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….
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.
I’m throwing in porcelain for the first time. It’s getting easier with practice. At first I found it difficult to knead when it came from the bag but it softens up as you work it. Centering on the wheel is a challenge as it likes to come off, but perhaps this is also because I’m throwing with minimal water. Porcelain is a thirsty clay but using too much water will make it difficult to control so I’ve resorted to throwing with slip instead. I love the tones of light and dark created through these distorted inside forms but how well the light plays on them depends lots on the environment where they’re displayed.
Nick is going to create a plaster mould which we can sit these in and pour porcelain casting slip into to sit them in flat slabs. I found it more difficult to get expressive throwing rings in porcelain so had to use a stick to push them out. Unlike the stoneware bulging and rippling the porcelain wants to hold its form or just collapse completely, there is no middle ground.
Above are the results of our discussion with ideas for constructing a kind of porcelain igloo or box which you could go inside (or at least put your head inside). We talked about how sound might be distorted as it moves through the twisted vessel forms and how we could use boxed like the one above as bricks to construct a wall you look through. We recorded the discussions so I hope to upload those here soon.
Sunday was Giardini day and this time the artwork that got my heart racing was in the Norwegian pavilion – a massive sculpture made from fibreglass reinforced polyester pipes by Siri Aurdal (b.1937). The wave-like form called ‘Onda Volante’ (sea waves) looked like a giant version of my final centrepiece, the evenly spaced ridges on the plastic even referenced throwing lines. Walking around and underneath the cut tube sections I felt like I did walking around the aeroplanes at RAF Cosford museum, the curved plastic forms riveted together like wings of a giant aircraft. I felt the enclosed space didn’t do justice to it though, it was as if the form was trying to ‘flow’ outside, with tentacles pushing up against the ceiling. I’d love to see it placed in the Yorkshire sculpture park with wide expanses of space all around. Reading up about Aurdal after returning home I’ve discovered she came to fame in Norway in the 60s with large scale interactive sculptures that people could play and climb on, inspired by modular, mathematical forms. My interest in interactive artwork has been re-ignited!
Another treasure was found in the Finland pavilion, where Heledd and I must have spent over an hour mesmerised, watching the very funny ‘The Aalto Natives’ by Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen. The installation is part film, part two talking puppets called Geb and Atum, who explore elements of Finnish society, history and national identity. The videos swap between different styles: CGI, hand drawn stop-animation and Muppet style puppets and according to the leaflet ‘explore themes such as nationalism, xenophobia, bureaucracy, and intolerance by way of absurdist satire’. Half the time it felt like a missing episode of the Might Boosh, the other half like a montage of the ABCs of death. I’m still confused as to why the Neanderthal guy had a Liverpudlian accent.
I loved Milena Dragicevic’s colour compositions at the Serbian pavilion. Her abstract paintings ‘Erections for Transatlantica’ drew in the eye from afar with bold colour. The strange, sculptural images are mixtures of her own intuitive drawings with forms taken from outside sources. I thought some referenced Islamic architecture, others forms of microbes and bacteria.
I feel this year I’ve focused (although not as much as I could have) on improving my throwing skills. It’s a process I enjoy, but rather than viewing it as a means to an end, I see it as more as a starting point for the process of construction, much like artists Wouter Dam, Carina Ciscato and Walter Keeler.
I began the first project ‘Many a Slip’ trying to repeat throw a particular form – that of a distinctively shaped mug I remembered from home. I discovered though, when I found a picture of the actual mug, that my memory of the object was distorted, a caricature of a mug. This made me think of how unreliable memory is and blind drawing exercises in the New Materialisms Constellation study group explored these ideas of how we perceive with our senses further. This idea of memory and trace fed into the ‘Cafe Society’ project. My cafe was to be a piece of home in Cardiff, somewhere I could go to escape the busy city and feel I was back in the wild, mountainous landscape of North Wales. The layout of the place would be similar to my favourite coffee shop in Dolgellau – T.H.Roberts, the old ironmongers, the top floor kitted out with second hand sofas, and they would serve the local speciality – Popty’r Dre’s honey buns.
I made a series of my ‘home’ mugs which I hope to saggar fire tomorrow with combustibles sourced from the Dolgellau area – seaweed and shells from Barmouth beach and sheep wool and lichen from the farmers fields on the foot of Cader Idris. I want the surfaces of the mugs to show a physical trace of my home. The project has made me think of the things I take for granted and how your memory of a place can change when you move away and grow older. It makes me think of Malcolm Pryce’s Aberystwyth Noir novel series – about an alternative underworld Aberystwyth which he only began to write about when he moved away from the place.
With the handbuilding of thrown forms I find myself returning to the theme of balance, which happened to be what I wrote my final Constellation essay about. I find my making process if becoming more and more process driven rather than schematic and pre-planned. I find I like to play with the material and discover ways sections want to fit together harmoniously and naturally rather than trying to bring a drawing or plan into being. This thinking has definitely been influenced by learning about ideas of the agency of materials in Constellation. I feel as a result though that I’ve abandoned research a bit and work in sketchbooks less than I used to.
I noticed this change of thinking most when I came to the final ‘Centrepiece’ project and originally wanted to make an interactive piece or a game, but realised I didn’t want to work to a plan. It’s also becoming more and more important to me that what I make shows a trace of how it’s been made. This is why I like the flow of throwing lines and marks where the fire has licked the clay in kilns that aren’t electric fired. I hope to move away from the standard oxidation electric kiln firings next year. I’d especially to learn how to use the gas kilns for reduction firings and look more in depth at alternative firing methods like raku, saggar and wood firing. I liked the unexpected, uneven results and surface textures you get this way, like the ones on my final centrepiece.
Looking through my blog I feel it would help to post a summary of my developing ideas at the end of each week next year so I can see a more clear progression. Also I’d like to upload films of myself working so I can more dynamically document the skills and techniques I’m learning.
Our final field lab was an introduction to using the dark room and making our very own pin hole cameras. I made a pin hole camera from a shoe-box once which worked well but this time I wanted to try something new, closer to my chosen subject area. I found a few thrown unfired clay cylinders in my studio space, stuck pin-holes in their sides then cut circles of clay from a slab and squeezed them on top. Strips of gaffer tape were placed over the holes to stop unwanted light going in. The cylinders were loaded with strips of photographic paper in the dark room then I set out with one of my group members, Alaw, to try one out.
Lucky for us, the camera worked perfectly the first time. We took it outside on campus and pointed it at some undergrowth in a shaded area, exposing the paper for 4.5 minutes, which was an estimate based on our previous experience. The negative is great – it has lots of detail and a good tonal contrast.
For some more interesting subject matter we chose to visit Llandaff cathedral because of the wealth of medieval architecture and beautiful graveyard. We placed the pots around the midway ledges on the W D Conybeare monument, each facing different directions to get a panorama when joined together. The photos below are the results – each was exposed between 4 and 4.5 minutes, using the first photo experiment as a guide. Some of the pin holes were very tiny so only a small circle has been developed on the paper. Since the cameras were very temperamental we didn’t have much control over what exactly was captured – the focused shots on gravestones are very eerie.
Since we were using negative photographic paper, we converted the images to positive by laying them shiny side down on a fresh strip of photographic paper and used the enlarger to expose for a few seconds (between 7 and 9 worked best) before developing. These positives were cut up into squares and glued to a cardboard cube to create a kind of 360 degree panorama of the graveyard. Ingrid Murphy introduced us to a couple of apps for augmented reality called Aurasma and Augment. Our aim was to use Aurasma so that when you scanned the cube in the app it would play our recorded sound of birdsong and footsteps on the paving stones from the graveyard. Since we couldn’t upload just a sound file, we tried making videos using a number of apps but unfortunately none would work when uploaded to Aurasma. It would be great if there was some way of placing the sound inside the cube so it plays when you look at it – the inner space would become a kind of capsule for the time we spent in the graveyard.
We encountered a few difficulties along the way during this project – the gaffer tape wouldn’t stick very well to the dried clay which may be why some of the cameras didn’t work. We used six clay ones in total but only three of them produced consistent results, the others somehow let in light and overexposed the paper. Despite this I’ve enjoyed this field lab the most. I love the mysterious, cloudy quality of photos taken this way and developing them in the dark room is very similar to firing glazes in a kiln in that you’re never quite sure what the results will be like, only you get results much faster.
Our third field collaboration was an introduction to installations and film, focusing more on concepts and ideas than previous field labs that have focused on techniques. The task was to create a triptych: three associated artistic works intended to be appreciated together. We tried some idea generating exercises to begin thinking about how to approach the task, playing the surrealist drawing game ‘exquisite corpse’ and drawing a still life from memory. Sean Edwards introduced us to the work of a number of artists including Douglas Gordon’s ‘Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait’ that shows a football match from the unusual perspective of one single player. This distortion of perspective was probably an influence on our first artwork, a 20 second film and the middle part of our triptych.
My group was interested in the individual journeys we repeat each morning on our way into the building and to our studio spaces, so similarly to the schematic drawing exercise, we each filmed our individual paths from reception to our spaces and back down to where we met in the heartspace. Alex spliced the four journeys together and sped them up. The result is a very speedy, busy montage that feels almost overwhelmingly hyperactive and needs to be watched a number of times to follow all four windows. I’d say it contrasts starkly with the generally relaxed atmosphere of the art college. Although one of the cameras is facing backwards and another facing the ceiling I feel the video would have been more successful if the other two were filming from less predictable perspectives i.e. from the height of a child or just filming the feet. The idea was that we showed familiar journeys from a point of view that was unfamiliar and unexpected to try and elevate the ordinary.
Next the films were rotated, and we created a second artwork (the first part of the triptych) based on another group’s film. The one we were given showed a pair of skyscapes: two videos of slowly moving clouds overlayed and accompanied by the recorded birdsong. This slow paced, contemplative video of the natural world was the complete antithesis to our first piece. We decided to make a simple, straightforward installation that made use of natural light. Firstly we went outside to gather branches, placed these on a photocopier and proceeded to print them onto acetate with varying degrees of opaqueness (density setting). In the fine art studio we then overlayed these into the rectangle on the window, framing the sky outside, then placed a few potted plants at the base, echoing the trees at the bottom of the screen when the camera quickly pans down at the end of the video. The simple style and natural light reflected the tranquillity of the video well I think. I’m not sure if it’s what you’d normally classify as an installation because it wasn’t very big. This artwork was my favourite to make because we worked with the physical rather than digital and I learnt a new photocopying technique. I would have liked to have had a hand in editing the films though because it’s something I’ve never done before.
Finally, the artworks rotated again and we made our third and final work inspired by a group’s still life exploring the concept of time. The original work was a circle of 6 apples, each bitten and then placed on a table at different times during the day so the bruising showed the deterioration of the apple over time: a kind of ‘apple clock’. After hearing about filmmaker Peggy Awesh and her documentary style, the plan was to have a bit of fun by reverse the idea of people causing the apple to deteriorate to the apple causing us to deteriorate. We were to film ourselves on a night out, drinking only drinks derived from apple of apple flavoured, then use snapchat to create a series of short videos at intervals in the night, showing the deteriorating effect of alcohol! Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it to be part of the final video. Although it was a fun concept, I feel the idea of the deterioration over time is a bit lost because of the way the videos and images are not chronologically ordered. We probably should have organised to have a sober member of the group filming instead!