Category Archives: Research & Reflection

A trip to Bristol

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Yesterday, another OCA student Kate Aston and I went to Bristol to see the Grayson Perry exhibition, The Most Popular Exhibition Ever! I hadn’t really considered Bristol as a hub for art exhibition before, but will definitely be going back. It is much easier and cheaper to get to for me than London, and there is plenty of high quality work on show there, with the Arnolfini, Spike Island, M-Shed, The Lime Tree Gallery showing modern work, alongside the traditional museums, such as the Royal West of England, and of course, Martin Parr’s forthcoming event space.

The last time I went to the Arnolfini was for the Richard Long exhibition, which I reviewed here. Long and Perry have in common their penchant for large scale pieces and the huge rooms of the Arnolfini were an ideal location, giving the works plenty of space to breathe. The exhibition covered all three floors of the building, and it was very well attended, especially for a winter’s midweek morning – Perry is obviously a very popular artist, as per the exhibition title. Having said that, the title is really a play on words, as the exhibition looks at current popular culture of the last few years, and is very rooted in the 2010s, examining subjects like Brexit, the world of the internet and gender fluidity. I do wonder how some of the works will be seen when they become historical, rather than being contemporary. They will certainly say more about what was bothering people than many of the current, more ‘artsy’ stuff.

As we all know Grayson Perry spreads his creativity across a wide variety of media, but most of the work on display here was ceramic pots, tapestries. Most of the works were big, some were huge (see below). The ceramic pots were dotted about the building, with space to view them from all angles, which was essential as every side of the pots were covered in complex layers of colour, texture and a mind-boggling array of ideas. Minimalism is not a concept that appeals to Perry; his work tends more towards the maxim ‘If in doubt, bung it in’.  Perhaps partly for this reason, and also his overt transvestitism, the everyday subject matter and obvious political enthusiasm, he has had difficulty in being accepted by the arts establishment over the years, despite his obvious talent. Looking closely at some of his ceramics, it is hard not to be awed by his facility with colour and glazing techniques, and his riotous use of different ones within the same piece of work. I was particularly struck by the subtle gold transfers which were applied to many of the pots on top of the more obvious layers, for example.

Much has been written about Grayson Perry, and his ideas and methods, so I will not say any more about them. What really fascinated me about the exhibition was the exuberance of the work, his breadth of subject matter and materials, and his playfulness. I cam away feeling that a door had opened to me, away from the straight, unadorned photographic image. Perry lets us know that it is OK to experiment, and the more extreme and wacky, the better. This degree is a journey for me, and I should not feel constrained by current standards of what is considered the ‘right’ way of making images. If I want to embellish, alter or use multi-media alongside and within my images, that is fine. The journey is about exploration and playing with concepts, as much as producing standard images. Providing there is a clear(ish) methodology and contextualisation, anything goes.

It was a breath of fresh air!

PS, while Kate and I were thumbing through some of the books Perry has used as inspiration, we came across one called Lands End, by Ruth Claxton. Claxton’s work includes torn paper and embroidered photographs and is something I need to keep a note of for future work.

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I am in love with an app

From I was introduced to the iPhone app Procam yesterday, and I think I am in love. The app itself purports to turn the iPhone into a fully functional RAW camera, and one can alter the f-stop, shutter speed and ISO to suit the conditions. However, the bit that I love is its filters section, and in particular the set of five different kaleidoscope effects. Regular readers will know that I am fascinated by the idea of using the pixels within an image to alter it while retaining the substance of the original, and this app is fantastic for doing that. The number of different patterns is almost infinite, as every slight adjustment one makes alters it completely (a bit like an old-fashioned kaleidoscope). Here are a couple of examples below.

From a tapestry wall hanging at the Bristol Grayson Perry exhibition

 From one of my test images for assignment 5

My plan is to print some of these entirely unique patterns and to use them as book covers for the associated pieces of work. I may also try printing them on fabric to see how they come out, with the possible aim of having fabric book covers as an alternative. My recent purchase of Charlotte Rivers’ (2014) Little Book of Book Making has simple instructions for this, using only household items.

Edited to add.

Further to this idea, I am also investigating ways of making handmade boxes for my assignments, particularly no. 5, which will be delicate and would benefit from some protection in transit to Barnsley. I only mention this here, as I printed out one of my patterns onto washi paper and covered some card with which to make the cover of the box. The end result is too flimsy, but the idea is sound. (I subsequently tried it with packing cardboard, which was too lumpy, and finally settled on using mount board, which has the required strength, as well as being made in several layers, which can be folded if cut correctly.) Anyway, here’s how the paper looked on the first box – not bad, at all, I think.

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References

Rivers, Charlotte (2014) Little Book of Book Making. New York, Random House.

Implied spaces, part 2

The third area of experimentation relates to a more esoteric idea, and uses some of my original understanding of the term, and what the blog I refer to at the beginning is looking at. I would characterise it as implied places – where one might layer an image in a collage effect to say more about the places and their meaning to a person or group.

My Photoshop skills are still fairly slow, so it has taken me all afternoon to produce this collage below. It includes some title deeds for the house, an image I took a couple of years back and also a photo of some of the historical inhabitants, and uses a Photoshop Mask template.

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I am hoping that with more practise, I can achieve a similar effect to that of patchwork, but using images rather than fabric squares. So, this work continues…..

The notion of ‘implied spaces’, part 1

I came across this term as a result of following the blog of the same name: here. It was the photographs that originally attracted me, with their multiple layers and mixed subject matter, but I subsequently became intrigued by the idea of an implied space. When I reviewed the work I did for assignment 4, and before I looked into the meaning of the term, I had concluded that the images in the work had an element of implied space, as in they and their contents hinted at what had gone before without making it obvious. We look at the chaos and imagine what the rooms looked like when they were in use.

However, after a bit of digging around, I found that the term is actually one that is used in art and architecture, and it has a different meaning. In simple terms, Art1011 defines it as the illusion of created depth in a 2 dimensional work, but here are a couple of more complex explanation, using literature and theatre as well as art for examples.

http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~vzubarev/Class_Readings/WEEK_IX.pdf

https://www.sophia.org/tutorials/elements-of-art-space

So, in essence, in an image, an implied space is one where the position of figures and implied leading lines suggests a depth of perspective rather than a flat, two-dimensional space. Let’s take a couple of examples from my own work. Both of these images were taken earlier this year in Nice. The first gives no clue of three dimensionality at all (quite deliberately) while the second has implied lines of perspective, making it seem more three dimensional.

I’d like to now explore this concept in three different ways. Firstly, there is the idea of creating that three dimensionality by other ways than perspective, one of which I have been playing with and which fellow student Catherine is also looking at: producing a 3D images using Photoshop layers. My first attempt was blogged in a previous post, and it was surprisingly successful, but I am interested in trying to produce the same effect in a part of an image rather than the whole thing. Lo and behold, it also works!

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I suspect that 3D photography might lead me down a bit of a blind alley, but there is no doubt it is fun. (Must look up to see whether any art photographers use this technique in their work. Thomas Ruff does, but is there anyone else?)

The second idea is to produce the idea of perspective in a way that refers to the concept of foreground, middle ground and background through actual layers, rather than implied layers. I am thinking of the way that Thomas Ruff’s interest in examining various qualities and elements of the image rather than the overall effect here.  Here are two examples from my work this year. The first uses actual layers within the frame while the second is a created piece, using Photoshop layers.

To be continued……

Back to the explorations of colour

Now that my assignment has been sent off, I can get back to my explorations into colour and place. The mandalas are fun but don’t have a deeper meaning than what you see, at least not so far as I have divined so far. Today, I cam across a photographer who looks at the same concepts, but from a different angle.

Niall Benvie is a nature photographer with a wide range of interest, and his work caught my attention on http://www.naturephotoblog.com/. Niall has devised a process he calls Colour Transects, where he samples the colours of an image according to a set grid pattern. This produces a palette of colours which represent the image, but which also function as a device to encourage the viewer to move back and forth between the colour swatches and the images to find out where each colour swatch originated. He also titles the images with a latitude marker, as he’s interested in how the natural colour palette changes from south to north away from the Equator. His website is at https://niallbenvie.photoshelter.com/index.

I’ve been trying out his technique and here’s a screenshot of my first effort.

My colour transect 1

I think there is some potential here, not simply as a way of creating colour maps. Benvie’s concept of colours changing as one moves north or south is what has been niggling at the back of my mind. The colour palette of Australia is totally different from that of, for example, England or Iceland. Certain colours are strongly associated with the natural environment in each – ochres and very pale greens in outback Australia, bright greens and browns in England and blacks, whites and red in Iceland. My thinking on this is that it must be possible to capture a colour palette for each place which is definitive.

Thomas Ruff – Size is everything

I visited the Thomas Ruff exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery yesterday, prior to going to listen to Annie Liebowitz’s talk at the Royal Festival Hall. It was a bit of a rush, but well worth the short space of time I spent there. Ruff likes experimenting with the materiality of the image, which is something that appeals to me as well, and my over-riding feeling was that I’d like to see a lot of more his work than was on display. It was a bit frustrating to be limited to a relatively few of his processes, and I will be looking at others in the future.

The exhibition was a retrospective, showcasing his work from 1979 to the present. It started with his university work, the Portraits, Interiors and buildings. These seemed of their time and place with a style reminiscent of the New Topographic group, which of course he was exposed to, being based in Dusseldorf at this time. However, from about 1991 his work veered away from the Brutal, very deadpan aesthetic and Ruff started the experimentation that has since become his hallmark. The exhibition included lithographs, chromogenic colour prints, granolithographs, collages and a host of other techniques. Later, as digital photography took off, he became interested in how the digital photograph is made up, and began to look at the concept of the pixel, the essential meaninglessness of an image when it is expanded past the point where the subject can be made out, while he also maintains a long term interest in astronomy. His images tend to be large, very large in fact (which is where the post title came from) and it is interesting to see how he contrasts the incredible detail of his Mars images with the highly pixelated opposite of the images of 9/11 and space rockets. He also played with photograms and scans as well as inverting negatives and other variations on analogue photography. More recently, he has been playing with digital images to experiment with what is possible by focusing on particular elements that form part of the make-up of the images.

Some of the parts that I did not like included the series Substrates, where he repeats and alters comic images until the meaning has completely disappeared, producing huge multi-coloured prints of nothingness. (My own experiments with reducing images to their colour palettes follows in a similar, but less extreme path, which retains elements of the structure of the original, albeit significantly altered). The zycles series, although visually arresting, did not make me want to know more about how he had achieved the patterns, and some of the phg images were abstract in a way that did not appeal, although others were fascinating. 

I found this exhibition quite inspiring, not because of anything Ruff ‘has to say’ particularly, but because of his interest in deconstructing the idea of photography and then playing with the elements he uncovers. Also, his way of appropriating images from newspapers, advertisements and other media to alter, so that they become something different is something I would like to explore. So many ideas to consider and to play with . I came home and tried out a very simple version of his 3D images of the craters of Mars, using simple techniques that I found on the internet, and surprisingly, the concept actually worked. See below.

 

OCA hangout notes 2 November 2017

Seven of us met in an OCA Hangout last night. The subject of the hangout was Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle, first published in 1967 in French. There are a number of translations into English, each of which gives a slightly different viewpoint of his theories. Debord was a Marxist philosopher who theorised that the fetishism of the commodity through the business of advertising has led to “The Spectacle” – which essentially means that our lives have become so mediated and informed by what we see and hear in the media that we have lost all touch with the underlying reality of being alive. Will Self, in this 2017 BBC Radio programme, identifies the Spectacle, as ‘both the result and the producer of the existing mode of production. It’s the heart of the unrealism of the real society, in all its forms. The Spectacle is the present model of socially dominant life’.

If I am honest, this circuity and lack of simple clarity is a major part of Debord’s theories. They are not easy to understand, even though they are presented as 212 very short pieces, which he calls theses, and which I would call unsupported statements. There is no research of background material in the book to validate his theories and his ideas seem, like those of Susan Sontag, to have been accepted  by the academic cohort of the time without any of the requirements of proof and logic of argument that we would feel necessary today.

Having said all that, 70 years on, it is uncanny how correct Debord’s theories have proved to be. The ever-increasing drive to produce more (and more complex) products to feed a market that didn’t know they needed them until they appeared has become the ghastly reality. We are constantly bombarded with images telling us what our lives should be like and which has the dual effect of making us desire those objects and feel discontented with our current lot.  The banking crisis, which was based on extending credit (i.e. debt, in truth) facilities in more and more complex ways until nobody at all knew how the system worked was one very clear example.

More recently, social media exemplifies the ideas present in Chapter 2, that by specialising more and more and reducing the potential/need for face to face interactions between people, Debord’s theories of separation and alienation are becoming ever more obvious, with consequent effects on mental and physical health. Our lives which are now rich in complex technology have become poor in real interactions and face to face group activities. The internet has rendered the majority of them unnecessary. We are inevitably moving towards a scenario where each person sits alone in their home, constantly being fed a diet of social media, tv and advertising, over which big business has total control. It is a scary scenario to envisage, but we are well on our way towards it already.

So, if we are locked in this system, which has become self-perpetuating and circular in nature, what can we do to return to a proper sense of reality? Debord’s answer is that we can do nothing. Every effort to work in alternative ways or to return to a time when produce was necessary, beautiful and sturdy rather than mass-produced, cheap and poorly made will be ruthlessly knocked back by the mainstream, and escape is impossible, even if we know (and not many of us do know) that we are trapped inside the Matrix. The very best we can hope to do is gently subvert it with the long term aim of making slow changes. The worst scenario is much more likely to happen though, one where life gets more and more complex and mechanised at and every increasing rate, until catastrophe strikes and we swirl down the plughole, never to be seen again. It’s not a happy prospect, is it? The inevitable collapse of society, drowning in a sea of plastic rubbish and galloping climate change.

There are those who have since proposed alternative models, such as Naomi Klein, whose book This Changes Everything (2014) , (which I realise that I have read, but obviously not taken in) suggests a more collaborative, gentler model, but none of them have any chance of being put into practice without a seismic change in the way we run society. And try as I might, I can’t think of how that change could be initiated.

And who are the winners and losers in this model? Well, the workers are needed to make the products, but they also need to have enough money to consume them too. Without the finance to consume, it would not be profitable to make the products. These days, this simple circular economy has been altered by automation and so the workers can no longer earn their money by making things. Therefore the service economy for formed in order to give the workers jobs which will continue to allow them to consume. In the two chapters we read, Debord did not really elaborate on who is making these decisions, arguing instead that The Spectacle makes them, without human intervention, and that the continuance of capitalism makes them inevitable.

Bringing this down to photography and our student work, I have been wondering how to incorporate some of these ideas into what I make. Other students have made work which is relevant, most recently Matt Davenport’s commentary on social media, Contactless . I am going to see whether I can fit it into the work I am doing towards assignment 5, which will almost certainly be a continuance of my work on the Female Gaze.

Many thanks to Emma for organising the Hangout, and to all the other participants for their interesting viewpoints. This is definitely something that is worth doing again, not least because it forces me to read books that I would go out of m y way to avoid normally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://hyperallergic.com/313435/an-illustrated-guide-to-guy-debords-the-society-of-the-spectacle/