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.
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.
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 was given the opportunity to exhibit the fuzzy things that exist at the Fine Art Degree Show. I didn’t get much in the way of feedback on them. Most of the responses I get seems to be online rather than in person. I didn’t include any individual explanations with the objects. They were left to stand alone as oddities – given the right to shine by themselves and as a collection of ‘things’. Perhaps I should have offered the text to accompany each object. Somehow, though, this seemed that it might detract something of the ‘magic’ of the objects as semi-fictional, semi-real things created by these unusual means. With an explanation the viewer would be able to picture, perhaps, what they were ‘meant’ to be. Without it, they could only see what they could see.
Seeing them all together as in the degree show, 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’.
All of these thoughts are now going around my head, angular, bombarding and all pervasive. Where will I go next? Watch this cyberspace.