setting could be poetry that he indulges in rather than prose in order to actually make sense of…

Leah:
I have read this text for a very long time because the words, the English is quite hard for me. But I quite like the idea of inversion of methodology and cross-fertilising, it’s quite interesting for me, but I am trying to figure out the meaning, it is the same meaning in Chinese, when I saw his work I just could not find these things in his work, this is my question.

 

Skype Chat Comments

ASH:
My favorite piece in your works shown in the video is the one using face as the core element. I can even hear of something from the picture as the opening mouth is so noticeable. I would recommend you to check the Radio Tower at the Tate Modern, maybe you can put a speaker inside the pot then it will works as the ‘voice’ of man?
Video mapping works really well.
Old time room is much better than white cube way of exhibiting.

Friederike:
Alexis I really liked the idea that nature in choas creates new forms of life and so does the artist. It really made me think of evolution in an instant way. Evolution seems always so slow, but in reality the creation of new forms happens all the time, you made that connection for me, which is so simple, but somehow did not occur to me like that before.

Christopher:
I am fascinated by the way you transform your sculptures from being still life to a machine of emission. I’m curious to eventually encounter the ways in which you integrate digital mediums within your more tangible work.

Matt:
Relationship between drawing and sculpting reminiscent of Henry Moore – organic similarities, connectivity and fluency in form and growth. ‘The digital as an entity that is separate and encroaching on us’ – i am interested in this notion relating back to conversation we had during low residency – is this something which you could push or consider in terms of how that relates to your feelings about evolution and states of nature – what is ‘natural’? It is something that has a label of belonging to a category and a construct – do we percieve the encroaching digital as a shadow that follows us and belonging to its own dimension in some manner? Is technology threatening? If so why – isnt it that if anything we are our own threat – we gave constructed and clung to a fixed idea of what constitutes ‘wilderness’ or the ‘default’ – I wonder whether intentionally provoking those concerns and shaping a voice for them might be constructive

Aristotle:
Brilliantly written as always. It leaves me with a feeling of awe and admiration. It takes me somewhere whery primal and very deep at the same time. Eerie and drawing at the same time. Very dense in theoretical information, maybe a bit too much. I would like to see more physical examples of work currently in progress and any struggles relating to that.

Pav:
You have developed a sound reportage on your intellectual enquiry into the Universe. Your practice and research have resulted in the production of quirky and diverse work, which is based on a broad theoretical framework. Your video has strong documentary qualities and provides an erudite and detailed record of your approach in a clean and highly aesthetic manner.
However, I felt that the contextual element was underplayed. There was a sense of confusion regarding your research question and the overall focus. Your creative intentions remain ambiguous and undefined. Is it possible to produce work about the dynamics and complexities of our holistic existence?
Can your project be about “everything”

Michelle:
Alexis – Ethereal and Primordial and appearing almost religious and evolutionary bringing lots of ideas and philosophies together. Seemingly precious objects appear as though they are from a past time.

Christopher:
A taxonomy

ASH:
and i think you can even use some echo in your sound work as mythology is included in your contextual research so i guess using echo might be able to imitate the ancient voice. i hope this advice would be useful

Taiyo:
Alex’s work reminds me of a documentary of nhk. It talked about life was developed by accident cross accidents which is just like a miracle. And most life was came from ocean and I feel like through your work I can imagine how they develop…

Kelda:
The idea of fragility and permanence and your interest in an evolving society stand out to me. Though I found the overall video quite confusing as there was so much in it! Lots of great ideas in there… Maybe it need honing down a bit moving forward?

Low Residency – Day 1: Collaborative Project

 

An introductory collaboration where we formed small working groups to work on a one day project. The starting theme emerged out of a poetic exposition of the art of seeing by Jonathan where an ideal society was likened to the growth of a tree: what if  society were to grow like a tree.

A tree displays its leaves so that each one can receive as much light as possible and the living mass above ground is balanced with an equal amount of biomass unseen, below ground. The leaf metaphor proposes an vision for human society where every individual is naturally furnished with equal nourishment and opportunities. I felt that the underlying theme aimed at seeing the groups as analogues for a wider society and the project each one embarked on was its development, growth and flourishing. 

We were given materials, artificial detritus, paper, plastic, leaves and threads amongst other things which could be inserted and composed in thirty-five millimeter slide frames and finally slide projectors.

We sat down and devised an initial plan to give us a framework to enable us to work together productively, creatively and enjoyably. At first we worked as individuals exchanging ideas but each one following their own initiatives, each slide being viewed with the projector and placed to one side. The variety of images was interesting and the whole process gave me ideas about how to create abstract images as a divertisment from my normal practice.

Having collected a large number of slides, a group self organised to create a slide show of the images on Apple imovie. They were captured by photographing the projections, scanning and photographing the slide in natural light with the outside environment as a backdrop. The confluence of approaches was collated on the computer selecting and composing a sequence that would be used for a final presentation.

While this was being done, I and Kelda created a shadow puppet show improvising characters and scenes with the materials available. The show was captured as a video by phone. The arrangement was awkward to film and the result had a perspective slant which had to be incorporated in the overall movie. A soundtrack was also created from the video sound and we also improvised sounds in a cupboard room to overlay on the movie video. 

The exercise was not so much about the finished project, not even the making process but rather the process of working together and how very different personalities could come together to form something that holds more than its content. Seldom if ever do I have to cooperate as an artist with someone else and this was a refreshing experience that allowed me to slough off the burden of personal responsibility. Under time pressure, often a stimulus to productive innovation, I was able do things that I can work on in the future. Perhaps not for the MA, but shadow puppets would make a wonderful hobby allied to my main. 

Obviously the final movie was incomplete, disjointed and at points incoherent but that does not matter. The overall did have a sense of narrative and humour evidenced by the laughter it elicited during its screening. The four groups produced very different final results perhaps showing that societies cannot all be the same and neither could they. 

 

Skype Chat 2.4: The Practice of Everyday Life

Lev Manovich’s essay The Practice of Everyday (media) Life was the focus of today’s conversation. The essay touches on a number of ideas I have been thinking about for some time. 

Such as the idea of consumption and production of cultural objects and how the origination of material from scratch is being affected by the current environment that facilitates and enhances appropriation of material from other authors on a wide scale. I feel that this has had an effect on the idea of transformation in art works, particularly from the physical material to the idea and message. 

The colonisation of the imagination by new technology and those that use it is another related issue. Michelle brought up the question of independence of artistic process in this regard and its corollary uniqueness in the context of commercial imperatives in the media. I feel rather pessimistic about this, it requires a great awareness and resolve to make an affirmative choice not to be swayed by the pressures around us including social media and advertising.

The tensions between strategy and tactics and those that employ them is an extensive subject area brought up in the discussion. The image below illustrates this tension: between the tactics of individuals in response to corporate/civic strategy in the context of urban living. 

 

As Jonathan aptly put it…

the strategy of the city planners was the path went round the grass circle — the tactics of us the people was to say no and walk our own way – yes straight over

Amongst other things said, Pav mentioned rightly that qualities of tactics include creativity, critical analysis and intelligent problem solving.

Jonathan also added tentatively, individuality and community as in subcultures gathering around shared tactics. What Manovich points out is that subcultures have in recent decades become commoditised and commercialised so that their rebellious, subversive nature is subsumed into a larger field of social acceptance and monetisation. Perhaps one reason why subcultures change rapidly and new ones emerge as another example of tactics in navigating a controlled environment.

Tactics are decentralised, impermanent and unmappable (De Certeau), they are also adaptable and modular. Jonathan points out that unmappability is due to the sheer numbers of people creating their own individual tactics. However, Manovich suggests that Web 2.0 has made many tactics mappable (traceable), permanent and visible. Control has been handed over to the users but could this be an illusion? Are tactics shaped by the controls of the technology, is this part of a grand design, a spontaneous set of behaviours arising out of a chaotic and competitive field, or is it a question of individual freedom being manipulted? One way of looking at this problem is find out who owns the code, the data and who controls the data. I fear that the answer may not be that optimistic. It is an evolutionary process, inexorable and pitiless. How could this process be described?

When our attention turned to AMVs, Manovich’s example of user generated content, the discussion quickly turned to the aesthetics and merits of such videos and the process of making. However, the point was about the videos being the makers’ tactics. The question posed, are they subverting the original narratives of the anime films and the music or are they being colonised by the tools used? Does the tech and the appropriation of material shape the feel and look of the film too much? I think that seeing these are videos made by fans showing off their technical savvy and skill, they are meant to have a close correspondence with the original source material. However, I also feel that for the majority, the learning process is too tied to the style which might well embed itself in the aesthetic space of the makers stifling their individuality: one is pretty much the same as another. But could this not be said of any school of artistic practice?

One thing, it may limit the imaginative and creative possibilities in the future for those that learn through this pathway but it is empowering. As with many things there are pros and cons which cannot be considered dogmatically. The empowerment is a way of rewarding those that allow themselves to be controlled at a deeper level. Then again, the AMV maker of today might subvert the genre and go on to create something complete new and different, the one in ten thousand.

The overall sense of the discussion intersects with my own interests in the dynamics between the individual and the collective, group, corporation, state and the tools by which control and manipulation are exercised. And within this, the place of the artist and their role in a world where the making and consumption of art has become a mass commodity. Is new technology making a new space for artistic practice or is it controlling it? 

Life is one continual tactical process with the occasional strategic goal emerging out of vision, dreams, idealism, experience, fear, and hope. As the title of the conversation points out, everyday life is something that one practises and it needs practice to constantly become more adept in dealing with what life throws at us and to adapt. Questions were raised about what I do in a positive sense. Both as an affirmation of what I do and also a way of reaching out. It makes me think that being an individual artist is a precious thing in the light of the corporate/collective storm in which we stand. Technology is a great enabler but I do not take it as an end in itself. To do so would be for me to abandon the origin of things and lose my way in a system that is dispassionate and sterile. It would be like dreaming of living in the jungle and at that moment being dropped into that world where survival becomes the only thing to do. 

For me, the act of making and thinking during and after that act is everything in the moment. The message arises only after. The message is not something I wish to control or should I. That is why responding to open calls is something that I have to consider very carefully. My making is a expression of my relationship, communion with the world, not an explication of it; it is a net and a funnel, a bottleneck, an hour glass; both rational and irrational, a distillate and a generality, an acquisition and a gift, latent and active. If it transmits something, then that is its message, swaddled in its own making.

Skype Chat 2.3: Artist’s Talk – Xavier Sole Mora

Today we had a talk by Xavier Sole Mora. It was interesting to see how Xavier reaches his audiences making use of his advertising background to attract people to what he does. He also generously showed and explained his proposal brief for the Aspen Commission. This showed his approach to the competed for commission. This video of his talk that includes the Japanese footage has been blocked by Nippon Television Network Corporation for copyright reasons. I have commented on this below.

There are a number of things that I took away from the session in terms of the artist’s position when it comes to placing work ‘out there’. These are all very worldly things and perhaps only have importance when facing a critical audience or placing in the commercial sphere. 

Precedence and originality

  1. Make sure you research what you do in terms of precedence to establish originality of idea or;
  2. show how your work extends preceding practices.
  3. Publish what you do constantly in some form to establish precedence in case you need to show that your work is original.

Commissions and who owns the work

  1. Establish in a contract who owns copyright. If this is pre-set as is the case in many competitive commission call outs, try to negotiate some kind of access and use of the work after handing it over on completion. Many companies commission work for tax reasons, as branding and or because they are a requirement of funding or planning permissions. Clarify who owns the work if the commissioning body is incorporated into another, bought out or closes down. Otherwise the work could well languish in obscurity, archived or even ‘skipped’. 
  2. If such an agreement can be settled on, secondary rights could also be clarified which can have financial implications in the case of sale of work or organisation (see below).

Copyright, attribution and appropriation

If work, whether images, audio or any other form of intellectual property is appropriated, copyright issues might ensue, particularly in a commercial context. 

This is a complicated part of the law and can differ from country to country which makes it particularly complex in terms of digital work which easily crosses jurisdictional boundaries in all kinds of ways. For example, if a digital work passes through a particular server, the jurisdiction in which that server resides could well apply. Since much of the world’s digital traffic passes through the USA in one way or another, it is likely that a digital work will fall under US jurisdiction. Proof either way can be complicated and expensive.

There is no problem if all work is sourced and or generated by the artist although there are obscure terms which can define copyright owned by software companies although this has not been tested in court to my knowledge.

Obsolescence

The aesthetics of digital mediums is very much governed by fashion and fast changing paradigms of taste, appreciation and acceptance and is also subject to what is possible at that time and subject to rapid change: digital work is very prone to look out of date. For this reason the content and message of the work has to be considered, whether it stands in its own right. It is all too easy for digital work to land in the area of entertainment. It is often hard to separate aesthetic and functional experimentation from art in the early pioneering stages of a technology. It is also difficult to know how such work will be seen in the future, work which will also be subject to technological changes.

Such technological changes will affect how current work is presented in the future and in many cases access may be seriously compromised due to the obsolescence and or disappearance of working hardware, software, technicians capable of renovating and or using them and importantly, money to finance the necessary processes. Some formats are more future proof than others such as PDFs which were designed to continue well into the future due to their coding simplicity and universal adaptability of the information contained. 

Need for working in teams

It is clear that work is not always feasible for one artist alone. Film, public art, architecture are such examples. Often large teams are required to process the large quantities of material and large scale process. However, when an artist is compelled to project manage, fund raise, lobby and recruit they are taken away from the primal work of making. 

Large scale projects have a significant impact on an artist’s practice and life. However, by involving large numbers of people in a project the work can reach much further in a shorter period of time than working alone.  Leading a team, delegating and project managing can be a very powerful way of reaching audiences and influencing people. However, the direct contact for the artist with their material can be somewhat compromised and involving many people brings in relational politics which can become overwhelming. In addition the financial requirements for large scale works usually necessitates the involvement of a wealthy third party, whether a gallery, government, individual or organisation, to support the realisation of the project. Such involvement almost invariably places pressure on the artist to conform to external needs which may not be part of or contradictory to their own philosophy.

Summary

Some people are well suited to work this way, others are not. It is very much a case of navigating a way through the vicissitudes of working as an artist, and perhaps not being swayed by the powerful propaganda that resonates in the ether of the art world, often obscuring a different reality for the artist. 

 

Chat Session 2.1: Interaction, Immersion and Control

The overall chat centred around how control can be nuanced in methodology in the possible interactions between artist, artwork and receiver-participant and how the degree and means of immersion and ways of achieving this can be an important element when considering work/audience interaction. It also highlights the need to consider the boundary between message and means, idea and technology in the digital world. The use of technology itself can affect the degree of control the artist can exercise over aesthetic and idea. Again I feel what arises is that technology is best considered as a tool and not to allow it to take over the artistic practice and agency. Technology becomes more important in cases where what is being considered could not be achieved otherwise or where the technology itself becomes the subject matter of the work.


We looked at some principles regarding interaction in art. Interaction is generally about reciprocal action or influence. Other words can be used in relation to art such as: relationship, dialogue, communication, exchange, action and reaction and so on. Jonathan quoted a colleague of his following from another quote by Duchamp. The former states that a work of art does not exist until two strangers have talked together about it. This was in the context of a course on public art. Stating that whether something is a work of art or not depends on strangers talking about it seems to be to ignore several things.

First it does not address the question of an internal dialogue whether in the artist or a receiver. I can only conceive of what this person says being true if the sole purpose of the work was to create a situation in which two strangers will talk. This I would view as a very narrow definition without an initial premise. 

Second, existence is a difficult word to use in this context. Does exist mean the concept, idea, material, location? The thing itself clearly must exist before anyone can observe it. The intention of the artist has formed it to be the way it is for a purpose. Does what the artist do count for nothing until two stranger talk about it? Between the moment the work has been created (and installed) and two persons talking about it there must therefore be a period of limbo. The thing in question only become art when talked about, I think they might have had in mind schrödinger’s cat and applied it to art. 

Third, does this mean that anything can become art when two strangers talk about it as such? This is perhaps the one element that bears further scrutiny. In this case, is the conversation the work of art or the thing spoken about. Which makes me think in the case of art, is the conversation the artwork or the subject of that conversation.

Does the thing become art only when spoken about making a conceptual transformation in the process? And if so, what was the state of that thing prior to conversation. Was it an inert object or did it contain latent artiness? 

This idea is very much a child of Dewey’s embedded in his book Art as Experience. This democratisation of art is a laudable thing but it does so often bypassing the role of the artist. A work exists before it is made public, it contains latent potential, this potential undergoes a fission reaction on exposure which can take the form of a conversation between two strangers. 

I would propose that art does exist before two strangers talk about it, so long as the artist made it. It is perhaps the meaning that moves from an internal conversation within the artist, in latency, to actuality. It may be new meaning that is created in conversation, a meaning that may or may not concur with that of the artist. Art was there before the conversation about it just as stones fell to the ground before Newton’s laws of motion. An artwork is a gift to the world yet to be opened. 


 


The discussion then moved onto behaviours of work, mediums and material in relation to technology: ‘not to focus on the tech and the cleverness but on the things we can learn from the behaviours of the work’ (Jonathan).

A dichotomy appeared between constantly changing work in which the behaviours are constantly changing and work which is finished and completed. Computational, generative art is an example of the former. This category is constantly changing in how it presents but at this time, is it actually changing behaviour? I ask this question because the underlying algorithms at work remain the same. The behaviour is the same, what we see as changing is the chaotic entanglement of simple rules that give the appearance of constantly changing behaviours. In computational art, a truly changing behaviour would have to involve the algorithms themselves changing over time, a form of self learning. 

There are no simple answers to any of the above questions or arguments arising. To my mind it is more a matter of differing stances, points of view and starting premises. However, one things I feel is true. That seeing art in terms of behaviours is a powerful way of receiving and perceiving more from what one does and works with: it can help extend the parameters of ones own practice. Johnathan said, ‘I think it [seeing work as behaviours] allows our own work to speak to us and therefore allows others into the conversation maybe?


 


We then moved on to ways of describing how work engages with the digital environment via five themes, the first two of which were covered in this session: control, immersion, interface, narrative, and play.

Jonathan chose examples of relatively early digital works as a control against being distracted by the technology and focussing on the behaviours demonstrated.

The first was by Myron Kreuger entitled Cat’s Cradle: link – https://youtu.be/5sGeEnGos0Y. The impression I get from the video is that this was an exercise in demonstrating what could be done at the time (1970s) using the contemporary technology. The subject matter is actually quite banal but the title not only is a literal description of the play with the loop, it also reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel of the same title – link– which deals with the implications of technology. The book starts with the narrator Jonah describing how his research leads to this  fictitious scientist collaborator in the H-bomb , Hoenniker, who played cat’s cradle as the munition is dropped on the Hiroshima.

The two collaborators on the video project each create one of the human elements each while the loop independently moves and contorts. It makes me wonder how much control the performers had in the process. It is interesting from my point of view how the artists interact with an inanimate element which is itself showing apparently independent behaviour. 

Questions arising can be applied to any situation and are well worth asking if nothing else to help understand the nature of the artist/participant/audience relationship.

As Jonathan poses:

  • how much control does artist give?
  • how tightly coupled is the relationship between participants and participant/artist?
  • how much control can the artist give? (there is a skill issue here?)
  • is the work crash proof?
  • who is the controller? someone who learns how to use it?

vimeo.com/276859221 (add https:// to the URL. Vimeo places a large notice otherwise) is an interesting installation where the audience does not participate in the outcome but observes the fish affecting the motion of the globes and their proximity to one another as a reflection of the Siamese fish’s reaction to one another. This is a form of behaviour in which the outcome is set in motion at the outset by design but the actual detail of how the behaviour presents is left to the autonomous process. The artist claims inter-species communication but Jonathan question whether the fish have actual agency. The apparent agency is a teleological argument about an emergent property. Where does the boundary between intention and contingency lie? That is perhaps a question that can only be answered a priori. Any afterthought places the intention causally out of sequence. But then, that is how many discoveries come about, heuristically. To answer the question of agency one would have to run a control. As far as the artist is concerned with respect to control, I feel that he has relinquished no intentionality and none has passed on to the fish, only incidental control, no different to an inanimate system.


Immersion dealt with the interaction with virtual reality where the receiver affected how their behaviour affected what they saw and experienced. Interesting and technically proficient. However, I have a problem with the boundary between entertainment and idea in the examples shown where the idea is almost arbitrary. The methodology in both cases shown, however, does show potential in how idea and sensation can be combined. This is very much a demonstration of technology and entertainment, particularly in the case of the second example The sensation here almost overwhelms the meaning. But the idea does hold potential for combining sensation with idea. An artist’s quote actually states that the work Osmose is about method, technology and sensation, psychology in short, rather than a more external idea. It is about he medium itself. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HaVpDG4JvHE

vimeo.com/8120954 The Roekby video is an early interaction between sound and movement reminiscent of the Theremin. However, although it is an early development, the sounds are pre-recorded and prepared. The movements of the body only activate the sound samples rather than directly control them.

The second example, vimeo.com/27818895, Vermilion Lake is far more akin to gaming.

The third example, Interactive Plant Growing, is far less clear in its artistic intention other than showing how technology can be used to convert objects into a devices for controlling the computer behaviour. It is enchanting though. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXX7JNFD2X8

 

 

 

Chat Session 1.8: Elusive Taxonomies 2

This post was finished over a week after the session.

Last week the discussion ranged over the classification and categorisation of art practices with particular reference to digital means. This week the discussion extended to the relationship between the digital and the non-digital and how the perceived gap might affect practitioners and how they approach their work. One of the main points of discussion was whether working in the digital environment was any different to what could be called more physical ways of working. 

An idea brought up by Jonathan, citing G. Fifield, was a ‘friction-less and gravity-free’ space with respect to digital tools such as Photoshop. The reference comes from the 1990s and things have moved on almost unrecognisably. However, the notion of friction is interesting being as it is, a physical one but it could also indicate an abstract, conceptual form of resistance. In fact, I have worked extensively with the mouse as a tool for drawing. I have chosen this way of working when making digital drawings, eschewing the tablet and stylus for the very reason that the notion of friction articulates very well. What do I mean by this ?

I feel that the computer seduces us with its perfect lines and even surfaces and gradients. The vision of perfection it offers is not only commonplace now but relatively easy to achieve, offering little resistance with a modicum of skills. However, there is a caveat to this that Jonathan proposed later: that the aesthetic outcome is very much dictated by the parameters set by the software used whether it be by Adobe or any other company. The digital imposes a style or aesthetic that is hard to release oneself from.

Drawing with the mouse has a resistance to the perfect line and form because of the way it works: not being under one’s total control, it can be a little temperamental. This creates a physical and ‘virtual’ friction or resistance to the process both on the surface on which the mouse moves and the screen. A space is formed by the tension between perfection and imperfection. Here the imagination can dwell with contingent outcomes: the endeavour towards perfection by imperfect means is often delicious. 

Another area of discussion was that of aura, with Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. This is a very wide field of discussion that has personal, psychological, religious and political implications. Jonathan proposes that Benjamin is a starting point from issues of reproduction towards new forms of production and there is a debate about notions of ‘real’ and ‘virtual’, ‘simulation’ moving towards ‘substitution’. This is in fact a form of sublation and something I am working on with regard to a video and live performance work requiring very careful scripting and timing. This opened the debate on simulation and the nature of what is real and what is not. I think the idea of authentic comes into this as does original. These are perhaps best described as notions, as most qualitative descriptors are. Any definition is vulnerable to the deformation by subjective view points and conversely any rigidity too readily turns into dogma. I think the best thing is to remain open to change but be clear about what is changing. 

We ended the session by considering some further terms that are useful when describing how a work comes about. Words that come from a variety of sources, from semiotic theory to acoustics, from physics and chemistry to sociology, words such as: filtering, curating, signalling, amplifying, merging. Being all gerunds, they denote action whereas others such as hybrid, score, script and remix are adjectival. Grammar is a wonderful thing, how a word can be transformed from doing to being to inferring. I could describe my work as a hybridisation in which ideas are scripted and encoded as a means of signalling amplified filters of perception. This sounds grand but without content meaningless. They can only help to articulate what is already there to express. The two go hand in hand. Thinking of what one has to say and how to say it are inseparable when using words; the same goes for any other medium.

Coming back to something I mentioned earlier, the final word by Jonathan was regarding the digital: that artists appear to be well placed to do some of the work in ‘revealing the ideology baked into code’, (whether financial, aesthetic, social, etc). 

Chat Session 1.7: Elusive Taxonomies

This week the conversation was lively and went over various themes relating to classification of art forms. The elusive elements in defining mediums, methodologies and thematics in art, itself a difficult term to delineate in the contemporary context, to my mind are in themselves of little use to the artist… or perhaps very useful. Now, which is it? Taxonomy in the arts can certainly be seen as divisive way of classifying what an artist does… for the artist. However, as in most things, the reality is somewhat more nuanced. For what is a taxonomy other than a means of ordering according to type and hierarchy classes of related things? We all need to order and prioritise our thoughts, and there lies the paradox. To do so in the private sphere of one’s own practice is quite a different thing to how taxonomy is used in the public arena.

There is an element of practicability when it comes to categorising art forms to give an idea of what someone is going to experience when visiting a venue or dedicating time on screen or audio. However, the recent loosening of artistic paradigms and breaking of barriers combined with a (natural some would say) need for people to identify and subsequently classify in terms of type and hierarchy has, to my mind, led to a confusion and profusion of terms more granular than ever before. With the emancipation of artists in the C19th and the growth of private middleclass patronage and galleries, the mediatory phenomenon of the critic emerged. Critics began describing different art forms with epithets such as, impressionism in France and I Macchiaoli  in Italy, often without understanding the artists’ intentions and at times derogative in the first instance as in the case of the latter. Eventually artists in the C20th, seeing the marketing power of such nomenclature and affiliations,  began denoting themselves as belonging to or having invented this ism or that. Giving name to the different styles that arose, as artists felt freed from the constraints of academism, created a many headed hydra that has metamorphosed into contemporary terms which have proliferated as interested groups have clamoured to delineate their own boundaries, often in an attempt to give themselves prominence. Does this serve the artist, or more precisely does it serve an artist’s self actualisation? I believe that it may serve artists in a worldly, status or commercial sense but whether it serves the majority of artists in terms of self actualisation barring the lucky few, I think not.

So who does this benefit? I feel that the atomisation of the arts has been propagated by artists themselves in conjunction with the pressures of commerce and status, although I do not think they are wholly responsible for the consequences and often fall victims of forces far greater than themselves. It is a paradox of the art establishment that no harder do some try to blur boundaries and foster interdisciplinary ideas, others create borders by defining their turf and defending it like crabs on quickly submerging islands built of sand. This is partly due to the academisation of the arts, in a way not too dissimilar to what happened to academic art in the C19th, but this is a discussion for another time. It is also a phenomenon effected by the market and the commoditisation of the arts despite anti-commodatisation movements. Museums, databases, arts organisations, education institutes, competitions, curators are all tied into this system of categorisation (see this table, a small sample of the variety, some would say confusion, certainly fluidity in just one sector of the contemporary artistic environment – link). Although understandable, it has led to a form of schizophrenia for artists. How do I describe myself, how do I fit into this particular taxonomy relating to this particular context? This is further exacerbated because for an artist to move from one domain to another can present other problems, often generated by the ‘turf’ syndrome mentioned earlier. Unless they are resolutely independent, outsider artists could fall into this category, practitioners can find themselves constrained to responding in terms of what others expect. This can lead to a diminished self actualisation in terms of the practice and place an onerous weight on finding success in other terms such as fame and wealth, one could say power. 

Are there any advantages to identifying methodologies, modalities, means and contexts in an atomised environment? Having said all that I have, as an artist I do find that classifications can be useful for the critical analysis of my own practice. Identifying labels for what I do has at times altered perspectives and introduced language that has helped me clarify ideas. At other times, usually in response to outside demands, the result has been restrictive and sterilising. Aware of this latter consequence combined with the former, the result has been a clearer articulation of what I am about: knowing what not to say as much as what to say, all part of developing communication within my own internal dialogue as much as with others. Language can divide ideas but it can also unify them. A word such as performative can be applied to the act of painting and ballet, the placing of sculptural elements and the making of music. This opens up a whole world to holistic, lateral thinking: turn something on its head and new thoughts will come out. It keeps me on my toes with regard to semantics and enables me to play with ideas as abstract and realised.  

So elusive taxonomies in themselves are neutral and as all words, labels by which we can respond to, build, and order a world (view). They can be used positively as well as in a pernicious way. But this is the way with all human activities. Something can be a force for good or quite the opposite. Perhaps the thing is that responsibility does not lie in the thing itself but in those that use it. 

 

 

Skype Chat 6: Coding

Yesterday we were introduced to the intricacies of coding in java, by Paul Abbott, with a little html and css thrown in just for fun. It was difficult to follow at times, particularly juggling four different windows at one time, thank heavens for a large screen. It felt like having to catch four piglets and trying to put them into a shallow basket… with boxing gloves. However, I survived and took away some valuable ideas that will help me, particularly when I look at the video recording of the session again. These notions can be summarised in a very cursory way as:

  • Types of coded information are kept in discrete blocks.
  • One block of information tells another what to do and the different functions and variables in each one has to correspond to those in another block.
  • The process is like constructing a flow chart in your head. For that matter, drawing a flow chart when planning code is not such a bad idea. 
  • Brackets hold different types of information.
  • The syntax of the code has to be precise.
  • Practice by copying and pasting existing code and alter one parameter at a time and see what happens. Make sure all corresponding parts match one another. 
  • It is no good just reading about code, you have to do it as you go along to understand anything at all. 

I do not know how relevant coding is to my practice. It is immensely satisfying, though, when a piece of code works. I know from my scant experience with html and css. However, it is a totally different language and I struggle enough with words. So, although I may tinker with some code and perhaps even build a rudimentary something for the internet, I think I shall leave this one to those better suited for this activity. One thing, as Paul mentioned, it does help when you can converse in the same language with someone if you need something doing or collaborating on a given project.

Chat Session 1.3: Symposium 1 Second Week

The third skype chat session was the second week of the first symposium: 3, 2, 1…

It was a lively session with a lot of discussion on and off topic but I shall dwell here only on the work shown. We only saw four practices so it gave us plenty of time to open out the conversation into all sorts of areas. The practices were very different indeed, from illustration to curation, psychology to installation. 

Christopher Tayah shows an eclectic range of mediums, from 3D printing and sound to video, painting and digital design. His work uses psychology and psychoanalysis, with himself as the protagonist and thematic center, to create a collage of means expressing states of mind and the fragmented nature of perception and memory. The video Rouge might be taken as emblematic of his current ideas. It takes the form of a surrealist descent into a dream-world that features water, fragmentary found footage from his childhood, and a focus on the colour red in the midst of a desaturated world reminiscent of French and Spanish surrealist films. 

Friederike Hoberg works under the alias of Sophie Petit. Her figurative paintings and drawings are in contrast with her sculptures that go from using found objects in the manner of Arte Povera to installations using resistant materials such as glass and metal. The presentation focused on Air : an installation comprising coloured glass hanging from metal chains at varying heights in concentric from the ceiling of a commercial centre. The geometry and play of light in the space, demonstrate her stated concern for the material and aesthetic aspects of her practice and the emotional affects these might cause.

Irina Bourmistrova is a curator. Interesting to have a curator on the course. A completely different slant on things. She has experience in curating and managing exhibitions and galleries in different countries and is primarily interested in digital works that deal with science, technology and ecology. Irina wants to explore the natural history of the gallery in today’s society and whether it will survive and in what form it might adapt. She has opened a gallery space in London and it will be fascinating to see how her perspective as a gallerist and curator might impact on the course and conversely how the context will inform her trajectory.

Sandra Wilmann is an illustrator who has recently entered the digital graphics field. Her work takes everyday life as its theme expressing what is referred to in Norwegian as stemming, a feeling inferred from the environment and felt by the subject. Her illustrations have an interiority that reflects this notion. She has of late also started to introduce animation into her images and is currently taking inspiration from East Asian styles and artists, primarily the manga genre of both Japan and South Korea. 

Again the symposium threw up a disparate set of practices. In contrast to last week, the themes and concerns were also very different. As a whole, this makes for an eclectic mix on the MA course which can only be a good thing. It makes for conversations that encompass different views and aims, a context ripe for contingent ideas that can only help fertilise the ground over the next two years. Whereas last week the overall sense I took away was one of existential concerns, this week what arose in my mind was how aesthetic priorities affect a practice and its perceived standing; also how the outside perception of a practice form can influence the practitioner and not always beneficially. This is very much a matter of environment: is it always necessary for the artist to be responsive to the society they find themselves in?

Chat Session 1.2: Symposium 1 First Week

The second chat session took the form of a series of short presentations each followed by a brief discussion. How then to go about the task of summing up what happened? I feel that to review each presentation would only serve to reiterate what has been said. I do not want to go into details of content but focus on a synthesis, albeit subjective, of what brings the grouping together in terms of ideas.

Matt Fratson’s interests lie in the passing of time as a resource to be mined in an attempt to retrieve that which has been lost both physically and psychologically. He is very much located in the personal both in terms of geography and community; questioning his time and the place he is in as a function of the past. 

Aristotle Roufanis poses questions regarding the individual in a brutal urban environment in a world that might not be so. His observations shift the interrogation from his own personal subjectivity onto the receiver of the work. The strong inference of isolation raises questions regarding the urban architectural environment which is in itself treated ambivalently as both an aesthetic construct and an antithesis to nature.

I came third and following the theme of interrogatives, I am questioning the universe and our place in it as individuals. Contingency and uncertainty mould our behaviours as we live, the product of one and in the other. In the latter case, uncertainty reconciled with the reconstruction of the past as a series of myths that inform our view of the future.

Michelle Wright looks at the community in terms of the other and othering. Political in nature, her work questions the processes and behaviours that arise out of power imbalances between and within communities. We are invited to identify with the subjects and at the same time be observers and agents. 

Axash looks at how worlds are constructed into myths and whether the same might apply to narratives built within digital environments. His practice is an open question as to how to begin a process of myth-making embedded in the materiality of his subjects.

Finally Pav Szymanski questions himself and his position in an unequal world. The inequalities that exist and how he can reconcile himself with these. His research is firmly placed in the future. A future whose uncertainty is at the root of his search for some sort of reconciliation. 

What comes out of this incomplete and somewhat imperfect summary and this may sound trite, is that time and place, the contingency of circumstance informs the sense of oneself and of others. The interest in what resources one has at one’s disposal is a feeling undoubtedly fostered by a world where travel is easy for some, information overflows our time constraints, entertainment infuses our lives as a religion and the mercantile power of economics runs through all things; time as a commodity, geography as a means of control, power ordered in overt and covert structures, and in the midst of it all, the individual trying to make sense of this world of inconsistencies. The building of dream worlds where the contradictions and injustices of this one can be resolved away is an attempt to return to paradise; the creation of a simulacrum of hell in which catharsis can help quench the burning of affliction is a way of mitigating the sorrows of life. Yet we need to accept uncertainty. Only by tracing the past and opening it dispassionately can we hope for the circle of time to turn one click nearer to a better future. By pointing at the indifferences of the collective dynamic, a new path can be cleared along which we as individuals can confront our demons. And in so doing we are better able to bury them. It is a small thing that each person does, but the collective is made of small individuals. And each small individual is a universe in themselves, indissoluble from the greater whole, cut adrift by the accident of birth: a falling to earth that is as random as anything one could imagine.