I am a multimedia, process led artist based in Farnham, Surrey. My work focuses on the relationship between man and nature in the technological western world, which I explore through photography, installation, performance, print, film, assemblage and painting. My practice is informed by artists such as; Martin Creed, Olafur Eliasson, David Shrigley, Ai Weiwei, Godfrey Reggio, Gustav Metsger and John Cage.
Drawing on influences from Roland Barthes’ ‘Mythologies’ alongside Aldous Huxley’s ‘Doors of Perception’ my practice thinks about the subliminal human experience within the complex mundane of the contemporary world.
I am interested in how we deal with the existential in the post Internet now where a multitude of ever expanding distractions help us to forget about our own mortality. This interest in Internet culture provokes attempts at humour and parody in my practice in a way that aims to understand man’s relationship with the absurdity of Western reality.
This contrast between the constructed virtual world and our own internal realities often forces me to leave stains and accidents in my works in order to expose the flaws of this chance based reality. Maths forms a basis for many of my works, as often the aesthetics of process led and repetitive work is left to chance.
My work aims to interactively relate to audiences who feel just as confused with the absurdity and constant contradictions of the modern world as I do. Through my practice I aim to provoke questions about the way we live in a post Internet society, analysing our subversive relationship with the real and unreal in an ‘atemporal’ world where all times now exist at once.
In terms of contemporary art, the exhibition “Phosphor on the Palms” is a rarity. Entering the white walls of Hauser & Wirth you will notice a certain emptiness that dominates the space. Naturally this pushes the viewer towards the small-scale oil paintings that are displayed systematically across the gallery space, letting us discover the infinity of detail and realist mysticism that awaits us there. This is Anj Smith’s biggest solo show to date with over 20 works made over the past three years.
Smith’s paintings guide the viewer along a path through the gallery space; each is hung at a perfect height for closer inspection. Within these compositions one can easily be transported into another dimension where every intricacy is executed in uncompromised perfection. Despite the beauty of overwhelming detail these paintings hold, they are just as undeniably nightmarish. With your back turned away from the center of the space your eyes flit from one piece to the next, and your feet can do nothing but follow.
Although visually similar, the themes that these paintings explore are extensive; using iconography Smith explores, fashion, nature, consumerism, gender, isolation and many more all in a dream like hyperrealism. In an exhibition as rare as this in it’s traditional craftsmanship, there is obviously a continued conversation about painting and technology. Smith has said herself “There’s something about painting now that, because we have so much technology, we don’t have an essential need for. I’m deciding to sit there for hours daily just to create one image.”
This is not done in vain. The works in this exhibition make the awe that was evoked by grand oil paintings in the past, comprehensible to contemporary audiences. Not only this, but unlike most contemporary painters Smith avoids expressing her relationship with reality in a visually abstract way. Instead, she takes abstract concepts and transforms them into magical realism. Smith does not attempt to simplify these abstractions but instead embraces them ‘in all their complexities’, in a way that allows the viewer to reflect on the truly absurd times we are living in.
These surreal landscapes and portraits do not only sit on the wall as a window into another world, but throughout the exhibition they gradually begin to permeate into the third dimension. Starting with ‘Uncurtaining the night’ a viewer with a keen eye will notice that very small reliefs of paint have been left to dry at the bottom of the composition, creating the physical texture of a forest floor. Smith’s painting seep more and more into the physical world until we are faced with ‘The excreted’, which is so small in scale and so heavily caked in paint that it barely functions as a physical painting and becomes almost fully sculptural.
This show is as diverse in its readings as you imagine it to be, there are monkeys crawling out of paintings along side sad, sunken eyes, scaled creatures and symbols of high fashion. No carefully composed image in this exhibition talks about the same subject as the last, each creates it’s own individual paradigm that parodies everyday consumer culture into alien landscapes, reflecting the multiple aspects of our ever-changing contemporary society.
As an induction into my Second Year studio unit, in September we were given a project to respond to a piece of Art on display in London, in order to change our way of working whilst expanding our knowledge of artists. I was given Sigmar Polke’s ‘Untitled (Square 2)’, 2003, which is displayed at the Tate Modern in the room ‘Painting after technology’. Although I usually try to avoid looking at traditional methods of painting, within this composition I found an interest in the contrast between fluid and the static because of the layers of different painting technique. The free flowing paint caught under a systematically printed image, and the colour palette of this painting had a great affect on me, I found the metallic and yet dulled hues soothing and complimentary whilst simultaneously dark, generating a sense of mysticism.
From my initial research I became interested in the philosophy of Metaphysics, as I found that in its theories it contains questions I have often asked myself. The basic questions of Metaphysics helped me form my first response to Polke’s work as they gave me a basic reason to make art. These questions are: 1. Ultimately what is there? 2. What is it like? To start generating work I tried to answer these questions visually. My initial response consisted of a black and white macro image of moss, enlarged onto 16 A4 pages. Onto this I projected colour footage of the moss and it’s surroundings. In this way I tried to answer the questions like this; 1. What is there? This piece of moss. 2. What is it like? It is green, growing in a wall, there are bushes growing above it etc. This idea of static and movement was clearly inspired by the layers in Polke’s painting, whilst still trying to visualize the merging of reality and then humans perception of reality. The projection onto the image made it difficult for either element can be understood at all but when they were separated they can both be seen clearly. I find this confusion caused by the layering of the objective and subjective over one another to be an interesting idea – is it impossible for human’s to objectively observe the world around us because we are a part of it?
I then went on to look at the works of Gustav Metzger, Stan Brakhage, Len Lye and Oskar Fishinger. The contrast between the technological and the organic is what drew me towards Metzger’s work, in particular ‘Liquid Crystal Environment’ (1965/2005). The way his work naturally transforms over the duration of it is display is something that I feel is central to my own way of making work. Not only is his work transformative, but also it is politically engaged and deals with the environmental whilst being extremely physical in its presence.
Research into Stan Brakhage led me to experiment with out of date film, making gifs with a Nishika camera, creating multiple still images into ‘moving moments’ of distorted colour. I also experimented with digitally manipulating photographs damaged by a broken camera, transforming the colours and visibility within the composition.
Play with colour and animation led me to look at Len Lye’s films. I was instantly immersed in Lye’s use of repetition and bright block colours. This interest then led me to ‘An Optical poem’ by Oskar Fishinger. The circular forms pulsating and transforming took me out of reality for a few minutes, absorbed me into the screen on which I watched it, creating a mental transgression into the bright and infinite technological world.
The colour and forms in these animations and the influence of Polke led me to experiments with paintings. I generated these by making multiple backgrounds at once and then creating layers of varying colour palates and textures on top. After all the layers had dried I would attempt to make sense of the free flowing paint with ink drawings on top. From this I found a colour palette that I wanted to work with; Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. This started off as a visual interest and then transformed into a conceptual process. Using the acrylic versions of the printer inks to talk about tensions between technology and painting.
I was then recommended to look into the MoMA’s 2015 exhibition ‘Forever Now’. This introduced me to the term ‘Atemporal’ which describes ‘The strange state of the world where due to the Internet, all times now exist at once.’ This helped me think about the cross overs between the tradition of painting and the immediacy of digital/man made imagery. I then looked at different ways of painting and began experimenting contrasting these highly artificial colours with natural marks. I would use the negative space of a burnt piece of paper as a template, transferring the paint onto the paper with a sponge to create delicate but sharp edged forms. I also experimented with layering paints to recreate the spectrum of colours that create images out of a digital printer.
This influence in our perception of colour and the spectrum bought me to Olafur Eliasson and his study of colour. From his work I became more interested in installation space and was reminded of my interest of audience’s participation as a key aspect of the work.
To develop my work for the October Crit show I began painting in block colours focusing on the form of the circle as this allowed me to easily create patterns and illusions. Reading Aldous Huxley’s ‘Doors of perception’ was also a great influence in my work at this time, especially where he describes the effect of bright colour on our ‘antipodes’; “Bright pure colours are characteristic of the other world”. Despite this Huxley evaluates only a page later “by it’s amazing capacity to give us too much of the best things, modern technology has tended to devaluate the traditional vision-inducing materials.” I felt a real connection to this analysis of colour in the everyday as I have often thought about why we do not feel the complete awe at colour and composition that our ancestors would have done.
Through reflection of this research I decided to make a ergonomically scaled installation that explored painting, colour, technology, the kitsch and human experience of forced perception. This is where ‘LSTV’ was formed. This consisted of an interior and exterior made from Acrylic and pencil on Canvas, black out fabric, Wood, AstroTurf, TV monitor and a Glass mannequin head.
The exterior consisted of a pattern made from the colours Magenta, Cyan, Yellow and Black. This pattern of dot painting had to be strategically planned before it was painted, I first had to plan it digitally on photoshop before I could start physical work. This process echoes that of Michael Williams digital and handmade paintings, whom I found in the ‘Forever Now’ catalogue. I was particularly interested in Williams’ choice of always creating flat imagery because of “the fact that he usually encounters artworks on the Internet or in books, rather than in person.” I wanted to subvert this in my ideas as I wanted to be sure that the viewer was completely present to view my work and in this way it would be impossible to photograph the piece, I felt it was important that the work could only be experienced truly when you are in front of it.
Again, this work was very physical, the 5×5 meter canvas was much bigger than me so had to be made in stages, using hand drawn grids to guide me to where I should print each individual circle (applied with 10x10cm sponge). These pencil marks on the canvas were not removed once the paint had dried as I felt they became part of the work, these artificial dots sit between man made and mass production and the pencil lines highlighted this tension along with the reality of human error. From afar the canvas still looks as though it may have been mechanically made, but as the viewer gets closer to see the interior of the installation this pretence is abolished.
The ideas of over exposure to technology dulling our minds to a point where the ‘other world’ that Huxley references throughout his Mescalin experience is no longer accessible, is where the assemblage formed for the interior of my installation. Here I combined a glass mannequin head, Plastic grass and an old TV monitor stuck on white noise. These objects are all man made but particularly unaesthetic. They are objects whose function is to be the backdrop for other man made aesthetics but when placed all together they create a very bleak assemblage manufactured from evolving technology. This interior installation could only be viewed from one hole cut out of the canvas disguised as one of the painted black circles. This forced the viewer to interact with the piece physically, circling the structure to search for the hole, and then bending down to look through the it. This was followed by a mental interaction in the viewer where the contrast between interior and exterior aimed to transport the viewer to a very different place than the room/time and place that they were viewing my piece in.
In the crit feedback the comments revolved around the effective contrast of the bright and positive exterior and dark and disturbing interior, and how this could symbolize the transformation from childhood to adult hood. The disguise of the hole within the painted canvas also created a real moment of realization within the piece, a realization that there is ‘more’ and that this piece is not static. I was also told that my piece reminded people of advertisement because of the bright colours and positivity of the exterior from far away in comparison to the point where first the hand drawn lines and the imperfections of the circles can be seen, followed by the dark and bleak interior.
I feel that this piece was more successful in its interaction with the audience than ‘ENJOY ME/DESTROY ME’ because of its much larger physical presence. Its height meant that viewers couldn’t see over it, making it obstructive and forcing the viewer to confront it. But I do feel it was also too confusing, there were a lot of things in this piece to try to pick apart, also the disguise of the viewing point made it a secret when the work is meant to be for the viewer, and many did not know that it was there. I am pleased with this idea of transformation that occurs in the work, transporting the viewer from reality to an interior of strangeness using installation and contrast. The change of physical perception is something that I am going to work with again due to the success of this piece, the hole in the canvas allowed me complete control over the physical perception that the viewer had of the piece. Ultimately I want my work to allow moments of realization and moments of change in my audience by giving them a physical space of reflection. I want work to talk about human experience, the fears of death, realizations of something ‘bigger than us’ and other overwhelming moments of realization we face in our lives. These transformative and scary moments can sometimes only be consoled with humour and the absurd, which I feel is also very present in my work. I feel I would be happier about this work if it talked more about the political and environmental and had more influence from the audience. The idea that the audience could physically change outcome of the work was what was more successful about ‘ENJOY ME/DESTROY ME’, it gives the work a sense of immediacy and ephemerality to it, whereas ‘LSTV’ forced the viewers to be more present but did not completely include them.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Since my exhibition piece ‘Ebb and Flow’ I have continued to work with ice as a medium as well as experimenting with other natural materials. After the show I had a multitude of ideas to develop this concept and process but in hindsight I see that all these ideas fizzled out as I concentrated on my drawing project.
As the material choice of ice was inspired by my digital documentation of Farnham park I decided to experiment with projecting footage of the park onto a screen of ice. I was particularly interested in projecting the close up video’s I had of the bonfire from November, as I felt that this could make an interesting (if not obvious) comparison between the elements.
As I set this up in quite a light room, the projections were not as clear as I had wanted them to be, the best results were with videos that had a lot of light in them. I didn’t filming this as easy or as interesting as I thought I would, it didn’t feel that there was any real connection between the footage and the ice. One experiment that I did particularly like was when the ice had melted quite a bit and I projected the film onto the ice at an angle. The ice reflects the film at different angles whilst the water as a result of the ice melting reflects the footage too, creating a confusion of reflections and movement.
Although this was quite visually disorientating with all the different textures and reflections, I didn’t really feel that excited or interested by this experiment. This led me to ignore my studio project for a month or so as I felt I had many more interesting ideas for my drawing project.
After looking at banana skins in my drawing project I decided to experiment with this material further in my studio practice. I was fascinated by the rubbery texture of the skins and the way in which they changed from yellow to brown very quickly once they had been opened. I started my experimentation by photographing banana skins at different stages of decay, and then started to experiment with manipulating the skins so they would dry in different ways.
I especially liked the result of peeling a banana skin into very thin strips as it made the material completely unrecognizable, and documenting this skin as it dried was interesting as you could see how the material had shrunk and warped. Another experiment that worked well was taking the ‘strings’ that come off bananas and their skins and pressing them lightly onto paper, I found that they stuck very easily once they had dried and made very delicate studies of the banana material that bordered on scientific.
After these experimentations I started thinking about how I could make marks with the bananas without just letting them rot on their own. So I peeled three bananas at the same time, put one in water to freeze and left the other two to brown. Once the first banana skin sculpture had frozen I removed it from the mold and replaced it with one of the browning banana skins. Again, once this had frozen I replaced it with the final and brownest banana skin. This process created three ice sculptures with banana skins at different stages of decay. I was questioned at this stage why I was only using the banana skins and not the bananas themselves. I felt it was important not to waste food when making this work as its purpose is to talk about the damage and waste of capitalism and how it has distanced us from our appreciation of nature, and using the bananas themselves would be wasteful (and I’d much rather eat them).
I set these banana sculptures up in my studio space and recorded them melting but I found this to be so tedious and boring so I knew that it would not make an interesting piece. Instead I started playing around with their composition, piling the sculptures on top of each other and spinning them, creating rotating spheres and confusing footage that I think has potential.
I decided to have the sculptures melt not as domes but the other way round as this resembled fruit bowls, which is the only way we interact with bananas in Western culture. I then documented through photography the deterioration of the sculptures along with the creation of the marks made by the banana skins.
I was surprised to find that the freshest banana skin created the darkest liquid whereas the most decomposed banana skin created lightest. I also noticed during the melting process that the first sculpture had a lot of bubbles trapped inside it, which were beautiful to photograph and watch develop as the sculpture melted.
I was excited by the final outcome of this process; I had left the sculptures to melt on thick watercolour paper (as I didn’t want to have the same connotations to painting as I had done with the canvas in my last piece). The final, dried marks made looked like they could have been made from soil, which I felt showed the cycle of nature. I was also excited by the marks that were left on the plinth underneath the watercolour paper, as they looked like a negative, ghost print.
After having feedback from other students and tutors I was told about the Panama virus that threatens the Cavendish banana. From this research I found out that because there is little variation in banana cultivation this virus is able to wipe out this particular strain of banana just as it did the Gros Michel banana in the 50’s. I found this very interesting as my research showed that the Gros Michel banana was much tastier than the Cavendish banana that has replaced it, showing the deterioration of the quality of our food due to capitalism (Cavendish is the only banana cultivated and the only one sold, if bananas were grown naturally this would not be an issue – all about money.) I feel that accidently this piece already talks about this idea of deterioration and extinction but now that I know about this issue I would like to have my work develop in a way that addresses it effectively.
My problem now is how to develop these concepts within my work, I feel the melting piece is too natural as to demonstrate the negative impact of man I need to manipulate the banana skins in some way before this idea of extinction. I have been struggling to come up with any good ideas for a while, until I started thinking about my recent experiments with printing processes in my drawing project. I personally found the intaglio etching process to be an incredible experience, but a process that also seems to be dying out in favour of Photoshop and more immediate printing processes. I thought maybe I could link these two long-standing ‘things’ (the Cavendish banana and the rise of technology) by making etchings with bananas. Before the Easter break I waxed up several etching plates so that I could experiment with drying banana skins on them to see if any marks would be made. Hopefully this experiment may lead me to a resolved piece but I am still searching for ideas.
‘Raw and Unseasoned’ at Hundred Years Gallery offers an honest insight into the progress made by over 40 BA Fine Art students in their first year of study at UCA Farnham. For most participants this will be the first time their work has been exhibited in London, marking a milestone for these emerging artists.
This debut show aims to demonstrate the achievements of these explorative students as well as outlining the potentials of their artistic practice that will be developed in the years to come. Some works will focus on the process and materiality of their creation whilst others were born out of concept, bringing together a show as diverse as its creators.
In my last post documenting the progress of my drawing project I talked about my struggle finding a pure image to work with for my photocopying series. Since then I started to research the work of Anna Atkins, who took the first Cyanotype’s of natural forms. I felt that these images would be most appropriate to work from, as they are the first example of technology capturing nature.
I also decided to simplify my process as I found that the outcomes where I dragged the original image from left – right across the scanner felt the most successful as this both mimics the technology of the photocopier and the way we read in Western culture. To take away my visual control over the piece I used a random number generator to determine whether the original would be scanned in Portrait or Landscape and what specific co ordinates (X or Y) would be dragged along with the light of the photocopier. A selection of the 12 results:
I did another 12 experiments with an Anna Atkins inspired image that I came across. Strangely, when researching Atkins I realized that the ‘Google Doodle’ of the day was an interpretation of her process to spell out the search engine’s name. I found this to be a strange tribute to Atkins and an interesting representation of Westerns cultures relationship with nature and technology so I used the same random number generator technique with this image.
As these outcomes where made of 12 A3 sheets each the only way to view them properly was by laying them out on the floor. This did make me think that these could make an interesting floor piece, as walking around/ up and down the photocopies put a whole new emphasis on the outcomes as a large scale piece. But I wanted a more truthful way of presenting these images to the viewer that didn’t ignore the process of their creation so I tried making zines.
I thought the zines would help guide the viewer through the process, being able to flick the pages between the progression to understand the origins of the last image and the progression of the original. I made a third zine that compared both of the outcomes from the original Anna Atkins Cyanotype and the Google Doodle as they were born from the same random number generator decision-making. When comparing both outcomes I noticed that there were similarities in texture and patterns at each stage, which could talk about the similarities that are found in nature and technology.
Unfortunately these zines didn’t work, although I liked the truthful paper materiality of them, they felt boring and static when the piece is meant to be about transformation. Looking at my previous work with photocopies I decided to experiment with film, but didn’t just want to make a slideshow. Instead I filmed the photocopies being scanned in, so that the photocopier physically makes the transition between the images, mirroring the reality of the process they were made from.
I was very pleased with this initial outcome; I was especially excited by the audio. The mundane rhythm of the photocopier becomes a melody partnered with these vibrantly abstract images. I found that the most successful transitions between images was when they lined up and you could see exactly how one image created the next. I realized that this only happened with the Landscape outcomes, as this is how they are viewed on the film. So this lead me to make a new series with Anna Atkins Cyanotype where I used the random number generator again to determine co ordinates but only scanned in the images Landscape.
I felt that this could work well as a wall piece or floor piece better than a video as from far away it doesn’t feel like the image progresses at all but close up you can see the change in colour and lines which I find really interesting. This is very different from the series I had done before, and I missed the abstract textures that initially led me to this process so I then decided to scan each of these outcomes in portrait, using a random number generator to determine the co ordinates.
This gave some of the most colourful outcomes yet, but I now feel stuck with where to go with this next. I feel that I am just on the cusp of realizing the full potential of this piece but I don’t know what comes next. I feel that my most successful outcome is the video experiments but I now do not know which one is most relevant, or how this could be displayed completely truthfully. I feel that there is much more I could do with the audio – maybe I could have a series of several films of different series being projected at once, all starting and finishing at different times but all in the same rhythm of the photocopier. Maybe I have reached the full potential of this piece and simply one of the video pieces I have already made is enough to display my concept and process fully.
Almost ironically I found this exhibition to be a visually and intellectually overwhelming display of a genre of art that began by simplifying perspective into geometric forms. This notion of abstraction as a universal language felt absent in the curation here as I fought my way through a bombardment of imagery and descriptions in my own adventure of the black square.
Opening with Kazimir Malevich’s visual representation of utopian ideals through the compositional balance of ‘Black quadrilateral’ (circa. 1915) we witness the birth of abstraction, and with it the notion of revolutionary art. From here on the exhibition traces the development of artistic abstraction over the past centaury, observing its on going relationship with an ever-changing society. We are followed by Malevich’s paintings and those he closely influenced until we are introduced to Piet Mondrian’s painting; ‘Composition with Yellow, Red and Blue’ (1937-42). The exhibitions curation suggests the influence of Malevich’s black square in Mondrian’s foundations of neoplasticism. Yet here we see Mondrian’s visual practice of the dynamic equilibrium theory coming together with the abstraction of natural perspective into primal shapes that influenced a movement of aesthetic design.
This tangent of abstraction that talks about consumerism in the Western world was the easiest for me to follow due to my own reality. Following Mondrian’s composition I was struck by the lack of colour in both Dóra Maurer’s ‘Seven Rotations’ (1979) and Hassan Sharif’s ‘Drawing squares on the floor using a cube’ (1982) that seemed to continue Mondrian’s message. Both are similar in their process of squashing 3 dimensions into 2 dimensional representations but I think it is their suggestion of the endlessness of both art and abstraction where their strength lies. The presentation of Maurer’s photographs was worth the trip to the gallery itself. The transformation from the initial image to the last exploits the audience’s process of image reading. Demonstrated by the simplicity of the first image of Maurer holding the emptiness of the white square alongside the complexity of the final photograph, where the audience is asked to mentally deconstruct the image to understand it’s origins.
Upstairs this theme of materiality and disorientation in abstract art lead me to Gunilla Klingberg’s video piece ‘Spar Loop’ (2000) where I began to see evidence of contemporary abstractions perception and interaction with society. Klingberg’s kaleidoscopic animation of logos explores the abstract of the everyday in Western society by mimicking the spiritual capacity of consumerism. In some ways this piece echoes the realization that Roland Barthes had that; ‘the cultural work done in the past by gods and sagas is now done by laundry detergent commercials.” Spar Loop demonstrates the way that the general public is exploited by capitalist structures of society that allow advertisements to excite us in a way that was once done by transcendental powers.
This is not the only place in the exhibition where Barthes theories seemed relevant. For an exhibition that explores the liberation of abstract art I felt that too much emphasis was put on the authors. Alongside each piece was a lengthy description citing the authors past inspirations, although useful, this meant that it was easy to spend more time reading than looking. As Barthes points out ‘To give an Author to a text is to impose upon that text a stop clause, to furnish it with a final signification, to close the writing.” This is precisely what I felt happened here, although the artists exhibited used abstraction as a universal language to cover a variation of themes and mediums, the emphasis put on Malevich’s realization of the Black Square meant that all focus was on the fact that the work was abstract. In this space the works cannot individually grow or adapt to their audience as they have been forced into a curated timeline where there only purpose for display is the fact that they were in some way inspired by a black square, all other purposes are cut off within the walls of the White Chapel Gallery until the 6th of April.
After experimenting with my intaglio etching photocopies in a grid format I started thinking about how they would work as a video piece, as if each photocopy could be shown as a frame in its series, it could almost be an animation of the ice melting away. This inspiration also came from watching videos of John Cage’s print making processes, because his prints are so down to chance the videos of him making the pieces almost because more interesting than the work for me. I also found myself very interested in working with the audio that came out of documenting the ice being thrown to the ground.
My first experiment didn’t work as I only used the 6 photocopies that made up the left to right diagonal through the grid. This meant that the print didn’t really fade away but instead jumped from one photo copy to the next. I also experimented with slowing down the ice smashing audio here, this worked well I think as it gave the impact emphasis. I also liked how the audio softened as the photocopies got lighter, giving the impression of ice melting.
From this initial experiment I went on to scan in all 36 of the photocopies, so that the transition would be much smoother. This worked much better than I had anticipated, with 6 frames per second the black and white print fades smoothly away until the viewer is left with strange white and grey marks from the photocopier moving on the screen. I also decided to experiment with using the footage of me dropping the ice, as I liked the way that Dora Maurer’s piece ‘Throwing a plate from very high’ can be displayed alongside the photographs of her throwing the plate. As the video was much longer as it contained more photocopies this allowed me to play with the audio a little more. I decided to start the audio as I cut to the photocopies so that the audio and impact of the ice smashing can be experienced together, but the actual impact is still not seen conventionally.
I found the correlation between the audio and photocopies the most interesting part of this piece. The inclusion of me dropping the ice at the beginning made the piece too obvious, the audio with the photocopies on its own carries much more ambiguity and is much more exciting. So I then played around with only using the photocopies and manipulated audio, duplicating and flipping the sequence so that after the audio and visuals fade the process starts back up again.
I feel that this is the most successful out come of this combination of media as it for the way it visualises an impact through different ways, without ever letting the audience see this impact normally. Reversing the audio was really interesting, it completely changed the tone of the piece and I find the potential for this piece to be played on a loop very exciting. Ultimately this outcome successfully gives this sense of water freezing and ice melting I think, it explores natural cycles and changes whilst also thinking about the distortions that technology has on our society.
For the second unit of the drawing project I have been working with using photocopying as a means to manipulate and expose images. In my initial experiment using a close up photograph of a canvas painted with ice I found myself making 3 photo copies out the original image using a particular technique and then choosing the most ‘visually successful’ image and repeating the process with that image.
When I realised that I had subconsciously been doing this I became very excited about how this process could be used in part of a bigger sequence. So I continued with more experiments where I consciously made 3 photocopies of each image using a particular technique then chose the one I felt was most successful and used another technique. I felt excited about this because I realised that the possibilities of this process were endless, you could continue to photocopy photocopies stemming from one image repeatedly, so the piece itself could be infinite, or at least suggests its own infinity. I felt a sense of evolution when looking at the series, and thought about how it could talk about the natural evolution of our planet into present day. The photocopier here would act as a symbol of man’s modern day immediacy warping our perception of the world around us, removing us from our human nature. I felt that the way I was presenting this, as a diagonal so that each set of photocopies was seen in relation to its original, showed this. But when speaking to a tutor he recommended I think about using a grid, as the current presentation was too decorative. On trying this I found this form both allowed more photocopies to be shown in the same space, and made the transitions between images easier to read.
After researching John Cage’s printmaking techniques I realised that my process was too objective to present something so based on chance. So like John Cage I experimented with using a random number generator in order to get my head around the process before applying it in a different ways to this photocopying work. I realised that to be able to use the random number generator I would need to categorise all the different techniques I have been using to make the previous photocopies so that I could assign them a number. I found this difficult to do as there are so many variations of techniques so I had to be really concise about how this would work, making strict categories and sub categories. It was also around this time that I came across John Hilliard’s piece ‘camera recording its own condition’. This piece too aimed to expose the inadequacies of it’s own process of making.
At this stage I realised that I the image I was using was as important as the process itself. I had mainly been using pictures of natural forms as a visual representation of nature being warped by technology, but I felt like I needed to find a ‘pure’ (non-objective) image for this process to really work. This really hindered me as I felt like I couldn’t start categorising my techniques until I had a ‘pure’ image. In the meantime I started doing small observations of bananas and passion fruit shells decaying, focusing on making forms and patterns with them. Then I experimented with photocopying these 3D objects and moving them whilst being scanned. From this I got an image to work with to realise all the categories, I decided to get a still image of the fruit as I felt this was more truthful, but not yet a pure image as the composition was considered aesthetically.
From this I finalised my Categories to; Wiggle, Holding away from the scanner and back down again, circular motion and left – right, and a sub category; portrait or landscape. I found an image to work with by cropping and enlarging natural textures found in Tomas Marent’s collection of Rainforest Photography. I then made a set of 9 to start practicing with this technique. I didn’t feel entirely happy with this outcome but I think that is due to my struggle of finding or realising a pure image to work with.
I still feel that this pieces process is not fully resolved. Afterward I experimented with dragging the image across the photocopier left to right at the same time as the photocopier. I then alternated between photocopying landscape to portrait with the image. I found the outcomes of this to be much more exciting than the ones using the random number generator, so maybe experimenting with using only this could lead me to a resolving piece.
I feel now that I need to leave this photocopying process alone and feel eager to get it resolved, but I have had an idea of possibly resolving the piece using the intaglio print process. Thinking about how I could manipulate a plate one stage at a time (using processes and co ordinates selected by a random number generator), taking a print after every action for x amount of times and using the final image to make the same amount of photocopies using the random number generator to decide what process will be used to manipulate it. Although this does not really talk about the manipulation of nature that I wanted the piece to talk about it does expose two separate printing processes in different ways.