The Power of Image

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Having been looking at and researching a lot of Performance Art lately I have inevitably been thinking about its modes of documentation. How do we accurately record an ephemeral event in which setting and audience were so crucial? The atmosphere of the room and the reactions of the audience are in a sense part of the artwork; the audience in a sense become co-creators of the work, yet this does not always come across in documentation. It’s incredibly problematic and an obstacle for most people working with performance. There are all forms documentation can take; photographs, film, film stills, text, written accounts, you name it. It’s a matter of finding what works for you and the individual piece of work. In a lot of cases one single image comes to represent a performance piece and this becomes the image that gets circulated. I myself have fallen into doing this with one performance I did (pictured above). This one image is the only one that truly represents the piece, especially given the angle of the room and my feet against the floor in this shot. It’s an exciting moment when you do find the perfect document, but the obstacles it takes to get there are often plentiful!

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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John Virtue

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I was looking through some old work when I came across these images of my First Year studio. This was probably the one and only time my choice of topic deviated from Body Art and instead focused on the natural landscape. I think I surprised even myself in this shift as there was no real explanation for it apart from my discovery of oil paint. I think I felt that abstract landscapes were a better means of exploring this medium, as opposed to again working with the female body which I was already so familiar with. This shift was also due to the fact I discovered the work of John Virtue (see below).

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‘Landscape No. 707’, 2003-4, image sourced from The National Gallery website.

I fell in love with his whimsical monochrome depictions; how they were abstract yet figurative simultaneously. How he combined nature with industry. The blend of such intense darkness against the stark white also lends a satisfying balance to his work I found. This equilibrium allows the eye to shift peacefully across the page, taking the time to absorb intricate aspects such as texture which are so imbued with the studio aesthetic.

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What I found particularly interesting about Virtue’s work was his ritualistic aspect of his art making. Every day without fail he would walk to the same location to sketch. This of course resulted in an excess of drawings, but the dedication this required fascinated me. So for a while I chose to copy this method of working and walked to a park everyday. It was quite out of my way and in some cases an inconvenience to all of the other daily necessities occuring in my life. However, having this task and this escape also gave me the best kind of zehn I could have wished for. I had an excuse to leave behind the rush and pace of daily life to focus fully on ritual-based art making. 

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I also tried to employ Virtue’s use of the monochrome palette by removing colour from my work. Depicting landscapes and working with oil paint was a time where I was using really vibrant and sunset-based hues, so this removal was a real challenge for me. It forced me to think a lot more critically about texture, shape, scale and all of the other elements that could compensate for lack of colour. I poked needle-thin holes through paper, I worked with impasto and modelling paste, I used charcoal and inks to create that messy studio look. I tried everything and had great fun experimenting, but of course I gradually began bringing colour back into my work. I also sadly had to stop my daily excursions to the park given all my other commitments, but I may some day start that again for a brief period at least. Employing the working methods of another artist was a really interesting and liberating experience for me, as I was giving up all sense of control that I had over my work and instead completely yielding myself to working in a certain way. It was an incredibly enjoyable experiment and is something I think I’ll definitely go back to at some point!

Back to The Empty Quarter

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Recently I’ve been thinking a lot more about my body against the natural environment and of possible places to shoot. I’m interested in how different environments create different messages when the body is posed in a particular setting. Such as with my graveyard and park shoot pictured above (click here to see post). Those were two selected settings with a chosen purpose at a certain time. My boyfriend was very kindly the photographer and it was interesting working with him and taking on board his notions of the surroundings. Varying interpretations are created all the time in artwork and it’s a really important thing to be aware of, particularly given that I work with the female body in the climate of social media and society’s conventional expectations of what beauty is and should be.

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I like the idea of shooting in a setting that has some personal attachment to me. I don’t just want to use anywhere as a canvas for my body. The personal relationship to place is integral as that is the only way I feel I can translate the intimate relationship I have with my body into the image. So I started thinking about places that I had been and thought back to The Empty Quarter in Oman, Middle East. It is one of those places that has really stuck with me throughout my life. The powerful feeling of solitude and silence in this empty wilderness leaves a lot for thought. When I think of Oman, I think of beaches, water, diving, mountains and here. There are no words to describe the beauty of this endless desert. We camped there meaning we got to see the transition from scorching hot sunlight, to a glowing sunset that never seemed to end. We climbed to the very top of the sand dune (which gave us all a good dose of exercise!) and we were greeted by the view I’ve captured in these images.

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The photographs definitely do not do this place justice, but they draw me back in as if I have never left given my experience of it. I feel like I can enter that image and fall back into the slippery sand that would not leave my socks, feel it tickle the backs of my legs, feel the warmth of the sun and the slight discomfort of the humidity. This is why I need  to work with a location which has some form of nostalgia, or that was from a different time in my life. I like the idea of bringing the past into my work and in a sense bringing the past forwards into the present. 

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If only I could go back to this beautiful untouched landscape. The dunes sat so perfectly, their lines looked as if they had been drawn with a precise fine liner pen. The sand was so soft in my hands and it danced off into the sunset as I let it go. I would love to go back there and do a subtly nude shoot. Nothing of a sexual nature, just a shoot that encapsulated the female body in one of the most beautiful settings in the world. Sadly I no longer have access to this (maybe one day I’ll return) and as it’s on the border of Saudi Arabia, posing naked in the desert is probably not the best idea!

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I am however on the look out for a beautiful place to escape to. I think it’s really healthy to step out of the studio and away from modern day life into nature. And what could be a more perfect way to do so than through the medium of my own body? 

Critical Writing for Vane Gallery

Recently I have been trying really hard to work on and expand my writing skills; as much as I love blogging and using colloquial language, I also enjoy writing in more formal and critical terms. Recently therefore I submitted two pieces of critical writing Vane Gallery and I am delighted to have found that they have both been published. Feel free to have a read on the links below:

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‘The Beauty in Grotesque’, a critical review of Jock Mooney’s exhibition ‘Who Are You and What Do You Want?’ at Vane Gallery. Click here to read. 

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‘Layers of Meaning’, a critical review of Oliver Braid’s exhibition ‘The Nude Ignity’ at Vane Gallery. Click here to read.

Benedict Drew

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I think it’s say to say that Benedict Drew’s wacky installation was by far my favourite work in The British Art Show 8. Exhibited within the Talbot Rice Gallery, Drew’s work is the definition of transforming a space into something completely new and exciting. What had been quite a clean cut angular-looking gallery space prior to my entry into this room, was soon turned upside down as I entered Drew’s work. I was instantly transported from the traditional gallery layout to what felt like a psychedelic sci-fi space. I was in awe. Sound pulsated heavily across the room; I could feel it in my core and reverberating through my entire body. There were headphones placed on the table which of course I reached out and tried on only to find that they amplified the sound that was already echoing around the room. It was almost like an electro heartbeat and instantly made me feel like I myself was a part of the piece.

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The utilisation of the architecture within the work furthered Drew’s success as I felt the gallery dissolved and blended into the installation to the point I felt fully consumed by the piece. Just like this installation, Drew’s practice spans a wide range of media including sound, performance, video and various other forms. He often creates chaotic and absorbing environments that pulsate with life, drawing in the viewer and providing them with a multi-sensory experience. Although there was a lot to take in when I viewed Drew’s work, surprisingly it was not overwhelming. Installations such as this have that risk factor; bombard your audience and your work is often lost on them. Yet Drew defied this by carefully distributing the pieces, creating a walkway for the viewer to enter and navigate their way effectively through his work. The shapes I was met with and the colours that were used all complemented and blended with each other allowing the human eye to adjust to the bright colour palette that was present. 

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When I got to the back end of the installation I was greeted by large, cinematic screens. Drew’s attention to detail was plain to see with the modern white speakers contrasting to the excess of cables wrapped believe it or not, in tinfoil. Drew took a domestic everyday item and turned it into an art piece that distracted nicely from the ridiculous amount of cables that all his technology requires. It also furthered my reading of the sci-fi elements. It was not just the detail in the cable layout, but also in the stands of the screens. Instead of being a dull conventional black they were a lime green that instantly caught my eye (probably due to the fact I seem to have developed an unexplained love for lime green). 

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According to The British Art Show’s text accompaniment to this piece, Drew was articulating “the horror of the modern world” through this work. Through his multi-media approach he explored this horror thoroughly! It was impossible to ignore the screens that bombarded you as you approached, an obvious reference to our screen culture of today. There was sound that shook through your bones, the way music does in a club. Colours and structures clustered everywhere in excess alluding to our material and consumer culture. There was no escape in this whimsical and all-consuming environment; the pace of it drew you in and refused to let go much in the way that modern day life does. 

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Yet in among all this technological-based motifs I was surprised to view what looked like mud puddles on screen. They were very anthropomorphic and alien given their electric colours, yet I half expected a David Attenborough voice over mixed up DJ style to come on!  It would not have surprised me, as this work was a constant succession of surprises – and puzzles. There was one area of each screen which had a shell attached to it and a spot light which remained the same colour despite the constant shift in imagery. I could not for the life of me figure out how Drew had managed this! 

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There was not a moment of boredom in this space. Despite this being the first piece I saw of The British Art Show, and despite me witnessing several other works that day, this was the one I could not stop thinking about. I couldn’t get this psychedelic experience out of my head. Partially I think because I was both impressed and fascinated by how Drew had used technology and created such an absorbing work. But also partially due to the elaborate colour scheme – I myself almost wanted to start glowing and blend into the work! I think it’s safe to say Benedict Drew succeeded in captivating his audience, whilst also posing some challenging questions concerning modern life today. 

Pink in Progress (Over/Under work)

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‘Rizzo’ in progress

Working for the piece for the Pop Up Pink exhibition has made me realise how much I miss painting. Although I love the direction my work has taken and all the exciting things it’s led to that I thought I would never do (performance being the prime example), I will never give up the paint brush. There is just something so special sitting down with and focusing on a material; building on it, contemplating it, analysing the creation process. When I paint, I can not get enough water. I love loose fluid works, drips, diluted colours, layers. 

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My paintings are very time consuming and are very much a long drawn out process, mostly due to the necessity of drying time. If I get to eager and paint over a layer that’s still wet, my effect is ruined. So patience is key. I tend to paint in stages, dipping in and out of a work. I think this is actually the way I work best in most senses, as when I write an academic piece, I have to let it sit for a few days before I go back and look at it again. I tend to bang it out in one go and then leave it for a week and almost forget about it as the deadline nears! But it’s the same when I work with paint. I like to be fully absorbed by the process, but then I also like to step back and leave it. Really think about what I’m doing and how I’m layering it. Sometimes this really doesn’t work as despite my attempts at contemplating, I still over work the paint. 

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This is the most frustrating moment for me, as my paintings are not the kind where you can just cover up a mistake. Once the mistake is made it’s there to stay as the paint is applied so thinly, it would completely ruin everything if I tried to obscure it. So I think this is why I have started to implement time into a piece more over the years. the older I’ve got, the more I’ve realised you can not hurry or push the creative process. Otherwise you put a pressure on it and it backfires with you creating nothing! With this work I feel I overworked it slightly, but hey I’ll know for next time!

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. 

Happy Accidents

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Sometimes we spend so much time thinking and planning as artists and conceptual thinkers, that we forget how useful happy accidents can be. Case in point; these photographs. What started as a simple and very basic projection experiment in my bath room, soon turned into something much more interesting. I had not considered ever using it as an art material, yet my shower curtain came in surprisingly handy. It picked up and diverted the light of the projector to create this rippling and water-like effect across the surface of my images.  

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Although it’s presence is very subtle in some cases, I just feel it adds a certain depth to the image. It creates a collection of layers that bring painterly elements to a photographic setting. Looking at these, I felt again like I was painting; constructing the direction in which the layers would formulate; manipulating the imagery to satisfy my intentions. I could not have been more delighted in this accident occurring. I have a theory that half the genius scientists made their discoveries accidentally and then decided to tell everyone that was what their intention all along! I’d probably do that if I was in their boat and ever discovered anything significant. Although, it’s more likely I would pass it off as intentional because I’d be too embarrassed to admit I’d made a mistake!

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In some cases I was so fixated  and fascinated by  the reflection of the shower curtain, that it took more priority then my actual projected images! Consequently ,abstract images such as the above came into creation. Now there is one happy accident! I think the reason I found it all so mesmerising is because there was so much movement within these ‘reflections’, yet they were entirely static. They are highly evocative of water, yet there is not water present. There is only the suggestion of water and the associations of its sound and movements, all of which enhanced my experience of these images. 

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I wasn’t too bothered about getting the camera in focus either, in fact the lack of focus really worked in this instance. Especially in relation to the colours; the soft pastel hues are not a result of editing, merely a result of the lighting in the space. For me there’s something calming about the way the reflection of the curtain falls across the image. I don’t know if that’s because the images themselves are quite peaceful with their blurry lines and lack of forceful energy. Or if it’s simply because the rippling reflection is so reminiscent of water and all of the connotations that carries. The soothing sound of a river gushing, water’s necessity in the continuity of life, the comfort of a cold, refreshing shower. Or maybe I’m just getting carried away with all my contemplation of water. Then again, it’s such a big part of this whole zen thing that everyone’s got going on that why not join the crowd and start listening to waves and water as I fall asleep!

Doodle Galaxy (Doodle Time Part 2)

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I didn’t really notice the kind of doodler I was until I compiled them altogether for these posts. Given that they tend to be entirely separate and individual occurrences, I don’t pay much attention to the technique or style at the time. So photocopying them from my notebook and creating digital copies was quite a sterile process for me, as it almost diluted the fluidity of such personal drawings. 

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For someone who is generally not too interested in natural forms, it is interesting to see how much these feed my depictions. Flower motifs are abundant in my drawings which is highly unusual when compared to my body of work, as I tend to avoid explicit feminine depictions like the plague!

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Yet for me there is something incredibly soothing in creating these organic forms. Water and leaves are also core components to the drawings, as is an almost excessive use of line which I exploit almost to the point of exhaustion. 

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It’s a soothing and somewhat addictive repetition. Molten forms and swirling shapes cluster the pages. Unlike a painting I don’t think you can ever overwork a doodle, as you can simply adjust your progression across the page if it goes wrong. In most cases however I know when a doodle is done, as I no longer have the urge to pursue and extend it. I just know that I have done all I can and all that I want to do and as long as I have that therapeutic longing satisfied, then that is all that matters.