July Critique


This was a very interesting term for me because I moved away from the methods I was investigating in Term 1 and, using a similar area of interest, tested a more open-ended but also focussed way of exploring that territory. The crux of my exploration was around interrelations between the macrocosm and microcosm, symbolic relationships between planetary bodies and their associated metals, the interplay between the attributes we ascribe to the planets, the attributes they reflect back at us and the way we interact with that. It’s a bit of a web going backwards and forwards, in and out without a real resolution but just creating open-ended questions. I was also working to steer away from ‘exclusionary subject matter’ and make the work more accessible and less (potentially) confrontational. I believe I achieved this – gauging viewers reactions to the work – by divesting the work of all marks and symbols and by presenting it in a more clinical, scientific manner. After delving into the subject of ‘performative spaces with boundaries’ I feel that a clinical and scientific presentation also achieves this level of containment and safety for the viewer.

shapes 1 small

Here is a précis of the outcomes and questions I have from the critiques for this seminars work:

Finish – Look at the finish (particularly pertaining to the large, white objects). Can flaws be incorporated? Expanded upon? An integral part of the work? How do accidental happenings effect the work? The work needs to be either more imperfect or more perfect and I need to know what this means for the outcome.

Perspectives – being able to see inside the objects, viewing from different angles, interior/exterior views, the objects invite the viewer to walk around them and view inside. What doe these things mean? How can they be utilised?

Exclusionary subject matter – There was general consensus that I had successfully addressed this issue

Shapes and Size – look at multiples, stacking, arranging. What happens if the objects become larger or smaller? How will we relate to them?

Materials – examine the use of materials, how they can combined. Could the large objects contain elements of the interactions present in the ABRAXAS piece?

Display – how do the objects work in the space? How do they interact with the floor and the markings on the floor.

I had a realisation that I was working within areas of transformation and thresholds, which is something I was interested in way back during my second year of my BFA, but which I had trouble articulating at the time. Transformation includes ideas around movement, change, alchemy, hiding/revealing, so my challenge is to bring those into my work more strongly as well as looking at working with materiality and they way that effects the work.


mind map Aug 2014

July Seminar works

7 metals smaller

ABRAXAS (2014)
Gold, silver, mercury, copper, iron, tin, lead, glass petri dishes, acids, salt, water, blood. 1000 x 1000 x 160mm 

A exploration of the macrocosm and microcosm through alchemical and bodily interactions.
With this work I chose to examine the relationships between the human body, metallic elements and the planets of our solar system through symbolic associations and chemical reactions.
The small become large, the large become small.
The heavy become light, and the light become heavy.

viewing 1 small

Face-Centred Cubic Structure (2014) Paint, formacote. 590 x 580mm (left)
Rhombohedral Crystalline Lattice (2014) Paint, formacote. 550 x 470mm (right)

viewing 4 small

ABRAXAS (2014)
Gold, silver, mercury, copper, iron, tin, lead, glass petri dishes, acids, salt, water, blood. 1000 x 1000 x 160mm 

gallery1 small

shapes3 smallFace-Centred Cubic Structure (2014) Paint, formacote. 590 x 580mm (left)
Rhombohedral Crystalline Lattice (2014) Paint, formacote. 550 x 470mm (right)


abraxas2 small

ABRAXAS (2014)
Gold, silver, mercury, copper, iron, tin, lead, glass petri dishes, acids, salt, water, blood. 1000 x 1000 x 160mm 


Affect in art

When viewing artwork the general public will often react with and describe the kind of emotion a work makes them feel. This sort of personal emotional reaction does not tell us whether the work is ‘good’ or ‘successful’ as it only lets us know how one individual person feels when experiencing it. Emotional reactions are informed by the specific happenings and experiences that have directly impacted upon an individual’s life and their experience of the world around them. Generally this is not useful when critiquing a work in context of how it will be experienced by a wider audience, because it is purely subjective.

The term “affect” gives us a way to assess and analyse the aesthetic emotional impact of art works in a wider context. It allows us to take it away from the purely subjective to a more objective critique of highly charged works. Art can be used as a way to measure and explore aisthesis attached to an event, or the symbology associated with it in a way that traditional documentary media does not. The ‘atmosphere’ that an event can create is an effect of the transmission of ‘affect’ to the experiencer and can be used by the artist to allow the viewer access to the work.

“Whereas media assumes the function of witnessing and documenting what actually happens – and hence sets up the terms and conditions of aesthetic mediation – art (the critical, self conscious manipulation of media) has the capacity to explore the nature of the event’s perception or impression and hence to participate in it’s social and political configuration. In this sense, the aesthetic is not art’s exclusive province, but a method of engagement in which art specialises.” (Bennet, J.  Practical Aesthetics p6)
Bennet, J. (2012) Practical Aesthetics: Events, Affects and Art After 9/11. I.B Taurus and Co Ltd. London: England.

The change in aesthetic value from concern with the beauty and tastefulness of art to it’s practicality and effectiveness has shifted the method by which art can be expressed and measured. Affect becomes a more useful aesthetic tool to engage with the work because it imbues objects and experiences with emotion in a way that is un-concerned with beauty.

“‘Aesthetic Reflection’. as one notable encyclopaedia puts it, seemed to distract from more important consideration of art’s embeddedness in the social world; moreover art practice itself, from the 1960s onwards, reinforced the sentiment that ‘beauty was besides the point’.”(Bennet, J.  Practical Aesthetics p1)

How does beauty and the use of affect within the practice of art exist together? Is there an affect created by the very use of aesthetically beautiful objects and images? How does beauty fit within our modern social experience? I’m curious to discover more about how these two seemingly disparate aesthetic measures work together and what they generate in an art practice. Beauty might be ‘beside the point’ but does it imbue works with affect of it’s own due to it’s place within our social experiences?

Accessing the Otherwordly

One of the issues within my practice that I am still working through is the problem of exclusionary subject matter. This is something I researched through looking at Kara Walker’s treatment in her work and I have continued to research in artists working with mystical or occult ideas.

Australia artist Mikala Dwyer also deals with this issue of the viewer as outsider in her work. Because of the esoteric strangeness of the work, there is the possibility of the viewer feeling that taking the time to engage is too difficult, and that maybe some sort of complex trick is being played on them, the nature of which is only privy to a select cabal of initiates. What is actually going on? Should we be scared? It this really something other than what it seems?

“Concealment of one sort or another is clearly a feature of the artist’s work. It is tempting to reject the quality of strangeness outright – on the one hand because interpretation proves to be too difficult and time consuming, and on the other because it is a reminder of our own relative ignorance, coming to the gatherings, as we do, as outsiders.” (Hansford, P.  Enigma Machines p48)
Clemens, J. Colless, E. Hansford, P. Long, D. Mathews, H. Michael, L. Ross, T. Campbell, K (2013) Mikala Dwyer: Goldene Bend’er. Southbank, Australia: Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.

dwyer_2008_detail11-mDwyer, M. Swamp Geometry (2008) various materials, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne, Australia

Dwyer uses formal elements to allow the viewer not just access to the work, but the opportunity to be part of it. In his talk “Frontier Spirits: Ghosts, Magic, and Colonial Half-Truths” (2013). Cranbrook Academy of Art, [Video], Anthony Byrt describes the use of circular spaces as choreographic parameters which restrain the work and create an area of invocation in which the work can be experienced. This appears to give the viewers access and permission to step inside a liminal space which might otherwise make them uncomfortable. Dwyer acts as a guide into the otherworld and leads the uninitiated across the borders; thanks to the artist the spectator can see.

“In Dwyer’s work, both artist and spectator find a way to connect through a second skin in the artist layer itself.” (Hansford, P.  Enigma Machines p48)

Dane Mitchell also deals with viewer suspicion in his work, “namely the ever present suspicion that a work of art is concealing something, that it’s not all there, indeed that some crucial, occult element can only be gleaned by a very small coterie of superhuman initiates. Either that, or it is what the French bluntly call ‘fouteage de gueule’ (roughly translatable as a spit in the face).” (Sharp, C.  Trajectories of Immateriality p61)
Mitchell, D. (2012) Radiant Matter I/II/III. Berliner Kunstlerprogramm DAAD and Govett-Brewster Art Gallery (New Plymouth), Dunedin Public Art Gallery (Dunedin), Artspace (Auckland). New Zealand

dane-mitchell_dpag3Mitchell, D. Gateway to the Etheric Realm (2011) Powder-coated steel, spell, spell materials. 6000 x 6000 x 3250mm approx. Radiant Matter II, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Much the same as Dwyer, Mitchell acts as an artist on the threshold of worlds, using boundaries as parameters to contain liminal spaces. In his work “Gateway to the Etheric Realm” (2011) Mitchell uses a delineated space to contain a conjured spell. It is only the borders of the space that enable the viewer to know that the spell exists in this world at all. His use of vitrines, blown glass and mirrored boxes create boundaries within which his otherworlds exist and can be accessed.

It’s noteworthy how much this feeling of being excluded can irritate the viewer rather than making them curious. Perhaps it’s an extension of the perceived inaccessibility of the art world itself where only the academic, the members of an elite art world can fully understand the work!


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