Tutorial 1: 01 November 2018. Jonathan Kearney

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.

2. Practice

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’;

start planning and composing performance works.

 

Action Research and Reflection: Jonathan Kearney Lecture

 

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:

  • actions
  • decisions
  • thought processes
  • 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.