Summer Seminar Record, Reflections and Analysis

Mid-way assessment exhibition images and reflections.

Pond Life

Installation

glass, acrylic sheets, photographic images, feathers, mirrors, lights

This installation has evolved out of my ongoing search for a new (to me) contemporary means of mediating ideas within the still life tradition; one that is able to include both object and image. I have attempted to combine and re-present recognizable objects and images to act as catalyst for new and open-ended meanings. Found materials and objects are grouped in synchronicity and contradistinction with one another, enabling any number of potential discourses. The use of light, as a transformative and yet intangible medium, stages encounters with objects and provides another layer of imagery. The ideas behind this work are driven by my interest in cultural formation, the poverty of representation, perception and desire.

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Throughout 2014 my practice has been based in photography. Both photo-montaging and in studio still life photography. The decision to move into working three dimensionally rather than through the medium of photography came about from my thinking and speculating about how could I work within the tradition of still life in a new (for me) and interesting way, along with a niggling desire to push out into working spatially as I had during 2013. In previous work in 2013 I enjoyed working spatially although this installation work I made in studio and then cited within the space. So in that sense it was perhaps an installation of sculpture rather than installation work. Recently I have discovered that installation work, created within and responding to the space it is cited in, is quite a different thing altogether!

Following September seminar 2014 I embarked on a number of lines of inquiry into representing my interests through still life photography. The majority of these were unsuccessful. On reflection, unsuccessful because I didn’t have the necessary knowledge of the medium. For example, the use of backdrops and lighting, that would enable me to form the images I was trying to create with the materials that I was using.

I was having some success with the work I was making using cutouts on a black paper backdrop. But this, for me, was seeming too conventional in the way it would find form when exhibited (framed prints on the wall). I experimented by changing the setup and the components within the frame and experimented with lighting, but still was not satisfied with the results. So in consultation with my supervisors I made a decision to create an installation that would sit somewhere between photography and installation. The idea was to bring elements of my studio into the assessment space, to set up arrangements within the space that were propositions for photographs, that together formed an installation. So in this sense the photography studio became the work. The means of mediating this kind of set up would be to stage it as such, and improvise in order to respond to the space with the materials I had from my studio. Also to improvise with materials used as supports in order to support the ‘staged’ nature of the work. In this work the viewer would become the photographer. These were the ideas and propositions for the work before I commenced making it within the studio space at St Georges Bay Road.

Having not worked like this before, this work was both challenging and exciting for me and required a kind of ‘leap of faith’. My fall-back position would be the photographic work, if it all ‘turned to custard’.

I found the process of developing the installation work over a period of three weeks, a steep learning curve and some exciting discoveries were made along the way. I started by testing out glass in the light and dark spaces, without a studio light, and then with one. I placed and moved objects and materials around within the space, trying to be attentive to what was happening to them in relation to other objects, materials, space and distance and the architecture in view outside the space. I brought in some materials i.e. shelves and still life objects, that I didn’t end up using at all. Through this process of experimentation I was making discoveries of how materials, objects, images and light interact with one another. Also, how the objects and images affected one another within a space, changing the feeling quality and the reading of them i.e. from image to object, sharpening or dulling each other by their presence or not, creating tension and dynamic between elements. The space could be flat, dead, still or activated through placement of objects. New readings and resonances could come into play through shifting the placement and thus the relationship between one thing and another. Height and distance, space and surface were all factors to consider. Editing decisions were made as I considered each element in relation to one another, and all of the elements in relation to the space. New materials were added as it became apparent that that something else was needed. Every change was speculation and testing and reflection and thinking as the installation took shape. For example the mound of feathers as a contradistinction to the round mirrored top of broken glass. This obviously relating to the birds. One sharp, brittle and dangerous. The other safe, soft and inviting. My supervisors Tanya and Julie assisted me in places with the work helping me to refine it teaching me how to see what was happening as it was happening and during the editing. This was immensely helpful because in beginning to learn a new way to work, a new set of spacial and perceptive skills are required. I felt as though I had stepped from being in front of one of my painting’s or photograhps into this inside place, a three dimensional space, an uncanny experience to begin with.

On completion of the work I found these elements (the opposites) to be compelling, and ideas to take forward, along with the shift of perception mediated by placing the acrylic on the floor and the painted shadow/reflection. Anders commented on the Owl – how it had no feathers and there was a pile of feathers – this was interesting to him. I realised this was another feature in the work, that I had wanted, but not tried to achieve it just happened in the process of making and I hadn’t noticed it. I was thinking about the poverty of representation and the counterfeit, how ideas are presented to us in and through our culture that act as ‘truths’. One example is the notion of romantic love as portrayed in popular culture. But does it really deliver what the movies or TV shows or advertising promise? Those of us who have been around the block for a few years – a mortgage, children, broken relationships – know that it is naive and a ‘chimera’ – a counterfeit version of the good life that will ultimately lead to disillusionment. Can a dozen red roses really convey all that love is for a person? No of course not! It is a counterfeit, a poverty of representation, and can at worst become nothing more than an insincere gesture. Yet somehow this myth is rooted in our culture despite the fact that we all know it is just ‘in the movies’. It isn’t real yet we hold tight to the possibility of something? Why? I think part of the reason for this is because we are desiring beings, we are people designed for passion, we are lovers! and our desires shape what we love. Advertisers have figured this out so they try to shape our desire for us. For example, advertising seeks to subtely manipulate us to love what it tells us what will provide fulfilment, meaning and purpose by first showing us what our ‘problems’ are and then providing the solutions to our ‘problems’ whether they are white teeth, acne skin, the need to be sexy, or powerful, etc. In the photographic works I am attempting to ‘pick at the side of the scab’ of this ‘truth’ embedded in our culture. It is interesting to me how this notion of loss, the counterfeit, something not right or separated from what it is, has come through in the association between the owl and feathers even though I didn’t intentionally try to do that.

Back to the installation;
Specific breakthrough moments occurred when I saw how reflective surfaces and mirror surfaces could create illusion and a shift of perception, prompting questions like, what am I looking at? and what is real? Reflective surfaces provided depth perception and reflection of the viewer of themselves in the space. For example, the white acrylic sheet, when placed on the ground, suddenly evoked the idea of narcissist’s pond. Then by throwing on a cut out photo of a bird, it becomes an abyss. A reversal of orientation from the usual and the expected of looking up at birds flying to looking down on them as though one was above. Then by painting a glossy white paint over the light reflected by the studio light in the corner, off of the white acrylic onto the wall another surface was created, also another illusion. When I stood back and looked, I saw how the light coming into the space from the outside interacted with the architecture and entered the space forming a triangular shape, the ‘real’ light in that sense. Whereas the light I painted on the wall (also a kind of triangular shape, mirroring, yet at a 90 degree angle to the other) was fake or a representation of light, yet when viewed from a distance it looked real, requiring closer inspection to discern the difference between them. These were exactly the kinds of nuances I had been trying to achieve through photography yet had not been able to capture them or only glimpses of. These discoveries and others were unexpected and shifted the way I viewed what the work could do and what the work actually was!. I haven’t fully come to terms with this. Only that I am quite astounded about what can happen when I start to work with no fixed outcome in mind, (or fairly open and loose parameters)using what I have around me and allow myself to have just fun and try things! Whether the work is any good or not there will be content and if I think and reflect on what is there I will learn from it.

Other discoveries over the course of the seminar have come from Anders teaching about materials and how they hold agency within themselves, in site and in place and how materials can be both at the same time local and global connecting artists practices around the world. I think what has happened is that the parameters I started out with for the work are still present (staging the photography studio) but as the work developed through the making, many more nuances and layers emerged able to be read, that I held in my thinking, but hadn’t consciously anticipated being present. My ability to think and reflect as I make is a developing skill, one I feel is stronger than it has been in the past, but still needs to develop further and I’m sure will do, over the course of this year. In the case of this work, Pond Life some of the insights or secrets of the work have been revealed to me by others. I think I have made a big leap forward in the making of this work that is significant to the way I will approach my work in the future.

The Light Show at Auckland Art Gallery provided another rich source for me of deeper understanding and reminder about how the intangible can hold potent agency, just as much as image or object perhaps even more so?. That content can be carried and conveyed in many different forms, some will do it more eloquently and subtlety than others. That content WILL be there in the work even if I try a light touch, even if I don’t start with an expected outcome in mind, even if I just use what I have around me or even light or air!. In order to bring my practice to a new level of sophistication I think the following are the windows that have opened up to me to pursue:

– further thought and reflection on what I have achieved in Pond Life),
– starting to create without a defined or planned outcome,
– sharper thinking and reflecting as I make,
– thoughtfulness about materials,
– greater understanding of what constitutes agency in the work,
– use of the intangible,
– research of recommended artists;
– By Noel’s encouragement making and reading!

Open windows, Fresh air!

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