I’ve spent a couple of hours outside today despite the -20c temperature. The sun is out low on the horizon turning the world blue and yellow. There is a phenomena called ‘diamond dust’ that is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen; ice crystals hang in the air, catching the sun and sparking like glitter. Everything comes alive in a shimmering haze.
Ellery and I walked out onto the frozen lake as it clouded over a little and started to snow. The flakes that landed on our clothes were each perfect brittle stars. Our hair became crunchy with ice around the humidity of our faces.
The frozen lake is black beneath the snow and walking on it has a different timbre to the land. There were small animal tracks crossing the pristine surface and we wondered if they could be from a wolverine.
I tried to capture the diamond dust then the snow fall on video without much success. The camera seemed to be struggling with the low temperature and its ability to focus in video mode was compromised. When we came back to Arteles I went out to the forest to collect sticks for an idea I’m mulling over.
I am staying in Finland for a month at the Arteles Creative Residency near Tampere. It’s a beautiful place, quite magical in the snow. Today there is a clear sky and sun. Sometimes there is a slight breeze which causes a flurry of snow to fall from the trees in cascading waves. It hangs in the air catching the light of the sun in a shower of glitter. I think it is perhaps one of the most delicately beautiful things I have ever seen. So far my attempts to capture in on video have been unsuccessful, but I suspect it’s the kind of phenomena that is too hard to get on film.
From Cyrill Schlepper’s “UR Musig” documentary about Swiss Folk Music Traditions. “Wilde Chlausen” from Urnäsch in Appenzeller Land.
Stay tuned for a lot more images of traditional ritual costume that I have been researching over the last few weeks!
Musig" documentary about Swiss Folk Music Traditions. "Wilde Chlausen" from Urnäsch in Appenzeller Land.</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/marymacgregorreid”>Mary
MacGregor-Reid</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>
That’s a very good question. My work has been called quirky on any number of occasions and every time I hear it I cringe internally and have to hold back from rolling my eyes. There is something very lazy and dismissive about the word which Eva Wiseman manages to articulate well in her article.
“When a creative man divides the critics he is called ‘surreal’ … while a woman is denigrated with the label ‘quirky’ – and that kicks the legs out from under us.”
I would feel a lot happier if my work was described as ‘surreal’. Surreal indicates that some thought has gone into it, that the artist is aiming for something, that if you look a bit harder there is going to be something interesting to see. ‘Quirky’ relegates the work to the realm of weird tics and 17 year old girls in stripey socks, with blue hair, who play the accordion.
“…in being named, you’re being rendered safe. She’s quirky, she’s harmless. Water is poured on your potential to shock.
Never has this been better articulated than with the term Manic Pixie Dreamgirl the supporting character of so many films, used to further the storyline of the male hero. She is the flighty muse whose quirkiness renders her charming but impotent. She’s not a woman (she doesn’t want a career, family, or anything scary) – she’s a girl.”
With all this in mind I also have to examine why the work is being tarred with the epithet ‘quirky’. What am I doing that is causing this word to be used as a descriptor? Is there something I can do that would steer the work away from quirkiness? Is that what I want to do? Am I even able to affect that change or are the descriptive terms used by some viewers outside my ability to influence? I want to take this opportunity to pull the work apart and examine what parts of it lends itself to this description. In the end, does it matter?
- Thank you to Sam Dollimore for the article link.
Last Friday I popped into Hopkinson Mossman gallery to enjoy the Mikala Dwyer solo show – I’m a big fan of her work but had never seen an entire gallery install. On entering the gallery there are three of her robe costumes on the lefthand side, with one of her hanging ‘necklaces’ on the right. On entering the main gallery space you encounter three large painted banners, a hanging mobile-type structure and a number of of her fetishistic ritual objects. There was no one else in the gallery which was quite nice because I could spend time with the works and get up close for a good look at the different objects.
The large draped banners immediately reminded me of sacred geometric designs, of mandalas and of the Tree of Life. They changed an became more three dimensional or more flat depending on the angle they were viewed from. The sculptural objects that sat on them seemed like chess pieces waiting to be moved activating the composition. i felt they had a potentiality about them in the sense that they could be performed – the costumes also have this but in a more obvious way because the viewer is quite aware that they could be worn. Perhaps the positioning of the robes and headwear at the entrance to the ain space signalled that an initiate could don the robes and activate the space?
Between 2 of the banners hangs a totemic mobile. It guards the space and the viewer feels that even though they could walk through to the other side, they probably shouldn’t if they know what’s good for them. Maybe donning the mask and robe would make it a safer journey? The feeling of a gateway or passage to another space is amplified by the use of semi-translucent material, translucent gauze and reflective mirror. The mirror does the trick of reflecting back the shapes and objects as well as the viewer and bouncing you around between the structures in the space.
Dwyer uses some wonderful objects in her assemblages. The weirdness and clashing nature of them activate the ritual totemic urgency in the work, creating a dialogue between the materials. In her large necklace piece I particularly enjoyed the lumpy clay weights that hung heavily from the ends of the chain. They served to make the other elements on the ‘decorative’ part of the necklace seem all the more special, magical and precious. On both the necklace and in the main room assemblages there are some of Dwyers trademark moulded pieces; some with other objects embedded in – or more accurately consumed by – the malleable substrate. The multi-hued metallic glaze she has used is like an oil slick over their lumpy surface.
Somehow the install manages to be both noisey and quiet at the same time. You could very well sit and meditate on the geometric constructs, but you have to be prepared to deal with the cacophony of bold colour and clashing objects.
Motoi Yamamoto’s work has jumped out and caught my eye a few times over the last year so I thought I should have a look a bit deeper and record my thinking for future reference. I suspect his work is very easy for me to enjoy. Words like beauty, skill, time, duration and immersion can be applied to it, and these are words that I distrust because I’m easily seduced by them as concepts. I have to be harder on myself when it comes to analysing the conceptual and contextual ‘whys’ around the work I’m drawn to.
So, beyond the appealing aesthetic nature of pattern, geometry and form, how is the work speaking to me? Reading about Motoi’s practice I can see parallels with my practice and his interest in the ritual trance state he enters when creating his salt labyrinth works. There is a sense that he passes into something of an otherworldly state where nothing exists but the creation of the work. I imagine the experience of time and duration all but disappearing as the experience of the process takes over. It reminds me of the mandalas created by buddhist monks as a moving meditation, a ritual of creation and destruction where the intricate works are painstakingly constructed them swept away.
There is also the symbolic nature of the material; salt plays a big part in Japanese Shinto ritual with blessing, cleansing and purifying – Motoi talks about the salt creating connections to his sister who he lost to illness and how the material relates to memory for him. Salt transcends cultural symbolism by having worldwide connotations around purity, the sea, sanctity, cleansing, protection which allows non-Japanese viewers easy access to the work. I feel that his work is deeply personal and emotional, while at the same time being very relatable and accessible to viewers. To me, that is very successful.
Continued interest by artist and designers in the wonders of bees; Wolfgang Buttress and Tristan Simmonds create a giant hive installation that responds to the activities of Kew Garden’s resident bees. LED lighting within the structure responds to the hum within the nearby hives giving visitors insight into the activities and moods of the gardens residents.
Wolfgang Buttress and Tristan Simones (2015) The Hive
Creating some work suitable for the Art Ache event has been useful and an interesting experiment in pitching the work specifically to an audience. The Art Ache events are aimed at the general public who enjoy art, aren’t part of the art-buying connoisseurs, but would like the opportunity to buy and enjoy contemporary art. I’ve usually been working with video and object but for this project I needed to have prints that could be purchased and put on people’s walls – not something I usually consider with my art-making! I also had to consider how these pieces would reflect on my wider practice, but I like the idea that the public can have access to work and be able to find an entry point into contemporary art.
The thinking behind these pieces is that I wanted to create something that is accessible and that people could feel a connection to without having too much contemporary art knowledge. I want to make something they would want to spend time with. As well as being related to the Albedo work I have been creating this year, each piece references a famous art historical work that has been of inspiration to me. I hope that they will lead viewers to search out the originals and to see the relationships between contemporary and art historical work where they might not have looked before. Connecting to my interest in human experience of the otherworldly, the works that I drew on for the images are all depictions of moments of mystic experience; the Virgin at the moment of Annunciation, the swooning saints of Bernini and Caravaggio. I also love the obviously earthly pleasure on the faces of Saint Teresa and Mary Magdalene; is it the ecstasy of mystic experience or, as my model put it, “the ultimate O face”! Perhaps they’ve just been stuffing themselves with heavenly honey.
When creating these images I was well aware that there are plenty of photos out there drawing inspiration from classical and pre-modernist artworks. I’ve seen a lot of these sorts of images done for fashion magazines and while they are ‘pretty’ they don’t do much but provide high-gloss decoration. I didn’t want my work to stray into that area if I could avoid it! These fashion images are usually very heavily retouched, very glamorous, use fashion models and have a focus on beauty and perfection. I deliberately stayed away from any retouching (apart from a few stray hairs that had escaped from the models headwear) and left her pores, uneven make-up etc plainly visible. I hope that using the stark tonal palette keeps the images sculptural and austere rather than decorative.
They are printed A3 size on archival matt 300gsm art stock (and will not have the titles printed at the bottom as in these pics, instead they’ll have my sig )
I’ve been creating some new images and video especially for a show called Art Ache that is happening this Thursday. They are in some respect companion pieces to Albedo, but a little different. The Art Ache show aims to allow people who are interested in contemporary art to be able to afford pieces they enjoy. These include a series of prints, one from each artist, that are part of an ongoing series
Art Ache event page
Art Ache website
Here is a my kitty helping with the shoot in my make-shift home studio. I can’t create large video pieces here, but smaller photoshoots are surprisingly effective.