Self-Deceit

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Self-Deceit (Roma), Francesca Woodman, (1977-78)

It has been a long time since I have posted on this blog. For me, this has always been a platform for expressing my creativity and although I am inherently and without question a creative person, my creative impulses have recently been more dominated by my academic ones. The reason for this is I am currently doing a Masters in Modern and Contemporary Art History at The Edinburgh University. I therefore spend most of my time reading, an impulse that has always been natural to me, but until now one I have never been able to nurture quite to this extent! Already, in the time since September, I feel I have gained so much knowledge and learnt so much. We are constantly learning in our day to day lives of course, but I feel so privileged to be able to dedicate this time to my specific field of interest. This university course, although incredibly challenging at times, is perfect; I get to combine my love of reading, art, history and writing in one.

Alongside this Masters, I am doing an Internship with The National Galleries of Scotland (NGS). Another creative outlet which allows me to express love of writing and research. Below therefore, I attach a link to one of my written texts which has been published on the National Gallery’s website. My focus was American photographer Francesca Woodman, b.1958. Although most of the works in the National Gallery’s collection are co-owned by Tate under the umbrella organisation of Artist Rooms (see more information here), there were five works in NGS’s collection which I had permission to write about. See link below for more (in order to view this essay, you must first scroll right to the bottom of the page and click on the ‘plus’ sign at the right hand side, adjacent to the ‘more about this artwork’):

Self-Deceit, (1977-1978), Francesca Woodman

See also my publications page for more.

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Visual Essay on Architecture

Being in Berlin gave me so many revelations that I can’t stop thinking about. It also, much to my delight, reignited my love for architecture. I did a project on architecture as part of my Art coursework at GCSE level, but have never returned to it as a topic since. Partly I think because I was put off by the result of my naive endeavors. At GCSE level I explored Omani architecture with it’s beautiful mosques and arched doorways, as well as more modern twisting architecture in the form of the Armani Hotel. I feel the way in which I approached it at the time was far too broad; I just plunged in with the only focus being ‘architecture’, meaning the results were weak due to the lack of specificity. Now I look at things with more refinement, far more critically and only really pay attention to things that ignite my utmost interest. Which pretty much all of Berlin did! I always remember someone telling me to look upwards as you walk round cities, because that tends to be the place you see the most exciting and unexpected things. Watching ‘The September Issue’ (a fashion documentary) years ago also made me think about how and where I should be looking as what was said has stuck with me. In the documentary, Creative Director at the time, Grace Coddington, talks about how you should never shut your eyes and sleep, but always look out the window of a car and absorb the world as it flashes by. Never miss a minute.

Walking around Berlin allowed me to contemplate the city and its structures at my own pace and I am slowly starting to formulate the idea of exploring the bridge between architecture and life within my artwork. I have studied and worked with the human body for so long now, I feel it is time to refine even that as a topic.Possibly merge it with my revised interests in the buildings that surround us on a daily basis. Culture of course comes into architecture, as does history. Not just of the buildings themselves, but of how infrastructure has developed over time. Perhaps a comparison between Egyptian architecture and the historical buildings of Berlin will feature? Perhaps a trip to Barcelona to finally see the work of Antoni Gaudi will happen? I don’t know. All I know is that I want to explore more. I want to try broadening the palette of my focus. So again I have resorted to a John Berger style visual essay on the architecture of Berlin.

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‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’ Part III

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People often say that a photo is worth a thousand words and I am a strong believer in this. Photos tell stories, document fond memories and capture funny moments. Personal photos are the stills to your life. Documentary photos allow us visual access to the past; whether it is a glimpse into the harrowing life of trench warfare, the horrific effects of Napalm in Vietnam, or more light-hearted occasions such as Royal Weddings. It’s incredible to think that we can see a visual of someone who existed hundreds of years ago, that we can put a face to the name of ancient geniuses. ‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’ demonstrates the importance of the photograph. Within the exhibition this takes on a variety of forms, such as a photographic collage of family photos as above. 

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It also took the form of more explicit photographs, such as this found postcard of an Iranian pop star. As I said before, a picture is worth a thousand words and what interests me most about this fact is that different people will all take different things from what they see. Such as with the above photo; some people will find it crude, others will find it sexy, generally people will find it cheeky and naughty. Personally I like it, I think it’s got a wacky side to it and a sense of pride within the woman as she commands her body. I also find the setting incredibly interesting and the material of her net leotard provides an interesting contrast against the plush velvet of the chair. Having written extensively about ‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’, I have realised that as a whole it is of course a flourishing exhibition. Yet it’s only really when you break it down and truly examine the details that you realise just how effective and important every single element is. 

 

‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’

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Having been away from Newcastle for a while, visiting Vane Gallery’s preview of ‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’ was the best way to get me inspired enough to return to writing. Curated by Sara Makari-Aghdam, this exhibition explores her dual heritage, as she is an exotic blend of Persian and English. ‘Vinyl Icons…’ also explores the rich Iranian culture of the 1960s and 70s by combining the work of five artists, three of whom lived through the 1979 Revolution. The show is therefore bubbling with culture and heritage, histories and lost pasts. It encapsulates these themes through an explosion of colours and textures; the pieces bounce off the walls in their ecstatic vibrancy. As I enter the gallery space I am greeted by the soaring melodies of Turkish and Iranian pop music and a wave of nostalgia instantly hits and transports me back to the souks and markets of Oman. I recall the smell of incense that used to burn as I walked along the corniche to watch the sun set over the Omani coastline. Having lived in the Middle East for several years, this exhibition brought about a lot of sentimental feelings for me.

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‘Vinyl Icons…’ consisted of an eclectic blend of items, much like an Arabian or Turkish market would. There was opulent jewellery and brooches dripping from and decorating vintage clothes collected and found in America. There were vintage Clarks shoes from 1969, there were extravagant light boxes paying homage to religious shrines, there were photographic montages, family photos, handpainted dresses, a wide collection of sexy record covers and vintage magazines from the ’60s and ’70s. There was even a piece inspired by Afsoon’s mood boards that she creates in her London studio. 

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I was particularly taken by this piece. As the eye shifts across the work, it is constantly met with fantastically bold items such as maps, stamps, tapestries, dish towels and jewellery. It is highly tactile piece that for me really appealed as I felt like I was being invited into the artist’s methods and thought process. I could see from the variety of items present that collecting is integral to her practice. Colours, textures and the considered distribution of both these elements contributed to the success of this beautifully energetic work. 

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Talking with Afsoon, she told me she uses a lot of matchboxes in her work. She likes the surprise of finding unexpected items stored inside such as a hair pin or a tooth, when she buys and collects vintage match boxes from places. Who would have thought an everyday object that I mostly associate with frustration (given my inability to light most matches) could be transformed into something so delicate and beautiful? Housed in their little plinth-based box, these match boxes stood proudly showing off their collaged covers. 

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I was delighted by the constant surprises this exhibition held for me. What originally seemed like pretty little hand-painted shoes (above), soon revealed as I circulated the delicate figure of a nude female body. This simple yet highly effective manipulation of the object was for me one of the best parts of the exhibition. It was cheeky, beautiful and unexpected. Hand-painted shoes were also present on another lower laying plinth, which brought the eye nearer to ground level. From a distance the boots look as if they are decorated in loose swirls, but upon closer inspection exotic feminine eyes can be revealed. 

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 Feminine motifs ran throughout the gallery, with dresses, jewellery, naked bodies and portraits littering the walls. Having lived in regions of the Middle East where women wear abyas all of the time, it was interesting to see a mix of clothing  that ranged from the hand made to collected  vintage items. It was also really interesting to see such Arabian looking objects such as the vinyl case (below left), cleverly placed next to another casing with such an erotic depiction of the female body (below right). Yet Iran was originally very much influenced by the West and was very liberal and this exhibition successfully highlights and explores this blend of East meeting West.

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‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’ is for me one of those exhibitions that completely transforms the white walls of the gallery space. Through the highly visual and tactile materials, the variety of items on display and the ever-present music, I felt entirely transported to another place. I felt incredibly inspired by the colours of it all and the memories of Oman that it reminded me of. It was a strange sensation as I stepped back out onto ordinary Pilgrim Street and my doorway into the rich culture of the East faded and remained within the walls of Vane Gallery. I was transported from one world to another, but that is not the end of my experiences as I will definitely be returning to this show on numerous occasions!

To read more blog posts about this exhibition see:

Part II

Part III

Panic Attack Series

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Being a creative person is the best thing in times of trauma, sadness and general unhappiness. Being creative provides you with an outlet that may not otherwise exist; a space to release all the inner burdens. I had a series of panic attacks last year as a result of some emotional baggage and initially they were out of control and horrific. They are very physical events that consume your entire body. I’d never experienced anything like them before so it was something entirely new and very unpleasant. However, as usual art came to my rescue and I found refuge in it as an expressive tool. Having experienced the physicality of the panic attacks, it seemed natural to translate this kinetic experience into the art-making process. Consequently I created a series of works, what I call my ‘Panic Attack Series’. 

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Given the process it took in creating them, they could be considered Action Paintings. Action Painting first came into being in the late 1940s and early 50s with pioneering artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning leading the way. Action Painting is a loose and fluid mode of art making in which the paint is dripped or smeared onto the canvas. In this instance I was smearing it on, using my forearm as a brush which given the friction between the paint and paper was painful at times. Yet this pain became part of the piece. Working large scale was necessary as I required the breathing space to expel my negative energy. The works are far from perfect, but I think my vitality comes across especially given the unconscious circular motions I ended up working in. I was surprised to find I visualised my panic attacks as circles and this meant that they went from being a nightmarish experience to a visual object which I think aided my healing process. I was not surprised by the fact black felt like the only suitable colour; darkness and the heaviness of my emotions was encapsulated perfectly in this palette. 

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I also did some smaller charcoal renditions which looked almost like circular sound waves (top right of the above photo). I think the need to get messy was an instinctive impulse I had in these expressive works. Sitting tidily working in a sketchbook would not have had the same impact. I needed to immerse myself physically as well as mentally in the work to be truly unburdened. 

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And it definitely worked. The creation of these pieces was incredibly liberating and I literally felt like a weight had been lifted. My shoulders felt lighter and my head felt clearer. It was as if by creating these works I had expelled this mass of black energy from my system and I was free to start again. 

Sensual Materials

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I have this absolute nightmare of my tights ALWAYS getting holes in them. It drives me nuts; my toes peep out, the ladders run up the back of my leg, I don’t think I own a single perfect pair of tights! So being an artsy creative person I of course think of new ways to use them when they’re on their way out, otherwise there are far too many tights going to waste!  When I did these shots, I’d recently been using cling film to cover and wrap my body in. So these photographs were kind of an extension of that experiment. Of course, wrapping your body in cling film holds very different connotations from interacting with fragile tights. 

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I was quite pleased with how these photographs turned out. They are completely unedited, I just used a desk lamp directed at a very certain angle to get these colour shades. Normally putting something over your head is claustrophobic and uncomfortable, but given the transparency and delicacy of the tights there were no problems at all. It was more exciting trying to develop a relationship with the material and mould it into interesting shapes that worked both within the frame of the photograph and in relation to my body. I had a tripod set up to take these, so it was all very trial and error; I only got three good photographs out of all the ones I took. That happens most of the time with photography though and the shapes I did manage to create here complemented the warm hues of the lighting. 

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Despite the lack of editing, the colours came out really well; they shift between pale pastel yellows and orange-tinted pinks. I was also really happy with the blend of focuses; the fixed outline of certain areas such as the head in the photo above, against softer and more ambiguous outlines as in the case of my fingers in the above. Out of all components of my torso, I think my hands looked the most interesting encased in the tights, as the fingers are usually so mobile and free to use that is was strange to see them restricted. Yet the conflict present within the restriction is interesting as the hands are encased by the most fragile material and have the ability to break free at any moment. This potential is most evident in the middle picture where my fingers are most pronounced. I also think this potential is evident in the blend of static and movement. Although I am holding still and posing for the camera, there is so much movement in the light and the material which provides an interesting contrast to the overall result. I think these aspects are why these photographs are successful to me; I’ve taken a simple everyday material and tried to adapt it into something entirely new. 

Body Poses

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It’s amazing when you stop and think about the body; when you register the fact all of your movements are controlled by tiny little messages sent along your nerves and synapses, allowing you to move instinctively without thinking. Transmitting instructions that allow your body to function. These days we are so preoccupied with image, diet, building artificial muscle, losing weight, gaining weight that we forget to think about our core components; the things that actually matter. How our muscles stretch as we bend our arms, how the skin moves with your joints, how our bones click and slot into place as we sit down, how we blink to keep the dust out, how we breathe as our pulse rate changes. All of these small little details are so crucial to everyday life, yet how often do we stop and think about them? How often do we take it all for granted? How often do we truly contemplate the wonders that are our bodies? 

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I have very bad knees, so I am constantly aware of the clicks and the shoots of pain. Yet in a weird way I am grateful to this pain. It forces me to slow down to reduce impact on the kneecap, or stop shin splints. Often I can feel my knee caps clicking and sliding over each other like a machine. I am so aware of these faults in my body that I can’t help become aware of everything else. This is why I love the gym so much, as I enter that space it allows me to open up a direct dialogue with my body. In the gym my actions are entirely dictated by the balance of mind and body; how far can I push certain muscles? How long can I do certain weights? How long should I spend stretching? It is almost as if I go deeper into myself in these moments as the mind dissolves and becomes one with the body. 

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Balance and endurance are core components of my workouts. There’s the will to stop verses the will to continue. As well as being good for fitness and strength, I believe the gym is also very good for the mind. Going on a regular basis takes commitment; continuing on a machine for a certain amount of time takes willpower. It is all a discipline in which the mind and body are intrinsically wrapped up in each other. I often find it difficult to get this across to people, as everyone has their own reasons for gyming, or some people I know don’t gym at all. Investigating my feelings further in my artwork is helping me to better articulate myself. I feel these images and their poses are highly effective in highlighting a lot of how I feel about exercise and its necessity for me in daily life. 

Performance Art

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Janine Antoni ‘Loving Care’, image sourced from Artnet.

Having always used and worked with the body as a theme and a medium, it seems only natural that this year I have started to work with Performance Art. This was a movement that came into existence in the 1960s and 70s and is rooted in Conceptual Art. Performance Art is where the artist uses their own body or the body of a model to perform tasks and actions that become the artwork themselves. Famous Performance Artists include Marina Abramovic, Yoko Ono, Yves Klein, Nam June Paik, Bruce Nauman – the list is endless! Pictured above is one of my favourite artists, who has been a huge inspiration since I discovered her two years ago; Janine Antoni performing ‘Loving Care’. This is a work in which she dipped her hair in the hair dye and used her body as a painterly tool. This is in a sense a parody of Jackson Pollock’s painterly techniques and the male-dominated Abstract Expressionist movement, as well as being a social commentary on the domesticity of women. 

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‘Loving Care’ has been a piece that has stuck with me for a while now and I have always been curious to test this idea of extending the paintbrush beyond itself. I recently cut my hair and therefore thought it would be interesting to do a performance which acted as a reversal to that.  I also wanted to make a gesture towards the impracticality of hair extensions and their artificial qualities. I cut my hair really short, so I wanted to extend it really long. I used the stretchy exercise bands that most people use in the gym, partially because they were a practical object to use in this instance and partially due to the presence of the gym and exercise in my work. 

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The white objects I am using are obscure and grotesque limb-like forms that I made out of papier-mâché. This was a very laborious and time-consuming task not only because I made a lot of these objects, but also because of their drying time and formation process. However, the labour was another element to this performance. In it I am not only exploring this idea of body image through the representation of hair extensions, but I am also exploring the repetitive and mundane. Labour is an element not only in the construction of the objects, but also in creating the drawing given how many times I walked up and down the paper.

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There was also an element of pain present as although these objects are relatively light, when attached to your hair and roots they are less so! I had a pot of ink and water that I kept dipping these objects into and my intention was to continue until I had used this up, however the pain prevented me from doing so.

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It was interesting to blend such traditional art materials (cartridge paper and Indian ink) with an act that was so far-removed from conventional painting methods. This mode of working falls into the category of Action Painting, a movement that really took off in the 1960s and is something that I myself have never tried before. There have been moments and elements of it present in my work before, but never in such a direct way. 

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Given the fact that this art form falls and touches on a lot of aspects of performance itself, costume is consequently a very important part and something I put a lot of consideration into. In some cases I have gone for the stereotypical artsy all-black ensemble, but in this instance I wanted to return to the studio aesthetic which I think tied in well with the rest of the materials I was using.

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As well as thinking about what I’ll put on my body for performance work, I also think about what I’ll remove. I am a complete jewellery junkie, always adorned with rings and dangly earrings! I tend to remove all of these elements for the purpose of performance work. However in this instance I kept it all on as I wanted the jewellery to be a part of the work, as an indicator of its constant presence on my body. 

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I think for me one of the most interesting things about working with Performance Art is focusing on and thinking about the objects left behind and how they are imbued both with the trace of human presence and a past kinetic action. What’s exciting is that although the performance is an ephemeral event, the objects left behind hold so much potential for further exploration.

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The Potential for Movement

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‘The Potential for Movement’, Photograph, 2016

Thinking back to my images taken in the photographic studio the other week, this one in particular stood out to me. It has what I’m calling ‘the potential for movement’. There is so much kinetic energy present here, yet simultaneously none at all. It is completely still; the subject is completely static. Yet in the photograph I am on the brink of moving and creating a fluid action, but at the point the camera captured me the movement had not begun. As a viewer we know an action is about to occur and take place; as no one, despite having fantastic flexibility levels, can hold that position for long! The balance of the body in this image has so much satisfying symmetry to me. This includes the way my hands look as if they are touching my knees, when they are in fact far further forward. It also includes the shadows of my hands along the wall, the balance that my legs are holding, the light dancing across my back. It is peaceful and still but there is also so much potential. It really is a moment captured and frozen in time. 

Muscular Awareness Part 1

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The other day my friend kindly gave me a hand in the photography studios to help me capture these images. If you have been reading my posts you will know by now that my artwork revolves around the human body. If you have never read a post this could not be more perfect an intro! More often than not my practice is about the implicit body; it relies on subtle hinting and allusions to the human form. So for once I wanted to deviate from that quite strongly and create a really direct link to the body.

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As a result, these images came into existence. I have been gyming for about five years now and I absolutely love it. It is my zone, my head space. For an hour I leave the outside world behind and focus purely on the relationship between mind and body. I focus on the pain I feel, the endurance I push myself through, the tiredness and aches when I finish an exercise. I think of gyming as a discipline and it’s one I keep up as often as I can. People often underestimate the importance of stretching and often do this hurriedly and hastily. That is not the case for me. Stretching is one of the most important components of my work outs, which is probably a result of my love for yoga. So I spend a lot of time on the mats, which more often than not are in front of a mirror. 

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Yes, the instant connotations of a mirror mean vanity, but for me that is not the case. All of these years stretching in front of a mirror has made me notice little dents and muscles in my body that normally no one pays attention to. Because I’m stretching myself into bizarre and unusual positions, the less prominent muscles start to emerge, which I have always found incredibly fascinating. Most interesting to me are the dents and muscles surrounding my shoulder blades; there is a surprising amount of detail in this area. Up until now I have merely observed these muscular formations. Every time I see them in the gym I think about how great it would be to study them more closely. To draw them in pencil and charcoal and exaggerate them Michelangelo style. Of course, I’m not going to bring a photographer into the gym with me to document them! Not only would that draw a lot of unwanted attention but I would also probably have to fill out a whole bunch of Risk Assessments and Ethics Forms. No thanks!

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So instead I thought I’d bring myself and my stretches into the studio; really highlight all these muscles through dramatic lighting. This was quite an adventurous experiment for me as it was a very explicit display of my relationship to the gym (it was also an hour of nonstop stretching for the camera – what a work out!) Yet it could not have come at a better time. Recently in uni I have been having tutorials that critique and discuss my work. They have taken a surprising turn for me as the feedback I have received is to further my exploration of the gym and this notion of head space. How funny that I thought these images were too explicit in their reference to the gym, yet that is what the tutors want to see more of? It’s my lucky day! 

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I quite like how the images I have posted here are essentially faceless; there’s a sense of ambiguity to them as a result. The lack of face also heightens the focus on the body. This is further highlighted by the stark black clothing (or lack of it!) against the whitened backdrop. Some incredible shadows have emerged too – perhaps I need to do some sketching of merely the shadowed areas. With this high contrast lighting, I finally get to emphasise all the little folds and creases that I have spent so long studying all this time in the gym. Artists talk about spending a certain amount of time with an artwork and sitting on it. If you think about it, I’ve been contemplating this specific work for years! So not only is it exciting to see it come to life as an artform, but it’s also a relief to finally realise and create it!