Text(ure) – Millet, Allegory and Readings

 

Walk in a Time of Virus , 4 April 2020

 

I have only just returned from our evening walk. We were passing by Chris Kitchen’s farm when he ran out and offered us a glass of wine. We got to talking about things, the virus and art while we kept our distance, physical but not social.

In turn, Janet and I described our current work and as I explained in as few words as I could muster what I am doing, Chris said, ‘is it like an allegory?’. That was like a blast from the past: a word I have not used for some time which, if truth be told, says what my work is. It is a metaphor that encompasses the sacred and the prophane, the religious and the secular. The text I wrote for Logos is infused with creation myth and scientific theory, Genesis and Evolution, in which the idea becomes physical, text becomes texture, fact becomes myth and myth takes on the fact of physical reality, or should I say allegory? It is an allegory of origins, in which the animal self is embraced as part of the natural state of things, as a necessary, no, inescapable truth about our existance. No more can we reject the human animal than can we our humanity. The two are entwinned, coevil, parts of a whole.

This is why the lack of physicality in an online presence falls short of what I had intended. Yet, the virus, as much part of nature as anything, has made me think in terms of translating this into a screen based experience in some way, and why the balance of sensuality shifts towards sound.

I do not pretend that I could convey anything like the presence of the actual work in such a way, but I may be able to unfold some of its inner workings and thereby weave another form of narrative… or at least begin to do so.

 

Building the ‘Egg’ Framework for ‘What’s the Difference?’

 

 

This is the completed frame for What’s the Difference?’ It is intended to support the modelled forms and will disappear beneath the work itself. Its egg shape seems apt for the beginning of the work: the beginning of life and the imperative of reproduction and development00om simplicity towards complexity. Like the corona virus SARS-CoV-2 that is affecting society so profoundly at the moment, the drive against entropy propels all life through time, is made possible by the mechanisms of survival and reproduction.

I have made a short gif animation of the stages of the frame’s construction. But it is so blindingly annoying, that I have hidden it on its own page which can be viewed HERE.


As I go to the page where the GIF resides, I find its relentless animation, repeateding its limited repertoire, gives me a strong sense of being driven by a powerful vital force condemning it to a most awful perpetuity. It is somewhat unsettling.

 

Lettering Logos

 

Video showing a detail of the lettering impressed on the various components of Logos. It is taking some time, but once done I shall be able to continue with finishing the connecting, and terminal parts of the sculpture.

In the meantime I shall finish some other works and fire smaller pieces in addition to making models of the large works, developing sounds, writing the script for Symposium 2 and planning online presentations… amongst other things.

 

An Icon of Change: The Kiln

 

The kiln, a symbol of transformation, from the flesh of clay to a ceramic fossil of its former plastic life, is now a symbol of change of direction in my practice caused by COVID-19. This change is taking the shape of a translation from a larger physical, touchable scale to a smaller one imprisoned behind the smooth, cool surface of the screen, exchanging a sensual presence for the vicarious sensation of virtual dimensions and prosthetic ears. This theatre will have no living wings, nonetheless, I hope that it might transport the imagination to a point where an altered perspective offers a different view. One that enriches what might have been remaining hidden behind my mind’s eye.

 

 

The electician can no longer come to connect the 11 kilwatt beast to its source of energy in the wall. I now have to revert to the lesser capacity of its anteceden smugly esconced, like a vizir set behind a boy Sultan, whispering considered suggestions.

I am evolving tatics that one by one are beginning to coalesce into a strategy. The aim is not to produce a final outcome for a show, but rather to present a process that responds to the exigencies and contingencies of the present, but most importantly offers broadened possibilities for the future.

The final works will eventually come about. So as I finish them as far as I am able to, the idea is to weave a world around them that reaches out and catalysis responses and notions in the gaps that would otherwise be left unseen in a physical show.

Creating models, projections of the ideal exhibition; focusing on elements that would not appear in the show, lingering over details, augmenting them, are some of the ways that I see myself working at the moment. I do not know whether I can do all I have in mind in the time given, but completion is not the paramount thing now. I am thinking of how to represent concepts that inform process and developing my practice instead of using process to bring about the expression of ideas. This confirms the end of the MA as a point of completion not stasis.

For now, I need to continue the time consuming work of inscribing the component parts of Logos. In the meantime, I am building ideas and planning their implementation.

 

New Font

 

Inscribing, pressing, carving the words on the porcelain surface has led me to develop a particular technique and this in turn put me to thinking about creating a font. The main tool I am using is a angled, moderately sharp edged box wood tool. I chose this tool because it is not the perfect tool to use. The difficulty of handling this tool ensures that the text does not become too even and crisp, more in keeping with the largely informal making of the porcelain forms.

 

 

The font has very many similarities with cuneiform writing, runes and classical stone lettering fround in Ancient Greece and Rome (not forgetting ancient graffiti). The first made with a wooden, wedge shaped stylus, the second a knife and a chisel for the latter. The respective tools and materials dictate to a large extent how the font evolves. The above font is a first draft distillation of the lettering I am using on the porcelain. It forms a very decipherable cipher, which is easy to read and based on the principle of two strokes per letter. I shall rethink about this in view of some of the letters being made up of three strokes. This is a relatively straightforward development. It is just that I wanted to document this now while the idea has some momentum. Subsequently I may also include miniscules, numbers and symbols.

 

 

I intend to convert this into a font that I can use as type on the computer. I have opted to use Font Forge software which, although not the simplest, seems to offer a wide range of features. There is also a large number of tutorials online to help with learning. I can then use it to type documents and on sculptures. As for a name? I am currently thinking of Porcelana although this may change.

 

Technical Planning for Video Work

 

Camera movements are key to this part of the project. However, camera movements with a DSLR are never satisfactory. Smoothness and accuracy are almost impossible to achieve unless the camera is mounted on some pretty expensive gear. I have tried handheld and tripod supported videos before. Handheld is a disaster without a powerful gyroscope and tripods are fine until you try some movement, that is when gerkiness begins.

How can I cirumvent these problems without spending hundred of pounds on a stabiliser, fluid pan tripod head and tracking dolly? The answer is simple, stop motion photography. By capturing movements frame by frame, the loss of control that comes with moving a camera at speed is eliminated. Innovative ways of using the camera are possible and dynamic lighting effects can be introduced single handedly. By considering a sequence in terms of frames, the whole can be visualised and planned for more more effectively.

Camera movements

I have all I need to accomplish all camera movments except tracking. The tripods I have are stable and smooth enough for frame by frame panning, tilting and even vertical tracking. However, I have had to order a set of tracking dolly rails from the internet. The spend is only £24 and having carried out some research: this piece of equipment appears quite adequate for the simple tasks I shall ask of it. I really could not justify larger spends, in some cases hundreds of pounds.

Camera and Subject Movements

  • Pan
  • Tilt
  • track
  • zoom
  • rotate

Hyperlase

This is one technique that I believe will prove very useful to move into areas of the pieces to give the semblance of moving towards it. It is flexible enough to move around corners and zoon into details.

Lighting

Lighting does not have to be static. I use painting with light over long exposures to create even lighting rather than using a booth or a whole battery of lights. I first came across this technique years ago through Ansel Adams, who used it in large interiors to light dark areas without the use of many lights which would have been in the way. I have used it for lighting small works with great effect. However, this is better suited for static photographs rather than moving images.

There is, though, an adaptation of this technique in that as the camera is moved in space during stop motion, the light source can also be moved to create dynamic light effects which would, I imagine, give the film the sense of being in a living environment.

 

Adapting and Videoing

 

It does not look as though I shall not have the kiln connected in time for the ‘final show’. No matter, the change in circumstances due to Corona offers tactical opportunities to develop strategies post MA. In any case, displaying fired and finished works in the studio is not really satisfactory as the images or videos would fall short of what I would consider a fair representation of the works. However, taking each component of the exhibition as a model for digital works is catalysing a wealth of ideas, time being the only constraint.

Visual artworks today are most commonly revealed in the first instance as images or films. This kind of imagery often misrepresents the reality of the works in some way and serves more as an illustration of some alluded to idea. They are entry points into the work itself which may surpise or disappoint but almost invariably present very differently. I wrote about this some time ago in another post. Therefore, to create works for online or print presentation using the physical works as far as possible, is the obvious way to go. Not in an attempt to replace their physical presence but as a way of exploring the world they inhabit and discovering new processes and meanings along the way.

The beauty of creating works that stand alone in print or online is that I am embarking on a dual approach over the next three months. One, I continue to make and finish (as fas as possible) the physical works which in turn become enriched by their online reflections. This is both an artistic and professional enrichment, extending the meaning and context of the works as well as building a platform for wider distribution and promotion.1 This ties in with the idea of creating different open levels of interpretation whilst offering the viewer a way in for their own narrative building. The temporary, possibly permanent, loss of the physical show may in the long run bring with it positive outcomes.

By not having to install a physical show, the time spent testing, packing, travelling and transporting, installing and curating the work, can now be spent representing the work variously. I will miss the excitment of the ‘real’ exhibition, of meeting people and showing the work and ideas, but there is no use in lamenting the fact. Fortune has dealt a different hand which may end up being a winning one. I will of course still document the detailed planning for a hypothetical show and its curation but parallel to this, I can create a whole new experience within the limits of the time available.

The obvious way to go is to create videos. I have decided against scanning, photogrammetry, 3D rendering. Why would I want to create a fascimily of the works when I have them in the flesh? I do not have the time to make such works, let alone develop the skills, to create something worth looking at. But why not try to create a virtual world that is powerfully engaging, perhaps more so?, I might here some one say. This question, I imagine would be asked by someone who has a higher level of skills in the relevant software than I. I am an expert in what I do, it is a time to work to one’s strengths.

So videos and photographs, drawings (digital), words and sound it is. But what sort of videos? To produce something worthwhile as a straight video I believe would require equipment and facilities I do not have. I have come to the conclusion that animating films using stop action capture provides the control I need for smooth movements, camera angles, pacing, dynamic lighting, green screening and so on.

In the next post I shall go into more technical details as to how I can approach this and what equipment and facilities I have and might need.

 

  1. At this stage I am not so concerned with promotion but it is good to keep it in mind[]

The Erosion of Words Like Memory Raises Curiosity Over Meaning

 

 

Today I started incising the sculptural pieces with the words in the previous post. As I start on this long task I know that the script will change along the way. This is only one aspect of how I envisage the surface work of the sculpture developing over time, altering in response to its making.

It quickly became apparent that there was the danger that the lettering might become the principle and overt aspect of the work. However, this is not necessarily the case for two reasons. Firstly, as I handle the heavy pieces, the inscriptions will become erroded in places affecting their legibility. This allusion to the effects of time, loss of form and meaning, may invite an a posteriori interpretation of the partially hidden or cryptic content.

Secondly, the repetition of the text over the length of the sculpture, creates at a distance, a texture that does not resolve into discernable words or their constituent characters, until curiosity draws the viewer sufficiently close for those words to play their principle intended role beyond an aesthetic one; that of context. The degradation or disappearance of a particular part of the text in one place, only to reappear somewhere else, again invites the building of a narrative that may be quite different to the original. Somehow, this brings to mind the Rosetta Stone and how the stele changes from hieroglyphics to Demotic to Ancient Greek in a three way translation of the same pharaonic decree.

The work of writing, inscribing, carving, the words creates an archaeology, a partial fossil, a cipher. These are all subliminal, at times overt, influences on my aesthetic horizon. Beforehand, I was concerned about loosing the clarity of the words. In the doing of it, I have lost that fear and am perhaps more concerned with too much clarity. Erosion and loss in the handling of the pieces during work is a precious processes that transforms meaning in a way that is not wholly under my control. Knowing this has loosened my hand in writing the words as they are converted into sculpture. The words resurrected in stone, live in the imagination.

 

Logos – Title

 

 

In the beginning was the Word,
And the Word was with Chaos
And from Chaos came Night and Day.

The Word became Flesh and walked with Chaos,
And from the war of Nature, from Famine and Death,
The most exalted Objects were produced and followed.

And the most exalted were breathed into new Forms.
The new Forms breathed from few or one,
And from so simple a beginning
Endless Forms most beautiful and wonderful were made.

Flesh became Stone and remained among Us.
And Stone became the Word.
And from the Word all things that are named were named.

And from the manifold Names comes the Word.
No one thing is without name
And no one thing that was made was made without its name.

 


 

The incorporation of text into the body of the sculpture has been a point of hiatus in its physical making. I have returned to the name Logos, it encompasses many of the ideas that underly my work, many of the contexts that have fed and informed what I do.

Logos has so many meanings, from simply subjective reasoning as in ‘speak’, ‘I say’ to logic which is nonetheless subject to our senses. It invokes the divine and the natural, the language of words and of numbers. I have triangulated the writings of St John, Darwin and Hesiod into a text that offers the possibility for different readings and conversations.

 

Binary Vision

 

 

It is clear that with the corona virus pandemic, things will change. Not least the end of the MA and final show. In view of any difficulties that might arise, I think it prudent to take a twin approach to the project proposal and how it will be delivered.

I don’t think that the show will now take place which is a great disappointment. Materials and equipment supplies may also be affected. I must also take into account the fact that the kiln may not be connected (although I hope this is a remote possibility).

What to do then. First, I shall continue making: that is the priority. Second I shall continue to plan for the show at Camberwell, describing the installation in situ, logistics, how it would work and so on. Equally important and perhaps more so in reality is how would I present the work online in the great likelyhood that the show will not physically take place.

The latter scenario presents an opportunity preparing me to show the work to a widespread audience in digital form. I could set the works up in various locations and video them there, narrating, presenting text, creating an online unfolding in a dedicated website. Many possibilities present themselves, not least the fact that I could show work in greater depth in a virtual presentation. However, I must also be realistic in terms of the time it would take to complete a complex presentation.

In conclusion the blog will now take a twin path, real and surreal, actual and hypothetical.