So, lighting tomorrow, but the pieces are otherwise in place.
I would define myself at this point in my practise as a Researcher/Maker, with a leaning towards Fine Artist in my practical offerings. I am surprised to find myself here, so comfortable with being someone who very much prefers art theory to art practise, as had anyone told me three years ago that this would be the case I would have laughed!
Context, as ever, is all important in self definition. I see my work and my own ethos sitting very neatly in the camp of the Fine Artist, message is of great importance, design is of very little consequence, and craft holds my attention for a very short time indeed. With this in mind, the work I have produced for this year is made for a gallery setting as a suitable display platform. It is not functional, nor does it sit prettily on a mantlepiece or get to be worn with kooky outfits and DocMartens, but is to be approached, open-minded, searching for an answer to the question, “what does this piece mean?” The piece in question, my submission for Field, is grappling with the connotations of Objects used as anchors for memory in bereavement processes. This phenomenon is well documented in clinical practice, particularly with photographs and clothing, both of which I have referenced here, with my own personal additive- the collected/found object associated with the loss.
I have made these pieces because after last year, I felt there was more to say about bereavement, and whilst I had started making a stab at it previously, I hadn’t really gotten to a place where I thought the work was resolved. There was still a question mark hanging over the work- ie. what is this piece saying? I think that was explained happily with an appropriate artist statement, but the goal for me was to be able to say those things with objects alone, rather than accompanying notes pinned to the piece. I think Jon particularly saw there was a gap between the object and the intended meaning, and during formative assessments last term made this distinction/query much clearer for me. I hadn’t at that point reached an artistic competency with visual language that allowed clear articulation of message. Following the work done before Christmas, I revisited my inspirational artists, and tried to unpick what exactly it was that was so effective about their work that meant it spoke very clearly to me about the intention of the artist. Intention alone wasn’t enough, using visual cues to guide the onlooker is essential for art to ‘work’, especially ambiguous art that is non-figurative and even more so in the case of an installation.
I started out with an intention that my project would be an extension of my dissertation, and would therefore be an exercise in Psychocartography- or mapping through making, and in this context, the mapping out of bereavement. My ideas were instigated by a memory of going through my mother’s coat pockets after her death, and finding things she had left in them, like train tickets, pebbles, bones and a lipstick. My first ideas revolved around the garment- what were they made of? What key features defined a coat (like pockets, collars, cuffs), and how could a coat say something about loss? This research led to experimentation with pockets, experimentation with materials, and experimentation with embroidery. I was developing a visual language, using particular threads, imagery and techniques to communicate the precious nature of particular objects. At my previous formative assessment, the final piece I submitted was an embroidered sleeve, decorated with images of bones, worked in gold, wool and human hair, making reference to victorian bereavement practices, artists work who inspired me, and all other research I had done up to that point. I was still trying to allow my dissertation subject to guide the project, with a rather severe case of square-peg-round-hole. It wasn’t working- the piece was eloquent in the matter of objects, and was definitely saying something about the nature of garments, but was saying absolutely nothing at all about bereavement or mapping. This was an obvious failing, and the piece, whilst pretty and very competently made, was not hitting the right notes for a final year project. The drawing board was returned to.
My first order of business was to finally let go of my dissertation- after it was handed in I could finally walk away from it and accept that it functioned very happily as a stand alone work, and that for my Subject and Field work to progress I needed to think more visually and allow myself some freedom. This opened up some new avenues of progression, and allowed me to be selective about what aspects of my dissertation research were appropriate. Certainly there was a lot of material regarding objects and bereavement, and this was surely enough to work with effectively. I had appreciated that I was trying to say too much in one piece, and that the message was becoming jumbled and confused because there was too much going on without any effective communication of thought. I examined the work of those authors who had been instrumental in organising my thoughts in regard to death and memory, sifting through to find the important nuggets that inspired me. A key phrase related to the work of Boltanski (a wonderful artist that Ingrid recommended I look into), and has stuck with me since I found it;
“What they (clothing and photographs) have in common is that they are simultaneously presence and absence. They are both and object and a souvenir of a subject, exactly as a cadaver is both an object and a souvenir of a subject.” (Gumpert, L. 1994, p. 110)
Further research pointed towards the importance of photographs in the communication of loss and the role they play in bereavement, so I began to look at how photographs could be incorporated into my work. I looked at placing them alongside the embroidered images I had been laboriously working, and created collages of imagery. I began to feel that I was more on the right track, and early feedback indicated this was correct. During a group crit, it was suggested that the calico I had been using wasn’t enough on its own, and to effectively communicate the idea of a coat, coat-like materials should be utilised. The response I made to this crit was the piece I submitted during the Field proposal presentation, and wasn’t well received. This was initially disappointing, as I had sincerely thought myself to be on the right track. After a few cups of tea and a little time away from the work, I returned to it with new enthusiasm. The piece was a very effective demonstration of my skills and my very early research, but it was not appropriate as a final piece for Field, it did not fulfil the criteria for Field, but happily rounded off the research requirements for Subject. In this way, the piece was a positive end to the Subject module, and a necessary instigator for a better and more effective work for Field.
I am now in the final stages of making- the pieces themselves are completed- the final test will be putting it together in the show space. I have made a deconstructed silk organza jacket, that when hung all together will make a visual representation of a coat/jacket. The pieces have photographs printed on organza appliquéd onto the main fabric, the effect is something ethereal and faded. The nature of the sheer fabric has the effect that the photographs are muted, but become slightly more clear when viewed from the side. I hope that when these are seen by someone who is not familiar with the work, they will be understood to show something of the duality of presence/absence, and communicate the key themes of loss and bereavement. These pieces will be anchored by gold thread to canvasses displaying the bones collected by my mother, as if caged by the thread to denote their precious nature, but also acting as weights that prevent the garment from disintegrating or dissipating entirely. I hope the effect will be one of showing that memories of the subject of the photograph (in this instance my mother) are anchored in objects. Whether this will be successful remains to be seen, but I have had a very positive response to the work thus far, and I am cautiously optimistic and confident that this will be an appropriate and positive culmination to my degree.
My initial ideas for the show had come about as a direct extension of my research into stitch and cloth, with an end result that was perhaps not as effective as I could wish. Somehow, along the way, the idea had been somewhat lost in the execution, and the resultant example I presented to the group during our show meeting was not particularly well received. That is ok, how are we to progress without critique? That meeting marked a turning point for me, and demonstrated a key principle:
Work during research is to externalise ideas for yourself, work for display should communicate to another and allow them to internalise your ideas.
With that in mind, I began to separate out Subject and Field with an aim to treat and approach them differently. The final piece I had made for Subject was very much a culmination of research into textile and embroidery techniques, with an aim to consolidate my own knowledge. Field then should be an extrapolation of this, going beyond material research and into the provocation of a response in an audience. This shift from documentary object to communicative installation is where I hope my Field module will be successful.
My revised statement of intent is then as follows:
My submission for Field will be installationary in nature, made in response to bereavement and methods for coping with loss, namely the anchoring of memory in objects. The objects in question are bones collected on walks by my late mother, made precious by their association with her. I aim to communicate their precious nature through their presentation on box canvases anchored with gold thread, attached with the same to ethereal fragments of a garment littered with ghostly photographs printed on silk organza, that will be suspended by means of more gold thread from an overhead mesh. The assemblage will be sited in a dimly lit space, with spotlighting to highlight the piece. The visual impact will be of a barely-there garment, a metaphor for both presence and absence communicated by the use of photographs, anchored by tenuous gold threads to the solid and very tangible bone-objects, which I hope will provoke a thoughtful silence and appreciation of the themes in a viewer. Success will be measured by the impact of the installation once hung, and whether the communication of the key themes of loss, memory and the importance of objects is facilitated.
Requiring approximately a 2m by 2m floor space. To be positioned against a flat section of wall in the light controlled ‘dim’ area, with bars or mesh above extending from the wall to a distance of 2m.
1 Plinth, 15cm in height, 60cm in width, 110cm long
Spotlit from the front, lighting suspended from the mesh or bars at the centre point furthest from the wall.
I have been considering how to introduce and portray the element of ‘person’ into my work, after it became clear via feedback that my work was still too ambiguous. This is what I have been working on in response.
“Photographs are simultaneously presence and absence. They are both and object and a souvenir of a subject, exactly as a cadaver is both an object and a souvenir of a subject.”
(Gumpert 1994, 110)
I have finally concluded my dissertation, had it bound, and will be submitting it for final assessment tomorrow. I had taken the term ‘Psychocartography’ as my subject, and have thoroughly enjoyed the research reading that I’ve been doing around it. I feel that, even from the very beginning, I had a particular passion for this subject that has only intensified through the work.
I had originally set out with the intention to write an analytical piece with an accompanying artefact, but as I began to write it became clear that 6000 words wouldn’t be enough. I came to the conclusion quite early on that my plan needed to be adjusted, and so set out to complete a 10,000 word paper instead. This decision proved to be the correct one, and I was just over the word count in the end.
My argument or question was to set out Psychocartography as an area of new knowledge, and establish the contributing theories and their interplay within it, as well as to analyse the work of artists I consider to be ‘Psychocartographers’. The principal theorists examined were Debord, Merlau-Ponty, Baudrillard and Bachelard, and the artists were Neil Brownsword, Tana West and Lotte Glob. Drawing out the key principles that related to my theme was challenging but satisfying, and bringing it all together to create a cohesive whole was very pleasing. Now that it has been completed, there are of course things I would like to add, other avenues I would like to have had time and scope to explore, but these can be addressed in the future.
My original aim had been to write the essay over the summer, and indeed I started it, but I was no where near completion by the time we returned to Uni after the holidays. By the time of our first formative feedback, I only had 1,500 words. I tend to function best with an imminent deadline, the pressure seems to help! It was only after Christmas that I began to write in earnest, prior to that I had been so engrossed in reading that actually writing anything down hadn’t really occurred to me. In the last three weeks I have been tied to the desk, writing, editing, deleting, re-writing and re-editing. I found the process completely exhausting, and I’d not really be able to stop thinking about it even when I wasn’t actively working on it. I’d wake in the middle of the night and have to scribble something down that had just fallen into place in my consciousness during my slumber. I’d get up an extra hour earlier than necessary before work so I could bash out a quick sentence or two. I think the worst part particularly was the conclusion, trying to really distil the essence of the essay into one paragraph that not only synthesised the threads of thought, but also made sense. I am thoroughly relieved to not have to write another conclusion for the foreseeable future. Once I had read the final draft, I was proud of what I had achieved. I’m happy that it’s over, although I did enjoy the process as a whole, and I’m particularly happy that I pushed myself to re-edit as many times as I did, I think the work is evident within the piece and was worth the effort.
I know there are certainly things I could improve on in the future, time management being the main one. Whilst I work better with a looming deadline, it would be less stressful if I were to have things done earlier. I have learned a lot, not only about my subject, but also about how I function in academic writing, and what I need to improve on in that regard.
Constellation has been my favourite part of my degree, I feel I have learned more in this third of our course than in any other part of it, and feel I have the most to ‘show’ for it. Working on my dissertation has also made me realise how much I enjoy research and writing, and that I’d like to pursue further academic study. The research I have been doing for my dissertation has led me towards a multi-disciplinary pathway, and I believe an anthropology/archaeology/visual culture combined masters would be my preferred way forward. I have identified a couple of courses that might be appropriate, one in St Andrews (MRes in Anthropology, Art and Perception), and one in Oxford (MPhil in Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology). I will see how the remainder of my degree pans out before deciding how to proceed. I am hoping that the practical aspects of the course will be as enjoyable to complete!
I have thoroughly enjoyed my dissertation, I am thrilled that it is finished and that I’m pleased with it. I feel like it has come together really well, and I’m thankful to have had such fantastic support throughout, from both tutors and family. It has opened my eyes to alternative routes available to me, and also confirmed my interest in art and theory that addresses the poetic mapping of experience.