How might our planet evolve in the future? How can we keep up with the speed at which the world is changing? Will science and technology help make the world a better place? These are some of the questions I’m asking in my new project, Once in a Universe.

In 2017 the invaluable support of a professional development bursary from a-n, and an informal partnership with the Printmaking department at the University of Brighton, meant I was able to learn some new printmaking skills and begin to develop new work which has formed the foundation for Once in a Universe.

I have now been awarded funding from Arts Council England for a period of R & D during 2018. I’ll be working with other artists, curators, the public and professionals from across disciplines to develop ideas for new work about life in the Anthropocene. The project will culminate in September 2018 when I will spend two weeks as Artist in Residence at Devonshire Collective‘s DC1 Café/Gallery in Eastbourne, testing out new work and planning a solo exhibition for 2018-19.


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You know that feeling when you start the day with the sun shining, your dirty work clothes on and a deadline behind you? That’s the one I’ve got today. It’s like the first day of the rest of my life.

After several weeks of very focused thinking, writing and planning for my talk at ONCA in Brighton last night, I feel as if I have completed something. Now the next few weeks stretch ahead of me with the potential for making exciting things.

The ONCA talk, though not part of the original Once In A Universe project plan, was a great opportunity to really focus the mind and force me in to trying to articulate some of my ideas. But also, I made a decision at the start of the project to treat all aspects of the project, including events, as part of my creative process, so the talk became a sort of experiment, a bit of work in progress perhaps  – a way of gathering together ideas and fragments of work made over a very long period of time, into a sort of live sketchbook/performance. The talk posed questions about the meaning and extent of life, not only as a state of being, but as a biological process – and now in the 21st century, potentially as a non-biological, inorganic phenomenon; questions like “Maybe there is no such thing as an inanimate object?” and “can everything that can be imagined be made?”

I was ably aided and abetted by one of ONCA’s Graduate Monthly group, Ruby Bateman, who became a second voice in the talk, issuing forth a stream of factual information which underpins my work like a living Alexa (or as a Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fan mentioned, like the Encyclopaedia Galactica). Ruby gave us all the facts about a range of subjects from the 1952 Miller-Urey experiment to try to create life to John Craig Venter’s 21st century progress in bioengineering; from Animism to Trovants and from the formation of flints to self-healing concrete.

The audience responded by asking probing questions like, “What would have happened if you had actually succeeded in making your stones grow?” and “Are you afraid of artificial intelligence”? Phew! Challenging!

But now it’s done and today I’ve got the dirty clothes on and a sense of freedom and anticipation. Bring on the messy stuff!

Some images below from my presentation:

A nourishing solution fed through a drip. An electrical charge like that from a defibrillator. But no, still no success. Maybe I was being impatient…

 

 


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It’s such a problem making big stuff.

  1. How do you afford the materials?
  2. Where do you store it?
  3. How do you transport it?
  4. What if nobody wants to show it anyway?

Image above: If only this was not a 6 inch cardboard cutout.

I guess for me q’s 2 and 3 are the most tricky because there are always alternative ways of approaching the other issues. But 2 and 3 are really long term problems to be seriously considered and inevitably involving costs.

One of the ways of approaching this problem for me has been to make installations composed of lots of small pieces of work which all add up to something a bit more substantial. This also suits my current way of working in my relatively small studio space – being able to pick up and put down, or even put away work depending on time constraints, and using repetitive processes which, once under way don’t demand too much thought.

In April last year I wrote about some of these small works: “a collection of found and made objects, images, drawings, prints and an artists book, all gathered over quite a long period of time – years, not months” which “never seemed to be “anything” but suddenly became “something” when brought together as a collection.” I’ve been building on this idea, and it’s been particularly helpful  during times (like now) when frustrations have grown about always making small works.

A couple of weeks ago I cleared out all the furniture in a room in my house and experimented with some ideas about bringing the collection out of the display case I’ve shown it in before, and trying out combinations of objects and images in a more open space.

There were a few interesting results, but still I’m feeling the need to get large, and now a little more studio time is on the horizon, there are lots of new ideas to explore.

TO DO

  • continue experiments with mould making and casting
  • explore ways of animating clusters (motors, vibrators, stop motion animation)
  • buy new video-editing software and explore projections
  • drawing, drawing and more drawing (on paper, in books and on the wall)

Enjoying this drawing at the moment (work in progress)

 

Next time… Maybe there is no such thing as an inanimate object.

 

 


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It sounds like the name of a band, but Fotofonty has nothing to do with the music business and the blueprints are of the cyanotype variety.

Image above: Elizabeth Doak

Last month I worked with photographer Elizabeth Doak and graphic designer Maja Jones (aka Fotofonty) to plan and deliver two half day workshops. We worked together, revisiting the cyanotype process with expert help from Elizabeth, and testing out ideas about themes from the project to be developed in the workshop. I particularly enjoyed making these images of deconstructed tech objects, and later loved Maja’s ideas about introducing text to the work in the form of a “word mash-up” to invent “future words”.

The “Bring a Grandparent” workshops were aimed at children aged 7+ with a grandparent or older relative/companion. The aim was to encouraging cross-generational conversation about change, with a particular focus on changing technology and the merging of man-made and natural. These, along with the Experimental Clay Workshops in February, formed part of the process of r & d for the Once In A Universe project, encouraging conversation and debate and providing research which might later feed in to my own work. As well as this though, these collaborations with other artists who were commissioned to run the workshops have opened up possibilities for new ways of working and thinking.

There is no doubt that the children and grandparents really enjoyed the magical cyanotype process, but the Fotofonty artists brought extra layers of interest to the day with information about the history of cyanotype; a challenge to the children to invent “future words” to include in their cyanotype images, and an additional activity which enriched the experience, scanning the linked hands of children and grandparents which were then projected on to the wall and sent to participants for them to keep and print.

Photographs below courtesy of Elizabeth Doak

 

For me, the process of planning a brief talk to introduce the project to the children forced some serious thinking in order to simplify and condense my ideas into a form that I could present concisely and coherently – a useful process indeed! And apart from all that, thanks to Fotofonty, we made some fantastic cyanotypes and everyone went home feeling pleased and satisfied with their great work!

 

NOTE TO SELF:

Buy tiny screwdrivers

Deconstruct more tech objects (but not ones I might need again)

Coming next… when will I ever make something big again?!?

 

 

 


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In February it was great to work with artist Claire Shoosmith to run our first workshops for the Once In A Universe project (aka OIAU in shorthand!) at Eastbourne Studio Pottery, part of the Devonshire Collective in Eastbourne. I wanted to plan events which would create opportunities for people to join in practical art-making activities informed by the themes of the project, where I could work alongside them and chat while we work, creating a space for interesting conversations and things to happen that might influence the way my own work will develop.

We decided to theme the workshop around geological processes and think about geological time. John Cooper introduced these ideas for us in the opening talk in January, talking about the speed of geological processes over billions of years, compared to the current speed of change described by Hans Ulrich Obrist as “extreme present” – a time in which it feels impossible to maintain pace with the present, never mind to chart the future.*

Claire had devised a simple apparatus which would hold various receptacles (rubber gloves, squeezy bottles, piping bags…) filled with clay slip. We experimented with dripping the slip at various speeds to try to replicate the processes through which stalactites and stalagmites are formed. It turned out to be messier than expected but people soon got the idea that they needed to build little clay and cardboard structures to collect the drips and stop the slip from spreading too far.

In the next workshop we experimented with layering and folding black and white clay, using what Claire described as the puff pastry technique, to make stratified objects, then all the work went off for a first firing. Now the work has been glazed and we meet again next month for a final showing and handling of the work and to carry on the conversations which were beginning to flow.

Back in the studio I began to experiment in a small way with a mouldable silicone material I’m exploring at the moment.

I also enjoyed the process of sanding some of the layered objects to remove the surface staining left by the black clay and expose the true layers underneath, though the stars of the show for me were the remnants of worn out sandpaper.

 

NOTES TO SELF:

  • Set up a long term drip station to create drip sculptures over the summer
  • Try out some drip drawings
  • “Good tech-bad tech” – how we can tell what the future impact of  new technologies might be?
  • Make puff pastry

*https://www.artsy.net/article/hans-ulrich-obrist-the-future-of-art-according-to-hans-ulrich-obrist

COMING NEXT: Fotofonty and the Blueprints (sounds like a good name for a band!)

 


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Well here we are. More than two months into the new year and nearly six weeks since my project launched. It’s been busy and varied – always a good thing, and now I’ve reached a natural pause where I can slow down and take stock. I feel as if I’ve got much better at planning projects now and seem to have got the hang of working in short cycles, factoring in pauses to reflect and get in the studio. This last cycle has been one of planning, organising and promoting, and working with other artists and the public has been fantastic to open up new ways of working which I don’t normally use. This simple GIF (below) made by Maja Jones from Fotofonty inspired me to have a go myself (click on the image to view Maja’s animated GIF).

Perhaps the most valuable part of the process has been the essential need to simplify my thoughts and ideas in order to communicate them to others. This started slowly and quite badly but finally, a workshop for children and grandparents last weekend forced me to pin down some essential thoughts and begin to communicate them more effectively.

Image below: Still from the launch event at Towner, by Brian Booker.

The launch event in January featured an interesting talk by John Cooper, Emeritus Keeper of Natural Sciences at The Booth Museum, Brighton. John’s talk focused on the huge expanses of geological time since the beginnings of the formation of the Earth. It put a new perspective on the concept of time and made me think about the very slow speed of change in nature and natural processes, in contrast to the incredibly rapid speed of change since the Industrial Revolution.

A while ago I decided I must explore the idea that everything I do is (or can be) art. So I decided that for my short introduction for the launch event, I should approach my PowerPoint slideshow as an artwork. Wow! Who knew that you can do such things in PowerPoint? I’m still developing this work even now, making long and short versions, GIFs (like this one), sound, narration, no sound… and turning the whole thing in to a short video. (Click on the image below to view the short GIF)

Here’s another recent resolution – not to move on too fast. Look and look again. Think and think some more. Don’t rush from one idea to another, instead build, slowly. Make links. Add layers.

Coming next: An Alternative Geology – Experimental Clay Workshops


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