I intend here to address key concepts or themes explored throughout my investigation, before attempting to pull these threads together to better give a holistic picture of my developing practice.
The work produced in this module includes animation, drawing, painting, film/video, and photography. Each concept or theme will be considered in relation to how it informed or extended my thinking in relation to one or more of these divergent outcomes.
At the outset I proposed to explore how haptic qualities of analogue technologies might affect the reading of my work, however as the investigation progressed and ideas developed I focused primarily on digital technologies; looking at these with the same concern for tactile surface qualities. The need to distinguish between analogue and digital was questioned as I began to see past the boundaries of these terms, haptic sensation being generated through technique and not confined to specific processes.
’To reduce the complex interactions of digital and analogue into a simple binary opposition is to grasp at essences where none can be relied on. Both the speed of innovation, and the unstable relation between bitmap and vector graphics and displays suggest that there is no essence of the digital to distinguish it from the analogue, and that instead we should be focussing as creators, curators and scholars on the real specificity of the individual work or process we are observing.’
Sean Cubitt, Daniel Palmer and Nathaniel Tkacz - Digital Light - Open Humanities Press - 2015
My investigation into haptic modes of seeing led me to works by theorists such as Alois Riegl, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guallari, and Laura U. Marks. Considering vision as both haptic and optical rather than purely optical the surface qualities of works became of paramount importance when developing both drawing and film. The viewer becoming an active spectator or participant who receives information through all senses, I therefore wanted images to appeal to the body in a more active role, the embodied sensation of experiencing the work becoming vital.
In Laura U. Marks essay ‘The skin of Film’ she builds on Bergson, Deleuze, and Guattari to propose a concept of ‘haptic visuality’ in which the qualities of digital and traditional film are considered as a means to evoke sensory response. Including the graininess of the film, pixilation, changes in focus, under or over exposure, densely textured images; indeed she describes the haptic image as ‘less complete’. The haptic image occupies our senses, inviting association with past experience. This sensory reading draws upon the phenomenological idea of “embodied spectatorship” which Marks’s derives predominately from Vivian Sobchack’s ‘The Address of the Eye’
‘When our eyes move across a richly textured surface... they are functioning like organs of touch. Video, with its low contrast ratio, capacity for electronic and digital manipulation, and susceptibility to decay, is an ideal haptic medium, its graininess a lure for the roving gaze Marks describes.’
Melinda Barlow -Review of: Touch Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media’, Canadian Journal of Film Studies – 2003
These thoughts struck a chord as I developed works such as ‘Corpse’, ‘Chronos’ and ‘Process and Perception’. Footage in ‘Process and Perception’ and therefore ‘Chronos’ show clear signs of deterioration. This is foremost a product of the complex process of the work’s making. Each additional step acted to break the image down in the same way a picture repeatedly passed through a photocopier loses definition.
In ‘Corpse’ the viewer is invited to move around the space in front of the screen, casting silhouettes filled with the back projected animation. Moving close to the screen they are also more aware of the pixilation caused by digital processes as well as the tactile surface of the paper screen itself.
In ‘Process and Perception’ I see space transitioning between haptic surface and optical depth. As the work begins the spectator is presented with surface, an apparent flat screen which the charcoal animation sits upon. As the screen starts to burn the sensation of the work intensifies, fire being a known element to the viewer who will be aware of its heat, its sound, its smell. Our response to it is therefore felt through the senses and is haptic. However as it burns away we become aware of a space behind the picture plain, the forest environment, this creates depth as we are aware it sits behind the first screen and therefore must be further back; but also because the image itself obeys the laws of perspective, appearing to recede into the distance. This new space is therefore optical.
With the burning of this second screen we become aware it does not recede but is again a flat surface, arriving back at the haptic. This cycle continues on to the last screen of the black void. Here the type of space is more ambiguous; I would argue that this black void is primarily rooted in the haptic as it appears flat. However back does imply infinity, the depth of space and therefore could be described as illusionistic. This black void is loaded with what has come before; we are aware of the different stages of the work, of each passage punctuated by the rupture of fire. This sites the void as another liminal passage, imbued with a kind of haptic memory.
Throughout this module I had been planning to make etchings from my drawings, unfortunately I have not yet realised this. However I see my recent layered photographic images holding a similar quality of line and tone to etched images. Exhibited as a set they present the viewer with a large fragmented surface to navigate. In some places they present flat web-like surfaces, and sometimes there is more space to recede into. Using these images as outcome and not just reference has opened up a new avenue I intend to pursue post MA.
Experience of the viewer
In this module I placed great importance on the physicality of the work, considering the ‘embodied experience’ of the spectator more fully.
Experimenting with arrangements of projectors and screens I looked at how the viewer could more actively be immersed or engaged. In ‘Corpse’ the viewer’s physical actions directly affect the agency of the work, their silhouette is cast onto the picture plain revealing an image beneath. I believe immersing the spectator as active participant is more successfully realised here than in earlier work, namely my ‘Concepts and Contexts’ installation. Scaling back the size of installations was a conscious move as I sought to make more intimate or personal types of experiences; creating more subtle destabilisations using pictorial and optical illusions felt more effective as routes to ‘otherness’.
Much thought has been put into considering how the viewer can be encouraged to interact with the work, subtly manipulating them to move in-front of the projector beam. At first I focused on using central screens so the viewer could navigate 360 degrees around the work with the ‘recto and verso’ visible. For ‘Process and Perception’ as well as ‘Corpse’ I have settled on a simpler front facing arrangement. By containing the viewer to the front of the screen the rear projector is hidden, this destabilises the first encounter with the work as the viewer may be unaware how the image is achieved.
The work ‘Metaphors we Live By’ uses the same arrangement of projectors and screen, piloting this at a recent exhibition the most common question I was asked was ‘how does it work?’ Many people didn’t realise there was a projector behind. The destabilizing effect caused by this added to the agency of the work. Watching people play with the image, stand closer then further away, wave their hands, even dance! I became aware they were held in front of the work for longer than one might consider a painting or other static image.
’Process and Perception’ is also designed to be viewed from the front but does not require back projection and therefore the viewer’s relation to it is more passive. The agency of the work is tied more to the internal content of the image as opposed to the viewer’s bodily experience. Although by projecting onto a paper screen burning transitions become charged with a kind of ‘jeopardy’; as the first screen burns people have reported a moment of uncertainty of where the fire exists either on the ‘actual’ screen or the ‘virtual’ video. With my installation in the waterfront gallery space I have found that a consistent breeze acts to agitate the screen. I think his movement further destabilises the action as during transitions the movement appears caused by the fire on screen.
As I move on from the MA I want to develop the work further so that its exhibition becomes more an event. As the final screen burns away revealing the void of the last section I will burn the screen in front of an audience. This takes my practice further into the realm of performance.
By choosing to exhibit ‘Corpse’ in a dim but not black space I have endeavored to ‘soften’ the spectator’s transition into work. Finding black space in galleries often dictatorial and oppressive I believe if the spectator feels more comfortable they will be more inclined to experiment and play, moving around the space and more fully engaging with the work.
A question at the outset of the module was ‘How are aspects of a contemporary sublime centred on obscurity and the void made manifest in my work?
The void is emptiness but what does this emptiness signify? is it the end, the beginning? or a transitional space, the potential to be? And how does it manifest itself in the context of contemporary art practice?
“The void is not silent. I have always thought of it more and more as a transitional space, an in-between space. It’s very much to do with time… It’s a space of becoming... ‘something’ that dwells in the presence of the work... that allows it or forces it not to be what it states it is in the first instance” (Anish Kapoor - Bhabha, p11-41 - 1998)
Reading the void as a transitional or liminal space I see the burning transitions In ‘Process and Perception’ and ‘Chronos’ evoking a sense of the void. However this liminality is fleeting, it is mere moments before the threshold is crossed and a new state of being is revealed. With each burning screen first there is a moment of destruction, being becomes non-being. This is quickly followed by the realisation that the destruction is new beginning, non-being becomes being again. With the final transition to black the void returns, but it is loaded with what has come before, asking the question of what is to come? The potential that Kapoor speaks of.
Being and non-being are therefore interdependent, non-being can only exist in relation to being. In Satre’s ‘Being and Nothingness’ Sartre sets out this relationship.
‘Nothingness is the putting into question of being by being; that is, precisely consciousness or for-self. ... Nothingness is the peculiar possibility of being and its unique possibility. Since nothingness is nothingness of being, it can come to being only through being itself’
Sartre - Being and Nothingness - 1958 - p.79
The annihilation and rebirth in ‘Process and Perception’ or ‘Chronos’ could be read ecologically, the destruction of our natural environment or as a personal one, linked to our own mortality.
Extending the final black void section of ‘Process and Perception’ I have tried to place it as another temporal space, like the videoed forest or charcoal animation. This hopefully charges the void as a transitional space with the potential for renewal.
One thread running throughout my investigation is the exploration of time. Duration both within the work, and within the experience of the work.
Henri Bergson’s ‘Matter and Memory’ has been central to the development of critical reflections throughout this final module. Bergson theorised two types of memory ‘Pure memory’ and ‘Habitude’. ‘Pure memory’ registers the past in the form of “image-remembrance”, representing the past, recognized as such. It is of a contemplative and fundamentally spiritual kind, and it is free. This is true memory. Pure memory or remembrance acknowledges that a memory was gained in the past, cannot be repeated, and is not internal to the body.
Habitude, is replaying and repeating past action, not strictly recognized as representing the past, but utilizing it for the purpose of present action. This kind of memory is automatic, intuitive, and inscribed within the body, and serves a utilitarian purpose.
For Bergson the split between mind and body is a temporal one. The spirit resides in the abode of the past, the body in the present. The articulation of time, past, present, and future finds place through the union of spirit and body. The more the spirit descends into the past, the more one becomes conscious. The more one acts automatically, the more one exists in the present, the temporal domain of the body.
When viewed with this lens I see the fast, abstract, intuitive charcoal animation of ‘Corpse’ residing in the body and therefore the present. It is a subconscious response to the past experience of the forest. While the video of the forest acts as Pure memory, it is the forest remembered as it was from a detached standpoint of the present but rooted in the past, therefore:
Video of forest - Past - Spirit.
Animation of trees - Present - Body
Moving around the work the union of these two states is considered, one is always seen in relation to the other exploring the dialogue between the two.
Here the concept of consciousness is explored only in the context of the individual. However as I look further at my work with an ecological perspective I have begun to question if the consciousness the work speaks of is the viewers own or something other. In Bergson’s concept of ‘Elan vital’ he theories that all living things have a degree of consciousness.
‘From one point of view, we can say that some beings are literally more alive than others. This ‘aliveness’, that the French philosopher Henri Bergson called the ‘elan vital,’ has manifested itself more powerfully within them. We can see the whole evolutionary process which has taken life forward from amoebi to human beings as a process of ‘vitalisation’, by which living things become progressively more animated. As living beings become more ‘vitalised’ the intensity of their consciousness increases; so another parallel way of looking at evolution is to see it as a process by which living beings become more and more conscious.’
The Elan Vital and Self-Evolution -Steven Taylor -
New Renaissance, Volume 8, Number 4, Issue 27. - 1999
Artist herman de vries (he writes without capitals to avoid hierarchy) explores the relationship between humanity and nature, seeing the production of art as an expression of consciousness which he too finds in all living things.
‘this line of thought still guiding me now. i have nothing to say: it is all here.
art is not the definable. every definition of it is a limitation. but for me it has to do with the formulation of consciousness or with the process of becoming conscious.
this consciousness i see happening around me in nature and i show what i have seen happening, what i have seen being’.
Except from - The world we live in is a revelation - herman de vries - 1992
Re-assessing such work as ‘Chronos’ and ‘Corpse’ the past and present we witness could be seen not as an analogy for our own experience, but as a vision of the natural worlds detached consciousness.
The destruction and renewal no longer represent our own existential fears but speak of ecological processes. the deep-time of ecological processes are juxtaposed with our own fleeting time frame. The awareness of having agency in these two temporal time frames is defined as ‘Shadowtime’
The term ‘Shadowtime’ is taken from the Bureau of Linguistical Reality and describes feeling the presence of two time frames simultaneously, human time and the deep time of ecological processes. As my investigation progresses many phases taken from an ecological context were used to describe the articulation of time and other concepts related to my work.
The work ‘Chronos’ as well as ‘Process and Perception’ involve periods of relative stability and moments of significant change. The title ‘Chronos’ reflects the idea of duration as taken from the greek notion of time. In this analogy the liminal moments of rupture become Karios.
“The Greeks had two notions of time: Chronos and Kairos. Chronos is the concept of time as a measure, a quantity that changes in a uniform and serial order. Chronos is, in a sense, empty; without content or meaning beyond its own linear progression. It is when nothing happens, and goes on happening…Karios, on the other hand, is a kind of time charged with promise and significance. It is time that saturates time…. The phrase ‘the fullness of time’ evokes the kairological, in a way it expresses the idea that time can be fulfilled and made anew through a profound change or rupture of some kind, making what happens thereafter radically unlike what has come before”
Paul Chan - A Time Apart - 2010
Nature and ecology
Throughout this module my work has relied on source material drawn from the landscape. This is a new development for a practice resolutely abstract for many years. This shift has seen me re-engage with contextual influences from landscape painters and photographers. The connection with nature I first viewed as functioning metaphorically, branches of trees acting like tendrils or interconnected webs reminiscent of earlier all-over pattern paintings. However, reading the work from an ecological perspective has become intrinsic to my thinking. Indeed much terminology used to describe concepts such as; time, loss, destruction, renewal and indifference are drawn from contemporary writings about the Anthropocene; terms such as solastalgia, stuplimity, shadowtime and apex guilt seam to ‘fit’ with sensations evoked by the work.
‘Many of these words are, clearly, ugly coinages for an ugly epoch. Taken in sum, they speak of our stuttering attempts to describe just what it is we have done.’
Robert Macfarlane – Generation Anthropocene: How humans have altered the planet for ever - 2016
I see recent work fitting into a tradition of uneasy, unquiet or eerie British landscape art. Animations are agitated and disjointed, images build, become obscured then are erased. Colour is absent, and hand-drawn marks appear quickly, gestural, and with force. Whether reading my work psychologically or ecologically they are about transition, liminality, thresholds, being and non-being. Coming from and returning to the void.
‘The eerie is monstrous precisely because it will not demonstrate itself (to demonstrate, from the Latin demonstrare, meaning to show or reveal).’
Robert Macfarlane - Eeriness: Tracing an Unquiet Tradition in British Landscape Art. - 2016
I do not feel I have to decide between a metaphysical or ecological reading and see it possible for both to function concurrently. Within nature I have a subject with which all can relate to and draw their own conclusions.
‘The tree is a fundamental form. It’s a shape, a metaphor, a concept that we inherently respond to and find attractive. Trees have the potential to be read both abstractly and formally.’
Katie Holten - interview with Stephen Sparks - On turning Words and Paragraphs into Whole Forests
In this body of work I see great potential to extend ideas further, layered photographic images and drawings are set to be translated into etchings, ‘Process and perception’ is set to develop into a performance, and further drawings and animations are planned.
An original question posed to me was ‘why trees?’ Is this metaphysical as earlier work, or ecological. I now see both concepts functioning simultaneously and do not need to distingish between the two; indeed I believe ‘nature’ physically and symbolically facilitates a dialougue between the two conceptual positions.
With both drawings and film the surface qualities of the work has become of paramount importance as I have tried appeal to the senses more directly, employing the tactile qualites of each technique and process. Utilising different types of layering techniques I have sought to break down or abstract the image whilst building ‘time’ into it.
Indeed the unifying thread running throughout this body of work is the articulation of time. Banal time, deep-time, and human time, all liminal spaces full of potential for destruction or renewal.
As I developed both drawings, photographs, animation, and film terminology drawn from ecological ideas and concepts seemed to best resonate with the sensation and experience of the work. Indeed the ‘stuplime’ eloquently sums up a post-modern experience of the sublime, the post-modern sublime being central to all work produced whilst on the MA. Kant and Burke’s ideas re-imagined for an information saturated, disinterested present. To borrow from Barnett Newman, ‘The Stuplime is Now’!