Words Speak To Me

Given that I would consider this blog post to be almost a continuation of my previous one, I would advise you  to read my most recent post on imagery and the Self-Portrait prior to reading the write up below. Click here to view the previous article.

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13687179_1140432052704433_1840139293_n1As well as recently thinking about the ‘necessity’ of images, both in life and on my blog (particularly alongside larger chunks of text), I have also been thinking about the lack of their necessity. About how the text in itself can become an entity through it’s strength. About how presently, I am more drawn to writing and to reading than to the creation of visuals. This is a shift which has occurred quite naturally, it has not in any way been a conscious decision. However, over summer I found myself merely dabbling in the making of artwork and instead ripping through several books as I devoured the words on the pages hungrily. I think this is an interesting transformation of interest, as I have always been immersed in the making of art and the documentation surrounding the process. However, I am now content to retreat and instead observe the process from afar. Watch others conceive and create. Take a practical sabbatical if you can call it that.

13741013_554567611334947_978616461_nWords have become my substitute for the studio. They have become my addiction. I think working so conceptually over the past three years is much to blame for this. Often, my notebooks were more precious than my sketchbooks. All of my thoughts and ideas that were so hastily sketched out as they entered my head, soon became a sacred collection for my own creative reference. Sol Le Witt and Eva Hesse were huge inspirations to me in their reliance on writing in relation to their studio practice. Sol Le Witt because he was a conceptual artist and his work would not exist without his words. Hesse because her diaries were her own backdrop to her work; her words were her refuge and respite from what could at times be quite a consuming mode of art making. Artists never stop. Their minds never turn off. They are always thinking, seeing, looking, observing. It is only natural therefore, that words on a page can become an escape and a freedom from the frantic energy of being an artist. I know that I myself feel unburdened when I write. That once my thoughts and feelings are down on paper they no longer physically inhabit my body. I believe Hesse must have felt the same.

14350434_198530390560672_4054096995940302848_n1Following her tragic death from a brain tumour at the premature age of 34, her diaries were published. I am very conflicted over this action. On the one hand, I am sure it is amazing to have specific insight to her work and thought process. On the other, it is an invasion of privacy which reduces her work given the direct translations and observations the diaries provide. For Hesse, the diaries were a document of art and life. To her, the two were inseparable. However, I feel it is slightly tragic that her work is always read with this trajectory. In some cases her death and diaries inform her pieces almost more than the materials, colours and spatial relations do. Which of course is wrong, as no art piece should be spoon fed to its viewer. I could never read her diaries. It is my belief that they belong to her, were for her own sake and so I should find my own way of interpreting her life and work. I think this stance is probably because I sometimes keep a diary myself. Not often, just when I feel like it and need some form of release. Or I have had such a brilliant day that only words will do the justice of documenting properly. Either way, the diary is a personal entity which I feel should remain that way.

13768303_181033652308440_1820311018_nRecently I have had an urge to write in my diary again, mainly because I am feeling slightly lost. Although I am happy about my accelerated interest in the theory of art as opposed to the practicing of it, I am also left feeling slightly guilty. For someone who has been making art for as long as they can remember, it is strange to suddenly be left without the urge to make. I would go as far as to say I have an artist’s guilty conscience; that moment where you are not creating in your studio, mainly due to an inspiration dry spell, resonates with how I feel right now. I suppose however it is just a shift in focus for the time being. I am currently starting a Masters at Edinburgh University in Modern and Contemporary Art: History, Curation and Criticism. So being more drawn to reading, like bees to honey, is only a natural consequence of this. I think it is just strange for me, yet another thing I am unfamiliar with at the moment. However, instead of having the urge to draw and drip paint from giant canvases in a studio, I just need to adjust. I will now dedicate my time to reading my theories and prose in a quiet little Edinburgh cafe or the gardens and fully absorbing the context to contemporary art making, knowing that in time I will start making again.

 

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Edinburgh Escapism

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I recently moved to Edinburgh and am still configuring its layout and exploring the city almost a month later. I feel this sense of exploration will be constant the whole time I am here. Edinburgh is one of those cities where you are never stuck for things to do, or places to see, or areas to explore. For someone who enjoys long head clearing walks as much as me, it is the perfect place. Yes, during tourist and Fringe Festival season the streets were packed; people crammed against each other on the pavement unable to overtake or cut through the crowd to cross the road. It was heaving. Now that the Festival is over, it has quietened down somewhat. Much to my relief, as I am not a huge crowd fan. I am however, an architecture lover and here in Edinburgh, everywhere you look there are beautiful buildings! There’s the Castle on the hill, there is the quaint area of Stockbridge which was so picturesque I didn’t mind getting lost! There are streets filled with older buildings, the  Scottish National Galleries boasting proud pillars at their entrance, the train station even sits nestled opposite Princes Street Gardens. I feel like I am having an affair behind the back of all the other cities I have visited given Edinburgh is all so breathtaking!

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It is a truly beautiful place and having visited Berlin this summer and been so consumed by its incredible culture, I can’t help feeling that a bubbling city like this is the creative starting point for me. It’s the energy, it’s the atmosphere; both of which are infectious. I’ve visited Edinburgh for countless day trips in the past, so it’s strange having to remind myself I am now a resident needing to commit an Edinburgh postcode to memory! Although it’s going to take some adjustment and I am still settling in, I am of course very excited by it all. Who isn’t with a city move?I feel as if the city has been waiting for me. As if this was the place I was meant to come back to. It’s funny how humans can have such an affinity with a place, but I feel with the countless art exhibitions and the constant creativity, this city could not be more perfect for someone like me. It’s picturesque and it’s peaceful. I have recently spent a lot of time sat reading in the Gardens, just people watching and absorbing the city and it’s occupants.

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I think contemplation is incredibly important during times of change and transition. Fortunately I have had the time for that this summer. Usually life is so busy and consuming that we forget to stop and think. We forget to put our phones down and not check them constantly. We forget to look out the window instead of choosing a playlist. We forget to be dreamers and instead glue ourselves to screens. People in airports, people on trains, they are all frantically typing away, scrolling down their tablets. I often feel saddened by this, because with all the days in our diaries crammed full of meetings and appointments, it’s difficult to slow down and tear yourself off the rollercoaster of life. Which is why I think this move has been so good for me. I am guilty of being consumed by the pressures of modern life; of forgetting to eat lunch and running from one meeting to the next. Yet I feel Edinburgh is a place where I can still balance a crazy, wild schedule, yet also make time for myself within the city.

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I feel that the amount of greenery everywhere in Edinbrugh provides a refreshing escapism from the rooms we occupy. Glancing round, there isn’t just granite and infrastructure, but vast expanses of nature serving a reminder that our busy lives are just a tiny microcosm in the universe. Little streams that gush and flow, the roses in the Gardens, the bees humming through the trees and the squirrels tamely venturing out all exist quite happily alongside the dull thrum of traffic and trams. All of the natural elements provide a reminder that we can stop and look. We can breathe in and think. We can sit down and we can start again.

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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Berlin Berger Style

Recently I have been reading the art critic John Berger’s two books ‘Ways of Seeing‘ and ‘About Looking‘. Both are truly inspiring reads; Berger’s insights highlight things you think or notice on a subconscious level, but had never fully come to realise yourself. He is like the stepping stone to realization. He draws out your way of thinking and forces you into a mode of questioning that can be applied to everything from that point onwards. ‘Ways of Seeing’ was particularly eye-opening for me; the way in which I read paintings, their composition and their form has forever changed for me following these two poignant books.

What I particularly liked about ‘Ways of Seeing’ was it’s composition; it is split into concise sections which are well structured and coherent in their point. Yet between each of these sections is a visual essay, an essay composed entirely of images. This was unlike anything I have ever seen before. Each visual essay acted as an introduction to the subsequent written essay. This forces you to try and decipher the images themselves in isolation from the written word, before having Berger go on to elaborate their context in the next chapter. I thought this was an incredibly interesting way of conveying an idea and I was delighted when I was able to comprehend most of the visual essays. Recently I have been drawn more to visuals than writing, particularly with all of the interesting content I follow on Instagram in the form of various galleries and art collectives. So reading the Berger books and discovering the visual essay came at the perfect time for me. In Berlin I was looking, sketching and trying to capture what I saw. I needed a more instant way of absorbing the city which writing did not quite satisfy and so visuals became my supplement tool. Following all of this visual inspiration, I thought I would have a go at compiling a visual essay/visual summary myself of our time in Berlin and how I saw and perceive the city.

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Photo credits also to Jamie Strathearn.

Beautiful Berlin

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It’s been a long time since a city has inspired me as much as Berlin. Amsterdam was absolutely fantastic – there was so much to see. Our art-orientated sightseeing ranged from seeing traditional artwork at the Van Gogh Museum to more contemporary works at the Stedelijk, Amsterdam’s equivalent of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). However with Berlin, it’s different. You’re not just entering buildings and spaces to look at the art; it’s everywhere. It’s in the buildings, not just physically, but inherently. It’s ingrained as part of the architecture, it’s on the street, down alleyways, on subway routes, it’s even encapsulated by people’s eclectic mix of clothing. The city seems to pulsate with this artistic aura, which threatens to overwhelm you it’s so inspiring. You feel as if you’re going to burst with this creative warmth brewing in your stomach as you take it all in!

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The history of the place seems to enhance this sense of creative energy, particularly given the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. With the fall of the wall, came the fall in both political systems and social barriers. Berlin realized a new kind of freedom that had never been felt before and consequently aspects such as the music scene flourished as people endlessly celebrated the reunification. Given their history it seems people in Berlin have something to say; it’s as if the years of oppression made them realise that they want to be heard. With transient chalk-based artworks on the pavement, alleyways bursting with colourful graffiti, the life and soul of the city can be found anywhere and everywhere. I think this is why it had such an impact on me. The creative culture of the city was not confined to sketchbooks and galleries, or exclusive artistic spaces. Instead it was living and breathing on the street, trickling into the galleries from outside.

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Walking through this cultural hub that is Berlin really focuses your mind. Because there is so much to absorb, you realise what it is you want to pinpoint and fixate on; what explorations you want to further. I’ve always been fascinated by graffiti, however in the past it was more of a subconscious fascination. It was only as we walked through Berlin and I was catching glimpses of it in places and on the facade of big buildings that I became aware of how interested in it I actually am. Now that I am more aware of this interest I reflect and realise that there have been very poignant moments that fueled my interest in street art. One of those moments was years ago when I was walking behind Edinburgh Waverly station and I came across this wall absolutely crammed with colour and bubble shaped writing, graffiti creatures curling out of the wall. There was someone spray painting and I remember thinking how free they must have felt in that moment. To have no paper or easel, no barrier between their spray can and a permanent site. They were leaving their mark in a space that didn’t belong to them and I thought it was beautiful. Joseph Beuys once said that anyone can be an artist if they realise their potential and find the necessary form in which to communicate their ideas. This sentiment has caused a lot of debate and I am in agreement with him to an extent. However I am more of the belief that art is everywhere. Even though we don’t necessarily see it, or aren’t necessarily looking, it is still present. It’s present in the black polka dots of a lady bug climbing over a green leaf,  it’s present in the synced rhythms of our breathing and living bodies, it’s present in the way we gesture as we speak. Art is everywhere and it is the ability to take the things we see; to capture them and their essence and translate them into an entirely new form, that I believe makes you a true artist.

Creative Outlets

13687254_141506512950038_1833900222_n“I think that the very great artists were not trying to express themselves.They were trying to trap the fact, because after all, artists are obsessed by life and by certain things that obsess them that they want to record. And they’ve tried to find systems and construct the cages in which these things can be caught.” – Francis Bacon, Tate Liverpool ‘Invisible Rooms’ exhibition catalogue

I read this quote last night and it has stuck with me as I tried to grapple with Bacon’s analysis in relation to my own work. In my view he is absolutely right, artists are obsessed with life; whether it is the architecture we live in, our own bodies, nature and the natural environment, urbanism, industrialism, consumerism. You name it. We’ve made art about everything. Art in a sense could almost be compared to science. It is a route to discovery, a journey of experimentation and deduction. Much like scientists employing  mathematics in an attempt to predict the movements of particles, artists engage with their surroundings and various mediums in an attempt to express themselves and their ideas. Conceptual art is at the forefront of modern art today, as by utilizing artworks as tools we are able to realise an idea and convey it to a public audience. Yet there is also and will always be the most expressive form of art; art that does not require proposals and adherences to restricted budget costs, art that does not require a white cube gallery space to be displayed in, but art that simply is from the self. Raw, unaltered sketches, drawings, illustrations and doodles. The purest form of expression and that emotional/creative release.

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Doodling culture and the professional art world have more in common than most people initially think as they are both incredibly different, yet simultaneously the same. Yes, in galleries there are large scale installations and elaborate industrial sculptures Jeff Koons style, but it all began in the artist’s mind. It quite likely originated with a little paper doodle or a frantic sketch on a table napkin at the crucial moment of realising the sketchbook was left on the coffee table at home. I feel in a lot of cases there are too many barriers between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art forms, too many words that separate what is classified as good and not so good work. Of course, personal taste and style plays a vital part in these judgements as negotiating personal opinion is one of art’s main experiments; to make people question, to challenge them into realising what it is they do and don’t like is at the core of several artistic practices. In a lot of cases however it is the observers who validate what qualifies as good and bad artwork, who make the official distinction which everyone should follow.

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Like anything else in this world, people are happy to follow trends. Whether that is reading a book that everyone else is reading, engaging with an artist who everyone is talking about, visiting an exhibition that everyone else has seen. Despite the creation of artwork being one of the purest forms of human expression and the most individual and personal entity in human existence, art  is still not exempt from the trap of following what is considered mainstream. In a sense however, this actually makes it more interesting as you could ask the question who do we make art for? In this day and age, with the pace of social media and the digital information we are constantly fed, there is a heightened sense of expectation in artmaking and inevitably, artists react to this. So who do artists actually make art for? Is it purely for themselves as the most raw forms of self expression? Is it for an art based audience who will engage with it in the way that the artist themself has? Or is it for a public audience, whose art background and knowledge is probably sparse? Or does it fall within all of these categories? It’s interesting as in a lot of cases I would say it is a combination. You often make art for different purposes which include selling, giving as presents and so these distinctions in themselves also affect the purpose and thinking surrounding the making of the piece.

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I’m not criticising any of these modes of artmaking. I think art is personal and the purpose of the artwork extends within that personal realm. Each person is different, as is each artwork and artist. I know that my artwork varies a lot of the time depending on audience, how I’m feeling, whether it’s for myself or for display. Given that traditionally and throughout human history art has been hung on the wall in Salons and grand entrance halls for all people to see, it is ironic that my art is actually very private. My doodles are my ‘me time’ turned into physical forms. I find it soothing to get lost in a swirling world of colour and fine lines as I carefully navigate across the page. My performances are less concentrated and more physical expressions of my innermost thoughts which can only be conveyed and released through this immersive and bodily art form. I think the reason Bacon’s quote caught me was because I myself can relate to it quite strongly. Although it is not always a conscious decision, life is fundamentally a core part of my artwork. As Eva Hesse once said “my inner soul art and life are inseparable”.

 

A Time of Reflection

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I’ve been away from the blog for a while as I felt I needed some reflection time. Time to stop and contemplate. Time to consider and reflect. I wanted to take a step back from everything following the pace of life during degree show period. Both my creative and mental energy had been wholeheartedly consumed and I therefore decided to withdraw from participating in physical elements in favour of simply reading some theory. The fact I am now studio-less has partly contributed to this shift in thinking. Not that I’m saying you need a studio to make art, I’m just saying I am currently in the adjustment phase and therefore having a break. Yet when I say that and taking time out, I’m lying. I am not a person who takes time out and does nothing – that’s just not in my nature. I get twitchy and start doing the washing up or something. For me taking time out is putting a pause on the practical. Performance for the time being is not on the cards. But my creativity is still bubbling away as I have been dabbling in light painting activities and a little bit of photography. Yet these activities in themselves have been scarce as I’ll be consumed in a doodle mood one minute and then the next my sketchbook goes untouched for days. Books instead have become my predominant creative outlet for the time being.

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Have you ever read a book that changed your life? Or that you feel will stay with you for a very very long time? Well, that happened to me the other day with Hand Ulrich Obrist’s ‘Ways of Curating’. What a read! I have not ripped through a book so quickly in a long time. Having said that, I didn’t really have a spare minute over deadline and degree show time.  Yet now that I have finished my degree, I have been sat reading in cafes and in the garden, watching people go by and observing daily life. Contemplating. Thinking. I’ve come to realise that my mind is very much designed for research; for absorbing information, words and visuals. I will be moving to Edinburgh next month to embark on an MSc in Modern and Contemporary Art: History, Curation and Criticism (I am aware that is quite a mouthful!) I could not be more excited as I feel Edinburgh is the perfect transition from Newcastle. In the interim period however I have been in Aberdeen, which is the city of death for anyone or anything creative in my opinion. I’m not saying that’s the case in every instance, but the lack of gallery visits is starting to agitate me. All the more reason that books have become my seducer.

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‘Ways of Curating’ by Obrist has left quite the impression on me. Obrist is a world-renowned curator, critic and art historian. He is currently director at the Serpentine Galleries in London, has published a wide array of books, conducted endless artist interviews and revolutionized the way in which we think of curation. Needless to say, I found him and his professional exploits quite inspiring. Prior to reading this book, I had always viewing curating as quite a static activity. Arranging and rearranging the works of an artist in a room. Conversing with said artist to gauge their artistic needs. Engaging public with the final displayed work, etc. etc. How wrong I was! Obrist entirely transforms my way of thinking about curation with his discussions of shifting and temporal artistic platforms, the idea of curation as an artistic practice itself, the importance of stimulating conversations and the methodologies which surround and extend and exhibition beyond itself and into forms such as 24hr conversation marathons. For the first time, curating actually appeals to me as it is so much more than arranging art in a room. It is about bringing people together. About exchanging ideas and bridging cultures. It is about travelling and exploring. It is a journey of creation.

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It’s been a strange few weeks for me as I go from being a full time art student with a public show and a studio in the vibrant city of Newcastle, to being a graduate living in the granite grey city of Aberdeen over summer. Quite the shift. Yet it’s been a transformative one. I feel I have learnt from my period of non-production. I almost feel it has taught me more than when I am fully absorbed in my artwork. Somewhat ironic I know, but in those moments as I am fully aware of myself as a creative and an artist, yet it’s only really after all this reading and reflecting that I realise how much of a thinker I am. You might wonder why I have not turned to writing more given this has become the case. I’m not sure myself really, I just did not feel compelled. I suppose even that felt too creative. I wanted simply to sit back and read about others being creative and harness my energy through them. And I think it’s been a good idea as I am now inspired and itching to create again, in one way or another. I’m definitely hoping for a residency at some point. I am off to Berlin not long from now and for me that is just as much a research trip as a holiday with all of the beautiful art galleries and historical museums I’ll be visiting!