ENJOY ME/DESTROY ME : New work

Between August – September I began work on very different ideas to the content of my previous work. During a trip through European capitals I started thinking about the Kitsch and the acceptance of throwaway culture in Western Society, especially the typical plastic souvenirs that haunt us in every agreeably nice place in the world. With the rise of ‘selfie sticks’ and the increasingly advanced technology of the smart phone camera I also found an interest in the way we treat photography now. It seems that now the photograph is so accessible we feel the need to take photos of every experience to prove that it was ours, as though if we take a photo we are some how experiencing the moment more intimately than if we did not. (These thoughts were also inspired by reading; John Berger: Ways of seeing, over this period.) From watching people take photos constantly without actually LOOKING at the things they were taking photos of I started thinking about how the photograph is now how we feel present in the world around us. We have generated a dysmorphic relationship with our surroundings. Our excessive photo taking distracts us from our sense of really ‘being’ in a place, an experience or a moment. This sense of being has become objectified in the photographic data of an Iphone, an Instagram post and Facebook profile pictures. We cannot be without instantly proving we’ve been.

ENJOY ME/DESTROY ME 2015
ENJOY ME/DESTROY ME 2015

This is the foundation of ideas that formed my piece ‘ENJOY ME/DESTROY ME.” The idea was a collaboration between myself and friend KAYA FEHMI, whose photograph is included in the piece. Our idea was to have a large scale image made into badges and attached to a denim hanging so that people could see and then interact with the image, being able to take a piece of it with them, until all the badges have gone. Through this process the piece aimed to challenge the audience to enjoy it whilst simultaneously destroying it, mirroring humans relationship with nature and the environment.

For me, the importance of the denim for the background of the photograph was to demonstrate the culture of the Western

Peter Blake, Self-Portrait with Badges 1961

world. By taking second hand denim jeans and cutting them up to make a flat sheet I was taking something practical and useful and making it functionless, as I feel the buyers of plastic souvenirs do to natural recourses. The use of badges on denim also took inspiration from Peter Blake’s: ‘Self portrait with badges’, a physical representation of his painted collages.

I found the large scale making of this piece to be very physical, it became in itself a ‘mass production’ of plastic objects as I attempted to make 486 badges by hand. The badges themselves were made from plastic poker chips, electric tape and safety pins with photographic paper stuck on with double sided sticky tape. I enjoyed the physicality of this making process along with the sewing of the denim by hand. This idea of handmade but ‘culturally disrupting’ objects echoes the process of Ai Weiwei’s work, especially his sunflower seeds due to their initial interaction with viewers in the Turbine Hall.

From a collective perspective the badges create a whole aesthetic image, which is about distinguishable. The moment a badge is removed it transforms from part of a whole to a bland combination of grey and white pixels, making it as worthless as a €4.50 souvenir that loses it’s value and meaning as soon as you remove it from its surroundings.

Ai Weiwei, Sunflower seeds, 2011 

The photograph used is of the Hungerford Bridge’s ‘Skateboard Graveyard’ by Southbank. The image appropriately documents an accumulation of old and broken skateboards that have been abandoned onto the bridge support, an island of consumer waste in the middle of the Thames. So to stage the interaction between audience and piece we decided to take it there, inviting people to take a badge rather than to take a photo, to be present beyond the screen of their phones. This location did not work for this piece as it was at an awkward angle for people to interact with it, so we later moved it opposite Southbank skate park, this change of location turned the piece into an almost-memorial for the fate of the on looking skateboards.

Kaya Fehmi, Skateboard Fehmi, 2015
Kaya Fehmi, Skateboard Fehmi, 2015

The expectation of public interaction with the piece was where it failed, it seemed that people were too awkward or just plain uninterested to interact. I believe now that the piece would only have been able to create this interactive presence with the viewer if it had been much larger. It was very easy to ignore, due to its height and placement at the side of the pathway. If it had been bigger and able to stand independently it would have been impossible for people to ignore and possibly less embarrassing for those who were interested but shy. Interestingly a lot of people asked how much the badges were and were confused that they were being given away. At some points I felt that there would have actually been more interest if the badges were for sale rather than for free. Possibly at this stage it was a little over ambitious to expect people to interact physically with my work but I feel that the majority of my ideas came across successfully here and I am happy with the visual outcome and repetitive processes that it developed.

Before interaction
Before interaction
On Hungerford Bridge
On Hungerford Bridge
With sign
With sign
Post - interaction
Post – interaction
Individual badge/interaction
Individual badge/interaction
Opposite skate park/interaction
Opposite skate park/interaction
In loaction
In loaction

Ai Weiwei at Blenheim palace exhibition review

In 1917 Marcel Duchamp caused controversy by placing a urinal within the white walls of the art world, a centaury later Ai Weiwei removes his creations, a combination of ready-mades and specifically made sculptures, out of these white walls and into the luxurious setting of Blenheim palace to spark a debate that undeniably puts art back into the service of the mind.

The curator, Michael Frahm, has described the exhibitions aims as ‘trying to give an insight into how contemporary art can look in a 300-year old building.’ But with Ai’s pieces being so politically charged, it is not so easy to read the contrast between setting and work as simply aesthetic, and the tribute to Duchamp hanging above Winston Churchill’s birth bed makes it near impossible.

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Chandelier 2002

Ai is most famous for his provocative destruction of historical Chinese artifacts so to see the largest UK exhibition of his work in a world heritage site that functions solely on the preservation of historical artifacts is dizzying to say the least. On entering the ‘green drawing room’, visitors of Blenheim are greeted by several Han Dynasty Vases that date back to 202 BC. Unlike the perfectly preserved artifacts native to Blenheim, these vases have been defaced, smoothed into a slick metallic gleam by auto paints. Within the white walls of a gallery space this act of destruction instantly transforms the vases from historical Chinese artifacts to an anonymous tribute to industrialization, highlighting the negative experiences that Ai has faced with the Chinese government, but the uncomfortable contrast that occurs when placing them in a historical time capsule achieves much more than this.

Not all of Ai’s pieces are so easily distinguishable from Blenheim’s extensive collection though, the grand Chandelier which opens the show spectacularly seems right at home within the confines of the 300 year old architecture, as do the beautiful floral plates in the China Ante room which are said to be inspired by the flowers that Ai puts in the basket of his bike everyday to mourn the freedom he had before his long standing house arrest in 2011.

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Han Dynasty Urns (202 BC) in auto paint 2014

In the finale of the exhibition, held in the Long library, Ai’s series ‘Study of perspective’ is impossible to miss. Whether the viewers focus is on the borderline explicit content, or the fact that landscape prints have been presented at a head turning 90 degree angle (an inevitable miscalculation caused by curating an entire exhibition from another country), these images are unavoidably confronting. This is where the exhibition really comes to a climax, the pictures hassle the viewers, whether they have come to see Ai’s work or not, with a semiotic view of authority, so much so that they obstruct access to the books that the library holds.

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Study of perspective 1995-2003

On leaving this exhibition my strongest impression was one of discomfort. Ai’s use of destruction throughout his work is heightened at Blenheim in a way that a white walled gallery could not achieve. Frahm’s curiosity as to what contemporary art would look like in a 300 year old building has not been successful because of its aesthetics, but because of the revolutionary discovery of what happens when you take art out of normality and into an interior that harshly contradicts the work, just as Duchamp did back in 1917. The conflict between preservation and destruction is on going here, it is mentally jarring to experience Ai’s work, which destructs and belittles the culture of his country in the context of Blenheim, which preserves and glorifies material objects that once belonged to the inherent elite.

First week of Final Major Project – Ideas

I have two ideas for my final major project, the first is titled; ‘Newspaper’. This idea is inspired by my visual communication project which I completed in part one of my foundation course. I felt particularly driven by this week long project as we were told to buy a newspaper and find one article which we would then base the rest of the week producing work from. I found a trivial article titled ’10 things not to say to pregnant women’, and it struck me when looking through the paper how many of the articles were just filler. Developing this idea for my final project I thought about how it could be interpreted that these entertaining articles are here to distract us from important things that are actually going on in the world. So for this project concept I would be trying to uncover these untold stories, but at the same time contrasting them with the filler articles I found in newspapers each week. To do this I would have to conduct interviews with people who may have faced injustice at some point in their lives, so possibly having to visit old peoples homes and soup kitchens. As I have never conducted an interview before I would have to practice this technique so that I could get something of use from the actual interviews I conducted, as well as practicing with recording the interviews digitally, in notes and taking photographic portraits of the subject that some how held relevance to their story. For this project I would be looking at artists such as Ai Weiwei and the photo journalist Kevin Carter. Of particular importance to this project would be Ai’s work on the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, as not only did he make two pieces inspired by the untold stories, the first being ‘Remembering’ where he used 7,000 different coloured backpacks to spell out a quote from one of the school children’s bereaved mothers on a large scale, and ‘Straight’ which was a landscape constructed using the metal poles that crumbled in the school.

‘Remembering’ 2009

‘Straight’ 2008-2012

He also conducted a project to find out the names of the school children that died in the poorly constructed schools at the time of the earth quake, which is a list that the Chinese government never released. It is this concept of unveiling the truths that we remain oblivious to because the media is not thrusting it into our faces as it does with celebrity gossip that I would want to focus on in this project. This project idea has also been inspired by the book ‘Nineteen Seventy-four’ by George Orwell, as the concept of the government covering up certain truths and trying to minimize the way in which we think explored here could be really interesting to the development of this project. 

My second idea goes by the title ‘Pain and Sleep’, which is a more in depth version of my latest project where I experimented with colour psychology. I plan to continue this process in the project, but also combine it with optical illusions and 3D structures and possibly even film in order to create painful aesthetics which physically repel the viewer, or cause some physical reaction. This title was inspired by the quote; ‘My only relief is to sleep. When I’m sleeping, I’m not sad, I’m not angry, I’m not lonely, I’m nothing.’ from Jillian Medoff’s ‘Hunger Point.’ I feel that this quote explains the idea of pain and escapism that I plan to study throughout this project, possibly contrasting the idea of sleep with painful imagery. My aim in this project is to visually confuse the viewer, not only is it about trying to translate the way that someone with mental illness may see day to day life, it is also trying to get a reaction from the viewer as I feel that we are at a stage in art where we can no longer be shocked by art emotionally. For this project I am going to look more in depth at Tracey Emin’s work, as her piece ‘My Bed’ is of particular importance to this project as it combines both of the juxtaposing ideas of sleep and pain in one installation

‘My Bed’ 1998

I also think it will be beneficial for me to look at this artist because of the way in which she incorporates written work into her art, as I would like to include some of my own poetry through this project to portray the idea of both sleep and pain. To help inspire my poetry I shall also be doing reading on Sylvia Plath and Andrea Gibson. Plath is important for me to look at not only because of her talents as a writer but also because she suffered from Bipolar Disorder and I think it is important for me to do research on artists and practitioners who suffered from mental illnesses. I feel that Gibson is also important for me to look at because of the way she presents her work mostly through performance and audio, which I find much more engaging than simply reading her poetry which could be an interesting process for me to experiment with. When at the Tate Modern in London I came across Chen Zhen’s piece ‘Cocon du vide’ which is what inspired me to think about using 3D as a format to making optical illusions as I feel this could be even more effective than working within 2D limitations.

‘Cocon du vide’ 2000

This second project is the one I have decided to pursue, although at the moment it seems rather broad I plan to narrow it down through experimentation and the process of elimination. I feel that I am much more passionate about this second idea as it is something that is much closer to home and I feel will keep me more motivated than my other project idea. Although I have not fully finalised my idea I have started off making some simple optical illusions, this one was done on A3 using a black water soluble pen and a Vaseline tin for a template. Hopefully after some more in depth research on optical illusions I will be able to structure something that is a little more painful on the eyes as although this was quite confusing and painful to concentrate on a long period of time while making I feel that the final outcome is something that is actually quite aesthetically pleasing because of it’s simple symmetry. 

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Essay Research

 For the contextual studies module of my course I have to write a 2,000 word essay comparing two artists. I have decided to use one of my favourite and one of my least favourite artists for this essay; Ai Weiwei and Banksy. I have decided to use these artists because of my very strong opinions of them both, and I want to analyse the impact that they have on their target audience and culture. Both Ai Weiwei and Banksy create art in order to make political statements usually opposing the government. Although they are both from completely different cultures and create artwork in different mediums, the aims of their works share similarities. Where Banksy forced himself into fame using street art and actually sneaking some of his work into galleries, similarly Ai took no caution and came into the world wide public eye when he was imprisoned by the Chinese government in 2010. Ai is not only viewed as an artist, but also as a political activist, which I believe shows the undeniable power of his work. He has commented that ‘Modern Chinese cultural history is one that scorns the value of the individual; it is a history of suppressing humanity and spirituality.’ From this quote alone you can understand why Ai’s work is so important to Chinese culture as change is vital in this society, whereas Banksy is known for ‘exposing the many hypocrisies of modern life.’ which in comparison to Ai’s work seems quite insignificant and petty.Image

One technique that both artists have used is the defacement of cultural artefacts. For example Ai has produced a series of ceramics such as the Han Dynasty Urn with Coca-Cola Logo, in which he destroys a historical artefact that has been dated back to around 206BC, with an iconic branding of the modern era. The way in which he tackles this in a pop art fashion, shows how individualism and traditional techniques have been discontinued to make room for mass production in a culture that seems obsessed with consumerism.Image

Conceptually this is similar to Banksy’s Vandalised Phone box where he has mutilated the phone box making it totally unusable, much like Ai has done, as he has destroyed a historical artefact that we can assume the state would want to preserve for museums to encourage tourism and therefore profit, so in practice this is an act to get under the governments skin by destroying what they want to preserve. The reaction to Banksy’s piece was much the opposite, a BT spokes person described it as ‘a stunning visual comment on BT’s transformation from an old-fashioned telecommunications company into a modern communications services provider” and reportedly BT requested to keep it in their head quarters. I think this is a prime example of how Banksy’s and Ai’s work differ, although the work was removed, Banksy lives in a culture where freedom of speech and creativity is encouraged, the work was reported on the news as another of his ‘audacious, clandestine pranks.’ This is only a small amount of the research that I have done so far, but currently I am looking forward to completing this essay as analysing artists work is one of my favourite things to do and something I believe to be vital to my own practice.