After setting up the work bench I tried something out that came to me as I was travelling down to the Residency in February. I am currently working on the text and will soon apply it to the sculpture components. I made the first marks with what will no doubt be the stylus I use for the script.
I have always had difficulty with my calligraphy, but somehow this form of writing suited me. I enjoyed inscribing the soft material with the wooden tool, lightly dragging it through the flesh to be made stone. It seems so appropriate to the text which ties up the two main pieces of the installation.
Thinking about the textual link between the two pieces, the third work has suddenly, as I write, become resolved. I was in two minds as to which of a number of works I would use. The answer is clear: the silent ‘What is the Difference? (I can also add the video if there is time; brings in another dimension to the overall idea)
This piece sets the tone for subsequent works. The large suspended piece will follow that felt sense that this has. I have resolved many aspects of making so when I return to the studio I will be able to immerse myself in the making rather than problem solving.
I was originally thinking of having a large number of pieces on a raised surface near the ground. I have changed my mind. This is going to be one of two pieces, placed on surfaces so that they can be looked at and listened to closely: waist height most probably. I had thought of plinths but I think that two flat surfaces, interlocking, held up with very thin metal legs might work better. I don’t want the sense of space to be blocked by solid plinths but rather have the porcelain pieces almost hovering off the ground. One recumbent like this one and the other vertical, more active. The horizontal extension of this one against the verticality of the other will form an L shape seen from above and the side. But this depends on the exhibition space.
As I work, I think of how the final pieces will look. Porcelain is a strange material. Silky smooth when fired with a grainy feel if left unglazed. I want to give the surface a skin-like feel.
The Belvedere Torso in the Vatican collection was a seminal inspiration for Michelangelo. Signed “Apollonius son of Nestor, Athenian”. Marble acquires a softness that bellies its nature as stone. Sculpture in stone influences my choice of material. But I choose ceramic as a pliable stone which is transformed by the alchemy of heat. Porcelain is like the white marble of stones and glazing it seems to me betrays the traces of handling and so an essential characteristic of its making.
Why do I choose the Belvedere as an example of marble statuary? Because arms and legs are functional, locomotory and grasping. The body is the centre of physical being from which other things radiate. As it was with our primordial ancestors, so it is with the forms I am working on.
Glazing speaks to me of function, impermeability. The body is not impermeable but in continual transaction with the world. In early times the clay was burnished to render vessels less porous. Decoration has always been applied to ceramics, from the rhythmical marking of the beaker people, to the finest renderings. From symbolism to shear exuberance and delight, ceramics have diversified and many left function behind long ago evidenced in the heritage of form only.
I have experimented extensively with Parian clay which was developed to look and feel like marble, it is soft, vitreous and warm, but it is hellishly difficult to use and is subject to warping and cracking. It is better suited to casting large pieces. Casting at this stage is not for me, it is not sufficiently spontaneous and better left as a means of reproduction. However, I shall continue to work with it on smaller scales.
I do not want to use glaze because it covers detail and the sculpture looses the surface nuances developed during its making. However, the raw biscuit low fired material is brilliant white and unsubtle. It is also prone to get dirty and due to its porosity very difficult to clean. When fired to a higher temperature, the surface vitrifies and becomes sealed to a large extent, less porous and prone to atmospheric damage and the dirty that comes with handling and storage. However, the crystalline surface is still very white and lacks the organic surface quality I am looking for. When the porcelain is unfired and still wet, it has a flesh like look, a warm grey that responds to handling developing a beautiful sheen where it is burnished. However, this disappears on firing. I have looked for a finish that can restore to some extent that sense of sensual softness and has the following characteristics:
does not yellow over time,
does not create a thick layer,
is not glossy
and is easily restored.
Having experimented with a number of possible candidates I have found that the humble paraffin wax candle is the ideal substance. The porcelain is heated with a hot air blower and the wax rubbed on building a very thin layer that penetrates the microscopic pores on the surface and creates a colourless, translucent finish. Finally it is burnished with a cloth or brush.
Starting is always the hardest thing, unless one were to consider finishing. Both are difficult for different reasons. Finishing is the moment when you realise you have done what you can, it cannot be otherwise. It is the collapse of the potential that had been possessed before and during the making. Its gift is to whisper or shout according to its own inclination how the next work might proceed. And that brings me back to the beginning, starting a work.
I am starting a new piece in porcelain, white as the blank canvas of a painter, the beginning of a long journey. And as I set out without a set destination, only a sense of what I am looking for, that freedom is frightening. It reveals my shortcomings in the midst of a vision pulling me back to how I did things before. What is that the right course of action, how do I navigate this landscape of decision and indecision?
To know what to do is not the point. It is the how and the why that will give me the framework to hold on to. Take that journey, on foot say, into a forest with neither the stars to guide me nor compass or map. I have no destination, only the ends of the Earth. If I try to walk in a straight line I will simply do so in circles and find myself back to where I started. I must decide on a course of action, a simple set of rules to break the bias of my own nature. Sometimes rules are changed a little but not so much as for me to loose my way irrevocably.
Over years a method is perfected as is the reason for it. I work as a cartographer, marking each point as a star to guide me, a landmark to aim for. But this is art, not some field to be gridded out with a surveyor’s precision. To do so would yield little more than what is in the ground and the rule itself. To look beyond that field is where progress lies. Progress is born of change, imposed, contingent or better still by means of my own agency. To do so is to turn the world on its side and refresh sight from another vantage point. But habits possess inertia, to turn them over I need help. Something I have learnt working with Janet is to do what I would not do normally. This is just one way of changing the course of things and refreshing what might otherwise become limp.
And so it is with the work I do now and the research statement. By this stage, I should not have to worry about where a work will end, it never ends as each finish is but the start of the next.
What struck me when I got the Arduino board was, how small it is, how small all of the things are. And that means, that they will be far less obtrusive than I had previously thought. And seeing how easy it is to work with I look forward to learning a great deal.
The next step is to get to grips with the coding. Fortunately there is a lot of help on the web and even if some piece of code is not exactly what I need, I feel much more confident to be able to tailor it to my needs.
How do I feel about using digital sound in conjunction with sculptures? I have always felt there is an equivocal relationship between sculpture, or statuary to be more precise, and sound. Is a statue not meant to be silent, to be contemplated without the distraction of noise?
But what if the sound comes from within, trapped, allowed a small breathing hole to reach one’s ears, fingertips, barely audible, sensed; a sound that is neither music nor the result of some kinetic accident? I see the sculpture as the receptacle of its own soul, the embodiment of what it is in its nature to be gently radiating outwards, translated into vibrations seeking connection.
There is of course an element of humour in all this, for it to be otherwise would be melodramatic and to what end: humour can be poignant, questioning, engaging, cathartic. All I know is, I go with where the work takes me as it also follows me.
I have been away from my journal for the last ten days, helping Janet to set up her final show at Camberwell as well as others showing with her. But my mind has not been idle and I have been collecting a number of thoughts regarding work during this period. The insight I have gained regarding how the whole thing works in the context of Camberwell has given me an idea for work. Exhibiting in a group show where each offering is in effect a solo show is challenging. This is particularly the case with sound, an integral part of many digitally based works. In many cases earphones are the solution but some consider the ambient phenomenon an essential part of their work, whether conceptually, aesthetically or just to attract attention. Having this in mind, for next year and other similar situations I am considering using particular bands of the frequency range to circumvent the sonic clutter (and traffic noise) of the group environment, without affecting the latter significantly. In order to deliver this final point, I am considering the use of sensors that modulate the viewer-work interaction periodically. For now I wish to keep this idea private since, if it were to become a meme, its singular affect would be lost.
I have been very busy of late and my current work is in a state of incompletion, so I am glad to have just completed a video to accompany a small sculptural work for the interim Summer show at Camberwell. Its simplicity has given me the space to think about a deep level aspect of what I am doing. The narrative in the words of the scrolling text are deliberately anachronistic. I worked on the few words in various versions: directed in the you and I form, playing with tenses, making the content more or less personal. Finally I ended in the place where my instincts had led me to start; with the intention to distance myself from the subject whilst bringing it into direct contact with me in the present as I reflect on its future set in the past. Bringing together the deep past, present and future is very much what my research statement is about albeit taking a narrow field of view. It is interesting how this synchronicity occurs from time to time.
Yesterday I started a small scale study in porcelain – no larger than twenty centimetres in its largest dimension – for H’s playthings in porcelain. What I show here is the first stage, the plasma. It is small so I can quickly assess its outcome before investing more time in how to proceed on a larger scale. The question for now, is whether to move in the direction of a baroque, visceral rendition or a more schematic, symbolic one. I am thinking that the former might be too ‘noisy’ for it to be receptive to a sound element in the work.
I feel that the two approaches are different aspects of what I am looking to express. This makes me think that there is space for both to coexist, a conversation contextualised in the transition from a mass population engaged in an ecology and the symbolic representation of each class type. The former an animated, raw, poietic emergence from inside me, the living expression of thought. The latter a cerebral aesthetic product, distanced, engaging on another level. Can the two ways be reconciled and merged or are they mutually exclusive?
Not all bodies of work need to be homogeneous. I have talked of heterogeneity before, it represents the outer layer of deeper commonalities. Multitudes exist within one idea, am I to be restrained by the aesthetics of conformity? This may be my own prejudice: the need to replicate serially to create distinct bodies of work.
It may be possible to combine the two in synchronous dialogue, resolving a dialectic within a single work. A transition from raw to refined, from animated foam to schematic idolatry. After all, I am looking for a myth and myths are about origins, creation.
A chronological series of six pen and ink sketches for the H project
These are studies done not for the way the sculpture might look but to exercise in what spirit I will approach its making. I see part of this making as painting. Pen and ink is ideal for this, its fluidity and indelibility require seeing ahead a fraction of a moment before committing to the paper surface. And older than paper, its manufacture, a step away from charcoal belies its sophistication. Artists in the past have used this as a tool for analysis, for its closeness to painting: ink is liquid, applied with a brush of sorts, the unforgiving rigid point the focus of decision. The act of drawing with pen and ink is akin to delineating the boundary between the passages in a painting thereby creating a virtual line only that this line is the embodiment of something that does not actually exist. To do this needs an analysis and understanding of the line’s function in relation to what is being drawn must be done without inhibition or hesitation if the form is to come alive. In the case of sculpture, which deals with weight, pen and ink can express the lightest of touches as well as the heaviest of masses. Its calligraphy is a language inflected and nuanced by where and how the ink is placed and the freedom acquired can equally be translated into other mediums.
Only in the penultimate sketch did I use pencil as a preliminary. Doing so disrupted the rhythm but more importantly, resulted in a drawing lacking in invention probably on account of the forms coming more from the head and less from a more visceral centre. Below is the initial sketch in biro I made a few days earlier featured in my previous post.
I have seldom used glazes when working with ceramic material; I usually concentrate on form and light and find that colour can place strong unwanted overtones on a work. In the Zoan series however, I want to emphasise the symbolic and psychological over the naturalistic and biological with the intention of placing these works firmly in the human sphere. I see the use of highly coloured, glass-like glazes as a way of suggesting a sense of artificiality.
The above image is one of a number of monochrome photographs I am colouring as preliminary sketches. The result is not the same as the specular surface of glazes but it does give me an idea. I could alternatively paint the sculptures but having tried this in the past, I have found that painting ceramics obscures the surface qualities of the material and defeats the object of using it. It might be something for larger scale work but not for more intimate pieces.