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?
‘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.
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.
I had a conversation with Liam last week about how my ‘tree of pots’ sculpture reminds him of a Rick and Morty episode where a ‘How it’s made’ video is shown for a nonsense invention called a ‘plumbus’. Apparently it’s an ‘all-purpose home device’ and since everyone knows what it does there is no need to explain it. I like how the animators seem to have had free reign to have fun and come up with a silly video for a vaguely sexual looking object that wouldn’t look out of place in a Dr Seuss book.
This reminded me of an episode of British comedy series Black Books where Fran finds an unusual item delivered to her gift shop but can’t sell it because she doesn’t know what it’s for (it’s later revealed that the ‘bald furby’ is in fact a lighter). I like the idea of objects that look as if they have a purpose but you can’t quite figure out what it is or how to use them. It makes me think about the context of objects and how all the tools we create and objects we use revolve around our ‘humanness’. For example, to an alien, the purpose of a screwdriver would be mysterious because they wouldn’t know what a screw was and a series of creatures that had no feet would have a hard time figuring out what socks are for.
I also draw a connection with the work of ceramic artist Harm Van der Zeeuw whose kooky sculptures I saw over the summer at ICF and Art in clay Hatfield. His steampunk style models of machines with cogs, wheels and struts look like they could move or serve some mechanical purpose but it’s all an illusion. In response to my assessment last week, Duncan and Natasha suggested I think about camera obscuras and lenses because of the way my recent work references objects you look through to use. I’m thinking back to the pin hole camera field project last year and thinking about the different devices we look through and into (Optical instruments): cameras, binoculars, glasses, telescopes, microscopes, kaleidoscopes….
Today’s skype call was with Irish ceramic artist Kathleen Moroney whose work is concerned with the interaction of space and movement, especially movement you can barely see like the passage of time. She explained how she was inspired by Susan Sontag‘s idea that something is accentuated in the opposite. For example, if something is silent, you can’t help but notice sound and if something is still, you can’t help thinking about movement. In order to explore movement in relation to the whole body, she became involved with dance workshops and learning about Japanese dance theatre called butoh. Her ideas about how dance brings you into a mindful state of being ‘in the moment’ resonated with me because of how I want the work I make to cause the viewer to experience a moment of calm contemplation as if looking out of a window. I was particularly interested about how she spoke of the wheel being the only tool that brings together time, space and movement, and the way working on a kickwheel in particular is so focused on the movement of the body that it’s a kind of performance art. Her spinning tops are an effort to capture that moment just before collapse, the way the clay on the wheel can look still when centred despite spinning at a fast speed.
Kathleen spoke about the importance of being happy in yourself, of feeling ‘centred’ and used the centering of clay as a metaphor. My interpretation is this: when we focus in on ourselves and attain a happiness that can’t be altered by outside events, our energy is focused, whereas if we focus too much outside of ourselves and are not in touch with our own thoughts and motivations, energy is wasted worrying. Kathleen spoke of how for every step we make visible there are hundreds of unseen steps through thought and emotion which lead to an action, so movement begins deep inside us.
She also described the loss of self-consciousness that comes with working in repetition but the paradox of this that when you become used to something, you also stop looking. Which brings me back again to the theme of balance, in life and in art. The forms I have being making recently are an effort to balance form and space, as I remember my old graphic design tutor telling us that the spaces between the words and images are just as important as the words and images themselves. Kathleen explained that in Japanese philosophy (and the wabi sabi aesthetic) empty space is perceived as energy.
In our second Constellation lecture we began the morning with an introduction to structural and materialist film i.e. films which celebrate the materiality of the process of filmmaking and are anti Hollywood, standing against mainstream narrative ideology. These films are difficult to watch because of their disjointed nature and emphasise creating mood over a clear storyline and dialogue. They explore the possibilities of physical film in many ways such as changes in speed, looping, layering and reversal of images and use of negative and change of tonal colour. These films require us to be active in decoding and interpreting them, not just passive watchers. They remind me of a book of photos I have by Dutch artist Paul Bogaers called ‘Upset Down’. The picture book has no clear storyline, beginning, middle or end and can be read turned upside down and back to front. It explores the juxtaposition of photos in unexpected sequences with the graininess of the material film visible and celebrated. Out of focus, underexposed and overexposed shots only add to the overall aesthetic.
Outer Space by Peter Tscherkassky is more contemporary example of this film genre. The narrative is unclear, more like a dream sequence full of unexpected, jarring scenes building up tension and fear. In the faster, more abstract sections, the film sprocket holes are clearly visible, emphasising that this is a film about film more than anything else. These non-linear narratives are of interest to me because one of my favourite film directors Quentin Tarantino uses this technique in many of his movies.
An early example of this kind of filmmaking is Malcolm le Grice’s Berlin Horse (1970), a mesmerising experimental film with music composed by Brian Eno (check out Music for an airport). Just as the looping of the horse in motion becomes layered and more complex over time, so does the music, the two tracks played at different speeds becoming more and more out of sync echoes of one another. It also alludes back to the history of cinema and Eadweard Muybridge’s zoetrope with the horse theme.
My favourite example we were shown is John Smith’s Girl Chewing on Gum from 1976. We start by believing a director is controlling the actors and camera, but as the ‘voice of God’ becomes more and more unbelievable (controlling the pigeons) we realise this is just a street scene which has been narrated over afterwards. With humour, it subverts the illusion Hollywood creates that the director isn’t present, creating the illusion that the world moves for the camera. It raises questions about in what ways the camera and film are extensions of someone’s body.
These are the same variations on a dolomite matt glaze as in the last glaze post. This time they’ve been fired on porcelain in oxidation 1280C. W2 (with soda feldspar) has the best white result, W1 being shinier and less brightly white while W3 has yellowish undertones. B2 is the exact kind of deep matt black I was looking for too, B1 still having a green tinge in oxidation. I’m either going to start hand building with thrown porcelain sections of covering the stoneware sculptures in porcelain slip to get these glaze results.