A Beautiful Hesitation & Panel Discussion: Exhibiting Art

Last year I went to see Fiona Pardington’s ‘A Beautiful Hesitation’ show at the City Gallery in Wellington. I wrote then about how frustrated I was with the lighting and the layout of the show and was interested to see it in Auckland to find out whether any of those issues had changed. It seems like I wasn’t the only one to have problems with the lighting on the glass of the large, dark images, as Auckland Art Gallery has presented them in a darker room with much more subdued and less directional lighting. The difference in experience is phenomenal! The layout of the works also seemed more cohesive and natural with similar works and time-periods grouped together with some rather nice salon hangs where appropriate. Overall Auckland Art Gallery improved on the display of the works considerably, they also had the accompanying book which wasn’t yet available in Wellington.

Anita and I went along to the panel discussion with Natasha Conland, Christina Barton, Misal Adnan Yıldız and Allan Smith on the exhibiting of contemporary art (with quite a bit of emphasis on the current Necessary Distraction show). I enjoyed hearing their perspectives and experiences  creating exhibitions of contemporary painting. A few points that particularly interested me:

  • Christina brought up the questions around curators producing exhibition strategies that stand as artworks in their own right (she brought this up in relation to the Necessary Distraction show curated by Natasha that utilises unfinished walls and exposed construction). How does that impact on the work? What does the exhibition become?
  • In discussing what makes painting ‘contemporary’ Adnan talked about painting needing to have an understanding of installation practice. Painting can no longer assume the position of being self-contained within it’s frame, unaffected and not interacting with the space around it.
  • Anita and I noticed that each curator placed different values on art’s duty and seemed to curate accordingly.
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Hive Oracle – April 2015

Hive Oracle – watch movie at Vimeo

Creating this performative video was a real departure from the mediums I’ve worked in so far. I have a list of words and ideas that I compiled after the April Seminar that I’ve been exploring in my research.

– The idea of a shadow world, strangeness in time and space, otherworldly, hypnotic. I want to continue to explore these ideas in my work.

– I need to examine duration in my work. What would realtime do? Authenticity versus affect.

– Tying into that is the use of cinematic orthodoxies and the tropes of theatre. Artifice. I’m curious as to how I can use these in a totally unselfconscious way to produce certain affect. It’s a bit of a fine line between cliched/naff and something that works the way i want it to, it can easily be pushed too far and fall over. The same with earnestness versus parody, it’s tricky but I’m interested in exploring it.

– Trace of Performance. This is important and has been coming up again and again with my work. I’m currently exploring how this can be used and will write a post about what I have discovered.

– Performing to camera. Is this a performance or is it a video work? What makes it one or the other? What happens if the performance is not to camera? There was also quite a bit of feedback from viewers around how they felt the direct eye-contact was challenging which I felt was a positive response to the work.

– I also need to examine the role of scent and sound in the work to create a full enveloping experience. I’ve used scent for some time now and would like to keep that as part of my practice.

Work in Progress January 2015

This is a record of the work I made in January 2015. Overall I think this is the least successful work, but I learned a lot of valuable stuff from actually making it. During the creation of the work I went through a repetitive production process that was bordering on ritualistic in it’s experience. The scent of the wax brought bees into the house and I had to go through a sort of ritual everyday around avoiding them, feeding them (because they got tired) and taking them back outside again at the end of the day. Creating the hexagon tiles involved a long process of heating, pouring, cooling, flattening, being very, very hot, getting burns and dodging excited bees.

After creating this work it became obvious to me that the interest in the piece was within the creative process, not the tiles on the floor. They felt flat and lacking in the energy of their own creation – someone described them as being like a ‘sketch’ rather than a sculpture. During my feedback meeting Anders suggested the inclusion of the tools of making, of somehow bringing the energy of the bees and the feeling of the creation process into the work. This was very valuable for me and has informed my thinking ever since.

Despite being somewhat disappointed in the finished piece, I’m very glad that I made it because I learned so much from what didn’t work and what I needed to think about to make it successful.

Hex (2015)
Beeswax, carbon, sandalwood, frankincense, myrrh

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Pre-seminar Inspiration

Yolunda sent me some things to get me motivated before April seminar. All of the quotes in this article were great, but my two favourite are below:

“Creating a non-purposive, free space in which to play and have fun is essential. You can tell when you are looking at art that was a drag to make: it’s a drag to look at.” Carol Bove on keeping things clever yet playful.

I love this quote because I’ve seen it so many times, both in myself and in the work of others. If you had absolutely no joy in the creation and it was nothing but a boring and painful birth then that is how it is experienced by everyone. I get caught up in making sure my art ‘works’ or it’s read how I want it to be, or it’s going to be something that other people will ‘like’ instead of just making it, enjoying the process and seeing what happens.

“Stop making ‘art’ and start making your work. […] It’s so easy to make things that look like art, act like art, get sold like art, yet in the end aren’t really art, but are phantoms, mere commodities, or quantifiable digestible sound bites.” Stephanie Syjuco, on staying clear of Zombie Formalism and finding one’s own path (see Have Art Fairs Destroyed Art? Zombie Abstraction and Dumb Painting Ruled in Miami).

Another piece of advice I find so incredibly relevant. I struggle with the feeling of whether I’m making ‘art’ or not when that is actually totally irrelevant. If I’m researching and thinking and creating, then I’m making my work and that’s what is important. The truly amazing work comes from a place of honesty (is that cheesy?) and is unencumbered by the second guessing and worrying that goes into trying to make ‘art’.

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/top-12-artist-tips-for-a-successful-career-283277

The Expanded Field

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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

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Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970
mud, salt, basalt rocks, water, 460m x 4.6m, Great Salt Lake, Utah

 

Site Construction: both landscape and architecture

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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.

Untitled 1965, reconstructed 1971 by Robert Morris born 1931

Robert Morris, Untitled, 1965 (reconstructed 1971)
Mirror glass and wood, 914 x 914 x 914 mm, Tate Gallery, London

 

Thoughts about works by Tracey Tawhiao and Tiffany Singh at Te Uru

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Thinking through practice from 2014

Looking back on my work this year has been really interesting. Although it has changed and grown substantially over the last 12 months, I wanted to identify the ideas and elements that have remained constant throughout the work. I felt that it might be too easy to head off in a new direction that was not inline with where I want the core of my practice to be and think that taking time to reflect on where I’ve been will be give me a solid foundation to continue working.

The main materials I have worked with have been paper, wax, metal, wood.

Paper was (and still is) of interest to me for its structural possibilities. The nature of paper, books, writing etc isn’t a driving force in why I would use it, the appeal for me is in the way the material can be manipulated and structured. I enjoy the fact that it can be floppy or rigid, patterned or stark, folded or curved.

Wax has a number of material and symbolic attributes that I’m keen to pursue. It’s texture, malleability, smell, ability to be carved and cast, it’s ability to be melted or frozen – in a material sense these attributes give me a lot to work with. Symbolically beeswax is, of course, associated with bees and bees have a whole raft of symbolism around them! Immediately I think of hexagons and the number 6 due to their hexagonal cone structures. With my love of geometry anything that involves shapes and numbers immediately gets my attention. (The ‘Honeycomb Conjecture” (first recorded c.36BC) states that a regular hexagonal grid is the best way to divide a surface into regions of equal area with the least total perimeter.)
Wax is also traditionally used for candles: heat and light, for sealing important documents: secrecy, and for lost wax casting, which leads me to metals.

Metals were part of my June work and are something I have wanted to work with more. I incorporated copper into my September works and copper is a metal that is of particular interest to me, I think because of it’s colour, malleability and ability to develop verdigris. The links between metal and wax are in the casting process. The wax is carved, then when the molten metal is poured it causes the wax to evaporate entirely leaving one material in the place of another. In order to make more of the item, the new metal must be moulded and wax effigies made in its place which are each lost once again to every metal that is made. There is something in that process of wax, heat, metal – solid, liquid, solid – the creation of multiples from singles through complete loss of the original that speaks to me. Maybe there is some type of alchemical process going on there.

I used natural wood in my September works along with charcoal and resin; all three materials are natural products of trees. On reflection it is the charcoal and resin that interest me the most as materials to continue working with. Charcoal because of it’s mark-making possibilities, it’s heat-producing properties and it’s ritual component. Resin due to it’s ability to move between states of stickiness and brittleness, it’s ability to release incredible scent when combined with the heat of charcoal.

Looking back through my April, June and September works I have pulled out some concepts that are manifest in all three.

There are also ideas around transformation, reactions, alchemy and potentiality which have been working through my mind and my research. These are ideas I have discussed with supervisors and colleagues.

There is an idea around ‘containment’ and ‘hiding/revealing’.
In the April work the unfolding piece had hidden messages, within moving objects, within containers (magical)
In the June work the reacted metals were held within glass containers (scientific) and the large objects were containers in that they had holes that allowed the viewer to peer inside them.
In the September work there was the ritual captured inside the glass box (ritualistic) and the dodecahedron that had popped open spilling it’s guts on the floor.
Concepts of hiding and revealing, secrets whether dangerous or benign, interior and exterior spaces are things I want to pursue further.

Although it hasn’t been as blatantly obvious in the last 12 months practice, I’m still curious about exploring ‘thresholds’. Contemporary works and ideas that I have looked at that in some way work with ideas around thresholds keep me coming back, so I know that there is fodder there for my practice.

 

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.

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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.

 

April Critique

For the April Critique I presented 2 works-in-progress that were both focussed on the use and understanding of symbols in visual documents and artefacts, particularly the use of symbology in artwork with esoteric content.

Symbols have layers of meaning and understanding attached to them that vary greatly depending on context and reader. They have the ability to surrender their secrets in a fractal manner when examined. Within esoteric art practice I have experienced an occulting and revealing of knowledge that seems to fold and unfold within the work.

My first piece, ‘Enochian Artefact’, was a complex, interactive, paper-craft piece that required a certain degree of inquisitiveness and bravery on the part of the reader. Some felt apprehension and even fear on encountering the artefact, and this was not something I had anticipated. I expected curiosity, but not such strong negative emotion. I felt that the symbols on the work would make viewers curious, but actually they created a barrier between them and the work. There was a feeling from a couple of readers that permissions were required to access the artefact and explore it’s secrets, that it was alive in some way and that it held a power that could be let-loose without permission from it’s maker – the opening of Pandora’s box.

The artefact hid and revealed certain elements (seen as ‘secrets’ by the readers) and came in several different parts that needed to be interacted with in different ways. It was pointed out that the whole piece operated a lot like a language and the reader had to believe that there was a logical system at play. The rotating torus and the moving star were the most successful elements because they held the viewer’s attention and got them asking questions. The torus in particular was fascinating to people and they seemed comfortable interacting with it. Many commented on its infinite movement and the balancing point where it was able to rest.

The second work-in-progress was a symbology game made up of tessellated tiles. It required the players to gain points by making symbolic connections and adding tiles onto each other, spreading out across the table. Yet again their was trepidation around the symbols and their meanings that created a barrier between the ‘players’ and the game. While some were excited to pick up tiles and see what connections could be made, others were repelled and felt unwelcome. There was even a suggestion that the player felt like a victim who was being manipulated into playing a powerful game that they don’t understand and don’t know what the outcome will be. Yet again, it was only the presence of myself as the ‘Host’ that made them feel safe enough to touch the tiles.

I had not anticipated the level of trepidation and unease, but this is because I am familiar with this symbolic language in a way many are not. This raises the very important question of whether these pieces actually *work*. While visiting Peter Robinson in his studio he brought up the pertinent question that he asks of his work (and which I need to ask of mine!) “Is this interesting to me? Is this interesting to others?” I have fallen into the trap of making work that is interesting to me, but is exclusionary to others.

The other problem is that there is too much going on in my work. One reader commented that it might be a bit ‘over baked’ and as soon as she said that I knew it was true. It is important for me now to take apart my work, find one aspect that I think is interesting to me AND to others, and delve into it in a way that I haven’t before. Leave behind the symbolic language I am using to avoid attachment to that particular code and find a new language. Materiality and scale are also obvious areas to explore and I feel that there is a lot I can express just through scaling and changing the substrates.