Ideas? Technical issues?
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By: Caroline Shadbolt
BA (Hons) Fine Art
# 21 [18 May 2013]
As well as thinking about the final exhibition I have been making work up to the last minute. I have also been thinking about how this most recent work will lead into what I might do when the course is finished.
Following on from the casting process which has involved concrete, plaster and aluminium, I have been casting thin objects in paper using the pressure of a graphite pencil. These are presented as drawings. I like the concept of ‘casting in paper’. I learnt that casting a ready-made, such as a pair of scissors, is sometimes not enough. The object has to be what Duchamp termed ‘assisted’ or ‘rectified’ in order to draw the viewer in.
I finally used a plastic fish to make a cast. Using an object which is immediately recognisable and whose origins are organic is a new departure for me. I don’t know how I feel about this yet. Several questions arose from the process:
- Why not use the original plastic fish? What does casting it in aluminium do for the work?
- Does the piece seem like ornament and, if so, when do ornaments become art?
- Aluminium and leather are ‘rich’ materials. Are they too alluring?
My work after the course will have to develop without the use of the invaluable metal workshop. This will involve a whole new set of investigations with more readily available materials. Sometimes I don’t have to look too far for the simplest solutions as I found when making a cropped brush with two handles. It will be interesting to try more recognisable objects in different situations. Maybe this will push them too far and they will cease to be art.
A local gallery has asked me to consider work for London Art Fair. Another, in Suffolk, asked for my work to be in a show. This is exciting and gives me encouragement for the future.
# 20 [5 May 2013]
This is the bit where everyone gets stressed out, including me! Just when I want to concentrate on thinking about how to exhibit my work other annoying things like the catalogue, the invites and organising the bar for the preview have to be dealt with. Not to mention also trying to send off proposals for galleries and residencies. No real work is getting done.
Everyone has been working so hard that the catalogue has been pretty much forgotten. So now we have a last minute panic on our hands together with the prospect of a botched job. Personally I think the invites are more important. One good thing is that I have been offered the chance to mail my own invitations to a wide audience through a local gallery that has occasionally exhibited my work. The gallery owner has also kindly offered to give some advice on how to exhibit my work once my space has been finalised.
I have up to twenty smallish sculptures that I would like to show as a collection. The collection would make a sort of museum effect which reflects the basis for my work. Some will go on the floor but others need to be seen at waist or shoulder height. The problem is how to best show them. I have thought of all sorts of options from building plinths from chipboard, to scaffolding and boards, to shelving brackets, using building blocks to support surfaces and to painting the floor to designate the area in which to place the work.
As for the drawings, I think I can negotiate a separate space for them, away from the sculptures. This would mean that neither would over shadow the other and the viewers would not make obvious comparisons.
# 19 [20 April 2013]
A couple of discussions this week have made me re-assess my work and have suggested ways of moving it forward. I need to question the materials which I am using and I need to think about the validity of casting ready-mades. I am also planning my life in art after graduation.
After my preliminary presentation this week I was asked whether I would consider using materials to which I was not naturally drawn. Up till now I have used materials such as concrete, steel and cloth which I find attractive because of their luxury feel. A couple of months ago I made a work from a plastic bag which was a material that had been chosen for me to work with within the context of a workshop. Now I think I am ready to try this material again and perhaps to use it in conjunction with something which is more familiar to me.
I went to a very good talk by an artist at the China Shop in Oxford. He was using found materials and objects. Some interesting methods of printing were employed, such as driving trucks over plastic and using plaster to cast texture from found material. This very thoughtfully delivered talk questioned the value of casting. Why should a ready-made be cast when the original object could just as easily be used? This is a question I have to ask myself when deciding to cast either in concrete or aluminium.
Life after college is so close now. I am putting in proposals for the Milton Keynes Showcase and for a couple of residencies elsewhere. I have read numerous statements from artists who have successfully secured residencies. I am astonished at the density of the jargon in many of these. This results in a lack of clarity and in some cases suggests that the artist has no rational basis in terms of understanding their practice.
# 18 [7 April 2013]
This week I have focused on two things. There have been some interesting comments on my work and I have been enjoying making some development drawings inspired by dog toys.
During a recent group discussion one person revealed that they found my work disturbing. I think this is caused by something similar to an invasion of personal space. People are used to being surrounded by familiar objects which they take for granted. Mine are reformed to suggest other associations and I think this is what causes the discomfort.
Other comments from a different source were more difficult to deal with. It was suggested that by altering objects in the way that I do that I was somehow “spoiling” them. It was also suggested that art, itself, was a selfish pursuit.
To counteract all this I went to a pet shop to look at dog toys with a view to making some aluminium castings. I just want to squeeze an extra bit of fun out of the metal workshop before I have to seriously think about the degree show. There was an Aladdin’s cave of pet toys and chews, all symmetrical and perfect for the sand-casting process.
The best part of this week is that I have at last been able to combine material processes that I have developed with the drawing of an observed object. Now the drawings need to be further considered and I feel more confident that I may be able to include a couple in my degree show.
# 17 [21 March 2013]
It is time to start thinking about how I am going to exhibit my sculptures for my degree show. My aim is to present a collection of work that reminds viewers of objects that they have previously known in a related form. I want the work to disrupt the familiar comfort zone of what we handle and make use of in our daily lives.
I went to see the Rosemarie Trockel exhibition at the Serpentine to get some ideas.
Trockel’s interest in natural history and in diverse forms of creativity both by trained and self-taught artists and crafts people was brought together in an array of objects. The exhibition provided the opportunity to see how the so called “museum effect” can be used to question our perception of what constitutes art. The viewer is invited to look at objects, such as a crab, out of context. It is to be looked at as an artefact, or in a sense, a work of art. The effect allows for a focus of seeing with respect to form and material.
I went round the exhibition trying to imagine my own objects in place of those exhibited. Some of Trockel’s objects were put on low plinths, and one on a floating plinth. There were large, glass, free-standing cabinets which contained several objects, some on the floor and some on shelves. Some things were recessed into the wall with glass fronts. Yet more were displayed in glass cases that projected from the wall.
I would like to build a false wall in order to make a long recessed shelf. This could accommodate some of the smaller, concrete sculptures. If I can make some perspex display cases to project from the wall, these could be used to show works like my skipping rope. For the larger, very heavy objects I would need a large, low plinth.
I need to make some drawings…
# 16 [7 March 2013]
I have found some inspiration from a couple of Italian designers called Formafantasma. Unfortunately, I didn’t see their recent show but have now documented the images that I can find. Seeing their work has tied in with a recent tutorial from which I came away thinking that I should not get stuck into making sculpture which is too highly crafted but should allow a looser, more surprising approach.
These two call themselves designers, rather than artists. Their work explores the significance of objects as cultural conduits. The role of craft and industry is important in the design of their work which encompasses the use of leather, wood, glass and natural polymers extracted from plants or animal-derivatives. The objects take the form of tools, furniture, vessels and rugs but all exhibit a redundancy or primitivism where their production appears to be based on the symbolic connotations of the material.
I think their work can also be classified as art because the utility of the objects is implied, but their interpretation cannot be placed. They are neither archaic not futuristic. The works are hand-sized which implies that they have been hand-crafted. On their own they appear to be prototypes but have been produced as editions of eight or twelve, on an industrial scale. There is an appealing absurdity in this.
The tutorial refocused my thoughts about how much craft should be allowed into my sculpture. I seem to tread the line where some of my work is only just art and this is the reason why it works. However I think I need to make more ‘situations’ happen where materials work in a surprising way due to their placement or their substance.
This week I will be sand casting in order to make aluminium rope. This is quite labour intensive for an uncertain outcome and probably contradicts my endeavour to do less craft!
# 15 [17 February 2013]
Last week I spent a day drawing. All of it went in the bin except for the last drawing which took me just five minutes. However, yesterday I went to a great drawing exhibition which has renewed my enthusiasm.
The exhibition, “Drawing: Sculpture” is on at the Drawing Room in SE1. It explores the relationship between drawing and sculpture which is one of my key interests. It moves away from being about ‘drawing in space’ to a matter of material concern where drawing happens within the sculpture.
As a sculptor I am excited by the substance of the drawing material and the texture of the virtual space. The exhibition, which featured artists including Anna Barriball, Alice Channer and Dan Shaw-Town, showed work using a range of materials beyond the traditional drawing media. It showed how substances like graphite and charcoal can be used in surprising ways.
Much has been written about the relationship between drawing and sculpture. For me, drawing with materials is an activity that happens either in two or three dimensions and has an eye to composition of form, texture and balance.
The exhibition both confirmed my thoughts and provided added inspiration.
# 14 [6 February 2013]
For the last couple of weeks I have re-focused on the art of Richard Wentworth. I initially looked at his work some time ago but further reading has revealed some new and useful information about how he chooses his ready-mades. I have also been experimenting with some new materials which proved eventful but, unfortunately, failed.
Wentworth talks about the issue of prejudice when responding to objects and how we translate meaning without actually looking at them. We have an instinct about how we perceive things but need to nurture a deeper curiosity. In a BBC archive film (Five Sculptors) he illustrates the point by saying that children have an ability to respond to objects without confusion or problems.
He wants his objects to become ‘ready-mades of the imagination’. I’m not clear about this, but by a combination of placement and choice he achieves contradiction and absurdity. There is a link between the natural and the manufactured in his work. He combines raw materials such as linen, concrete or brass with industrially made objects. For example, a waste paper basket sealed with concrete, or a cast object resting on a pillow. In certain respects this aspect of his work resonates with my own but, for me, the choosing of a ready-made is also the catalyst towards making a new object that re-presents certain qualities of the original.
Experiments with glass wax resulted in setting off the fire alarm. This was not popular with Health and Safety! I then resorted to making the same castings with resin but the whole thing got stuck to the plastic moulds and could not be extracted. Finally, I used plaster. The resulting objects are casts of plastic-moulded toys, in the shape of molluscs, which have stainless steel extensions which might be handles or operators. The effect is mildly unsettling.
# 13 [23 January 2013]
This week I have been casting aluminium in sand. This is to make the handle and spout for a concrete water vessel. The process was long and delicate but satisfying to see the final pouring of the aluminium and the emergence of the pieces I wanted. They now have to be polished and fitted to the concrete with pins and glue.
There is a lot of time invested in a project like this, when the outcome is uncertain. I can only draw on my experience to predict a favourable result but this is not always the case. My other project needed a concrete sphere and casting it was also a long process. Another tutorial next week will shed light on whether the projects have been successful.
I have been thinking about the underlying theory of my work and also questioning the value of making work that is specifically planned. Making work like this has been very good in terms of being able to consolidate my statement and has also given me confidence to make finished pieces for the degree show. However, following on from my tutorial last week, I think it may be necessary to spend more time just experimenting with materials. Although this seems a backward step at this stage of my degree I think it will put fresh ideas into my work.
This week we are doing a sculpture workshop and have each been given a specific material with which to work. Mine is plastic bags which is a material that I would be least likely to choose. I am hoping to conserve the utility of the bags in some way rather than just using them as another sheet material. It’s good to have a challenge.
# 12 [9 January 2013]
I have recently seen the work of Sherrie Levine. The exhibition consisted of twelve pink, glass skulls in display cases and twelve bronze mirrors. The work was highly crafted. It seems that she forms her objects to make them look like ready-mades or found objects. There is an intriguing irony in this. They are crafted, functional objects which are recognised as art.
Levine’s originality derives from the recognition and reproduction of the aesthetic properties of a seemingly ordinary object through appropriation and re-presentation. This is especially relevant to my own work at the moment given that I am inspired by utilitarian objects that I have studied and have ‘re-presented’ in a form closely resembling the original.
The repetition of Levine’s mirrors and skulls, together with their excellent crafting, questions why an artwork should be reproduced to the point of becoming a commodity. We are surrounded by thousands of utilitarian objects on which we depend. We often pay little regard to their form or their craft. We just use them. Levine asks us to re-evaluate their status.
My next projects will use contrasting materials with cast concrete. Currently, two objects interest me. One is a leather-handled ball used in the game of pato and the other is a classically shaped lota or purification vessel.
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.