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Blogger profile: Maurice Lock
During his final year of Fine Art at Coleg Menai, Maurice fills us in on the sublime, its theatrical placing in his practice, and the use of materials as variants in finding and staging the artists answer.
Maurice has a BSc from Newcastle University and a PhD from Bangor University. After seven years as a research scientist in Canada and New Zealand working on river and lake ecosystems, he joined Bangor University in 1979, then obtained a DSc from Newcastle University in 1995 and a Readership the same year. He then spent seven years as Head of the School of Biological Sciences. After retiring in 2007 Maurice went on an Access Course to Higher Education in Art and Design. In 2008 he began his Fine Art degree at Coleg Menai (for Glyndwr University):
"My research took me to remote places around the world, including several extended periods in the Alaskan Arctic. And since coming across the ‘sublime’ in the context of the German Romantics, I find my thinking is fuelled by the ‘sublime’ sensations experienced in the remote field-sites where I have worked. In my dissertation I am exploring the nature of the sublime, including the associated emotional psychology. In the studio, I am aspiring to represent sublimity in a variety of ways and I am currently exploring the transformative powers of fog."
Richard Taylor: What knowledge and expertise do you feel you bring to 'learning' how to be an artist at University, or do you feel that to be an artist is, for you, to start from scratch?
Maurice Lock: By the end of the first year it was clear that art has thinking at its core and on pondering this now, Jacob Bronowski's explanation of the workings of science and art came to mind. I cannot recall the quote exactly, but he posited that a scientist first imagines how something works and then attempts to falsify that explanation by experiment and if it is not falsified (to the satisfaction of the science community) then that explanation stands until challenged. In turn, the artist imagines something which explains or presents a new view of behaviour, events, phenomena etc. and then translates that into a work whose validity is judged by the art community. The only difference being that the artist does not attempt to falsify the work, except as part of the editing process during the making of a work.
I find my background in scientific research has served me in 'learning' how to be an artist, it provided me with a familiar way of working, the original act of imagination being the same in both spheres, while the translation into a work was equivalent, in a way, to the experimental stage of the scientific process, which also involves 'making'. The biggest challenge was the rate at which it was necessary to be creative. In science, after the creation of a hypothesis, the experiment and its subsequent evaluation stage may consume one or two years or more, whereas on a Fine Art degree, you may need to be creative on a cycle of weeks or days at times...this was very different and physically hard to get used to.
RT: I recall when I studied my undergraduate course at Leeds University, attaching a medium to my work became something of a variable in testing the ideas I had and their viability in terms of presenting what I wanted to present. Your blog very intricately explains the working process of your films and the way you plan to present them. How do you approach media in your work, are such choices more like apparatus to test and explore your ideas?
ML: Yes, the choice of medium is driven by the intent and needs of the piece. My default position has tended towards the use of time-based images in combination with objects, but I also enjoy using sound and light in the same way. For example in the latter, this came from my experience in stage lighting where I had often marvelled at the intense colour effects that can be produced when illuminating pigments with their corresponding light wavelengths and I used this approach to explore the representation of a void. In a more light-hearted way I used a stereo sound-field to create the sound of a person sloshing through water from right to left, in a horizontal system of pipes attached to the wall, through which you could 'hear water trickling'. I am planning to re-visit the light/object combination in 2012, as a chance meeting with a local scenic manufacturer resulted in the acquisition of some supersaturated, matt scenery paint.
RT: Matt scenery paint - that sounds interesting! Do you see your artwork almost as a stage production? If so, how do you consider the viewer of the work as an audience or a participant in the work?
ML: I hadn't thought of the theatre aspect before, but as a child I used to make stage-sets which I lit with torches covered with coloured Quality Street cellophane wrappers, maybe there is some history at work here. The conscious reason for choosing the matt scenery paint was to minimise reflected light from the paint medium and to maximise reflected light from the pigment, with the resultant pigment 'glow'. I am trying to eliminate the light-flare you get with paints that have any glossiness which detracts from the overall non-directional pigment glow I am seeking to create. With regard to the viewer, until now I have always considered them as an audience and this is the intention with this piece, but in a planned work exploring the ruckenfigur(en) used by Caspar David Friedrich, it is my intention to involve the viewer.
RT: Could you explain the ruckenfiguren perhaps, and the differences you see between 'audience' and 'viewer'? Viewer to me spells something singular instead of a work that is perhaps constructed to affect a collection of people or an audience...
ML: The ruckenfigur(en) are the figure or figures incorporated into Friedrich's paintings who are facing away from the viewer and are experiencing the content of the painting. I read it as a device to amplify the experience of the work, where the viewer can 'place themselves in the position' of the ruckenfigur(en). I guess my use of the word 'viewer' is synonomous with audience, inasmuch that I tend to think of a work being viewed by just one to a few people at any one time. However, I am intrigued by the concept of the ruckenfigur(en) and wonder if I can enhance the effect by actually incorporating the viewer(audience) into the work.
RT: You seem to use historical artists' work - and I say this in terms of how scientists attempt to falsify the work of previous scientists - as a testing ground to hypothesise your own constructs and ideas. This would also apply to the apparent theatrical aspects of your work, where stage scripts and stories are re-worked and re-told to contemporary audiences. What are your thoughts on this?
ML: The interest in the re-interpretation of other artists work emerged in my second year after a module based upon a transcription. I chose Friedrich's Monk by the sea and became so involved in it that I went to see the painting in Berlin...a fantastic experience. The resultant work was a video where I sought to evoke the feel of the painting but to take the story on. So I suppose I am re-imagining the perceived original idea and testing it in another way in an analagous fashion to the scientific process. My interest in the sublime was consolidated in that work and the sublime is now a core driver to all my work...what it is and how to represent it. Triggers of the sublime were well explored by the philosopher Edmund Burke in the 18thC, but the fashioning of such triggers through an art object is for me, the stuff of art. It is most exciting to attempt to evoke the feeling of the sublime, being one of the strongest emotions we experience. And to elicit that emotion is akin to the scientific process of conceiving an idea then testing it as a maker and then finally by the viewer.
My involvement with theatre is much simpler and is currently restricted to the making of a visual story to accompany a piece of music composed by Warren Greveson about the Voyager Programme (NASA), which is being premiered at Beaumaris Festival in June 2012. The visual story is an interpretation of Warren's thoughts as he conceived the piece, along with my own responses to that.
RT: Your work takes you beyond academic structure and timetables, through events and other projects, yet your practice relies on academic language and research. Do you see blogging as a way of weaving these strands together?
ML: Blogging was completely new to me and was entered into with some trepidation. However, it rapidly became part of my way of working, serving to clarify my own thinking (there is nothing like 'committing to words' to make you check you are making some sense), document my work and of course share it with others.
To answer your question, I do think blogging has been and increasingly will be a useful vehicle to bring together what I am doing in this final year. It provides a forum to crystallise the strands and archive the working process, while hopefully being of interest to people. Furthermore, by linking the a-n Degrees unedited blog to my website, I also have an efficient way of refreshing that site on a regular basis.
Maurice has had three exhibitions: 'residues and reflections' at Caban Cyf, Brynrefail (2009-2010), ‘pump 5’ at Galeri, Caernarfon (2010) and 'air and water' at Caban Cyf (2010). He continues his blog on Degrees unedited here »
First published: a-n.co.uk January 2012
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