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By: Trevor Smith
Fine Art BA
Media, where anything goes.
# 18 [6 July 2012]
Long time since I posted...
Firstly, thanks to Degrees Unedited, a-n mag and Richard Taylor for rewarding my blogging efforts with a runners-up prize in the bloggers awards - I was surprised but very happy when the box of goodies turned up at my local post office a few weeks ago (probably more like six weeks). I had been unable to collect the delivery at home as I was otherwise engaged - after a month of preparing for assessment (and still not really knowing what I would show) I woke on the morning of the 20th of May to the sounds of my wife going into labour - sparing any further detail I now have a six week old son and a BA (Hons) Fine Art from Bath Spa.
I had been scoring firsts all the way through the course, but somehow knew I had fallen short of the marking criteria at the very end. No matter, as any artist knows, it's not the grade you get in your degree that matters most; it's what you do next.
So to my 'next'...
Aside from changing nappies, waking up at all kinds of unheard of hours, and trying to convince myself that my part-time van-driving job is only for as long as needs must, my intentions are to continue to work as an artist, but to place more emphasis now on writing. So I will be moving over to artists talking, where I will blog about shows and sustaining a practice in a post-degree world while sharing in the responsibility for another human life and trying to write legibly on five hours of broken sleep.
I have shows coming up in Bristol - with The Diving School and Paper Studios, as well as a part in Meanwhile ptII, an offsite show curated by the Hansard Gallery in Southampton. My tutor told me I could apply for mitigating circumstances, what with the baby, and resubmit later in the summer and go for the first that I missed by 2.5%, but is there really any need?
With these shows, plus a writing job for a new magazine (Bristol-based 'Paper' - 1st issue Sept 2012), membership of Madescapes, a collective of recent graduates currently showing in the Bristol area and London, and the confidence in my own work that built towards the end of the year, I think I've got enough out of my degree. In fact, I've got more than I could have hoped for out of the university experience - I know I'd have squandered it, had I gone ten years ago - and the future looks promising, so watch this space!
# 17 [25 April 2012]
#alwayson is a series of text pieces by Trevor H Smith, this being the third.
"I'm not documenting my life, I'm documenting a life."
"A good portion of people within Western culture at least, would still firmly identify with statements such as 'I am who I am', 'I was born the way I am', or that there is a 'real me'...So ingrained in us are the fundamental assumptions of personhood that to challenge them often seems threatening or insulting"
As long as it looks like I'm trying to find myself, through methods of performance and construction, then I am the embodiment of authenticity.
I tried private introspection and found nothing. I find my truth in conspicuous introspection: in public forums where I can speculate wildly, and allow my readers to tell me which of my generalisations applies to me.
This is not about my impression of life, or how it should be lived, it's about how I want others to react to what appears to be my life. I'm in a room with everyone I know, and everyone is talking, but the only voice that matters is mine. Online I present myself with honour and integrity; I stand up for the beliefs I ought to stand up for; I advocate the moral code that we all want to adopt.
"Rather than portraying a decentred, fragmented, disembodied self, personal homepages are actually attempts at identity integration by demonstrating to others what is important to the individual"
"For those enticed and seduced by the new individualism, the danger of self-reinvention is a form of change so rapid and so complete that identity becomes disposable. Instead of finding ourselves, we lose ourselves."
If he takes a wrong turn he can delete himself and start again; try something different. He has infinite lives here; and can start afresh from an infinite number of saved locations.
"I hover overhead, looking over my own shoulder, watching my life in real-time. Processing my experience as I live it, I filter out all but the very best moments. I mine the essence of my selfhood, and present a working playlist of nothing but hits."
He knows that when his images enter reality, they take on their own meaning, and in themselves become reality.
I needed to up my game. My friends were beginning to look better - more real - than I did. I realised I was no longer in competition with them, but that I was now competing with their image.
AS REAL IS REAL
 Vincent Miller, Understanding Digital Culture, Sage, 2011, p160
 Vincent Miller, Understanding Digital Culture, Sage, 2011, p166
 Anthony Elliott, Concepts of the Self, Polity, 2008, p160
# 16 [20 April 2012]
#alwayson is a series of text pieces by Trevor H Smith, this being the second.
"forget where you are, life is about where you were."
"just as we impart meaning to events by telling them to ourselves and to others, so we are constantly imparting cohesiveness and coherence to our lives by enacting a life story in our actions. Seen from this standpoint, we are not just tellers of a story, nor are we something told. We are a telling."
This is as close as she gets to her idea of heaven.
She feels more real, more truthful, more conscious.
She feels sociable to the point of gregariousness.
She feels authentic.
"Snap a photo with your iPhone, then choose a filter to transform the look and feel of the shot into a memory"
With the 'Shortcut to nostalgia' filter, users can take a photograph and immediately reminisce about how great it was when they took the photograph.
She is better looking here; everyone is. Why would anyone take a photograph of themselves that showed anything but their best side? She is still young, but she feels younger in these photographs than she has ever felt, she looks younger and more attractive than she does in the last of those analogue photographs that were taken a decade ago.
Everything is filtered.
Back then, you jumped when the needle skipped the groove or the tape deck chewed your cassette, now we're falling over ourselves to download the latest filter that replicates the failures of an outdated technology. Reality is no longer grey; it is filtered; over-saturated, and everything seems so much more real now.
She would never dream of publishing an image before filtering; filters help capture the mood of the moment in a much easier way than say, waiting for the right light. There's even a filter called 1977 - the year she was born.
The technological error, formerly denied by the manufacturer, becomes something else, as it finally emerges as part of the established language of popular culture and is commoditised, leading to a glitch-based fashion style which is reproducible, standardised and automated by software.
By absorbing Glitch into its own language, the socio-economic system renders impotent the power of glitch to critique contemporary consumer culture.
"It is no longer a break from a flow within a technology, but instead a form of craft. For many critical artists, it is considered no longer a glitch, but a filter that consists of a preset and/or default: what was once a glitch is now a new commodity."
Glitches and filters nonetheless continue to redefine our expectations of the digital medium.
She is funnier, more considerate towards her friends, and more helpful than she ever was.
She is a better person.
"While an inner self may be present, it can never be entirely known to the individual, and so, through narrated living, the individual creates, as much as discovers, the self."
I used to pretend to be someone I wasn't, that's not a bad thing though - I was pretending to be the kind of person I aspired to be. But here I really am the person that I always wanted to be; that I knew I was. Here I am a project; a story I'm telling as I write it.
Look at my profile and you will find the real me.
"you can effortlessly share anything. You can customize everything."
Originality is over-rated. I mostly use found imagery from other people's pages. Their images sum me up in ways that I never could. My homepage tells visitors, instantly and precisely, exactly who I am.
"It's a fast, beautiful and fun way to share your photos with friends and family."
Instant nostalgia helps her hurry through the present into the future: where she can share images and revel in how great things were.
The 'Return to pain' filter projects the user from the present moment into a future time where they are able to reminisce about the present moment as if it were a cherished memory.
By replicating a malfunction, this filter allows you to prepare today's experiences for their inevitable transition into memories.
Her memories keep her youthful. If they go then everything is lost.
Her idea of heaven is the memory of being locked in an eternal first kiss.
 Charles Guignon, On Being Authentic, Routledge, 2004, p127
 Menkman, R 'The Glitch Moment(um)', INK, Amsterdam, (2011) p55
# 15 [20 April 2012]
#alwayson is a series of short text pieces by Trevor H Smith, this being the first.
"One day I'm going to build my own house, and it will look like a ruined castle."
"web 2.0", (has) propelled millions of people around the world to willingly share personal information without any means of controlling who received it or how it will be used."
"Equally remarkable has been the willingness demonstrated by millions of us to document and reveal our own behaviour and the behaviour of others, in personal photos and video clips posted in blogs and online diaries."
He grew up during 2.0, and has' come of age alongside the emergence of web 3.0. To User3bn, the concept of 'online' is a thing of the past, from his childhood. Now a man, he is always on; at arm's reach to a thousand friends, relatives and acquaintances. He is not yet old enough to pre-emptively mourn the passing of 3.0, as it gives way to web 4, 5 and 6.0: a time when search engines react to conversationally structured questions, spoken directly to the web, and when screens are as flexible as newsprint; a time when the web itself is everyone's 1001st friend. He has considered such technology, but assumes it will happen in a matter of years, rather than decades.
Online IS offline, the two have merged, and while his parent's generation - a generation that recalls a time when the internet was 'fast approaching' - has learned how the great technological leap of their lifetime has improved their daily lives, and they have absorbed it with ease, User3bn's generation was born into, and consequently absorbed by it.
He uploads photographs from his daily life to his news feed - his friends tell him how to feel about the things he has posted, and he returns the favour later on, when they upload their own daily images. He never edits - everything goes into the album, including shots decapitating the sitter, blurred motion shots, and shots containing more thumb than object of image. Still his friends congregate around them, and the out of focus thumb that covers 70% of the image becomes a thing in itself, and is tagged into a folder celebrating everyone else's thumbshots. No-one ever rotates their images before or after uploading them, most of us are viewing them on hand-held devices anyway.
He can sum up how he feels in two or three words. 'Who needs 140 characters when you've got the hash-tag'. And he never asks the question 'why publish this?' more likely he would ask 'why not publish this?'
Without apps, certain aspects of self-definition and collective definition of his culture would be impossible. Apps allow him to instantly reproduce, represent and manipulate that culture, narrating all the while with tags and categories. Today his top three clips are; 'I love mew' in which a cat appears to say 'I love you' to its owner; 'Brutal but still lolled' in which a middle-eastern man is flogged in the street for reasons undisclosed in the clip; and, 'Tulisa sex tape is real', which is fairly self-descriptive.
 Judith O Richards & Benjamin Weil, 'The New Normal', iCI, 2008, p9
 Judith O Richards & Benjamin Weil, 'The New Normal', iCI, 2008, 'Foreword', p1
# 14 [20 March 2012]
Some Work (2012)
Some projects never make it out of the studio. Perhaps they are under-developed and abandoned before they get the chance to become work. Other projects are over-developed, banged out of shape by an over-thinking that scares us out of showing them to the world. Some work is a joke.
Some work (2012) is a joke.
We were summoned to a year-group meeting, in which the head of third year presented us with a slide show on what the final few months of our degree had in store. This included much timetable information, and a couple of opportunities for exhibiting work in the run-up to the degree show. He also explained (for the umpteenth time) the marking criteria, and how much of a portion the studio module would constitute, in relation to the overall degree score.
The big screen paused on the marking criteria, and what a student would need to provide in order to achieve such unreachable grades as 90-99 and 85-89 (Outstanding and Exceptional Firsts, respectively - or were they the other way around?). He moved on, but not before his attention was briefly diverted from the screen as he fielded one or two questions about percentages.
The screen froze on the description of what a student would be expected to provide in order to obtain a score of 1-9. Has anyone ever been awarded such a low grade? Probably. The specific text, held there on the big screen for all of a minute and a half, read as follows:
'Some work, containing virtually nothing of any relevance, depth or merit.'
'What a wonderful description' I thought, and jotted it down. Some work was born. I had a large chunk of cut-off MDF from ELVISLIVES (see post #8) and thanks to Graphics departments recently acquired vinyl-cutter, a cheap and easy way to make immediate text work. That afternoon I drew up the text in an Illustrator document and by the end of the day the piece was complete.
It's such an in-joke that I doubt it will ever go beyond the studio, but it's great having it there, leaning against the studio wall; useless.
# 13 [15 March 2012]
The Personal Statement
Recently, all of my writing time has been taken up by press-releases and exhibition blurbs. On top of that I've been trying to write my personal statement - 500 words that go in the front of my research folder, that sum up me, my practice, and my work, all at once.
Part of being an artist is being able to explain why you do what you do. Some of us may feel affronted when asked to explain why our work exists, but artists have a responsibility to understand what it is that they are aiming to achieve - even those of us that are merely groping in an area should at least be able to describe the area in which we grope.
Not that I begrudge those artists that present a bohemian aloofness, when met with the 'why' and the 'what' questions. God knows, in three years of study I have seen my fair share of visiting artists that have taken that approach. While one is a student, however, one must justify one's every turn, be that in tutorials, group critiques or a written personal statement that is assessed at the end of the year.
Having read the personal statement of every student that took part in last year's Free Range show, I can see that quality varies greatly, and not just in use of language, but in the extent to which the artist clearly defines the parameters of his or her practice.
I started thinking about my key considerations when making work; themes that regularly appear, and concerns that I feel ought to be brought to attention. I use text a lot, so language comes into it, along with interpretation. But what is my work about? I think it's about everything, but that is easy to say and difficult to prove, because it's always about something. So it's about specific things, like how language constructs meaning, and how interaction imparts narrative to all sorts of phenomena. If my work is about language, then it is also about cultures, and perhaps how language and culture are inextricably bound in a kind of feedback loop, where one is constantly informing the other, and vice versa. Authorship is a big issue too; at the beginning, where I take words or phrases that are already in the world and bend and re-present them to suit my needs; and after the work is presented, especially in my more recent work, like Cards, which is about the viewer continuing to have a direct experience of the work after they leave the gallery, and therefore continuing to construct the meaning of the piece long after I have made and shown it.
It's not an easy task, talking and writing about your work, which is probably why so many of those early student crits are filled with awkward silences, and why so many of those visiting artists just refuse to make anything remotely resembling a personal statement. It is, however, essential to becoming an artist, and that's the plan in the long term; to figure out the what's and the why's, until we reach a point where the work says it all for us, and we no longer have to worry about fitting our entire practice into 500 words for assessment.
# 12 [8 March 2012]
UNTITLED LETTERPRESS PROJECT
I took an induction into letterpress at the beginning of the year, and lost myself in the process. That is to say I spent days - weeks even - in the letterpress room, trying out the range of possibilities that this new (to me anyway) technology presents.
I tried printing; I tried embossing; I tried a combination of embossing and printing. I tried repetition, the same phrase printed over and over;
...It's never too late It's never too late It's never too late....
When writing, my natural state is to pour it out and edit later, and in that way I can produce a thousand words really quickly, and come back to refine them the next day (unless it's a blog post, which are better off posted immediately after being written), but when it comes to making my thoughts visual, the editing becomes even more dramatic, until often I'm down to three or four words.
Untitled Letterpress Project involves taking phrases, sentences, or combinations of words that I have had floating around for a while, but for which I could never find the appropriate medium. Indeed, it may be that letterpress is still not right for these ideas. We have a crit next week with Des Hughes, so we shall see.
I have three pieces. The first, It's never too late, is printed in black ink, with the exception of the word never, which is embossed. The piece is a response to the old clichéd attitude of it being too late, the embossed 'never' implies a whisper - over the shoulder or in one's own head - reminding us to never give up; that there is still time.
The second, The Blue Hour, is printed deep blue. Its origin is the old Norse term for dusk, and was intended to be presented alongside a stack of Cards (see previous post) which had the word Dusk printed on them, but actually, I think I prefer to leave the origin or meaning ambiguous.
The third, exquisite tenderness, is entirely embossed, and like the others, its materiality leads its reading in a certain direction.
In terms of presentation, I first strung them up with invisible thread, and had them kind of floating in front of the wall, on two tiny bulldog clips. I realised that the invisible thread became a feature in itself, and so resolved to remove it, and simply nail the small clips to the wall, and hang each piece from just one bulldog clip. This method seems to work; the clip is what it is, and no attempt is made to hide the way the pieces are hung, thereby minimising the attention drawn by the framing.
My thinking around these pieces is kind of just beginning to take shape, and I am still in the early stages of bringing my text down off the wall and into physical space, be that on pieces of MDF (see ELVIS LIVES post), or embossed into handmade paper. By all means comment and give me something else to think about.
# 11 [26 February 2012]
My latest project features hand-made letterpress pieces, each accompanied by a stack of business-card-sized works, which are free for the visitor to my show to take home with them. I could go into detail about the process, but as I've spent all week making these things, I don't think I could face re-living it, fun though it was. Suffice to say that a lot of paper-chopping, letter-selecting, correcting, ink-rolling, paper-soaking, printing, adjustment-making and hand-cleaning was involved in the process. Here is a short blurb I have written for the exhibition leaflet.
Trevor H Smith
Visitors are invited to take a card from any or all stacks.
Trevor H Smith uses art to explore his interest in a range of cultural phenomena, through which he seeks to express a philosophy, thought or narrative concept. Cards is a series, available in unlimited editions, which sets out to establish that, beyond the artist's initial intention, there is no set meaning in a work. Cards embraces the fact that the work’s true meaning is determined by its receiver, or in this instance, taker. By omitting all contact information these pieces undermine the traditional purpose of their business-card format, allowing them to exist entirely as art-items.
“In the first instance, my work is an expression of an ethos, or a question, arising from my own experience, after that, it belongs to everyone. I am drawn to the possibility that, once put out there, so to speak, these works live on, after the exhibition, in the wallets, purses and minds of the people that have taken them, where they will gather myriad new meanings, whenever they are reconsidered, passed on, or thrown away by their new owners.”
# 10 [16 February 2012]
Showing my work
A Fine Art degree contains a wide range of artists; from the academic, who studies theory down to the last footnote, and whose work reflects that knowledge; to the best drawer in school, who is studying Fine Art because all they ever wanted to do was paint, regardless of theory and consequence.
The spectrum of reasons to make art is reflected in attitudes towards exhibiting, too. For some artists, sharing their work is the very reason to make it in the first place, and they jump aboard every exhibiting opportunity they see. Others work for themselves, and prefer to keep it that way - perhaps they paint because they enjoy it, and never intend to pursue a career as an exhibiting artist.
Most of us are somewhere in between those two extremes; our practice has undergone a marked change since the completion of our foundation courses, however long ago they were. Most of us have managed to pick up some theory along the way, through lectures and seminars or when we wrote that dreaded essay that now, when asked about it, we reply, 'actually...I quite enjoyed it'. It's year three now, and those of us that attend regularly to the studio and lectures have probably gravitated towards the middle ground - so to speak - where familiarity with one or two, or many, strands of art theory is not uncommon, and where signs of confidence in the creative process are starting to show.
On a personal note, I feel like I haven't taken part in anywhere near enough exhibitions - it's getting quite late in year three now and I'm averaging only a couple of shows a year. In first year there was a group show, and an end of year assessment show. Second year came and went; before I knew it we were into April and I hadn't taken part in any show at all - not that many others had either; I guess we were still getting used to showing our work to each other, never mind the rest of the world. Okay, the rest of Bath. Okay...the uber-confident third years. I turned down several opportunities to show my work during second year, because I felt I had nothing worth showing (a common lament of the artist, as we all know, but even more so the middle-year student, I'm told). At the end of the year I got together with four other students and we put on a show - our works bore no relation to one another's, and it was upstairs in a wine bar, but we repainted the place and cleared out the tables and chairs. In the end we put on a really nice show - it felt like a gallery up there, and lots of people came along to the private view. Some even spoke to me directly about my work (a text piece, see image), which is invaluable experience; one of the best ways to understand your own work, its effects and its flaws, is through explaining it to a stranger.
Now it's third year, and I've managed to set aside my unwillingness to show my work. In a few weeks I will be part of a show put together by a handful of us that find the university studio space a bit too restricting, especially for installation work. There's the usual debate about finding a name that represents all of us, or the idea behind the show. And on Monday we meet at the space to discuss the set-up; who's showing what; where things can go, and so forth.
Third year, for me at least, seems to be where it all happens; there's the end of year degree show in June; there's Free Range in London in July; plus the Bristol Biennial - for which I am contributing an essay on narratives in digital culture - and if I do enough overtime work during the Easter break, I'll be able to put on a solo show in one of Bath's many empty shop-fronts.
The solo show is probably the most daunting of all, and therefore an essential part of my development as an artist.
To sum it up, from what I have gathered from visiting artists and lecturers alike, there appear to be two main rules to apply, when it comes to getting your work shown/name known. They are:
Rule one - show up.
Rule two - say yes.
# 9 [9 February 2012]
In July, two weeks after the degree show at Bath Spa, thirty of us are taking part in Free Range, an eight-week series of exhibitions of art and design graduate shows from around the country.
It takes place in The Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane in East London, and runs from May 29th to July 16th, with each week dedicated to a different discipline including, among others, photography, fashion, and design.
As part of the organising committee I went along to the venue to check out the space.
It is huge.
So, armed with floor plans and tape measures, we set about sizing it up, measuring every last detail to bring back to the rest of the group - on the basis that you never know if someone will want to make an architectural intervention, or use the window frames for a piece of work.
Meanwhile the curating committee was huddled in the centre of the room, engaged in heavy debate about flow, sight-lines, and whether to use dividing walls between pillars or leave the entire space open.
It's all very exciting - we get to have a show in London, with all the publicity that comes with taking part in Free Range, and we get an idea of what it's like to organise such an event.
It's hard work too; trying to organise committee meetings, fundraising events, transport and more, but ultimately it will all be worthwhile when the work goes up in early July.
We also get the expense of it all. The space alone costs around £7000 for the week. Add to that the costs of transport, opening night booze, catalogue, and the dreaded clean-up, and you can bet on us smashing the 10k mark by the time it's all over. There are a fair amount of us that are willing to help out, but an equal number that are yet to show willing in that area, and so to anyone planning on taking part in Free Range or something similar, next year, I say get fundraising as early as you can - start during second year if possible, and take suggestions for names from the very beginning (beware, opinion will be divided somewhere between twenty and thirty ways on this one). Oh, and take a deposit of £200 per student that wants to take part. That should keep them interested.
I'm a final year Fine Art BA student, documenting the run up to our degree show, and our part in the Free Range show at the Old Truman Brewery in July.
I also write reviews/press releases of any shows in the Bristol and Bath area.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tweet me @trevors_myth