Week 59: 28th October – 3rd November
Despite assertions in the previous post about the art object as representing an end point in a particular avenue of the art-making process, it is clear that objects can still act as effective receptacles for ideas and desires, albeit sometimes didactically. It is also true that the creation of an art object isn’t necessarily the end of its material development, as evidenced in the exhibition ‘Art under Attack’, which I visited at Tate Britain this week.

Art under attack
Exploring the history of British iconoclasm over the last 500 hundred years, the exhibition showed the ways in which art objects have been attacked in the name of religion, politics and aesthetics. The remnants of the artworks were separated into sections relating to these three main headings, and were displayed alongside historical information from the time of the attack to suggest the particular motivations for why these assaults took place.

Beginning with Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, the Religion section explored how the Reformation legitimised the widespread destruction of all religious imagery that linked England to the Roman Catholic Church. Such a campaign, despite its moral and spiritual overtones, was also a shrewd political move on the part of the monarchy, as an effective method of transferring the Church’s wealth to the state through the sale of expensive materials such as glass, lead and stone.

Societal implications
These changes created a societal fear of idolatry within the English population which continued throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth century, with the belief that ‘paintings, stained glass, music and religious ceremony were… visual and sensuous distractions from the word of God, which should be preached, listened to and read.’ The obliteration of these images aimed not only to remove them from churches, but also from the collective memory of the church-going populace.

The relationship between art and society was further examined in the Politics section of the exhibition, which showed remnants of public sculptures of ousted or unpopular political leaders which had been defaced as acts of defiance by members of the public. Although not on show here, another recent occurrence of this was the beheading of the Margaret Thatcher statue by Paul Kelleher, while it was on show at Guildhall Library in 2002.

The life of the art object
Similarly, the meanings of art objects were shown to have been abducted for specific political campaigns. The slashing of Velazquez’s ‘Rokeby Venus’ by Mary Richardson was undertaken as part of a wider campaign by the Suffragette movement. As Richardson stated in her legal testimony ‘I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the government for destroying Mrs. Pankhurst, the most beautiful character in modern history’.

This continued life of the art object post-creation brings us back to Alfred Gell’s Art Nexus (week 11) and his analysis of the impact of ‘The Rokeby Venus’ on Mary Richardson. As an anthropological exercise, he shows the relational connections between the maker, the artwork, the viewer, as well as the reactions of prison staff and public to Richardson’s act of vandalism. This defacing of a ‘beautiful’ work of art as a protest against the ideas it represented also led seamlessly into the Aesthetics section of the exhibition.

Problems with aesthetics
Among the works attacked by members of the public for their aesthetic content were Allen Jones’ ‘Chair’ and Carl Andre’s ‘Equivalent VIII’. Although each artwork created differing negative emotions and reactions, each also showed the intensity of how artworks can affect audiences. The exhibition continued with examples of artists harnessing the power of the destructive force in developing new artworks, including Gustav Metzger’s Manifesto of Auto-Destructive Art.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the exhibition for me, was the continuing relational aspect of the objects after their creation, which was facilitated in part by the iconoclasts themselves. These part-objects therefore demonstrate the ways in which an object maintains and even exceeds previous cultural interest after its destruction.

Further Reading:
‘Abducting the Agency of Art’ by Whitney Davis http://openanthropology.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/gell.pdf
Review of ‘Art and Agency’ by Alfred Gell by Mark Jamieson in The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute http://www.jstor.org/stable/2661201


Week 58: 21st – 27th October
I’ve been thinking a lot more about the mutability of artworks within my practice, be it in the tasseography drawings (week 51), or my continued interest in relational aesthetics and new participatory projects (week 28). However, I couldn’t escape the fact that despite my efforts to the contrary, I was still very much making objects. I needed to consider how the objects I was making could create these mutable actions and interactions.

What is an (art) object?
I decided to return to the idea of trying to define the work of art as I understood it. My previous research in this area had led me down an anthropological route via Alfred Gell’s ‘Art and Agency’ (week 11). Gell disagrees with aesthetic or semiotic definitions, and instead defines the work of art as having three main characteristics: 1. It is made to be seen by an audience, 2. It is an index of social agency ie. it reflects the agency and desire of the person who made it, and 3. It has an element of difficulty or captivation.

Although I am still interested in ideas of agency and the ways in which it relates to social participation in the work of art, I felt it necessary to consider a more ontological approach to the question. In ‘Heidegger and Metaphysical Aesthetics’, Rufus Duit discusses Heidegger’s 1935 essay ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’. Here, Duit states that Heidegger, like Gell, also criticises aesthetic treatments of works of art, suggesting that to subscribe such ‘thing-like’ qualities to art, demotes it to the status of equipment. This, to me, also suggests a differentiation between artworks designed to be used and a piece of equipment conceived for the nature of its usefulness.

The work behind the work
As an index of the maker’s social agency, the art making process involves many different decisions. However, each decision made in the production of the work, necessarily closes down an avenue of enquiry where a different possibility may have existed. Therefore although these processes are intrinsic to the production of the work, they are not necessarily visible within the finished object. This suggests that the mutability in my practice relates to the desire to maintain all these possible permutations of the work in order to engage the audience in my decision making process.

However, I still intend my objects to remain in an assumed form, even during audience interaction, according to the ways in which they had been designed. This is not to suggest that audiences cannot think up new associations or uses for the objects, but that the form of the objects would at least be maintained in order for future interactions to take place. In this way, I feel that the work I am producing is different to a lot of other relational practices, where the process of creating the work is paramount, and the object often disposable or transitory.

Museum interactions
How then, can objects be both defined and mutable? In attempting to address this question, I have returned back to the idea of the museum. Although often criticised as places where the social and relational aspects of the artwork are removed, I suggest that most of this has already happened by the time the work becomes a defined and stable object. In other words, the art is what happens in the process of creating the object. Establishing a museum context for my artworks enables them to become integrated into a network of other objects, creating both affective and differential responses. Art making processes then have the potential to be highlighted, and the objects to become mutable; between art, artefact and interpretation.

Further Reading:
‘The Thing’ by Martin Heidegger in Poetry, Language, Thought, 1971. Translated by Albert Hofstader
‘The Aesthetics of Affect: Thinking Art beyond Representation’ by Simon O’Sullivan in Angelaki, Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, Vol. 6, No.3, Dec 2001
’Art and agency : a reassessment’ by R. H. Layton, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 2003
‘A pragmatic impulse in the anthropology of art? Gell and semiotics’ by Karel Arnaut, Journal des Africanistes, 2001


Week 57: 14th – 20th October
I’ve been experimenting with more printmaking techniques to increase the repertoire of styles at my disposal and to see if more experimental processes can help me to generate new content within my work.

Collograph workshop
I’d seen a half day collagraph workshop advertised at the nearby Arthouse, so I decided to go along and try it out. This kind of printmaking can be quite laborious and messy, as opposed to my usual ‘clean’ processes of drawing and cutting. Otherwise known as mixed-media printmaking, collography is a versatile printmaking technique where collaged materials are attached to a base such as cardboard or metal to create a printing plate. This is then sealed with varnish before inking and transferring the image onto paper with an etching press.

Collaged materials can vary from textured wallpaper, to plants, string and lace. The plate can also be made using pasted media including PVA and resin. which creates different finishes on the paper. Due to the pressure of the etching press and the viscosity of the ink, the plate works best when there is not too much variation in the heights of the textures.

Relief and intaglio processes
Unlike the more photographic printing techniques, the collograph process lends itself to experimentation, creating editions variée (unique prints produced using the same plate). It also can be used to create both relief and intaglio prints.

Relief prints are produced by inking the plate with a hard roller on the surface of the print. An intaglio print, on the other hand, is produced in the opposite way, ‘that is by working inks into the recesses or incised areas of the plate and wiping ink away from the top surface. The image is printed under high pressure by forcing dampened paper into the plate’s surface and thus bringing the paper into contact with the ink. An intaglio print can therefore always be recognised by its embossed image surface.’

Test print
I didn’t have a particular idea of the image that I wanted to create, so I decided to cut round some of the patterns on the textured wallpaper to create a circular image on the plate. Due to the limited time span of the workshop, we weren’t able to varnish our plates, so after producing them we went straight on to inking them up. I chose red for the surface and blue for the recesses to create a bit of variety, although in hindsight, I might have stuck to one colour and then introduced additional colour with paint or collage.

After producing a number of images with my first plate, I had enough time to create another one.This time I opted for a more figurative image, that of a snake in a tree, to test the possibilities of producing more illustrative work, as opposed to abstract. This image seemed to work out well and it was easy to apply the different colours to the plate. Again, given more time, I would probably choose to create more graphical images and spend longer on constructing the plate.

However, for my first attempt at collograph I was impressed by the possibilities, and called into a DIY shop on the way home to collect some samples of textured wallpaper to try out more printmaking experiments. Given the nature of the process, the use of the plate is limited as it can quickly become flattened by the press. However, this can be mitigated by the use of digital reproduction such as giclee, or, for a more hand made feel, by reproducing the image using a screen printing process, so I’ll be using these methods to produce more images in my books and cards.

Further reading:
Collagraphs and Mixed Media Printmaking (Printmaking Handbook) by Brenda Hartill and Richard Clarke (2005)
Print with Collage & Stitch: Techniques for Mixed-Media Printmaking by Val Holmes (2012)
Hybrid Prints (Printmaking Handbooks) by Megan Fishpool (2009)