On Thursday we culminated the Room/Space project with an exhibition of the work we have produced over the last month. My playful and brightly coloured body of work explores the concept of non-spaces and is an attempt to draw attention to the transitional invisible spaces we pass through every day without being aware of them. In order to highlight this my work was presented in alcoves in the arch spaces of the walls in the HDK’s stairwells, spaces we don’t often linger in but which become complex and beautiful architectural spaces once you start to look carefully.
A collection of 14 hand-built sculptures sit inside four shelf spaces of varying height along the staircases, the steps offering the opportunity to view them from many different angles. During feedback it was pointed out that these forms look like little figures interacting with each other, each with a different personality. The space between each of them gives them a sense of isolation though, which communicates the anonymity and isolation of individuals as they interact in non-spaces. Students pointed out that the forms were familiar and look significant in some way, although they weren’t sure where they recognised them from. Perhaps a well-chosen title could be a key to understanding the pieces. Maybe something like ‘Stannar vid‘, which is the automated voice announcement on Gothenburg trams to tell you your next stop. It suggests the way the staircase is a space for ‘getting to’ somewhere else, not a place just ‘to be’.
The colours turned out much patchier than I intended but this nod towards rust and weathering also suggests the wear and tear caused by many people passing through a space day in, day out. I need to work on my glaze application, dipping and spraying would have created a more even surface colour than painting on. I’ve learnt the important of thinking ahead to decoration in the making stage too – the manganese in this dark clay has eaten away at the glaze. The red glaze turned out much pinker than I intended – with more time I would have perfected the colour matches by making more glaze tests.
Klara mentioned how she began noticing scratches and paint splatters on the wall which echoed the forms of the sculptures and other students mentioned the key word ‘curiosity’. I believe this display of work has been successful in changing he way we interact with this non-space but equally, by using forms inspired by tram interiors people explained how not only was this space transformed but that when they travelled home on the trams they would be looking out for these forms and textures by searching the other way around. Two spaces transformed in one!
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…
This morning we took part in a discussion about spaciality with Mirjana Voukoja who is an architect and PhD student at the HDK. Below I’ve listed some ideas which arose that may become starting points for our next ‘Room’ project:
Our experience of space is linear but space has no beginning or ending, it only connects to other spaces. What space comes before or after?
In-between spaces such as corridors, airports, train stations…places we pass through in order to get to others.
Memory in relation to space – memories of being with someone who is no longer here, how can loss and absence be contained in a space? (Rachel Whiteread).
Inside and outside – when you experience the inside of a building the outer wall is no longer just a flat facade, you can imagine the space behind it.
The ability of indigenous people and people in the past to navigate with the body in space
We use our bodies to divide and understand space…we have a tacit and embodied understanding of space (Interactive Space)
Space is all about relationships.
We have a global awareness now which means we are able to see our space in relation to the rest of the planet and other countries (e.g. from having seen proof the earth is spherical and in space).
How where you grew up influences what you think of spaces – Having grown up in mountainous North Wales I feel a kind of agoraphobia in flat open countries like the Netherlands. Someone growing up in the city might feel the same fear and feeling of being trapped in the countryside or a forest.
Politics/power relations concerning space – a hierarchy of height or levels
Thinking of space as a material, like clay, light or fabric are a material
In ceramics, the space of the artwork is sometimes confined by the space in the kiln and the point at which the clay sags and slumps under weight.
Space in the afterlife/beforelife, stages of life and death which we are unable to step into or out from.
Drawing the object by looking at the negative space that surrounds it.
Oculacentrism in relation to space – we experience the world visually, but how do those with visual impairments experience the same space?
Sound in a space – how have artists created sound installations that change depending on how we move through the space?
Yesterday we took part in a workshop held by HDK graduate Matilda Haggärde who currently works with dancers and the Gothenburg opera to explore the potential of clay in performance. She began by speaking about her own background and her performance piece in which she builds coils of clay around herself until she is enclosed in a pot, which she then breaks open and emerges from, like a butterfly from a cocoon. Although it’s a simple idea, the action evokes many metaphors. It also reminded me of a workshop I took part in years ago with an artist called Zoe Robertson who creates monumental jewellery and objects to be explored through movement and the body.
Next we took part in a ‘body scan’ exercise where we all closed our eyes and Matilda took us through a kind of guided meditation but with the aim in mind of feeling where our bodies held tension or felt heavy. During this exercise I became very conscious of the hardness of my spine against the flat surface of the chair and kept having to shuffle to feel comfortable. I began to think about how the softness and delicacy of our skin juxtaposes the strength and harness of our bones, and also of the skin as a kind of stretchy container for these hard objects. I wasn’t sure how to express this in clay so I began with a large scale charcoal drawing, trying to stretch the lines over imagined shapes.
The forms I drew felt visceral and grotesque – I realised I was thinking more and more about what lay underneath the skin, the blood vessels, intestines and internal organs. The final drawing looks like some organic system or machine. I also noticed as I worked into my drawings that they seemed to sprout tumours or cysts. Being prone to develop benign skin cysts myself, I am somewhat fascinated and at the same time repulsed by these strange growths. They are somehow of the body yet not connected to it in any way, similar to how when you are pregnant, your baby is at once part of your body but also a completely separate being.
I began to build on top of the drawing by pressing coils into my hand to try and lift some imprint of its creases and link them together in a way inspired by the technique ceramicist Claire Curneen uses, with tiny gaps in-between suggesting the fragility of the skin. I also began overlapping sections of clay to create the impression of plates of armour, thinking about the protection the skin gives to all that is inside. When I became bored of this making technique I reverted back to the charcoal, drawing the clay shape I made. The idea was to try a ‘ping-pong’ method of making like artist Kate Haywood uses – going back and forth between drawing and sculpting to see how one can influence the other. I like my drawing much more than the effect of the clay on top which just looks flat and fiddly. Transposing it up to a much larger scale would feel more ‘of the body’ because the space the body occupies would be mirrored in the space the clay occupies. The drawing from the clay just looks a bit like a phantom duck!
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.