John Cage experimentation

On Thursday morning I was set the task of producing a piece of ‘exploratory developmental work’ focusing on an element of an already established artists practice in order to contextualise the materials and processes that I have recently been using in my work. As I have recently been working with the intaglio printing process I decided to look further into the work of John Cage, in particular his print works made at Crown Point press from 1978 – 1992. What interests me most about Cage’s work is the way in which he creates and then uses systems that leave the work up to chance occurrences. With each print Cage handed the decision making of scale, materials, composition and colour, to chance by generating numbers from the Chinese book of wisdom; ‘I Ching’.

John Cage - Variations III No. 1 - 1992

John Cage – Variations III No. 1 – 1992

This was the element of Cage’s work that I decided to incorporate into my own practice, but I realized that in the two hours that I had it would be far too ambitious to try and create a system as complex as Cage’s, so I started off by deciding that I would use A2 paper, ice and acrylic paint as my materials. I then generated co ordinates using an online random number generator, I had to repeat this 3 times, one to choose the pieces of ice and then twice more to find the co ordinates on the 420x594mm sheet of paper.

After marking up the co ordinates I chose pieces of smashed ice out of a bag at random and matched them up to their given co ordinates on the page. In the first set of randomly generated numbers I set it online so that only 20 numbers from 1-10 would come out so obviously there were repetitions which I had to ignore which did not feel entirely truthful to the whole process so maybe this is something I think about when refining my own system. It also meant that not all the pieces of ice were used because certain numbers didn’t come up. Once the pieces of ice were positioned I placed a small blob of black acrylic paint on top of each one. This decision of using black was also made by me and I’m not sure it was the best choice, it would have been better if I had been restricted to a certain colour as this could have been more visually interesting.

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I tried to take photos of the ice melting every 5-10 minutes as first as the piece did transform much quicker as I had expected, as the pieces of ice were so small. I think the first photos where the acrylic paint first touches the ice are most interesting here as the way that the black seeps into the crevices of the small structures highlights the intricacy of each one. It may be interesting to see what would happen if the ice was put back into the freezer at this point.

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This piece worked as I had expected it to, but I’m not sure if there is anything particularly exciting about it at this point, the fact that the ice has been placed on the page because of randomly generated numbers doesn’t have as much impact as Cage’s work because of the fact that everything else in the composition was chosen and controlled by me. I think for this to be a successful contextualized piece of work I would have to look more into making a system that allows everything in each experiment to be determined by chance. I do still think that combining ice and paint for mark making is an interesting technique that I want to continue with but because this pieces of ice where sat on a piece of paper the marks are not as interesting as on the canvas where the water spilled out and was able to mark it’s surroundings too.

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Intaglio printing experiment

In the past week I was granted the opportunity to try out the intaglio printing process. In preparation for this I researched Dora Maurer’s work with printmaking as I had heard that she aimed to produce indeterminable outcomes from processes, which is what most interests myself. In my research I found her piece ‘Throwing the Plate from Very High” to be of most influence to my own approach to the intaglio print process, as I too wanted to catch something as fleeting as a moment of impact. My initial brainstorm in the workshop was thinking about how I could capture ice melting through this process, unfortunately this did not seem possible given that water softly shrinking would not mark the soft ground applied to the plate, but perhaps I may be able to do something with water, salt and vinegar that would arrive at a similar outcome once I have a better understanding of this process as a whole. In the end I decided that the best way for me to start using this process initially would be to mimic Maurer’s use of the process but instead of throwing the plate, drop a slab of ice onto it.

This made a much larger mark than both the technician and I had expected which was positive, but as a saw that there was still large pieces of ice intact I decided to continue smashing the remaining pieces onto the plate until there was none left. The spontaneous performance of this was quite exciting, being free to smash blocks of ice as an expression of nature felt liberating and almost therapeutic. The plate took around 40 minutes to get a good etch as I used steel with a very thin layer of soft ground. At first I found this process quite intimidating because of its complexity but once I had inked up the plate and created my first print I felt much more comfortable in the print workshop and I am eager to experiment with the boundaries that this process has to offer.

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‘Dropping ice from quite high’

Despite having got a final outcome from the plate I didn’t quite feel that this piece was resolved yet. In my other studio work I had been experimenting with a more common process of printmaking; photocopying. Using an A3 photocopier I have been manipulating colourful images by moving them sporadically whilst being scanned and working repetitively from those scans rather than the original image in order to expose the colours. I decided to see what would happen if I did the same to this black and white image, but I didn’t feel that it would be right to add more movement to the print as it was being scanned as the ‘action’ had already happened within the image. Instead I decided to see what would happen if I continued to photocopy the previous photocopy of the print as I was hoping that this in some way could visually resemble the process of ice melting.

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36 photocopies of photocopies

This is the result of photocopying photocopies of the print 36 times, although changes in the quality cannot be noticed when a photocopy of the previous photocopy are compared, the 6 diagonal copies in the middle show the disintegration of the process concisely. I am pleased with the development of this idea, what I was most interested in Maurer’s work was the way in which she exposed processes and I feel that I have achieved this to some extent here with the photocopies. The repetitive and tedious task of photocopying photocopies exposes the fact that this instant process of reproducing an image has its faults, every time a new photocopy is made the image is manipulated further away from the original and truthful image. For me this is important as I think it could be applied to the way in which society, especially western society, views itself within the natural world. Over the most recent period of history we have found ourselves progressively loosing touch with the natural world of which we are apart of, with the focus of our day to day lives slowly leaning toward technology and ridiculousness, instead of growing to understand ourselves and the world around us.

Recent work – Ebb and flow

My initial inspirations for my most recent work has stemmed from my documentations of Farnham park from October into December. After capturing this beautiful and vast location through its natural transitions from Autumn into Winter and day into night I started interpreting these natural phenomena’s into home made ice sculptures. My mould for these sculptures was simply a shallow bowl that came from a broken desk lamp but I chose this particular form as it resembled a perfect puddle and as the weather has gotten colder I have found myself fascinated with the way puddles freeze and the debris that gets suspended in them momentarily. I experimented with taking three of these sculptures, each one representing different times of day, into Farnham park to photograph and film recording in their natural surroundings but I found that the weather was far too cold and they barely melted. I then saw that it would be much more interesting to document how they melted through the marks made by them rather than a time lapse. So instead I got a canvas and left the sculptures to melt on it one at a time. The marks made with these sculptures were very subtle as I only added small amounts of water colours and ink to slightly alter the colours of the ice. My goal with this piece was to create layers of marks to represent the ongoing changes in nature and I wanted to use the canvas to capture my interpretations of these changes, just as so many have done before me. For a recent exhibition I decided to repeat this process but this time use only paint and use it thickly within the sculpture in order to make more striking marks.

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Initial ice sculpture experiments photographed in Farnham park (December 2014)

Close up of ice sculpture and paint before it started to melt

Close up of ice sculpture and paint before it started to melt

Ice sculpture melting in the exhibition space (February 2015)

Ice sculpture melting in the exhibition space (February 2015)

In this exhibition I found that many people were confused by the materials I had used before the ice started melting, initially people thought I had placed a dome of brightly coloured resin onto a plinth, then they thought it may be jelly because of the colour, only when they touched it did they realise that it was ice. It helped that I had found a plinth that fitted my canvas perfectly as it made the fact that this was a painting quite discreet and left people to focus on the performance of states changing from one to another, which I hoped would be the most important thing about the piece. I feel that mainly this piece was positively received by my peers and tutors, with many of them commenting that it was the simplicity of the idea that made the piece successful. Useful criticisms were about my choice of colour palette, the lurid green was quite distracting and didn’t talk to the audience about nature or the history of painting as it was meant to, and also about the fact that the canvas was not clean before the ice started melting on it. I had chosen to use the same canvas as before as I liked this idea of adding layers to represent the ongoing changes in nature but I now see that a blank canvas would have been much more appropriate for the aesthetics of this piece. Another concern raised by my peers was how the piece would be displayed after the exhibition. There was concern that the canvas would be put up on the wall alongside other paintings and would then only be talked about as an automatic painting. I shared this concern so after the exhibition I dismantled my piece and found other ways it could be shown after the event of the ice melting, separating the canvas from the plinth and the plinth from the marks made by the melting water on the floor. This may be a more interesting way of showing this piece in an exhibition after an ice piece has melted, as it forces the viewer to piece together what has happened and realise that all objects are connected by an act of nature, just as everything is on earth. This is primarily what I want to talk about with art, but I think this could be done with more interesting objects which would make this idea clearer. Another way of presenting the work after the ice had melted which I found successful was taking close up pictures of the marks made on the canvas. These photos made the paint and canvas unrecognisable so that the focus is solely on the intricate and strange marks that was made by the combinations of natural process and paint, these images are so abstract that it is impossible to guess what they are of, but make for aesthetically pleasing images that show off the beauty of nature.

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Close up of canvas detail

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Close up of canvas detail

From here I want to continue to make work that talks about the constant transitions of nature, from day into night, winter to spring and life to death and become more in touch with the flow of nature and hopefully build up an understanding relationship with these natural events that I cannot get from our capitalist society and share them with my audience.