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.
It has finally arrived, a beautiful collection of poetry. A few weeks ago, as is my habit, I woke up during the night and settled to listen to the radio. BBC 4 Extra was playing a programme about the life and works of Rebecca Elson. A cosmologist, equally known for her poetry who died tragically young. She wrote about life with as much insight as her work as a physicist. Her latter writings deal with her imminent death in an inspiring fusion of fact and vision. I was enthralled.
Elson brought science and art together in a way seldom done. When the two branches of knowledge come together, not as appropriation, comment or illustration but to speak in a single language of experience, empirical fact and authentic metaphor, something powerful is unleashed capable of prising open this world to reveal others as nestled together, ready to be felt and understood as though they were here. Ted Hughes does something similar but from a darker interior, a biblical horror as opposed to a cosmological creation. The beauty of both poets lies in the merger of nature and culture, with an insight and ability to move from the very small to the unimaginably large, to show the connectedness of all things and that existence is something greater than us.
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…
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 often talk about origins: the imagination lights the journey into the past and the future stretches out ahead visible by the same light. Each one of us searches for a story of origin. The sense of continuity that we build for ourselves is perhaps a way of constructing a little piece of immortality, connecting us to the eternity that preceded our birth and what is to come. I say this in the plural voice, there is safety in numbers or so they say but it could equally be said in the first person.
Although these stories are raised to the status of myths and have the power to change the very nature of time, they all too often remain buried under accumulating layers of daily life… but such stories continue to bubble deep beneath the crust that surrounds the self.
The group tutorial was led with a light touch by former student Andrew Fairley. This allowed us to navigate one another’s practice openly. My presentation, based on the blog journal, allowed me to summarise what I have done during the course period in the context of my previous work.
Pav asked me what challenge, what question am I posing with my work? This question that can be opened out in many ways. For some, it is a simple case of stating concerns regarding an issue of social or cultural significance, for others it may be a technical or philosophical matter about their practice. However, I feel that it is important to allow the receiver to infer from what I present and do, any questions or challenges that they might see in the work. It is not for me to impose the questions I pose myself onto their contextual standpoint. Of course I have my own questions and challenges, they are in this sense a framework around which my practice is built. However, at the moment of presenting I am more concerned with what the response might be.
Nevertheless, what I do feel important is, to give the receiver some sort of lead as to the provenance of the synthesis embodied in the work in the form of some text or conversation. Enigmatic presentations are all well and good in engendering debate, but they can also risk work being dismissed or, perhaps less importantly, deeply misunderstood. Minimalist works are especially susceptible to this as are conceptual works, particularly in the case of the latter if they are no aesthetically engaging. With more complex works, the obvious tensions and relationships between parts of a given work can furnish plenty of cues for conversation and polemics.
In the past, my work has succeeded in transmitting much of its content and given rise to much else without my having to give much of an explanation. But the nature of the affect is very much dependent on what the receiver brings: this is true conversation, an exchange of ideas, experience and perception. I find that people react very differently, from fascination and delight to repulsion and unease; they may wonder at the making process or pass it by and react to associations and allusions. All these response feedback directions and insights that help inform how I might go about things subsequently. But above all they give me a sense of external context.
I feel that all too often challenges and disruptions can become vehicles for some sort of power play. I feel that responses and reactions to life’s vicissitudes are important, no essential, but I also seek a balance between what is in my nature and how I navigate the social world. I am not about power play, if authentic an artwork should have a power from within to speak out in its own way. And whether this matches some current political issue or not is a matter of chance.
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?
The following blogs are a brief and partial record of the two week residency during February 2o19. I write this anachronistically after three days before I post about the first day. I am also doing so because I am tired and it is perhaps a good way of getting the ball rolling and keeping memories fresh for recall later.
How wonderful to meet the online students with whom I have been conversing over the last five months. On our first meeting, it was as though we have known one another for a long time. There was no awkwardness only excitement for the days that were to follow. All I can say is that I feel that life-long friendships are being formed and today we decided to continue our skype conversations after the end of the course in eighteen months time.
We label all the time. Here I have labelled finishes to terracotta surfaces. Labels, however, are far from superficial, they are at the root of our construction of the world. A label is much more than a name for something. Labels are one of the principle building blocks with which we build a relationship with the world and communicate with others. A word is more than its phonemes, a symbol more than its shapes and lines.
When humans reached the threshold of speech, they recreated the world; in thought and speech; separating us from the other; creating boundaries that can be passed on. In the beginning was the word, logos, knowledge. The word is the fruit from the tree at the centre of that mythical garden from whence we emerged. A place lost in our memories forever hidden by the labyrinth of life, a life spent trying to find the way back.
The word sets roots in the mind and like a garden flourishes or casts its poisonous shadow across the soul. The word made flesh, the symbol, the picture, the letter and grammar, are abstract entities given material resonance in poetry, then literature and mathematics. The word cries out meaning, ‘I…. you’.
The word separates the world from us and brings it closer, it says goodbye to the animal met in the womb. The infant, whole, cleaves to the world the new mother that kicks you in the teeth and holds you up to the sun and gives you warmth. The word is inside us and out there where it shapes our destiny. It is what says ‘I’ and ‘you’ and ‘we’ and ‘they’ encompassing the world or shattering it into confusion.
And when all has been said and done, the word is all, the word is death, the word is life and all in between. In the beginning was the word and in the end silence.
You divide me, so that I might know which way is light and when to face away. You give me one side and so another that I might know which way to turn and with this gift: a centre for the back and forth, a dim picture of the world so smell and distance no longer the only place where I am and I am hollow: forced to follow hunger for the other and that drives and bestows dull fear that moves me to and fro along the edge. I pierce the horizon and still must eat and hide but as a growing pain that weighs on my breath, pushes from outside my skin, I leave my mother’s liquid, sprout and walk about, deeper into different worlds and lift above and shovel earth yet this journey that has no end; always changing and with this change a distant sense of wanting always with me takes another’s shape, now warm, with me rejoining that which cleaved before me long ago and as it does so my sight turns inwards. Inside the world shapes new forms, and places I cannot see or touch but know that they are there. I feel the cold and heat and sweat and become knowing of a fear that no longer makes me run but ask for reason. Yet I continue, tear and gnaw, be ripped apart in turn until I grasp that stone or stick or clench my fist and strike with all my life imbued over countless ages, countless times, and scream and shout. And in that moment call and word is formed together with the why as I see my neighbour die. And now I make, and history with it on walls and rocks and trees to tell of my death and how my birth was done, and the reason why, we all must die.
The moon broke free last night. Leaving the earth she hurtled towards the sun leaving pieces of her behind as trees reached out to pull her back by her wake and got their fingers scorched by the sun who gloated, and sunk behind a blackened horizon. Finding herself free of all things, the moon lost interest and decided to drift, like a lover, content with her waxing belly, as men sent shiny rockets full of tiny people vertically, past the trees and past the moon, their roars swallowed by the immense distance, turned to comets. The earth in its shyness turned over and waited for the grubs to wake the soil.
Studies: graphite on paper, 316 x 237 mm. From the maquette
Not everything has to have a reason. As I work, an internal dialogue continually debates, interrogates, plays the devil’s advocate: what is this for, is this more effective, where will you go from here? At times I need to cover my ears from these voices that stop me from travelling to, I do not know where. The place does not matter in the doing, but here lies the rub, how do I mark the path by which I have sleep-walked to this clearing in the fog of work? Experience follows me on the trail to a new place, it is she that leaves the marks on the walls of the maze I have wandered into. The journey made familiar, I can follow my way back without minding the why. I need to find my way back, because I cannot stay where I am and sometime I might want to return.
Not everything has to have a reason. Only on the return journey might I encounter the why of something I did. Moments after, or years, unencumbered by thoughts of purpose, ideas that once were awkward come together and show me a different place, the significance of peculiar details. Details in a myth built from once cloven thoughts rejoined. These maquettes are such confections, wrought to be returned to dust, their image grasped with camera and pencil as they dry and crack and crumble before me, they become the memory that builds the life of the idea. Accreting to one another their weight is felt inside me, and the work is done under their gravity, reflection having been done so that feeling and understanding cause the motion and my mind moves to the next place I do not know where or for what reason.
My first tutorial with Jonathan was a far ranging exploration of my practice and how to develop ideas currently in formation. It has taken me a while to assimilate the conversation and for the sake of my own clarity I have limited myself to the main points. I can see a framework starting to form that I can return to time and again.
Jonathan’s key questions are paraphrased in italics.
1. Blog Journal: Role of
Writing the blog journal is emerging as an important element in my practice. It is possibly the sought for connective tissue between the different parts of my practice that I had mentioned at the start of the course. In the few weeks that have passed, the writing of posts has become less laboured and easier even though I have to focus on the content just as much.
Is this role for the writing due to the contrast between words and images or objects?.
I think that words are a good way of organising thoughts and ideas. Images and objects function in different ways. Words are regulated by syntax and grammar which enable complex ideas to be formed. I try to avoid jargon because I feel that when I do so, there may be an element of trying to cover up the fact that I do not fully understand what I am talking about. I have to scrutinise my thoughts and feelings and why I want to put them across and how. This process can lead to a clarity not possible with images and objects alone. These are more open to ambivalence and ambiguity.
Is that clarity for yourself or for another reader?
I always have a reader in mind. This is helping me to develop a voice which in turn allows writing to flow more easily. The voice can vary depending on the purpose of the writing. The reader I address takes two forms: an imaginary person and myself. Knowing that someone will probably read this during the MA, earths that imagined reader into a live entity and focuses my thoughts on clarity and above all authenticity. A problem, however, that has arisen out of this facilitated writing is the growing amount I want to put down in words. Additionally, writing for an audience has also brought in the possibility of publishing which adds another level of responsibility in terms of clarity, interest and authenticity.
Do you feel you have to strike a balance between writing and making or are the two more integrated?
I do make a distinction between the two process: writing is more analytical whereas making is more felt. However, by working in both modes I find they support and inform one another rather than being at odds. They function at different levels of affect and meaning in a reciprocal rather than reductive or divisive relationship. This runs counter to what I had initially thought might be the case.
With a clearly defined practice what do you hope the process will bring to it?
What are your plans or dreams assuming you have those if not, what do you hope will happen?
I am still opened minded about this aspect of the course. More so than when I started. I thought I had all the works lined up and I could envisage the final show. I am not so certain now. Ideas are in constant flux and open to change. My current aim is for a collection of works that are bound together by an overt and or covert idea. For me the work itself is very important it has to stand on its own unsupported by text and explications. [In retrospect I could have answered in terms of galleries, further research, exhibitions, but for now I am living in the present with the work.]
How do you measure whether it stands on its own?
I would evaluate this in two ways: how am I and others affected and what inferences are made from it?
I would consider holistically how skilfully ideas, aesthetic considerations and the craft of handling the medium are embedded in the work’s making. How these elements are brought together and how effectively the ‘message(s)’ is encoded in the work. Each medium uses a different coded language which is expressed in a particular way. I look at how effective this coding is used in communicating without explication, how this unfolds and how it differs from when an explication is offered. The difference would be interesting and can point to how successful the work is in fulfilling my aims.
I am becoming more interested in the politics of the work. Not so much as issues but rather in terms of existential concerns: the individual and the collective. The dynamics of both are very different. Politics tends to address the individual as part of a collective and disregards the sense of self other than as part of the group. This interest in human behaviour has brought me to consider an element of performance in my practice.
3. Proposed Projects
We discussed projects I have in mind, primarily two performance ideas and three installation based works. I see some of the ideas as thought experiments and Jonathan encouraged me to consider these as more than such. They are workable and could give rise to interesting and unexpected outcomes. I shall write more at length about these projects in the future. For now, I shall outline the salient points that were discussed for each one.
a) Scripted work involving video on what reality means in a digital environment. The work requires very precise timing, rehearsal and scripting. I thought that three levels of depth involving two screens and myself were the limit of what could be done. Jonathan suggested that if this were extended, the chaos that would ensue beyond the control of the script writer / artist yielding interesting results would be both intriguing and pertinent.
b) Axis Mundi uses my physicality and sense of self in a ritual that involves maintaining a centeredness involving inertia, gravity and movement. It touches on ideas initiated by Poincare’s double pendulum. Two points arose from this conversation. The first regarding the reversal of point of view from the axis rod using a camera so that rather than my movement being evident, I appear and remain fixed while the world is in motion around me. This introduces two diametrically opposed view points of the same process. Secondly, what is the meaning of making the axis in bronze other than its weight and long making? We discussed the ritual implication of casting in bronze and a further subsequent conversation with Janet suggested that the lengthy process of casting in bronze itself is a ritual and part of the inertia of the work. What emerged was that there are many levels of meaning to uncover in the process which can all go towards making the work.
We also discussed: c) Sculpture Waiting for Meaning or Shrine, d) Oracle, and e) Shadows. Jonathan pointed me to MAX MSP at cycling74.com as a way of real time processing sound for these projects which does not require coding but rather works as visual language programming. With regards to d) Oracle, Jonathan suggested that the final incoherent sound could then be fed into a translator or interpreter which would then try to make sense of the sound and it would be interesting to see what words would be formed from this. c) also brought to mind Plato’s cave are we talked about the merits and negative impact of Plato’s philosophy on the world over the past two thousand years.
These ideas will no doubt change as the process of bringing them into being affects the ongoing outcomes. This relationship between process and outcome is analogous to that of observer and observed.
4. On Motivation
Considering all the different ideas, what motivates you most out of all of them?
I had to think long and hard about this. I do not have a single overriding motivation in terms of the different ideas. The works all have different motivations. I have to break the answer down into principal and secondary motivations. Firstly, I am motivated by building a world, a place I can inhabit both actively and in the imagination and in so doing hope to interest others. I do need feedback but it is not my prime motivation, this is to make: I am compelled to do. Other motivations or rather impetuses, are derived from this. Affecting people, dialogue, admiration, shock, comment are derivatives. The point is that if there were to be no audience, I would still do what I do. To have feedback, an audience, is important and there is nothing like the joy of making a connection with someone else but in the end it is an impetus that comes from within and not externally located that has set things in motion. I am imprisoned by it.
Do you feel imprisoned by the work you have done so far, do you feel that is part of the world you have created?
I think so. The work overrides everyday matters to some extent. I started with the hubris of youth wanting to conquer the world, make money, be admired but I soon saw what that does to other artists. It alters the person and what they do and not always for the better. So many artists what they really want to do is go off and paint or make in some way: to have a primal connection with what they do. I do not feel so much imprisoned by but rather contained within an internal world. As an afterthought, I have always been interested in containers, boxes… could this have something to do with the sense of self imposed imprisonment, of trying to control the internal environment, order, or is it more to do with maintaining an axis mundi, keeping the self close by?
Jonathan encouraged me to work on all the projects even if only to the maquette stage not worrying too much about the finish. I guess it is about keeping a momentum and not getting entangled in the problems of achieving a perfect result. I shall certainly follow this through bearing in mind that the more I look at the overall shape of things, the details will resolve themselves as the process moves along.
The tutorial has given me both an overall direction in this new exploration and some detailed analysis of my work and practice. At the start of term I had prepared a Project Proposal. It was vague and open for which I am glad because it can accommodate being altered and brought more into focus with what I am doing. In fact, its flexibility now comes into play as a living document that can evolve and adapt.
5. What to do Now
The tutorial has helped clarify where I am currently. I can now plan more effectively for experimentation, research and development. Reflection on and in process can also be more relevant. I can now return to the tabula rasa and start using it as a palimpsest rather than have it sitting in the studio accusingly posing the question, what did you make me for?
Short Term Outline plan:
develop Project Proposal;
work on maquettes;
research MAX MSP;
develop writing skills – registering for Iowa University International Writing Programme MOOC ‘Writing and the Natural World’;
Note to self – watch the video again, before reading once more what I have written. This is not a regurgitant of content, it is a spontaneous assimilation awaiting future reflection. So watch the video from time to time even if I think I already know what it says. www.bitly.com/MA-youtube2018-19
This lecture is an excellent exposition on methodology and how not to suffocate with dogma, prejudice, lack of direction, inappropriate and imposed expectations: to be all you can be as an individual amongst individuals. But to have it so clearly and concisely laid out belies the time and thought that has gone into such a simple explication. It brings together complex aspects of creative thinking without even touching the medium used or the work itself. This deft handling of practice methodology leaves matters open and flexible. It is not a prescriptive way or approach but a practical philosophy based on experience, knowledge and research. I feel very at home with the ideas and to have them put across in such a clear and simple way helps me identify where and how I can improve on my thinking or better said, how I can avoid wrong thinking.
But avoiding wrong thinking is not the same as avoiding mistakes. Mistakes are part of the learning process and the finessing of a craft. It is necessary to make a mistake to know what not to do. This may appear counterintuitive but to aim for the ‘right’ or correct thing, to have a set paradigm, often leads to wrong thinking. Wrong thinking starts out as knowing exactly where it is going and as it starts to loose its way, asserts its stance with greater force, but it is only heading towards a mirage. This is a cycle in which learning is reduced and can only lead to frustration. Mastery is the removing of veils, it is a reduction to the core of something. It is not about making it right but avoiding mistakes once made: knowing what not to do.
I have often wondered what action research is. It is the everyday process that an artist engages in. It is to focus from within what is being done regardless of the esternal world. Perhaps this is what is meant by the much abused term, art for art’s sake. It is a cyclical process that never ends, where learning never ends, and that is exciting.
Reflecting on reflection: at the start of these two years, three weeks ago, I stated in my first Project Proposal draft, that I was looking for the connective tissue in my practice. What is starting to appear is a picture where writing links the various means and outcomes I am involved in. This journal is beginning to create a framework. I have so many things to write about in relation to my practice, ideas, experiences. I am excited to see how the framework emerges, a body constructed with the elements of my practice acting as organs, limbs and manifestations of the whole. After all, what Jonathan talks about in the lecture is about knitting together a holistic dynamic process of integration, accretion, assimilation, and making it your own. Where this might lead is an open question that will only be resolved later along the course of these two years; even then the process does not end but starts, again. It is not something that cannot be hurried, only intensified.
Jonathan also talks about the idea of reflection on and in-action. To reflect in-action is so much easier if you are already practiced at what you are reflecting on. When learning something new, I aim to understand, then do and finally, usually after a pause during which assimilation takes place, I can fully immerse myself in the activity so that I can step outside the doing while being in the action and reflect as it is done. This process is one of detachment and integration at one and the same time. I become one with what I do and also aim to be able to explain what is being done. That is why simplicity is essential. If the matter in hand is made complicated or appears complicated (makes no difference), reflection in-action becomes thwarted. This is why practice is so important. Practice makes something ‘automatic’. However, there is something about practice that is little understood. Practice does not of itself make perfect. Practice makes permanent. That is the reason why it is more important to know and focus on what not to do rather than on striving towards a paradigm.
[I have to say that since I started this journal, writing has become easier and each piece of writing takes less labour. But I still have to focus equally; it is just that it comes more easily and takes less time.]
Jonathan’s list of what to keep a record of in the blog journal is worth revisiting regularly:
successes and failures
issues you are dealing with
The lecture also covers the difference between art and science research. Science is what I started with. I loved the themes and ideas but to have done research was not for me. Science is a victim of its own success. It is constrained by the scientific method. This can be summarised as the need for repeatability, falsification and personal detachment. It is the antithesis of artistic practice which emphasises individuality, uniqueness (which is very different to originality) and verification. Scientific ideas are universal, open to appropriation and waiting to be shown as false. Art is personal and subjective, it is also universal.
I am a metaphorical being seeing the world and explaining it in terms of labels: that is how language works. Language is the basis for reasoned thought. Whereas science looks to tropes as ways of explaining and understanding but always with caveats, art embraces metaphor and other tropes as means of opening out to nuance and subjective communication and of asking questions. I wanted to be nuanced and have the possibility of portraying ambivalence and ambiguity in my work, speculate and imagine. That is why I did not continue with science. I still attempt to be logical but not as a reductive, deductive mechanism for inference. The logic of what I do is often hidden in the weave and texture of the work and reflection is part of teasing it out and making it more apparent to myself, to start with. This is a principle aim of my MA research. It is a matter of constructing a valid argument but not necessarily a sound one. The reason for a sound argument not being desirable or even possible lies in the very way art practice evolves. By every definition that contains humanity at its core, art is subjective. A non-false premise, for that is what a sound logical argument must have, need be objective. Therein lies the point of potential conflict in any artistic discussion. Validity and soundness of argument are two very different things. To believe in the soundness of an artistic argument is a false notion and requires as back up falling into dogma and faith, something that an artist might well have difficulty in contending with if they are to maintain openness and follow a holistic approach.
An interesting proposal nearing the end of the lecture was that science leads to no change in the world whereas art does. This opens up a whole new and long discussion but I would like to finish off by reminding myself that science is not technology. Science is about finding explanations for how the world is. Technology applies these but it also applies social, economic and other non-science based ideas. Technos comes from the word techne which although closely related to the meaning of episteme (knowledge and understanding), it emphasises active application of knowledge. Whereas science is about understanding, technology is about applying understanding. Both techne and ars refer more to human activity than disembodied knowledge. Note that this disembodiment of knowledge becomes a universal idea that can be appropriated by anyone whereas technology and art very much bear the stamp of authorship. This is embodied in the concept of copyright, you can copyright a means of doing something and an artwork but you cannot copyright an idea.
The second chat session took the form of a series of short presentations each followed by a brief discussion. How then to go about the task of summing up what happened? I feel that to review each presentation would only serve to reiterate what has been said. I do not want to go into details of content but focus on a synthesis, albeit subjective, of what brings the grouping together in terms of ideas.
Matt Fratson’s interests lie in the passing of time as a resource to be mined in an attempt to retrieve that which has been lost both physically and psychologically. He is very much located in the personal both in terms of geography and community; questioning his time and the place he is in as a function of the past.
Aristotle Roufanis poses questions regarding the individual in a brutal urban environment in a world that might not be so. His observations shift the interrogation from his own personal subjectivity onto the receiver of the work. The strong inference of isolation raises questions regarding the urban architectural environment which is in itself treated ambivalently as both an aesthetic construct and an antithesis to nature.
I came third and following the theme of interrogatives, I am questioning the universe and our place in it as individuals. Contingency and uncertainty mould our behaviours as we live, the product of one and in the other. In the latter case, uncertainty reconciled with the reconstruction of the past as a series of myths that inform our view of the future.
Michelle Wright looks at the community in terms of the other and othering. Political in nature, her work questions the processes and behaviours that arise out of power imbalances between and within communities. We are invited to identify with the subjects and at the same time be observers and agents.
Axash looks at how worlds are constructed into myths and whether the same might apply to narratives built within digital environments. His practice is an open question as to how to begin a process of myth-making embedded in the materiality of his subjects.
Finally Pav Szymanski questions himself and his position in an unequal world. The inequalities that exist and how he can reconcile himself with these. His research is firmly placed in the future. A future whose uncertainty is at the root of his search for some sort of reconciliation.
What comes out of this incomplete and somewhat imperfect summary and this may sound trite, is that time and place, the contingency of circumstance informs the sense of oneself and of others. The interest in what resources one has at one’s disposal is a feeling undoubtedly fostered by a world where travel is easy for some, information overflows our time constraints, entertainment infuses our lives as a religion and the mercantile power of economics runs through all things; time as a commodity, geography as a means of control, power ordered in overt and covert structures, and in the midst of it all, the individual trying to make sense of this world of inconsistencies. The building of dream worlds where the contradictions and injustices of this one can be resolved away is an attempt to return to paradise; the creation of a simulacrum of hell in which catharsis can help quench the burning of affliction is a way of mitigating the sorrows of life. Yet we need to accept uncertainty. Only by tracing the past and opening it dispassionately can we hope for the circle of time to turn one click nearer to a better future. By pointing at the indifferences of the collective dynamic, a new path can be cleared along which we as individuals can confront our demons. And in so doing we are better able to bury them. It is a small thing that each person does, but the collective is made of small individuals. And each small individual is a universe in themselves, indissoluble from the greater whole, cut adrift by the accident of birth: a falling to earth that is as random as anything one could imagine.
Close my eyes, and I see my parents, grandparents, great grandparents and so it goes on with the people that came before me. As time goes back they become strangers. What lives they led, what thoughts they held, and the world they saw is as much a part of me as it is not. Much the same and so very different, time tracks back tracing humanity to earlier times when there were no wheels and horses had yet to be ridden. The dawn of our time is still an unimaginable distance away from now and yet I go back further. As I think of ancestral forms on hot plains and cool dangerous places, the primitive becomes me, what I am now. Polar jungles and salty seas grow around me where I swim and swelter under an unfaltering sun. Yet I am still there, a small part of me survives the odds of existing. An unimaginable self that still dwells in me, that single creature twisting against its fate, giving birth again and again. I cannot any longer think but feel the cold water against my outer surface as my existence becomes slender. The slight trace of what I would become fading in the darkness, diluted in those moonlit nights when the tide throws me against the furrowed rocks and yet, I am still here. My possibility becomes lessened with every turning of the sun and each generation sheds a part of me as time recedes and me with it and still I am present. I no longer feel but my instinct is still to move with the light and smell the water for traces that are unknown to me. The silt is the dread I cannot know and now all sense of life slowly sloughs off and still the insensate part of me is here. The dim light of life is gently, slowly snuffed out in my thoughts.
By way of an introduction to my practice and projected area of investigation to fellow course students, I have been given five minutes to present an overview of my recent practice and project proposal next group session. It is never easy to summarise what one does in a short amount of time but getting to the point is always a good exercise in extracting the essence of what one does. It can also leave many questions unanswered which I hope will foster future engagements and lead to new thoughts and ideas. Each word has weight, each phrase needs to convey enough information to say something worthwhile yet remain open, the overall has to hang together but avoid being restrictive. This is particularly true of a video that has to give a sense of what I am about in three hundred and sixty seconds, give or take a few. Then you are always left with the possibility of misunderstandings, assumptions, lack of clarity or focus; then ambivalence may be one of my areas of interest and this seems to be a good place to start.
I was excited, very excited as I waited this morning for the first chat session.1 The simplest explanation would be that I had been waiting for some time to get a glimpse of my class mates and get started on this journey… at one in the afternoon. The excitement of a first day at school… without the nerves. What did I do? I prepared a lunch of chicken, spices, rice and salad.
So, we went through some housekeeping, introduced one another and talked about this and that. At this stage the content was not so important. What mattered was that the process had had its baptism. The reigns of enrolment released for some and eased for others as a new sort of family was born into the web.
However, this is no ordinary community, it is one that spans the world from Vancouver to China and dives into an ocean of ideas that can reach significant depths. Each creature in this ocean occupies a particular niche. But individual ecologies are not fixed in this world, they are adaptive and mutable. The progenies are what the individuals do, to be exposed to scrutiny in a special, nurturing environment. Underlying structures are loosened like the genes from some primeval helix and dispersed in a pool; precursors to something new, complex, wonderful.
The process is open, open to change and I can already see tiny movements in pieces, changing character, swapping places and giving way to new ones. Only tiny steps today, but discernible. Perhaps this is why I was excited before starting, because I knew that this was the beginning of things coming together, taking shape and standing on their own, but what shape? That is yet to come.
This is an exciting time, a time for elastic thinking, synthesis and renewal. Having confirmed a place on the Fine Art Digital MA course some months ago, at Camberwell College of Art, University of the Arts London, my mind is now focused on what might be the trajectory I take during the next two years… and beyond.
Why do I think that the digital is an appropriate way to go? The reason for enrolling on this course lies deeper than that of being ‘in the moment’. The digital offers what I would call simultaneity. By this I mean, many layers of thought being articulated and rendered ‘visible’ at one and the same time by means of different modalities and interfaces. The aim would be to facilitate the grasping of disparate ideas, explicating and synthesising them: practically speaking, ‘operatic’ synthesis.
I see the next two years as a book to be opened and written in. An opportunity to foster flexibility and adaptability, exploration and experimentation. This needs plasticity and a willingness to dig deep into what lies beneath my practice, always adding and subtracting from what I do, changing. To do this requires that I organise my thoughts critically, but without losing a sense of the informal, the unexpected, harnessing both progression and contingency with thought and a certain degree of courage.
This is a time for deep research. What do I hope to achieve during this course? My hope is to expose the connective tissue of an evolving practice and generate transferable ideas that kindle a new fire. I look forward to discovering new ways of expressing current and future ideas that run through what I do. I cannot say for certain what these might be but I have had a glimpse of a pathway. It is a journey through ancient, modern and future landscapes. Trajectories that intersect into contemporary culture examining the balance between individual thinking and collective movements: the perennial question between the group, or state, and the individual, law and conscience, security and freedom. All these are reflected in the realm of the arts as in politics and society in general.
I feel the need to learn new ways of doing things and use new materials; both at a conceptual and practical level. It is a space where the synthesis of process and outcome exist in a dynamic equilibrium, ideas and their expression embraced in a reciprocal relationship. Existing in states of immanence and transcendence or put another way, a system functioning within changing boundaries, permeable to the environment, evolving, bearing fruit and an eternal waiting… is this not a description of sorts of a living organism?