The Meshwork of Objects PDP

My Level 5 study group was Jaqui Knight’s ‘The Meshwork of Objects’ which I chose because I hoped to gain a deeper understanding of the holistic approach we took to how objects, bodies and environments are connected in last year’s ‘New Materialisms’. Jaqui introduced us to her own background in film and we discussed the genre of Structural Materialist film as a way to illustrate the concept of ‘Thingliness’. These films celebrate the materiality of film-making and stand as the antitheses of mainstream ‘Hollywood’ narrative ideology. Although difficult to enjoy and decode as they are non-linear and contain unexpected juxtapositions, they manage to render the invisible visible (by bringing to light the thingness of the film strip itself).

As a ceramics student I felt familiar with this concept of celebrating the material and the qualities it possesses, what might be called the non-human agencies at play in the co-creation of an artwork. After all, uniquely to my practice, clay (the material itself) not ideas or concepts is at the core of everything I make. As a material that can be shaped then re-claimed and re-modelled, clay is ideal to illustrate the idea that objects are only punctuation points in the life of things. The fragility of fired clay utensils also serves to remind us that all objects are in a state of flux. When a mug smashes, the object is not destroyed so much as transformed. We are all re-incarnated stars, punctuation points in the flow of matter just as any other object is. This learning has made me question the hierarchy we place ourselves on top of and instead I have been introduced to the perspective that we are simply ‘things amongst other things’.

The most useful aspect of this study group for me was our trip to Cardiff museum. Having visited the museum before to see exhibitions and collections it was a very different experience to look around focusing solely on how the objects had been displayed. I felt I was walking around with a renewed awareness, questioning everything and realising that even the things we take for granted such as the size of the steps, the brightness of the lighting and thickness of the glass have all been designed. This meshwork we had been discussing became visible.

A significant idea we discussed was how the ‘thingliness’ of objects becomes visible only when we are making something or when an object breaks down. We only really consider things in relation to us as humans. In a similar way we only pay attention to space when the usual order is disrupted in some way, for example we are pushed past in a queue.

Previously in my ceramic practice I made objects without much thought about what would become of them in the future. As a result of this understanding that we are all entangled in a meshwork I feel much more responsibility as an artist/designer to consider carefully what I am putting out into the world and how this impacts/ruptures the meshwork. Considering the things I make from an ecological point of view becomes important. Is it really necessary to fire everything I create, which uses up valuable energy? I have also began to consider the practicalities of transporting the work I make as well as what kind of environment I desire it to be displayed in.

At first I felt worried this study group would not relate to my work and practice, after all I don’t think I want to be a curator. Gradually though I came to realise that it is as much a responsibility of the artist as the curator to consider how their work will be displayed as it has a huge impact on what and how the artwork communicates a message.

As a result of working together in class through complicated arguments in academic texts like Bill Brown’s Thing Theory, I feel more confident in deciphering these kinds of philosophical arguments myself as I am becoming more attuned to this style of writing and vocabulary. I still feel as though I understand the concepts to an extent but can’t put a name to the idea as I learnt when I had a tutorial last week with Jaqui. I explained my essay ideas and she suggested the terms ‘ecological aesthetics’ and ‘relational ontology’ were what I was exploring but I still don’t feel entirely confident explaining what these terms mean.

I felt last year I was so involved with looking at context that I failed to dedicate enough time to the other sections of the course. As a result this year I’ve focused more on subject with the aim of improving my throwing skills but as a result I didn’t attend any keynotes this year and missed two of the five constellation lectures. In hindsight I probably should have worked to get a more even balance as these would have been a huge help in writing the essay.

As a result of my study group I have certainly developed a more ‘relational’ way of thinking. The concepts we have explored have challenged my perception of what reality is. I see parallels with this in my recent experiences of cognitive behavioural therapy which suggests the reality we create for ourselves is all a matter of perspective and that if we recognise distorted thinking patterns we can change our emotions and how we perceive experiences. How we can live happier, more fulfilling lives is a key question I am trying to tackle, currently with my work and also by looking through frameworks learnt in Constellation.

Since exploring ideas around Japanese philosophy last year I have become preoccupied with concepts of stillness and balance as means of helping us to live more meaningful and happier lives. I believe raising an awareness of this entanglement of human and non-human agencies is a source of wonder and celebration, offering a more ecological perspective on life. As a result my essay is a proposal for a piece of public art which encourages a contemplation of the environment and our place in it.

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Mythical Geographies

David suggested I work from my Port Eynon drawings on a larger scale using charcoal and to consider positive and negative spaces in order to think about how to start working three dimensionally from my sketches. I used the graphic work of Spanish sculptor Eduardo Chillida as a source of inspiration. His balance of black/white and positive/negative space has fed into today’s charcoal drawings below. Chillida’s 2D work translates well into sculptures because of how well defined the lines and forms are. My drawings are a little more ambiguous, the forms melt in and out of the paper and it’s difficult to say where lines start and end, which make it hard thinking of these as objects in clay. These drawings are inspired by the landscape but are not of any landscape we would recognise – they are almost Dali-esque in their blobiness…

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I started exploring space by photocopying my drypoint/monoprint, sticking these to mountboard then cutting out forms which slot together. These remind me of the rock formations higher up on Port Eynon beach. I like the way cutting up the forms distorts the surface pattern, the lines are no longer recognisable to me and take on a kind of life of their own. I also like the way these flat objects remind me of theatrical scenery.

I’m thinking of recreating the decoration by using slips and transfers on porcelain slabs. I like the quality of line and depth of tone/pattern a lot, they remind me a bit of the illustrations of Dave Mckean. I don’t feel very confident working with slabs and I don’t know much about printing onto ceramics so this is an opportunity to gain some new skills. Verity Howard’s work might be worth looking into in more depth.

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Working from Memory

Now that we’re back from Port Eynon, the rest of the work we make will be exploring our memory of the landscape, extending our direct experience into the realm of fantasy. This is where exciting things happen, the boundaries blurred between imagination and reality to create what David called ‘mythological landscapes’.
‘Mythical space is… a conceptual extension of the familiar and workaday spaces given by direct experience. When we wonder what lies on the other side of the mountain range or ocean, our imagination constructs mythical geographies that may bear little or no relationships to reality. ‘ Tuan, Yi-Fu. (1997). Space and Place. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota. Pg.86.

Our first step was to unravel our drawing machines and stick up the realms of paper in a strata formation along the seminar space wall. These representations of our journeys were fascinating – although we had all been to the same places on the same trip, our experiences and documentations of these appeared as varied as if we had been travelling in different parts of the world. The tools, colours and forms we chose, the lines we made, were all unique to our own personal and individual subjective experiences of the landscape.

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Next I cut up my long drawing and grouped the images together to try and tease out the recurring motifs in my work – simplified forms which are typical of my drawing style, Rocks featured heavily, in my photographs too. Perhaps working in ceramics, predominantly creating physical objects, I am drawn to the three dimensional, tangibleness of these formations. The play of dark and light and shadows in the cracks on their surfaces interested me.

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The 5 motifs

We spent Thursday in the printmaking room learning how to create drypoint plates with monoprint on top. First we created textures on a sheet of plastic using a dremel, sandpaper, tape and scalpels, drawing shapes and using templates inspired by our five chosen motifs. Next we inked up the plates with a black soya based ink and used scrim to rub off the excess. On top of this we used a stickier oil based ink rolled out in a thin layer to draw into and create a monoprint. I used seaweed from Port Eynon bay to create an impression. I really like the contrast of the flat areas of white where the stencils are against the rest of the layered background. The sheet of paper was soaked for about 8 mins before being blotted and put through the printing press with the plate, to help lift off a more detailed impression of the ink. The intaglio print can be repeated over and over if the plate is inked up again but each monoprint will be unique. The fuzzy, messy look of this print captures my experience he wildness of the weather on top of the clifftops on the Gower.

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Drypoint and monoprint
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Encausic painting with shells, oils, collaged drawings and gouache.

Yesterday we learnt another technique – encaustic (or hot wax) painting which I was completely new to. This involves painting a gesso primed wooden board with glaze washes of coloured gouache before building up layers of collage and coloured beeswax. I impressed shells into the wax and rubbed oil paint into the crevices, similar to the drypoint intaglio process, which brought out a much more defined texture. Scratching back into the wax to reveal white lines of the basecoat was particularly effective. I preferred this process to the printmaking because the results with dripping wax are less predictable. It’s easy to go on changing the painting by re-melting the wax with a heat-gun which is completely different to the finality and precision involved with printing. The drypoint process was long and laborious to create a single print so I’m going to work with photocopies of the one I made to bring about three dimensional forms.

Port Eynon, The Gower

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Port Eynon Bay

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360 degree panorama drawing from one spot

As part of L5 Field I spent three nights staying at a youth hostel at Port Eynon bay on the Gower where we spent our days on the beach and surrounding coastal footpaths documenting our response to the landscape and environment. The cold, windy weather made it uncomfortable to draw much of the time, and like in the Neath Valley, it was a battle against the rain. I worked almost exclusively in black and white the whole time I was there, which relates to my current subject work. I wanted to focus on form, texture and contrast rather than get distracted by colour. Until the last morning our days spent there were grey and overcast but despite being colourless there was lots of inspiration to be found, in the crushed shells on the beach, the rockpools, the rhythm of the tide and the ever changing skyscape.
A change of environment was what I felt I needed. Although I love city life, having grown up in the countryside, I feel far more at home alone on an isolated cliff edge! There was certainly a feeling of the sublime, of wonder at the immensity of space and time in relation to our puny existence. I thought of Tennyson’s ‘Break, Break, Break‘ and how the waves carry on despite everything. Nature is indifferent to our everyday struggles. It just puts everything into perspective for a little while, a break in the routine.

I’ve started to think a bit about routines – our daily ones such as the walk to university, as well as others like checking our phones and mundane ones like putting on a washing load once a week. Repetition can cause things to become dull and predictable but the trick to be good at anything is to practice it routinely. We can become stuck in routines like patterns of thinking and become trapped by them but equally the structure of a routine can make us feel comforted. I keep thinking of the series of plates by Juliana Rempel on which a single new line or block of colour is added along the sequence, slowing down the decorating process to highlight each individual decision process. I also think of our wacky Field project last year where we thought of the way people enter the university and how the experience could be made more exciting if we hopscotched in, or skipped, or rode a spacehopper.  I take pretty much the same route in every morning because it’s direct and saves time. But what if my emphasis was switched from time to space and I took a different route each morning and explored all the roads I’ve never been down?

Trip to Neath Valley and Port Talbot

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Drawing machine

Last week we travelled north towards the Brecon Beacons to visit the Neath Valley Waterfalls and then to Aberavon beach at Port Talbot as part of my field project this term called ‘Things Behind the Sun’. The aim was to document our experience of the journey and environments through drawings in a psychogeographic way, responding to how we move through the landscape and the things that interest us, rather than trying to recreate any landscape in a traditional, realist manner. I chose the project because having lived all my life in Wales and spending many happy holidays down in Pembrokeshire throughout my life, the Welsh landscape and coast especially are meaningful to me and evoke many memories. I’m interested in how my experience of places can be brought into my work, the sculptor-ceramicist Gordon Baldwin being a huge inspiration.

Rather than working in sketchbooks we used drawing machines made ourselves using folded cardboard, string, a till roll, tape and cable-ties. The roll of paper can be folded over and over so you can generate lots of drawings quickly. Frequent rain showers meant lots of the drawings became blurry as the ink ran, and this effect in itself becomes a record of the experience.

At Aberavon I found myself drawn to the interruptions where sand ripples made marks in the otherwise flat beach. When we think of waves in the sea, we imagine the surf coming towards the beach, but what does an entire wave actually look like? Like a sound-wave, it’s just a disturbance in a medium, a transport of energy. Perhaps the most famous depiction of a wave is Hokusai’s ‘Great wave off Kanagawa’, but this is just what a stereotypical wave appears like from our human perspective. Thinking of the Blue Planet episodes I’ve been watching, to a fish who has never left the sea, the experience of a wave would be very different. So who’s to say these forms in the sand below are not just as valid and truthful depictions of what waves look like as Hokusai’s famous woodblock print?

Slowness, Balance, Roundness

‘In other cultures, time is cyclical. It’s seen as moving in great, unhurried circles. It’s always renewing and refreshing itself. Whereas in the West, time is linear. It’s a finite resource; it’s always draining away. You either use it, or lose it’.

How can we change our approach to time in order to stop our mindless ‘roadrunner’ existences and live more meaningfully ‘in the moment?’. Carl Honore suggests we stop thinking of ‘slow’ as a taboo, dirty word with connotations of stupidity and laziness and start working towards a ‘good slow’, living at a slower pace and rhythm of life.

 

 

Luna (2014)

The other day I re-watched ‘ Luna’ – a mesmerising, ambiguous and totally underrated film directed by the genius Dave McKean and I realised it explores a key theme I want to respond to in my work: balance, in this case the balance between fantasy and reality. The dialogue in a scene around the dinner table exposes how unreliable our mind and memories are and suggests the reality we create is part based on fantasy. We spoke a little about this in Theo Humphrey’s professional practice session today, about how our minds jump to conclusions because we are constantly bombarded with so much data, this is the only way we can make sense of and navigate the world. 

D: I think there’s precious little connection with the real world at the moment, but I don’t think you are crediting fantasy with a proper role here. I’m not talking about ghosts and fairies, I’m talking about our fantasy lives, no, our imaginative lives.
G: You can play around with the words, but it all amounts to the same thing, lack of engagement.
C: Well I’d like to hear what you have to say.
D: Thank you, I just feel there is very little fact in our lives at the moment, very little reality. This is real, our conversation is real, but what’s going to happen in an hour or so? You will have your version of events, I will have mine, and they will both be different. There will be a chaos of memories, misinterpretations, lateral connections and they will all be a fantasy. In fact, everything that you hope for and dream about, that is all a fantasy…and the layers of associations and connections that every second your brain is making as we navigate this world, it is all just a fantasy. And yet it seems as real as the news on TV, the sound of this table, the people we love, and that’s why it’s very important to deal with this definition of fantasy in our lives…
G: What about young Freya here, where do you stand on the great fantasy versus reality debate?
D: The two are not mutually exclusive.
F: Tango. I tango.
C: You dance tango.
F: Mhm. Twice a week. And if you want to see, if you’re really interested in observing the actual balance in our lives between what you call the real world and what Dean here thinks of as our fantasy lives…then it’s poised. Perfectly, in tango.
C: I’d love to go dancing.
F: It’s much more than a dance. It’s a negotiation…between friends and enemies and lovers. It’s where you see how ridiculous we all are in our make-believe lives and our courtship routines and our sabre rattling and our pretence at being self sufficient. It’s where you see how vital life is.