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By: Sonya Chenery
BA (Hons) Fine Art.
# 12 [1 June 2008]
The degree show is now over. We have to go in tomorrow to remove everything, and I've been planning what I need to do to get everything out smoothly. Not quite sure how I'll get it all in the car, but I'll manage somehow!
I found out my grade for this semester on Friday, and though I don't want to go into specifics, I am happy with what I got - big relief! I suppose it's hard to judge sometimes, even though in theory you know what you're being assessed on, you're basically setting up for an assessment at the same time as a public exhibition, and that can be hard to balance in some ways.
I definitely want to do an MA in the not too distant future - I looked into a few, and even started filling in applications, around the Christmas break, but I wouldn't have been able to make good enough applications without jepordising the work I was doing at the time, as a lot of effort was required for the application process. I'm glad I waited, because I feel that now I'm in a much better position to be writing proposals, etc - I have a few ideas of future projects I'd like to do etc, so I'm feeling quite positive about that. The next challenge will be to get a part time job which I can balance with keeping my practice going and with all the accompanying administration.
I borrowed my friend's digital SLR camera to photograph my work while it was still up, which should help in terms of documentation for the future.
Now I just need to clear some more space in the car...
# 11 [27 May 2008]
The balloon and cactus piece – entitled This Is What Happens – is evolving. The latest change, which took place this evening, was influenced by a nine-year-old girl. The child in question, who is the neighbour of Kimi (my friend and fellow Fine Art 3rd Year), asked whether I was blowing up the balloons until one popped. I have, in fact, been timing each balloon-inflating session to last five minutes, taking place at semi-regular intervals throughout the day. However, I was very taken with the idea of allowing the popping to dictate how long I added balloons for, so from that point on I made that my system, instead of the egg timer. I like the unpredictability this adds – I don’t know, when I start each session, whether I will be adding 1 balloon or 100. During the course of the evening, I also began allowing the popping of the balloons to decide when I start each session: I inflate and add balloons until the first ‘pop’, then sit and wait until the next pop, which is my cue to begin the next session. I will try doing either one or two hour stints at this (basically, try one hour and if that’s not too much, continue to two hours). It’s become a lot more interesting already, just in one evening, as the volume of balloons has increased more rapidly, so the movement has become a lot more dramatic. It has heightened the atmosphere in the space, especially in terms of the rubbery sounds caused by the balloons moving against each other.
Today was the first time the exhibition had been open since Saturday, so I was able to get a couple of day’s rest over the weekend – the performative aspect of my work meaning that I’ve needed to be there as much as possible. Despite the two days I’d had off, I was still exhausted today, so I was relieved to find out, after returning my back-up work to my space this morning for the external examiners, that we were not meant to be in the studios from then until 4pm, so I was able to go home and catch up on some much needed sleep. We have to be in tomorrow morning to meet the external examiners, and then the exhibition continues until the end of Friday. When I’m not inflating balloons or waiting for them to pop, I’m gradually working my way around the exhibition, having a proper look at everyone else’s work.
# 10 [24 May 2008]
Things have been fairly eventful since my last post, and I have a feeling they will continue to be so. I'm feeling pretty positive about the show, though. Last night was the private view, which went well although I have never enjoyed crowds and found it rather overwhelming. After a bit of a rocky start (involving a slight wardrobe crisis) I was able to spend some time with the friends I'd invited, and have a wander round. I found that more comfortable than staying in my space trying to explain my work to people! One of the highlights of the evening was a brilliant piece of live art by Kate Wiggs, another student, who had secretly employed actors to play a pretentious couple who went round making ridiculous comments about the work (some of which were really hilarious) and then to stage a drunken row in the main gallery. Sadly I missed that part (though their response to my work was one of the first I encountered, and was a little unsure what to make of them!) but everyone's been talking about it today.
I had intended to be in first thing this morning, but my alarm didn't go off (or else I was so tired I slept through it!) so it was after 11 before I got there. I chatted to a few people, did the performance part of my balloon/cactus work a few times, but the last time when I went in to do it, the people who had been in the room seemed to be leaving in a bit of a hurry, and I discovered that two of the cacti had been knocked over and there was soil everywhere. This was not an easy thing to clear up, and it's forced me to rethink the relaxed attitude to viewer-control I'd been taking so far; although it's not part of my intention for the viewer to go up to the balloons and cacti and to physically interact with them, I had decided not to prevent them from doing so. However, I hadn't expected the cactus pots to get spilled, which I feel is a big step too far, and means that I am now in the process of changing the pathway i put in so that it allows more viewers in at the door-end of the room, but hopefully discourages them from going any further. Tomorrow, I will be sorting out a way of roping the rest of the room off. I didn't want to have to be strict, but sadly it seems I have no choice.
# 9 [18 May 2008]
I can't quite believe I managed to finish setting up. I'm still 'coming down' I think, and certainly when I left on Friday, I was still full of left-over adrenaline. Coupled with a rising level of exhaustion, this gave me the feeling that I might end up crying once I got home, which thankfully didn't happen.
In my last-but-one post, we were in the process of clearing the studios in preparation for the application of white emulstion and generally trying to turn working studios into a space in which an exhibition could be held...
I'd been allocated two spaces in the upstairs studio area - a longish, narrow space for my cactus and balloon installation, and a corner further down the corridor for my video work and objects.
The practice in UH fine art is to pair up each 3rd year with a 1st year who will assist them in setting up their degree show. I think this is a great idea - I really enjoyed my experience of it in 1st year, and it gave me a much better idea of what would be involved when my turn came around. Now that I'm in 3rd year, I was lucky enough to have been paired with a 1st year, Susie, who I was already friends with before she started at UH - one of our tutors had learned that we were friends, and had kindly put us together. I honestly don't know how I'd have managed without her calming influence and practical support. When I was feeling overwhelmed with all the things that needed doing, she had a way of keeping me on track and helping me to actually get things done, and I'm extremely grateful to her for this.
While the space for the cactus/balloon work was fairly straightforward in terms of requirements, I'd decided that the video/objects corner would be decorated like a 'slice' of living room - which meant wallpaper and carpet over an area of 150cm sq - a decision for which I kicked myself several times over the week because of how much hassle it was to set up, but which ultimately I think was the right thing for the work... just hope the assessing tutors see it that way too!
# 8 [16 May 2008]
It's really happening now - I've not had time to write about what I'm doing, as I'm spending all my time doing it. Only 1 more day to go until the deadline for assessment... I'm torn between wanting it to be over and thinking there can't be enough time to get it just right!
But I think I'm nearly there now. I'm extremely tired, so hopefully I'll have everything done that I need to do before bed, so I can have a few hours sleep before the final day...
# 7 [7 May 2008]
There's a strange sort of feeling about rearranging the department to make way for the degree show; something like a sort of mini-apocalypse, though probably far less threatening! We had a meeting with the tutors this morning, and surrounded by the sound of people from other courses busy pulling down screens, moving tables/lockers/work, hammering, drilling, etc etc. After the meeting I had a late breakfast in my soon-to-be ex-space, then got on with the last of the clearing. I'd done most of it towards the end of last week, including taking home all the cactus plants, to keep them safe while the heavy-duty clearing takes place.
I'd also taken home my miniature sculptures, which had increased greatly in number by the end of last week - something about the prospect of no longer having the studio space made me become rather productive! I seemed to be in the mood for making things, so I just went with it. It's decided that as well as the cactus/balloon installation, I will also have a space in which to show video work and my mini-sculptures. I see it as all being of equal importance, so I feel it all needs to be part of my contribution to the exhibition.
# 6 [5 May 2008]
I had my 24th birthday today (well, technically yesterday now) - birthdays always make me think back to what I was doing this time a year ago, and two years ago, etc etc. Not just birthdays really, but any fixed, annual event that sort of pins the various bits of your life together. I think I'm stretching this one out as long as possible; I went for lunch with my parents and my friend Zoe, then had a few other friends come round during the course of this afteroon/evening, something else happening tomorrow, then the plan is to do something with my friends from uni on tuesday evening. I was given a cactus as a birthday present today, by a friend who it turned out didn't know I'm using cacti in the installation - it's very appropriate, anyway!
Started clearing out my studio space at uni towards the end of last week, which i found quite sad. But got a chance to speak to my tutor, which made me feel a lot happier about what I'm planning for the show.
I've been looking into how much the balloons are going to cost, and lets just say, it's pretty steep. I need to keep looking I think!
# 5 [3 May 2008]
I'm very glad I did try out the installation, because it turned out completely different to how I imagined it, and it also gave me a much clearer idea of what, logistically, is going to be involved in doing it for the show. The biggest - and most exhausting - part of the process was getting the room in a suitable state for it to happen in; I'd naievely envisaged getting it up and running after a morning of preparation, but in fact the room took about 2 full days to clean, paint, and remove the staples that were in the walls and floor. I borrowed some flat-pack plinths from the university. Collecting them from upstairs and getting them downstairs to the space was not easy, and they also needed painting. So I was slightly annoyed with myself when it turned out not to work as I had imagined, and the plinths became obsolete. I imagined the cacti would be dotted around the room on plinths, and the balloons would get intermittently blown around by the fan, which would come on and off on a timer. Several things soon became clear:
1) The fan I had brought in was not very strong at all.
2) The balloons were simply not reaching the cacti, as the fan could not blow them upwards, hence the plinths had to go.
3) The timer was not going to create tension in the piece as I had planned; the tension came from having the (weak) fan on all the time, and seeing the balloons move about subtly as a result, and the fact that you didn't know when they might collide with cacti.
So it ended up with the cacti grouped together in a corner of the room, with the fan on, in oscillating mode, and me blowing up balloons (using a hand pump, as my lungs are not of much use!) and placing them in front of the fan, which would blow them across the floor to the group of cacti. The other thing I discovered was that, this being the arrangement, I'll need a much smaller space for it in future.
The bangs, when they happened, were far louder than anticipated, and I remembered how much I dislike the sound. I think, in a way, that's part of my reason for doing this piece in the first place; maybe if you find something disproportionately unnerving, it's a good place to start questioning. In any case, I didn't like being in the room with it, and by the second day I was feeling my nerves really starting to fray, and it was suggested to me, by Adam from 2nd year, that I might feel better if I borrowed ear defenders from the workshop. He was right. I will have to get some of my own before the show!
# 4 [20 April 2008]
I've mainly spent the past week preparing for the installation I'm planning to try out next from Tuesday to Friday of the week coming up. I've booked the installation space in the sculpture area of the studio for these days, and I'm trying to be sensible and plan in advance what I will need to do/bring etc, which I hope will mean I use the time more effectively. The planned installation involves balloons, cacti (the number of which is not yet fully decided, and is not likely to be until I can actually see how everything works in the space), and an electric fan (or maybe 2) with a timer plug. This will be the first time I've attempted to approach my ideas in this way, and I think I was influenced to try it by the Roman Signer exhibition I saw at the Hauser & Wirth gallery in February. The idea is that the viewer can enter the space, with the potential to influence the outcome - the situation will remain more or less ‘dormant' until the pre-set timer activates the fan(s), leading to a situation where the balloons and cacti may or may not come into contact. I'm interested in exploring how danger can be direct and immediate, or indirect, and in returning to the themes of how one object can impact on another, and of whether objects will behave predictably or not in these situations.
My first concern was how to position the objects in the space - should they be on the floor, or raised? In the latter case, should they be on white, gallery-style plinths, or should I be looking for domestic-type furniture? I went round Habitat and Homebase, looking at what sorts of tables were available, and trying to work out whether I would be able to afford to go down this route (assuming I can't get anything suitable at home or in a charity shop). There are some ok looking tables for around £25, but whether this would be a viable option really depends, I decided, on how many would be required, and really I should look at ways of doing it without spending this kind of money. I toyed with the idea of enquiring about whether they had any ex-display furniture I could borrow (this was more in case I should decide to do something like this for the degree show) but managed to get myself feeling very anxious at the prospect. I took some catalogues away to consider things further.
With the prospect of the degree show catalogue going off to print, and thinking how I would really like to have a website up and running by the time it gets used, I took the plunge and register a domain name in preparation. I signed up for a domain name and web hosting package, and I'm now hoping to find someone who can help me with the process of setting up the site...
Next instalment: Cactus shopping!
# 3 [11 April 2008]
The last couple of days have felt quite productive; after a first attempt at videoing a cocktail umbrella outside (which was one of the few times I’ve found myself wishing it would rain!), I had a tutorial, during which I asked about whether my work for the degree show could comprise of a few separate things, rather than trying to make one work that sums it all up. My tutor said, quite sensibly, that it was very important, if there are different aspects to your work, to ensure that you don’t end up diluting it all by trying to incorporate everything. I think the mistake I made at my last assessment (though, generally, it went very well) was to get scared into thinking that I had to make all the strands in my work tie together, resulting in something which really didn’t represent any of it very well. However, as my tutor pointed out, it’s a good thing I tried doing that, as I learned not to go down that road again! So I’ve decided to show the different areas of the work, but as distinct and separate pieces; a ‘live’ installation, which would be in an enclosed space (to avoid disruption to anyone else’s work, apart from anything), as well as a T.V monitor, showing the video work. I would like this to be near to the installation space, but separate from it. If I were still thinking the way I was when I set up my last assessment, I might have tried something like projecting the video work onto the walls of the installation room, but thankfully I’ve learned from my mistakes! My tutor then asked me about my small object-sculptures, and how I was thinking of displaying those… again they would have to be separate from the other work. I said I was playing with the idea of ‘hiding’ them around the building, and producing maps for viewers to look for them, she seemed to think that was a good idea. But of course that would depend on whether it was feasible to do that, once the space has been converted for the exhibition. After my tutorial, we had a group meeting, with the tutors, about where and how we would like to present our work at the degree show. It was helpful to think of it in terms of what spaces are likely to be available, and the meeting actually seemed to go fairly smoothly, and no fights have broken out over this subject…yet!Joel was also taking photographs of everyone, which he’s going to convert into outlines as part of the catalogue cover design. I found myself worrying about the state of my hair, but really I think it represented my usual self quite accurately!
I'm in my 3rd year of Fine Art at University of Hertfordshire.
I make videos and small-scale sculptures involving everyday objects. My practice is concerned with exploring the subjective ways in which we relate objects to physical and psychological experience.