Tuesday, 16 July 2013


It’s summer and that period when most people tend to think anybody working in education gets a very long holiday. This is the first year that I wont be planning for September, so timetabling, putting together new lectures, bringing in new staff, writing reports or dealing with the many and various administration issues that relate to being a manager in education have all been swept off the table because of my downsizing as part of a phased retirement.
However the college has moved into the HE sector, so research is now on the agenda as part of our timetables and I’ve developed a proposal that will have to be implemented this summer.
I don’t usually mention my own work when writing this blog as there are several other outlets for thinking about that, however this summer I have to record the fact that I am researching in order to quantify the amount of time and prove that I have not been sunning myself on some beach.
So what have I been doing and how does it link through to pedagogy?

The big change for the fine art programme is moving towards strands.(Painting/Drawing/Sculpture/Media)  I will be placed in the drawing strand and be expected to support students moving in this direction. One of the issues that we are keen to pursue is that we don’t want students to restrict their working methods to traditional drawing approaches and we would like to see then using both new and old technology as well as drawing in space using 3D materials, or thinking of film as a support for drawing, (animation). Drawing will be seen as a conceptual driver rather than as an area categorised by what sort of materials you use. I have therefore decided to try and push my own practice into other areas to become more familiar with what the college workshops offer and to rethink where the boundaries of my practice lie.

The first area I’m looking at is the introduction of CAD into the wood workshops. I have done an induction into 123D Catch which is image capture software and so the first stage this summer has been to first of all access the software myself and then get to grips with its possibilities.

I have developed my research proposal around the development of allegorical narratives, in particular I’m interested in the time when stories started to coalesce around alternative formats such as the Tarot, which allowed people to shuffle known narratives into new possibilities. Certain elements within stories had become so well known that they could be isolated from the stories and yet still be clear enough to keep pushing new narratives forward.

In my own case the first stage has been to isolate a series of images that I use over and over again in my own practice. These I have tried to clarify as a set of card type images. See below:

I’m using these images to research how far I can push their interaction and readability. So for instance if you look at the bottom set of cards we can take an image such as the campfire and start to explore how far this can be pushed. Stage one has been to make a 3D model. This was made out of an old pizza box and some masking tape. (The issue here is that expensive materials are not required and therefore students can see the possibility as one they can take on without cost) 

The next stage was to take between 70 and 80 photographs of it from different positions. These are then loaded into 123D Catch and manipulated to cut out unwanted background details, (the backgrounds are though very interesting and I shall probably return to these at a later date). Once loaded up I can manipulate the image by rotating on screen, panning and tracking as you would with any other 3D software package.

Immediately the meaning changes and an image of fire, something insubstantial and flickering, is now solid and mountain like. Therefore the first issue is that of how an old meaning, (the four elements of earth, air, fire and water) can be renewed. I can make the fire more mountain like to compact opposites and perhaps bring out other possible readings. (It is of course fascinating to me that the mountain, another image I use quite a lot, is only two moves away on the image/card matrix I have developed) This is where social media comes in. By posting images online you get immediate feedback and this has helped me re-contextualise what the images might develop as. Campfires and mountains were read by one person as intimations of a Nazi past, the configuration of the logs for the fire perhaps suggesting a swastika.

 This immediately grabbed my attention. I had been designing and getting printed what I called “Hell Wallpaper” as well as headscarves which came from a series of drawings I was doing about the atrocities we have inflicted upon ourselves and which we still persist in doing. These drawings included piles of bodies and were ‘guarded’ by pigs. (This is another story, but it relates to the fact that my grandmother was Jewish and her family from Poland)

Visit www.spoonflower.com/fabric/1596858 and look for 'Pighellsquare' images on the left.

I now had a link between two narratives and this is important to me because I like to develop over-lapping story lines in my work, in particular the very large narrative drawings that I use to bring strands together. 

This latest planning process now including a ‘fire/mountain’ as part of a landscape for action, which will allow me to get on with the third part of a complex narrative that is being sustained over three drawings, two of which have already been completed, each of which is approximately 8 feet wide. 

I’m also booked into the print workshop because I want to investigate both the potential for standalone silkscreen prints and to explore the potential for making low relief metal images that can be organized is many different ways, in a similar way to a pack of cards, but also with the potential to be built like a house of cards, once again trying to push the metaphors around.

The strands I’m working with move between the development of technical competence and conceptual awareness which is what we are aiming to develop with the students. The USP of our programme being that we believe that artists ‘make’ things and that by developing technical competences ideas have much more of a chance of taking flight.