This is a still from a series of short performative videos I shot this weekend with the help of my partner (he was very good as videographer and production assistant!). I’m currently working on the videos and ascertaining whether they do what I want, whether they work as art pieces, whether I want to do something else with them.
Honeybees navigate according to a map-like spatial memory
Using radar scientists tracked the flight paths of displaced bees – the bees are captured leaving the hive or a feeder they are familiar with and are released in unexpected sites in their general territory. Behavioural routines are recorded:
1) Straight flights in which they fly the course that they were on when they were captured on a foraging flight or that they learned from directions given from bee dances (those are called recruited bees).
2) Slow search flights where they fly with frequent direction changes in order to get their bearings.
3) Straight rapid flights to the hive or the feeder even from unexpected places in their territory where they have no visual connection to either hive or feeder.
“Two essential criteria of a map-like spatial memory are met by these results: bees can set course at any arbitrary location in their familiar area, and they can choose between at least two goals. This finding suggests a rich, map-like organization of spatial memory in navigating honey bees.”
Menzel, R. et al (2004) Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America (website) http://www.pnas.org/content/102/8/3040.abstract
Diagram showing homing flights via the feeder (Fs) to the hive (H)
It is commonly accepted that bees use the sun as a reference point in both communication (waggle dance) and navigation, and that this is an innate understanding. Attempts to model this have apparently been unsuccessful.
Karl Von Frisch received the Nobel Prize for discovering one of the most difficult to fathom complexities of honeybee behaviour; their ability to ‘talk’ to each other abstractly through the Figure 8 Dance of the honeybee. The direction the bee moves in relation to the hive indicates direction pf pollen source. If it moves vertically upwards the direction to the source is directly towards the sun. The duration of the waggle signifies the distance. A waggle dance consists of one to 100 or more circuits, each of which consists of two phases: the waggle phase and the return phase. A worker bee’s waggle dance involves running through a small figure-eight pattern: a waggle followed by a turn to the right to circle back to the starting point (return phase), another waggle run, followed by a turn and circle to the left, and so on in a regular alternation between right and left turns after waggle runs. Waggle-dancing bees produce and release two alkanes that also seem to act as additional communication.
Unusual fact: Apparently honeybees cannot see white, hence the colour of beekeeping suits.
“When you perform it is a knife and your blood, when you act it is a fake knife and ketchup.”
Tanya and Yolanda suggested I take a look at some women performance artists and Marina Abramovic immediately sprung to mind. I was aware of her work at MoMA “The Artist is Present” but I hadn’t watched the documentary or really delved into her work in general. I was taken by surprise by how impressed and involved I became in the piece. I hadn’t thought of myself as being someone who was interested in performance art, but it’s always a mistake to make these assumptions about yourself or pigeonhole your interests and influences in that way!
Performance art is often thought of, and parodied, as the most pretentious and pointless of artistic practices. I always laugh every time I watch British comedy ‘Spaced’ when the tortured abstract expressionist Brian talks about his performative work done with artistic collaborator Vulva (whose look was inspired by Leigh Bowery). “We did valuable work” he says while a montage of them in absurd scenes is shown. I found ‘The Artist is Present’ to be stripped bare of any pretence.
Abramovic impressed me with her strength, resiliance and uncompromising honesty. I think it’s rare to see someone so fully committed to what they do – how many of us could handle 3 months of unmoving, seated eye contact with a revolving cast of strangers? The artist wasn’t just present in a physical sense, she was fully present in all senses and fully engaged with those who came to sit with her. You could see the power of the piece in the reactions of the sitters; tears, joy, confusion, elation. Abramovic talked about herself as being a mirror to every sitter where they were able to fully see themselves, so their reactions were an overflowing of those feelings coming to the surface.
The quote at the top of this blog entry is something which was said during the documentary that rang very true with me. There is a gulf between ‘performing’ and ‘acting’ that is not always recognised; performing strips away the masks, where acting creates them. I performed for years as a dancer and this is something I have discovered myself. The pieces I did that were the most successful and caused the biggest reactions from the audience (usually emotional reactions like tears) were those where I might have been dressed as a character, but I was performing an aspect of myself, not acting a character. I would need to prepare for the performance beforehand and it would be as if a much more intense aspect of myself came forward to connect with the audience. In that sense I understood a great deal of what Abramovic was doing but on a lesser level, like I had just scratched the surface of what was possible. I also used a lot of theatrics and costuming to influence the viewer, which is something I have witnessed in the work of both Abramovic (her later work mores than her earlier work with Ulay) and Matthew Barney. This has opened up a new avenue of potential practice for me that I had mulled over previously but not delved into. I didn’t have a proper outlet, venue or audience for what I wanted to create so I had to shoehorn it into the avenues that were available meaning that I couldn’t take the performance to the place I wanted it to go. Watching Abramovic has given me some insight into what could be possible.
Abramovic, M. The Artist is Present (2012) Akers, M. Dupre, J. (Directors)
“Recuperating the tradition of assemblage and the prehensile alertness of collage, todays sculpture seems to be less engaged in interrogating its own status than it is over excited by the idea of annexing the whole world to it’s own body.” p65
This blog entry is in response to the essay;
Gioni, M. (2007) Ask The Dust.
Flood, R. Hoptman, L. Gioni, M (Ed.) (2007) Unmonumental – Object in the 21st Century. London, England: Phaidon Press.
I found this essay by M. Gioni to be a very good precis of the changes in sculptural practice from classical form to 21st Century object based works. It extends my understanding from Rosalind Krauss’s writing on the Extended Field into contemporary practice.
Gioni starts much as Krauss did, discussing the tradition of sculpture as tied to the monumental; statues of remembrance, funerary monuments, depictions of people and things past or legendary. It’s permanence and solidity was important, it was placed on a pedestal creating a separation between the place the viewer exists and the place the sculpture exists.
Modernism sees the sculpture brought down from it’s pedestal or the pedestal is incorporated into the sculpture itself. Both Gioni and Krauss draw attention to Constantin Brancusi’s “Endless Column” as a seminal work in this era. Not only was the work autonomous and free standing it also was non site-specific and was made a number of times in different materials and scales in different spaces; in several cases actually becoming hugely monumental.
The monumental was still present when sculptural work moved in the Expanded Field. Many of those works – particularly the site construction and marked site works – were hugely ambitious in scope and size. In the 1960s Minimalist sculpture still held onto the monumental through it’s extreme manufactured, artificial appearance and use of industrial materials. Gioni also includes installation work in his assessment of the monumental through it’s often grandiose experiential qualities.
He sees the emergence of unmonumental 21st century sculptural work thusly:
“… the emergence of this sculptural language has been rather spontaneous and disorderly, and it has only recently coalesced into a more recognisable pattern.” p65
It seems that this form of object-making has been born from an affluent world exhausted by commodity and filled with refuse. (Gioni points out that this art practice is mainly found in the US and Europe). It is not a collective or cohesive creativity, it is not concerned with relational aesthetics, it is brought together more by an interest in incorporating found objects, secondhand images, detritus and waste items. It has strong ties to the Arte Povera movement with it’s anti-establishment, nonconventional desire to break down the barriers between ‘art’ and common items.
“It is a profoundly modest, radically anti-heroic art…” p68
While reading this book I was drawn to the work of Matthew Monahan. His work incorporates plinths and glass cases that harken back to the classically monumental; the classic form of sculpture as artefact of remembrance and the plinth and case as display methods separating the art from the viewer. Monahan’s work defies the monumental in part by it’s use of material and in part by it’s quiet, reflective nature. I love the drywall used in the plinth-type structures, the way the edges crumble, the way it’s tacked together, the bright colours of the surface and the stark white of the interior, how it looks like it’s just offcuts from a building site that have been pulled out of a bin. I also love the rather random, found, broken nature of the objects that are ‘displayed’ upon the plinths and within the glass. Some of them have an almost traditional bronze, ceramic or stone sculptural quality but are distorted or broken, combined with bits of this and that, both venerated and degraded. They remind me of personal reliquaries where various treasures are collected and stored, they have private significance but their specialness might not be understood by anyone else.
Matthew Monahan. Selection of work from Saatchi Gallery
Matthew Monahan (2005) Guild of Mad Builders
Drywall, wax, pigment, metal, paper, 155 x 22 x 22cm
“The Order” occurs in the second half of Cremaster 3 and is replete with quasi-masonic symbolism pulled from the story of Hiram Abiff and the building of Solomans Temple along with recreations of Barney’s own imaginings of masonic Initiatory rites.
The character of The Apprentice (played by the artist) has lost his teeth in an altercation with hitmen punishing him for creating a ‘perfect ashlar’ with cast cement rather than stone, thereby making an unstable foundation for the Chrysler Building.
He begins his initiatory process through 1st to 5th Degree encountering characters from previous parts of the Cycle. The Order is a large-scale production (the whole Cycle a monumental undertaking) enacted and filmed at the Guggenheim, with the spiral gallery being used as a metaphor for ascending through the Degrees as The Apprentice literally climbs the walls to reach each stage in his progression.
There are 2 particular aspects of this piece I’d like to mention as being very relevant to my own practice and that I would like to incorporate conceptually;
Firstly, the use of symbolism
Obviously this part of the Cycle is full of occult symbolism, mostly drawn from Masonic rites and mythology. What makes this Barney’s own is the way he has incorporated and changed those symbols and ideas making them recognisable but very much part of his own cosmology. While, at first, it may seem a parody of these kinds of Orders, Barney, as The Apprentice, performs his tasks with such gusto and conviction, despite the rather ridiculous situations, that the viewer has to almost take seriously his striving for attainment and also his rather cheeky attempts to circumvent the strictly ordered process. Throughout the Cycles Barney has evolved and expanded his symbolic mythologies and given them their own weight and provenance through the scope of his work.
Secondly, the multi-pronged approach to materials and disciplines
First and foremost these are performance pieces. Not only that, they are also moving image works, they are theatre; incorporating costume and character, they have accompanying photographs and drawings, they also have sculptural works; many of which play a part in the performances but also stand alone as works in their own right. I appreciate this all encompassing approach to the creation of a symbolic cosmology and the way the artist has chosen to express it through different forms and media that tie together to make a whole.
I’ve been working with copper over the last couple of months and there is one object in particular – a dodecahedron – that had required a long process. As I’ve been going along with the creation of the object I’ve discovered that I really enjoy some of the forms it takes along the way. In order to create the object it is first cut by hand from a flat sheet, then it is scored by hand to allow folding. In between each step the metal becomes hardened and brittle and requires annealing where the metal is heated almost to metalling point and then cooled allowing the composition of the metal to return to it’s more malleable ‘pre worked’ condition. In these steps between being a flat sheet and being a three dimensional object it has gone through stages of folding and unfolding which I really enjoyed and felt were objects in their own right expressing the process of the making. Object opened up after testing fit of sides and edges. Annealed and polished copper. Object partially folded without soldering and with side that came loose from a deep score mark. Annealed but unpolished copper.
There is something about the bendiness and fluidity of the unfolded object that makes it look like it’s moving or creeping. It’s also hard to tell if it is metal or metallic paper.
I think there might be something for me in the annealing process itself; the way the physical structure and chemical properties of the metal are actually changed by heat to make it more malleable. Through working (e.g. bending, forming, stretching), the atoms in the metal become ‘dislocated’ which is an irregularity in the crystal structure of the lattice forming the metal. Annealing diffuses the atoms and returns them to their un-dislocated state. There are three parts to the process: recovery, recrystallisation and grain growth. These stages are pretty much what you would expect and you want to avoid the third stage as it can weaken the metal. Getting the metal to the recovery or recrystallisation stage returns it to its workable form. I think that there is something there that I can work with, just not sure quite what will come out of it yet.
Rosalind E. Krauss’s “Sculpture in the Expanded Field” (1978) (Krauss, R. “The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths” (1985) The MIT Press; London, England) is a really useful essay that I have read three times and will probably read again. It examines the emergence of Postmodern sculptural practices and how they can be quantified when their expression is so varied.
The category of ‘sculpture’ becomes infinitely malleable and comes down from (or absorbs) it’s classical place on the pedestal. Krauss argues that in order for the new to be more palatable and acceptable it needs to have a historical evolution. Where sculpture once had a fairly linear art historical narrative, as it pushes the boundaries into new areas then historical provenance is expanded to include genealogies of millennia incorporating the likes of stonehenge, the nazca lines and neolithic mounds – none of which were ever intended as sculpture!
Modernist practice initially pushed the boundaries by removing the pedestals and moving the place. Modernist sculpture became somewhat nomadic. A new boundary needed to be established; if it’s NOT architecture and it’s NOT landscape, then it must be sculpture.
The 1960s welcomed in the postmodernist approach and the boundaries of sculptural practice were pushed to their outer limits.
“Sculpture is no longer the privileged middle term between two things it isn’t. Sculpture is rather only one term on the periphery of a field in which there are other, differently structured possibilities.” P284
Krauss put forward the Expanded Field theory and quarternary field diagram.
I have identified some examples of works that fit into the new fields:
Marked Site: both landscape and not-landscape
Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970
mud, salt, basalt rocks, water, 460m x 4.6m, Great Salt Lake, Utah
Site Construction: both landscape and architecture
Mary Miss, Perimeters, Pavilions, Decoys, 1978
Long Island, New York
Axiomatic structure: this uses existing structures and works with them or upon them. The structures can be architectural and not-architectural.
Beijing based artist and beekeeper Ren Ri has created a series of works for a piece called ‘Yuansu II’ (roughly translating to Element II). He has collaborated with bees to create works using honeycombs inside plastic polyhedrons of different configurations with a queen located in the centre. The structure of the bee’s construction is further randomised by the artist determining a rotation of the polyhedra every seventh day with a roll of the dice.
Ren Ri states that one of the purposes of Yuansu II is to “eliminate the subjectivity of the artist” via “the mediation of bees”. I would argue that he is also re-injecting the artist back into the work by his rotation of the hives thereby taking away some of the design decisions of the bees through randomisation of their construction.
Ren Ri states that he enjoys the instability of beeswax and the fact that it can change shape with temperature. This is something that I also enjoy about the material. Apart from the use of beeswax I relate to the uncontrolled geometric growth at play in this work. I enjoy multiples of objects and in this case the multiples are the hexagonal cells of the hive. I do love the polyhedral containers from a purely aesthetic standpoint, but I’m not sure they actually contribute to the work as a whole? I can’t tell if the shapes of the containers significantly change the structure of the hives or extend the work in any way.
Over the last week I’ve worked my way through an audio recording of the 8 lectures Rudolph Steiner made available in his book “Bees”. It has been a pleasant, if somewhat waffly, look into Steiner’s worldview and the place that bees have in his overarching thesis on the interconnectedness of nature. I found a lot of the content was of little interest to me because it was based around pseudoscientific health principles strange musings on things like formic acid and milk. The parts that have come away thinking about are more to do with the organisational structure of the hive and the relationships between the hive and the human body.
Here are a few notes that I’ve made to think about further:
Developmental stages of the 3 types of bee from laval to maturity:
Queen 16 Days – closer to laval stage, interesting the the queen requires the least time in larval stage.
Workers 21 Days – significant: the sun revolves once on its axis (link to the sun) the worker bee experiences every single effect the sun can have on it and is instilled within the worker bee – a sun animal.
Drones 23-24 Days – the sun is past, the drone is an earth animal.
Macrocosm and microcosm ideas, particularly ideas around the blood cells in the body being the worker bees and the human body, the hive. The queen sits at the centre like the heart and the workers move around her like red blood cells. (Would that make the drones white blood cells seeing as they do the ‘protecting?’)
I don’t quite get what he was talking about but the is a correlation between milk/honey/quartz (six sided effect). I want to have a look into this because crystalline structures are another interest in my work. I’ve made a note that says “Quartz crystals and bee cells?? whats he talking about??” so I’d better investigate!
Bees can sense fear, anger. A hive establishes a relationship with a human – the beekeeper. It takes the hive time to acclimatise with a new beekeeper.
Beekeeping is so old that there is no record of what bees did and how they lived before domesticated bee keeping (I need to check the veracity of this statement!)
The queen can produce eggs without fertilisation. She can produce drones from unfertilised eggs, but workers and other queens only hatch from fertilised eggs. This makes the drones seem like quite a different sort of creature, they also have the longest maturation time.
Justine and I visited Te Uru gallery last weekend to have a look at the current exhibitions. There were 2 that were of particular interest to me due to their intersection with, differences and similarities to my own work.
Tracey Tawhiao’s work is part of a group show called IOIOIOIOIOIO that examines the hidden order unifying our Universe. She examines the language of sacred geometry,the names of the Māori Creator IO and the simple but unifying language of binary code. In her work she is exploring the same sort of esoteric language that I enjoy and is taking both a universal and local approach by combining both western mysticism (in the form of ideas such as the Metatron Cube and the Tree of Life) with her ancestral understanding through mātauranga Māori. I related to this work because of her interest in sacred geometry and western mysticism and I enjoyed the relationship between the languages of the different traditions that resulted in a very universal work.
Tracey Tawhiao (Ngai te Rangi, Whakatohea, Tuwharetoa), IOEAU (God and I), 2014, acrylic paint on paper, Te Uru Gallery [there is a material not listed in the artist’s statement which is the acrylic disks overlaying the painted words]
Tiffany Singh was also exhibiting at Te Uru with an exhibition called “Life is But a Vapour” that concerns itself with the grieving process and art as a process to come to terms with grief, death and dying. Over a three month period members of the public were invited to visit Singh’s studio and create memorial string which were incorporated into the work. The work displayed at Te Uru was a combination of this piece and several other in collaboration with other artists. The wall itself was a jumble of objects and symbols, the memorial strings combined with many other items of cultural significance. It felt overwhelming and despite being a participatory artwork I felt it did not invite the viewer to participate. Many of the objects incorporated into the wall were already loaded with heavy religious and cultural meaning so instead of being an inclusive collaboration from many different people it seemed more like a clash of cultures with the viewer being left wondering whether the artist could actually speak for and to all of these peoples who sign their scared items. It felt like a rather cavalier display of symbolic items that the artist might not fully comprehend, rather than a genuine and thoughtful enquiry.
Tiffany Singh, I Have Died Many Times But Your Breathe Makes Me Alive Again, Ongoing collaborative work, Te Uru Gallery 2015
Tiffany Singh had another piece in the gallery that was concerned with a similar idea but was very different in the way it approached the subject matter. “Earth Air Fire Water Ash” is a suspended glass ash receptacle holding charred remains and suspended above a shallow bowl. There is none of the blatant religious and cultural symbolism in this work, but the materials and their display make it very clear what the viewer can explore in the work. It has a quiet poignancy that speaks to me of grief and death far more than the cluttered wall. The work is open ended, the elemental nature of the materials is understandable to all, it invites the viewer to experience it and it doesn’t block the reading through complex, and potentially exclusionary, symbolism. This was very useful for me to observe because its something I have been grappling with in my own practice.
Tiffany Singh, Earth Air Fire Water Ash, 2014, Glass and ash, collaboration with Isaac Katzoff Monmouth Glass studio, Te Uru Gallery
These two exhibitions gave me a clarity about my own practice that I had understood to some extent before, but now have SEEN in the work of others. I can now understand exactly why work like this can be exclusionary and ways to approach subjects to make the art interesting for a wider range of viewers; to make the work better. I am going to hold these images and my realisations about them in my mind when creating my own work so that I move one way and not the other.