The vitrine is perforated on three sides with small holes in a tight formation to form a larger circle. This allows the recipient to
This is the first of three triangulated works for the project proposal. Dealing with language, the animal self, belief and ancestry, each work confronts a particular aspect of human communication: with one another, the divine, and communication at its most basic. The ideas behind the work have evolved during the MA as a slowly gestated synthesis. As the works have become crystallised in their present form, they start to speak fully to me. And yet, this is only the beginning as the work of completing and installing has yet to come. This is only a model, and as such does not relate to the body scale.
Enshrinement makes use of the vitrine, unlike the other two works in the show, and as the word implies, it is a preservation of an action, a notion. But what is being preserved and why? The transparent casing forms a barrier between the viewer and the forms. The porcelain pieces were made primarily through touch. The viewer is unable to touch them. This is a negation of the most intimate of senses. I am separating bodies from one another and from the environment. I cannot touch the forms and they are sealed from the outside world. This goes against the majority of contemporary movements where the viewer is allowed maximum contact with the artwork. But what I am doing is not raising the status of the work or protecting it. I am opening a door and inviting curiosity as to why. This becomes clearer as the viewer approaches the vitrine.
I am looking to intimate human form while reducing it to its most fundamental core around which all else is built. The sculptures are still. That stillness is preserved in the reliquary-like context. This stillness is now a precious thing in a world predicated on movement and rapid change. They are intended to be as chrysalids frozen in formation, transitionary beings. They have no head, limbs or features, only a single opening from which sounds emanate. This sound is faint behind the ‘glass’. It is normal that the viewer moves around a still sculpture, the shapes of her movements influenced by the sculpture’s subtle passivity. The sculpture’s agency exists only at the viewer’s behest because she tacitly enters into a contract with the context in which the still sculpture is found.
At strategic points, the vitrine is perforated as a bank cashier’s screen. From these, sounds can be heard coming from within the forms. The viewer is invited or compelled to come closer. The viewer becomes a listener, an eavesdropper. The sculptures are possessed of a new agency, not one dictated by motionless form, colour and texture but an active one involving a linear modality. (The Greeks painted their sculptures, who made carvings speak?) The listener is now made to lean in, bend over, kneel even.
However, the sounds that come from inside, conversation, composition, interaction, call it what you will, cannot be heard in their entirety. The points for listening are separated, each voice whispers, softly enunciating its babble. Only one part of the trialogue can be heard clearly at any one time. The thread of the conversation taking place inside is not disclosed. It may be confusing, ambiguous, open to misunderstanding.
Separation is not only something physical, but it also occurs with each word we use. The world is whole and infinitely divided by the labels we give each part. All we can do is try to reassemble the few parts we can give names to and construct a fiction that we can understand and get along with. A story in which no one person can tell of all the names and their kin.
I see many things in the forms and how I will house them. I hear many ideas in my head. I feel many things around me, sense the past and imagine the future. There is no single picture or idea or single path to follow. I leave the way for the viewer to sense, think, feel, and take part. And, link up in some way, perhaps bringing us a little closer.
In the next post I shall be describing the construction and installation of the work plus some ideas for the future.
This is the end of the unfired stage of Enshrinement. Unfortunately, the work will not be fired in time for July, but I have made a miniature model of it and I can still use the unfired pieces to reference the work in video format.
The images below show the opening being made for the insertion of audio equipment. This will now not be possible for the show but the opening, a small thing in itself, gives me ideas for future works. The portal-like structure makes me think of the original idea I had for Shrine.
I find it interesting how as the deadline approaches, small things resonate and acquire particular significances.
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.
Sketches showing the possible arrangement for the sculptures as part of Enshrinement. The Raft of the Medusa comes to mind as does a lamenting trinity after the deposition. But these are not people, they are other worldly, poised to utter the narratives of transformation.
The contrapposto of classical statues confers on them a semblance of life as they sit still or lie motionless. Sound will be their given motion, bounded by the environment in which they will be placed: passively subject and resistant at one and the same time. My control is not their loss of freedom, they are extensions of my mind, compliant to a will but resistant in their material making dictating their own aesthetic and meaning.
They are not immersed in struggle as is another work, they are released momentarily from it, on the threshold of being to world building. Cryptic anatomy intimates a distant fellowship with the simplest of complex life and ourselves. Each latent form encased in a chrysalid, crawls past another, conforming its shape to a dance choreographed in the dark, lit in a frozen moment of the imagination. A moment that never ceases to change: therein lies the resistant element of their making.
I have thought a great deal about the role of the sculpture, display and sound in the final show, What is the relationship between these apparently distinct elements and the viewer? This is not primarily about making a multimedia work, it is an exploration of how the stillness of a sculpture, a statue in particular, can be disrupted meaningfully. I see statuary sculptures as passive objects. Their performativity is one of passive resistance to the motility and volitional interaction of the viewer. The viewer can walk around it, touch it, threaten its integrity, choose his or her distance of view, asserting their kinetic capabilities as an expression of their living essence.
A statue is made of inanimate matter yet, as Alfred Gell suggests, can be treated in some ways as though it were living. But this is not living in a biological sense, the living-presence response refers to something that has agency in a social sense. However, a sculpture is not a subject in the ‘conversation’ generated, it is only an object. Its object status distinguishes it from the viewer because of its stillness. This passive silence is underlined by a lack of movement. And even if it were to be animated, this would not change its objecthood. In Ode to a Grecian Urn, Keats’ speaks for the object in a pretence that the object speaks for itself. Clearly the poet’s interpretation, his apparent conversation is one way as though it were a dialogue. The virtue of the vase lies in its silence, allowing the poet to exercise a dominion over the object.
David Getsy explores this power play between object and subject in his essay, Acts of Stillness: Statues, Performativity, and Passive Resistance. A statue’s ambivalence with respect to its position vis a viz the viewer is also its strength. As a passive object, a statue is subject to the actions of the viewer(s). However, this very inability of a statue to be physically volitional towards a viewer alters the latter’s behaviour through its passive resistance. It exerts a form of power that is used in monuments, sacred art and gallery based works. I explored this notion in Chaos Contained. The works were displayed openly in museum and gallery settings, vulnerable in their fragility and delicacy of form. This created a tension between the act of looking and the desire to touch whilst offering jeopardy in the very act of viewing. This altered the viewers’ behaviours, largely from being dominantly motile to cautious and circumspect. The works were approached often with trepidation which was accentuated by the deliberately aesthetic structures which proclaimed their brittle integrity. Although the works in Chaos Contained exerted power and agency by virtue of their formal and material properties, they were not subjects in a conversation. I was aware of their agency, they were conceived as such, but I saw them as objects and referred to them as objects of the mind. In these conversations, I remained largely hidden behind the act of completion of the works. This view of the art object does not discount performativity of the works themselves, just as listening to a recording does not alter the fact that what one is listening to is an acoustic object in a one-way conversation at the time of listening. With a static statue, the performance is its stillness, its silence, its resistance by virtue of its non-motility.
Gell’s view of the art object as a social agent is all well and good, but a sculpture cannot speak for itself. Meaning and the social nexus can only come as a function of the nexus formed by the recipient, the context, prototype and index, to use Gell’s terminology. But is that all? I think not, what Gell does not take into account is the agency of the artist, who is hidden in all probability. (However, I must say at this point that the nexus can become largely distorted in contemporary contexts as to whether the artist is known, unknown, famous or notorious.) Perhaps this omission is on account of Gell’s anthropological standpoint. The artist is reduced to artisan level, interpreting the idea being represented, with skill and according to the current view of things. I think that the artist is far more than an artisan but not because the work cannot come about without the artist’s action. A work of art is in my view, not only a reflection of the social setting but has a point of poietic origin within the artist’s inner self. There is a danger in extrapolating Gell’s anthropological work, set in well established, relatively stable social contexts, where tradition dictates the artisan’s work. This is not the case in Western tradition of art which despite the constraints of contemporary established cannons, has always displayed a great capacity for experimentation and innovative change.
This complex relationship between artwork, context and viewer is often reduced to the metaphor of conversation. But there is more going on here than an exchange that alters viewpoints. An artwork does not just have agency on a rational or dialectic level, it affects the emotions in some way. One could argue that this is its prime function, to affect the recipient beyond rhetoric. This is not so much a conversation as an experience that is processed more rationally after the encounter.
Where does this take me in relation to the project proposal? The works I am currently engaged with could be left as still representations of an idea. But I am also working with sound and display. The aim is to break through the silence, the stillness of the statue. Rather than exert its effect passively, dependent on how the viewer decides to approach it, I am looking at ways of controlling the motility of the viewer in various ways. Khadija von Zinnenberg Carroll sees the vitrine as a performative element in its own right. It only takes a little observation to see how a vitrine can affect the behaviour of visitors in a museum. Their physicality changes with respect to other forms of display. A vitrine not only alters the way an artwork is viewed but also how it is experienced. A vitrine creates a barrier that frustrates the impulse to touch and approach closely paradoxically forcing the viewer to come as close as they can. This is something that von Zinnenberg plays with, in the video, accompanying her essay Vitrinenedenken: Vectors Between Subject and Object. The vitrine becomes, not just a means to display, but an object in itself, an interactive participant in the work with its own agency.
I am using a vitrine in one of the works, I aim to create that barrier between the work and the viewer as the recipient is distanced from the subject matter in time. This transparent tegument is, however, pierced allowing sound narratives to transpire across the membrane. The permeability is designed to draw the viewer closer creating a sort of intimacy, scent the inner world and lower the resistance to engage. The stillness of the statue is broken yet it remains non-motile. A painting’s frame circumscribes the limits of its world, untouchable yet tangible, that thingliness that forms an aura. The three-dimensional frame alters the statue to something removed, as are the notions (prototypes) indexed by it, and its passivity and aloofness is disrupted by the sound. This idea has arisen out of consideration for the subject matter: the unreachability of the past, contingency and the vulnerability of meaning in language through interpretation, a form of Babel. Yet, the devices I mention here stand alone as conceptual works in themselves, as demonstrations of the process.
I also look to use sound as an invisible ‘vitrine’ with its own performativity. This time the membrane is not rendered permeable by means of piercing a physical integument but by creating a kinetic relationship with the sculpture Again the viewer can control and is controlled by their kinetics and those of the sound, choreographing movements in a different way. In this case, the acoustic vibrations ‘encase’ the sculpture as an electron cloud might enclose the nucleus of its atom. It affects the properties with a charge of energy, indeterminate and diffuse.
Both these works take from the notion of the statue as a vessel with an internal and external world. The integument created by the modes of display I am planning is to be permeable with elements of distal-proximal engagements.
A second set of studies. They are still crude in their visualisation. I am working without any references, images or models. I am as blind but for the illumination of touch. The aim is to become familiar with every aspect, with every angle of view, so that when it comes to it, the process of making is free and spontaneous. Each angle, every intersection, plane and proportion is to become second nature. This is necessary as I have never worked with such a form or idea before and there will be practical challenges along the way. In addition, with the idea clear in my mind, the mode of making, the handling of the porcelain will not be a necessarily defining element.
Incidentally, the form of the sculpture is emerging as something that reminds me of a molecular structure and the cast of a cave system. The micro and macro coming together in a gut form, bringing together elements of the narrative that partially underlies current work.
In the meantime, I continue with the third component of the work Enshrinement which I hope to have formed well before the New Year.
Video for Entanglement show next week, Wednesday, 11 December.
The video is both part of the project proposal, orbiting the work Enshrinement and the latest in the series that has emerged since the first term. Each video is a stand alone exploration of an idea, using the contingency of what is available, made within a very restricted time frame. Each one is an extemporaneous projection of thought emerging from notions that have subliminally evolved in my mind. They have been catalysed in the moment by the materials and circumstances at hand using the video medium as an available tool to expose these thoughts to the light of day.
Each video suggest a notion or instance congruent with my overall vision, penetrating into a part of my mental metabolism that can remain blind to itself until it is unearthed in the process of reflection, after having used a means other than that with which I work normally such as digital video.
Predictability arises out of unpredictability. This strikes at the core of the apparent contradictions between the infinitesimal at the quantum level and the macro-scale that we experience. What we see around us, experience, perceived reality, is actually made of countless random events that when massed together even out to a mean across a distribution curve. This counterintuitive thinking is allied to that of the accumulated contingent events giving the impression of inevitability, of purpose. What I see as hindsight is the result of such things falling into place and shaping my expectation of future events. Probability and randomness are close cousins. We have not evolved to think in such terms but with certainty. I have mentioned this before. Certainty ensures that the tiger hidden in the undergrowth does not eat you.
This video on Aeon a couple of weeks ago explores this counterintuitive world, the construction of meaning from something ultimately meaningless. A Borgesian library of possibilities extending infinitely in all directions and all we can do is stay in one room with one book and pore over it, re-arranging its letters like some Aristotle playing with syllogisms of what we might call truth. Every so often, a page offers up an image, a sound, a feel, a touch that fills this existence with more than a desperate fear of dissolution or the delirious joy of survival. It can sing a song of love of existence and the world.
This thinking has given me an idea for ‘composing’ the sound element for Enshrinement. It is a way of amalgamating sacred and secular text in a holistic expression in different voices. Meaning is deconstructed and reconstructed stochastically, a new sense is made from the combination of chaos and randomness. Perhaps this says something about our humanity having arisen out of the chaos of creation.
I am here touching on some of the elements I hinted at in Grappling with the Angel earlier this year. It deals with words, focusing on a single work and letting others orbit under its influence. This has given rise to the video I composed today for the pop-up show Entanglement going up next week. I have not used the video as a medium but rather as a sensitive tool. For this reason, I choose to work with the software Vinci Resolve which is simple to use but allows me to employ just the right amount of technical devices to get the message across.
I have finished another component of Enshrinement, one of the main works for the final show. there is still so much to do. There is not only the modelling and finishing but firing, setting and mounting, audio and its embedding, testing, packing, photography and so on. As I work on the pieces, ideas come to me and it is hard to stay on the path. I bear in mind what Jonathan says in his Unit 1 Assessment:
As you continue to experiment, adding sound and possibly interaction from the audience, remain flexible, adaptable and willing to discard elements if they don’t absolutely meet your exacting standards or the purpose you need them to fulfil. Obviously, there will continue to be surprising and exciting discoveries that may suggest other paths to explore, choose wisely which to follow. Not everything needs to be resolved in the timespan of the masters, many ideas and concepts will need to continue way beyond the next 8 months.
What I get from this is that I can simplify, clarify, focus my intentions on a single moment and radiate other ideas across many other moments. To realise that the final show is only one moment of many and not try to bring all notions to bear on one single point. So many ideas have come to me over the past months that I have to remind myself of this. I feel the freedom to not complicate matters is a luxury but it is, in fact, a necessity. Fortunately, the core idea is flexible enough to allow me to nuance the work in different ways. The common thread that has led me here is strong enough to withstand such turns of perspective. Above all, I must not confuse things by overcomplicating them.
Jonathan also mentioned that,
… building on a granular approach to time-based media could be a way for you to move forward with your sound work.
This statement underlines an aspect of the work which I have been thinking about. The granularity of the audio takes me back to Ed’s workshop last year. How linear things can be fragmented and reformed to create a different sense of the same content. This idea is consistent with much of what I have been thinking. Breaking the sound and reconstructing it either as a composition, stochastically or most probably a bit of both. This could be a way to introduce the sound element in Enshrinement. The intention would be to trickle notions into the inferences catalysed by the sculptural forms. This is a form of nuance and I feel the acoustic source material is important but less so in the context of the whole: it must serve its function. Is the approach I am taking led by process or content? I feel I am having to carefully pick my way between the two. Making those choices is a honing of two sides of a blade I constantly cut myself on: intended meaning and constructed inference. Central to all this, however, is making and experimenting.
The wrapping above was incidental rather than experimental. It was to keep the porcelain from drying out. But as Jonathan says, there will be ‘surprises and discoveries’ which need to be thought of carefully and used wisely. I do not have time to ramble as in the past fourteen months. It is not easy as I continually work with a paradox, that is, to clarify through ambiguity and ambiguity by definition can lead in many directions. Jonathan pointed this out by quoting me back:
Reality is smooth and simultaneous, granular and causal.
I had forgotten I said this and had to think hard what I meant. Things appear to be infinitely and infinitesimally connected however distant they might be. There is a sequentiality to events, yet things connected happen at the same time. Matter and time can be broken down into component parts, parts of a whole without disconnecting from it. Science tells us this, matter and time are continuous while things are broken into quanta and quarks, and those into strings and granular gravity. The world is split and whole, we experience reality yet we cannot know the true nature of things as we are locked in our way of perceiving. Light appears to behave as discrete particles and continuous smooth waves at one and the same time. Predictability is the illusion of massed random events and the moment at which an inevitable catastrophe on a large scale ensues cannot be pinpointed with any accuracy if at all.
Wrapping inflects the work in a powerful way, as a sacrifice, enigma, suffocation, preciousness; an ambiguity that raises questions and sets me to think deeply about what I am seeing. I also see that it might allow the sound element in the installation to breath; the sound’s granularity permeating the continuous material forms. The sound may or may not be sequential, intended towards a narrative that cannot sit still, being contingent, balanced on the knife’s edge of an imputed catastrophe. A catastrophe made by humans but in the making long before we were ever here: the laws of the universe are immutable.
NB Wrapping reminds me of visiting the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nice where there are a number of drawings and maquettes by Christo who worked with his wife Jeanne-Claude.