After Symposium 2: 2. Response to Questions Raised

The Skype Chat with post-symposium answers to Questions

Amongst the complementary and supportive comments, there were questions which I tried to answer in real-time many of which deserve fuller consideration and more developed responses than the replies that by necessity are made in relative haste in the heat of a typing frenzy. For a realtime script of the chat, here is the link. I have left out the more supportive and complimentary comments for the sake of brevity, but thank you all for your kind words and interesting ideas.

Note – Replies in italics are those made during the symposium type chat.

Leah: Have you tried using the ASMR microphone to show your voice?

Alexis: I have looked into such microphones and made plans to make one, even to the point of buying some components. It is an area that interests me. I have also got an audio plugin called Brauer Motion which simulates spatial movements. I have only just begun looking at it. It actually does many of the things I have done manually in Audacity in the past. Creating an ASMR effect manually is not difficult but time-consuming. It only needs a small amount of knowledge about editing. There is a great deal of hype about it at the moment. What it does, is exploit the possibilities that stereo offers to create asymmetrical outputs to the left and right ears. The whispering of ‘everlasting’ in the video was done manually using my voice by simply setting two stereo clips very slightly out of phase with one another and giving a panning bias towards one channel or the other to each clip respectively. The clip was very short, therefore it did not need much more work. The reverb did the rest by prolonging the sound in one ear and passing it delayed into the other giving the illusion of movement around the head. This methodology can be extended into more complicated territory which is where software such as BM comes in. I may or may not use it. I do like the hands-on aspect of playing with sound rather than relying on a plugin that automates the process.
With respect to future work, I am looking forward to creating tracks using my voice as an instrument in conjunction with sculptures; making vocal-wind instruments, and creating an album of soundtracks.

William: I’m actually very interested in the sound element as well as the images – especially after taking a look at alexis’ spotify page (and listening to the backing track here) – how is the found/ambient sound stuff integrated into your sculptural practice – is it a secondary work/a separate practice or do you see it as being fully integrated?

Alexis: I think you are referring to the beach album on streaming platforms. That is harvested ambient sound. However, I created all the sounds for the video, with the exception of Marian Anderson’s Handel rendition, from scratch using my voice and a metal bowl. I had experimented with the same clay piece shown in the video earlier, link to the relevant post, while making it. I was fascinated by the internal space responding to my vocalisations. This analogue means of altering sound is the sort of thing that I also look for in digital environments but it sounds much more natural.
There was an integration, as you put it, of the making of the sculpture with the sound, instrument and object as one. The sculpture is not conceived as an instrument but used as such. This references the ‘found’ nature of the object within the process itself. It is a means of drilling into the process and finding possibilities that extend the act of making and reification into different domains. For me, this is not about making an instrument. I try to avoid the sculpture from becoming a utilitarian object and look to maintain its thinghood. This keeps it open and mysterious, ambiguous and contextually flexible. It is akin to working with ceramic material but not making teapots.
Working with sound is not a separate practice, it may involve separate techniques but the core ideas and origins remain consonant if not identical with the other means I engage with. This is one of the things that has arisen out of the MA period, a synthesis, a reconciliation, a coming together of my different practices to form a core from which I can radiate, recombine and evolve around an axis mundi.

Betty: which is the piece you are putting the sound in?

Alexis: Two of the three pieces have sound. Logos, the long sculpture has two sound elements. One is an external output that comes from two large speakers, subwoofers. The low-frequency sound responds to the viewer’s proximity aimed at altering their behaviour, creating a moving sonic boundary in opposition, or perhaps in concert with an internal source of sound embedded in the sculpture itself. This aims to draw the viewer in as they try to listen to What comes out of the sculpture. The challenge is to balance the low-frequency fluctuating in volume in response to the recipient#s position relative to the sculpture, with the more intimate sound that originates from inside the sculpture. This is inspired by the idea of the ancient classical oracle situated within a cave. Incoherence contextualised into meaning.
The second piece with sound is Enshrinement which comprising three sculptures (model shown at the beginning of the video) in conversation with one another. They are placed inside a vitrine with listening holes. The viewer is drawn into the dialogue that takes place within the enclosed space. Conceptually, this piece explores amongst other things, the relationship between viewer and object by altering the balance of agency existing between silent sculpture and viewer with sound. The text narrative extends the idea of the alimentary canal, as does Logos, by alluding to the commons we share with other life through the three forms. It can be seen as a trilogy, a crib, a nativity, deposition, triumvirate, a triangulation.
The third piece, the three-dimensional frieze is silent and activates the space in a different way, by inviting a walk around, each angle offering a different perspective on the inferred narrative, whatever that might be. I am clear on my own ideas regarding the narrative, but it is not for me to say how it might be interpreted, that would be put ideas into someones’s head, I leave that to the work.

Kelda: It will interesting to see how you mix the sound and ceramic in an exhibition space. I remember you said you were struggling with how to make it work, at one point.

Alexis: I think I have partially replied this question above. However, more specifically, combining sound and sculpture in an exhibition setting does present challenges. I see this in two broad ways. The first is to do with the relationship between the two modalities and how they interact with the recipient in turn. The second deals with the problems arising out of locating acoustic works in a space that may or may not host other sounds, and the acoustic particulars of that given space and how the sound might disrupt the traditional expectation of a silent sculpture.
I shall deal with the second issue first. The way I have approached this issue in the case of the final (now not taking place) show, is to introduce an interactive element to the sound of the larger sculpture in which the external, ambient sound increases in volume as the recipient approaches. Practically speaking, the volume of the sound alters according to the recipient’s distance from the sculpture. This relieves the space from a constant loud sound, particularly important in a group setting. The lower level sound emitted from within the sculpture remains constant. This also creates a variable in the interaction between the recipient and work as I explained above which has consequences on interpretation. The smaller installation (Enshrinement) deals with the problem of acoustics and shared space by inviting the recipient to listen closely to the sounds coming out of the sculptures in an enclosed space.
Regarding the first case, it is hard to balance the weighting of sound with 3Dimensional work. I ask myself, is the sculpture an instrument, is the sound an accompaniment? Of course, I would say neither, but this does not fully address the actual nature of the relationship, nor what I aim for, or whether it has been achieved. The latter would perhaps be answered on showing the work. Maybe one way of answering this is whether either compositional component can exist independently of the another, which I believe they can. However, I feel that even this answer is somewhat fallacious. What really matters in the end is the process of exploring the relationship between sound and sculpture, not necessarily finding an answer, if there is one, but finding new possibilities.

Danielle: I know your intention was to use sound to effect the viewers interaction and physical proximity to the work. Have you been able to adapt this idea for VR space?

Alexis: It is hard to because the works depend on physical presence, so for the VR show I am using the works as subjects rather than being the objects themselves, will explain better later.

Alexis: In the online show I am not attempting to mimic how the works would be in a physical setting. I see this as an opportunity to represent the works differently. Proximity can only be implied, not experienced. Say, for example, the site visitor were to scroll towards a sculpture on screen and the sound correspondingly increased in volume. The interaction here would be roughly equivalent to turning the volume dial on a radio. It is an interaction that has a minimal kinetic effect on the recipient, restricted to the movement of the finger on the mouse or tracker pad. There would be very little proprio-sensory displacement and the experience would be different in kind. To create a more authentic experience is way beyond my digital skills. Additionally, the sense of scale is lost or at best implied. Physical correspondence with the recipient on-screen becomes an illusion of perspective rather than a direct corporeal relationship. This may work with something that has been conceived and built to be experienced with a flat-screen but what I have done cannot. Therefore, I have had to rethink how to represent the works and process. Seeing as the works will not be completed due to having to turn my attention to other means of display, and the limitation of resources during this lockdown period, I have decided to use the works as the subjects for storytelling of sorts. The works will be partially disclosed in videos, sounds, text and images that complement and support their physical existence rather than trying to mimic it.

Jonathan: Alexis – early on you said you felt you had now created a language field of sorts — has this come about through the making process? Why do you think this has emerged now and not earlier in your practice?

Alexis: Jonathan: the language has come about by integrating analytical thought with raw feelings when making, reflecting and responding, thinking about what I do and expressing it in some way, gradually codifying in myself the process.

Alexis: I think a critical factor in my being able to articulate thoughts, feeling and ideas, not to mention work more coherently, has been the blog journal. I have never, consistently maintained a journal or log of work. In the past, I have documented my practice but not to the depth that I have done so during the MA. This has had a two-fold impact. One, developed my fluency and clarity in expressing my thoughts with words. Words representing thoughts that become actions: action is how a practice becomes manifest. Two, by challenging and being challenged in a context where there are disparate practices going on, I have become more reflective about not only what I do but why. I remember your lecture video on reflection, this embodied a great deal of wisdom which articulated things I had instinctively lived by. This clarified aspects of my practice which then allowed me to continue with a greater degree of awareness.
One of my aims for this course has been to integrate rational thought with intuitive feeling and response. I feel that I have made important moves towards this aim and manifest this in the video. Embedded in the text are many many ideas that I have tried to express in a few words. That encapsulation of notions, concepts, behaviour and causes can only be done when things are fully understood. This process is common to all art forms but is perhaps most noticeable in poetry, where its simplicity of means concentrates response and meaning, giving rise to a clarity of understanding of complex things.
… I have built element by element a language of sorts by which I might describe a boundless field where before I only saw separate cells...
What I mean by this, in terms of my practice, is that before I would see my different ways of working as containers, each separate but also connected in ways that I could not bring together clearly. Now, I am able to encompass all things from within a core, giving my practice a great coherence and flexibility.

Ben: I think the fact that some of the pieces weren’t fired or finished, and still being moulded was a positive thing, allowed for more reflection on the process and the theory that created the works.
Kelda: Agreed. It’s the work in another form…

Alexis: unfired works are very different, I love them, but they are soooo fragile

Alexis: As you mention, the slowing down of things, rather than careering towards finished works for July, has indeed given me the opportunity to reflect on the process and opened out many new possibilities.

Friederike: It’s a beautiful movie. I loved how you also show how you work and the animalistic voice dances. It really showcases your thoughts in a light and straighforward manner. More intuitive then the more brain orientated work you did before.

Danielle: Yes agree. I found this video more accessible than the previous. Like you have found a clearer voice/narrative/language for explaining the vast web of ideas which inform your work

Alexis: Thank you for this affirmation of what I have aimed for, clarity and accessibility without losing depth. I remember Danielle commenting that my mid-point review was difficult to understand. This aspect of communication is something I have worked on over time. I see this as an integral part of my practice. Logic does not persuade. I can be as wordy as I like in private or in academic writing, but when addressing myself to wider audiences, what is the point if I am not communicating.

William: Also, do you see your works as being the fulfilled final destiny for these found fragments, or are they just part of a story that might be broken down and reconfigured in the future (by you or other artists way in the future)

Alexis: There are two parts to this question. I see each work as a ‘sketch’ for the next. That is why I have found this blog journal so valuable. It logs what I do not explicitly say in my day to day work. Each work is a fragment, and works are made of fragments. To reconfigure them in the future is an interesting notion. How might something be if put back together with fragments of other work, fragments from somewhere else? This surely is the essence of an exhibition: a coming together. At the moment I have enough to do and recombination is a tactic I employ from time to time to refresh ideas and see things from a different perspective, something I will continue doing. I must admit, I am not someone who does this readily, but I do appreciate its value and enjoy doing so recombining from time to time. The distant future is another country. My hope is that the works are kept intact, but I can have only a small part in ensuring that is the case, all is contingent and subject to contingency. This is a theme I have worked with in the past and may come back to with a new perspective. All this is exemplified by my work with a material that is both fragile and brittle in the form I give it and infinitely durable as substance regardless of its shaping.

AxAsh: I felt I just finished watching a short film Alexis. and it is a happy ending which just made my day. I especially like the b&w part of your video. its contrast with the colourful frames just brings two spaces and two periods. do you think “time” is an important element in your work? because it’s the BIG word finally remains in my mind after watching your presentation so I’m interested in your answer

Alexis: Time – we are all subject to the passing of time. Time is relative. What I can say about time is that I did not exist for an eternity before birth; is that state any worse after I have gone? We structure our existence according to a measurement of time; activity is fundamentally premised on it.
Time marks change, making art is making change, therefore time is embedded in art as it is in everything else. Art can at times seem a way of cheating mortality but that is a pleasant illusion. Time can only be measure by change, that is its beauty and its awesome terror.
Time is arguably the most important element in my work because, without it, it would be impossible. I suppose that is pretty obvious. And to compound my dependence on having time, I work slowly, the works take a long time to complete, that is part of my methodology. I find it hard to work fast or to deadlines, although often I have to.

It seems that watching and listening can no longer satisfy my desire for your work. Will you make some copies that can be touched in the future? I really want to touch those words and shapes with my hands.

Alexis: absolutely Leah, that is the tragedy of this virus, no physicality

Alexis: What can I say, I hope so too.

Donald: I think you should add reverb and compression to mix of your voice and the audio background so as it becomes more of a whole composition.

Alexis: I shall try that. I want the voice to be as in a natural space, but I shall experiment with reverb and binaural, although there is a little bit of it in there

Alexis: The recording has a slight natural reverb because of where it was made. I originally wanted to remove this but decided that it sounded consonant with the space in which the pieces were made, not too be boomy.
I used reverb with the first two sound clips but used very little if any for the chanting. I think it is difficult to strike a balance between a documentary style and something more ‘artistic’. Perhaps when I use the video in some other context, I might alter the EQs, delays, reflectances etc to give a bit more mood.

William: also I can’t help but notice that a lot of your video work (and some of your photos) are black and white and was curious if color is something that is deliberately avoided within your practice

Alexis: Everything is deliberate, I want to concentrate here on form, the studio besides is full of jarring and distracting details which are better out

Kelda: The lack of colour and the unfinished work compliment

William: Understood – was curious if in some way this thinking extended beyond the presentation media also, but I guess in a way this is answered in the emphasis on form here and elsewhere

Alexis: I have also worked with a great deal of colour. My early works were aaaalll about colour

Question: don’t you feel that the use of time-typical monster analogies and tribal sounds make the broader message in your project quite predictable and, perhaps, diluted?

Pav – I shall answer this more fully later, but in short not really

Jonathan – yes that will make a really interesting reflection, good challenging question and I look forward to seeing the thoughts

Alexis: Pav in addition, I deal with individual, group dynamics, embeded in the narrative

Alexis: We all have monsters inside us and it is good to let them out in a safe space once in a while. To confront our monsters is not a bad thing, it is cathartic and constructive. Many of the great stories are about monsters, they possess great metaphorical potency and help us to confront reality with a sense of proportion.
Having said this, I feel it appropriate to do something I normally do not, that is, explicate. These are sounds I have performed as part of my animal expression. The sounds are not those of monsters, it is interesting that they should have been perceived as such. We tell wordless stories with sounds. The sounds are expressions of the animal self, breath, voice, rhythm, all part of how nature is put together and our human analogue, music. It is an authentic thing, originating from myself using one of the unfired pieces, not some sample from a tribal recording. I combined the animal with the beauty of the human intellect in Handel’s music sung by Marion Anderson. Again, my remastering of a 78 over ninety years old. This juxtaposition is an allusion to the duality of the human self. All other sounds in the video are produced by me.
As for the broader message being diluted, if the message was clear, then was it diluted? The question is begged, What message? I would be interested to know. Maybe the video had a different message depending on the viewer, at least a nuanced interpretation. The video has many many embedded ideas (messages if you prefer), some more overt than others. We tend to respond to sound perhaps more readily than other forms of communication. If the sounds were predictable, perhaps other things were not. Predictability can show the way towards the discovery of new things. Predictability is easily mistaken for coherence. One layer has been removed and many remain to be uncovered.

Have you ever considered to exhibit them in different environment, does that influence the whole meaning too? I’m just thinking Is it possible to put those pieces into water or somewhere else.
an outside environment?

Alexis: where they are exhibited very much changes how they might be read
outside too but from experience, the outside can be overwhelming and the physical proximity can be lost. They would need to be much larger for reasons of scale, but worth considering

an outside environment?

Alexis: outside too but from experience, the outside can be overwhelming and the physical proximity can be lost. They would need to be much larger for reasons of scale, but worth considering

Alexis: I have exhibited in many different environments, some more successfully than others. Meaning and significance are both altered by the environment in which work is shown.
One thing I have often thought of is immersing works in liquid and even making this permanent by encasing in resin. This is an interesting idea, whether anything is added by doing such a thing or whether it detracts from it remains to be seen. It certainly would be interesting to photograph such scenes. Again it is something I have thought about but never done. As I will mention in the critical evaluation, photography in many different ways is something I will definitely work after the MA. Not only is photographing work as a way of recontextualising it an interesting thing in itself, it is also a response to the restrictions placed on exhibiting (and selling) by the current and possibly future health circumstances.
I have never really been attracted to showing work outdoors although I have done so. I see it more as a thing for commissions where scales can be very large. I have done commissions, but never the size I would like them to be. This is where photography can be used to play tricks with scale.

Friederike: I personally get the message, we are just a bunch of cells, like everything around us. Different conditioning of the cells bring different outcomes. In times of Covid this is also relevant. Sometimes it can be bautyful, sometimes monstrous

Alexis: ‘The horror of creation’ (Ted Hughes)

Alexis: We are a bunch of cells, symbiotic beings, but we are also much more than that, emergent consciousnesses, spiritual beings whose material essence has traversed from the unknowing inevitability of mechanics to the complexity of self-awareness capable of the most sublime acts of creation.

Pav: impact on a range of clear assumptions in your thinking, not on dealing with the situation of the pandemic

Alexis: Pav – I don’t understand

Pav: have your reflections during the pandemic altered and modified your understanding of the world, which appears to be biased

Alexis: I am not sure whether the question proposes that my view of the world is biased or whether the world is biased (in some way). As to whether my understanding of the world has been altered by the pandemic, I prefer to hold my judgement for a more distanced view but I have a sneaking suspicion that the answer is no, or very little. I prefer to think about how it has affected my practice. I have been through a lot more than what the pandemic has offered me personally. It has, in fact, affirmed my way of working in a relatively recluse environment. The changes that have had to take place within the course have also fostered new ways of seeing my work in the context of reaching others whilst maintaining the integrity of my working environment. I shall refer to these in my critical evaluation. With regard to bias, perhaps, in the end, conscious and unconscious bias creates the haze through which we see the bias of others. After all, the act of appreciating and interpreting art can be an ultimately ‘biased’ one. And is that not what critical analysis tries to eliminate, amongst other things, the fog of prejudice? Whatever the case might be, different ways of seeing is why there is such wondrous variety of thought and making in the world.