Category Archives: 04 Research

Artist’s Profile: Michael Brennand-Wood (v2)

I first wrote a profile of textile artist Michael Brennand-Wood (MBW) back in Jan 2015. His was among the first profiles I wrote when starting my MA – and as I review past things now, I find I am still fascinated by his work. Time to investigate a little deeper!

El Rayo-X (1981)

MBW’s practice is a synthesis of historical and contemporary sources, both contextually and for his technique. He persistently works within what he describes as “contested areas of textile practice: embroidery, pattern, lace and recently floral imagery.” 

Whilst respecting the history of textiles, he has built on old techniques and has tried to find new ways of thinking about them – skills such as weaving, knitting, lace-making and embroidery. He sought to move away from the decorative aspect of stitching, for example, to allow it to become more expressive. He also explored its sculptural potential as a mark made in relief on a flat plane. It is this exploration of the relationship between the two-dimensional and three-dimensional surface which piques my interest the most. MBW described his exploration of three-dimensional line, structure and pattern as:

Exploring the illusionary space between two and three dimensions, these works are colourful, dramatic, rhythmic and holographic in feel with intense detail that merges at a distance into strongly optical configurations – From MBW Website

Rather than creating an illusion of space with design or image, Michael adopts a Modernist approach of drawing attention to the physical characteristics of the thread, particularly its texture and tactile qualities. This leads to the following key characteristics of his practice:

  • Structure: the underlying geometry is responsible for giving MBW’s works a good structural foundation. The surface may often appear free, expressionistic and even chaotic, but close examination will always reveal a unifying grid beneath the layers.
  • Touch: MBW has stated that it is through touch, scent and sound – not just vision – that meaning is conveyed. The memory of feeling, smelling and even hearing the rustle or movement of certain materials interests the artist along with the resonance of textiles associated with specific events in life or history
  • Materials: work incorporates diverse materials as paint, sand, wire, net, aluminium, wood, resins, ceramics, and he uses the techniques and processes associated with other disciplines such as sculpture, embroidery, weaving and carpentry.
  • Meaning: each observer responds differently to the textiles, objects, colours and forms according to their own associations, but sometimes MBW guides his audience with signifiers, such as text, images or the inclusion of loaded objects and materials.

 

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BABEL | Machine embroidery, wire, text, glass tile, resin, ceramic

LACE THE FINAL FRONTIER (2012) | Metal discs, acrylic paint

So what now?

Well, I remember some advice I saw for Foundation students once showing how to work with a reference artist’s processes and/or materials and use them as a platform for exploring further. This seems like a good place to start. I like the repetition of similar but non-identical forms; I like the grid structure which sits as a strong underlying foundation; I like the freedom of materials (a refreshing change from 100% maps only!)

A good opportunity to be inventive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Artist’s profile: Elisabeth Couloigner

Boredom inspires all sorts of creativity, and so it was that I came across this French artist while idly browsing pinterest boards. I saw a number of images which were heavy in calligraphic forms and gestural lines, so looked into her a little more. She describes her practice as an exploration of the material and composition of the space offered by the medium – as an emotional and suggestive language.

“Above all, and always, there is the look at the world around, the precise listening to perceptions that question physical reality and sensuous reality. Playing with ladders, identifying analogies, making matches. 

Observe the outside world, and learn about its inner world. Confront the two in the formal game of composition. Coexist. Separate and bind, establish passages, breaches, ascensional movements, lines of communication, areas of interaction. Gather reassemble fragments and unify them into a harmonious whole. Use imbalances to create new balances. Transpose, extract, sublimate. Then, give a concrete existence to perceptions, transpose them. Shaping optical relief, giving sensoriality to matter.”

Many of her works are pure explorations of composition through material textures, line and colours. These are a selection of pages from ongoing work in sketchbooks, “I’m Searching”.

As well as the rich painted backgrounds, she also has a few more open, more heavily calligraphic works, which I very much liked, and reminded me a little of mine…

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Artist’s profile: Yukimi Annand

I’ve been looking back at some of the calligraphers who inspire me to see what I can learn from their ways of working and use of materials. The first one who came to the top was Yukimi Annand. She works on a mixture of traditional calligraphy, textural art and books; her works are often clearly based on the shapes of the Roman hand and various mark making and textures from the natural world. Her current work is starting to look at eastern calligraphic techniques and abstract expressionism. I like best the pieces which have a stillness to them, yet still capture the vibrancy of her expressions. As I am still so focused on asemic writing, I’m not that bothered by the ones which you can read…

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I really like her book works, which combine a series of drawings into a beautifully bound narrative. This is definitely something I would like to work towards creating with some resolved work and/or a series of experiments.

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Yukimi also runs workshops regularly, sadly only in the US (as far as I can see, no visits to London). This extract came from a blog on one of her classes on exercises for the students. A great idea which I think I will do as a practice:

“Yukimi had us put random marks or text on black Arches cover stock using a small squeeze bottle filled with Golden white acrylic paint with fine metal tips. We used a 3” wide piece of balsa wood to make patterns using sumi ink on inexpensive hanshi rice paper. These were left to dry overnight and then sealed together with diluted Golden brand matte medium, which resulted in wonderful patterns and shades of gray. These  were turned into little 2”X2” masterpieces attached to cards.”

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The Voices Within

A fascinating talk at the Royal Institution last night, on The Voices Within. Lead by psychologist Charles Fernyhough, the talk questioned what it it means to think, what it is like to have a thought. His research leads a new field in developmental psychology around cognitive development, and how language and thought are related.

His main premise is that thinking itself is most often a verbal process – a type of speaking by, and listening to, the multiple voices of our consciousness. Thinking by its very nature is linguistic. He introduced this idea by showing us a model for how language development / thinking occurs through childhood and into adulthood.

First comes the social dialogue. Children are taught to talk in relation to other people. Their parents say hello to them, as to do other people – so develops the ability to hold an external conversation. From here, children begin to have conversations out loud with themselves – a sort of problem solving by talking to yourself as you would someone else – which the psychologists call private speech. As we get older, more of this private speech becomes internalised, and condensed, into what is known as inner speech. These are the voices which are always in your head.

The phrase ‘internal monologue’ is well known, and each of us have experienced such a stream of thinking – perhaps when reading the paper going over a scenario, practising a speech and so on. However, research has shown that if people are asked to pinpoint the nature of their spontaneous thoughts at a random time of day, most of our thinking is in fact a dialogue: a dialogic interaction as Professor Fernyhough put it. This is us talking to ourselves, where ‘me’ is the speaker and ‘me’ is the interlocutor. The second me could in fact be a representation of anyone – we might imagine ourselves talking to a loved one, or the boss etc – but critically we are still having a conversation, talking, listening and hearing all inside our heads: this is the stuff that thoughts themselves are made of.

In a great article online here, there is info on the importance of this inner speech to our sense of self itself: “inner speech plays an important role in self-awareness and self-understanding. People who lose their capacity for use inner speech due to brain impairments have reported memory problems as well as a reduced sense of identity.”

Overall, it was the best talk at the RI I have been to, and Prof F was an eloquent and captivating speaker. I have been thinking about how this idea of language and self like together in relation to making a final decision about how to display my poetry for the final show work. I like the idea of bringing out the aspects of self as a conversation – a more refined, developed form of the steam of consciousness poems perhaps – although not so far that it reads as a screenplay.

Show: T-9 weeks

 

 

States of Mind @ Wellcome Collection

“Tracing the edges of consciousness” is how the current exhibition at the Wellcome Collection is badged. It is the first time I have visited and was immediately incredibly impressed by the building, the great cafe, and all of the very informative displays open to the public. The States of Mind show looks at different aspects of consciousness and how we, as scientists, philosophers, artists and poets, have asked so many unanswerable questions over the centuries.

“Science still struggles to describe how the subjective experience of consciousness arises out of the objective tissue of a human brain…however, it is within this space that the range of individual experience exists”

The show itself was interesting and thought provoking, at times uncomfortable. A few key things jumped out in relevance to my work. The first was the discussion of science and the soul – the classical mind/body argument. As I have discussed before on this blog, the mind/body dualism essentially requires the separation of the physical world and the separate internal world of private experience. I realised that this is the barrier I am seeking to remove with my MA installation – a way to create a space which exists simultaneously in the physical world and the world of my own private experiences, allowing the outside observer a glimpsed encounter with my own concept of self.

The second exhibit which stood out for me was that on language and memory as tools for conscious selfhood. Language and memory are tools which facilitate the relationship between our internal and external worlds. “Language allows us to communicate with each other – and to share our subjective experiences. We can also talk to ourselves , and identify ourselves.”. The series of work Post-Partum Document by Mary Kelly examined the emergence of self and was in my view the most poignant in the show.

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String as contemporary art medium

I found this fascinating article on the history of of string based-art works, which talked through a lot of the reference artists I have found on my travels, and a few new ones as well.

Starting from the sculptural works of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth with threaded string, resembling mathematical structures, and possible influencer Naum Gabo. Looking back at this, I notice that so much sculpture involving string is exploring geometry in nature, very little of it appears to be on a more conceptual basis. The installation is ore suited to this nature of art I believe. Once you start adding more complex craft to the work – weaving, basketry, embroidery, knitting and so on, you add layers and layers of more narratives which are based on the process and not the concept. Which is fine if that is the core of your work. However, I have never wanted to make statements about subverting a craft tradition, nor do I want my piece to comment on ‘domesticity and feminine arts’ which is what so many articles on textile/fibre work seem to do. So this brings me firmly out of the idea of making an object (bye bye map weaving) and firmly into contemporary installation territory.

The article, progressing onwards, takes us to the Minimalist string installations / sculptures of Fred Sandback.

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Untitled (Cornered Triangle, Fifth of Ten Cornered Constructions), 1980

His work used single strands of yarn from point to point to create precise geometric figures. This was of bifurcating three-dimensional space, these “intangible objects” became a meditation on the pictorial plane and architectural volumes. With this work I noticed the strength of simplicity that can construct a separate architectural space within a larger space. Comparing this to the massive complexity of works by other architectural influenced artists, such as Tomas Saraceno (pic below), I much more align myself with the more Minimalist approach.

039-tomas-saraceno-theredlist.gifGalaxy Forming along Filaments, like Droplets along the Strands of a Spider’s Web 2009

I am not however, making a pure geometric space, as this would be too much of an exploration of abstract spatiality. In the same way that my hope to use psychogeography as the core of my process roots the work too much into a specific locality. I want my work to be about both the here and there, while being firmly neither.

As I write this, I remind myself of what I had originally written in my project proposal, final version submitted back in November about creating a heterotopia, a placeless place: a real place which exists simultaneously outside of all places, neither here nor there. This is the effect I can create with an installation – which I am now firmly set on making large scale – and using it to construct a heterotopic space which manifests a physical, personal conception of my sense of self:

I am this place. I am no place. 

 

 

 

Writing on the wall II

Having played a little more with the projection mapping, working directly onto my threads, I am not convinced it is doing what I want it to do. Although I like the idea of my writing being dynamic, I don’t want to be constrained into making a thread ‘wall’ just to have a solid enough surface for the words to show up on. So I had a look at what other options there may be for getting my poems materially into my work using the same principles.

I came back to Morley’s book, Writing on the Wall, and revisited the idea of literally doing that – writing on the wall. With a pen. There are precedents for this, with for example, artists such as Fiona Banner:

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My question remains though how to integrate the threads with the words. Perhaps having the handwritten poems revealed at the heart of the thread installation (written or displayed on the wall?). They will then offer my personal fiction – what impressions and imaginations can be discerned from life’s experiences – into the less subjective expression of place through the map yarn. I am happy to have the poems legible, because (as anyone who has read my stream of consciousness poetry can tell you) it won’t offer much help as to what the piece means.

My current best description is this: the installation itself will be a physical experience (big enough to walk through) offering a moment to seek an encounter with yourself. The installation will be created to reflect my personal identity through my choice of form and the places which I consciously choose as a representation of my sense of self. You can walk in to it so that I can say to you, this is my world.

My poem for today for good measure:

I lost my way in self-defence,
but panicked, and decided to find it again.
I was watching the road winding onward, but took the long way round.
There is no centre to anything

so I just fell out on the other side.
Why am I always here?
I should not have come here looking for any part of myself.
Cut the apple, says the witch, and find the sacred star
You’ll have forgotten again by morning. 

Angelique Talbot, 17:15 6 April 2016

Projection Mapping

I have had notes on this technique in my research folder since October 2014 – so it is with a little amusement that I finally get to dig them out now. I had originally been playing with the idea of lighting (before getting put off working in ceramics), where I wanted to project patterns onto the inside of paperclay tubes. This idea went nowhere, but it meant this long planted seed was already in place before coming across the projection mapping of poetry from last week’s blog.

I have followed this up a little more, and found some interesting examples of projection mapping onto sculpture – although this seems much less common than using stacks of weird shaped boxes, or projection onto large buildings. This example is pretty stunning:

The piece was created by creative agency Blow Factory and the woodwork was done by Caprinteria Tabares. What’s great about this is how the projection mapping exploits the wood grain and surface texture, resulting in beautiful movement of light and pattern.

So, to test this I have to work in a few stages – firstly, figure out how projection mapping works, then see how to animate my own calligraphy into video, and thirdly (and not insignificantly) decide upon the installation of threads to project onto…so, one thing at a time!

This was a basic test of the two techniques in my home studio using some open source software I found online (you can’t see in this still, but the handwriting is in fact animated)

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I did a few tests with projecting the images and words onto the threads. However, in order to get this to work, I need to manage the fact that they are….well, threads. As there are gaps between them, the projections will only be seen where there is more density or a solid surface, particularly if it is text. Now that I know I can handle the basics of the technique, the next task I think is to be sure I know what I want the threads to be like/represent before moving on.

The big question, before I get too deep to turn back, is this the right thing for the show?

Re-visiting thread installations

Maiko said she felt the beauty of the map string may be being diluted through the construction of the weaving, turning the piece into just a representation of the landscape and not much more. So, let’s take the extreme case: what if I don’t do any weaving at all?

There could be something more subtle and more ‘pure’ perhaps in making an installation directly with the map strings. Universal stories of physical places transformed and twisted into long paths. Each string perhaps a different place which is part of my sense of self (those places I choose to be). Then I can overlay my personal stories onto them through poetry or some constructed visual language?

I went back through some of the inspirations on this type of installation which I had come across before in previous fibre art research, to see if any new conclusions could be drawn, and came across the work of Anne Lindberg. Her practice has been described as a drawing language (which is what immediately attracted me to her, back when I was doing a lot of my abstract drawings). She creates installations and 2D drawings that are both abstract and immersive acting as “a mirror of how [she] experiences the world”.

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Anne states that her “sculpture and drawings inhabit a non-verbal place resonant with such primal human conditions. Systemic and non-representational, these works are subtle, rhythmic, abstract, and immersive. I find beauty and disturbance through shifts in tool, layering and material to create passages of tone, density, speed, path and frequency within a system”.

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She describes her work as a kind of self-portraiture. “Within the quiet reserve and formal abstraction is a strong impulse to speak from a deep place within myself about that is private, vulnerable, fragile, and perceptive to the human condition. My work is a mirror of how I experience the world, and as I negotiate physicality, optics and ideas through drawing languages, my voice withholds, blurs, teases and veils. I frequently return to subtle distinctions between drawing as noun and verb as a long held focus in my studio practice. This blurred distinction drives my fascination with an expanded definition of drawing languages and the resurgence of drawing in contemporary art. My collective body of work is an iteration of this language.”

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Looking back over my work from the last two years (although so much of it has been confused), you can still see the predominance of my love for the line. This was where I started back with the dimensionality project, thread drawings and then moving onto my first experiments in basketry. Perhaps this is a natural place for me to end up? The question is however, will I have enough time to resolve a new idea – or is this new idea in fact just a resolution of everything which has come before?

 

Writing on the Wall

Luckily, I managed to get to chat to Maiko on the last day of term on my concerns and options for moving forward with my final show work. We talked on a couple of different points: (i) the use of material and technique, (ii) what the work is communicating, (iii) the ongoing importance of the words/text in my practice

Point (ii) is perhaps the most critical, and based on the group crit of my show work, perhaps the one which is the most illusive. Once again returning to my project objectives, I remind myself that I wanted to communicate:

…the concept of self, by examining the subjective reality we construct as we experience the world. By unravelling our sense of self as strands of multiple co-exisiting identities, I am looking at how these strands are built from places which become part of us through our lives. Shadows of real and imagined places embed themselves into the self, an interconnection of experience, memory and fiction. These shadows haunt us as we pass through the spaces of the world, generating belonging, displacement, familiarity or isolation. 

The map weaving has communicated only a single aspect of this idea – that of the real places which are part of my constructed identity. However the fundamental idea of self and the overall feeling of connection or disconnection from the world, is completely obscured from the outside viewer. How then to reveal this?

My first step, has been to consider point (iii) above. Words are clearly so important to me, could I use this as a way of expressing the personal into the more objective ‘universal’ experience of place: If so, how do I want to incorporate text and words into my work? As a label / title only? As a book or accompanying text alongside the sculpture? Or part of the materiality of the weaving itself? As you will have seen if you have been following my progress, I have tried a number of different experiments of including text quite literally as part of the weaving materials. None of these have worked for me at all – which is why I had settled on the idea of doing a book alongside the weavings. So what other options are there out there?

Book Notes: Writing on the Wall, Simon Morley (Thames & Hudson 2003)

I started first with this book, which looks at modern art which combines both word and image. As I would prefer if my words are part of the core aspect of my work (rather than just an ‘aside’ as a label might be perceived as), this seemed like a good place to start.

Morley offers that a work with both word and image engages the viewer in two distinct modes: “one involving the visual scanning of the image and the other the reading of the words. The former mode allows for openness of interpretation and the freedom of mental and sensual movement, while the latter confines the reader to a predetermined route constructed from a horizontal row of letters to be deciphered”. Indeterminacy of meaning is important as ‘misunderstanding creates distance’; texts introduce a reflexive dimension by being both discursive and semantically ambiguous.

Four different kinds of interaction between the visual and the verbal sign can be identified:

  • Trans-medial relationship – word and work are connected by superposition, the one is essentially a supplement to the other. Implies a hierarchy where the text remains subordinate to the image (or vice versa).
  • Multi-medial: word and image coexist more closely, sharing the same space though remaining clearly distinguished in terms of spatial relations and kinds of intelligibility. For example, the text being used to tie down the specific meaning of an image
  • Mixed media: word and image have less intrinsic coherence and are only minimally separated from each other, having been enfolded, decanted or scrambled into each other’s customary domain.
  • Inter-media: recognition of the visual, material side of letters (and of the performative and sensory dimension to the act of writing).

Increasingly the inter-medial relationship has also come to signify much more than the melding of the visual and the verbal, into the integration of diverse spaces, movements and sounds [a multi-sensory experience]. Thus such a “total work of art” operates within a vastly expanded field of communication and information. 

Resisting legibility 

In reading this book, I could see clearly that my asemic calligraphy work fits clearly into the inter-media category. Utilising a desire to engage with “a topographic space”, i.e. a space in which writing is severed from its role as a mere verbal description and is experienced instead as a verbal and visual phenomenon. Expressionism like this makes use of the word’s materiality (the way in which meaning is constituted by the physical arrangement of letters on the page).

Morley comments that there are two poles of the phenomenon of writing: 

  • legibility, discursive communication and the mind
  • illegibility, direct unmediated communication and the pulse of the body

Handwriting, as distinguished from pure typography, printing and so on, has a raw visceral nature, which Morley describes as “an original, personal and expressive outburst”.

For example: Cy Twombly (1971)

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and Susan Hiller (Elan, 1982) where “language breaks free”

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Concrete Poetry 

The next concept which caught my attention in the book, is that of the desire to expand the conventional notion of language and its relationship to other less easily coded experiences. Morley gave reference to the word works of walking artists such as Richard Long and Hamish Fulton, who both try to encapsulate a very personal experience of place within a representation to be viewed in abstract in the gallery space. Photography and words are their medium here, the poetry in the titles or descriptions providing the power to personalise the view.

Wind through the Pines 1985, 1991 by Hamish Fulton born 1946

Wind through the Pines 1985, 1991 Hamish Fulton born 1946 Purchased 1993 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/P77621

Fellow ‘land artist’ Robert Smithson also used a combination of words and place, but resisted the use of text as ‘just’ a simple vehicle for ideas, instead drawing contradictions inherent in the word as both  signifier and signified, meaning and thing. He is reported to have said “look at any word long enough and you will see it open up into a series of faults, into a terrain of particles each containing its own void”.

The text work of Long and Fulton is often bracketed as concrete poetry (Fulton in particular), that which is neither poetry nor visual art, but rather a fusion of the two. Morley however dominantly covers only two-dimensional forms, which the exception of the well known 3D poetry sculpture of Iain Hamilton Finlay. In many of these works, along with much conceptual art of the 1960’s and 70’s, the words and their meanings are the main material of the work – just think of all of the neon signs and de-materialised works with words plastered on gallery walls. Morley highlighted some works, which although made out of a physical material with its own narrative, still use words to convey some concept or message. For example, the below work from Tracey Emin (Mad Tracey from Margate, Everyone’s Been There, 1997) uses a material which speaks very strongly: in this case, of the so-called ‘feminine’ craft traditions of sewing, applique (and according to Morley of the domestic and amateurish). 

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Multi-sensory experiences 

However, I don’t want to just make words from other materials, so what more can be said about sculpture involving both text and some other physical material with its own ‘readable’ poetic narrative? The fusion of different materials – different visual languages – must sit together side by side, complementary or contradictory depending on the message being communicated.

I had been toying with the idea of doing a larger-scale installation off and on throughout the course and this also seems to be one of the most interesting ways of combining visual languages within the one work. Starting with a literal use of poetry on top of another medium: Francie Hester and Lisa Hill (2016)

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Digital words add a whole new scope of possibilities to a work. Morley poetically describes this medium as a “zero-dimensional virtual reality blurring the boundaries between the physical and the virtual, time and space, mind and matter, the natural and the mechanical”. I rather like this idea, and how it naturally gives a multi-layered experience of the work to your audience. 

Examples of poetry projected directly onto the landscape, although literal, the history and narrative of the place adds extra layers of meaning onto the work (by Double Take Projections).

And another text projection mapping example from Phillipp Geist, whose projects are characterised by their complexity and the integration of the location, the sound and moving images. “In his video mapping installations, he avoids using canvasses and turns diverse architectures in moving, painterly light sculptures, which challenge the onlookers’ perception of two- and three-dimensionality”.