I am making slow progress, as I am currently seeking work and, lately, somewhere to live. But I am determined to hang in there! On Saturday 9th I get to the Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibition at the ICA. I am particularly taken by James William Collins painting "Ffion". His work reminds me of Guston, but then so does much of the painting work on display. The selection is very RCA heavy, both the RA and the RCA have taught Masters programmes. In terms of my own practice, I am perhaps most interested in the work of Francisco Sousa Lobo, although it doesn't relate to installation at all really - other than the way it is displayed at the ICA, perhaps, hanging from the ceiling. His graphic novel and its conversation with another artist, Hugo Canoilas, is both touching and, it occurs to me, reflects the kind of conversations artists need to survive.
What Lobo says of his work interests me: “As a graphic novel, it doesn’t try to be Art, but to be with Art. It is a letter sent to a friend and a critical engagement with that friend’s work. It is an autobiographical, documentary, epistolary work. It talks of the particularities of Hugo Canoilas’ work, but also of art in general. The graphic novel describes, and tries to enact, how every new artwork stems from and produces a new crisis. It also speaks of the vertigo that I feel when producing new work." (http://www.comica.london/event/sousa-lobo-bloomberg-new-contemporaries-2015/) The book was created for this exhibition in Dundee by Canoilas (http://www.dundee.ac.uk/djcad/exhibitions/exhibitions/hugo-canoilas/).
The following week, I focus on clearing my storage space so that I can move soon. I don't produce work, which is frustrating and saddening, I am not even sure I will be able to continue. But on the weekend I go to see John Akomfrah's work at the Arnolfini, "Tropikos" and "Vertigo Sea" (again, this issue of vertigo within practice). Akomfrah makes video installations, feature films and documentaries. "Tropikos" is a recent piece, completed only this year and "Vertigo Sea" is a 3-screen installation that was on display in Venice. I am somewhat dismayed that I missed it when I was there, somehow.
I really enjoy "Tropikos"; the way Akomfrah works with literary texts, with history, makes me consider and reconsider 'my' cultural heritage. I am left with the strange sensation that I am removing a piece of glass from my heart, as though previous representations of Elizabethan times wholly obfuscated the stories of colonialism and the subjectivities of the individual men and women enslaved by its power politics, encouraging a kind of strange and violent myopia. There is a link to Plymouth of course, because the work reflects on the darker stories connected to the River Tamar. Information about the piece explains: "In the 16th Century, ships built on and sailing from the River Tamar journeyed to Africa, participating in the profitable slave trade and introducing the experience of African culture to Plymouth on their return. Exploring how we encountered “the other”,Tropikos juxtaposes the experience of the people, cultures and landscapes from Africa and the South West which, through the slave trade and its subsequent abolition, have formed a disparate yet shared heritage."
I ask myself how Akomfrah achieves this and I think it is partly through creating these kinds of open, poetic narratives through video that we can read from and into and around, through the inclusion of particular literary texts, through slow tempo, through the sounds of watery flow. Far better to go to the artist of course! I really enjoyed this brief Tate Shots interview with the artist. I am interested in what he says about his interest in the border or limit of cinema, the philosophy of montage, its dialectical approach - through two different images/clips, a third image emerges from that synthesis. The importance to him of historical material, footage as a counterbalance to amnesia which is a "sea we constantly swim in". As though film can somehow have a really important political and ethical role in raising important issues about whose stories may be lost in that sea. I think again about the civic myth co-produced in Plymouth and reflect.
Speaking of the sea, the 2015 installation work "Vertigo Sea" is, of course, about the sea and drew parallels between slavery and whaling as cruel and unsustainable practices. I started to think of what he was really trying to do here, using fragments of documentary footage from the past, wildlife film footage, photographs of men and women traded as slaves, hideous accounts of their murder, for example flying mothers who had only recently given birth out to sea and dropping them in, alongside imagery of whales and polar bears being darted and culled. Footage of waves, migrating birds. I need to buy the exhibition pamphlet.
In terms of what the piece could give me an insight into in relation to my own practice, I thought about what my tutor at Bath Spa Maria once said to me about my planned groundswell piece, her suggestion that I might use video. I was unconvinced at the time, as I felt that video installation required a whole understanding of the history of its use in installation. In this respect, I like what Akomfrah says about what it takes to make a compelling work if you are working in different kinds of practices (for him installation, documentary and feature-length films):
The ideal way of working, for me, if you want to occupy these multiple zones is to be aware that each of the zones has its own demands, ethical, political, cultural, intellectual, aesthetic. So at the inception of an idea or a way of doing something, what matters is to be clear about the pathway. It's learning to really listen to yourself, think aloud and then having the, not so much the experience, just the courage to name what those germinations are.
So if I were to use video within installation, I want to understand the demands of that. But I see now that what Maria was saying was that in the context of installation I could think of video as a spatial element, and that I should consider what that would require in terms of installation practice as a zone. I want to better understand my pathway, what ethical, political, cultural, aesthetic demands sculptural installation has. So I need to keep deepening my understanding of installation as a medium, but at the same time recognise that I have to keep making too, "don't wait", there are "no mistakes".
On 20th I finally get to Plymouth and start looking for accommodation. I really enjoy the screen printing workshop which is incredibly helpful and clear. I play a little bit with cardboard templates I have made to create the effect of splitting wood. For some reason, as before, I am attracted by baby pink and blue. I suspect this has less to do with my love of high gloss paintings, as in Gary Hume's work (which is perhaps very un-post-post modern!), but more to do with a strategy - as though this enables some distance from disaster. It is a very simple approach, but helps me see what might be possible and to consider how a print might become 3-dimensional too. I would like to stay and do more, use the studio, I do hope things become clear very soon. I acknowledge that there is a connection between the shaky ground of my work and of my current situation.