Thursday, 14 March 2013

Points of Interest 1#

When I created this blog I did so with the intention that it would have several functions; to act as a webpage where people could view my current and previous work as well as my CV, a platform from which to reflect and write critically on arts exhibitions, events and books and also become an online sketchbook in which I could collate images of other artists work as well as text/quotes from other inspirational sources. This post is the latter and is hopefully the first of many more snippets of things which are interesting and may be influencing my practice.


I discovered the piece, 'Tools' by Mao Tongqiang in a sculpture magazine that  eventually found its way into the art office about three months later than it should have. Still, luckily for me, this meant I came across it just recently.

"Tools" (Gong Ju) by Mao Tongqiang consists of over 30,000 pieces used sickles and axes (and hammers) that the artist has collected across China in over two years. In terms of the context of the work, the most fundamental nature of these sickles and axes is working tools, the symbol of the farming civilization that had been dominant over thousands of years. If we look at these tools from a historical or sociological perspective, they were also the most primitive weapons in countless peasant revolts that marked the changes of dynasties in feudal China. In the modern history of Comintern (Communist International in Soviet Union) and the Communist Party of China, sickle represented peasants and axe (and hammers) workers. It’s the union of the two groups that led China into victory in the Communist Revolution in the 1940s, who also constituted the fundamental force of Socialist Construction afterwards. So it’s not surprising that the flag of the Communist Party adopted a pattern of sickle and axe, which illustrates the symbol’s significance and value."

Initially I was drawn in by the obvious connection in similarity of subject matter, 'Tongqiang uses tools, I use tools.' Both of us completely different in our approaches and how we actually use/then present the tools which is also exactly why I'm interested in his work. I've never attempted to use tools as an installation/scultptural element before and equally I have never looked at the political connotations that my selection of tools may have (particularly hammers, which have quite significant associations with 'law/order', buying/selling, Communism). Similarly, ideas around repetition, layering and how the work is poignant to its context (of the country/as well as the architecture of the room its in) are also food for thought. Formalistically speaking I also get quite excited by the shapes and consistent and subtle tonal palette of browns. All of which gets me thinking about how I might approach new ideas to forming work. Ie. Maybe layering, selecting tools that have paritcular significance/association to an idea/site.

The work, 'Tools' was recently exhibited in an exhibition, 'Real Life Stories' (In Bergen, Norway) featuring a collection of artists, selected and curated by Ai Weiwei. That in itself is also quite revealing, as I thought of Weiwei when I saw the image below, as it reminded me of his piece in the Tate Modern, 'Sunflower seeds'. There is a pattern emerging it seems with Chinese artists making work that is comprised of thousands of individual components (be it seeds or tools) that are viewed both individually and as a mass at the same time. I am thinking that this is a referent to the ever increasing population of China and that, whilst each (seed/tool) is different in the eyes of a communist, political regime it is really only about the majority and 'might' of the greater whole. Similarly the association of tools with labour/work and the way in which labour (in the form of craft) also played a significant part in the making of Weiwei's sunflower seeds is indicative of the work ethic and striving for development and prosperity that is particularly present in Chinese culture.

 On a slightly different note, I am also becoming increasingly interested in artist curators, as revealed here in Weiwei's selection of artists for the exhibition, 'Real Life Stories'; the kinds of work they choose are often refelctive or similar of their own artistic practice as they are united by a concept, visual language or ideal. It seems that you can be quite creative with the message you are communicating and how works are brought together/interpreted with curating as much, if not more so, than you can actually making art. NOTE TO SELF: Find out more about this... 


Sunday, 3 March 2013

Stop the presses!

Tales from the print room....
After two weeks of quite political posts this weeks’ takes on a more reflective tone, looking at my brief stint of ‘running’ the print room at Somerset College. (Those of a nervous disposition read no further!) I exaggerate, there isn’t really much to tell nor indeed was it particularly eventful, but the very fact that I was left responsible to look-after it for two weeks is in itself pretty news worthy. It’s not in my nature to take things lightly, perhaps once, when Starbursts were called Opal Fruits, ‘Fun House’ was still on TV and when ‘walking the dog’ meant doing a trick with a yoyo; I was a bit more carefree and a lot less ‘serious’ than I am now then the prospect of being left alone in a print room would be pretty damn cool.  It still is, but then, you probably wouldn’t have wanted the younger-me to run such a place, it could only have ended in a messy, squashed-fingered and chaotic sort of way. So, there I was, the ‘serious’ adult me, the prestigious print room key in my possession. How exactly did I succumb to this opportunity you ask? I’ve been teaching upstairs in Fine Art, only for a few days, and due to a staff sickness in the print room I was asked to cover it. I’d studied at SCAT so I was familiar with the print room and specialised in mono printing for my own practice so I was fairly confident I could keep it running safely and tidily, covering the most basic of print techniques. My own experiences of printmaking had been based from taking lessons from a now retired (I think it’s safe to say) eccentric (and I use the term widely), wild bearded but incredibly knowledgeable technician who was pretty protective of his print room. Whilst I felt I learnt how to actually make prints, I never really got to learn the practical things like mixing ink with extender (perhaps obvious, but who knew if it was always done for us). So there’s a few holes in my knowledge, nothing that I couldn’t handle and wasn’t willing to learn quickly.
As I was saying, so I had the key (pardon the megalomania) and dozens of new opportunities at my fingertips from drypoint, etching, lino, wood, lithography, collagraph, monotype, aquatint, silk screen and more...It was also half term, so it was relatively quiet in terms of students so between bouts of cleaning/organising and finding where everything was stored I took the opportunity to try a quick drypoint and mono type, examples of which can be seen here. Although, I can appreciate the quality of printmaking and take great pleasure in seeing other people’s prints, one of my favourite artists of all time, Jim Dine is a printmaker, not to mention that as an avid bookworm I am indebted to printmaking, for if it not for print then there’d be no books. Books aside, whilst I have always felt drawn to prints by artists like Dine and others, I’ve tried emulating certain qualities from their work (be it formal or subject matter) in other ways than print taking more delight in trying to replicate their processes/surfaces/affects in drawing or paint. I take more joy in the amateur techniques, the amateur, the ’do it yourself’ kind-of mentality that makes for a more immediate spontaneity, whilst you can still achieve this in printmaking, I still think it’s more controlled.

I was hoping to maybe ignite my love of print, but soon after soaking the paper ready for drypoint I already found myself remembering why I disliked the process-led nature of print making, its preparation time frustrates me and as an impatient artist I prefer immediacy of drawing, painting and mono type. Although, even those processes in each of their own way has elements of preparation to them (be in stretching a canvas, or organising drawing materials, rolling out ink) so maybe it is the formal-ness of the print room that I dislike, preferring the privacy and freedom of the studio. It does, however also highlight something interesting about creativity and how it works. For example, it feels a bit silly that we create rooms like print rooms, studios etc that we make ourselves be ‘creative’ in but these sorts of spaces facilitate and nurture creativity rather than instigate it in the first instance (?).  Personally, I feel less creative when there is an expectation to be creative because I’m in the studio or print room. Hence, one of the good things of using my room as a ‘studio’ as it is multi-functional which some people could see as a distraction, but for me become more of a stimulus and inspiration to make work. However, most of my own creative thinking probably happens when I’m not ‘trying’ to be creative at all, often I get most ideas when out walking or walking home to/from work, having a shower, cleaning, reading, watching a film, in conversation over a drink, travelling on the train, food shopping etc etc. Does anyone ever really have all their creative ideas in a studio?


So, I’ve ascertained that printmaking (except for mono printing) might not be for me and that if anything I’m probably more interested in the room and its contents. The presses, inks, letter blocks, cutting tools and print paraphernalia. Like when Alain de Botton was ‘writer in residence’ at Heathrow Airport and made a book of observations, ‘A Week at the Airport’; I could easily find myself enthused over describing the splatters of ink in the sink, stained psychedelic rags used for cleaning, coppers, glass, Perspex, wood, the sounds of the press as it rolls and squeezes, the crisp/sticky sound of ink being rolled out, the creaking of the ‘used’ rags basket as it slowly rots and splits open and clang and clashing of the drying wrack....The smells alone could be a whole separate post, turps, oil paint, floor stripper and swarfega as could a description into the state of the skin on my hands after only spending 7 days in there! It made me realise how difficult and complex a place it is to run.
It’s easy to romanticise looking back on these experiences and when you don’t work in there every day. One could probably paint quite a romantic picture in words about working in a bookshop (as I do), until you’re faced with the reality of what it’s really like to work in these kinds of places, when you seldom have the time or luxury to reflect, appreciate or notice it. Hence my decision to reflect on it here, albeit brief, certainly given me a lot more respect for print as a process and those who choose to use it whilst my time in the print room was short-lived it certainly made an impression.