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By: Caroline Shadbolt
BA (Hons) Fine Art
# 1 [2 August 2012]
The next few days will be spent getting ready for my first solo exhibition at Milton Keynes. I put in two proposals which were both liked, with a slight preference for one of them. I would really like to know what swung the balance because the two proposals represent differing branches of my work.
This year I have made abstract forms and drawings relating to the body. These were inspired by the material being used, that being foam and duct tape as well as protruding wooden armatures. I have also made work relating to geometric and architectural forms using ceramic tiles and roofing felt. As it turns out, the exhibition will be based on the latter which just about helps me make the decision about where I am going this coming year. I always knew that I would have to make a decision sometime.
I'm putting in some existing work and some that I have made over the past few weeks. The proposal had to be based on a theme so I have chosen to focus on materials and shapes which relate to waterproofing. The work references industrial architecture as well as looking at cones incorporated into sculpture and into paper as drawings. I have used bolts as one of my favourite fixing methods for the largest installation which will consist of multiple roofing felt objects that look like cup cake cases.
Now I have to concentrate on wrapping everything up for its journey. The drawings will be especially difficult because they have cones sticking out of the paper.
# 2 [15 August 2012]
My first solo exhibition at Milton Keynes just finished and now I have time to reflect on whether it was sucessful and what I got out of the whole process.
The experience of setting up was difficult. This was because I brought a lot of work in the van and wasn't sure what I would exhibit until I got into the space. If I had already graduated and gone through the experience of the degree show I would have been in a better position to make choices. As it was I had to guess without a second opinion. I think it looked alright but slightly overcrowded.
The preview was attendend by a few people but not as many as I had hoped or had invited. I think this was due to two reasons. First because it is August and everyone is on holiday and second because Milton Keynes is a long way for most people to come. I got some good feed back, with people especially liking the different textures of the materials, those being roofing felt, steel, paper, gloss paint and ceramic tiles. I also had two offers to buy a couple of the drawings that were based on cones.
I now have to take the work forward into the final year. The process of doing the exhibition has been useful in resolving the main question of which direction to take in the next few months and I was able to have some discussion about this. It seems that the drawing element was what favoured my proposal ( I submitted two) along with the more unusual theme of materials and structures that dispel water. Drawing is very central to how I think about inventing new objects. I like drawing because the outcome is often surprising and it is these surprises that inspire three dimensional experiments.
The problem is that although I am about to go into the final year I still feel that I need to experiment. I do not yet have a vision for a final work. All I can do is keep working as I normally do and hope that some good stuff will emerge.
# 3 [26 August 2012]
I need to think about where the line is between craft and art. This has been prompted after a discussion with my tutor.
There is an enjoyment and a compulsion in the act of making things which could be described as craftmanship. Some objects are highly crafted like the work of Richard Deacon and others objects are sucessful with very little craftsmanship. Even painting has an element of craft. Somewhere in the making process the work crosses the line into becoming art.
The difficulty is being able to recognise and then understand what has been created. I think this happens a good while after the event. In order to understand the process a bit better I spent the whole day drawing man-made and natural objects in the Pitt Rivers Museum and the University Museum in Oxford. I needed to re-focus on forms that are not art objects in order to refresh. Everything I drew was functional. I then went to the Ashmolean to see objects created for a different, more artistic purpose.
Then I went back to reading The Language of Sculpture by William Tucker where he talks about Duchamp's Bottle Rack. It is a crafted, functional object which cannot now be recognised as anything except sculpture, especially in the formal terms of structure, composition, and material. It is a question of recognising it as sculpture and not anything else. This leads me to ask whether there has to be a conscious attempt to make an object as sculpture.
# 4 [10 September 2012]
I think our relationship to the world is tied to our relationship with objects. We are surrounded by things we make, modify and throw away in a continuous cycle. The form of these objects depends on their function, and function is always in a state of continuous evolution.
I have been reading Origins of Form by Christopher Williams to give insight into some of the natural and man-made forms that I have been drawing. He asks whether there can ever be a perfect form that matches function. He concludes that there never can be, hence the continuous reinvention that we see all around us both in nature and in industrial objects. Some forms are more successful because they have a greater economy of design and others hardly survive for any length of time at all.
A sculptor can make a perfect form because there is no function. The form cannot be criticised in terms of its efficacy, nor its craftsmanship. But the materials used have to be doing something that they were never intended to do and the object produced has to have crossed the line from a formless, meaningless mass into something that means art.
As a result of reading this really good book I now want to start thinking about species of forms and peaks of development with relation to sculpture.
# 5 [18 September 2012]
I went to see Thomas Heatherwick’s exhibition at the V & A because I wanted to continue my investigation into form and function and the boundaries between art and craft. I had recently read Tony Cragg’s essay on material. I expected that Heatherwick would have something interesting to say about materials. I thought I would also find out about how he uses ‘process’.
His functional designs are developed through the process of making. He takes simple geometric form and submits it to repetition and change of scale and pushes materials by cutting, folding or stacking. He looks at how material behaves under different conditions and produces what he calls ‘test pieces’. For example, in his Christmas card series, postage stamps are stuck together along their perforated edges to form a 3D object similar to a tree decoration. In another piece he tests very long zips, obtained on a roll, to make an un-zippable form which has been developed into an expanding handbag.
He talks about a ‘purposeful aimlessness’ in his approach to making. Through experimentation he gains more insight into the possibilities of the materials he is using. The creative process relies on choices being made at decision points. These decision points become apparent during testing rather than being set in a pre-determined design. An action or a single moment can then be the creative potential needed to produce the emerging forms.
Heatherwick is making functional architecture and other utilitarian constructions that involve craftsmanship. However, it his method of purposeful aimlessness that can be carried over into making sculpture.
# 6 [5 October 2012]
I spent some time drawing axe heads in the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford and then found an interesting essay by Herbert Read in The Origins of Form in Art. He talks about early human artefacts such as these passing through three stages of evolution towards the creation of art. First, the conception of the object as a tool. Second, the making and refinement of the tool to a point of maximum efficiency. Third, the refinement of the tool beyond the point of maximum efficiency towards a conception of form-in-itself, i.e. aesthetic form. Axe heads started to respond to a spiritual need.
This interests me because I am still thinking about the development of form. I like the idea that form hits peaks or troughs of efficiency during the course of its evolution and how much chance plays its part. I also like the idea that objects exist as a variation on a theme and that they have lineage. I’m thinking of natural or utilitarian objects such as boats, hammers, snail shells, etc. where there are many variations in design. The results are modified by material and structure.
I try to think about this system of selection and development in order to make the ultimate refinement to whatever I am working on. Thinking in this way helped me to rationalise my latest studio work proposal and form the basis for the objects that I intend to make in the next few weeks.
# 7 [19 October 2012]
This week I have been working with a large quantity of cardboard tubes obtained from carpet retailers. The plan is to make some objects that will resemble manufactured items, or items which have some familiarity. The work has gone slowly because I have had to have help in the workshops to slice the sections at predetermined angles. I am combining the tubes variously with bolts or with galvanised steel. Some of the tubes have colour printed lines and shreds of paper stuck on them, which I like and will preserve.
My studio space is now filled with constructions so I have had to make some drawings at home. These have followed two directions of interest. First, some three dimensional paper structures combined with graphite coated elements and rivets. Second, using spray paint through grid structures onto paper which are then superimposed by drawn objects. I have also made some drawings that explore layers of different materials over illusory spheres.
Do the sculptures and drawings relate to each other? The approach to using material is similar in each case. There is a crossover use of metal fastenings and also a contrast of two materials that suggest opposites. Both are involved in the unintended invention of nearly familiar objects.
# 8 [5 November 2012]
Following on from our presentations to students and staff this week, I have realised how important it is to keep my work consistent with my statement. It is easy to stray away from the essential concept of one’s work.
With this in mind I have had to re-evaluate some aspects of what I am doing. I keep in mind my interest in how objects can evolve through the process of making and how craft skills may be related to this. I am also interested in how a non functioning object is either developed or seen as art. This notion is closely linked to my interest in utilitarian objects and structures and the creation of form.
Some of the objects I made from cardboard tubes earlier this month were not working. However I have subsequently made one from paper and wire that almost looks like an everyday object. This is what I am aiming for. I am now casting cement from cardboard tubes and attaching metal elements to make something that is almost familiar. This partly extends my paper objects which include graphite and metal rivets and reflects my interest in some of the crafted objects that I have been studying in Oxford’s museums.
I try to keep a constant dialogue going between my sculpture and drawing because it helps to extend my ideas. I feel that recently my drawing has veered away from my concept and that I need to bring it back into line so that it is consistent with the objects that I am making. It must not be illustrative but must explore the invention of new objects and hopefully inform the crafting process. This could take the form of a diagram.
With little time left on my course I am aware that it is necessary to focus intently on a specific enquiry and not get distracted by other possibilities.
# 9 [17 November 2012]
Following on from a very informative tutorial with our visiting tutor I have been re-evaluating what I am trying to do. She suggested that some of my work is unresolved and this has made me realise that I have not been thinking about the materials I am using in a productive way.
In particular, I have cast concrete using cardboard yarn cones as the formers without giving enough thought as to what the cones are used for. For example, yarn is wound onto them by machinery and the yarn is soft and coloured. I realised that I had not questioned my use of concrete or the copper which I had included in the piece. The tutor suggested that by extending my investigation of the cones other work would evolve.
In essence I need to start thinking about what a material or object is used for because that will help me to know what I can do with it. This sounds obvious but until now I have been too hasty in inventing new work without developing what I have already made. I need to look back at good work and investigate its potential.
The connection of yarn cones with my grid drawings is interesting because I have been spraying paint through punched cards which were originally used to programme textile looms. The result is a kind of photographic image which I have further developed by spraying through old plastic netting and other woven or grid materials. By highlighting elements within the resulting pattern I have been able to achieve depth within the drawings.
The punched cards suggest that I can make my own cards with their own ‘code’. They could be coated with shellac, similar to the originals, and then be used to make prints or left as objects in their own right.
Cones can be further developed by casting with something other than concrete and incorporating the yarn within the material. Metal elements can be introduced as a way of association with the machinery that winds the yarn onto the cones.
# 10 [5 December 2012]
I have recently made more of the sort of drawings that initially interested me when I started sculpture. I also want to talk about my recent assessment and about how question rather than suggestion is more helpful in pushing work forward.
I showed some drawings that I subsequently decided I didn’t like. They seemed to be all about surface. Tony Cragg said that drawing should be about the ‘avoidance of the expert, the articulate, the known and the humourless’. With this in mind I have been studying objects by drawing them. I feel that what I have produced is more genuine because it relates to the study of form which, in turn, propels the imagination of possibilities. The process is one of tentative exploration.
I have also been taking inspiration from an essay by Rungwe Kingdon on sculptors’ drawings and about how drawings can ‘vary enormously from their three-dimensional work’. This was interesting as I had been concerned that my drawing was not related visually to my sculpture. A good example of this is the work of Bryan Kneale whose anatomical drawings ‘look’ very unlike his sculpture. While drawing he is studying form that exists due to function, and this has to be of great interest to a sculptor. Knowledge learnt through studying form can provide the basis for a wide range of interpretation.
During a recent tutorial a number of suggestions were made. Later I realised that if I followed them through the work would not be truly mine. Advice that I gained from my assessment was that everyone would have different questions and answers in response to my work and that I should question their answers. When the work is answering to my questions and my answers then ownership will be indisputable.
I think my work in the near future should try to more demonstrably describe the search process rather than show a superficial surface.
I'm going into year 5 of my part-time degree next semester.
My work uses sculpture and drawing to explore the possibilities of materials within abstract design. I hope that by wiriting a blog this year I will be able to consolidate and practise articulating the thought processes that produce the work.