It's Tuesday morning and we return to light boxes and in this case someone has been much more in control of the situation. He has been making circular boxes, cutting rings of wood from ply and has constructed the boxes so that they are in sections. The look and size reminds me of portholes. The images are made from what you might describe as ‘found’ filters. I have mentioned his work before; he has been shining light through thin layers of found materials such as a crumpled tissue or a scrap of silver paper from an old biscuit wrapper. The resultant images lie somewhere between Helen Chadwick’s ‘Viral Landscapes’ and a microscope slide. We talk about crystallography and diffraction patterns, the shining of light through tissue and other throwaway materials being an equivalent, both science and art finding ways to reveal hidden beauty by shining a light on the world. He has been looking at Helen Chadwick’s light boxes and some of the early tests for these are on display in the City Art Gallery, he is reminded that Chadwick’s archive is also available to research in the Henry Moore Centre. We look at light levels, whether or not these light boxes should be wall mounted and suggest he looks at Mona Hatoum’s ‘Corps étranger’ piece. He has he says already thought that he could start using an endoscope to explore approaches to how to re-see different everyday materials. We then start to look at the quality of his transparencies and suggest that he needs to research this, perhaps slightly diffusing the light to get a better ‘glow’ and a more even read.
A French exchange student provides us with cupcakes, we eat then watch a headless video of these being made. (Carefully filmed so that the focus is on the making, her head is never in shot) She shows it to us speeded up, but I think we are supposed to experience it in real time. The point is that we are ‘digesting’ the information both literally and figuratively, the English word ‘digestion’ being a direct import from French at some time during the 14th century. She is also making a piece about the traditional English rural landscape, (she has photographs of the Dales) and counting sheep or in her terms, “compter les moutons”. We discuss the fact that in some ways she is dealing with class and power and not just differences in translation; our word mutton reflecting the fact that the French conquerors would eat whilst the English peasants would provide the food. She is surprised to hear that we count sheep too when going to sleep. The whole issue of language and cultural difference is then opened out and we for some reason start to discuss the road movie and how the American language of the road was a cultural dominant (drive-by movies etc), then there is a reflection on the art world and the fact that up until the 1950s it had a French accent and that that accent then became American but what is it now? The French student has black hair and a dark complexion, she has persuaded one of our main programme students who is blonde and very fair skinned to be filmed talking about her interest in rabbits. The French student is then filming herself miming and re-saying everything that is said in the short documentary. This includes hand gestures etc. for instance when student one plays with her hair, student two does as well. The French student thinks English voices speaking French can be very funny, we open out translation into regional dialects, the fact she is in Yorkshire now becoming very important. Eventually we get round to presentation. How will all of these strands be brought together? Projected, on monitors, as performance, should the final piece be ‘Skyped’ from France? (She has to return soon as the exchange funding is coming to an end).
The next encounter is with an immersive environment. We are asked to wear a paper cone over our heads. This is the cone of projection, and onto this is projected an animation consisting of geometric progressions that the student has discovered whilst researching the making of ‘op-art’ type imagery. The first part of the crit becomes about the best way to deal with this. Should the cone come from the ceiling? If so at what height and how would the audience get their head into it? It doesn’t seem right just to put the cone on. We think about turning it upside down and making it bigger so it becomes a sort of well with projections running around the inside. It also needs to be made with exactly the right materials, if white plastic, how thick, what type, how will it be joined etc. Environmental experience and exhibition assessment space are unpicked. It may be he can’t get the right sort of space to do this for the assessment, so how does he present in such a way that he doesn’t lose marks? Around the studio are earlier examples of the work he has been involved with. The conjunction of nature with ‘neo-geo’ has been an ongoing preoccupation, so he has potted plants about and geometric wallpaper. We move the plants into the projection. It is pointed out that he should go to the Will Rose curated ‘Illuminated room’ events on Thursday evening in the Vernon Street lecture theatre and that his work relates to something we used to call the ‘Expanded Cinema’. I remember reading the ‘Expanded Cinema’ by Gene Youngblood and it might be interesting to read a book from the early 1970s and explore how the context for this type of work was thought about then and how the utopian visions of the time have faded.
We move on to a student who is making pinhole cameras. She has recently made a very well crafted octagonal camera, each side pierced with pinholes and with a circular column centre that holds the paper. She wants to go on to make a variety of cameras, including re-using objects and turning them into cameras. We discuss Steven Pippin, film types and exposure rates. We look at lots of trail images, mostly black and discuss the aesthetics of failure, the duds being perhaps as interesting as ones that work. Presentation and positioning becomes important. We discuss the possibility of attaching a tripod attachment fixture to the bottom of the camera, so that it can be both displayed well and used much more accurately instead of just being propped up on other objects. This project is only just getting started but it feels as if the student is totally engaged, so this is more about encouragement and support in going on and making more and more trials and experimental objects.
A student who was previously making jewellery that could also work as architectural extensions, (he is casting decorative mouldings from buildings and making these into rings), has recently made paper cut-out jewellery based on cartoon images, including cartoon sparkle. He has also persuaded a magazine to publish some do it yourself templates/nets and perhaps even a magazine cover. We talk conventions of photography, how is he going to realise these ideas? At the moment he is looking at conventions of jewellery photography, but it is suggested that he widen the research, perhaps looking at DIY conventions, building trade etc. His ideas are though very clear and he really just needs to get on with it and make these things happen.
We also look at scratching images out of super 8 film, using a magnifying glass to see and therefore creating animations based on the original footage.
Another Erasmus exchange student arrives for the critique. (They tend to be older that the average English student). He has been making variations of possible permutations of a four centimetre square consisting of 16 squares, each square crossed by a diagonal. The rotation of these diagonals can generate four possible triangles within each square. Therefore with a full rotation of possible triangles within each of the sixteen squares there are billions of possible configurations. I.e. it would take millions of years to make by hand all these permutations, a Sisyphean task. He is also drawing these by hand using black ink on fine graph paper. (During the time of making he has already run out of his initial paper stock, so has had to photocopy the graph-paper, this means that the black of his ink reads slightly differently when inking in the graphs. He likes this and sees it as a necessary part of this long drawn out task. He doesn’t want to use a computer programme to do this; it has to be done by hand. We discuss the possibility of his drawing up a contract to say that he will continue to do this all of his life. (How serious is he?) Could he ring galleries and speak to them about possible exhibitions for 20 or 30 years time, setting up contractual agreements to the effect that he will undertake to continue doing this work for the amount of time agreed. Should he develop a ‘gold standard’ or the equivalent? One student brings up the idea that the standard metre is kept in Paris under temperature control. Perhaps the first square should be made special in some way and kept under lock and key. He has a piles of notes as to possible variations and permutations, should these notes be presented as a book, as something similar to Duchamp’s ‘Green Box’, who’s ‘Three Standard Stoppages’ is on display in the Henry Moore Institute at the moment. The debate centres on how to extend the activity into other activities that cement the reality and importance of the process. Perhaps papers need to be published, research proposals submitted, correspondence started, a documentary video made?
As a complete contrast another student is dealing with some odd logics. He first of all appears to be making just bad art. He appears clumsy, he stands on things in and around his area and breaks them as he moves about. He talks with a very broad accent, approaching his decision making in a blunt Yorkshire manner. Never tongue tied he has a reason for everything. But we get no fake voice here, I wonder if he is The Karl Pilkington of art. Everyone seems to feel we are getting somewhere with this description. Bad paintings are screwed to bits of furniture; a broken toy piano is attached to a small painting that has itself been screwed to a chair. We ask about the piano, will it play? He says it did, until he tried to ‘fix it’ and he shows us the remains of the electronics dangling from something else he has been making. Some paintings are part of devices that were meant to ‘draw’ marks on the canvas, but they seem to have failed or broken down and are now just half-working remnants of former ideas that didn’t work very well in the first place. The clutter in his area starts to ‘add-up’ somehow. He has been working on a child’s plastic guitar and has already broken it, but part of this has now attached itself to another painting. Nails stick out of things where perhaps he had tried earlier to attach something but either changed his mind or he has simply wondered off the idea, who knows. It is suggested that he takes these odd things out of their scrap heap environment and photographs them in the photographic studio with beautiful clean surrounds, making use of the plate cameras and high definition shots. People want to see these things in a ‘clean’ environment. They tell odd narratives, stories that somehow lie on the edge of being convincing. Just as in the same way we are never quite sure how clever Karl Pilkington is, we are never sure how far we ourselves are being set-up to believe that he is quite as dumb as he appears. Is this art to sucker us in? It’s interesting to see that everyone is still engaged with this, no one says we are being taken for a ride and the student in question is deadly serious, in a sort of Bill Maynard cum Geoff Boycott way.
It’s the last student of the day and we move on to looking at ‘gay’ images; paintings and collages of naked men. The student is interested in how to maintain an edge between sensuality and sensationalism. The photocopies are quite ‘graphic’ but have been put together as patterns, thus making it hard to initially read what they are. He has recently done the paint workshop. We talk mainly about how paint itself could perhaps be investigated until the colour and application had the sensuality required and then to try and apply this sensitivity to re-making the images. Perhaps the paint had to want to be “licked” off the canvas. Maybe it needed to be like ice cream? The paintings done so far are a bit dull or tight, no real sensuality coming through as yet. He needs to find out what he can do with paint.
It’s these individual encounters that are the real core of fine art education. All the other things are superficial. These one to one and group engagements around bodies of work and the narratives that open out around these encounters are where the real work is done. It seems easy and fascinating, who wouldn’t want to be spending time being paid having these conversations? Over the years I must have had thousands of these encounters and they are always illuminating, always at least one will lead off into unknown territory. It is perhaps these conversations I need to spend more time recording, as they probably form the bulk of the work I do. They are also the one thing that has remained constant throughout my time in education.
I spent the last part of the day being interviewed by the two second year students who are making a film about art education, they asked me questions such as, “What do I think art is for?” “How do you define art now?” Can’t remember what I replied, perhaps that’s a good thing.
Then finally on to an opening of Chris Wood’s work at the university Gallery. Chris is an ex student and I had also agreed to meet up with Terry there. Great to see Chris still painting, always lovely to see Terry and Beryl, but he is worried about me. In this blog he recognises the painful act of separation from the College. I promise to keep an eye on myself. So anyone else looking at this, read this blog as part of the exit strategy, for me life is as much an emotional dilemma as something to be rationally understood.