The week is spent chasing software to reinvigorate my rather sad and sorry laptop, which has had everything wiped from it by mistake! Luckily my documents are backed up but my software and my photos are gone. I am heart-broken and have to buy and run software to recuperate all that I can and find ways of updating the software through my employer, which is a blessed relief. I only really get a brush with art on Thursday evening, seeing the work of Corsham-based alumni of Bath Spa at 44AD, which was really lovely. One gentleman, Simon Chadwick, chats to me about his sculpture and process. It is somehow very comforting after the drama of the week to talk to a mature, established artist. They have had their triumphs and struggles and still make work! I take my digital camera out with me on Friday, walking around Bath taking pictures with a friend, trying to reflect on all that Alan Winn taught me last week. I drop him a line with a few questions arising from our session last week. As far as my 3D work is concerned, I have to find some way of making without a studio in Bath, or to get to Plymouth more often. I may need to rejoin Bath City College evening classes again so that I can actually make a mess!
Going to Plymouth on Wednesday was exciting and nerve wracking as we have all been asked to be interviewed. I worry I have forgotten everything Dexter told us about considering how we present ourselves! I look through notes I have taken during his helpful sessions and draw out a few key points, but I am not sure I have all the answers prepared for interview! I find the following points, which I am including here as they may be helpful to others - I may even write them down separately and put them up to make me think:
"Where do you place what you do? Where do you want to be? What is the slot you wish to operate in? Every decade presses reset. Artists who know how to ring the changes acknowledge the decade. Think about two key figures, Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richte. Polke used a mixed language, found images, photography, he was often messy, working things out. Richter undertook a controlled experiment – systematic and dogmatic. Different approaches. Ask: what sort of artist are you? Do you do something and then see what you learn from it? Or are you more controlled? Reflect on Houdini in relation to art. (We were reading Adam Phillips' 'Houdini's Box'). Are you exposing yourself and learning from that? Houdini was prepared to act out a mythic way of being. Are you drawing from a mesh of understanding, not just the unconscious? If people are pack animals, how are you going “against the grain”. Try to find out about what you are interested in, develop a self-critical position. The professional artist has to jump through hoops. Perhaps you want to keep what you do vague – it can be valuable to keep your outcomes vague but your interests clear. Follow the intuitive energy you have with something. Recognise that it is rarely possible to be objective about the work – listen to others to an extent, if many are saying the same thing you need to listen to this. Perhaps there are key people you can turn to to show the work to, to get an informed view. Recognise that what you think your strengths are may not be your strengths. Have a playful turnover of work. Play more, get through stuff."
When I got to Plymouth Alys was relaxed and helpful, which put me at ease. I did my best to explain where I am coming from, but was quite scattered, I suspect it will be tough edit for her! I am very grateful for the hard work both Alys and Oskar are putting into this. It is a really helpful process for us as developing artists.
After the interview I play for a while with my sticks and tights! I am struck by the challenge of trying to make something look precarious while making sure it is robust enough to stand up! I am genuinely not sure how this play fits into the groundswell piece. But at the same time, I like having something more intuitive on the go at the same time as something more planned. I get the sense that the tights piece has much more to do with the personal, it feels as though it has much more to do with precarity than anything else.
After lunch I have a super helpful induction with Alan Winn. Alan quite simply opens up the world of the camera to me, explaining depth of field and exposure, and showing me how to use the camera and what I need to take account of, which is incredibly helpful. He gives me some really helpful pointers in relation to photographing installation work, above all the value of having control over the aperture. I am struck by how long I have been taking photographs in an entirely intuitive, uninformed way, with very little knowledge about taking control of the camera. He helps me book out a camera that is appropriate to start with and I will start to take images on it and come back to him if I get into any difficulty.
On Thursday I have a helpful health and safety induction with Linda, who shows me the do’s and don’ts of working in the ceramic area. I then go down to work in the sculpture room to see if I might have an induction with Simon. He kindly agrees to let me work there and using the small pieces of wood I have brought with me, finally I have a small breakthrough in terms of how to make the groundswell piece. I take a small tub and set the wooden ‘upswell’ up in plaster, albeit on a very small scale and only partially, it is a messy effort, but gives me the fractured feeling I am after.
In this way I see that rather than making a large piece at this stage, I could make small tiled sections which I can then set up in the Artspace 101 gallery. I am not sure I will get this done for a proposed April show, however. But I suppose I can work on this in Bath, I don’t have to do this in Plymouth. I wonder if the plaster I have left at Brian’s has now gone off (it goes off really quickly) and if Steve would allow me to work on this at Bath City College. I reflect that I need wood (and I need to think about what messages I am going to give with the kind of wood I select, ideally it will be found, recycled material) and a tub that I can create a kind of plaster tile in. But I know I also need to think much more about what is being done in installation. I did a lot of research for this piece which I discussed in the artist’s talk at Plymouth, but I need to stay abreast of contemporary practice.
After working in the 3D area I go back to the studio to take some pictures of the sticks and tights! I select aperture priority auto exposure. This means that I select the aperture and the camera calculates the correct shutter speed for the exposure. This is because there is no movement, so I don't really need control over shutter priority. Still, I learn that I may choose a priority (aperture or shutter speed) but still need to keep an eye on the other! I take a few close up shots and, as with the "straw men" piece I made at the beginning of my studies at Bath, in many ways I actually like the close ups as much if not more than the piece itself.
The first part of this week is spent in Dundee and Edinburgh. On landing in Edinburgh and taking the bus to the station, I pass the Royal Scottish Academy and there is the work of one of my students hanging from the front of the gallery - the prime spot in Edinburgh I would say! Through the tutorial process, I am struck with how the students' practice and confidence is developing; this is the first time I have taught into practice and I am often moved. The course I am working into, the MFA in Art and Humanities needs new students, I will do all I can to keep up the numbers! It is such a fantastic course, if anyone interested is reading this blog do look it up! On my return to Edinburgh, I meet with an artist friend Khalid Alsayed and he takes me to see Jonny Lyons' work at the Ingleby Gallery, then we to go to the Young Contemporaries Exhibition. I love the way Lyons makes photographs and beautifully made wooden objects, using the objects, or activating them in the photographs. There is a pathos there as well as great humour.
I finally get time to play on Thursday and start playing around with the shattered wood, using the plaster pieces as a kind of prop to build them up on. It looks contrived and is far too precarious, and I don't like the fact that the plaster pieces, which were part of a separate work, are now just a kind of support, a distributed plinth, but maybe that isn’t a bad idea and also it's a start.
On Saturday I start playing with some of the pieces of wood and some old tights I had been about to throw away. The tights contain the wood, but allow me to articulate it and also give the sense of precarity I am after, a kind of simultaneous humour and threat that I like. I am not sure this has anything to do with groundswell though, in the sense I meant it, but I like the idea of building this out at scale. There is something here about women, something about radicalism and extremism, something about humour, something about precarity. I am not sure yet, for some reason "Victory of the Precariat" seems to resonate. I need to work on it further. I would really like to continue to work on this in a studio context as I am aware that it is difficult to take professional shots at home!
I wonder whether the plaster pieces will constitute one piece and the "tights" piece another. The plaster pieces were intended for a piece about fallen idols. There is a definite humour and pathos in what I do. I am really aware of it, wish that somehow my work was more progressive, more activist. But I remember what Isabell Lorey argues, that what is called for is an activism of precarity, rather than an attempt to try to recuperate some notion of security, when security has become so problematic in terms of civil liberties and privacy. Here I am, writing this on a blog!
On Saturday evening I go to see a film screening in Bristol, largely to support one of the film makers, Katie Davies, who is a friend. The films being screened are “The Lawes of the Marches”, Davies’ film about the annual ridings on the border between England and Scotland and two films by William Raban, “Island Race” and Time and the Wave”. "Island Race" was about life on the Isle of Dogs and included footage shot across a period of time, 6 months or so I think, including particular events, the local elections where the BNP hover awaiting the number of votes they have got and a VE Day celebration showing the community, including the children of immigrants, celebrating with the full paraphernalia of the Union Jack, from painted faces to plastic bowler hats and flags. I can't help fearing these symbols of national identity and thinking about the Parekh report, which recognised the dangers a kind of unifying singulary UK identity for the needs of special interest groups.
I also go because analogy of “Time and the Wave” speaks to me in relation to what I am trying to do with groundswell. The blurb explains that waves look as though they are ever changing, when in fact they are largely made up of similar particles and Raban draws from this as an analogy for the fact that the world can appear to change, but the present is often made up massively of elements of the past. I would suggest that this is particularly true when historical issues have acute and contested repercussions; if you live in Northern Ireland, this sense of the past being present is keenly felt.
I was very impressed by Katie’s work. Her framing was beautiful and her approach both humorous and serious, but the sound in particular struck me. She had picked out ambient sound in the general area of the shots she had taken, but also recorded ambient material recorded in pubs where she had gone to talk to local people, later integrating some of this sound with sound recorded outside. It gave the film a beautiful texture. I wonder what the piece would have looked like as a 3-screen installation as initially created. The expanse of the border across fields with the riders moving across is beautiful sight on a single screen and would doubtless be even more powerful across 3. The Raban films are also very powerful. Although the “Time and the Wave” film was perhaps less interesting to me than I had thought in terms of its use of imagery of waves – long shots of waves begin the film but are not really integrated within it – its careful ruminations on history and national identity are fascinating and rarely didactic (with the exception of the inclusion of Charles Dickens’ wonderful criticism of state funerals, read over footage of Thatcher’s funeral!)
All the films deal with national identity and its markers, its dangers. As an audience member says in the discussion afterwards this feels terribly pressing because of contemporary contexts, as “Brexit” is being discussed. What kind of notion of national identity are we trumpeting by considering such a move? Again, things have drifted so far to the right. Listening to the film makers and audience talk, I remember some PhD work I did on Gadamer’s interpretative notion of history, the idea that at any given time, there is a “horizon” of events inviting particular interpretations of the past which meld with the current moment. In short, for Gadamer, there is no objective account of history, people reinterpret and shape history.
I feel that we are drifting further and further to the right and that what Beuys wanted to do so much was to intervene in some respect, recognise the human as being a history maker, acknowledging that the terrible scenarios of the 20th Century could happen again. I wonder: What can I do? How can I “brush history against the grain” through my work? I think also of John Akomfrah’s discussion of the way in which he seeks to work against a “sea of amnesia” with respect to history; in “Vertigo Sea”, for example.
This week I am carrying on with the marking, but I try at least to keep the practice in mind. I go along to a talk at BRLSI about tectonics entitled "Tectonics: Did the Earth Move For You?", an academic from Imperial College working in "predictive stratiography" discussing how tectonic activity causes the earth to move, how this affects the landscape and whether climate change is affecting this. He and his colleagues try to make predictions about how the earth's strata have been, and will be, affected by tectonic activity. I found it hugely complex, but interesting, although I am no longer sure that groundswell is always caused by tectonic pressure, but rather a distant storm. I really must contact academics working on wave forms at Plymouth.
On Saturday I go and see the new Coen Brothers movie. As ever with the Coens’ work, it is intelligent and hilarious, and seems to me takes some swipes at the film industry that simply would not have been possible until this point in their career. A lot of the references were to known movie stars of the apogee of Hollywood move-making. The next day, I prepare to see the students and head off to Dundee.