Non-Space and Tram Sketching

For our current ‘Space/Room’ project I’m interested in exploring the phenomenon of ‘non-places’ or ‘non-spaces’. I can’t remember where I first heard about this, but I recall thinking about it after reading Italo Calvino’s ‘Invisible Cities’ and remember thinking when flying from the UK to Gothenburg, how airports are the ultimate ‘non-places’ spaces we move through to get to somewhere else instead of destinations in themselves.

According to Wikipedia: Non-place or nonplace is a neologism coined by the French anthropologist Marc Augé to refer to anthropological spaces of transience where the human beings remain anonymous and that do not hold enough significance to be regarded as “places”. Examples of non-places would be motorways, hotel rooms, airports and shopping malls. The term was introduced by Marc Augé in his work Non-Places, introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity.

The non-place differs from the idea of an ‘anthropological space’- a space where people can share a space that empowers their identity, in that non-places are filled with strangers who remain anonymous and lonely. Non-places can also be subjective though – to a group of friends who choose to spend the day together at a shopping centre and the people who work at an airport, the spaces might not be considered non-places. The idea of transience in relation to ceramics interests me because ceramic material is the opposite of transient in its solidity and durability.

My starting point for this project was to visit and document Gothenburg’s Centralstation – recording sounds, photographing and noting down shapes and words in response to the space. Reading Marc Auge’s chapter about ‘non-spaces’ and Mahyar Arefi’s article ‘Non-place and placelessness as narratives of loss’ helped define more concretely what non-spaces are. These places lack diversity, surprise, ambiguity and livability, we are often fed through these spaces in a system by following a set of instructions, signs or arrows.

Travelling back to the university from the train station I felt lost and unsure of how to continue. I hadn’t felt particularly inspired by this place. Drawing my attention back to the present though I realised I was travelling in another ‘non-space’, the inside of a tram. When travelling on trams as I do every day here in Gothenburg my thoughts are so often elsewhere that had I not payed attention, I probably couldn’t tell you what colour the floor, walls or seats were. I decided to shift my project to highlight the material qualities of the interior of trams in the city, making objects that echo and paraphrase the forms, colours and textures of these spaces which usually remain invisible to those inside them. My intention is to display the work in a different non-space – the stairwells at HDK. I move through these static spaces almost every day of the week. In contrast I remain still in the tram and it’s the space itself that moves with me inside it.

I spent this afternoon travelling on trams sketching the forms and textures I could find around me. Once I began looking I realised how complex and mysterious these spaces are. There are so many buttons and levers, hidden compartments and strange shaped protrusions that suddenly these spaces that seem very mundane and unexciting became landscapes of shapes. Later I photocopied and enlarged my drawings, cut them out and collaged them together into abstract machine compositions reminiscent of ‘robot wars’ creations. The next step is going to be to transform these ideas into 3D. I might use paper maquettes to get a sense of the scale needed for the staircase before starting to work in clay…

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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.

Week 1 Field: Shadow Play

For our first collaborative field project with the maker and fine art students we worked in the ceramics studio. Our project was to create a clay sculpture on the theme of light by exploring the way still lives can create abstract patterns of light and shadow.

We began by setting up still lives of objects we found interesting then used projectors to cast shadows from these onto large sheets of paper. Charcoal and biro were used to trace the patterns of light and shadow, rendering the objects together in abstract form.
We tried using a photocopier to enlarge sections of these collaborative drawings but found it difficult to get the settings right. I wish I’d put my name down for a workshop on how to use the photocopier effectively! Some materials like the scrunched up strips of masking tape above made crisp shapes of flat shadow however others like glass bottles, were a lot more difficult to render because of the distorted way light reflects through them.

The next stage was to create a relief using cardboard and we decided to each recreate sections of the drawings we liked the most then make an abstract collage of these aspects of the still life. We spent a long time arranging and re-arranging shapes to get a sense of balance. From the start we were drawn to the green netting we found because of the delicate, intricate lattice pattern it cast. We noticed our still lives reminded us of underwater scenes – the forms looking like seaweed and sunken treasure.

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The next step was to use this cardboard relief as the basis for a clay sculpture. We decided to explore through pre-reflexive play to begin, trying to recreate details we liked individually from this collage in clay. We tried pressing the clay into the cardboard shapes, pressing the netting into clay and using the cardboard shapes as stencils.

We had a lot of fun during this stage of the process but frankly the result just looks a bit naff! In it’s earlier stages the design looks considered but we ended up throwing everything at it with an enthusiastic approach of ‘more is more’. The final piece looked like the crumbling, ivy entwined ruin of a fairy-tale castle (one who’s architect was fond of geometric shapes). Since none of us had used the extruder before we were eager to have a go even though the forms it created had nothing to do with our original design. The task taught us an important lesson – that a work of art can be pushed too far! Our approach was one of ‘see what happens’ rather than a pre-planned design. We spent lots of time trying to achieve a sense of balance in the cardboard collage and should have spent the same amount of time with the clay. It was a struggle to construct because we discovered pieces with intricate detail cut in dried a lot faster than other slabs and tended to crumble. Making the lattice forms in paper clay may have made them stronger or we could have dipped material in slip.

On reflection, we would have been more successful making a series of small sculptures rather than throwing everything at one piece. We had lots of interesting patterns and forms – the geometric circles in squares combo, the lattice clay sheets, the plant-like slabs and the repeated leaf pattern. There was just too much going on! During the rest of the week we managed to create a new, simpler sculpture. We tested to see what results our sculpture would produce by taking it back to step one – placing it in front of a projector. It has an interesting juxtaposition between the geometric box form and the organic flowing vine-like slab sitting on top.