In this post I will be showing the methods I have used in the Vox Pop project. Inspired by several artists including Susan Hiller for her use of sound and text, and Thomas Demand for his realistic cardboard sculptures. I will be revealing the origins of the work and how I intended to convey the phenomenon of social media suicide.
Beginning with screenshots of text, printed and taped to a wall, I will examine how this evolved into my final sculpture. Even though, “The worst thing you can think about when you’re working is yourself” (Martin,1997. No page) I wanted to delve into my own experiences of the trauma of mental illness, how it informed me on how to broach the subject.
To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wildflower. Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
and eternity in an hour. A robin redbreast in a cage puts all heaven in a rage. (Blake. 1803)
This quote led me to evaluate the outcomes of suicide. We can be prisoners of our own thoughts, sometimes we manage but on occasion we make that ultimate leap into the unknown. We take our lives and we leave sadness and anger behind. But we are not forgotten, we leave our mark, our notes, whether they are online or written on paper or to be left in a desk drawer. Was it possible to project the trapped individual within the boundaries of art?
In my initial investigations into the project, I researched Joseph Kosuth’s work and his use of language in his installations. I was not looking for a theme at this point, I was just trying to visualise how I could use different mediums. His approach of stripping down art to simple information had helped me to explore what I could achieve using words, and his use of neon lighting, glass and metal also encouraged me to consider, with what material I could create my own work. For decades now, he has managed to engage with artists and philosophers throughout the world using thoughts and phrases to present his artwork (Schwartz, 2017, no page), this approach prompted me to find new ways of creating art that were contrary to my tried and tested approach of Paint on Canvas.
In order to find a subject that had meaning to me I decided to create a mind map. This led me to consider mental illness and its effect on society. Starting with my own experiences of it, from my years of medication to my meetings with health professionals, I wanted to look at it from a young person’s perspective. How does a generation equipped with technological knowledge ferry their thoughts? This was when I discovered the phenomenon of the social media suicide note, a 21st century spin on what is an age-old method of saying goodbye. Although this is not something used entirely by children alone, it was quite revealing to see just how many are posting pleas for help or typing a suicide note on their social media accounts.
Arranging several prints of the suicide posts onto the studio wall I began to ask questions on how I could create this into a relevant work of art. Although there is no one single cause of depression, I began to consider my own experiences, examining my own conversations in cognitive behavioural therapy. I contemplated the talk on neurons, how they fire and how they build our pathways that lead to downward thoughts. I then began to sketch out these ideas in my journal. Starting with drawings of a simple neuron, I set about to explain how we went from thoughts, to typing them out onto the internet.
Susan Hillers installation Monument displays photos of old memorial plaques of ordinary people who died doing the extraordinary. There is a distinctive awkwardness for the viewer in Monument. As the audience, you are expected to participate in the work, you must be prepared to sit there on show for the world to see, while you participate in the very private act of listening. (Hiller page 38)
The use of sound opened my eyes to the possibility of having it in my own project. A way to offset the morose nature of the work, and to find some balance so I do not entirely overwhelm the viewer with the sadness of it.
This idea led me toward an interactive element where I could use a compact disc playing natural sounds or a laptop with audio files as the work is projected onto the wall behind. This also guided me to consider what the equipment could be on.
Examining Project 84 CALM, an installation that is about male suicide, I was intrigued with the use of tape by the artists Mark Jenkins and Susan Fernandez in making these sculptures. This had me thinking about the fragility of the subject and the connections that can be made between the material and the mind. As the CEO of CALM explained it,
“As a society we have to move past embarrassment and awkwardness, we have to face this awful issue, discuss it and actively work to stop it” (Gunning, 2018. No page)
In order to face this issue myself I started to examine different methods of sculpture, trying to ascertain which material could be used and how to portray such a serious message. I was considering where we are when we are at our lowest ebb. Which part of our sanctuary do we recede to when we are contemplating our self worth. Apart from the bed, which was my personal sanctum, I could think of no other appropriate place than the desk. We sit at this piece of furniture with our computers as we spew our thoughts onto social media pages.
Thomas Demand first builds his sculptures from cardboard and paper, then photographs them before destroying the work. What interested me here was his use of materials. Creating a sculpture from cardboard would give a look of fragility and could expose the truth to the audience.
With regard to art, it’s said that it teaches you to see reality with new eyes. That we become aware of many things through the images of reality. (Demand, 2016. No page)
There is drama in his sculptures, how the artist sets his scenes. He stages the picture to make you believe what you are viewing was an actual place, but slowly the picture unfolds, and you realise what you are looking at is a facsimile of a facsimile.
The reconstructions were meant to be close but never perfectly realistic so that the gap between truth and fiction would subtly show. (Kimmelman, 2005. No page)
Being left with only an image of the sculpture had me pondering on what will be left of what I am trying to achieve. After it is looked at and photographed, will it simply end up in the recycling bin?
Could I do that to my own work, would the simple photograph make do as a final submission ?
Working on my sculpture in the studio, I started by using two A0 sheets of cardboard. Cutting away 10 centi-meters from the length and width so I could create the sides of the desk. Using a hot glue – gun I then began putting the pieces together. Then I cut out a 40 x 60cm piece so I could build a workable drawer.
With hard tubing I then built the legs of the sculpture and took it outside to spray paint it white. The whiteness of the surface gave me the idea to use acetate on top of the desk so I could lay out the text straight onto the surface as opposed to using projection.
In photoshop I began typing out the suicide notes. I was trying to use different fonts on each one so each piece would stand out differently from the other. This was a mentally taxing experience. These notes are extremely hard to read because of the content and can be quite revealing. A study made in 2020 showed that in the United States, 15% of nine – twelve year – olds have been subjected to some form of online bullying. (Patchin, J.W. 2020. Online) These figures could also be added to the collage of acetates on the desk.
Whilst putting this together I realized that sound could be detrimental to what I was creating, I decide to forgo the idea of the Compact Disc player and simply allow the silence of the sculpture fill the mind, to let the viewer contemplate the text in stillness.
With the desk now complete I decided to look at different ways of displaying, after some consideration I decided to place it into a dark corner with two spotlights shining on it. Literalizing the meaning, shining the light on the subject.
Whilst creating this sculpture I have learned several lessons. Patience being the initial one. I was so used to worked quickly on my art. I also believe I have grown as an artist, in that I have taken steps to find the meanings in what I want to create, discovering how to raise awareness in a subject, but to be subtle and to not minimize the theme.
The subject of mental health has been with me for several years now and this project has inspired me to discover more about what it means to be an artist and to suffer with depression, to see where I can go and into what different medium’s I can approach it with.
Artists don’t work with forms and colour, they work with meaning. We can utilise anything in the world to construct a work. (Kosuth. No page)
My aspirations are to realise this again and to construct my work with more meaning. To look inward at my past and to discover inspiration for future works.
Blake, W. (1803) Auguries of Innocence. [Online] Available from http://www.online-literature.com/blake/612/ [Accessed 8 December 2020].
Gotthardt, A. (2018) Agnes Martin on how to become an artist. [Online] 17 July. Available from https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-agnes-martin-artist [Accessed 16 December 2020].
Kimmelman, M. (2005) Painterly photographs of a slyly handmade reality. [Online] 4th March. Available from https://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/04/arts/design/painterly-photographs-of-a-slyly-handmade-reality.html [Accessed 27 December 2020].
Kosuth, J. (2014) Artist talk #4 Joseph Kosuth. [Online video] Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hpfkIPTRBo [Accessed 28 December 2020]
Leguizamon, M. Griggs, B. (2018) Here’s why 84 male figures are standing n the edges of London rooftops [Online] 26 March. Available from https://edition.cnn.com/2018/03/26/world/london-sculptures-project-84-suicide-trnd/index.html [Accessed 2 December 2020]
Louisiana Channel. (2016) Thomas Demand interview: Constructing the Authentic [Online video] Available from Thomas Demand Interview: Constructing the Authentic – YouTube [Accessed 8 December 2020].
Morgan,S (1996) Beyond control An interview with Susan Hiller. Tate gallery publishing
Patchin, J.W. (2020) Tween cyber bullying in the United States [online] Available from https://cyberbullying.org/tween-cyberbullying-in-the-united-states [Accessed 2 December 2020]
Schwartz A. Miekus,T Joseph Kosuth: A brief history of my thought [online] Available from http://artguide.com.au/joseph-kosuth-a-short-history-of-my-thought [Accessed 1st December 2020]
Plate 1: Kosuth. J, W.T.F #1 (2008) yellow neon mounted directly to the wall [Available online] http://artguide.com.au/joseph-kosuth-a-short-history-of-my-thought
Plate 2: Francis Duggan 2020 (Collection of artist)
Plate 3: Hiller, S. Monument (1980-81) photographs and sound installation. [online image] Available from https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hiller-monument-t06902
Plate 4: Jenkins, M. Project 84 Calm [Online Image] Available from https://www.culturewhisper.com/r/lifestyle/project_84_art_installation_mark_jenkins/11312
Plate 5: Demand, T. (2007) Detail XIV C print of card and paper sculpture. [online image] Available from https://www.christies.com/lotfinder/Paintings/thomas-demand-detail-xiv-6065935-details.aspx
Plate 6: Francis Duggan. 2020 (Collection of Artist)
Plate 7: Francis Duggan 2020 (Collection of Artist)