Thought for Implementation

Which, I ask myself, is the subject here, the hole or the thing that contains the hole. It is what I want it to be, but without the one the other would not exist. Likewise, is the movement out or in? Like a grouper fish, this thing, this devourer of space encroaches on the unknown and brings with it the unknown. The fear of holes, tears at the fabric of my consciousness, invites curiosity and repels as a harbinger of harm. It is from where things come and where they disappear to. The thing that contains the whole contains reality as so forms the substance of faith.

What would happen if you were to put your hand into the pitch darkness and as you do so, the rustling, murmuring, growling, grunting of life could be barely audible. You have to then draw your head closer towards the dark to hear what lies inside…

As with a number of ideas I have for the project proposal, the full meaning of this work would not lie in itself. It would be revealed as part of the sediments of consciousness, the fabric of ideas woven with the other works. And the space in between would invite further thoughts and behaviours by the viewers, recipients, call that what you will.

An Australian friend once described to me, swimming in the barrier reef and looking over its edge into the deep ocean. And as he did so, a giant grouper rose from the dark depths and hovered over him. It could have swallowed him whole but clearly it did not. This vision has remained with me for over thirty years, such is the power of the denizens of the unknown. 

Research Discussion Preliminaries

In preparation for next week’s research discussion, today I sent out an email requesting some thoughts from my MA peers’ about their relationships with the work they produce. Bearing in mind that 45 minutes can go by very quickly, I decided to leave out a lot of explanatory background information and let the process evolve during the Skype chat. I have some material to input into the discussion but above all my aim is to explore the different ways in which they view the relationship that an artist might have with their work and how they perceive how a recipient might relate to it. I would also like to get some insight into how they articulate the means by which they control, alter, influence behaviours in the planning making and display of work.

I was thinking of framing this in terms of subject-object, the Living-Presence Response and altering behaviours by changing the passive resistance of a work. In view of the allotted time, I decided to not necessarily introduce this complex area although some of it may filter into the discussion.

The process of preparing for the research discussion has, however, proved immensely useful in developing further a theoretical framework which I can use to underlie my practice and perhaps even take further in some future studies.

This is a copy of the email. It is difficult to keep things brief and clear. I am sure it could be said better; experience helps in these matters.

RE: Research Discussion – Tuesday 4th February

To My MA Peers

As a preparation for the research discussion on Tuesday 4th Feb, would each of you kindly send me your thoughts as to the nature of your relationship with your art pieces. This is because in my own work, it is a thought that prevails both when I am making a work and when I think of the possible contexts in which it will be shown.

My research statement was concerned with looking at disparate art practices in an evolving environment. One of the outcomes of having written the paper is an interest in, the subject-object relationship where the subject can be the artist and or the recipient, and finding ways of altering behaviour by changing the dynamics between the two.

Please would you each send me in no more than 100 words your thoughts. As a guide I have written three questions that might help frame your ideas.

  • What is the nature of your relationship with one of your art pieces?
  • How do you perceive the relationship between that work and its recipients might be?
  • What do you do or plan to do to foster that relationship?

You can frame these around your project proposal, the final show or any current work you are engaged in. This is not specifically about your practice but about the relationship between you and the art object or event, and between the recipient and the given work.

I would be grateful if you could send it by Sunday evening, before the Tuesday Skype session.

London based artists are very welcome to respond and or join us on the Skype session at 1pm as Jonathan mentioned. In any case I would be very interested to hear your thoughts.

Thank you


Stage by Stage

First three preliminary shapes in their early phases. The process is going well after a great deal of planning. The porcelain is behaving itself and keeping its elasticity and very importantly its shape. This I do by carefully regulating the water content as I add layer upon layer. I hope to have all the major shapes, at least started if not completed, before the Low Residency.

I have also booked the electrician to hook up the large kiln. Hopefully by the end of February when the first pieces can be fired. The idea is to have all the major pieces done by mid April when I can start with the installation and fitting up with electronics. There is still a great deal to do and I don’t want to leave anything for the last minute as each stage needs time and focus. March, April and May will be very busy months. I hope to have June clear for contingencies, fine tunings, installation dry runs, packing and photography.

I shall work on sound elements and videos concurrently during making down time. I enjoy alternating activities and working on several things at the same time. It allows me to resolve any problems so long as I can concentrate on whatever I am doing at any given time.

Segmentation and Culture

I have been working for around ten days now on some of the components for one of the works. It is hard to keep the porcelain fresh to handle and yet not become deformed under its own weight at this scale. The material dictates much of the formal essence and I am working hard to maintain the traces of making as well as the underlying structure of segmentation. Although what I am making is not a vessel and forms part of a larger work, working in this way is giving me a wealth of ideas for future work.

I have been inspired by prehistoric pottery such as the beaker culture terracotta artefacts. This archaeological idea comes together with the biological, creating another layer in my toing and froing between the past and future. My aim is to decentralise the work from an overt iconography of the now and widen the scope for reflection which inevitably comes back onto contemporary contexts from a different perspective. A perspective that sees the human condition not stuck in the present but a chronologically universal one. Namely, the tension between the animal self grounded in a physical reality, and the conceptual self as a construct of the mind. This I believe is something that people have tried to come to terms with continually in different ways over time. Today this struggle is framed in the context of technology in its many forms and macro socio-economics. These are having the tendency perhaps to fragment and confound a sense of the whole in a way that has not been previously encountered on such a scale. What I am trying to do, is move out of a certain contemporary entrainment and present something that rejects horizontal collective solipsism. Instead, I am endeavouring to express the self as a vertical continuum in time that speaks of how we are the bearers of the past and the future. Here, the titles become crucial in opening out layered inferences that can move freely between formal, aesthetic, conceptual and contextual constraints.

Helmet of the Sun God

Yesterday I bought an automatic welding helmet. This will make welding much easier and accurate as it will free the hand that normally has to lower the visor just before arcing.

Slanted like a Corinthian helmet, the work of Hephaestos is done behind its gaze as its eye is rendered miraculously half blind in the instant the spark is ignited. The mask conceals, protects and like an armoured baboon, intrudes menacingly onto a landscape made of gentler things.

Subwoofers: To Port or To Seal

I pulled these out from storage a few days ago. They work well as subwoofers and also deliver on high frequencies. They need rehousing though; I do not like the shapes of the boxes and the black fabric coverings. Then there is the question of whether to port or seal the boxes. The speaker on the right is ported hence the difference in size and shape.

The functional difference between ported and sealed speakers is, the former type is louder and the latter delivers a higher fidelity. Seeing as I intend to use them in a gallery setting, sealed is the more appropriate option. This is fortunate because the calculations and design choices are simpler for the sealed speaker type. It is also smaller and the size tolerance is much greater. With a ported speaker, the measurements need to be much more precise because the airwave leaving the box needs to match the fundamental frequency of the monitor exactly if constructive interference is to amplify the membrane displacement and hence enhance volume.

The best material for cost and ease of construction is thick MDF which I can get cut accurately to size. For now, I am thinking of leaving the MDF bare and only sealing it for aesthetic and conceptual reasons. The speakers are what they are and to try to hide them would miss the point. They are sentinels of the sculpture, not just relayers of sound. Additionally, at the moment I feel that to paint them or cover them is to deny their real nature and contrast with the sculpture.

This web site gives all the information I need to construct the boxes and fit the subwoofers.

Speaker Box Enclosure Designer / Calculator

Use the Speaker Box Designer to determine the optimal volume for your enclosure.

Gesture, Imprint, Matrix

This morning, I was going through an old batch of porcelain which had developed some mould. I did not want to add this to my current work as it might affect the integrity of the whole in some way. This encounter opened out an opportunity. Rather than just throwing it away I adapted an idea I have been thinking about and used in previous shows. The opportunity for people to use touch in the context of work which is too fragile to handle. The showpieces are about a deep aspect of humanity. This brought up the idea of gesture which is part of the work I have critically incorporated into the sculptures. The emotional input, as I have mentioned before, is finely balanced with rational world-building. In the process of mediating between these two states, I leave imprints.

The piece of porcelain as I have handled is the first of a series of matrices created from an imprint which can be ‘followed’ by someone else as a moment of tactile communion. It is a personal gesture whilst universal – it is both human and animal. It reminds me of handling ancient objects. It reaches out in a physical way to others.

Hand Axe, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania
1.2 – 1.4 million years old

It brings to mind, the Krell handprint in Forbidden Planet. More recently, Neil MacGregor’s second and third broadcasts in The History of the World in One Hundred Objects on the Olduvai Gorge stone chopping tool and hand axe respectively.

This could form a participatory activity for visitors whereby they make their mark, to be added to a display documenting their passing presence.

Light of the Fading Day: A Start

Today, in the fading daylight of the studio, I began the next work for the final show. This is the largest and most technically ambitious of the set. It is quite daunting because despite having rehearsed it in my mind countless times, it is all new to me. I have never worked like this on this scale with porcelain, so I have left plenty of time to deal with what might come up. For porcelain, it is a very large work requiring a deft control of water content without loosing spontaneity and an overall vision. In addition, I am not using moulds or armatures which makes the handling of form that much more difficult and unpredictable, but that is good, it keeps things dynamic. Then there is the question of assemblage, mounting and display. Each stage will have its own challenges which will dictate the final outcome. I have a vision which will have to adapt to what emerges along the way and how this will entangle with sound is something that will need a heuristic approach. I have already altered the question of where the sound will be coming from. It will be more overt, creating a tension between two sources of interest although its control will remain with the sculpture: the sound, a guardian of sorts.

How refined, how brutal must I be to set this plasma into shape and keep the gesture and the thought intact against a stubborn bend? For this body is not wont to be thought rude and so tempering my power, I must bear its growing freedom with careful wit and patiently hold my nerve so we might come to journey’s end more whole than at the start.



The alembic comes to mind: from the Arabic al-anbiq, the word has its roots in the Greek ambix which is of even more ancient origins, perhaps Hebrew. Ambix means cup, used by alchemists to distil potions and elixirs. I see it as a symbol for the transmutation from the unreal to the real through the distillation of an admixture of experience and ideas. Another circle turned on the axis of the idea of the vessel. (See previous post, Conversation, intersubjectivity and the Suspension of Reality.)

Metamerism: Why Make It So Difficult

The works in porcelain are hard to do because of my process. Why make my life difficult and not model them as I would a figure, or anything else for that matter?

The answer is simple, the consequences for me are not. Life has evolved so that each and every animal more advanced than the simplest forms has a body plan organised in segments or somites. These are repeating units which can be identical to one another or structurally very different. Segmentation or metamerism can be clearly seen in arthropods and earthworms but is less obvious in vertebrates. differentiation takes place at the embryo stage and is something we have in common with all complex animals.

My process involves building the body with coils of porcelain in much the same way as a basic ceramic pot is built without using a wheel. A pot is more or less symmetrical and it is relatively easy to control its shape as it is being made. However, building the bodies is a much more difficult thing to do because they are very asymmetrical and the flow of lines depend on fine adjustments. As I build the body, I have to imagine cross-sections of the piece as it is built and visualise how it will be several layers on or when completed.

As the porcelain dries and after it is fired, the traces of the coiling show through as the material shrinks. This trace of how the form was made renders visible its making. It brings to focus a reflection I wrote back in August,

‘As I work, I continually rediscover that to leave traces of how a work has been done, is to allow its continual remaking once my part is completed.’

This trace corresponds to the trace of metazoan evolution, our evolution. It is seeing the making under an opaque skin rendered visible. The layered coiling correlates with the physical way in which a 3D printer layers or disintegrates material to build or reveal the form.

I have never worked in this way but it does extend the process when I was compiling Chaos Contained. Then, it was molecular accretion to build complex structures. The result was organic but architectural in form. Now, the forms are organic, felt from the gut and not the head: preparing the way for another form of living-presence.