The Kiln, the Kiln, Oh the Kiln

Things have changed again. The kiln has been connected. But this does not mean that the works can be completed in time for a hypothetical final show.

All the interruptions, changes in direction, blockages of the past months have rendered it impossible to finish the work in time for July. Let me explain why. There are only four to five weeks left. The timetable I had originally set out was tight but it did allow for a certain amount of contingencies. However, it did not account for a lockdown lasting three months at least. Had everything gone to plan, the kiln would have been functioning by the beginning of March – we have been isolating since then.

The lockdown, decoupling of the final show from the assessment, and the online alternative, meant that I had to redirect my energies in other directions. These have taken precious weeks which cannot be recovered within an end of June, beginning of July deadline. As it is, I have had time to rethink and become more reflective than I would have otherwise been in the adrenalin rush of the preparation for the show.

Right now, I would have to first learn to programme the controller and carry out two test firings as indicated by the user manual would take up several days, and that is just the start. I would need to make at least twenty firings: two firings per load, one low and the other high, in between inspecting, repairing and altering if necessary the pieces. If each one takes three to four days, that is sixty to eighty in total, two months minimum. Add another twenty days for finishing, mounting and fitting the audio equipment, a total of one hundred days. This was possible after the low residency – Now, impossible. I might get to finish some pieces but as for assembling and installing them, that is out of the question if I am to do anything for the online. So, I shall have to be content with showing on the blog the planning for the show as though it were taking place. Here is a list of what I need to set out in the plan.

  • packing
  • logistics
  • risk assessment
  • installation of works
  • ideal location and setting
  • modes of interaction
  • supporting material
  • deinstalling

This post is not so much an apology as a form of catharsis for the frustration I have had to endure for the lack of the physical show. A presence where the work would be seen by many and by those that are normally difficult to attract to shows such as agent, dealers, collectors and perhaps even galleries. This is such an important part of the final show. It is not just an examination event but a showcase in London which be difficult and expensive in any circumstance. What is more, my work very much relies on physical interaction with people. I imagine that people will visit the university site when it is up in the absence of the show. However, I think that my work does suffer a great deal by not being experienced in a real setting. After the online show is up, I may get the opportunity to set up some shots of the work in a suitable location for the showcase.

Whatever happens, I have a clear idea of how the works will be when finished and just as important, I now have many new ideas which arise from my original plans and from the new situation. For example, photograph the works or part of the works and develop images that form works in themselves – somewhat akin to my approach to the online show – using them as ‘subject matter’. Another example is installing the work at the abandoned church near the coast – a spectacular setting.

WITD – Resuming and Continuing

30 May
30 May

I have resumed physical work after making the symposium video. The sculpture is nearly completed in its raw stage waiting to then be finished in detail before the first firing. I have regained a rhythm and resolved how the underneath works with the parts above. A layering of scale and detail, manner of making and process.

It will have to be dried very slowly to minimise cracking and mitigate those that will appear after the bisque firing.

It is clear to me that the process, the making and the outcome are one and the same thing. There is no separation, there is no instructional illustration, I imbue myself into the work mentally and physically. I also have to keep a certain distance, which is not easy, to reflect and to evaluate: that is why the work takes time, particularly since I have not worked with this complexity in this way. While I work I reflect in one way, when I rest, I reflect in another. The first is absorbed, focused, unseparated, the second detached and emotional or perhaps more accurately psychologically.

I do not finish a session. It is best to leave things unresolved or when things are going well. This is a tried and tested methodology: the brain continues to work when the body turns away. I think about other things and do mundane jobs so that the process can become unconscious, uninterrupted by doubts, fears, ambition, and attachment.

I should finish this stage in the next few days and move onto the defining of forms and selective finishing of surfaces. Then the slow drying to minimise cracking which will have to be dealt with after the first low firing.

Tutorial 8: 13 May 2020. Jonathan Kearney

This final tutorial was a summing up of the processes I have gone through. We did not discuss any particular aspect of my work in detail, it was more an affirmation of what I have done and where I might go.

Jonathan was particularly interested in the process of rebuilding the blog after the catastrophic data loss in February. He wanted to know what I had gained out of the event and subsequent resolution. I can say that the experience enabled me to become better acquainted with what I had written over the previous eighteen months. Until then, I had written a lot, around ninety thousand words. Much of it exploratory with some posts having become irrelevant, but there are pieces of writing which when I look back I say to myself, did I write that? Yes, much is in reductive form, but the blog will become an important source of material to expand on in the future. There are several research papers in there, but I prefer the freedom afforded by the essay form. Whether I go on to do a PhD or not is an open question, but I shall definitely continue to document thoughts, experiences and ideas in this blog. Although not organised as a coherent entity, due to the nature of the entries, there is enough material for a thesis already. I have found this the single most important element in the course.

We discussed the final show and how the loss of the physical presence has been a great disappointment for me. The work I have been working on needs to be experienced in the flesh. No amount of digital representation can substitute for this. Also, the pieces cannot be finished in time due to the virus lockdown. Consequently, for the online show, I have decided not to represent the work but rather some of the ideas behind the work. Jonathan understands this perfectly well and looks forward to the day they are exhibited in a real space. Nonetheless, having to think of alternatives has offered new insights and ideas that may lead to future opportunities. It is clear, is that a detailed plan of how the show would have been prepared, installed, and displayed, is part of the assessment notwithstanding the decoupling of any show including the online one from the assessment process.

We also discussed the symposium video, and how hard it is to create a narrative that encompasses what lies behind the work and the eight-term process. Jonathan’s input helped clarify my way forward in creating a synthetic script, supported by images that complement and not necessarily illustrate the words: what is left out is as important as what is put in. The symposium is a representation of the work done, the critical evaluation (CE) is a moving on, a description of how the process so far has set a foundation for future trajectories. The CE is a very important document because it clarifies the ‘what next’.

Tutorial 7: 18 March 2020, Jonathan Kearney

The tutorial took place as we were in self-imposed isolation just before the government declared lockdown. We discussed the effect of the virus on the possibilities for societal change and the contrasting forces for change and the status quo.

As we talked, I had an overwhelming sense that the discussion was in the light, or shadow, of an impending and necessary lockdown and that the Camberwell show would in all likelihood become impossible.

We also discussed the way in which isolation and difficult circumstances can be a catalyst for creativity, art and changes of paradigm. An example of this in the past came to mind with the recent discovery of a copy of Newton’s Principia Matematica in a Corsican library. Newton wrote this great work while in self-imposed isolation during the plague.

We talked about what might lie ahead and the show as though it were going ahead: planning, logistics, and installation. I went through the process, risks, challenges and solutions. Could the show take place some other time in the future? We talked about the online show and how work could be configured for such a presentation: installed elsewhere and documented on video or in still images. This also could be a good thing for the future as a way of showing and promoting work. Particularly as my work very much depends on a physical presence and being sited in a specific location makes the space where it is seen particularly important.

The kiln situation is critical because the large kiln has not been connected and it may be possible that a lockdown will make that impossible for the foreseeable future: I need to look at an alternative to showing the work, perhaps using the work as a catalyst for thoughts and ideas.

I explained that I have not done much posting recently because I had been working on rebuilding the blog site. I described how I was using an export file and how I was relearning about HTML in the process. Everything including tags and categories is contained within the code except for the media. I estimated that I should finish by the end of March.

Jonathan asked me how I was working with the pipe clamps. I described the dimensions and rough construction of the pieces, particularly Logos, and also Enshrinement, and What is the Difference. I also described a time-lapse piece projection-mapped onto a surface inside a cubicle. Narrative of erosion and time with another object beneath being uncovered as it is eroded away. I also have other pieces, but much depends on logistic, space available. The show is flexible, from small-scale to large.

Jonathan asked me about what space I had in mind at Camberwell. I described the area where Lyu Wen had been last year. The long piece is long and the subwoofers overlook it like guardians which react as someone approaches making a feature of them as sentinels. I arrived at this out of lighting considerations. Spots in a darkened environment are not a feasible option under the circumstances.

Jonathan remarked about the video where I am recording the inside of a form. This conversation has encouraged me to explore this aspect of sound-making using the sculpture in the future. I wonder how recorded and live sound would be altered by the acoustic qualities of the sculpture. The interaction between the object and the sound. In addition, do I go for abstract sound or spoken word? This is a heuristic exploration.

I talked about the paper on the difference in career paths between experimental and conceptual artists. In experimental practices, the work arises out of the doing of the. Conceptual artists, on the other hand, are ideas and thesis led and the work is done that best illustrates or delivers the function of what is proposed. It is suggested that conceptual artists have success earlier on in their careers whereas experimental ones take longer to do so. In the case of the latter, what matters is fitting the brief or fulfilling the initial aim.

What I am doing is pretty all experimental. I tend to reflect and post-rationalise during or after the making in order to retrace the steps to explain what I am doing. Conceptual practice does this a priori so that the artist does not even have to carry out the work, or they can give it to someone else to do. As an experimental artist, more works tend to be left unfinished as each work is a step to the next as was the case with me.

Jonathan talked about the rarity of synthetic thinking citing the difficulty business owners have recruiting personnel capable of innovative perspectives which are to the point and are not the product of formulaic education. Such thinking tends to come to us with time and maturity. This is the case particularly in art, which is a life long endeavour whether one is successful early or not. Is early success desirable as an artist?

Also the education system today mitigates against developing skill and in-depth knowledge at an early age when learning and muscle memory are most effectively acquired. A school-based education mitigates against such specialisations which can create specific difficulties later on. I would say that schools provide training for the job market rather than educate for life long learning.

We moved on to talking about ritual and repetition to create habits. Confucian philosophy is very much based on pragmatic ritual as a way of reinforcing relationships and good work and life practices. This reminds me of the saying, practice makes perfect. I always think back to the classical music training of my son and would always correct this to, practice makes permanent, so make sure you practice the right thing well.

We finished the tutorial with a discussion about words, text and the synthesis of narratives in the context of my work with creation myths: how to incorporate them into my work. We also concluded that continuing web contact as a group over the Easter break would be a constructive thing to do.

Symposium Script 2 – Final Resolution

I have struggled with the script for the symposium video. What I have done, is write two very different drafts. The first, dense, allusion; the second, descriptive, easier to understand. Which way should I go?

I have felt all along that it is important that the narration should be my own authentic voice. As I read out the second draft, for a test recording, I felt it stilted, it did not flow. I felt as I read it, that I should be changing what I read as I went along. The silent reading the words on the page was fine, but when it came to speaking them out loud, it just did not gel. I had originally rejected the first draft, which incidentally took me minutes to write rather the days. I rejected it because I felt it was too personal, too much about my relationship with the process and not enough about the process itself.

After discussing this with Jonathan during the latest tutorial and Janet. it became evident to me that the first draft was my voice and said far more despite it containing less overt information. I was able to put the case for it much more persuasively, because I believed in it more.

This means that the imagery in the video becomes doubly important. Images not only illustrate, but they also add another layer of descriptive information not picked up in the audio. As Donald rightly said, there are ten minutes of information in the video, 5 of images and 5 of audio. Combining the two can convey far more if looked at that way.

Interestingly, not only did the second draft take much longer to write, it ended up being nearly nine hundred words which I had to reduce to 672. The first draft was a mere 402 words. I have incorporated some of the second draft into the first and edited it a little. The final word count is 555; it takes me four minutes and twenty seconds to read slowly. This gives me time to read even more slowly, introduce pauses and have an intro and credits with ease.

I mentioned above, that the original draft was too much about my relationship with the process and not enough about the process itself. It is clear to me that the two are inseparable, I am part of the process and it is part of me: that is how it should be. As far as I am concerned, that is an aspect of being an artist.

I have learnt a lot from all this. It has drawn out the essence of my practice. Statements will change, context and purpose alter, but the core will in all probability remain constant into the future. This does not mean that I am locked out from other work or contexts but quite the contrary. I will be able to understand future briefs, commissions, contexts and audiences in the light of my core concerns and be flexible enough to deliver an authentic response without feeling that I have not been true to myself. Conversely, I will know what engagements to set to one side. And should those ideas contained in my process change, that is all part of the process itself and I shall be aware of exactly what is going on… somehow, I think this unlikely.

Symposium 2 Script Outline

I have written and rewritten the script for the symposium video and it is now in the final stages before recording.

I have found, no, am finding this extremely difficult. It is hard to summarise all I have done and thought into five to six hundred words. Each time I write something, another thought occurs. What is the purpose of the symposium, what is important to say and what to leave out?

I need to give an idea of what the work is about without closing down on interpretations. The script has to read easily and be as light of touch as possible. Each word has its weight and each phrase its meaning. It is a fine line between the literary and the prosaic. How much to I leave to the viewer and how much do I have to explicate? Is what I say engaging, clear, inclusive?

These are all questions that I have wrestled with. I have found it difficult to keep things open and not get bogged down in detail that I think essential as explanation. I know that images are all important and create another layer of understanding, but there also needs to be a sequential sense to them and to not divide the attention between the narration and the imagery and loose focus.

As I write, I try to imagine what is happening on screen. I try not to say things that can be easily infered while including other ideas that enrich the video. I know that someone can replay the video but it is in the first viewing that the impression is made and sense is grasped. Replays merely open up new avenues of thought, but should not create the overall sense. If this is not present in the first viewing, then I have failed.

The video should draw together research done and the emerging practice. How can I do this without coming out with a simple list of, ‘I did this because… and I did that resulting in this…’, and so on. The time during the MA is more than that, it is a building of a new world view expressed in process and outcome leading to an expansion and deeping whilst implying a continual beginning.

I see the symposium as an important synthesis that presents the work and practice as it is now whilst indicating what might be its potential and future. Together with the critical evaluation, it sets a trajectory: it is key that this should be set correctly.

What to leave out, what to say

One of the hardest things I find is how to imply something and not just fill the space with information about my work. It is a learning curve that prepares me for what is to come after the MA.

Ideas for New Work 1

As the MA nears its end, the inability to prepare a physical show at Camberwell has come as a great disappointment. Presence was something I was working towards and very much depend on for conveying the essence of what I do. As I have already mentioned previously, an online show in no way substitutes for this lack. Physical work is what I am about as will be made obvious in the symposium. However, in working around this negation, not challenge, erasure, not threat, my mind has filled with other possibilities for the future. I do not see them so much as oppotunities as latent additions. They have arisen from designing the online show, observing responses to lockdown and restrictions. But they also arise from the work itself, filling in gaps that I have often thought about. Ideas that once seemed caprices or sidelines to my main activity now looking like interesting and viable augmentations to my practice.

My aim over the next few weeks is to compile lists of ideas as they occur in a cluster of posts:

  • large format and/or pinhole and lens based photographs;
  • essays, some based on some of the ideas arising out of the blog journal;
  • learn cables and create online shows/presentations;
  • video works – portal – planetary body – parade;
  • prose poems stand alone and/or accompanying work;
  • book/magazine/pamphlet/zine type publications for online and print;
  • develop the use of instagram as an alternative means of communication.

Day Eleven and Twelve – WITD

5th an 7th May

Progress is now slow. as I develop and give each individual form its unique characteristic and internal properties while maintaining the group identity. A population seen from outside appears homogenous. But as individuals become familiar, their identities start to become more apparent and demarcated.

Day Ten – WITD

This was the state of the work two days ago. I have started some detail as I continue to work on the large areas. I have to continually look at it from all angles. It would be so easy for something to go awry in terms of composition. It is high relief, but in the round; a spherical or ovid frieze.

My mind is buzzing with so many ideas. It is frustrating to work on things which take so long. I have to choose carefully what I do and not be swayed by whims of the moment. I need to think a) how does this tie in with my work and ideas, b) does it take things further and or add depth c) am I merely responding impulsively to something I have seen or heard?

Today (4th) Janet looked out of the window at the apple blossom and saw the porcelain piece reflected in what she saw. There are so many things that connect, often in unexpected ways. It is a form of poetry, and from such tropes and metaphores ideas spring into plain sight. Some persist others fade and become irrelevant. This is why experimenting is so important, I throw things in the air and see how they fall allowing my agenticity to come into play. But this is not a senseless or arbitrary process. It is one in which I have learnt through practice and research to recognise patterns and understand structure. It is the way I have been able to seek clarity, simplicity, and depth.

Three forms under wraps. Threes witches, three muses, three blind mice. Fine works hidden or veiled, an interesting proposition. A reciprocal exhange of experience. The artist is often rended mute of their work and intent by the noise of opinion and perception, what if the viewer were to be deprived of site of the work and were able to listen only to the artist? ….. One caveat with this idea, is there anything worth listening to, or looking at beneath the veil? Prior knowledge of the area is a useful thing in the arts. Even the ‘shock of the new’ comes with some of that.