MA in Fine Procrastination

I am now nearly half way through my part-time MA by research in Art and Design. I am sitting here in my studio in Wolverhampton doing what I do best: procrastinating. Even better, I am writing about procrastinating. I should actually say that I am reflecting back on the last 8 months, since I started in October, and that is a useful thing to do. It isn’t procrastinating at all. But no, I really am just procrastinating, by writing about procrastinating. 

As I type, I am sat in my studio sipping coffee and thinking. This is more-or-less what I do every week, twice, sometimes thrice a week. It feels as if this is what I have been doing for the whole 8 months now: sitting, sipping coffee, looking out over the lovely Wolverhampton skyline from my sixth-floor studio window, and thinking. I think a lot.

I’ve read all of these, honest!

There are days when I feel that all I have achieved is ‘faff’, think and daydream. There are days and days when I seem to just sit here, often by myself but not always, sip coffee, leaf through the odd high-brow art book, jot a few notes down in a Word document called ‘MA Thesis draft’, browse the university library catalogue for ideas, post something peculiar on Facebook (such as: thoughts have shape, discuss) and perhaps do the odd painting (not much painting, just the odd one). This routine entertains me for hours. This routine has kept me going for weeks, 8 months in fact. 

However, if I look at all those notes, musings and odd paintings I have gathered around me over the last 8 months or so, I see that I have perhaps done something. It might not be as tangible as I’d like it to be, but there is something there. Perhaps it is more a cloud of thought than a concrete, touchable object.

I feel as if I am at least part of my way to constructing an ‘interesting question’ that might develop into my final MA Thesis. Somewhere along the line, over the last 8 months, I have jotted down around 16,000 random words in relation to my musings and odd paintings, Facebook questions and random thoughts. Somewhere here, there is a possible ‘interesting question’. Of course, the words I have written are completely incoherent and higgledy piggledy. They don’t even make that much sense to me yet. They certainly cannot be read by anyone else. 

I have indeed spent an awful lot of time thinking about my ‘interesting question’ and asking questions that relate to the question, and more questions that relate to those questions, which leads to even more questions and more thoughts and more peculiar Facebook status updates to see what other people think and how they respond to my weird thoughts about art. 

Reflecting back on the past 8 months I realise that being a philosopher / artists / MA student actually suits me quite well. I am the queen of procrastination. I love procrastination. In fact, I should do an MA in procrastination. I might get a distinction for it. Doing this MA, I have been given licence to think, play, question, ask daft questions of others, write, muse and stare out of the window. It is heaven to me.

That is why I love this life. I might not feel the same way 12 months from now when I am having to craft my ‘jottings’ into a 30,000 word thesis worthy of other eyes. I suspect I will be regretting the staring, coffee sipping and magazine reading. Maybe not. Time will tell. What is time, anyway? Oh dear, off I go again.

My life

I just need to hope that the answer to the ‘interesting question’ comes to me. It will. I feel it. It is there. It is in the ether of my mind and online. I can see it yet I can’t touch it (oh the irony).

For now, in the meantime, I need to sip more coffee, stare at the skyline and let my mind explore and my hand will follow.

 

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Can you feel it? The amazing world of the haptic

As I type this, I can feel the dusty yet smooth keyboard keys at my fingertips; the bouncy, malleable sofa against my back, arms, bottom and legs; the soft, cotton fabric of my skirt on my thighs; my tickly hair against my face; the sleek but sweaty rings on my fingers; the hard, refreshingly cool wooden floor under my feet; the warmth of the sun to my right as it streams through the window; and a troublesome heat radiating from inside my body, stored there from sitting in a hot car. I’ve just got home.

In my explorations of objects, our relationship with objects, our perceptions to the art of objects (particularly still life) and judgements on those objects, I’ve been thinking more recently about where we end and where objects begin. In particular, where we touch objects in cyberspace and how that experience can relate to the real-world haptic experience.

Haptic: comes from the Greek haptikos meaning ‘able to come into contact’. The term was first used in it’s Anglicised form by Isaac Barrow in 1683 in his Lectiones Mathematicae (Lanier, 2017) but it is only more recently when the word has been thrown around scientific and artistic circles.

What does it really mean? I can’t quite describe it to you but I know it when I feel it.

There’s something fascinating to me about the word ‘haptic’. It seems to have a magical, mystical quality. I’m not sure why, except that scientists are still trying to work out what ‘touch’ is all about in terms of the mind-body experience and how to quantify it and measure it. Something that cannot be easily categorised or analysed is always going to have a sense of mysticism about it, at least for me it is.

In very basic terms, haptics are about the sensations of touch and feel. The word defines how the body is able to make sense of space and motion through the meeting of physical entities and the emotional sensation that ensues. It’s not so much about the actual point of physical contact between the body and a surface as about how the mind reacts to that physical contact. In other words, the ‘haptic’ describes the sensations that cause emotions such as pain, pleasure, revulsion or attraction. There is still a lot of mystery associated with the haptic modality. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to quantify how it feels to touch a smooth surface. Scientists remain baffled by it. As do philosophers. It is this fact alone that fascinates me. I love things that confuse us and give us wonder. 

It is far easier to describe sensations from objects through the language of shape, colour or sound. It is much more difficult to describe sensations through touch. Visual metaphors translate much more easily to other people than do haptic ones. Haptic metaphors are much more personal, they are based on intuition rather than a pre-defined quality. What I feel when I touch the petal of a flower, the surface of metal, the fur of a dog might not be the same as what you feel. I know that I feel a lot. But do we all? Haptics requires direct contact and an emotional response which is purely individual. The body can only feel in this way by physical touch.

Haptics is relevant to my art practice because I believe that we are connected with our objects in a way that we don’t yet understand. They are not mere things. They are more than things. They are equal to us and a part of us. They guide us, we guide them. The relationship is mutual and balanced.

The philosophy of haptics stretches into so many areas of life, not just in terms of the blending of the real and virtual worlds. There is a lot of haptic thought that has to go into virtual reality technology. It is apparently a really complicated sensation to replicate in the virtual world, using pure data. That makes sense given that we cannot quantify the sensation and we cannot say that it is equal to all. Interestingly, phantom haptic reactions can be induced in the virtual world, such as feeling in phantom limbs, phantom tales and real areas of pain in the real world connected to the virtual world. If that is so, which it appears to be, there is more to touch than meets the eye, ironically.

My non-haptic virtual chair

When I tried virtual reality drawing, the haptic response was totally lacking and my hand had to adjust to this and my mind struggled with the idea of these three-dimensional non-haptic objects. I created an object yet I couldn’t touch it. It might be easy to imagine that but when you are in the ‘world’ of virtual reality your body expects to be able to touch and the lack of touch throws all the mind’s assumptions about the world off kilter. The virtual world is the only place I know of where this contradiction exists. I feel privileged that I have had the chance to confuse my mind in this way.

I believe that every touch we make impacts every object touched. A minuscule amount of the object is shaved off by our touch. That minuscule shaving has an impact on the feelings of the touch. What I want to ask is: Does the sensation of touch stay within that tiny flake of object? What happens to the haptic force that gets absorbed by that piece of thing?

Is there such as thing as the haptic force?

I need to think some more about this. That is part of what being an artist and a philosopher is all about, trying to reason with the unreasonable. Yet, annoyingly, the haptic thing is defying my attempts to understand it. Perhaps I just need to feel it.

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Fuzzy Things

In my obsession with the thingyness of things, or to borrow the term coined by Jane Bennett, the ‘power of things’, and our relationship with objects, all stuffs, whether they be real, virtual, real, hyper-real, tangible, intangible, factual or fictional, I recently decided to conduct a rather fun experiment. This is the lighter side of doing an MA by research: fun art practice research.

I’m still living in an exclusive monochrome world and foresee staying here for a while longer, so I wanted to relate this need for a void of colour in our vibrant reality to my life-long passion for objects. The aim with my MA research so far has been to tease out an essence of an object through the medium of still-life painting by extracting that one element, colour, with a desire to create something new and hopefully interesting. This time, however, I foresaw finding something, somewhere in the ether, not something I can touch.

I knew that I still needed to paint more things in monochrome. I just needed a new direction to go off in. I didn’t want real things, such as the fried egg or the pile of baked beans. I wanted to see if I could take the genre of still life into the cyberworld. I wanted to experiment with being in an abstract, semi-figurative and the fictional world beyond this one.

I needed a way to imagine new objects, objects that don’t exist in exclusively either the data world or in the tangible world. I wanted to create ‘between-the-two-worlds’ objects.

I came up with the idea of painting real objects, that are real somewhere else, but are translated to me via social media and via the medium of language not image.

To this end, I asked people on social media to describe one thing to me. I told them that I didn’t want to know what the thing was. I just needed their description. I would then paint the thing described, literally, based on the words alone. In addition, I would translate any colour language into black and white. I wouldn’t try to guess the identity of the thing, necessarily, but I would paint what they asked for, almost in a mechanical way (although I did inject an element of the visual image of the objects in my head – this image created by words).

I received an overwhelming response. So far, I have had at least 30 replies. All of which were different, but interesting and valid in their own way. They varied from ‘soft and scratchy’ to four paragraphs describing an object in almost scientific detail down the lengths, shades, colour, size, relative proportions and materials. This all fascinated me for a number of reasons. I was amazed at the variety of people’s capacity to describe. I also received some rather humorous responses (‘black and white and red all over’ and ‘olive skinned and handsome’). Generalising a little here but the more artistic, creative friends tended to use very visual words to describe their objects (‘shaped like the female form but without limbs’) whereas the perhaps less creative friends (those who work in non-creative industries such as IT) tended to use a very logical, prescriptive system for ‘recreating’ their objects in linguistic form. I also saw a slight variance in terms of age, gender, and frequency of use of social media. 

Is it a musical instrument? Is it grinning at me?

To date I have painted 17 objects. These objects range from the recognisable to the bizarre. I feel oddly very attached to my objects. It is as if I have somehow extracted them from a place in cyberspace that isn’t accessible, isn’t visible, isn’t quite real yet it really is real. Or perhaps I have extracted them from a parallel universe inside my head, or even inside the heads of others, a dream-like place where the objects are all known and familiar, where they all meet and mingle. A place where they are normal.

Soft and Scratchy

To me, these objects exist. They are tangible. They even have personalities. They are on my studio wall, and they stare at me all day. They blink when I’m not looking. They grin. They are alive to me. They giggle. Am I going mad? I don’t think so. Not yet. Where are they? Where do they exist? I made them so they exist. I think their lack of colour adds an eerie, uncanny aspect to them. It is almost as if they have travelled from somewhere where colour isn’t a thing. They have travelled from the past yet from a parallel place. 

And, yes, if you are from the object-oriented ontology or new materialist school of thought, colour indeed is a ‘thing’.

The Wall of Fuzzy Things

All of these thoughts are now going around my head, angular, bombarding and all pervasive. Where will I go next? Watch this cyberspace.

 

 

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Materials vs Us – review of New Art West Midlands 2018

The New Art West Midlands competition and exhibition is now an annual event. It showcases a selection of up-and-coming pieces from emerging artists in the area. This is the third time I’ve been to at least one of the exhibitions (the works are shown in a number of locations around the area) and each time I find much to inspire me.

The phrase that kept coming to my mind as I walked around the artworks selected for this year’s New Art West Midlands on display at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery was ‘human-material interaction’.

There is great variety in the artworks on show in Birmingham this year (and elsewhere, alas I have yet to visit the other venues) encompassing video, digital, painting, sculpture, installation, photography, print and material.

Each piece in Birmingham appeared very different from each other, yet there was a clear commonality and relationship between them. That is that we impact on materials and materials impact on us.

As artists, we have a vast array of material and media available to us in the 21st century. In fact, I’d even say that more-or-less anything goes. We are able to pick a material and mould it into something of our choosing in order to convey an idea or imbue it with a meaning for the viewer to take on board or an ‘essence’ for the viewer to feel. 

I do this with my creative endeavors. My art practice is concept-driven and I pick the material I think best suits the concept, rather than putting myself in a situation where the material brings forth a concept, or something that suits, or is chosen by, that material. I suspect that many artists today operate in the same way. This means that as artists we have to be multi-talented, or, at least very brave in experimentation. 

The artists in this exhibition display both bravery with their use of materials and originality of concept. They embrace with open arms the varied material world of the current age. This is admirable. Not only that, they cross the boarders between the various materials. They blend – sound mixed with sculpture, painting mixed with digital effects, projection and objects. 

There is much to see and feel essence from in this exhibition, but the work that resonated the most for me was Jessica Eburne’s TR project. Her project is inspired by repetitive and ritualistic trends found in our relationship with current technology. T stands for technology and R stands for religion. They may seem vastly different, but they are not. Technology has become a new religion for us. For this project she created an interactive shrine to the social media world. The shrine is combined with a stream of a Alexa- or Siri-style conversation which is in text format and audible format.

The shrine. 

Also looking at social media and how it impinges on our ‘real’ or ‘material’ lives is Bryony Loveridge’s piece ‘A Self Reflection’. This consisted of a wall of mirrors adorned with decorations of various styles and types. The effect is similar to the one you get on screen when looking at Instagram or Pinterest. Looking at the mirrors is like looking at a wall of attractive, beautified selfies at the same time as looking at ‘pretty’ but deliberately chosen decorations or ideas. I felt slightly disembodied, yet curious. I felt like Alice.

Looking at me looking at me.

And of course I have to mention the work of my old tutor, Simon Harris. His paintings evoke a contemporary sublime reaction for me, if that makes sense. I feel the sublime yet I feel I am in a world between the real and unreal. I find the slightly ‘digital’ feel to his paintings, which are clearly not digital, fascinating. Ironically, it is impossible to get that same effect viewing his paintings online. Here is yet another example of a blending of the material with the immaterial, the notions of real and virtual or digital. This painting isn’t digital, yet it appears to have a digital element or effect.

A painting that does not work online

Despite the links with the digital, virtual worlds in all of the artworks on display, or at least, in many of them, overall they appeared to be unexpectedly very tactile, interactive, and visually exciting. I like that irony.

 

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Jerwood Drawing Prize 2017 – things that blend

Every year I go out of my way to visit the Jerwood Drawing Prize exhibition. My first love is drawing. I don’t draw as much as I’d like to. I spent a lot of my final year on the BA in Fine Art drawing but before, and since, I haven’t done nearly as much as I’d like. I love to draw. Drawing is part of my nature. Drawing, to me, is the most intimate, basic, way I can express my creativity. It is simple, all I need is something which makes a mark or a dent, or just a line. I can draw with my finger, I can draw with my dinner, I can draw with almost anything.

Every year the same question is posed by the Jerwood Drawing Prize: what is drawing today? I find this a strange question. Why do they like to include ‘today’? Drawing hasn’t changed since, for ever. The tools may have changed but the verb hasn’t. Drawing is what it is. It is drawing. It is creating a line on a surface along a finite plane. It can be either a introspective, personal activity or it can be a communal, noisy activity. It is a pull of or on something. It can be a taking away of something. It is creating a presence or creating an absence. Stories draw. It it intimacy, authenticity, nakedness and rawness. It can happen in this universe. It can happen on a flat surface, a bumpy one, in two-dimensions, in three-dimensions, in a virtual reality universe and even, via text, speech, video, collage or three-dimensional materials. These ideas are not new and contemporary. Drawing hasn’t changed at all.

There were a number of highlights for me to this year’s exhibition. There always are. I find it hard to pick a few to discuss. Every time I leave the exhibition, I feel energised and creative, desperate to draw. This time was no exception. I feel that I am open to the stretching of the outer limits of the definition of drawing but each time there is something new which makes me stretch even further my idea of what exactly drawing can be, or what tools can be used, new tools and existing tools.

Two video pieces stand out as interesting to me. The first, by Elisa Allaluusa, called ‘The Arctic Circle (Part II)’ was a simple, parallel (seemingly, apparently it took of manpower a lot to create) shot of someone walking in snow from the point of view of looking down at their feet and from a distance. It was hypnotic. The sound of the crunch of the snow was comforting. It was a quiet meditation on line. I found it absorbing. It was a drawing in snow.

It inspired me to make this video on the next day: me walking around Bath.

The other video piece that caught my attention was called ‘On Drawing’ by Ana Mendes. This video showed an elderly lady, speaking in French (with subtitles in English), talking through her system of how she remembers phone numbers. She is unable to read, so in order to located phone numbers she draws pictures adjacent to each number that remind her of each person. In the video, we see her elderly hands flicking through the note books, stopping at various places to explain the drawings and the characters of the people. I thought this was such a simple concept, yet so engaging. There was nothing complicated about the video and the narrative takes the viewer into the personal history of the subject and her relations with various people she keeps phone numbers of. This video is about drawing but is also a sort of drawing as well. The narration draws the story of the elderly lady’s life history.

On Drawing by Ana Mendes

I also liked a piece called ‘Eighteen Occasions’ by Rebecca Swindell. This, again, wasn’t a conventional ‘drawing’ as such. The piece consists of a box containing eighteen corks, all with text written on them to describe the occasion that the wine was drunk. Any ‘art of the object’ is going to appeal to me and I loved this for its quirkiness and cheeky take on the concept of drawing. Objects can be used to reflect our life’s narrative, as with the phone number drawings above, and this I find fascinating. 

Eighteen Occasions by Rebecca Swindell

Some of the pieces in the exhibition seemed aimed at blending the boundaries between the categories of creativity. One such piece, ‘Borderlines’ by Lucinda Burgess, using drawing to create a sculpture-like structure. This work was vast and very impressive, given the labour that must have gone into it, the sheer amount of raw material and the final effect, which is completely sculptural, yet it is still a drawing.

Borderlines by Lucinda Burgess

What this year’s exhibition has successfully shown, with these works and many others, is that the line between ‘drawings’ and other manifestations of objects, real or surreal, can be crossed, objects really do blend and blur. Perhaps they always have, we just haven’t noticed.

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‘Digitally born’: drawing in a parallel plane

This week I attended a one-day drawing symposium in Walsall that existed on another dimension to the one in which I sit now. 

The symposium was held at the base of Urban Hax CIC market space in Walsall, which is a well-hidden hive of creative people from all sorts of disciplines, crossing the boundaries of art, science and technology, who work and play in an old warehouse down a back street in the town.

Where I went to in Walsall

The title of the symposium was Drawing in Virtual Reality. Before I went there, I had little idea of what to expect. I was in the high percentage of people (and even higher percentage of women) who had never experienced virtual reality, let alone used it as an artistic tool. I entered the room blind.

The creative space where we drew using virtual reality

I left the room, eight hours later, floating on a cloud of astonishment and wonder. In that short time I experienced the bizarre hyper-reality that is drawing in another realm, a digital 3D realm, the virtual reality realm. This realm is hypnotic, addictive and beautiful. I left feeling as if I had taken a drug and entered a hallucinogenic in-my-mind state. Yet, ironically, I also left feeling that I had travelled somewhere very real and very concrete. Somewhere I couldn’t articulate.

Me under the influence

The after effect of the day surprised me. I went home and I was completely and utterly mentally exhausted, but in a good way. But it was an exhaustion that I hadn’t experienced before. I wanted to write about the experience that evening but I found I was unable to. I needed time to process the experience in my rational ‘of this world’ head. I couldn’t even write about it on the following day. It is now the day after that. I now feel able to express how I felt about the experience.

The best way to describe virtual reality drawing is drawing in a parallel dimension to the dimension we live in. Paradoxically, a dimension that in some ways is linked to and in others is vastly different to this existence. However, it is hard to articulate in more detail using words of the world I sit in now what being there is really like. It exists beyond signs and symbols. I do not have the language to narrate the picture of what it the beginning-to-end experience is like.

One way to try to illustrate, or narrate, what I went through is to talk about the many philosophical questions which were thrown up by this experience, on the nature of drawing and the nature of the reality and the tangibility of things. These are just a few of them.

What is the relative value of permanence vs temporarility in art? Virtual reality is temporal and ethereal by nature, yet the art created in that realm can be made permanent, as it can be stored and saved, and even printed, yet the permanent record doesn’t resemble the experience so is it the same? No.

The physicality of drawing that the artist experiences in virtual reality drawing is completely different from the experience of drawing on a flat plain in this world. This caused me to ask whether drawing in space in such a very physical, kinetic way is a skill separate from drawing on a solid surface. I think so. I am not a physical person. I am quite clumsy, possibly slightly dispraxic, so I found this element of the excerise quite challenging. 

Is virtual reality drawing in fact sculpture and not drawing at all? Drawing in 3D space feels very much like creating a 3D model, albeit an ethereal rather than a solid one. The drawing the artist makes has three dimensions, it has depth. You cannot draw flat. It is impossible. I am a 2D drawer, I am not a 3D sculpture, I found it very difficult to add the z axis to my thoughts and ideas and movements.

Contradicting the above, virtual reality drawing could be argued as not sculpting either. There is no solid surface, there is no tension, there is no material. Should it have a category independent of any ‘of this world’ artistic endevour? Or is it just another medium of drawing, given that ‘drawing’ is such a broad discipline and can encompass drawing on a steamed window with a finger, creating patterns with a sparkler in the dark (where there is only a tiny feeling of tension), moving a ribbon in space, taking a line for a walk?

Is this an opening into the future of art where all art will one day be ‘digitally born’ rather than ‘materially born’? Could all art one day never go through a material existence? Some art already does exist like that. Could art (or all creativity) be singularly digitally born, kept, shown and archived? I posed this question on social media and the answer was a resounding no. The feeling was that this ‘digitally born’ way of creating will run alongside existing means of creating, other ‘digitally born’ methods such as drawing on a tablet and the more traditional ‘materially born’ methods of creating. I’m inclined to agree. I think this new medium should be embraced and the possibilities of its use alongside material media could be extremely exciting.

Is virtual drawing (and perhaps some forms of ‘real world’ drawing) a form of dance? If you observe someone drawing while ‘under’ the spell of the virtual reality software, they appear to be engaged in a strange, smooth and flowing ritualistic dance. It is quite surreal. They are physically in the world outside, yet mentally elsewhere and this takes away any consciousness of body movement. The artist moves with fluidity. Perhaps even I, as clumsy and dispraxic as I might be, moved with ease. I don’t know. I wasn’t ‘there’ I was elsewhere.

Is there a confining element to VR drawing, in that you cannot draw from observation? This offers both a restriction and a freedom. The only image you have to go on is in your head, whether it be self-generated or memory. As an artist who draws a great deal from the observation of material objects, I found this aspect the most challenging. I had to use my imagination. I had to enter my head. I don’t like entering my head. Is there something potentially probing about the use of VR drawing to generate content from the psyche of an artist?

How should the viewer of the VR-generated drawing best experience it? Is it adequate for the drawing to be printed out and displayed as a 2D frame? Could the drawing be printed by a 3D printer to retain the dimensional element to it? That would give it substance, keeping the dimensions, so would change the nature of the original. Are these ‘copies’, whether 2D or 3D, as valid as the original? Is their difference interesting? Or alternatively, the viewer enter the 3D virtual world and explore the drawing as the artist did? Does it then become an installation and not a drawing? Can multiple viewers experience the same drawing in this way, at the same time? Possibly. There seems to be so much scope for this. How ‘real’ is that experience for the viewer, if it isn’t ‘real’ in the first place? Is it naive to divorce the notions of ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ when we exist in both worlds so much already – they blend, they are not opposites, our real and virtual lives coexist and that is a reality that should not be ignored and in fact needs to be embraced more than it  currently is. What is real anyway? Does it matter?

While under the influence of the virtual reality experience, which was only a few minutes, I didn’t produce a work of art, far from it. I tried to ‘draw’ an office chair. It wasn’t a thing of beauty or elegance. Yet it was a thing and my art practice is all about things. As fascinated as I am with real things that I can touch in my real life existence I am fascinated with our virtual possessions and depictions of our possessions in the real and virtual world. In fact, I am more interested in the relationship between the two and whether they are in fact different from each other or not. So a related question could be, was my drawing a thing at all? I can’t touch it. So it wasn’t a thing perhaps, if a thing has to be tangible. It wasn’t even a drawing of a chair. It was a chair in space outside of my mind yet not of this world. It existed while I was ‘under’ yet didn’t once I came out and I can’t reenter that world. There is a version of it as seen on the computer screen but this is not the same as the version of it as I drew it. This mirrors the experience we have when we dream. We cannot record or capture our dreams, yet they are tangible in our minds. It just isn’t a tangibility in the traditional sense.

My chair

Thinking about all of this again, it is no wonder I was so exhausted the evening after the drawing symposium. Cliched though it might be to say, it was mind blowing.

I cannot wait to try this again. In way of conclusion I ponder now whether in the future all artists will have VR technology at their disposal and all museums will have the means to display interactive, drawing installations created using VR technology. That would be quite amazing. I am sure I will live to see this and I hope I can be a part of it.

 

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Things you find in the compost heap: Object Relations – a Review

I am fascinated with things, objects, stuff. They have always been central to my art practice. It is for them which I draw, paint, photograph, write, talk and live. I’ve always been interested in objects and in particular, our relationship to them relative to our relationship to everything else we touch in our lives.

One of the objects I have previously been obsessed with: the abandoned balloon

So when I came across this exhibition at the Nuneaton Art Gallery and Museum, and a panel discussion with the exhibiting artists, I knew it would interest me. 

The event

In addition, I happened to know the two artists, as they are both lecturers at University of Wolverhampton where I am doing my MA by Research, so that was another very good reason for me to attend. 

Object Relations is essentially an exhibition of things and the connection those things have with their environment, including us. It is an exhibition of things as seen through paint and photography on one level, and through the eyes of two very different minds on another.

Knowing the artists meant also that I had some insight into the their personalities before I went to the discussion and exhibition. One is a painter, the other a photographer. One has a more organic, instinctive practice. The other is very methodical, almost scientific in his approach. One is messy (in a good, creative way). The other isn’t (in a good, creative way). This fact alone is interesting when viewing the work on display.

I learnt from the panel discussion that before either of the artists had any thoughts of an exhibition, independent of each other, they decided to study objects. Neither of them had an end in sight. They just had an interest and went with the flow: Christian Mieves, through paint, and Euripides Altintzoglou, through photography. They were both experimenting, with no end intention. They were both looking into how random objects relate to their environment, how they themselves relate to objects and how the indexical relationship between the artist then the object then the viewer could be ruptured in some way, either partly or fully. They wanted to depict these objects through their chosen media.

In his studio, Mieves created several very large paintings of many and few random objects in the studio space. He painted with freedom and without much prior thought or decision making. He just painted. He didn’t follow what he saw strictly, in terms of form or colour, he just reacted.

Altinzoglou, meanwhile, started taking photographs of random objects. He took photos allowing the camera to make errors. He was interested in the effect this would create. He just wanted to see what would happen.

They both hoped to take something simple, complicate it, and simplify it again. They both wanted to consider themselves, the material, the effect.

Not having known about this exhibition until recently, I wondered how they had come to unite for this exhibition and how they had found a common ground knowing how different they appear from each other. Yet, it is clear from looking at the pieces on display that the two bodies of work have a clear bond: things. They might at first appear very different: variously-sized paintings, same-sized photographs; textured surface, sheen surface; many colours, few colours; painting, photography. In fact, the contrasts are just superficial. The uniting factor, objects in their environment, is extremely strong.

I learnt that they came together, by chance, and realised they were doing the same thing. The result: a series of painted objects in their environment on canvas as colours, light, background blended together and a series of square light boxes showing photographs of objects as colour, form, shape and mysticism. I have deliberately not included photographs here. One of the significant points about these pieces is that they work so well because of the physicality and, in some ways, the agency, of the material when seen in person. That can not be translated online.

As I sat and listened to the panel discussion I spotted a number of really interesting ironies  or contradictions about the artists’ practices, responses to their artworks and the artworks themselves.

Aim: freedom / lack of planning or pre-thought.
Result: a fascinating intellectual context (object-ground relations, phenomenological starting point-ontological result, defiguration of the figurative into something partially abstract, temporality of the placement of objects in space, medium-specificity of paint and photography to name a few of the themes).

Aim: a private experiment, not intended for the viewing public.
Result: framed images in an exhibition.

Aim: to examine recognisable objects.
Result: a blurring, blending, abstractional study of colour, shape, form, light.

Aim: messy practice, experimental.
Result: order and beauty.

Aim: a simple process, a letting go of all the chaos and complication of much contemporary art thinking.
Result: busyness, movement, mess, depth, chaos (and to some extent, this contradicts the above contradiction).

The chair of the panel discussion, Andrew Bracey, who is also an artist, came up with an interesting metaphor to describe the process that both artists had used and the contents of their heads: a compost heap. A compost heap contains all of our waste, it breaks down that waste and turns it into something fertile. It is about a loss of control, an organic process, a liberating process and a reactionary process. The artwork in this exhibition, and the thinking behind the artworks, is just that. 

My brain

I like that idea. I like the idea of having a compost heap of thoughts in my head, and what I have learnt from this discussion and the exhibition is perhaps I just need to let my ideas and thoughts ferment and react, and they will then create something new and interesting, and with depth that can be found rather than before the process, after the process.

I think I will try that.

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