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.
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.
A thread of thoughts is like a gut that extends from air to air travelling through a body grown and developed around it, nourished by the ingestion, digestion and assimilation of ideas. The alimentary canal, symbolic and figurative appears in my work as such a thread.
The constraints of the surface to volume barrier to growth are dissolved by the gut. From the genesis of complex life onwards, it is the single structure that has enabled all the physical attributes of animal life that we have come to recognise as active autonomy. Regardless of nervous networks and the evolution of the mind, without its capability to furnish the organism that we are with energy, motility and subsequent life strategies would not have been possible. When we are born, our prime priority to it nurture this function while we nurture and help develop our other faculties.
I have subconsciously worked with this idea since Chaos Contained which is now set free, as an overt symbol in my project; a vehicle for the exploration of language, evolution and myth, as though I were moving within a metaphorical underground cavern complex. It collects ideas, like organs, that adhere to this single thread as the Indian rasa come together to form the elements of artistic expression.
An amputation is not something one would want. Sculptures have suffered amputations throughout the ages, some repaired, others restored and yet others left as they were found, This Herakles, Venus de Milo, the Belvedere Torso and so on. Limbs at times distract from the sense of form, many artists have known this, others have incorporated the limbs so that it merges into the body.
I have had a problem in that I want to make large ceramic works but the kiln is only so large. I have a top loader 59 cm diameter and 69 cm high which needs to be wired in. This is not small but neither is it large enough. What to do?
I had thought of jointing the pieces much as I did with the works in Chaos Contained. But this is not in keeping with the informal, organic sense of the works I am currently engaged with. Chaos contained was about symmetrical growth from within, an outward radiation. Now the works are internally generated, handled in a completely different way.
So I looked at how I could make the pieces in parts to be put together later after firing. I came across the work of Giovanni Vetere who works with glazed ceramics. The pieces are much larger than would fit in a regular kiln. In addition they would be unstable and too fragile for firing in one piece. On closer inspection of his work I noticed that they are made in pieces using the glaze patterns to camouflage the joints.
I could try to hide the joints when installing but would there be a better way? To show the cut, a severance, a clean cut that must signify something. And it opens the way for future large works where the cut plays a part. It may even lead to being able to show a work in its pieces arranged meaningfully or at least aesthetically.
What this does for my ongoing work is to provide a formal solution to having a kiln smaller than the fluid forms I want to make: the parts can be fitted together after firing. It also solves the problem of how to insert and remove sound equipment. Conceptually, this technique offers the opportunity for representing vulnerability, fragility and reformation; perhaps also creating compositions, of parts that relate to one another and reconstituting them in different configurations.
Images above: works by William Latham, John Horton Conway and Andrew Lord
Evolutionary Space: A way of looking at art practice as continual process in a disparate ecology.
Art practices have become widely divergent and disparate in recent years, particularly since the arrival of digital means which have opened out previously unimagined possibilities. Different taxonomies representing a great variety of paradigms, methodologies, thematics, mediums and contexts have given rise to a heterogeneity of approaches when considering practices and the role of artists which can render problematic a holistic consideration of different ways of generating art. Using Conway’s “Life, Latham’s “Mutator”, and the work of ceramic sculptor Andrew Lord as subjects, this paper introduces an approach to discussing art practices, fostering a unified view in the midst of diversity, evolutionary space. Borrowing from the idea of fitness landscape in evolutionary theory, applying it to Olson’s analysis of computer generated life regarding the relationship between pure information and its physical interpretation, in the context of Whitehead’s process philosophy of becoming, and Dennett’s idea of algorithms, a picture is built of how different art practices can be viewed as dynamic information streams coded and implemented in material terms.
The research paper has changed radically and become frighteningly simply because I have a tendency to complicate things. The above may seem complicated but it is in fact a straightforward synthesis of ideas from various fields to construct a different way of talking about art practices which goes some way to avoid value judgements and the need to describe things subjectively. Writing the paper is making me focus on an increasingly narrow narrative as an explication for a broad idea. It is frustrating at times because I want to explore a multiplicity of ideas but by considering a wide field and having to progressively select out is also liberating. It shows me that things can be simple without loosing depth. Implied ideas can be just as powerful in leaving the reader the possibility to uncover them or find new things and feel the sense of discovery rather than having them pointed out. The methodology I am constructing is also feeding into the project proposal: I no longer feel compelled to spell out every idea.
Warning: this post contains very subjective material.
After over six months I still remember one visit and one work in particular. At the Annka Kultys Gallery in the London City Island an exhibition of digital works was showing entitled Re-Figure-Ground. Two things I remember, the video-game-like virtual reality goggle-based immersive 3D videos complete with kinetic controls with which to travel within the virtual world, and a simple 3D animation that did not do much with a spoken audio.
The VR works were interesting enough from the point of view of technology but quite honestly they left me underwhelmed on account of their lack of conveying any point to them other than showcasing the technical work. And to add, the resolution was so poor that it left me wondering whether I needed new glasses. This inconsistency between the vision and the actual vision left me somewhat frustrated. Claudia Hart’s augmented reality was like walking through a myopic fruit machine of social media icons along pointless corridors. The fact that she is examining the body, perception and nature ‘adapt[ing] the forms and software normally used to create 3D shooter games was no compensation for what was clearly meant to be a transformational experience.
The Karst cave by Snow Yunxue Fu’s was, as she says, an attempt to embody the concept of Plato’s cave in a virtual realm. She then continues to say, ‘providing a contemplative environment for the visitor to wonder; walking and teleporting within the control of the wireframed virtual hands that are given to them’. Really, Plato’s cave? That is certainly not what Plato was on about when he described our secondhand manipulated perception of the world. Leave that bit of referencing and you are left with an enjoyable, if somewhat, again myopic trip fantastic.
The rest of the show I found cold but one work did stand out for me, and it was not the most accomplished technically. Morehshin Allahyari’s video installation She Who Sees the Unknown, Aisha Qandisha was a back projected video1 of a 3D animated figure that did not do much other than turn around a bit and sit in some sort of digital sea. On its own it would have graced any number of album covers for some group or other singing about whatever. However, when combined with the narrative it became something else. It transported me to another world of magical realism in some ancient past which is very much present.
The combination of powerful scripted content with a weird large image moving, now menacingly with the audio gave me the sense of a deity being displayed before its awestruck followers. This remains in my mind not only for the content but how something relatively simple in digital terms, can still have impact compared to more sophisticated presentations.
Much of her earlier work does not do much for me. It is overtly political and lacks depth; mimicking the tired old tropes of various movements in previous years. Thankfully, she has developed a more personal voice that has moved her into a rich imaginative space.
Onto a white acrylic sheet (transmits around the require 50% of light for a good back lighting as Jonathan explained to me) suspended from the ceiling and cleanly fitted onto the sheet by means probably of some sort of projection mapping [↩]
As I work, I think of how the final pieces will look. Porcelain is a strange material. Silky smooth when fired with a grainy feel if left unglazed. I want to give the surface a skin-like feel.
The Belvedere Torso in the Vatican collection was a seminal inspiration for Michelangelo. Signed “Apollonius son of Nestor, Athenian”. Marble acquires a softness that bellies its nature as stone. Sculpture in stone influences my choice of material. But I choose ceramic as a pliable stone which is transformed by the alchemy of heat. Porcelain is like the white marble of stones and glazing it seems to me betrays the traces of handling and so an essential characteristic of its making.
Why do I choose the Belvedere as an example of marble statuary? Because arms and legs are functional, locomotory and grasping. The body is the centre of physical being from which other things radiate. As it was with our primordial ancestors, so it is with the forms I am working on.
Glazing speaks to me of function, impermeability. The body is not impermeable but in continual transaction with the world. In early times the clay was burnished to render vessels less porous. Decoration has always been applied to ceramics, from the rhythmical marking of the beaker people, to the finest renderings. From symbolism to shear exuberance and delight, ceramics have diversified and many left function behind long ago evidenced in the heritage of form only.
I have experimented extensively with Parian clay which was developed to look and feel like marble, it is soft, vitreous and warm, but it is hellishly difficult to use and is subject to warping and cracking. It is better suited to casting large pieces. Casting at this stage is not for me, it is not sufficiently spontaneous and better left as a means of reproduction. However, I shall continue to work with it on smaller scales.
I do not want to use glaze because it covers detail and the sculpture looses the surface nuances developed during its making. However, the raw biscuit low fired material is brilliant white and unsubtle. It is also prone to get dirty and due to its porosity very difficult to clean. When fired to a higher temperature, the surface vitrifies and becomes sealed to a large extent, less porous and prone to atmospheric damage and the dirty that comes with handling and storage. However, the crystalline surface is still very white and lacks the organic surface quality I am looking for. When the porcelain is unfired and still wet, it has a flesh like look, a warm grey that responds to handling developing a beautiful sheen where it is burnished. However, this disappears on firing. I have looked for a finish that can restore to some extent that sense of sensual softness and has the following characteristics:
does not yellow over time,
does not create a thick layer,
is not glossy
and is easily restored.
Having experimented with a number of possible candidates I have found that the humble paraffin wax candle is the ideal substance. The porcelain is heated with a hot air blower and the wax rubbed on building a very thin layer that penetrates the microscopic pores on the surface and creates a colourless, translucent finish. Finally it is burnished with a cloth or brush.
Starting is always the hardest thing, unless one were to consider finishing. Both are difficult for different reasons. Finishing is the moment when you realise you have done what you can, it cannot be otherwise. It is the collapse of the potential that had been possessed before and during the making. Its gift is to whisper or shout according to its own inclination how the next work might proceed. And that brings me back to the beginning, starting a work.
I am starting a new piece in porcelain, white as the blank canvas of a painter, the beginning of a long journey. And as I set out without a set destination, only a sense of what I am looking for, that freedom is frightening. It reveals my shortcomings in the midst of a vision pulling me back to how I did things before. What is that the right course of action, how do I navigate this landscape of decision and indecision?
To know what to do is not the point. It is the how and the why that will give me the framework to hold on to. Take that journey, on foot say, into a forest with neither the stars to guide me nor compass or map. I have no destination, only the ends of the Earth. If I try to walk in a straight line I will simply do so in circles and find myself back to where I started. I must decide on a course of action, a simple set of rules to break the bias of my own nature. Sometimes rules are changed a little but not so much as for me to loose my way irrevocably.
Over years a method is perfected as is the reason for it. I work as a cartographer, marking each point as a star to guide me, a landmark to aim for. But this is art, not some field to be gridded out with a surveyor’s precision. To do so would yield little more than what is in the ground and the rule itself. To look beyond that field is where progress lies. Progress is born of change, imposed, contingent or better still by means of my own agency. To do so is to turn the world on its side and refresh sight from another vantage point. But habits possess inertia, to turn them over I need help. Something I have learnt working with Janet is to do what I would not do normally. This is just one way of changing the course of things and refreshing what might otherwise become limp.
And so it is with the work I do now and the research statement. By this stage, I should not have to worry about where a work will end, it never ends as each finish is but the start of the next.
What struck me when I got the Arduino board was, how small it is, how small all of the things are. And that means, that they will be far less obtrusive than I had previously thought. And seeing how easy it is to work with I look forward to learning a great deal.
The next step is to get to grips with the coding. Fortunately there is a lot of help on the web and even if some piece of code is not exactly what I need, I feel much more confident to be able to tailor it to my needs.
How do I feel about using digital sound in conjunction with sculptures? I have always felt there is an equivocal relationship between sculpture, or statuary to be more precise, and sound. Is a statue not meant to be silent, to be contemplated without the distraction of noise?
But what if the sound comes from within, trapped, allowed a small breathing hole to reach one’s ears, fingertips, barely audible, sensed; a sound that is neither music nor the result of some kinetic accident? I see the sculpture as the receptacle of its own soul, the embodiment of what it is in its nature to be gently radiating outwards, translated into vibrations seeking connection.
There is of course an element of humour in all this, for it to be otherwise would be melodramatic and to what end: humour can be poignant, questioning, engaging, cathartic. All I know is, I go with where the work takes me as it also follows me.
I mentioned in a recent post that I am now ready to look into a contemporary context for my work. This is not altogether easy as what I do is not centred on one idea or medium alone. I know that many artists today are cross disciplinary and work in various mediums; this makes contextual correspondences all the harder to find. I have to be careful not to mention every one and sundry that I like or identify with in some way. This sort of openness would only confuse and lead to a lack of direction. What would making a long list do, help in the project development, show my wide taste in things?
No, what I am looking for is work that directly contextualises mine in terms of contemporary ideas and environments. Andrew Lord, ten years my senior is one such practitioner. Although he would not like to be called a potter, his body of work very much centres on the idea of vessels and clay, something I also work with.
Lord’s central notion is an interesting one. It is an idea that many working in clay have followed for some time, that of ‘rescuing’ pottery from still life painting. As Mark del Vecchio lucidly points out in his book, Postmodern Ceramics:
From Pablo Picasso to Giorgio Morandi, Vincent Van Gogh, and George Braque, pottery has tended to be the visual anchor of most still-life compositions. Contemporary ceramists have begun to reverse the compliment and draw inspiration from the paintings in which these pots appear, returning them to the three-dimensional realm, but retaining some painterly associations.
Looking for what is common between two and three dimensions is a process which also requires an awareness of what is lost in translation. Only in this way can an essence of the object be made manifest.
Andrew Lord displays his work in such a way as to allude to the still life genre by placing objects on tables and plinths, carefully arranged in terms of light, time of day, space and so on. The arrangements often remind me of Morandi’s still lifes, treated as emerging from the material becoming objects felt in the making. He leaves overt traces of how the object is formed often to the point of caricatured.
This work is consonant with elements of some of my work, playful and ‘rough modelled’ caressed into being aimed at a sense of Platonic idealism imperfectly fashion in and on (E)arth.
It also interest for me to note that in some cases, vases are displayed just off the floor in a similar way to how I plan to show H’s Play Things in the final show… with one twist.
Much of this approach is consonant with what Heidegger says in his essay, The Origin of the Work of Art:
The material (clay) is central and clearly evident in the work.
The clay is subservient to what is being portrayed yet it ‘shines forth’1.
There is a struggle between the nature of the material and what it tries to portray, what it is formed into or as Heidegger would say, between the Earth and the World.
The vessels are not the product of craft yet he uses, techne or mode of knowing, to bring out hidden Aletheia, or being.
The being of the thing is not just made, it is brought forth and made evident. It is generated from within through phusis as though through natural law.
But what is the role of craft in this act of phusis? Heidegger does become confusing, or more likely confused unable to articulate a distinction between craft and art: he descends into subjective ideas of the mystical and the sublime and sacred to support his thesis. Perhaps a simple, if still elusive reply is that the impetus for a work of art comes from within an internal process of natural growth, whereas craft’s impetus is external to its growth. It is clear to me that this categorisation is false in many cases and can only be considered from piece to piece and not generically.
Having said all this, Heidegger does provide a useful way of thinking about art as a spontaneous act of emergence in the making also raising interesting questions regarding the relationship between what is ‘being creative’ and artistic practice.
My works are based on a strong sense of materiality as a means of grasping abstract ideas. To translate these from objects of the mind to ones that occupy three dimensional space is to rescue them from ephemerality. This in itself changes their nature as they arise in the making, capturing feeling in the material, moving away from the imagined to the physical. Concrete as they are, they probe into what is ephemeral and evanescent. Is it the phenomenon of being or the idea of being that is being represented here?
Clay is a material that can be shaped according to one’s own senses. Its inertness permits me to freeze moments of feeling and embed them in its corporeality. It is ideal for my approach, not to represent in some way thematic notions but to reify them. What emerges from these thoughts is that cycling and continuity are the abstract processes that underlie the thematics of time and life; and that in the work, space becomes actual material and that material defines the work, its thingliness, alongside its theoretical and contextual characteristics and qualities.
Albeit I see the work as the thing itself, it is also a vessel holding allegorical content. It brings forth into reality the very notions that led to its making. However, in all probability these might well remain hidden if not layered with or disclosed by context. Context can wrap around the work in many ways, through text, juxta-positioning, placement, images, sound and so on. It is an area that I must work on diligently..
To make the object of the mind otherwise, digitally printed, commissioned or projected in another (more resistant) material, would not be the same. I need the direct contact between hand, eye, mind and material that makes it what it is and nothing else. The directness of touch as a principle conduit for embedding feeling in what otherwise might be materially impersonal. It is a synthesis of the untouchability of an idea and the inability to express that ideal form physically. It is as direct as stroking an animal or smelling a flower yet one can not be an animal or a flower. This creates a bridge between maker and receiver that subverts the continual increase in faux intimacy engendered by the current use of technology in today’s society, as in social media and infinite multiples of the same thing.
The human haptic mode encodes a complexity of information transmitted from in-the-making and passes on to experiencing. They come close to being one and the same thing. The object becomes more than something that can be seen and touched: it is a vehicle for subtle empathy. Not the sentimentality we attach to cherished, used objects of mass production.
This subtle empathy which, placed in a human context, links me to the themes of the work relating to natural forces. I no longer am an observer but a participator in creating and remaking the world. The work is overtly human but also non-anthropic. It reminds me that we are part of nature but not necessarily central to it. We only make it so for existential reasons as do all other plants and animals. It is this survival, cycle, continuity that is again at the root of my ideas. But unlike an animal or a plant I can see beyond my immediate world, give form to other worlds and times. This gives me a special privilege and responsibility.
As to the basic form of the vessel that appears in much of my work? The vessel is a plane, folded on itself to become a container. We all were born as balls of cells that began their journey into the world as simple dimpled spheres from which a vessel was formed. This form defines the boundary between the physical inner and outer environment. It defines the limit of our corporeal existence. We can only project out of it through our senses and the mind. However complex the vessel might become, its fundamental property of containment remains.
I see the vessel as inviting exploration of what is within and without and more importantly what it is that connects the two. My particular area of interest is not only located in the now but in the connections with the past and how this is part of what the future might become. The present is the vessel for all things yet it is elusive, an idea ever changing. It is an elusive membrane whose allusion becomes object in much of what I do. The membrane of the present, the inside and outside, the self and other.
Walking along the East England coast at Mablethorpe, against that watery panorama, the hidden drama of life below the waves was being cast onto the sand by the receding tide; empty detritus waiting for the wading birds, once star dust become flesh dismembered one by one of existence in an instant of countless moments. Was the crab or the jelly fish aware of its being as I of theirs and my own? Able to witness in the cloud of thoughts that is constantly shaped by constellations of cells inside my body I too will drift and bear their fate in a struggle, dispassionate and brutal that brings forth beauty and engenders awe.
A single starfish lies nearby, I toss it back, no thanks or waving arms, only my knowing, does that count in the grand scheme of things? I can not live its life but in that moment see myself thrown and saved in some fashion, it is the way of things. As we all were once inanimate, only I made in this present form am able to save my other self.
How is this relevant to my project ? Mine is not an exercise in empathy, that cannot be for the subject is alien in form and substance. It is an expression of proximity to the other, I am made of the same paste, only arranged in a different ways, able to say this and pass it on. It is not entering some other life I seek but communion with that which is mute.
I have returned to Forest Hill from the Camberwell College library with an armful of books and eyes set on the horizon. In the previous post I took a broad, summary view of what I have done so far. One major characteristic of my methodology to date has been my intention to limit new artistic influences. My reasons for this are twofold: it has been an opportunity to re-evaluate my practice and articulate its synthesis whilst keeping things open and in order to do so maintain a clear view of the context and content.
The need to write the Research Paper now, is catalysing a process of finding new sources from within the contemporary artistic field which lie outside my own familiar domain (in all senses). I see this period as a time for drilling into the content of my work and looking at new artistic sources within and external to the paper. The time has come to take off one set of clothes and put on another.
I am not looking for direction, that I have in abundance, but rather for greater depth of means and idea. I have to be mindful not to overcomplicate things but this I can avoid by paring down to the essentials what I elaborate, again selecting, distilling, in this case correspondences with writers and other artists. The cuttings themselves will be useful for some other projects. The books I have taken out today and will borrow in the future I feel will help me in this regard: whether confirming, refuting or synthesising my ideas, any of these processes arising will prove valuable along the way to build on my understanding of things.
Put another way, so far during the first two phases I have been largely self-referential and self originating. I feel now in the position to absorb new influences into a robust framework that is stable enough not to be disrupted towards confusion and sufficiently flexible to adapt to new ideas and contexts.
Janet’s final show is now over. The works de-installed and packed, I now sit in the library at Camberwell looking at books. So many interesting books; it is a good way to introduce the third phase of unite one. The First phase was one of doing and as I did so, of looking around within a familiar space. From this space I moved in and out forming ideas, refuting others, articulating, clarifying and creating generalities out of which specifics could be selected, filtered and distilled.
The second phase has been one of articulating a thesis, closing some windows and passing through the one that is left to find myself in a vast landscape. It has been a time of deciding on a general direction and envisaging some sort of outcome partly manifest in the final show. I currently find myself in the narrow waist of an hourglass. Much time and many ideas have passed through and I now find myself on the threshold of what is to come. I have a clear idea of what that might be but I have yet to focus on particulars.
Being in Camberwell on and off for around three weeks has given me time away from the blog journal and making. I am forgetting and remembering, sloughing the superfluous which nevertheless has informed my journey. I now have a new perspective leading to a third phase.
The third phase is one where, although what I shall be concentrating on is more or less settled in form, the actual details of making, contextual framework, presentation, background are not yet clarified. This is a time where, having identified the domain in which I will be working, I can focus more deeply on every aspect of the work(s), layering deep sediments to form the body of this practice, making connections, meanings, engagements, and expressions, through techniques, symbols and tropes, modalities and affects.
It is a fascinating process because I now have to plan the works whilst keeping the process open. This I need to do because the making side of things can take a very long time. I also have to experiment new methods and techniques in order to incorporate the ideas I am working with. In addition, I have to contextualise those ideas and forms to position them meaningfully in the contemporary environment trying not to lose sight of where they have come from and the future.
What I have written here is a broad sense of what I am to do. What this is specifically, I shall write about later. For now I am still moving bodies in a mental space which are waiting to be reified and exposed. It is all so very open…
Returning home from the Janet’s show installation I had to think about the interim show’s work title. I have never been keen on the process of naming a work despite knowing how important it is; I have seen it as an intrusion of words that closes down meaning. However, having thought at length about the 17th June tutorial with Jonathan I feel quite different about the matter. It is no longer an external slapping on of words but an added layer of meaning, an entry into the work without necessarily fencing its meaning, rather offering a thought that, if the words are chosen carefully, is both suggestive and open. What is more important is that it is the possibility to introduce a rational side to the work, by virtue of the inherent characteristics of words, that helps create a dynamic equilibrium between the rational and emotional.
Here I reference the paradoxical time shifts that I deal with in my practice, being in the present whilst dealing with time frames interchangeably. I feel this title opens up a whole lot of ideas for me regarding the nature of time and life.
We discussed the ebb and flow between refined and crude thinking and handling during making and how a maquette is a condensation and clarification of this process before embarking on a large-scale project. How two approaches are kept in harmony: of keeping the dynamism of the sketch and the clarity of further finishing. That visibly incorporating both can give a sense of the kinetic essence of the process of making.
We also discussed the sense of something arising out of the material and the struggle involved. That this maelstrom of life, with crowded entities entering and exiting a surface is a metaphor of life and how this can also speak about aspects of humanity. How humans are part of and not separate from nature.
The forms represent individually more or less formal approaches and that this duality is emblematic of how I work, between the emotionally literal and the rational artificial, ritual and representational.
We discussed a variety of ideas for larger scale work: the evolutionary ideas and the mythology that arises from them leads to the whole created using modular units, interchangeable and capable of fitting together in various ways.
We discussed the central notion of seeing life in a non-anthropocentric way and how alluding to humanity in this way can be a powerful way of raising questions about our place.
The various responses to my work raised the question of whether the works are related to the idea of monsters, something we do not quite understand. Monsters are harmful, I do not see my works as monsters but rather as inhabiting a parallel world, asking the question what if we were not here?
This led to a discussion about the Anthropocene and how my work is an expression of my relationship with the world and view of human relationships, particularly the nature of individual vs individual and individual vs group dynamics.
Language is part of this argument and the image of the Tower of Babel, used in a post on my Research Paper was discussed as bearing a variety of conceptual meanings as a metaphor for difference and variety.
We continued to talk about the study as a means of opening out different elements. The sense of the emotional and rational, the Apollonian and the Dionysian and where I might place my work in relation to these paradigms. The balance appears to be constantly shifting between the material and the idea: how the two exchange during the process of making, what the trigger points might be and how they coexist in a final work. I think that this unresolved internal dialogue becomes resolved as a conversation between two works.
The material itself is neutral and whether the rational or irrational predominates is a function of how it is approached. Which predominates is part of the selection process as it is difficult to treat the material of clay with the same philosophies at the same time. It might be possible, but my personal structure prefers to oscillate between the two. The balance between the rational and irrational in a single work could be seen, as being created during the making process by alternating the two approaches. However, as I said earlier, the resolution of the two is expressed as a conversation between works rather than within a single work.
What I appear to be doing is exploring the referencing of ideas through my visual language having created a vocabulary over time. Time during which I have transitioned from working with ideas at a distance to breaking open the carapace of rationality, found in earlier works, to dig deeper beneath the surface to find what lies underneath. And if it is sound, authentic, it might ring a bell in someone else.
At his point we started to talk about how I might lead someone into the work, particularly as the current artist environment is very much centred on the overtly societal and human anthropocentric.
Jonathan sees my work as presenting an ambiguity that encourages investigation. However, a lot of visual culture exemplified by Instagram, with its dangerous description of the world, works against pausing, waiting, taking time. He thinks that sadly, most people will not engage but those that do will be richly rewarded.
I asked Jonathan how explicit does one have to be before becoming didactic (not a good thing) to open out a deeper conversation, how does one signpost possibilities? Is it not our gift to do so and alas a task for the viewer? We agreed this is an impossible question to answer but explored some ways of answering this.
We looked at how the time for ‘demystifying art’ has hopefully passed and how confusion in a gallery is a way of catalysing a conversation in a gallery. We then looked at the importance of titles. Jonathan sees what I do as emotional and the title is the rational companion to it, a balance of the emotional and the rational. This is a very interesting idea and one I have often considered but not quite in this way. A title can be seen, as an entry into the work, a poetic entry. However, there is a caveat: not to overburden the work with a title that closes-down its meaning with the choice of words. Reducing the space for its meaning can damage it as well. Questions such as, ‘What is the Difference’, are good.
This led to the question of Jargon and how it can cover a multitude of misunderstandings and how having simplified my language, I have been able to express complex ideas more clearly. Jonathan suggested that writing about the work, not necessarily explicitly for the reasoned discussed above but as another layer could be an interesting and effective way of rewarding further investigation. I have been thinking of ways to do this. The important thing is not to close the work down with words but rather say, ‘this is my offering to you as to what I was thinking but actually there is a space for you’.
Finally, we looked at how I am planning my work and how there is still plenty of time although my methodology requires careful planning ahead.
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.
To incorporate into the sculpture or place near it, a subwoofer speaker. Ultra low frequencies at high volume emitted will set the ambience to vibrate. If the speaker is set inside the sculpture, it may set the latter to vibrate. This phenomenological approach could be used for the long suspended piece. Ultra low frequencies ‘appear’ to come from all directions so the placement of the speaker is not critical for its perception. below the sculpture might be a solution if incorporation is not possible. However, incorporation would bring it to life.
Having the high volume, low frequency on all the time would not be acceptable. A solution presents itself with the use of proximity sensors. Using such devices would introduce an element of interactivity whilst reducing the constant sound to only when it is being viewed. The idea is to place the sensors in such a way that when a person approaches the sculpture, the sound intensifies and the closer the person moves towards it, the louder and more intense is the sound.
The placement of the speaker is a sculptural, technical problem. How the sensors work carries with it a number of questions that I need to address as soon as possible:
what type of sensor to use – motion, light, infrared, microwave etc
how many sensors are needed – this question refers to the mode of controlling the sound output
how is/are the sensors to be controlled – is an Arduino set up required in which can I need to research this and the coding
all the questions lead up to whether a sensor can detect distance and this be translated to variable volume of sound output – is this controlled with the controller or the sensor
if variable output is not feasible, can several sensors be used to trigger variable sound
The ideal would be for the sound to increase in volume as a person approaches the sculpture and decrease as they move away.
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 an idea for work. Exhibiting in a group show where each offering is in effect a solo show is challenging. This is particularly the case with sound, an integral part of many digitally based works. In many cases earphones are the solution but some consider the ambient phenomenon an essential part of their work, whether conceptually, aesthetically or just to attract attention. Having this in mind, for next year and other similar situations I am considering using particular bands of the frequency range to circumvent the sonic clutter (and traffic noise) of the group environment, without affecting the latter significantly. In order to deliver this final point, I am considering the use of sensors that modulate the viewer-work interaction periodically. For now I wish to keep this idea private since, if it were to become a meme, its singular affect would be lost.
I have been very busy of late and my current work is in a state of incompletion, so I am glad to have just completed a video to accompany a small sculptural work for the interim Summer show at Camberwell. Its simplicity has given me the space to think about a deep level aspect of what I am doing. The narrative in the words of the scrolling text are deliberately anachronistic. I worked on the few words in various versions: directed in the you and I form, playing with tenses, making the content more or less personal. Finally I ended in the place where my instincts had led me to start; with the intention to distance myself from the subject whilst bringing it into direct contact with me in the present as I reflect on its future set in the past. Bringing together the deep past, present and future is very much what my research statement is about albeit taking a narrow field of view. It is interesting how this synchronicity occurs from time to time.
Four digital prints I submitted to the 2 Girls Gallery ‘Impromptu’ show. They are mouse drawings. That means I drew them using an old mouse. I like this technique because of the difficulty of controlling the mouse as opposed to the ease of use of a pad and stylus. This friction creates a tension between what I want to draw and what is possible. The space that lies between the two tells me something of how striving for perfection is conditional to the means and circumstances. The analysis required is in contrast with the poietic maelstrom involved in working with sodden earth. It is where I can stand back and consider a different aspect of the source of what I do.
The technique of drawing with a mouse I see as embodying that continual striving for perfection by imperfect means that characterises humanity: by necessity flaws become the paradigm. And it is this process of turning one’s shortcomings into something of real affecting power where the magic of process lies.
I originally thought of presenting photographs which had been digitally altered, coloured. However, I was dissatisfied with the results. I have often found that combining digital marks with photographs whether analogue or not, does not give me a good sense. I am not talking about manipulating a photographic image or set of images in which case the material sources are of the same kind. This is exemplified in the work of an artist that Jonathan suggested I look at. Emily Allchurch creates imaginary landscapes based on old master paintings using a library of photographs she has compiled. She works with source material of the same kind and treats it in the same way: there is an inherent coherency here. I am rather referring to adding, superimposing, layering digital marks to photographic images: sources of a different kind. There is always something to be said for breaking rules and mish-mashing but I have found that this approach only works for me when what I am doing has a graphic design This I find only works when the sought after outcome is primarily one that resides in the area of graphic design… and then not always. This is something I would ordinarily leave to someone else who has affinity and experience in this domain.
Today we went over some other research statements. What constantly comes to mind is the need to avoid jargon as one develops an idea. I used to use jargon a lot and quite honestly, as I have mentioned before, it does nothing but obscure meaning and prevent clarity of exposition and explication. If a complex idea is explained in simple words, it more often than not open out pathways which were previously barred. Jargon and technical language really serve as shorthand and I try to use only one the idea is fully formed or after have introduced a definition in context. Of course it is not always possible to do this but it is a very good discipline to nurture and develop. It has made me more critical and saved me from a lot of bull shit I might have come up with otherwise.
Other things that came to mind during the session are as follows:
Writing started as a mystical act which changed into pragmatic bureaucracy.
Distinguishing between the real and the virtual needs a defined idea of what is real and virtual much as for the difference between the natural and the artificial. It enters the area of discerning what is true and what is false. Truth and falsehood. As far as art is concerned, I cannot deal with absolute truths, reality or any other such paradigms. I can only deal with tropes and morality or values. Tropes are cognitive comparators and morality is culturally relative, unless one accepts certain inalienable and self evident ideas. It all becomes very difficult to argue in the face of contrary views. I have grown to think that authenticity and integrity, at least for me, are the more important conditions for an artist. And out of this arise observations and descriptions created with tropes that bear some relevance to life.
In order to distinguish between two things, to think only in terms of comparison makes things harder without its sister contrast. Similarities tell you something about why it is difficult to distinguish between those given things but it does tell you why one is considering them as different. Contrasting on the other hand tells you why they cannot be the same and perhaps whether they differ by degree or in kind.
When comparing and contrasting two ideas, objects or events, it is as well to consider any new insights or notions that this might lead to.
Regarding a hobby horse of mine: the word ‘issue’ is much used instead of ‘problem’. I remember when all this issue about issue started, it was a way of thinking positively about something harmful rather than negatively and therefore more approachable in terms of a solution. However, I think it has gone too far and serious circumstances have become issues. Issues are really topics for debate and the word does not necessarily demand solution. So I now like to think of problems as something to confront and issues… you can take them or leave them.
Looking for examples before having formed a clear idea of what they are mean to show can sometimes make it hard to find them. I find it is a good idea to look for the large things such as principles and work my way down until I find examples. It is about taking care of the large things and the details will take care of themselves. It is much harder to construct generality from the particular. However, one small caveat to that is when tidying, I always find I need to deal with the small things first in order to clear the decks for arranging the large things.
Finally I need to prepare some files for the ‘Impromptu’ show at Two Girls Gallery by next Monday (17 June) – A3 files.
Porcelain high relief in drying box 18 x 19 x 11cm
This study has led me to reflect on what I am currently doing both in terms of work and conceptual content. Working small on a large scale idea is not always easy. It is different in the way one part relates to another, everything is seen at a glance rather than experiencing a gradual discovery as an informal circular dance is choreographed around the work. Viewing distances are bodily contract towards immobility as I end up very close to the work, without glasses, in an attempt to restore a large scale visual relationship.
In this work my thoughts have focused on a particular set of notions and shifted from an Apollonian ideal found in the Studies for H to a more Dionysian sense of things. The subjects remain the same and the methodology similar but with its content altered in someway. As always a dichotomy is expressing itself like night and day.
The study has been difficult to accept in terms of its composition but I have learnt a great deal in how I could approach a more ambitious work. This would be many times larger which itself presents a number of technical issues of drying out and weight. I may have to construct a specific humidity box to maintain the necessary moisture content over a prolonged period. Then again covering may be the only thing necessary since the mass of material will keep its moisture content more readily due to the reduced evaporation caused by a decreased surface to volume ratio.
Its implied motion suggests to me an animation in the form of a ‘dance’ that traces ideas underlying the work. In addition it is in high relief whereas what I envisage as a finished work extends in height and may be on a circular base: perhaps a subliminal allusion to old master depictions of the Tower of Babel: an icon of chaos and the hubris of man (and women?).
But what is it I am doing, evoking the weight of generations, the struggle for life, are these metaphors for humanity? This latter question refers to my previous post title, ‘What is the Difference’. This is not a de-humanisation but rather a de-centering of the anthropic view of things. We are part of the whole and not separated from it, a view that has proliferated during the Anthropocene. We are as subject to the same blind and dispassionate forces that brought us about as any other part of nature… with one difference. We have a heightened capacity to change our behaviour. But the individual dynamic is not the same as that of the group and this creates an inertia which naturally tends towards conserving the status quo. Which way things will go is still in the balance; a race against time for the majority of future humans. Extinction is unlikely to be total but annihilation of a large number if not majority of people is certainly a clear possibility.
It has just occurred to me, why am I writing all this down, I have never done such a thing, why post so much since I hold all these thoughts in my mind as I work? One, it provides a contemporary document that may prove valuable in the future: the memory plays tricks and history is constantly retold in the light of the present. Two, writing practice has enabled me to move more rapidly through ideas, build on them, alter them and articulate them more clearly
Over a week ago I was travelling back from Cluj Napoca, sitting at the Chiorean’s dinner table with laptop next to me trying to follow the conversation as it transpassed me online. The framework around which the chat revolved were four sets of assumptions taken from Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland.
The following assumption can generate highly personal and interested arguments that can contradict, overlap and synthesise. I have put them below to reflect on. Much of what is said is self evident in the light of experience but to those new to artistic practice they may help to clarify the confusion that can come from lack of knowledge and experience, ambition, received notions and the weight of art history. These writings largely confirm what I have come to know over years of hard work, triumphs and disappointments. The essence of these notions, after they are made one’s own, make the act of making, of creating, of art so much more authentic. That is why I say, each to their own, art cannot be canonised but for one’s own eventual authority in what one does.
1 ARTMAKING INVOLVES SKILLS THAT CAN BE LEARNED.
The conventional wisdom here is that while “craft” can be taught, “art” remains a magical gift bestowed only by the gods. Not so. In large measure becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive. Clearly, these qualities can be nurtured by others. Even talent is rarely distinguishable, over the long run, from perseverance and lots of hard work. It’s true that every few years the authors encounter some beginning photography student whose ﬁrst-semester prints appear as ﬁnely crafted as any Ansel Adams might have made. And it’s true that a natural gift like that (especially coming at the fragile early learning stage) returns priceless encouragement to its maker. But all that has nothing to do with artistic content. Rather, it simply points up the fact that most of us (including Adams himself!) had to work years to perfect our art.
2 ART IS MADE BY ORDINARY PEOPLE.
Creatures having only virtues can hardly be imagined making art. It’s difﬁcult to picture the Virgin Mary painting landscapes. Or Batman throwing pots. The ﬂawless creature wouldn’t need to make art. And so, ironically, the ideal artist is scarcely a theoretical ﬁgure at all. If art is made by ordinary people, then you’d have to allow that the ideal artist would be an ordinary person too, with the whole usual mixed bag of traits that real human beings possess. This is a giant hint about art, because it suggests that our ﬂaws and weaknesses, while often obstacles to our getting work done, are a source of strength as well. Something about making art has to do with overcoming things, giving us a clear opportunity for doing things in ways we have always known we should do them.
3 MAKING ART AND VIEWING ART ARE DIFFERENT AT THEIR CORE.
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. That belief, if widely embraced, would make this book unnecessary, false, or both. Such sanity is, unfortunately, rare. Making art provides uncomfortably accurate feedback about the gap that inevitably exists between what you intended to do, and what you did. In fact, if artmaking did not tell you (the maker) so enormously much about yourself, then making art that matters to you would be impossible. 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.
For the artist, that truth highlights a familiar and predictable corollary: artmaking can be a rather lonely, thankless affair. Virtually all artists spend some of their time (and some artists spend virtually all of their time) producing work that no one else much cares about. It just seems to come with the territory. But for some reason — self-defense, perhaps — artists ﬁnd it tempting to romanticize this lack of response, often by (heroically) picturing themselves peering deeply into the underlying nature of things long before anyone else has eyes to follow.
Romantic, but wrong. The sobering truth is that the disinterest of others hardly ever reﬂects a gulf in vision. In fact there’s generally no good reason why others should care about most of any one artist’s work. The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars. One of the basic and difﬁcult lessons every artist must learn is that even the failed pieces are essential. X-rays of famous paintings reveal that even master artists sometimes made basic mid-course corrections (or deleted really dumb mistakes) by overpainting the still-wet canvas. The point is that you learn how to make your work by making your work, and a great many of the pieces you make along the way will never stand out as ﬁnished art. The best you can do is make art you care about — and lots of it!
The rest is largely a matter of perseverance. Of course once you’re famous, collectors and academics will circle back in droves to claim credit for spotting evidence of genius in every early piece. But until your ship comes in, the only people who will really care about your work are those who care about you personally. Those close to you know that making the work is essential to your well being. They will always care about your work, if not because it is great, then because it is yours — and this is something to be genuinely thankful for. Yet however much they love you, it still remains as true for them as for the rest of the world: learning to make your work is not their problem.
4 ARTMAKING HAS BEEN AROUND LONGER THAN THE ART ESTABLISHMENT.
Through most of history, the people who made art never thought of themselves as making art. In fact it’s quite presumable that art was being made long before the rise of consciousness, long before the pronoun “I” was ever employed. The painters of caves, quite apart from not thinking of themselves as artists, probably never thought of themselves at all. What this suggests, among other things, is that the current view equating art with “self-expression” reveals more a contemporary bias in our thinking than an underlying trait of the medium. Even the separation of art from craft is largely a post- Renaissance concept, and more recent still is the notion that art transcends what you do, and represents what you are. In the past few centuries Western art has moved from unsigned tableaus of orthodox religious scenes to one-person displays of personal cosmologies. “Artist” has gradually become a form of identity which (as every artist knows) often carries with it as many drawbacks as beneﬁts. Consider that if artist equals self, then when (inevitably) you make ﬂawed art, you are a ﬂawed person, and when (worse yet) you make no art, you are no person at all! It seems far healthier to sidestep that vicious spiral by accepting many paths to successful artmaking — from reclusive to ﬂamboyant, intuitive to intellectual, folk art to ﬁne art. One of those paths is yours.
What is it that puts the ‘fine’ in fine art? In the past fine denoted something different to the applied arts and crafts, the artisanal element of making. Fine was meant to raise the level of thinking away from the primarily functional and the folk art of the general population. It was meant to educate and impress. Today, this attitude is no longer relevant and neither is it desirable. Artists have often relied on artisans for their initial training and preparations. They have been inspired by the folk, ethnic, primitive, call it what you will, throughout history. Beethoven and folk music, Brancusi and folk art and Renoir started as a ceramics decorator.
Art today is seen within a spectrum of activity from the rawest of expression to the most worked and polished making. The ‘fine’ today is something different. I see it as the polishing of an idea, honing an argument, refining the making. Any one of these processes transforms poietic activity into an agent of change, stimulating the imagination, engendering empathy and raising curiosity amongst many other things. The constant refining, selecting, filtering, distilling are all part of what might be called fine art.
The above study in its original form was enough as a place marker of an idea and initial exploration, in short a study. However, I decided to take it further, to refine it. I wanted to take the making process further, to extend its limits in a continual process. By doing so, the idea itself is transformed, maybe slightly but nonetheless altered. The sketch may hold its own dynamic vigor, something to hold on to but not always. A case in hand is Rembrandt’s etching of the crucifixion, which as many of his etchings, underwent through many states, each complete in itself and also a phase towards a transformed more refined end point but no less powerful.
I feel that the sketched beginning possess more life imbued in its making. This is the difficulty in refining, not to loose that freshness. But there are also crudities that distract. It is a balancing act. Moreover, refinement is a way of exploring the capabilities of a medium hand in hand with the notions that underlie it: meditating on the idea, reflecting in action. Neither does the above image indicate an end to refinement nor is it a completed transformation as a study in preparation for further work.
I welded this simple frame for another project, Logos, intended for working with its maquettes. Yesterday I took hold of it to photograph the latest zoan-like model. I wanted to isolate the work from surfaces in order to minimise cleaning up in photoshop. This worked on the level of convenience but there was also an unintended outcome.
Repurposing something I had made, led to a meaningful solution for display as I mentioned in Between two Worlds. This way of working at times results in the surfacing of underlying ways of thinking and working which in turn can lead to new thoughts and ideas whilst maintaining a focused continuity of source.
Although this is a relatively small piece of metalwork, it is easily scaled up for an installation where there are no means of suspension from an architectural structure. In such a case, it could be, would need to be shaped into the idea/philosophy of the work itself.
What is this, I ask myself? As I made it I felt an unease as it extended its reach physically and formally. The other models in porcelain are clearly zoan but this is different, a hybrid perhaps between animal and artefact, biology and ritual.
And the way I photographed it, suspended by fine cords, gives me an idea for presenting that moves away from the wall, pedestal, plinth, stand, case, cabinet, table top, floor. Fragility, underlined by the immersion in a field of tension, defined by the slender threads, a psychological state between the din of kinetic energy and the repressed quiet of potential energy.
The above series of images is a reminder regarding a recent idea to create 3D animations. I have thought about photogrammetry too which, however, seems to yield imprecise renderings far too often for me to give it the time. In any case , it is all about photographing what I have already made in the flesh, so to speak. I prefer to invent and for this I turn to Blender which is convincingly versatile with high specifications, offering tight control… and it is free.
Yesterday I started a small scale study in porcelain – no larger than twenty centimetres in its largest dimension – for H’s playthings in porcelain. What I show here is the first stage, the plasma. It is small so I can quickly assess its outcome before investing more time in how to proceed on a larger scale. The question for now, is whether to move in the direction of a baroque, visceral rendition or a more schematic, symbolic one. I am thinking that the former might be too ‘noisy’ for it to be receptive to a sound element in the work.
I feel that the two approaches are different aspects of what I am looking to express. This makes me think that there is space for both to coexist, a conversation contextualised in the transition from a mass population engaged in an ecology and the symbolic representation of each class type. The former an animated, raw, poietic emergence from inside me, the living expression of thought. The latter a cerebral aesthetic product, distanced, engaging on another level. Can the two ways be reconciled and merged or are they mutually exclusive?
Not all bodies of work need to be homogeneous. I have talked of heterogeneity before, it represents the outer layer of deeper commonalities. Multitudes exist within one idea, am I to be restrained by the aesthetics of conformity? This may be my own prejudice: the need to replicate serially to create distinct bodies of work.
It may be possible to combine the two in synchronous dialogue, resolving a dialectic within a single work. A transition from raw to refined, from animated foam to schematic idolatry. After all, I am looking for a myth and myths are about origins, creation.
I have seldom used glazes when working with ceramic material; I usually concentrate on form and light and find that colour can place strong unwanted overtones on a work. In the Zoan series however, I want to emphasise the symbolic and psychological over the naturalistic and biological with the intention of placing these works firmly in the human sphere. I see the use of highly coloured, glass-like glazes as a way of suggesting a sense of artificiality.
The above image is one of a number of monochrome photographs I am colouring as preliminary sketches. The result is not the same as the specular surface of glazes but it does give me an idea. I could alternatively paint the sculptures but having tried this in the past, I have found that painting ceramics obscures the surface qualities of the material and defeats the object of using it. It might be something for larger scale work but not for more intimate pieces.
What is gender in society other than an assignment that is carried by the weight of authority, aimed at organising society according to sex, controlling behaviour through roles, aesthetics and expectations. Gender is all too easily seen in terms of biological sex alone yet the properties given to assigned gender characteristics in society are fluid, decoupling often from sex as their determinant. It is largely a question of language embedded in narratives constructed through words and images.
I have looked at my work so far and language underlies much of it; language’s ability to define paradigms and redirect expectations and points of view; language in its broadest sense. The MA so far has been an unmethodological essay in artistic research that is extending my practice into areas both predictable and unexpected.
I have been thinking about the direction of my work so far during this MA. It has been a period during which things have moved from one thing to another, a period for exploring ideas and dipping my toes into all kinds of areas. With the Research Statement in mind, I need to move things onto a more decisive footing in order for me to have the time to complete an ambitious project proposal next year.
In the past I have written about my practice as a molecular construction from atomic elements giving way to a more poetic, informal modelling of material. I have also written about a search to unify my disparate practice; something that has proved elusive. I remember what Will said about my Mid Point Review presentation, that he would like to see a whole room full of works which are not necessarily interconnected. He spoke spontaneously about something that I have continuously reiterated in everything I do. Collections and series, sequences and lines of descent have always fascinated me and heterogeneity has been constantly manifest. Dannii also hinted at another aspect which I have worked on previously, that of creating a legacy from a speculative world that is not necessarily ours. Some of my past exhibitions have touched on these aspects: Chaos Contained, An Artificial Natural History, Traces of Life, Sacred Places, Steel to name a few. These projects have contained an element of evolutionary repetition in a rational collection form.
What I have largely done so far is attempt a synthesis through a taxonomic approach: seeing the whole as a collection of different elements and trying to connect them by defining their degree of connectedness or relatedness. This approach can work as a system of classification, atomising the properties and characteristics of a practice. This in turn is helpful as a means of combining and recombining things in novel ways. However, this approach can also be divisive creating boundaries and exclusion.
An analogy would be seeing all living organisms as somehow related and attempting to systematise this connectedness in a meaningful way. I feel that what I have done is akin to constructing a genetic tree of my own practice. In the case of biology this throws light on the mechanism of evolution and descent. However, evolution does not have foresight, it is not teleological. Artistic practice on the other hand, has a strong element of aiming for something, a goal or purpose be it wealth, influence, change, discovering or what have you. Taxonomy although useful, is an analytical tool that does not provide all the answers, it is not contextual. Another analogy would be that of taxonomy in biology only tells us about how related organisms are, but to find out more about how they interact, we need to look at their behaviour in their given environments, their ecology. I am not surprised that the Linnean system of classification predated by a considerable period the first ecological observations by Humbolt.
The shortcomings of taking a classification approach was highlighted in the two group sessions we had on Elusive Taxonomies. In short, taxonomy is only partially helpful in giving a synoptic view of a practice or in developing a methodological and philosophical synthesis. In order to get a fuller picture I need a different optic, invert things so that instead of looking at the relationship between areas of work, I look at how each component relates to a whole. Respective interaction then become predicated on inclusion, as part of the whole in which they participate. Each component then shares a parthood with every other component in relation to the whole. Connections are therefore a function of this parthood rather than a more reductive inclusion exclusion defining their place and function.
This is a subtly different way of thinking. Taxonomy is useful in seeing how things relate to one another; parthood, or mereology, helps to conceptually bring together things that might not appear related in the first place. With respect to my practice, looking at it mereologically, what brings together its different aspects would be things such intent, response, experience, circumstance. (There is one element, modality, that seems to straddle the two ways of thinking and presents and interesting conduit between the two.)
All this of course is an analysis of what arises out of intuitive thinking. It is also complicated by how my practice has changed over time. This introduces an evolutionary element which needs to be largely set aside for the moment: I need to concentrate on the now. However, it does highlight an important element that goes into the heterogeneous character of what I do, that I cannot endlessly repeat an idea or process. The reasons for this are for another time.
To summarise: using taxonomy and mereology together is a powerful way of critically analysing my practice… after the fact. This analysis influences but not necessarily directs what I do in action . Taxonomy is a means of understanding the component parts and their interactions a way of building a framework; mereology on the other hand helps identify the context and reasons for my particular methodology.
The previous post talked about sound and sculpture in terms of building blocks of non-verbal language. This is a fascinating area of theoretical practice that seems somewhat neglected whether because it is seen as irrelevant or the two areas are separated by a formal academic-professional gap I do not know. Artists have used sound and sculpture together, but as I have said before, one as the container or instrument of the other, not as equals. I do not presume to find a perfect balance between the two but I do approach them as having, at least theoretically, homological correspondences. Using basic units as the building blocks of each respective language, much as phonemes are the basic units of speech, I can perhaps meld the two together. Curiosity as to whether this succeeds is part of the impetus for the exploration.
I still maintain that sculpture is silent and sound disembodied. Sculpture primarily finds its place in my kinetic being, sound vibrates the corpus as an intangible organ sounding within me. Regardless of how they are interpreted they at least have this in common, that they inhabit the body as the closely related physical senses of touch and vibration.
I have been looking at Pure Data as a means of generating sound, the basic components of it, vibration as frequency, pulse and volume. At last I have worked it out by following some videos on YouTube. The actual mechanics are simple, the syntax is straightforward enough. The learning curve seems to reside in understanding what each object does and how it interacts with other components. From this sounds can be generated without reference to outside associations. This seems the way, at least in great part, for crossing the boundaries between sculpture and sound in the purest sense; how sound can be shaped and moulded to correspond with sculpture… and vice versa, or perhaps even shaped synchronously. Sounds generated can then be edited in some other software or generated in situ and manipulated in real time.
I have referred to the central role language plays in my work. This role is not an overt one, I have not used text or words explicitly so far. However, in this blog journal I use words as a glue that binds together ideas in some way trying to make sense of what are at the outset subliminal responses to experience. In the Mid Point review I recently mentioned language as a principle theme in the project proposal as I did in the initial symposium back in October; the time has come to attempt at explaining this.
Why is language important to me? Beyond emotions, physical responses and sensations, in order for me to think about the world around me in ways that build on experience and gain some understanding I need a more complex and flexible way of ordering thoughts. This way comes in the form of verbal language, spoken and then written. A word is an abstract entity that stands for something we encounter in the world. This label is made up of individual sounds or phonemes. Phonemes are recombined to form words, words form phrases and sentences and so on articulating complex thoughts.
This correlates with how I work through sculpture. The basic building blocks, or ‘phonemes’ are shapes. Each shape raises a response in me just as the sonic values of phonemes carry with them an emotional-auditory response. This idea is used in poetry as in alliteration giving a sense beyond the abstract meaning of the words. In Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood’ the poet uses alliteration just for its sonic effects,
It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea.
However, he also uses metaphor and rhythm to build a vivid sensual picture full of emotional as well as cognitive tension that goes beyond the semantic values of the words. It is a shaping of the world in words.
Sculpture can also work in poetic terms, the semantic-associative value of shapes when combined give rise to thoughts that go beyond the sphere, cone and rod, nose, finger and pear. I use shape as a response to thoughts and ideas; what emerges is not an ekphrastic embodiment but an intention towards a more poetic form. Sound too can be used to build ideas but its very essence conveys a deeply subjective emotional meaning, one that can be used to build emotional narratives that in turn can create associative responses. Words, sounds and shapes act on our senses and thoughts in different ways but they all bear a commonality in that their basic component units can be combined and recombined to create a complex language. Where they differ is in what they communicate and this is why combining, in my case sound and sculpture does present a valid case.
This leads me to ask, should a sculpture be silent and sound disembodied? This purist idea is difficult to refute and has been the ground for a silent debate during modern European history. Perhaps in the end sculpture should remain silent. But then again, I can see that shaped sound could inhabit a sculpture and pulsate within its form, tracing its contours as it pushes against silence, forming a boundary of perception so that the very space around the sculpture is contiguous with it; a symbiotic intertwining of form and sound tracing reciprocal interactions between two modalities that go beyond the semantics of the words involved in explaining the relationship.
The study in porcelain shown above is one form that challenges me to think how sound might correlate with form. Not this particular form, ostensibly it is part of another work, but as I am looking to bring together different works as part of the project proposal it does ring bells in my head. Is scale important? I think that viewing distance may play a part, perhaps sound responding to the placement of the receiver in relation to the form much as the visual is rewarded with different perceptions: long distance – overall structure and its relationship with the environment, intermediate distance – component parts and their interrelationships, close up – surface and texture. This is all of course separate to the associative meanings the form might bear. How can sound be distilled into this sort of relationship, frequency, pulse, detail? Can the same be applied to sound as to solid form, are their analogies or am I dealing with something different in kind? These are all questions I aim to explore…
For the mini popup show at Camberwell on Wednesday 20 March 2019: a 30 second video following from the idea of ‘Do Shadows Dance When There Is No Light?‘, or as I would call it now, ‘Do Shadows Dance in the Dark?’ Having received an email from Jonathan notifying of this imminent show, each one being given 30 seconds of time, I set out that very evening to complete this short. To make something that only lasts half a minute within a short short time frame was a very good constraint on my normal practice, something akin to a workshop timetable.
Unconcerned curves hide the sharp pricks that bleed me in your making. Without remorse. Deep from within the surface of your smile again you bear your self determination, one of Gorgon’s tresses fallen with pride glinting as juice that trickles from rotting fruit; dry as husks in autumn scattered in a storm… yet you are the start of something not quite new but close enough. The indecision of the surface skin broken into pieces and made clear in the late Winter sunlight. I see now that things must be all things and I must double my response as you reflect your shadows in a dancing pair. Light does not come from one source alone; I cannot be one but many. My thoughts are not wedded to a single species but a whole kingdom, writhing, wrestling with life and loyalty rests only with the sense that there is nothing that cannot be.
I have thought hard about which way to go in terms of the aesthetics of the project: surfaces, forms, degree of working, colour, details and so on. I mentioned in an earlier post about the tension between unity of style and variety of content. My nature is such that there is no answer but to encompass all ways and let the underlying algorithms of my mind make the connections and trust that these rise to the surface of what people see: the Mid Point Review has been a great affirmer of what I thought.
I now have a clear way forward; to allow crazy variety, if that is what happens, to manifest itself. The works themselves must be all they can be and not constrained by some overall sense of stylistic cohesion: the world manifests itself in wonderous variety. So now I must work and test, experiment, and reach and grasp outcomes that inform what is to come and trust the process I have gone through. There is much to do in the given time so from now on I shall gather what I have made in my mind and build with it the steps to another world grounded in this one. The above is an image of a porcelain piece in progress accompanied by a written impression of how the process of deciding within one piece affects me.
NB: The surface skin refers to the outer aesthetics of the finish.
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.
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
Edited for clarity endeavouring to maintain content.
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.
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.
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.
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
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]
There was one large sculpture that had the kind of almost Jewish candle, almost, form, ceremonial form
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…
These might just be the narratives we develop [as] the audience and maybe it should stay on video.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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].
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…
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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”
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.
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
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…
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?
Jacob Wrestling with the Angel: Jacob Epstein, alabaster (in Tate Britain)
The Jacob of Genesis wrestled with the angel, some say with God, taming a vengeful angry deity and forging a new relationship between humankind and divinity. I see this divinity as the all encompassing material universe made flesh in a dream as Malakh.
After completing the Mid Point Review I woke to a new realisation, that of grappling with a multitude of ideas trying to reduce them to a single point with a focused coherence of some sort. It did go through my mind to do the Tantra thing and make a painting symbolic of this synthesis into a whole: a point for meditation. However, my nature would not allow me to settle on such a solution. You see, I view the world as a continuum panning vertically from the infinite to the infinitesimal and horizontally across the fastness of time and space. The world is a whole simple single entity and it is a complex of interrelated elements divisible and united. Reality is smooth and simultaneous, granular and causal. This duality is not a matter of indecision but of phenomenological understanding.
So the problem I was wrestling with can be summed up as, do I present a single work that tries to represent a multitude, issues, subjects, material solutions and approaches, a symbolic sign or do I present, what I call in the MPR, a compendium of interrelated works, each able to stand on its own? The former requires a silencing-out of ideas, the latter risking to appear disordered and confused. If I am to be honest, the minimalist approach does not satisfy my nature however elegant it might appear. I am a mongrel of ideas and influences, philosophically and genetically heterozygous .
In an attempt to resolve this problem I am lead to ask of myself, what is the glue that would bind the works if I were to take the second path? I have already gone over this in a much earlier post. I also hinted at the answer in the MPR where I have written, words are the labels of my thoughts. This is at least partially true. I am not a good speaker but I enjoy the act of putting ideas into words the semantics of language and their syntax. Much of my understanding of the world is worked out with labels, shuffled and shunted in my mind until they fall into place only to be moved again and again. I am talking semiotics here; touched on in the previous post Significance and Meaning.
Having settled on my general direction and that is not to have to create a single work, however holistic it might be, and that words are the narrative glue that binds their content, I start to think about the relationships between the works. In so doing, they start to take shape in my mind, decisions have a rational and an intuitive element: working with Dionysian impulse and Apollonian restraint towards a balancing and rebalancing a weaving of interrelations, invisible lines of tension that burgeon into some physical form in each part.
But do I explain these relationship in words or should they be left to be uncovered, discovered, debated and vulnerable to misunderstanding. I must leave this to the receiver but the trick is to leave sufficient breadcrumbs for way into the wood to be made accesible. A catalogue or a statement, a performance or poetry, for now that question can be left unanswered, there is time for that to develop and mature.
Now for some content. The very provisional titles with which I refer to each principle work, yes there are also small morsels I plan to sow in the interstices, are significant as monikers for the links being forged. Hermaphroditus deals with gender, language and religion through the channel of myth. Logos/Oracle again inspired by the myths deals, as logos alludes, with the disruption of language and understanding through biological and geological metaphors of the gut and the cavern: the devouring of reason and dissemination of ambiguity and ambivalence. Language links these two works but the third installation is unspoken, the absence of word. Shadowland translates the three-dimensional world into two dimensions, constantly reiterating in analogue and digital means the simplification of form, altering its meaning. Whereas Hermaphroditus unfolds and Logos confounds, Shadowlands simplifies and in so doing creates another narrative.
The trilogy of unfolding, confounding and simplification represents in some way how I see this project. An attempt to simplify and synthesise entanglements through unfolding. The nature of interpretation and mutation of meaning links the works and suggest further works. Is this not the essence of myth? As I write I start to draw together the elements I outlined in the project proposal and as I do so other considerations start to fall in place, considerations such as the aesthetics of each piece. This starts to look less important and somewhat superficial. However, it is still important as a means of conveying a sense defined by the thoughts that go into the work.
Finally, there is the fourth element, the antecedent to all three which for now must remain undisclosed lest I should abandon its making and disappoint myself. It is a relic of times past and gives context within my own practice, what you might make of it is not for me to say.
I now feel renewed, on the threshold of a dawn having wrestled the angel. Like in a dream I did not realise I was in quite such a struggle. This realisation has come with the Low Residency and the MPR. There is much planning and preparation, experimentation and workings out. The projects are ambitious in meaning and in making and I cannot afford to leave things to sort themselves out. I cleared a path but it is yet to be trodden and tested. It is now time to take the next step… and keep writing.
The Mid Point Review is a moment for revision and evaluation of what I have done so far and give some sort of indication as to where I am going. I do not intend for the MPR to be a literal description of how I work but rather a summation of my philosophical approach and how it has developed during this period. I see it more as a document of inspiration, an indication of where I am heading. Five minutes would not be enough to unpack the lineage of the activities, their provenance, let alone the detailed methods, materials and so on, these reside in the blog itself and elsewhere.
A transcript of the video is included below and can also be found here
I started this course asking myself, how I might bring together the disparate areas of my practice.
Previously I had dealt with this concern by accepting the variety and differences between outcomes while focusing on core ideas which I expressed and connected but not necessarily in overt ways.
Since October, I have engaged in a period of research and reflection; evolving and synthesising, deepening roots through a series of sequential stages as well as more intuitive, simultaneous orchestrations of video, photography, drawing, sound, sculpture, illustration and text.
The different means of expression and transformation I employ, affect facets of my practice in different ways addressing interests that lie in the domains of natural and human activity, science and the humanities, domains which are normally separated but which are nonetheless deeply connected.
The blog itself plays a critical role in the elaboration and synthesis of ideas and solutions as well as serving as a document for retrospection.
Each path I take articulates a different way of seeing. I embrace this multiplicity as I do the complexity of human society which in turn I see as a reflection of the natural world.
David Wengrow furnishes an insight into how composite cultural ideas and forms arise from the plurality of evolved societies. As a society becomes increasingly complex, with a multiplicity of world views, religions, writing, trade and so on, the idea of composites such as imaginary creatures and complex works of art proliferates.
An analogy can be made between this cultural phenomenon and nature’s way of ‘experimenting’ with body plans and life strategies in new and changing environments, as it did during the Cambrian explosion about 5 00 million years ago.
Navigating this ecology of ideas where relationships are often assimilated, sublated and hidden behind a chaotic order, I look for correlations between natural and cultural processes and how new rules of engagement emerge and overlay preceding ones.
This emergence happens when thresholds of complexity are crossed. Thresholds such as the origin of life, the emergence of consciousness and now the digital symbiosis that appears to be encroaching on us.
I am particularly interested in the poetic possibilities of cross-fertilising modalities such as the relationship between sound and sculpture and how meaning and nuance in language can be variously disrupted and manipulated.
These are not only responses to and a way of reconciling with what Ted Hughes called ‘the horror of creation’ but also a rejoicing in the wonder of life and existence underwritten by the question, why is there anything at all?
I see an evolutionary universe in which being becomes becoming, impermanence discloses change, and the desire for permanence and stability becomes a quest for understanding the nature of continuity and time.
For now, I envisage the final show as a compendium in which interrelated themes from different domains are expressed as on the connected faces of a solid, looking outwards, yet out of one another’s sight. A whole in which the existence of a continuity of relationships is inferred from a unity of form.
These outcomes are not set but may include: sound and sculpture installations, a series of videos and a graphic book… maybe even a performance.
The idea of inversion of methodology is one example of how I am currently approaching work. Where previously I embedded sound in sculpture from whence it subsequently emanated, now I am looking at ways of collecting externally sourced sounds within a body where they can resonate and sublate into a transformed essence.
The low residency period has been a transformative time for recontextualised reflection away from daily life. It has brought challenges that have facilitated a clarification of questions posed by the many directions which any one work might take.
It has sharpened my awareness of the need to wield clarity and control with as light a touch as is within my grasp, and that context and experience should ebb and flow through the permeability of the self; filtered and selected to allow the beating core of what I do to sound its own rhythm, be the principle impetus. In all this, my relationship with the external world can be taken as a given, I am immersed in it, self evidently unseparated from it.
I look forward to the next fifteen months, always transforming, always evolving, continually finding the vulnerable protean soft body inside an ordered and constrained carapace.
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.
The wet clay leaves a trace, a marker of its passing. All things leave a ripple in the fabric of the universe, gradually sublated into the chaos of complex interactions, inexorably moving towards randomness. But the random is not without pattern; a lack of pattern is a tell-tale sign of order. The patterns we perceive in random systems are unpredictable, truly formless. Those patterns are the conceit of the mind, progeny of the brain, evolved to recognise symmetry… or invent it.
But these traces are not random, they are chaotic, and that is something very different. Photographing and manipulating the image gives rise to a pleasing pattern, something of aesthetic significance but without knowing its provenance, of what value is it? Does value lie in the way it is selected and treated, in perception, context and inferrences? How deliberate must a work be? Is intention the framework around which a work must be built or is there something else at play?
To look at the stain on the floor, the shape of clouds, a flower or bird in flight all delight the mind but is this enough? Maybe, but I feel that transformation of source material is key for something to become art: a metamorphosis into ordered form, the aesthetic; change engendered in the mind, the conceptual. Hand in hand they must walk together as sensation and idea.
The component parts are completed before firing and assembled as evidence of work; each labelled in the mind for an ostensible function that has yet to be thought of. The real underlying reason for its making though, is separate from its illusory presence and is still a secret unfolding: the maquette becoming its own self and not the reason of another.
The guts, its interior are not yet formed, an embryo setting down the matrix from whence its inner working will emerge and the cry of life which is not yet rung. The pieces lie as repertory for a future as though laid in a museum.
My thoughts on it have turned and given rise to other musings.
I have started a new maquette for ‘Oracle’. This is the stage where I start to confront the technical problems of material, making and installation.
‘Forgetting’ the former maquettes I started with a thumbnail sketch of a possible installation that incorporated some of the former arrangements…
..this moved on to a pen and ink rendering which came closer to a 3-dimensional representation of the eventual ceramic piece.
The pieces are maleable and fragile while the clay is wet. When fired they will be fixed in their final form. One of the challenges is maintaining the fluid, organic nature of the forms as they dry and harden; how to relate one piece to the others while the clay is wet and translating this to the fired forms.
The forms leave their traces as I move them creating a drawn presence, a graphic imprint of their passing.
How they relate to words spoken is the challenge. And I must also make a support frame.
The maquette is approximately 1:3 with the final piece standing around 2.4 metres not including support framework.
This experiment on video follows from a previous trial video. I was interested to explore further the idea of lineage lost in time and distance by loss of resolution. I also wanted to increase the distance of travel of the line and so used chalk and large blackboard surfaces. I consider this video to be a failure and a success.
It is a failure because the form does not really say anything of itself. Wanting to see what would happen when using chalk on blackboard as a way of using a larger surface and reversing tonalities, the sense of line is lost by virtue of the thickness of line and therefore its loss of sharpness and resolution with distance. In addition, the lack of aesthetic consideration with this doodle also led to a meaningless design which does, however, contain some useful information encoded in its making.
But what does this experiment tell me?
The action encodes ideas that extend the first trial video and suggests further work. It also synthesises ideas I have talked about previously, notions of repeating patterns through time and how it is difficult to discern the nature of the reiterations.
The line itself become irrelevant as a device for demonstrating the loss of clarity with distance. However, it does connect the far with the near. The pattern drawn near the camera is arbitrary (and therein lies one of the problems with the experiment, lack of meaningful content). But it is largely discernible even though most is out of focus. It is like looking at the near past. When the distal pattern is drawn, I can only see the broad movements similar to the proximal drawing but the details of the pattern remain undisclosed and the broad nature of the pattern is a matter of inference. Lines connect the distal with the proximal, this is mere metaphor.
When the whole design is seen at the end of the video, the sense of repeating patterns becomes evident. The distal pattern is a simple version of the proximal one. This is a metaphor for looking for patterns over time. There are clear correspondences in the forces that shape one period and another. Only that the further back in time one goes, the less certain one can be of the shape of things and what is putatively known can only be partially inferred from evidence. However, such evidence and inferences lead one to believe that things in the past bear a close relationship to the present. Perhaps not so complicatedly, as in the drawing.
This exercise is a metaphorical, or analogous, demonstration. I do not consider it as an artwork but rather a thought experiment documented.
What to do next? I will return to the Rotring pen line which is less expressive, more precise and therefore able to convey more accurately and dispassionately that which I wish to imply. That resolution of form is lost with distance and time. The technical remedy to the extension of the line into the distance can be achieved using larger paper. Making these changes I think will raise the aesthetic element sufficiently to make a passably interesting film. In short, it needs more curation.
I am also thinking of doing something similar with text, words change over time, meanings alter making hermeneutic methodology difficult to manage. The same could be done with symbols and pictograms. This is not taking me away from my major work but rather creating a conceptual underpinning and contributing to ideas for the Oracle, Shrine and Mythopoeia.
In summary, I feel that the conceptual framework needs to be supported by an affecting aesthetic work. To work purely conceptually may be interesting, fascinating and absorbing in its own right but it does leave me with a sense of depression and sterility as creative work. A work made purely from the head with no heart or guts leaves me feeling incomplete and dissatisfied. That is because the vehicle conveying the idea is not felt but only thought and after all, the artist that I am, I cannot work purely from the head. But such an experiment does lead me to finding new contributions to a conceptual framework without necessarily considering aesthetics, that can be absorbed into my practice.
Today’s Skype chat and discussion of Lev Manovich’s essay was a timely event in view of the ideas I have been working on lately offering a way of placing them in the contemporary environment.
The final restored Graven Image. One of a series of contingent caprices foretelling the shadow world that follows. A world that encompasses some of what I talked about in the last tutorial with Jonathan; contingent because their restoration and rebirth arose out of an unpredictable and calamitous event that in part, catalysed the shadow world.
What am I doing here? I am experimenting much as early civilisations onwards experimented with composite creatures: an exploration of the imagination facilitated by the social juxtaposition of different life strategies in one concentrated space. Caprices, perhaps not, rather an expression of a deep seated modularity found in religion, science fiction, and myth. Here the myth is both biological and psychological; how could it be otherwise.
Images taken on the East Coast of England. I took them without people. This was a deliberate choice: focussing on formal elements and wanting to give a sense of isolation both geographically and socially. The locations are both Skegness and Cleethorpes off-season, East England coastal holiday towns that have seen better times. As I was doing this, it came to me that removing the people does not remove the human element. What it does is it turns the immediately anthropological to a latent archaeology. What I mean by this is simply that, anthropology is the study of living populations, archaeology the study of what is left after they are no longer present. Both fields try to throw light on how people behave and the causes for that behaviour. The pictures give me the sense of something that has been left behind with the potential to form a future archaeology even if only in images.
I was struck by this relationship between what is present and what is gone while focussing on the structures and environment: the correspondences between the visitors, the infrastructure and their respective purposes and their provenances. The two seaside resorts were built up as holiday destinations for the workers of the industrial Midlands and South Yorkshire. They are places of fun and relaxation yet, the very structures that were built to fulfil this functions reflect the machinery and structures of heavy and manufacturing industries: steel, coal, mechanised production lines in the rows and rows of penny arcades, roller coasters and helter skelters, ferris wheels and paddle boats, Even the restaurants and cafe’s are reminiscent of factory canteens. This is the industrialisation of leisure that followed the rise of the urban industrial society and catalysed by the mass transport of the railways in the C19th. Productive industry was directed to leisure using the same tools and knowhow.
It is ironic that as such industries have declined over the decades, so too have the resort towns; and what were once bustling rail links have either disappeared, in the case of Skegness, or reduced to light traffic to Cleethorpes. The infrastructures of leisure and fun, entertainment and distraction engender in me a sense of an almost lost civilisation: settlements reduced largely as refuges for the less fortunate pushed to the margins of society and day trippers often intent on doing what they would not do elsewhere.
I know this seems a bleak view of the areas but they do possess a poignant beauty rich in life where the sea meets the land, the future the past, and an indomitable desire to create a fantasy land still persists in the midst of struggle. And facing all this, growing legions of wind turbines, sentinels of new technology and power generation; replacing the old… at a distance both physical and metaphorical.
The projection of one dimension onto another, limits the information transmitted creating imaginative possibilities from the cast shadows.
Following our Skype chat on Tuesday, which I have yet to comment on, I thought again why I am wary of sole reliance on digital means for my practice as artist. We discussed control and it is this that engenders a will not ro surrender to the seduction of the computer. I work with analogue, organic, mechanical source material which may or may not be transformed, projected, presented, manipulated digitally. The key here is that the source material is primarily non-digital with the exception of source material directly generated using raw digital quantities, parameters and algorithms rather than simulations of analogue sources. I do not want the aesthetics of what I do to be dictated by a coder, programmer or company that has little or no concern for what I do. To surrender myself to the seductive facilitation that digital programmes bring to create source material, is to hand my imagination to another unconnected individual or set of individuals and loose self actualisation and independence. There are of course exceptions to this but awareness of the process into which one immerses oneself is paramount. I feel that a great deal of digital output is primarily there to enhance the experience of the receiver in ways that verge on, if not fully realised, entertainment and sensationalism. Perhaps this applies more to the so called ‘creative industries’, but the boundaries in this regard are constantly being blurred.
Having said this, I still use digital technology to work with as a tool, a wonderful tool, and in a few cases as a source material but not as a means of creating art. Photoshop and digital cameras, 3D rendering and sound editors are tools used when working in mediums, I do not treat them as mediums I their own right. There are exceptions where work arises out of a given technology offering a new means of presenting, or the work arises out of the ‘material’ of the technology.
In the end it is not about whether something is valid or not as art, that would be crass. The point is that I do not want to be controlled by this tools and what they can do. That is why it is important for artists to question, challenge and use digital technology as a tool for making art, imposing their imagination on the machines, to extend limits and set boundaries while individualising the process. After all, there is a difference in the way the artist and the receiver use their respective imaginations.
The question of control is pertinent to the video I am currently working on. It follows from post-truth-hurtling whose source material was natural and contingent. The outcome was subject to a number of atmospheric and seasonal factors which were beyond my control and which I had to seize in that moment. In order to be able to continue and elaborate on this methodology, I have had to devise ways of recreating the conditions in the studio. Only this way could I build on what was started then. I am experimenting with surfaces, objects, light sources, different ways of creating wave interference, narratives and so on. It is a fascinating journey which also brings in sound, text and other mediums. The essence is that I can control ephemeral events and phenomena, control materials and recording means, control methods while letting go of control of outcome and let the process guide me, let the process feed my imagination, let the process bring things together and create new avenues to explore, let the process create meaning. I am in control and so is the process. What it boils down to is that I need to be aware of what I am doing and why but not force the agenda. I have enough experience behind me for meaning to arise from whatever emerges during the process. It is a two way dialogue, a dialectic, a heuristic process, abductive, inductive and deductive, intuitive and rational, it is all things in one.
A corollary arising out of the previous post on ƒ(u) ∼ dt u, this is an abstract musing in the tradition of many popular science abstractions. One such imaginative piece of writing,Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott Abbott (1884), came to my attention many years ago. A satirical novella set in a world with only two dimensions.
Your are looking down a cosmic microscope where an infinitesimal point fills your field of vision. Sight becomes infinitely resolved.
A. Imagine a dot, an infinitesimal point in three-dimensional space and time does not exist.
Now imagine this point repeated infinitely so each point touches the next along a single axis. The point is now a line.
At any point in space, the line will appear as a single point. You cannot see the line because time does not exist and therefore you cannot move from one point to the next.
B. Now imagine an infinitessimal point in time without spatial dimensions.
The point is now extended in time to form a line.
Remembering there is no space, you cannot perceive the timeline, only a point in time.
C. Now take a point in a world where space and time exist together. Extend it to form a line. You can now see the line because it extends both in time and space. You are able to move through both space and time simultaneously. You can now perceive the line as a continuum of infinitesimal points extending in space and moving through time.
This thought experiment has many caveats and appears reductive: an infinitesimal point seems counterintuitive as does a dimension devoid of physical extensions with only time as a parameter and conversely a space without time. In addition, a line itself without thickness or breadth, only length is also a pure abstraction. The whole thing is counterintuitive. These things are hard to imagine and can only be spoken of in metaphor or using mathematics because to our brains that are seated and immersed in a spacetime world these things do not make sense in view of experience. Experience tells us that it cannot be so. We are made and exist in this world. Our perceptions and minds have been formed as fractals or reflections of ‘real world’ phenomena and the laws that govern it. Such things cannot exist in our Universe.
My simplistic thought experiment is a way of imagining space and time as inextricably linked to form the conceptual fabric containing all becoming, existence and change in our universe. Strip one from the other, and the impossibility to experience existence becomes self evident. This was one of Einstein’s insights following on from Maxwell.
Add another spatial dimension and we enter a world which is alien and again counterintuitive. We can only construct projected shadows cast from such a world onto ours by the imaginative means of strange solid forms. Likewise, our-world solid objects project shadows onto flat surfaces, as an infinitesimal slice of the object that projected it. An idea Abbott made use of in Flatland with the passing sphere.
We have no problem in perceiving and conceiving of shadows as projections of a higher (our) dimension because they exist in a world of lower order than ours and one in which we experience shadows everyday. However, when confronted with a world containing more than three linear dimensions it becomes impossible to imagine such a world and we make recourse to geometric shadows in the form of strange solids and mathematical means to describe them. It is only possible to hint at what a world with four spatial dimensions might be like using animations. It is indeed a strange world.
When I think of my work in three dimensions, I perceive it in time too as my mind traces the surfaces and contours. When I see shadows projected by the work, I see something else, a journey through space riding on beams of light and reforming the world. A world that exist in three dimensions at a subatomic level, but appears flat, in two dimensions. I then recreate that universe in my mind to one that is congruent with an intuitive mind formed in this universe of spacetime.
Looking into the past and future is also a work of shadows: shadows of ideas and events that do not fully form into rounded experience but play themselves on the screen of the mind as words, pictures and imputed movement.
We all notice the little things, even the mouse hidden under the scaffolding for Anne Boleyn’s execution has a story. The bruise on my thumb also has a story, drawing the eye to its notice. Of what relevance is this to the main narrative? Who can say, but it is part of the world and to someone as, if not more important; perhaps someone who has just done the same thing.
Was there a mouse under the scaffold? Who knows, but I am certain of the events that led to the bruise, can you be? The further one’s mind goes into the past, the more uncertain the truth of events. With the passing of time, accuracy of narrative diminishes and the latitude for the imagination increases. What happens in the past is always an imagining in the present; a speculation based on facts gleaned in the present. The past is a story of broken pieces tenuously joined in rapidly fading light.
Likewise, the present is connected in space and so often certainty in concurrent events are subject to distance. Communication technologies attempt to alter this trend but the veracity of remote news is subject to a large variety of factors. Generally speaking. distance increases the sense of uncertainty regarding an event, in its causality and sequence. This is something that affects us in the everyday. Space, distance and time are great arbiters of fear and hope. Am I talking here about control, or the illusion of control?
The future is also subject to a similar relationship only that there are no pieces to put together, only inferences which are subject to contingency and based on probability. It becomes a matter of approximating as best one can the chances of an imagined or inferred narrative coming about. There is also no past narrative presented for verification, only precedence. Does history repeat itself? 1
I am interested both in the deep past and the future, areas of thought that stimulate the imagination; prehistory, ancient history, science fiction deal with these areas. The closer one comes to the present moment the greater the burden of responsibility for its consequence. An understanding and critical view of history and honest informed political planning are perhaps the two greatest factors in determining how the world develops from now. These are the two things hardest to influence, because they are subject to strong emotions, biases and misunderstanding which affect events today and in the future.
This is an idea I have touched on in previous posts. [↩]
I came across this rather irreverent table yesterday. It is aimed at the authors of science papers but I think it can equally apply to the arts if clear thinking is considered a desirable thing in this field. I can say that I have been guilty of writing bullshit at times. That is why I constantly need to remind myself against doing so. When writing I ask myself a number of questions:
Do I understand what I am dealing with?
Do I have the means by which to speak of it?
Am I aware of the holes and caveats in my own argument?
Am I using a fallacy to support an argument? For example, begging the question; when the conclusion is used as the premise, all too easily done.
Am I trying to be objective or subjective? Which ever might be the case, I need to make clear my stand point; observation and opinion are two very different things.
But, I must also remember that I should not be afraid to make mistakes, take risks and make intuitive leaps. The absurd can be a useful tool to highlight an issue.
The logical, the heuristic and the intuitive may seem at odds here, and on the surface they often are. However, artistic practice is far more complex a process for one to be constrained to rules adhering to a particular paradigm. Like the whole of life itself, to question is to remain open and live to the world, and one’s art practice is a personal reflection of the world lived. Being an artist, particularly today, provides one with the privilege of stating the speculative, imaginative, daring and singular, the uncomfortable truth and the lie, promote change and be dangerous or liberating, perhaps at one and the same time. It is about making a personal statement that if sincerely and honestly stated, being authentic, it is possible to make a wider statement that speaks for and to more than one person and is communicable. I can only deal with a small area of a vast world case. To attempt otherwise would be to assume that one can understand the entirety of things.
I try not to obfuscate in my writing although at times, for the sake of brevity I must make assumptions and express myself in a form of shorthand which may need unpacking: a necessary avoidance of overly long posts at the expense of time spent making. Returning to the original point about writing, I think it apt to finish with this cartoon that makes the point in a humorous way:
Stand the monologue on its head and one comes nearer to the truth.
I now have to be careful to live by this…
…and take risks at the same time.
So long as I am aware of what I am doing I hope to avoid unintentional bullshit.