Stage by Stage

First three preliminary shapes in their early phases. The process is going well after a great deal of planning. The porcelain is behaving itself and keeping its elasticity and very importantly its shape. This I do by carefully regulating the water content as I add layer upon layer. I hope to have all the major shapes, at least started if not completed, before the Low Residency.

I have also booked the electrician to hook up the large kiln. Hopefully by the end of February when the first pieces can be fired. The idea is to have all the major pieces done by mid April when I can start with the installation and fitting up with electronics. There is still a great deal to do and I don’t want to leave anything for the last minute as each stage needs time and focus. March, April and May will be very busy months. I hope to have June clear for contingencies, fine tunings, installation dry runs, packing and photography.

I shall work on sound elements and videos concurrently during making down time. I enjoy alternating activities and working on several things at the same time. It allows me to resolve any problems so long as I can concentrate on whatever I am doing at any given time.

Segmentation and Culture

I have been working for around ten days now on some of the components for one of the works. It is hard to keep the porcelain fresh to handle and yet not become deformed under its own weight at this scale. The material dictates much of the formal essence and I am working hard to maintain the traces of making as well as the underlying structure of segmentation. Although what I am making is not a vessel and forms part of a larger work, working in this way is giving me a wealth of ideas for future work.

I have been inspired by prehistoric pottery such as the beaker culture terracotta artefacts. This archaeological idea comes together with the biological, creating another layer in my toing and froing between the past and future. My aim is to decentralise the work from an overt iconography of the now and widen the scope for reflection which inevitably comes back onto contemporary contexts from a different perspective. A perspective that sees the human condition not stuck in the present but a chronologically universal one. Namely, the tension between the animal self grounded in a physical reality, and the conceptual self as a construct of the mind. This I believe is something that people have tried to come to terms with continually in different ways over time. Today this struggle is framed in the context of technology in its many forms and macro socio-economics. These are having the tendency perhaps to fragment and confound a sense of the whole in a way that has not been previously encountered on such a scale. What I am trying to do, is move out of a certain contemporary entrainment and present something that rejects horizontal collective solipsism. Instead, I am endeavouring to express the self as a vertical continuum in time that speaks of how we are the bearers of the past and the future. Here, the titles become crucial in opening out layered inferences that can move freely between formal, aesthetic, conceptual and contextual constraints.

Subwoofers: To Port or To Seal

I pulled these out from storage a few days ago. They work well as subwoofers and also deliver on high frequencies. They need rehousing though; I do not like the shapes of the boxes and the black fabric coverings. Then there is the question of whether to port or seal the boxes. The speaker on the right is ported hence the difference in size and shape.

The functional difference between ported and sealed speakers is, the former type is louder and the latter delivers a higher fidelity. Seeing as I intend to use them in a gallery setting, sealed is the more appropriate option. This is fortunate because the calculations and design choices are simpler for the sealed speaker type. It is also smaller and the size tolerance is much greater. With a ported speaker, the measurements need to be much more precise because the airwave leaving the box needs to match the fundamental frequency of the monitor exactly if constructive interference is to amplify the membrane displacement and hence enhance volume.

The best material for cost and ease of construction is thick MDF which I can get cut accurately to size. For now, I am thinking of leaving the MDF bare and only sealing it for aesthetic and conceptual reasons. The speakers are what they are and to try to hide them would miss the point. They are sentinels of the sculpture, not just relayers of sound. Additionally, at the moment I feel that to paint them or cover them is to deny their real nature and contrast with the sculpture.

This web site gives all the information I need to construct the boxes and fit the subwoofers.

Speaker Box Enclosure Designer / Calculator

Use the Speaker Box Designer to determine the optimal volume for your enclosure.

Light of the Fading Day: A Start

Today, in the fading daylight of the studio, I began the next work for the final show. This is the largest and most technically ambitious of the set. It is quite daunting because despite having rehearsed it in my mind countless times, it is all new to me. I have never worked like this on this scale with porcelain, so I have left plenty of time to deal with what might come up. For porcelain, it is a very large work requiring a deft control of water content without loosing spontaneity and an overall vision. In addition, I am not using moulds or armatures which makes the handling of form that much more difficult and unpredictable, but that is good, it keeps things dynamic. Then there is the question of assemblage, mounting and display. Each stage will have its own challenges which will dictate the final outcome. I have a vision which will have to adapt to what emerges along the way and how this will entangle with sound is something that will need a heuristic approach. I have already altered the question of where the sound will be coming from. It will be more overt, creating a tension between two sources of interest although its control will remain with the sculpture: the sound, a guardian of sorts.

How refined, how brutal must I be to set this plasma into shape and keep the gesture and the thought intact against a stubborn bend? For this body is not wont to be thought rude and so tempering my power, I must bear its growing freedom with careful wit and patiently hold my nerve so we might come to journey’s end more whole than at the start.

Angles, Atoms and Rhythm: A Reference

Something I wrote in the previous post More Studies and Why regarding atoms and caves, made me think of the rhythm of movement, the natural flow of inanimate things that is also found in the way life is constructed. Taken down to the smallest unit of matter before becoming subject to the uncertainty of probability, the atom’s uncannily and mindful symmetry dictates a precision of angles when neighbour attracts neighbour to form a molecule, a structure that possesses a graceful efficiency of space.

So, the components of the sculpture can take from this principle of angles to trace a rhythmic line and entrain the eye as the sounds might with the ear: as the shape of a line in a poem might shape the meaning of its verse.

More Studies and Why

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.

Between Theory and Practice

There is a world of difference between thinking art and doing it. That seems obvious, I know, but it is easily forgotten with the blurring of boundaries between disciplines in the arts today. It is good that things intermix, heterozygosity is so much healthier than the alternative. However, it is also good to bear in mind the distinction between theory and practice. I cannot see how making an artwork can be anything but practice-based. To theorise is not the same as to do, theory is seldom wholly applicable in the real world: metal buckles, clay slumps, paint is hard to handle and planning never quite fits the vagaries of  time. This is where the role of the imagination comes in and can cause problems. Imagination is essential for idea formation and ambition but is it enough? Can an artwork exist and be produced through the imagination alone?

An artwork can stimulate the imagination but I do not see it as the sole element in the making of that artwork. To go from imagining making to actually making is a very large step indeed. One that needs years of practice, failure and training for it to be possible to think of something and then do it without encountering technical, skill and practicability boundaries. An artwork, albeit the product of imaginative thinking, is not its sole product. There is the techne, the episteme and the phronesis; the craft, the knowledge and the wisdom to use it, whether writing poetry or designing a monumental work. Often it seems that the ancient Greeks found a word for everything that is not technologically based.

In the previous post, I mentioned how the latest work is a hybrid of a number of other ideas and models I have gone through in the past year. It presents challenges both of concept and making, two things that constrain the translation of an unfettered notion, product of the imagination into a physical artwork in a given material.

Amy Kind in her article on Aeon describes how she approaches the dichotomy, or ambivalence, that can arise from the ways in which the imagination has traditionally been thought of exemplified by Immanuel Kant’s classification. What Kant called productive imagination and reproductive imagination are differences in kind and perhaps do not help much in deciding which the role of imaginative thinking in a given situation. Kant and others before him noted the difference between cognitive rational productive imagination, constrained by the ‘rules of the game’ which forms concepts, and the ability to form a mental world view in the mind, using reproductive imagination which is divorced from reality but based on what we infer using the former kind.

Kind resolves ambivalences that arise from this classification by looking, not at different kinds but different uses of the imagination. She suggests that imagination can be transcendent or instructive in function. Science and problem solving are instructive ways constrained by convention and purpose. Art and literature lean more towards the transcendent form of imagination. This can seem frivolous at times, without obvious utilitarian purpose which may go some way to explain why artists are always be called to justify themselves by doing something ‘useful’. But this is a discussion for another time.

Art can transgress boundaries and ignore the constraint of practicality. But even here there is problem solving and constraints when translating from that space in the mind and its embodiment. This is something that purely process-led art practice has largely resolved by allowing things to take their course once set in motion with the artist as a facilitator. But even hear, there are needs to be met when designing the execution of such thought experiments.

My practice is very much orientated towards outcome through process. This means, that the way something is done is an essential part of an envisaged outcome: behaviours and circumstances change the direction of travel during making. However, because my work is dependent on chosen materials with their specific behaviours I need to be in control of those behaviours. I could make the behaviours themselves be the content of the work itself and relinquish any formal part in the process but that is not in my nature. So in this project, planning and practice form an essential part of the process. Drawing and modelling are part of using the instructive imagination to explore the practical possibility for transcendent visualisations to be brought into the physical field. By drawing and looking at every aspect and detail in a cognitive fashion, I gradually resolve the inconsistencies that would render the work less free to behave during its making. By this freedom I mean, allowing the unexpected to play a positive role instead of frustrating the process. I feel fortunate because I can draw the idea and develop a felt detailed knowledge of how it comes together. I am aware of the danger of overcontrolling the outcome and that poietic spontaneity is important during making. However, knowing the material thoroughly and understanding the formal elements and making process goes a long way to maintaining material vigour and allowing surprises hitherto unseen to play their part: behaviours are given boundaries within which they can meaningfully become express.


For One and for the Other


I welded this simple frame for another project, Logos, intended for working with its maquettes. Yesterday I took hold of it to photograph the latest zoan-like model. I wanted to isolate the work from surfaces in order to minimise cleaning up in photoshop. This worked on the level of convenience but there was also an unintended outcome.

Repurposing something I had made, led to a meaningful  solution for display as I mentioned in Between two Worlds. This way of working at times results in the surfacing of underlying ways of thinking and working which in turn can lead to new thoughts and ideas whilst maintaining a focused continuity of source.

Although this is a relatively small piece of metalwork, it is easily scaled up for an installation where there are no means of suspension from an architectural structure. In such a case, it could be, would need to be shaped into the idea/philosophy of the work itself.


Grappling with the Angel


Jacob Wrestling with the Angel: Jacob Epstein, alabaster (in Tate Britain)


The Jacob of Genesis wrestled with the angel, some say with God, taming a vengeful angry deity and forging a new relationship between humankind and divinity. I see this divinity as the all encompassing material universe made flesh in a dream as Malakh. 

After completing the Mid Point Review I woke to a new realisation, that of grappling with a multitude of ideas trying to reduce them to a single point with a focused coherence of some sort. It did go through my mind to do the Tantra thing and make a painting symbolic of this synthesis into a whole: a point for meditation. However, my nature would not allow me to settle on such a solution. You see, I view the world as a continuum panning vertically from the infinite to the infinitesimal and horizontally across the fastness of time and space. The world is a whole simple single entity and it is a complex of interrelated elements divisible and united. Reality is smooth and simultaneous, granular and causal. This duality is not a matter of indecision but of phenomenological understanding. 

So the problem I was wrestling with can be summed up as, do I present a single work that tries to represent a multitude, issues, subjects, material solutions and approaches, a symbolic sign or do I present, what I call in the MPR, a compendium of interrelated works, each able to stand on its own? The former requires a silencing-out of ideas, the latter risking to appear disordered and confused. If I am to be honest, the minimalist approach does not satisfy my nature however elegant it might appear. I am a mongrel of ideas and influences, philosophically and genetically heterozygous .

In an attempt to resolve this problem I am lead to ask of myself, what is the glue that would bind the works if I were to take the second path? I have already gone over this in a much earlier post. I also hinted at the answer in the MPR where I have written, words are the labels of my thoughts. This is at least partially true. I am not a good speaker but I enjoy the act of putting ideas into words the semantics of language and their syntax. Much of my understanding of the world is worked out with labels, shuffled and shunted in my mind until they fall into place only to be moved again and again. I am talking semiotics here; touched on in the previous post Significance and Meaning.

Having settled on my general direction and that is not to have to create a single work, however holistic it might be, and that words are the narrative glue that binds their content, I start to think about the relationships between the works. In so doing, they start to take shape in my mind, decisions have a rational and an intuitive element: working with Dionysian impulse and Apollonian restraint towards a balancing and rebalancing a weaving of interrelations, invisible lines of tension that burgeon into some physical form in each part.

But do I explain these relationship in words or should they be left to be uncovered, discovered, debated and vulnerable to misunderstanding. I must leave this to the receiver but the trick is to leave sufficient breadcrumbs for way into the wood to be made accesible. A catalogue or a statement, a performance or poetry, for now that question can be left unanswered, there is time for that to develop and mature.

Now for some content. The very provisional titles with which I refer to each principle work, yes there are also small morsels I plan to sow in the interstices, are significant as monikers for the links being forged. Hermaphroditus deals with gender, language and religion through the channel of myth. Logos/Oracle again inspired by the myths deals, as logos alludes, with the disruption of language and understanding through biological and geological metaphors of the gut and the cavern: the devouring of reason and dissemination of ambiguity and ambivalence. Language links these two works but the third installation is unspoken, the absence of word. Shadowland translates the three-dimensional world into two dimensions, constantly reiterating in analogue and digital means the simplification of form, altering its meaning. Whereas Hermaphroditus unfolds and Logos confounds, Shadowlands simplifies and in so doing creates another narrative. 

The trilogy of unfolding, confounding and simplification represents in some way how I see this project. An attempt to simplify and synthesise entanglements through unfolding. The nature of interpretation and mutation of meaning links the works and suggest further works. Is this not the essence of myth? As I write I start to draw together the elements I outlined in the project proposal and as I do so other considerations start to fall in place, considerations such as the aesthetics of each piece. This starts to look less important and somewhat superficial. However, it is still important as a means of conveying a sense defined by the thoughts that go into the work. 

Finally, there is the fourth element, the antecedent to all three which for now must remain undisclosed lest I should abandon its making and disappoint myself. It is a relic of times past and gives context within my own practice, what you might make of it is not for me to say. 

I now feel renewed, on the threshold of a dawn having wrestled the angel. Like in a dream I did not realise I was in quite such a struggle. This realisation has come with the Low Residency and the MPR. There is much planning and preparation, experimentation and workings out. The projects are ambitious in meaning and in making and I cannot afford to leave things to sort themselves out. I cleared a path but it is yet to be trodden and tested. It is now time to take the next step… and keep writing. 


Significance and Meaning and the Mid Point Review


Having completed my Mid Point Review video, I sat back and thought about it, what does it communicate, how would it be seen by my peers? The video touches on some of my current research and development, nothing concrete as yet, no final work(s) to show or indicate their latent presence. Ideas and thoughts strung together, loosely milling in my brain taking up positions, making connections, only to be shaken up again. 

I was struck by the coherency of the other presentations, how singular and linear, how focused on a single target. In Michelle’s video, she talks about the small history, not found in books, encapsulated in conversations and daily actions. This made me think that I deal with large history, quite a different proposition. But at a point the two must meet. Where does the individual become society and vice versa? This is something I think about a lot; the tension between the small and the large. I would be interested in following this line of thinking further in my work. 

Held in all that is said and done lie two things, meaning and significance. These are words often used synonymously. Both convey information but in subtly, or perhaps not, different ways. They can convey roughly the same information with very different implications. Meaning is about the information contained within something and how it is represented, it is symbolic. What is the meaning of, ‘a thirst for knowledge’? The desire to know more about things. Significance on the other hand is more about the relevance or importance of the contained meaning, its impact or consequences: your thirst for knowledge in this research is significant to what you might find. 

Both ideas work with information but in different ways, symbolic versus causal.  What I am saying here is that my work deals with both the symbolism, the semantics of something and its consequence. Another example arises out of the question, what is the meaning of your work, what is it about?  I have plenty of answers to this but are they significant, will they affect the person or just switch them off. This ties in with the conversation had with Pav during the group presentations on the second day of the Residency. I have to be interested in the meaning, it is one of the things that sustains my interest in what I do. However, it is more relevant to be talking about the significance of the work: how does it affect the receiver. And for this, a conversation needs to open and remain open. I cannot tell what the significance of a work will be. I can work with significant matter, but how it affects someone else, that needs to be part of an exchange.  

This brings back to mind Anderson’s idea of art, ‘culturally significance meaning, skilfully encoded in a sensuous, affecting medium’. It is ‘significant’ that he deliberately uses the two words in his anthropological summation. The meaning is encoded through a medium that both affects and is perceived phenomenologically, not just semantically. The skill lies in how effective the artist is in doing this. The point then becomes, how significant is the meaning and all that is done with it, to others?

I have some ideas as with Hermaphroditus and Logos.