Category Archives: Personal Reflections

Oxford study day with Katie Taylor

This weekend was the inaugural meeting of the proposed Oxford study group. Thirteen of us met at OVADA for the day, with Katie Taylor providing the tutor input. Katie started her arts journey with an OCA degree, followed by an MA at Oxford Brookes and is about to start a PhD. The day was aimed particularly at textiles students, but was very multi discipline in nature and there were a wide variety of students there. Her work began as textiles with some sculpture and has developed from there into a much broader body of work with the subject dictating the media used.

Katie talked us through her learning journey from textiles and sculpture in the early years through to extensive collaborations with the scientific community at present. Her interests started with historical references to Oxford magistrates’ Court in the early 1900s but by the time she had finished her degree, she was very focused on the genocide at Srebrenica and how forensic anthropology can help identify individuals through scraps of clothing and the marks left by their life experiences on their bones. Over time, this has matured into an interest in how people who have been the victims of large scale massacres can reclaim their individual identity through what is left behind and this will be the subject of her PhD.

Much of Katie’s work involves the use of waste animal products such as bone, wool and intestines (sausage casings) which she refashions into pieces of art. She brought along an interesting collection of her work, a few pieces being shown below.

She explained that the actual making of her work is often very performative, in that it repeats actions which were involved in the final scenarios of the massacres, and that every aspect of a piece had specific references to the events involved. Thus, she felt that an explanatory note was very important to how her work is viewed – without that explanation the meaning of the work can only partially be understood. As an example, she made a piece which consisted of 8136 (I think) numbered cards (the number of men and boys who were massacred at Srebrenica over the course of three days, and then encouraged visitors to punch holes in individual cards. Both the time taken to do each one and the noise of the hole punch produces a better understanding by viewers of the sheer speed and brutality of the killing.

After the break, Katie introduced the potential for collaboration between scientists and artists and we talked about the ways art can enable difficult scientific concepts to be understood by the public. She offered the suggestion that although getting grants for art projects is often difficult, this is not the case when they are collaborations with the science community. There is considerable opportunity for people who can produce work that explains science through such organisations as The Wellcome Trust and it can be a very fruitful way of widening one’s practice.

We then looked at some artists who work with bio products in an interdisciplinary way, including Suzanne Lee (makes clothing from bacteria), Donald Weber (a photographer who looks at the history of the 2WW through fragments of shrapnel left on the beaches in Normandy), Seija Kameric (who uses light and data visualisation to consider aspects of the Bosnian war), Rebecca D Harris (considers the microbiome on the human skin and how it relates to our overall health), Luke Jerram (glass microbiology), and Elpida Hadzi Vasileva (sculpture and installations using natural and waste materials). She also recommneded the book Bioart : Altered Realities by William Myers (2015).

After lunch we had a workshop on making artistic pieces using bits of lace and inks on watercolour paper. This part was highly practical and one of my paltry efforts is shown below. (I have no talent for drawing and painting at all, but this was fun).

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Overall, it was an excellent day, where we learned a considerable amount, had some hands-on activity and had the chance to meet some of our fellow local students. I very much hope the group will meet again in the future.As far as my own work is concerned, the idea of enabling viewers to understand how the internet relates to us all on a physical basis is one of the issues I am thinking about at present, and I will be mulling this over in the next few days.

A Photo Etching workshop in Bath

Recently, kate513940 and I attended a one day workshop at Bath Spa University’s new arts campus in Locksbrook Road. The building itself is of interest as it is on an industrial estate and from the outside looks like just another large square block. Inside, the industrial vibe has been kept, but glass and wood partitions divide the space into individual areas, while retaining the open aspect.

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The course was led by Penny Grist, a visiting lecturer, whose website is here: http://pennygristprintmaker.co.uk/   There were four of us on the course, which was probably about the right number, as the processing of each person’s work took some considerable time. Penny is an excellent teacher, and enthusiastic printmaker, and we were each able to spend as much time as we wanted on our own personal projects. To begin with, Penny showed us the sort of work that her students had been making, and some of her own work, which is four colour printing and quite beautiful. She also gave us a brief history of the process, which originated alongside Fox Talbot’s photographs as a method of fixing prints. I had not realised that up until then, all Fox Talbot’s prints had faded terribly over time. The process has been brought right up to date by using Photoshop and digital transfer film in the first parts of the process. The process itself is complex, consisting of first making a digital positive on the film, exposing it to UV light onto a metal plate, then covering it with a very fine dust (on a sheet, which is vacuum sandwiched to the plate. Then one washes the chemicals off the plate to expose the etched image, dries it and puts it back under the UV light to harden the etching. This is all before the printing process itself.

The final step is to cover the plate with ink, wipe most of it off, and then to put it through a printing press. Ta dah! You have a print, with a beautifully embossed edge. Below is my etched plate, from which I made the prints.. (For the record, everyone else had brought along a selection of black and white images to practise with, but I hadn’t read the instructions properly and arrived with nothing but my iPad, and so my chosen image is not exactly what I might have chosen in hindsight.)

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After lunch, we were given free rein to try out anything we wanted, from achieving the perfect print to using more than one colour. I opted to go for a two colour version of my base print, and was very satisfied with the final results, shown below.

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From a photographer’s point of view, the photo-etching process produces a print that has a different, more material quality to it, and I am interested to see how it compares with the same original printed with an inkjet printer on matte paper.

The course itself was very good value, as we had the use of the room and all materials from 9.30-5.00, and Penny was an encouraging teacher. We all came away feeling we had achieved something satisfactory, and asked her to set up another course if possible, as we would like to come back.

In theory, it should be possible to make prints using this technique at home, but the initial outlay for the UV box is not insignificant, and I think I will be on the lookout for a local print studio which allows people to use their equipment.

A Virtual Making Day

On Saturday, a group of 13 OCA students met online with tutor Caroline Wright to undertake a pilot session for virtual study meetings, which is apparently one of the ways that the OCA hopes to become more inclusive to people who cannot get to physical meets. We were from all disciplines and all levels, from complete beginner to an MA student. The platform used was called Zoom, and was a new one to me, but it coped admirably with 14 people online all day together. Caroline’s plan was to have a making day, where we all worked on our own projects, but ‘virtually together’ so that discussion could occur naturally as we went along. The day was a great success, and I think we all enjoyed it immensely – it is lovely to be able to spend a whole day on a single project without feeling guilty, and even better in company and we all made great strides in what we were working on.

For myself, I am currently in the hiatus between handing an assignment in for tutor feedback and receiving that feedback, so I was free to do one of the many projects I have on the side. After some deliberation, I decided to take advantage of a parallel course I am doing virtually, on bookmaking through the Vintage Paper Designs website. For that we have subscribed to a monthly book making project with tutorials, and I hope to expand my bookmaking skills through it. The main event starts this week for that, but we were encouraged to make a small accordion book as a taster, and I had make it on Friday, see below.

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I planned to us photographs from some albums of old photographs taken in the Andaman Islands in the late 1940s and given to me by my neighbour. He himself had inherited them along with the rest of the belongings of one of his relatives, and had no idea of the identity of any of the people included in the collection, so it is a wonderful ‘found photography’ resource, which he kindly passed on when he realised that I was interested.

The images runs to the hundreds and were mostly taken with a Box Brownie, as far as I can tell, so they are physically quite small. I’ve tried rephotographing them but they lose something in the transition, and many are unremarkable and not worth keeping, so my plan had been to ‘rewrite the story’ by selecting a group of images that had a particular theme and relocate them into a small separate book. Thus the project for the virtual making day.

I spent the morning session picking out the potential images for inclusion in the book and the afternoon arranging them in the book, and during this process some interesting thoughts began to coalesce for me, and they are jotted down below.

  •  I feel uncomfortable about completely taking apart the archive at this point. As the original photographer had helpfully numbered each image, I could remove them from the pages while still being able to reinsert them if I wanted.
  •  I decided to make a virtue of these feelings, and the images are inserted into the new book using old-fashioned photo corners, as they were in the originals. That way, they can be removed and put back into their original places, but also the order can be played with.
  •  Given that there are no dates apart from a year in the original, I have chosen to arrange them without any chronological order, basing it on a narrative instead.
  •  The narrative could be clear or less obvious depending on how I arrange the images. As it consists of two parallel threads, my original plan had been to have one story going one way and the other going in the opposite direction, but in the event this did not look right and several other layouts were tried before settling on one that felt right. Caroline reminded me that I didn’t have to finish the project that day, and there was merit in leaving it a while to see how the ordering looked when seen afresh.
  •  I am still a bit concerned about how clear to make the narrative, but ultimately decided to embrace what had suggested itself to me when I first looked through the archive. The title remains unsettled at present, and I think I need to leave a little space before choosing it.

Overnight, I stuck the photographs into the album with the photo corners, and what remains to finish is the title plate and a short explanation of the provenance of the images. I do not intend to say anything specific about the narrative, but to let viewers make their own connections. Finally I have included a single double page layout of some of the images for a better understanding of the project. There are five double page spreads in all.

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My submission for the OCA Edge-zine, Summer 2019

Dreams of Alternative Worlds

One of the unexpectedly enjoyable side effects of doing a photography degree is the opportunity for experimental play. I am fascinated by the idea of re-versioning, and how an image changes and degrades as it is rephotrographed and printed in a variety of different digital and analogue ways to a point where it no longer resembles the original at all.

This particular series is based on two accidents which occurred during printing processes, both as a result of the properties of water, and all originate from the first image (1). Firstly, I mistakenly printed the image onto the back of a sheet of digital transfer film and so the inks could not take. They had nothing to stick to, and so over the course of the following weeks, the inks ran out over the film to make the second image (2). There is a fascination in examining the edges of the image to see the tiny fractal patterns and in particular I liked one section which I rephotographed to make a new image (3). The next one was a darkroom mistake, when I accidentally held the same digital film too close to a wet black and white print which I had made from it. It stuck to the print and sadly I could not remove it. Over time, the chemicals in the print have begun to crystallise and to make beautiful fractal patterns (4). I am photographing these with a macro lens and testing them on different print media and No 5 is a version of a tiny part of the crystallised image, printed onto digital film and then backed with gold leaf. The last is one where I have begun to bring back in elements of the original.

Two elements of these images are of particular interest to me. Firstly, the originals are not stable and will continue to change slowly over time as the chemical alterations continue. And secondly, one has no idea of the scale or subject of the work. Images 4 and 5 could be from Google Earth, but they are in fact photographs of tiny sections of an A5 image. The same shapes and patterns created by water are repeated at both scales and they hint at alternative worlds where the laws of physics apply differently.

Looking at materiality in current London exhibitions

At the weekend, I was up in London to see my son’s preview show for the Edinburgh fringe and took the opportunity to visit a couple of exhibitions at the same time. The first was at the Photographers’ Gallery and was the New Talent 19 exhibit on the top floor. I was interested to see what sort of work appeals to the artistic gatekeepers this year. Eight photographers had been selected from an initial entry of over 1000, and the criteria for entry were very wide and inclusive. Basically, if you hadn’t had a significant solo exhibition already, you could enter, and it was free to do so. The work on show had a great deal of variety, but at least four of the photographers were working well outside the traditional boundaries of what one might call straight photography. Naturally, these were the ones that interested me.

Alberto Feijóo is interested in the whole photographic medium, from collector to producer, but is particularly fascinated by the biography of objects and 3D representations. By 3D, I mean constructed maquettes and handmade sculptures alongside complex collages (which are not that easy to deconstruct, mentally). His explanation and some images for his series Free Acid can be found in a pdf, here. I was most struck by the maquette, which produced a very different viewpoint of the work, and which is an idea I may come back to later.

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Chiara Avagliano produced a series called Val Paradiso and combined ‘photography, poetics, text and objects’ which referenced life in a magical valley in northern Italy which was similar to where she had lived as a child. The series looked at make-believe and children’s magical-realistic approach to the world and how memories are made which might not be truly real, but which encapsulate the experience of childhood. I thought it was great, and particularly the sculptures of the lake and building, as shown below. There was a resonance back to her childhood that one could clearly feel.

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Giovanna Petrocchi is another lens-based multimedia artist. A winner of the Lensculture Emerging Talent Award in 2017, her work combines collage, found images and 3D printed objects to look at virtual reality and ancient cross cultural cultures and symbols. It is difficult to explain coherently, and her website gives much better information, so it is best to look there. However, of the three series on show, this work Modular Artefacts, Mammoth Remains, and Private Collection, only the last is listed in her online catalogue of work.

Last, but very much not least was my own favourite, Seungwon Jung’s Memories Full of Forgetting. Her minimalist images of landscapes, which were printed on fabric and then partially deconstructed and reworked were both absolutely beautiful and technically breathtaking. The empty spaces in her work are just as important as the printed areas, both as an expression of fading memories and as sculptural elements which add enormously to the visual effect. Simple patterns were carefully draped to include two flat areas and a panel of partially deconstructed fabric which had a gloriously sumptuous glitch effect. There was much to think about with regard to my own explorations of fading memories and empty spaces in images.

The other four entries were more traditional documentary style and of less interest to my current work, so I shall leave them for now. Overall, the move away from vanilla photography compared to a few years ago is marked, and many of these works were truly multi-media, combining sculpture, collage, sound and writing with photography to give a much deeper sensory experience.

After this, I went to St James to view the MA exhibition of a student from Falmouth University, Megan Ringrose. She had somehow managed to secure a pop-up exhibition space in Masons’ Yard, right next to the White Cube (which was showing some HUGE Jeff Wall images). Megan was there and was able to show me round herself, which was a bonus. Her background is in fashion photography and she told me that the MA had been pivotal in her personal work moving away from the studio and towards highly abstract pieces, based on Flusser’s idea on experimental photography, which were outlined by Lenot (2017).

Megan has taken brightly coloured pieces of paper and folded them in complex shapes, adding cyanotypes at each step of the process. When unfolded on completion, the images combine shadows and lighter areas in a complex geometric interplay which invites the viewer to contemplate. She is interested both in the concept of cameraless image and also duration, as the process is slow and paced, very unlike than her commercial work. It was fascinating to talk to her, as we not only had several acquaintances in common, but we also shared an obsession with materiality and had read many of the same theorists. I will definitely be looking out for her in future.

Overall, the day was very interesting, with lots of think about in relation to my own practice and I came away with my head brimming full of half formed ideas about my next assignment.

References

Feijóo, A. (2019) Free Acid: a work in progress. [online] At: https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/26dd9f_e4e9b15cfd0848e59f0fe8983594eb9c.pdf (Accessed on 29 July 2019)

Lenot, M. (2017) “Flusser and Photographers, Photographers and Flusser.” Flusser Studies , 24. At:http://www.flusserstudies.net/sites/www.flusserstudies.net/files/media/attachments/marc-lenot-flusser-photographers-photographers-flusser.pdf (Accessed on 29 July 2019)

Some thoughts subsequent to a gelli printing experiment

A couple of days ago, Kate and I got together to have a go at gelli printing. We had been inspired by some of the work we saw at the Marlborough Open Studios (to be the subject of another post) and thought we would try it. I must point out here that I have a deeply ingrained fear of trying to make ‘art’ as I was rubbish at it at school and never tried anything again after that, so the experiment was undertaken with some trepidation.

A fuller review of the day can be found on Kate’s blog here, but from my point of view mixing the acrylic paints to get new colours was interesting, and it was fun to try out different textured objects to see what would happen. The whole process is a bit hit and miss and as beginners we did not always (often) get the results we were expecting. I’m not even sure whether the pros can always guarantee results as the process seems to be inherently less than 100% reliable, However, I was interested in my reaction to this, as I felt out of my depth and unable to clearly visualise what I wanted to make.

Having said all that, once we got started, I got into making some small collages using the printed results, and bits of gauze fabric and paper and I was quite pleased with a couple of my efforts, They will go into my scrapbook for further consideration.

The main point of relating this though is to put a marker up about some of the unexpected results of the printing process. Followers of my blog will know that I love looking at the detail at the edges of badly printed images and having considered Paul Kenny’s book O Hanami, which arrived yesterday, I am pretty sure that the way I want to go with my practice is towards macro photography of detail and the creation of alternate pieces from them. I realise this sounds a bit vague, but over the summer I am going to concentrate on thinking about this and producing some work along these lines, maybe in line with my next assignment; maybe not.

SWOCA group – Matt White on the research process

Notes from SW OCA meeting 12 January 2019
Tutor – Matt White (moving Image)

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Matt presented a fascinating lecture on the research process. He is an enthusiastic and engaging presenter.

What is research?

  • Collecting
  • Analysing
  • Synthesising
  • Everything you do around the subject is research – any creative, systematic activity. E.g. making is a form of research (yay!)

(When writing his songs, David Bowie used to write a load of works on pieces of paper, and then throw them up in the air to see what patterns appeared when they fell).
Research is a cycle with three parts:
Inspiration – action – review. One then returns to inspiration. Most students tend only to go through this cycle once, but the more you do this, the more your subject becomes refined and the better the end result is likely to be.
Let go of your original idea – by using the above process, you are highly unlikely to end up with the same concept as when you started.

Types of research

  • Primary – original sources and artefacts
  • Secondary – other people’s writings
  • Internet
  • Surveys/interviews
  • Theoretical research
  • Other artists

You don’t need to go far to find subjects for research. Sian Bonnell did a whole body of work on staying at home with her young kids.

What stops you doing research?

  • Fear of failure
  • Not knowing where to start
  • Fear of looking stupid
  • Fear of making mistakes

Don’t worry about mistakes – your best teacher is your last mistake. Leave in the mistakes as they show where not to go again. Use them as learning points.
Erwin Wurm made a whole art career out of looking stupid. When you enter your studio (or creative space, whatever that is), you should feel free to play and be silly and try out mad ideas. That is where you learn.

Process and Product
Artists tend to be more interested in one than the other. Neither is right or wrong. The process is the making, experimenting, reading etc. and the product is the outcome.
John Hilliard – pioneer of conceptual photography. The process was the product.  (Also Thomas Ruff)
Jeff Koons – all about the product. Also Damien Hurst.
Look at Julian Germain
Francis Alys – When Faith Moves Mountains – no product at all.

How research works
It does not start with a clearly stated problem. This is art, not science. The purpose of the research is to identify the question that you want to explore. Be imaginative, creative, and inquisitive. Don’t be bored or derivative.

Look at work of
David Nebreda, who was a hermit and lived without any outside influences, but still produced work (very dark work)
The Enigma of Casper Hauser – film –
Elizabeth Gilbert’s Ted Talk on genius –
You have to find your own way of researching, but this is a good starting point.
Matt then went on to explain in some detail how he made his project From the Wing of a Fly.
It started out as a project on how capitalism started and ended up as a fiction piece/travel documentary/experimental film/conceptual documentary on finding the location in Turkey where the first cultivated tulip originated from. Very difficult to position for arts festivals as it doesn’t fit neatly into any one category.
We went through the whole process, which took a couple of years. Most of his work is about quests for identity and place and it was interesting to see how the process unfolded over time.

References

http://www.sianbonnell.com/

https://www.erwinwurm.at/artworks/photographic-sculptures.html

https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/john-hilliard-1287/john-hilliard-everything-time-and-light

http://www.jeffkoons.com/artwork/inflatables/inflatable-flower-and-bunny-tall-white-pink-bunny

http://www.juliangermain.com/home.php

http://francisalys.com/when-faith-moves-mountains/

https://culturacolectiva.com/photography/david-nebreda-photography-mental-illness

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071691/

http://www.matt-white.org/from-the-wing-of-a-fly.html