In 2013 I began a project which aimed to explore what we understand as “life” in the 21st century, when advances in science and technology seem to be changing the meaning of life and death. The project developed into something which dominated my practice for three years, culminating in an exhibition, The New Immortals which I curated at Phoenix Brighton in 2016.

Now, after a period of reflection on what exactly my practice is and what’s important to me, I’ve started revisiting some of the ideas which had to be put to one side while The New Immortals took up all my energy and brain power. With the invaluable support of a professional development bursary from a-n, and an informal partnership with the Printmaking department at the University of Brighton, I’m learning some new printmaking skills and planning a solo exhibition of new and recent work which can bring some of these ideas together.


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“I’m confident that with the funding applications out of the way, I’ll be able to make a decision about next priorities and get stuck in!” That was the last sentence of my last blog – two and a half weeks ago. And actually, I have to admit that I don’t seem to have made a lot of progress. C’est la vie. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. I’ve been trying out some things, some collages, which haven’t been very successful yet but have opened up some new ideas. But I’m not sure I really want any new ideas at the moment – I just want to keep persevering with the old ones. So that’s mostly what I’m doing, with some thinking about the collages going on at the back of my mind.

As often happens I find myself disarmed by how much I’m drawn to the simplest of images. It’s hard to find the courage to leave them as they are; to know when something is enough.

In a different sort of development during the past two weeks, I’m very excited to have been selected as one of the artists to take part in a-n’s Writer Development Programme 2017-18. I’ve been spending more time than usual reading a range of different articles and magazines, as well as doing my first two writing tasks.

As part of my research for the writing tasks I also listened to some of the excellent Radio 4 series about “busyness”, Oliver Burkeman Is Busy. I would definitely recommend a listen – it’s worth making time for! http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07w1dpx/episodes/player

There are a few great things about taking part in the writers’ programme. Apart from getting some fantastic input into developing my writing about art from some excellent people (a-n News editor Chris Sharratt, art critic and journalist Fisun Güner, and Frieze deputy editor Amy Sherlock) I will get to know seven other exciting artists from across the UK who have also been selected, and visit some great arts organisations who will be hosting our workshops. It’s going to be brilliant!


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It was a strange working week last week. My main focus was on completing my Grant for the Arts application plus some small applications for match funding. By the end of the week funding fatigue was setting in and I couldn’t wait to click on the “SUBMIT” button. But at last they’re just about done, and in fact two out of four have been submitted with the remaining two going anytime now.

What always happens in this situation is that I tend to lose focus on my studio work. Also, I’ve just finished a big drawing I’ve been working on for a while (not really very satisfactorily), so there’s a bit of a pause while I decide what to do next. There are several options: (time for a list here I think… some bullet points even)

  • start another big drawing and try to make it better this time (this involves some delaying tactics as I want to screenprint a coloured circle in the middle of the paper to draw onto, and this needs a certain amount of preparation to make room in my studio to print, but I have at least got my screen-printing equipment out. **stage one**)
  • carry on exploring materials for my palm pebbles (some progress has been made i.e. I’ve managed to make some that aren’t sticky now)
  • make a mould of my favourite stone (this option is also subject to delaying tactics as I’m not very expert at mould-making and haven’t done it for a long time – I have, however, achieved stage one of this process too, which involved getting myself a lump of clay)
  • finish my metamorphosis animation which I started in the spring – this is bottom of the list as it means using the computer in my house and I don’t want to work in my house while it is way too lovely in my studio at the bottom of the garden – perhaps I should officially put this option on hold until October…
  • start building a big rock-like thing…hmm… I tried this way back at the beginning of the Growing Stones project and it was moderately successful in a strange sort of way. It needs another go. Soon.

So, in this sort of unfocused limbo state I did what I always do – make a lot of cr**py little drawings that did nothing to improve my confidence or humour and really needed to go in the bin. Until… **small cheer**… these happened!

These are only tiny sketches but they happened very quickly (a good sign) and immediately felt like something that were something which is always encouraging.So next week is a short one and I’ve only got two days in the studio, but I’m confident that with the funding applications out of the way, I’ll be able to make a decision about next priorities and get stuck in!

 

 

 


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I’ve been making these little things.

I made some of them years ago, though they weren’t pink then, and they didn’t really seem to be anything and so they got put in a box labelled “CURIOSITIES” along with some latex pods, some perfectly circular discs cut from laurel leaves, a duck’s bill I found on a walk and some wax casts of the inner cavities of peppers.

But now all of a sudden they seem to be something, so I have been making more of them – this time in that unique shade I call “plastic pink”, and I’ve further enhanced their plastic-ness with a coat of super-glossy varnish. I’m not sure yet whether the super-glossy finish enhances the skin prints on their surface (an essential feature) or masks them.

What I am sure of is that the varnish isn’t drying properly – in fact it seems to be getting stickier! They’re sticking to my fingers like sticky sweets.

On another (related) note, I’m very excited to have nearly finalised plans for the workshops and events for my Once in a Universe GFA application. THE most exciting development this week is that a very special person has agreed to give a talk at my proposed launch event – geologist and Emeritus Keeper of Natural Sciences at The Booth Museum, Brighton, John Cooper! Can’t wait for that.


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It is so easy to under-estimate the value of public engagement in R&D – there’s no doubt I’ve been guilty of this myself and have been made to think more deeply about it. In the sort of research I want to do, it’s so important to make opportunities for conversations with a wide range of people about the subjects I’m thinking about.

Yesterday I met with three artists whose work I respect and value, all of whom are great at getting people together to make and do stuff. How great it is to be part of a network of generous, professional, creative people and to be able to benefit from putting our minds together to think about these things. I’ve asked the three to run some practical workshops for my project which will not only get people making and doing but will also get them talking about some of the interesting and challenging ideas and questions which the themes of my research bring up.

I’m at that really tricky part of the planning where the foundation for the project is solid but the subject matter is still very wide. There are so many potential directions  it could go in that it can be difficult to focus, so it was really useful for me to have to spend a day thinking about how to articulate the key areas of the project to my collaborators without inflicting information overload.

We had some really useful conversations and the discussions helped me clarify and hone quite a few of my ideas. As usual, this pruning process means having to let one or two things go in order to focus on key areas, but this sort of editing is a crucial part of the process and actually, planning, fundraising and proposal writing provides the framework that helps me do that pruning. Here are a few notes I made at the end of the day. It felt like progress.

SUMMARY

“I want to work with the public, other artists and scientific experts to explore ideas about change and evolution in the Anthropocene* era and “extreme present” – “a time in which it feels impossible to maintain pace with the present, never mind to chart the future.“**

*Anthropocene: relating to or denoting the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.

** Hans Ulrich Obrist

STARTING POINTS

  1. Foundation/anchor: the origins of life and past research for Improbable Experiments With Growing Stones

2. Juxtaposing/merging of manmade and “natural” so that it’s hard to tell the difference

3. How life might evolve in the Anthropocene era (plastics, future geologies and the influence of human activity on the evolution of living organisms including the human body)

4. Extreme present – speed and the pace of change

THOUGHTS

  • Learn from the past to think about the future
  • Speculation about the future must be grounded in reality – not fantasy
  • Making time NOW to think about what we want the future to be before we get swept along in the tide of progress –  quote from bio-ethicist Prof John Harris (talking about increased life spans but also applies to all sorts of other progress): “It is unlikely that we can stop the progression [to increased life-spans and even “immortality] and it is doubtful that we can produce coherent ethical objections. We should start thinking now about how we can live decently and creatively with the prospect of such lives.

BOOKS I’m reading:

The Age of Earthquakes: A guide to Extreme Present by Shumon Basar, Douglas Coupland, Hans Ulrich Obrist

Homo Deus: A brief history of tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution by Nick Lane

(I know, I know… it’s not really a good idea to try to read four books at a time but that’s just the way it is. Slow progress though.)

 


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Sadly my time in the printmaking workshops at the University of Brighton has come to an end for now but I hope that more options for later in the year may line up elsewhere. It has been a great opportunity to work alongside BA and MA students and to learn some new skills.

I’m pleased to have finished with several completed prints – six sets in total – slightly less than the ten I’d aimed for but maybe that was a bit over-ambitious and didn’t take into account my usual high failure rate!

One of the great things about printmaking is the opportunity it offers to try things out in different combinations, different colours and on different papers, probing potential for new areas of activity.

In some ways the most satisfying thing is that I feel as if I have pinned down the first step in my new project – perhaps even the first wall in the new exhibition I’m working towards, with these works which I think  carry a collective title of “In the beginning was Simplicity”.

Here are my top four favourites:

I guess one of the interesting things for me during this process has been the reinforcement of the tendency I have to start from a point of complexity and gradually pare back detail until I’m left with something quite minimal. This is a disconcerting process because the end result often seems sparse and bare, but it seems to be part of a process of ordering and analysis and critical thinking which I use to try and break down complex ideas and make sense of things.

Talking to students has made me think that sometimes we start out with a vision of the sort of artist we want to be, and our early years are spent striving towards becoming that artist. Sometimes along the way, it becomes clear that we just cannot be that artist, for whatever reason – perhaps we don’t have the skill or the patience, or perhaps our minds or our hands just don’t work the way they need to to become that artist we so admire. This is disappointing, frustrating… but at least once that realisation has been made we can begin to focus on being the artists we are.

Although my printmaking period has finished, this is still only the begining of this long term project working towards an exhibition which I’m planning for 2018-19 and I’ll most certainly still be posting updates – so watch this space!

 

 


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