Artists currently influencing my practice

Since showing my work at ‘No Ordinary Disruption’ last month I have been working on ways to fully resolve how ‘POLITICALLY EMOTIONAL/EMOTIONALLY POLITICAL’ is presented to an audience, as I felt as though the presentation at this show was ineffective. To help me realise this I have been looking at established artists who have presented text works in the past, these include; Lawrence Weiner, Jenny Holzer, Trevor Paglen and then artists who have taken a very different approach to presenting similar ideas such as William Basinski, Emma Critchley and Ray Lee.

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Lawrence Weiner: ‘Iron & Gold in the Air Dust & Smoke on the Ground’ (1995)

I was sent this picture of ‘Iron & Gold in the Air Dust & Smoke on the Ground’ (1995) by a friend visiting Antwerp, not only was I struck by the poetic resonance and simplicity of the words but also by their freedom from a gallery space. After some research I found out this was the work of Lawrence Weiner, often dubbed ‘The Father’ of Conceptual art. I have taken many things away from my readings about Lawrence and his work, in particular my faith in writings constructed ALL IN CAPITAL LETTERS, and confidence in leaving a work just as simple text without any embellishments. I also admire Weiner’s process of rejecting commodification through the form of his work and the way in which he constructs work so that their impact continues outside the gallery or viewing space; “You are required to accept the logic in order to use the work and once you’ve accepted that logic it carries over into the rest of life.” [1] Finally, two other quotes that have helped validate my confidence with the content of my writing as previously I had thought that perhaps they would be perceived as quite naïve; “I spent a lot of my youth deciding whether I was going to try to change the culture as a whole, or whether I was going to continue to try and change each individual horrendous thing that was going on in the world.” [1] And; “Art, I think, always comes from an anger with the specific configuration that’s presented to you. It’s not terribly intellectual.”[1]

[no title] 1979-82 by Jenny Holzer born 1950

Jenny Holzer: [no title] from Inflammatory Essays (1979-82)

I have also been looking Jenny Holzer’s work, specifically her series of ‘Inflammatory essays’ which she posted around Manhattan between 1979-82, a new one each week on a different piece of coloured paper. Holzer dotted these around the city in places where she hoped a diverse audience would get the chance to read them; “From the beginning, my work has been designed to be stumbled across in the course of a person’s daily life. I think it has most impact when someone is just walking along, not thinking about anything in particular, and then finds these unusual statements either on a poster or in a sign.” [2]  This is a sentiment that is central to my own beliefs about how my own writing should be interacted with by the viewer. Holzer’s writing style, content and use of language, other than being much more sophisticated, is really quite similar to my own ramblings. This raises the question; what is the point of me making the work I feel like making if it has already been made? This is a question I do not yet have an answer to, but I shall continue to draw on my visual and contextual similarities to Holzer, as along with the ‘Inflammatory Essay’s’ series I have also drawn inspiration from looking at the projections of her writing that are well documented on her website.

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Jenny Holzer: Projections – Washington (2004)

One thing that does concern me about both Weiner and Holzers’ work is how much they may be affected, in terms of honesty and impact, when the writings are commissioned or shown in a gallery. As both artists works quite clearly echo the function of street graffiti yet have developed in a way that carries more authority due to their scale and presentation. I feel sure that once writings like this are commissioned or backed, they are no longer a rebellion against the state and especially when they are displayed in a gallery I feel that they loose any genuine dialogue with the global environment, instead the text feels as though it has been validated by what it is against, rendering it useless. For example, I felt a much more urgency of expression and passing information in this text I spotted scrawled in spray paint onto the The Royal Court of Justice (October 2016):

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The Royal Court of Justice Graffiti October 2016: ‘they are sharks they pay judges circle of lies, they are fabricating evidence’ 

Possibly I should keep this as a reminder to avoid letting any of my writings and their presentation become ‘institutionalised’.

Trevor Paglen also uses projections to display text in his work ‘Code Names of the Surveillance State’ (2014). I have so far found four examples of how this work has been displayed previously. In his 2015 exhibition at Metro Picures Paglen displayed the work, which consists of a continuous loop of over “4,000 National Security Agency (NSA) and Government Communications Headquaters (GCHQ) surveillance program code names” [3], on three synched horizontal TV monitors. In his 2014 exhibition at the same gallery Paglen presented the same work in a multi projection installation. Here, the Alphabetised list scrolled endlessly over all 4 of the gallery walls. I have also found an unspecified image of the names directly applied onto the gallery wall but in my opinion the most successful presentation of Paglen’s collection of absurd code names was when he projected them on political buildings around London in 2014. I think the contrast between the hilarity of the names featured on the list and the seriousness of its implications is a perfect balance for a society that regularly communicates world news and politics through Internet meme’s. It is this dry humour that I also think is important to include in my own writing as I feel it gives the text more realism, a kind of comic relief. In a way I quite like viewing this piece of work, in all of its forms, as a form of absurdist found poetry.

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For me, the temporality and large scale nature of both Paglen and Holzers’ projections feels better suited to this piece of Paglens’ work as even in its documentation it stands as a powerful piece of evidence and protest. Both projections by Holzer and Paglen use white text with a black background, which is better suited to this idea of shining light on and exposing a subject. Paglens’ other works are usually quite pictorial and could easily be described as tranquil. For example the mystical imagery in his photography works such as “Bahamas Internet Cable System (BICS-1) NSA/GCHQ-Tapped Undersea Cable Atlantic Ocean” (2015) stands as a visual metaphor for the unnecessary disruption of serenity. The title of this work also presents the image as a piece of evidence, which it is, rather than an objective artwork. It is these subtler, poetic yet profound works that fuelled my interest in Emma Critchely.

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Trevor Paglen: ‘Bahamas Internet Cable System (BICS-1) NSA/GCHQ-Tapped Undersea Cable Atlantic Ocean’ (2015)

Whilst attending a talk by Emma at the beginning of October after installing her work in UCA Farnham’s gallery space Black Box I learnt that she too has been inspired by David Abram’s text ‘The Spell of the Sensuous’. It has since become very important for me to study her work and see how the ideas from Abrams’ text translate into visual art works. One of the clearest links I can see so far is to Emma’s series ‘Figures of Speech series 2’ (2012). Here Emma asked free divers to say a word underwater and then captured the form of the air bubble released from their mouths in front of their faces. For me the air bubble distorting the facial expression of the free diver talks about the decrease in non-verbal communication between all living things. This echoes Abram’s ideas about the importance and faith we place on language to understand people and the natural world, and how this limits us from reading more truthful signals that they/it is sending out. The musical scores that accompany many of Emma’s film works is something that I found affected me in a very physical way, and music is a form that I have been keen to experiment with since seeing the ‘THIS IS A VOICE’ exhibition at the Wellcome collection.

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Emma Critchely: 1/3 ‘Figures of Speech series 2’ (2012)

This directly reflects my interest in musicians such as Brian Eno and William Basinski. As always, I really appreciate the way in which music can function outside a gallery space and can affect people in daily life, it carries a purpose and one that can heighten and explore the human senses. It is this ambition and function that I want to be making myself, and the more I listen to the transient rhythm of Basinski’s ‘Disintegration Loops’ series the less I feel that this can be done with the aggressive, feeling sorry for myself, ‘poetry’ that I have been working on.

I have also very recently come across the work of Ray Lee. What excites me about Lee’s work is the way in which he uses installation to bring sound into public spaces and explores the way in which it can transform the way we interact with space. It is this idea of giving an audience a direct experience that I have always been interested in, but I have ever seen it done in such a way that allows viewers to explore the possibilities of their minds and relationship to the world. Although it was presented in a gallery space and not in the public domain, it is Lee’s project ‘Cold Storage’ (2011) and all its sci-fi implications that I am most keen to let infiltrate my own practice and future works. On Lee’s website the experience created is described as so;

“In a room modelled on the regency bedroom from the end of 2001: a space odyssey, the one-on-one audience member is invited to lie down in a cryogenic sleeping pod, a sleek metal casket-like box familiar from any number of sci-fi films (Alien, 2001, Dark Star etc). 
A calm, white clothed technician assists as you climb into the cryogenic tank. The lid is closed on you. Inside it is cold, noticeably cold, freezing. Your hands and face feel the cold.

There is not much room inside. You are lying down on your back. The casket is lit from the inside and you see your reflected image on a mirror above you. You cannot see outside the tank. It is a bit like being in a coffin, or in a medical procedure, or…
There is an uncomfortable sense of nothing happening except that you are beginning to feel the cold penetrate the outer layers of clothing that you wear. You wonder how long this will go on or if you will get too cold for comfort.
Wearing headphones you listen to a calm, authoritative voice explaining what will happen to you. You will be deep frozen and put to sleep for a thousand years. The voice continues to gently talk to you and you are invited to consider the finite nature of our life span and as you do so the light dims inside the tank until you become aware that you can see through the glass window above you.

As you see through the glass and your mirror image fades you can see that above you are an endless sea of stars. You are now in complete darkness, in the cold of the cryogenic tank, looking out into space, as if set adrift, lost in an ocean of nothingness.” [4]

Similar to the experience of a floatation tank that has so informed Emma Critchley’s work, it is this speculation of and separation from everyday life that I would like my work to evoke in viewers, an experience that can take people out of the ordinary and return to it more grounded in the fragility of reality.

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Ray Lee: ‘Cold Storage’ (2011)

Although I have received relatively positive feedback on my recent writing I do not feel that shouting horrible things through text is a successful way of creating the emotional experience that I wish too, in fact I think it is more of a therapy for myself rather than for an audience. In the next weeks I plan to experiment and finalise my text works, hopefully using multiple projections in a space as a starting point, but in the future I hope I will find a way for my works to develop into something much more ambitious, subtle and reflective.

[1] http://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/issue-6-lawrence-weiner-interview

[2] http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/holzer-no-title-p77397/text-catalogue-entry

[3]http://www.paglen.com/?l=work&s=code_names_of_the_

[4]http://invisible-forces.com/ray%20lee%20-%20projects.htm

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