Today Jonathan held a group crit with the Designer Maker course, where we looked at three symposium presentations from each of the two groups. It was a very interesting and worthwhile exercise and one that I think Jonathan will want to repeat when he begins his new course in September. This sort of discussion is very important, not only for seeing other insights and presentations but to have light thrown on one’s own work.
I took away two important things from this. The first was a general observation about scale and movement, the second about working with clay and my work in particular. I found the juxtaposition of Yinming and Matt’s presentations interesting in the way touch and the absence of it, features in their work. Rather should I say, in Matt’s work, touch and tactile sensibilities appear to play a role in the work as he elaborates his narratives but then it is lost in the projection onto a virtual world. Again, this chimes with the idea of loss which is a running theme in his thinking. Yinming on the other hand, began with the intimacy of touch, moving outwards towards body movements. Both are ways of spatially and socially mapping the world: touch on the intimate scale of the small and detailed moving along something; movement is on the environmental scale and deals with proximity and its consequences.
In my work, touch is an important modality in navigating space and perceiving qualities or properties of a substance. Clay is soft, smooth, cool. Touch generates an intimate world, internalised in one’s own body on the small scale of hands, fingers and palms. These act as cartographer’s tools, sensing and calculating the imaginative geometry of mass. On a larger scale lies the essence of movement and gesture; radiating and embracing the space around the body. It is with this conceptual shaping of space that the mass of a sculptor is transformed as an imprint of the accumulated movements of limbs, hands and mind. Both touch and movement are in an indissoluble relationship joined by the very same thing that separates them, scale and distance.
This also relates to the question of viewing distance I have spoken about previously. Movement tends to pertain to the further away, context, contours, relationships with other things. Touch relates to the closer intimate domain of texture and surface detail. Both scales contribute the understanding of an object or thing.
The second insight is one that I have often thought about. Does a clay need to be fired? As Maiko (Tsutsumi) said, those that work with clay often fire out of practicality. And, much of the life force of a clay piece exists in its unfired state. I agree: I have often thought about how the raw unfired clay has a life that is extinguished when fired. The two states, fired and unfired, are quite different. I see the former as a fossil of the life contained in the latter. When fired, clay becomes infinitely durable. This creates a tension with the fragility of the form it holds, brittle and vulnerable to contingency.
How can I leave work unfired and hope it will endure? I want something to last but in its raw state, it is likely to break and crumble. This brings back that notion of practicality. However, there are ways of keeping work fresh if not intact. By rubbing, soiling, cleaning and handling a piece, it acquires layers of interaction. It starts to absorb a new life given through touch and intimate contact. This is something that attracts me to archaeological artefacts in museums? They often possess an aura, some call it patina (a word I would rather not use, I need to look for another) that gives depth to inference. That is why I do not glaze. Glaze is practicality driven towards decoration. The glaze of life is far more interesting. I shall look into this more.
There is another idea, to embed the work in resin: the preservation of the state of things, and in that act, destroy the very essence that one attempts to preserve.
Another experiment I intend to carry out is to record with video/timelapse, the dissolving of a piece in a stream of water. The dissolution of form but not substance. The slurry could then be recovered as part of the work/process and presented as an essence.
As I mentioned recently in The Future and the Past in One Place, I have made a ritual of former maquettes, now broken, storing them in caskets made for them as a metaphor for keeping an idea alive and resurrecting that idea that becomes altered in the light of experience. I feel that these ideas are rich in narrative, inference and possibilities.
Jonathan brought up a number of quotes from my video. This is a good point for me to expand on one of them for my sake if nothing else.
And from those parts, 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.
Here, I describe two distinct states and the process by which I have gone from one to the other. The process is through language in all its forms. The cells refer to my previous state of working with a variety of themes, techniques and methods which were separated conceptually from one another, possibly held together only by the fact that I was the author of each domain. Cells are biological components, bounded by a membrane and bound together to form a body. Each cell an independent unit but dependent on the whole. A cell is also a prison, a space preventing connection and movement outside its walls. The building in which that cell is located, cannot be described from inside it.
The imagery of a field was catalysed by walks along large Lincolnshire fields during the first term of the course. As one approaches the horizon, it recedes and gives way to a new vision. The horizon is boundless and yet it circumscribes the visible world. And so it is with my work, it is now a fertile field without end, where I can move freely, using languages of different sorts to describe what I find.