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By: Claire Manning
I find it difficult to talk about my practice in terms of bringing the making and research concepts together. Each time I try to pin the link down, it slips away, leaving me frustrated and feeling inadequate.
The purpose of this blog is to create a dialogue between my thoughts and an external (possibly non existent) audience to help overcome my fears.
# 12 [22 December 2012]
I feel this blog has reached its natural conclusion. It's achieved what I wanted it to - I now feel better placed to talk about my work. I think its something I'll never feel 100% comfortable about and there's always room for improvement, but at least the bare bones of a strategy are now in place!
I think the time is right to start a new blog in the New Year - one with a different focus.
Many thanks to everyone who's contributed to this discussion.
# 11 [21 December 2012]
So, where have my text experiments led?
I'm learning to trust my instincts, so I begin by flicking through magazine and newspaper articles ranging from the more well-written and serious to the sensationalised. What leaps out is material with a fashion bias, which reflects my enduring fascination with the seductive qualities of the stereotype of the feminised image in mass-media. I'm irresistibly drawn in by it whilst simultaneously being repelled - ensnared in its '...golden thread of glamour.' (1) I work as always by setting a series of rules - this time to switch gender references so female become male and so on and to change any distinguishing data such as identities and brand names.
Articles with a strong stereotypical gendered perspective give interesting results. In the most extreme cases, the switch results in 'wrongness' that is clearly distinguishable. However, other articles are more subtle producing something 'slippery' - they don't read quite right without being completely clear why. Printing the entire article seems unnecessary and over-kill. I've used the same picture format as recent collages - it replicates ratios used on 1930's film star promotional cards. I've positioned the crop to reveal the columnar roots of the original text, so part of the second column shows with truncated text leaving an incomplete meaning for the viewer to reconstruct.
I suspect the power of these lies in repetition - I see several presented together, giving sufficient clues of my intentions to the audience. Production means will be mass-media based - a poster to keep the results flexible rather than the static, fixed nature of something like a board. Scale will be large and assertive - likely 2m on the longest length - hung simply. They need to honour their graphic origins so I think colours are best left neutral. Black text on white will hover on the gallery wall, whereas the reverse makes a stronger, more forceful statement. Not sure as yet which will be best.
This is the first time I've made work that doesn't involve a representational or abstract image of something. I don't have the same relationship to them I usually do - I wouldn't want them on the walls at home - but they feel like an assertive communication that fits what I want to say and I can't wait to see how they look in a gallery setting. I realise my response to them isn't aesthetic but is positioned in the intellectual. It feels like I've made a step forward with the titling issue - no longer apologetic but assertive - appropriated in the spirit of collage from current research material
1. Stephen Fry, Inside Claridge's, BBC2, 10/12/12
# 10 [16 December 2012]
What role should text play in my work?
For Barbara Kruger, it serves as another layer of disruption accompanying other forms of disjuncture to disturb the clichéd perfection of the mass-media images she uses, transmuting them from a fantasy of perfection to something closer to Real-I lack.
W.J. T. Mitchell refers to complicity between image and text; an '...inextricable weaving together of representation and discourse, the imbrication of visual and verbal experience.' He posits that the relationship between the visible and the readable may be an infinite one; put alternatively, that word and image may be '...simply the unsatisfactory name for an unstable dialectic that constantly shifts its location in representational practices, breaking both pictorial and discursive frames and undermining the assumptions...' that underwrite '...the separation of the verbal and visual disciplines...' (1)
I think he has a point; the existence of either pure text or image is pretty much impossible. Even as I contemplate a picture, my thoughts cannot avoid conjuring associated words and phrases, as much as I may strive to suppress this. And any act of reading is accompanied by the inevitable involuntary invoking of image.
The notion words and text can be separated is a flawed assumption:
'The image you bring enters the text, and finally the text, at a given moment, ends up bringing out images; no longer a simple relationship of illustration, and this allows you to exercise your capacity to think and to ponder and to imagine, to create.' (2)
Image-text used as a deliberate act of conjuncture - a montage of disparate influences that force the viewing experience apart to enter an arena of thought, reflection, imagination and creation; it acquires a readability. Two options are possible; one where picture and words work together in a unified way to offer mutual support, or another where one hits out in opposition to the other, undermining and subverting it.
To date, I've avoided working with text - it makes me uneasy. Even naming an art work in anything approaching a meaningful way has seemed impossible. But, I already appropriate material into collage - extending this approach to find ready-made names to title each work seems a valuable direction to head. I can also see possibilities for completely text-based work - something I've never considered before - also acts of appropriation, from various mass-media sources, but where I enact a simple switch of gendering positions. Will anything interesting happen?
(1) Mitchell, W.J.T. (1994). Picture theory. London: The University of Chicago Press Ltd. p:83
(2) Didi-Huberman, Georges. (2008). Images in spite of all. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Translated by Shane B. Lillis. p:139
# 9 [9 December 2012]
Mass media sources tend to echo traditional perspectives - to maintain a position of status quo. The nuances of such perspectives may be so deeply ingrained as to be unrecognisable - part of a natural background interference - affecting the nature of our gaze in terms of the way we interpret what we see, even though are largely unaware of the effects.
But what if the tables were turned to undermine, or reverse the status quo, to give voice to positions that, generally, are never heard? What mechanisms could be used? What tone should be adopted, and what might be uttered?
Perhaps the results might be factual and to-the point - an authoritative poster or a pamphlet? They may co-opt the newspaper, or slightly chattier format of a magazine? Or would they best shout in an assertive manner through the guise of a poster or banner? They might be found lurking subtly and insidiously, buried within a seemingly innocuous piece of text?
I've not used text in my images before, apart from an on-off struggle with the titling (or Untitling) of the work. Creating a purely text-based piece is well outside my comfort zone but, even if it doesn't work, I think it may give clues as to the best way to proceed.
Nina Power film screening & talk, Afterall Film Club, Central St Martins, 6th December 2012
# 8 [9 December 2012]
Fashion images reveal the unreal - they portray a perfection that fails to exist and which resists any hint of unpleasantness. So, do they have any value at all? Seemingly trivial details of fashion - the turn of a collar, the cut of a jacket - are perhaps more revealing of the cultural environment in which they were created than they might intend, and hiatuses in fashion consistently mirror periods of change and revolution - perhaps arising from an impetus for to change, or maybe another device fuelling the momentum for change itself?
The image crops I've been using largely dispense with clothing to focus on the face, but I feel this may be a flawed decision. Montaging faces across time does produce both points of disjuncture as well as harmony, but differences in clothing are perhaps even more telling and extreme in their effects.
Sharon Kivland, lecture at Wimbledon College of Art, 7th December 2012
# 7 [20 November 2012]
Something has shifted; I've reached the realisation feminist concerns are central to my practice. It's as if pieces of the puzzle have just clicked into place finally granting me illumination - understanding that perhaps I've also been unconsciously resisting to some extent. This links partly to negative feelings I have about 1960's and 1970's feminism, which feels too strident and somewhat out of step with modern society. Perhaps it's also partly due to fear? This is a complex, overwhelming subject - how do I find an authentic voice to vocalise what I feel?
I think this may have been the main thing blocking my ability to talk about my practice.
Now I've reached this realisation, what means of resistance to use? Does an aggressive approach come to close to the masculinized perspective I wish to deny, subvert, and reject? For Mignon Nixon, not necessarily - she highlights how Barbara Kruger successfully elicits identification and refusal simultaneously with the stereotype within her work, ultimately undermining and reversing gender stereotyping. I found this quote from her that I love, talking about how Kruger creates '...large-scale displays that pulse, blast, and overwhelm the body, exceeding the limits of any frame ...' Something to aspire to. (1)
Alternative approaches must also be possible - writers such as Judith Butler allude to them, although without further research I don't understand as yet what these may look like.
(1) Nixon, M. 1992. You thrive on mistaken identity. October (60), Spring 1992. p.68:69).
# 6 [18 November 2012]
My question to self is; how far should one go to understand and explain ones work?
W.J.T. Mitchell says ‘ …prevailing tropes of differentiation between verbal and visual representation (time and space, convention and nature, the ear and the eye) do not provide a stable theoretical foundation for regulated comparative studies of words and images.’ (1)
Perhaps I’m co-opting this for my own interests to imply something the writer doesn’t, but my take is that words and images can never be meaningfully equivalent to each other due to a fundamental difference in nature. So any endeavour to shift something visual into language must fail. Pinning down information too precisely is also undesirable - there’s no fun left with no room for manoeuvre. This leaves the only valid goal as providing clues for the viewer if you desire to supplement the image and enhance the viewing experience.
How does this fit with the situation the artist-maker finds themselves in? I’m studying an MA and the structure of the course expects me to explain my work in some detail. This is a learning opportunity – I should leave the course with a better understanding of my practice than I started with. But does what’s required go too far? Or perhaps, rather, the pressure imposed is self-generated – I should learn to admit I don’t know all the answers? And perhaps this isn’t as negative as I’ve tended to view it in the past since the unresolved question offers an opportunity for debate!
I think pressures may shift in the ‘real’ world – I’m often asked for a personal statement and the awfully named ‘elevator’ pitch is useful to respond to general queries. But I suppose being asked for anything more detailed is unlikely except at interviews or presentations – and at least these are self-inflicted opportunities that can be prepared for!
(1) Mitchell, W.J.T. (1994). Picture theory. London: The University of Chicago Press Ltd. p:88
# 5 [21 October 2012]
What's in an artist statement?
I think this question is essential to answer - how can one talk effectively about one's practice without this as a basis from which to work?
An artist statement is a short piece of writing about your work, practice and wider intellectual concerns. It should act as an introduction to your practice as a whole, highlighting the common threads of ideas, motivations and process running through your work. A longer statement may go into more detail about specific works. A statement should give the reader a better understanding of where your practice and interests come from, influences on you or your work, and support them in interpreting what you do.
It recommends use of plain English and emphasises the importance of staying on topic - your practice - rather than questioning wider philosophical concepts. Consider talking about media used, processes, themes, ideas, concerns, outside influences, and explain what unites individual pieces of work into a practice.
I think the ideal statement reflects the personality of the artist, and a unique writing style is good as long as it isn't distractingly quirky.
I also find the rhythm and emotive potential of words important. For example, break has little effect on me, whereas I find fracture quite emotive, especially when used alongside words in an alliterative way, such as fragment. Punctuation can enhance the effect so, for example, an abrupt structure adds to the impact of discord within a sentence. But perhaps what affect one is a very personal experience?
I believe an effective artist statement shouldn't close down discussion - pin and fix things into position with no loose ends. Rather, its purpose should be to provide a launch point that gives the reader more information than they possessed before, but leaves room for manoeuvre for thoughts and interpretations to develop.
And if this entire topic is too boring to contemplate, there's always Charlotte Young's unique take on the artist statement - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3v8DbLWAXvU!
What do YOU think an artist statement should contain?
# 4 [9 October 2012]
Right, I've established the three words crucial to my practice, but where to go from here? One piece of past advice from tutors is to map concerns. My tendency is to over-complicate, so mapping risks submersion in too much detail. Never-the-less, I think this it's the way to go...
Interesting - after some initial complications and brain ache, this approach has worked. It's enabled me to streamline my thoughts, identify and remove duplications, and simplify connections. It's apparent now my key concerns are fewer than I thought - the gaze and the fracture. It's immediately obvious (why wasn't it before?) that the photograph is a 'red herring' - not a concern, but rather the vehicle upon which these concerns are enacted, in a similar way as selecting artists work to discuss and explore ideas. At this point, the reader may well be saying 'What'??? But, believe me, I find this realisation crucial.
So, what's the best way to document what I've found? My first attempt was to list the data hierarchically under headings, sub-headings, etc. This seemed to work fine but, when I tried to map this pictorially to reveal the relationships between elements, it quickly fell apart to reveal duplications and differing results to those I'd originally been aware of. The outcome is here...[http://clairemanning.co.uk/z_concepts_map.html]
# 3 [5 October 2012]
I'm going to shift the focus of this blog - it's due to an excellent talk given by Rosalind Davis and Annabel Tilley on Surviving as an artist. The key thing I heard was the importance of communication - of entering into a meaningful dialogue with others. College restarts next week and, yet again, I'm faced with the trauma of explaining my practice to others, something as I confessed in my last post, I HATE. But, if I can't do this, how can I ever communicate effectively as an artist? I'm going to treat this blog as if it were a dialogue with a stranger, as I suppose it actually is, and I'm going to master the matter once and for all.
Glancing back at my last two posts illustrates my dilemma - how do I bridge the space between Didi-Huberman and Dr Who? One perspective is theoretical and conceptual - perhaps closed down; discouraging dialogue with others - whilst the other is more down-to-earth, less assured and perhaps more engaging. I know they're different in nature, one posed as factual information and the other as questions, but still they sit somewhat uneasily together for me.
Rosalind and Annabel's suggested starting point is to find three words crucial to one's practice. For me, I'd have to say fracture and gaze in the photograph. Yes, I know it's more than three words, but I'm advised it's a mantra to be repeated until it becomes second nature, ready to pull out at the drop of a hat in response to the question what's your work about?
Oh, and my last free tips courtesy of Annabel and Rosalind? Make the most of the chance to communicate - have a website, use twitter, blogging is good. Ensure you link from one to the other so, for example, add an automatic signature to your emails with your website address. And always be courteous!
Useful links: http://www.zeitgeistartsprojects.com/diy-main.html
I'm interested in fracturing and the gaze in photography, and I'm currently working with photo montage and sculpture. I'm mid-way through a Fine Art Masters at Wimbledon College of Art, London and studied my BA at UCA, Canterbury. I'm also a founder member of Making Art Work in Maidstone. My non-art passion is Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats, also just outside Maidstone.