In February I initiated the process of cataloguing my late Uncle Chris Holme's many artworks, most of which are currently stored at my aunty and uncle - his brother and sister's - house in Preston, my hometown. He had been a prolific painter, but never exhibited the vast majority of his work, and suffered from health problems which meant he was never able to complete an art degree. Luckily my mother, Bernie Velvick and my step-father Dave Curry have volunteered to help, and we have been photographing, documenting, numbering, wrapping and labelling the works whenever I can make it to Preston for a day. Dave takes responsibility for cleaning; wiping each painting with a soft brush, and hoovering the back, whilst Bernie and I wrap, measure and label the works.
For the first couple of days in February I had been photographing the works, and uploading them to a Tumblr straight away; it seemed imperative to have them seen as soon as possible, when they had been hidden away for so long. The pictures were uploaded in a completely arbitrary order, which was perhaps foolish, but hopefully worth the trouble it caused later for them to have been accessible on line. Now we have begun to number and document each painting and drawing in a spreadsheet, with details of size, material and a thumbnail image, it makes sense for the tumblr to correspond. Thus, where once there were 90 images, there are now only 48, because that's how many we've managed to wrap and label so far, but with more detailed descriptions - the project is slowly starting to take shape and make sense.
At an Islington Mill Art Academy 'crit' on the 5th of April I presented the project, via the Tumblr blog, and three works brought from Preston, receiving some good feedback and inspiration for how to progress. It was really helpful to get perspectives and opinions from people outside of my family, and who didn't know Chris personally - I think it would be disingenuous to pretend that my opinions of, and interactions with the works aren't affected by, and interlinked with my particular relationship with the artist. It has been an incredible experience to spend time sorting through and interacting with such a huge body of work, and it can't help but feel like an investigation; examining each work from every angle to find signatures and dates, discovering pictures on the back of other pictures, and what appear to be acrylic paintings over older oil ones. Fellow I.M.A.A member, Rachel Newsome, who's writing evokes contemporary mythologies and fables, expressed an interest in writing an essay about Chris's work, with a particular interest in his many and varied self portraits.
In-keeping with the spirit of investigation, I'm hoping to compile a biography of Chris J Holme through interviews conducted with his Mother - my Grandmother - along with his brothers and sisters, and any friends that we can contact. I had been debating how to go about producing a biography, which I feel is necessary if the works are to be exhibited, and would make an on-line archive comprehensible, but which could easily be misinterpreted. I am hoping that by conducting interviews, and perhaps presenting them as interviews, rather than prose, I can avoid fictionalising Chris's life, whilst still providing a context for the works. Some information about the artists' life will, I think, be necessary to understand why the paint is has a dark patina of dust - although we have attempted cleaning - and why so many works are painted on corrugated cardboard, and the boards that back sketchbooks.
Monday, 6 May 2013
Objects for a Studio is an on-going project by Manchester based artist Jessica Longmore, the traces of which are documented and displayed in a series of intriguing pictures. As part of her process, Longmore constructs temporary and often precarious sculptures, capturing each of them with a single photograph. As with so many aspects of this project, the sculptures exhibit a contradiction in that they appear to be almost homogenous with their environment, formed and built as they are from found objects and materials mined by Longmore from the active studios within which she works. Yet whilst these sculptures have been assembled from the ephemera of one artist's practice, they are the work of another artist altogether; it is for this unstable intermingling of artistic identity that they verge on the uncanny. Appearing out of place only for a brief moment, their precarious nature signals that these leant and balanced assemblages could at any point be absorbed into the debris from which they have been wrought.
In the course of Objects for a Studio Longmore spends an entire single day within an Other Artist's studio, producing one piece of work as a stranger within the space. Describing the time she spends in these studios as residencies, Longmore keeps within a rigid timeframe and structure - one day, one photograph, purposefully fabricating a specialized situation within which she can react to her surroundings and create work with a necessary intensity. The studio itself is defined as a dedicated space, thereby sidestepping historical and canonically ingrained stereotypes about what it should look like, and what it contains. For Longmore, a studio is simply a space that has been purposed for making art, and as such they can take many forms, existing as legitimately in large airy warehouses as in the corners of rooms within homes.
As Longmore states unequivocally, "The project is not intended to survey the hidden studio practice of artists, but rather to stimulate the production of [her] own work within an unfamiliar environment" 1, and it is vital to recognise the intention here, even whilst the figure of the Other Artist and the mystifying space of the studio loom large. She is not inviting the audience in to a studio in order to make artistic practice transparent and accessible, or to glorify the eccentric practices of artists at work. It is inevitable, however, that the studios which she works within are in some way shown and represented, whether simply through her pictures (which can’t help but reveal a fragment of the site) or in the imagination of the viewer, who is aware of the existence of an unknowable ‘other’ studio via knowledge of the process.
The work that Longmore has produced and documented as part of Objects for a Studio is necessarily site specific, and verges on the collaborative, albeit without acknowledgement. Residencies, site specific artworks, and any project where some form of contact, or negotiation is prerequisite, are bound to be cooperative to some extent, but not necessarily collaborative. Here, due to the intimate and personal nature of Longmore's particular form of residency, it can be argued that a strange type of collaboration is present. These collaborative traces are compelling and enigmatic; simultaneously subverting and enacting traditional notions, whilst exemplifying the ponderous ubiquity of collaboration within contemporary art practice.
Intentional constraints as a catalyst
Whilst Objects for a Studio is a self-contained project, Longmore utilises techniques that not only allude to her wider practice, but can also be seen to communicate a working ideology, referring to particular movements in art history, as well as commenting on conventions in contemporary art. At base, the project is a generative technique formulated by Longmore to act as a catalyst within her practice, by way of devising a set of constraints and rules to work within and against. This is referred to by the artist in her statement of intent, describing the project as a way "to stimulate the production of [her] own work within an unfamiliar environment"2. It may seem counter intuitive, to try and inspire new work by developing boundaries, instead of aiming for complete freedom, However, rules and constraints are an inevitable part of art-making. The idea that admitting, probing and exploring boundaries can generate ideas and new works is not a new one, and one can trace this methodology to specific groups and movements in art history, such as Fluxus (specifically in terms of event scores produced during the 1960's) and Oulipo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, or Workshop of Potential Literature), a still-in-existence group founded in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais, who produce works of literature using constrained writing techniques.
Within the aforementioned historical groups, such procedures were usually specified in directives and manifestos, with written rules being a requirement of generative techniques. Similarly, in Objects for a Studio, the rules are outlined as part of Longmore's publicly available statement, paying particular attention to the emotional impact of the studio as a site of production. The rules and constraints that Longmore has chosen are not arbitrary, and Objects for a Studio is not an exercise in automatic creation, or mechanical production. These rules have been carefully chosen and developed, in order to amplify the intimacy and intensity of the Artists’ chosen site, and to necessitate the production of work, expounding a belief that by following pre-determined maxims, we can unlock new and experimental forms of creativity.
As well as the constraints of time, space and material, which Longmore has chosen, Objects for a Studio is also subject to obligatory practical constraints, which can be seen to refer to the generality of making. There is a slippage here between artistic intention and the influence of physical and temporal context, in that, to some extent, all artists are working within constraints that will have an effect on how their work develops. However, Longmore takes this inevitability and deliberately utilises it, rendering recognisable contemporary logistical pressures, such as the necessity for forward planning and careful organisation of time, fruitful rather than frustrating, whilst simultaneously operating within the same systems that make this way of working unavoidable.
Objects for a Studio is not the first of Longmore's projects to incorporate intentional generative constraints. Her interest is initially apparent in the 2009 group show IV, whereby Longmore and three other artists; Tom Baskeyfield, Julie Del’Hopital, and Sarah Sanders wrote and adhered to four maxims, in order to produce four works - one each - which would be shown at Manchester's Rogue Project Space, in an exhibition with the tagline “4 maxims, 4 artists, 4 works” . Each maxim, referred to one of four "basic elements in the production of work"3, defined by the artists as time, material, scale and thought or systems of belief. Longmore describes how such constraints provided the work with a context, and aided her ability to focus during the making process, indicating that, for Longmore, the use of generative techniques and the methods described above is definitively practical, as well as ideological.
Returning to the discussion of Objects for a Studio specifically, Longmore carefully manages her working environment, which in turn becomes an intrinsic part of the temporary sculptures which she produces and photographs. Within these parameters, the artist also leaves room to manoeuvre creatively, and it is clear that her intention is not to invite other artists to follow her rules, and to produce their own Objects for a Studio. Longmore describes herself as having been inspired by Sol Lewitt's 'sentences on conceptual art'4 in her use of rules and structures, however she does not go so far as to fabricate systems whereby the actual work can be created by anybody other than the herself. In his 'Paragraphs on Conceptual Art', which was published simultaneously with 'Sentences...' Lewitt declares that in the case of conceptual art "the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art"5. To some extent Objects for a Studio conforms to Lewitt's definition of conceptual art, the process and technique of seeking out willing artists, travelling to studios and spending exactly one day working within them can be seen as the machine which makes the art. Yet, there is a remaining contingency and subjectivity inherent in this project, ensuring that each expression of the process cannot be repeated, and this is a symptom of Longmore's chosen site.
Access to Other Artists' Studios
Referring once again Longmore's own statement of intent, the artist describes the studio as a site of intensity and feeling, declaring she "[hopes] to provoke the extremes of emotion that the studio creates" 6. By remarking upon the abstract and subjectively experienced properties of the site, Longmore insinuates that by conducting these residencies within studios, she will be able to produce spontaneity and unknown outcomes, regardless of the predictability of repeated actions generated by constraints. Thus, although Longmore uses a wide definition of the studio, she still indicates that there is something peculiar to these spaces, a quality which enables and inspires the production of artwork. As well as defining the studio as a dedicated space, Longmore also refers to studios as containers, playing a part in forming the work which is produced within them, further emphasizing the way that these sites have been selected, according to a belief in their power to influence the formation of objects.
For the non-artist viewer, there is also a level of mystery associated with the studio, a place of privacy and genesis, which is only to be viewed by invite or at well organised open studio events, and only then when the artist chooses to take part. Paraphrased by Brian O'Doherty, in his preface to the Salon of 1846, Baudelaire explains how the bourgeoisie might "[consign] it's alienated imagination not only to the artist, but to the magical space where art is pondered and brought into being", expressing the concept of an arcane, and necessarily confounded voyeurism around the public desire to see inside artists' studios. The treatment of the studio in the process, and documentation of Objects for a Studio, admits this mystical voyeurism, whilst also managing to approach the site with sensitivity and understanding, somewhat maintaining its' concealment from public view. Thus, whilst expounding that studios are not public spaces, Objects for a Studio offers a tantalising glimpse of the many studios within which Longmore has worked, but makes no pretence to be showing them in completeness. Instead, these other studios are presented through a lens of artistic production, as a piece of Longmore's own work in the form of a photograph.
The photograph as a mode of representation presents only a snapshot, one angle of a wider, and more nuanced situation. Therefore, the photograph is an appropriate form for Objects for a Studio, as the audience is aware of unknowns lurking beyond the frame. In this way, within Longmore's photographs, studios are pictured as honestly as they can be, and are represented as changing spaces of fluidity and temporality, by virtue of the medium through which they are shown, and the nature of the sculptures which have been photographed. This shifting form of representation, which attempts to confound voyeurism through gestures appropriate to the space, belies a deep and firsthand understanding of the nature of studios, and is in clear contrast to other contemporary methods of studio display. For instance, at The Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, artist Francis Bacon's studio has been catalogued and relocated from London, to be displayed in what appears to be its' original state, but is in fact "a carefully constructed artifice"7.
Bacon's Studio in Dublin is not the only example of the studio being recreated in the gallery, whether by curator or artist. In 1964 Lucas Samaris installed Room, a recreation of his studio/bedroom at The Green Gallery in New York, presented for public consumption as an artwork in itself. His reconstruction of a studio, his treating every splatter and mote of dust as a vital part of an artists' oeuvre, wilfully overlooks the fundamental privacy and mutability of the studio that Longmore consciously attempts to preserve in her representations: Brian O'Doherty refers to the nature of artworks, whilst they remain within the studio, as aesthetically unstable, a description which is applicable to Longmore's temporary sculptures in a literal sense. Her works illustrate the instability of time within the studio, with their very obvious physical frailty and precarity.
Longmore's determined preservation of the Other Artists' privacy emphasises the importance of studios as confidential spaces, where artists' can experiment away from the critical gaze. Given that Longmore is clearly interested in respecting this requirement, it is interesting to consider her process in gaining access to so many of these non-public spaces. In practical terms, Longmore has found that gaining access to multiple studios is much easier with the help and backing of an institution. For instance, at present she is working as resident artist at Salford University, which has allowed her to utilise the institution's influence and networks in order to make contact with groups of studios, and therefore to gain access to individual studios. This detail once again raises the issue of how a high level of administration and vigilant planning are often necessary for contemporary artists: in this way, the structures which Longmore must work within in order to accomplish her objectives affect in macro the structures which she has consciously designed.
As discussed above, when Longmore arranges to work for a day in an Other Artists' studio, she is not proposing to present that studio to the public, or to invite the audience inside. Instead she could be said to be proposing a collaboration of sorts, whereby she treats the studio as she would her own, using the space only as it has already been dedicated; as a space in which to make work. Then, working within the knowledge that this dedicated space, this studio, actually belongs to somebody else, Longmore utilises paraphernalia of the Other Artists' practice both as a point of inspiration, and as her medium. By her treatment of studios within Objects for a Studio, Longmore is enacting a complex form of cooperation and portrayal with the Other Artist and their workspace which, as previously outlined, utilises a form of representation which is appropriate to subject, thereby avoiding a problematic fictionalisation of the site.
When Longmore goes to work for a day in the Other Artist's studio, they are only sometimes there during the process, and as such, it is not necessary for Objects for a Studio that the two artists must work together in a literal, tangible way. However, regardless of whether they are physically present or not, the work which Longmore has produced and documented during Objects for a Studio, could not have existed without the Other Artist's practice. In this way, Longmore's practice in Objects for a Studio is dependent on the Other Artists', and therefore a somewhat skewed form of collaboration is implicit in the project. This peculiar collaborative aspect is not directly addressed by Longmore, which could be taken to indicate that it is not - at least not intentionally - an integral part of the project. Yet, the spectral figure of the Other Artist haunts Objects for a Studio, their semi-anonymity in the process, confounding traditional conceptions of collaboration.
In his discussion of contemporary collaboration, The Third Hand, Charles Green posits the groupings of the late 1960's as the beginnings of the sorts of self-consciously, ideologically complex collaborations that we are familiar with today. He also traces a trajectory for these practices, whereby collaborations, and the collaborative theories which were abandoned in favour of postmodernism in the 1980's, enjoyed a resurgence in the late 1990's, indicating a belief that the current ubiquity of collaborative practices, is part of a sweeping historical trend. Green frames collaboration as an attempt to rethink artistic identity, to either erase, or to somehow fundamentally alter the signature of the artist. The process and results of Objects for a Studio certainly approach the concept artistic identity in usual ways, but there does not seem to be any ideologically inspired erasure of the artists's signature. Instead of substituting the identity of two or more artists for a separate, purely collaborative 'third hand' identity, Objects for a Studio is presented as a part of Longmore's practice alone. Yet, the Other Artist is sometimes named, or remains anonymous only by choice, and their existence is always presented as being of central importance to the project. In this way, the identities of two artists, Longmore and the Other Artist, are simultaneously, but distinctly represented, and combined only partially, and momentarily. This temporary synthesis being what Longmore documents in her photographs.
Whilst both Longmore and the Other Artists' actuality and identity are unquestionably represented here, by working exclusively with the ephemera of the Other Artist's practice, Longmore is generating an unequal relationship which can seem to confound a traditional understanding of collaboration. It seems that only one member of the team, Longmore, is conscious in the production of work, and the other artist is acting as a found-archive, opening up their practice to be used as the raw material for somebody else's. Longmore's Objects for a Studio effectively raises questions of artistic authorship, in how far the Other Artist, the archive, is acknowledged, bringing to mind the artistic use of found objects, where the original maker, or designer will often go uncredited. Although, despite the apparently unequal relationship between artist and archive, within Objects for a Studio, consent is sought from participants, who can be assumed to understand what it is that they're involving themselves with. This issue of consent is crucial in seeking to understand the relationships which are formed in the course of Objects for a Studio, indicating that rather than exploitative and one-sided, they are multi-faceted and consensual, which de-problematises the issue of attribution.
Objects for a Studio can be seen to exist in two experientially distinct parts. For the Other Artist, and anybody else involved with administration of the project, it would happen as a kind of participatory performance, whereas, for the viewer, Objects for a Studio exists as a series of documentary photographs, and some copy explaining the process. This dual ontology is typical of temporary and performative artworks, especially those that cannot be repeated. Considering this experiential rupture, it becomes clear that when we take the experience of the Other Artists and other actors into account, Objects for a Studio can be perceived as a form of temporal, interventionist, performance art. By presenting the project via a website, a standing document of copy and pictures, Longmore is communicating the importance of the process, of what happens outside of and around the pictures, that capture just a moment of the entire performance which goes to make up the work. The extent to which Longmore explains Objects for a Studio to the audience can be taken as intentional, and as an example of how much we are supposed to know about the project. Longmore gives us a general sense, and a broad description of the process, but few details. Details and interest are saved to be expressed in the photographs, the only opportunity for the viewer's curiosity to be visually sated, which infuses the pictures with possibilities and projected meanings, appropriately expressing the aforementioned intensity of the site.
It has already been established that the collaborative aspects of Objects for a Studio are not calculated, they appear intrusive, or to have been unavoidable, and this apparently inadvertent form of collaboration raises the issue of whether collaboration has become somehow embedded within contemporary art practice. The structures and habits which are now noticeably pervasive within contemporary art making - residencies, networking, collectives, and a striving for diversity of voices - are clearly appropriate to the practice of collaboration. Perhaps collaboration is now synonymous with so many of the common practices within contemporary art that its manifestation within Objects for a Studio is inevitable. A striking commonality between Objects for a Studio and other contemporary collaborative practices is the fact of pre-planning and administration, acts entirely consistent with the nature of the project. This administration necessitates communication and cooperation with others as an integral part of the artwork, which can perhaps be considered as a form of collaboration, within which these other helpers and performers have become part of a transient collective with Longmore.
As Andrea Thal explains, when two or more artists work together there is a level of discussion and planning which takes place prior to the actual production of any art work, which can be seen as a work in itself, and is in fact typical of collectives, which are then typical within contemporary art practice; "this communication, the exchange leading to the production of something, is a collective's very first, and probably most typical work"8. In the case of Objects for a Studio the communication, discussion, planning and admin that takes place prior to the actual studio day is of a particular pre-determined type, wrought out through trial and error over the four years that the project has run. Longmore has taken Objects for a Studio to a number of different geographical locations, working in over sixty studios, inferring a significant amount of discussion, planning, and indeed work, before anything recognisable as art-work can take place. However, in terms of Thal's analysis of collaborative practice, this arrangement, which has become typical of the project, could be taken as a form of art work.
The temporality that is inherent in Objects for a Studio resists straightforward analysis, and the ways in which Longmore attempts to play with the conventions of contemporary art from within art-world structures, creates a fluid and shifting aesthetic, which hints, but does not pronounce. The photographs form a coherent body of work, communicating the particular qualities of the studio as a site in which time and space behave unusually, by virtue of the kind of work that is conducted within. These photographs form a document of the project, and refer to it in the same way as a sign, signifying the amorphous and fluctuating whole, which exemplifies and enacts common practices, and necessities associated with working as an artist.
Longmore does not seem to be offering an argument or manifesto, or even a judgement on the structures which this work traverses, and yet the project raises a plethora of questions including but not limited to; what constitutes artistic collaboration in a situation where working together is often essential, although not necessarily an intentional device? In the context of Objects for a Studio this gentle, non-judgemental exposure is sufficient. Were aspects of the project, such as behind-the-scenes administration, to be documented along with Longmore's assemblages, their ontology would be altered, losing their status as real and turning the whole process into pure performance.
Longmore avoids this, explaining only what she considers to be necessary for the audience to appreciate the work, and refusing to offer an analysis of the situation. There is a sense of rightful privacy expounded by Longmore - whilst her photographs depict beautiful but unsettling moments in which objects bristle with the energy of things being other than they should, of rearrangement, of experimentation. The studio is, perhaps, the only dedicated space where such incidental experimentation is allowed, but any site could be a studio, and it only takes a dedication. Thereby the assignation of function to spaces becomes like a mystical spell, just as ground can be consecrated, so a space can be dedicated. It is with these hints pertaining to abstract concepts and magic that Longmore counteracts what could be an otherwise unequivocal experience for the viewer, of repeated actions resulting in pictures.
Crawford, Holly. Artistic Bedfellows: Histories, Theories and Conversations in Collaborative Art Practices. University Press of America (2008)
Grabner, Michelle & Jacob, Mary Jane Eds. The Studio Reader: On the space of artist. University of chicago Press (2010)
Green, Charles. The Third Hand: Collaboration in Art from Conceptualism to Postmodernism. UNSW Press (2001)
LeWitt, Sol, "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art," in: Artforum (1967), 79–83; A. Legg (ed.)
Longmore, Jessica. Jessica Longmore: artist. URL: http://seabrookhost.com/jessica/?page_id=83 [2012 - 2013]
O'Doherty, Brian. Studio and Cube. A FORuM Project Publication (2007)
4Lewitt, Sol 'Sentences on Conceptual Art', Art Forum 1967
5Lewitt, Sol 'Paragraphs on Conceptual Art', Art Forum 1967
7David J. Getsy, “The Reconstruction of the Francis Bacon Studio in Dublin”, The Studio Reader: On the space of artists p.102
8Thal, Andrea, "Complicity", Artistic Bedfellows: Histories, Theories and Conversations in Collaborative Art Practices, ed: Crawford, Holly (2008)
Rosa Barba's new work, filmed in Manchester's grandiose, but dilapidated Albert Hall, forms half of Subconscious Society; a joint commission between Cornerhouse and Turner Contemporary, Margate. Also on show as part of Barba's current exhibition, Subject to Constant Change, are Coro Spezzato: The Future Lasts One Day (2009) and Time Machine (2007).
Lauren Velvick: What interests you about abandoned places, and obsolete technology?
Rosa Barba: I'm generally interested in how little histories are inscribed in landscapes, in buildings; sometimes they're inscribed in people. That's why I never really work with actors, I try to find people around a subject I'm researching that are carrying this inscription with them.
LV: Do you think there are messages to gleaned from this process?
RB: Yes, I hope that there are new possibilities brought about by collecting these kinds of messages, that aren't manifested anywhere else. Usually we build our society, and base our future plans on things that have been sorted out for us by politicians, or whoever, but I think that with art we can try to collect other messages, and archive them in a different way and offer other solutions.
LV: I wonder if by searching for histories in this way, what you find might seem more genuine than conventional discourses?
RB: Genuine isn't the right word. My research goes into a micro world, and of course there are millions of micro worlds. But I'm choosing just one of these worlds.
Henriette Huldisch: It seems to me that you're getting these personal stories, and little anecdotes, which seem open and enigmatic. It really shows that there's more than one way to tell a story. I don't know if it's more genuine or not - there are lots of facets to a bigger picture.
RB: It's kind of like a geological approach as well, not just focussing on what people say but rather the sounds that spaces have, and material has. Stories of the material, of the people, of the sound are all orchestrated together to try and make this other archive.
LV: Relating to your use of analogue film equipment; would you agree that technology takes on something of the art object as it becomes obsolete?
RB: Well, the thing is with film, it has always been so close to a market, and technologies and markets, of course, change all the time. So we're moving into a digital world, and film seems nostalgic, but in a way it has always been an independent medium, and now I think it is able to be recognised as such within the arts, like sculpture, or like painting. I'm happy that film isn't so much connected any more to the business of TV and movies, because as it is taken out of 'use', It is becoming more able to be viewed as an independent medium.
LV: In line with that, how do you feel about your work which utilises film in this way, being shown in the same building as traditional cinemas - do you think that this will affect the reception, do you want it to?
RB: I was always interested in fragmenting how a film can be seen, in my work the viewer becomes quite active - for instance in Coro Spezzato: The Future Lasts One Day you are an editor as you walk through. My wish is to bring research back into the cinema again, with new approaches, so I guess it's nice to have these things in the same house, and it has actually never happened to me before.
LV: How do you go about gaining an understanding of place and history in the different locations where you work - for instance, Manchester and Kent for 'Subconscious Society' - do you have a particular method?
RB: I had quite a few weeks of research time, intense research time, and I had previously stayed in both [Manchester and Kent] for quite long periods of time. I also use a lot of aerial views, which has often been part of my work.
HH: It seems to me that your process is very intuitive, and there's never a script. A lot of it happens whilst shooting; improvising whilst on location.
LV: What particularly drew you to The Albert Hall, with it's grand sense of decay, instead of other remnants of industry in Manchester?
RB: I liked that it has had different uses, it was first a church and then it was a theatre; it was a cinema in between as well, and then it was used for political elections, it was used for education, and it was kind of reflecting a whole period of time and of memories. Also, striking was that everybody said it was the most 'haunted house' in the city, and it made me think a lot about the relationships between England and ghosts.
LV: How are the two sides of 'Subconscious Society' linked?
RB: The idea is that they come together in a feature film later on, and I'm also making these publications; Printed Cinema, which I see is a kind of 'pre-screening' that happens in different places. With these two exhibitions, you could travel to both sides, and I like this idea that you have to travel for a few hours to put these two parts together, and so we see parts of the Kent locations here, and parts of the Manchester locations appear in the film there. In Kent the film is much more Landscape based, entering the subconscious in a meditative manner, and here you are with people, and in an interior space.
LV: Could you talk a bit more about your choices to talk to people in Manchester, but focus on the landscape in Kent? Was this to do with what you already knew about each place?
RB: Yes, Manchester was more striking to me as a really habited area, here it feels totally natural that you should meet with people. Whereas in Kent it was these objects in the landscape that had been built to protect England that I was drawn to, and they are the protagonists of the film.
LV: Whilst you work in very different geographical locations, do you tend towards places that you have been to before, or have a connection to?
RB: Not always, for instance I made a film on an Island in Sweden; I had been invited there to propose a project, and then as I spent some time there I heard stories, and I read about another tiny Island close by that was drifting every year which inspired me.
LV: You mention the Printed Cinema publications, text also features prominently in your sculptural work, how do you see text and reading as linked to film?
RB: It started nearly 10 years ago, when I wanted to translate film into printed matter. With Printed Cinema they're always based on one project and I use the surrounding research material kind of like a secondary literature to the project - including all the notes I take, and the photographs. Not that I'm 'showing' photographs, but more using them as a research material - and as such they sometimes end up in the Printed Cinema.
LV: Do you then see this accompanying documentary and research material as part of the art work?
RB: Yes, it becomes an object, but is ongoing and never finished. I see them as screenings, so ideally each one would only appear in one city, like a little film festival, and you would be able to collect them.
LV: Is travelling between cities something that you would like to encourage?
RB: Yeah, I think it's important to have this time, it is a way of editing something over different cities, as you have time in between.
LV: Editing as travelling is a concept I've not really encountered before, can you elaborate a bit on that?
Yes, it comes out in the way I approach filming and also making sculptural pieces; I like to create gaps by using white, blank images or black images, and these are designed to help you navigate into a different time or a different narrative and so I would see this travelling time as another gap, where you can travel into a different narrative and then arrive in it.
HH: I have been thinking about how it's going to be for people who only see one side of the project, and how that might change when they see the two films together. Whilst the two exhibitions are stand alone shows, I think perhaps you will get the most out of the project if you see them both; particularly the differences in emphasis.
LV: Can you tell me a bit about the future plans for the project; are you planning an edition of 'Printed Cinema'?
RB: Maybe, we hope.
HH: We're planning.
Rosa Barba: Subject to Constant Change, Cornerhouse (26.1.13 - 24.3.13) Review
In Rosa Barba's current exhibition at Cornerhouse, it is made evident how the medium of film can fill a space like no other. The noisy, dark but glowing, and at times industrial atmosphere which is constructed by Barba, and curator Henriette Huldisch, subsumes Galleries 2 and 3. The focal point of this exhibition is undoubtedly Subconscious Society, a new film which forms part of a joint commission between Cornerhouse in Manchester, and Turner Contemporary in Margate, and can be found in a blacked-out Gallery 3. Meanwhile, situated within Gallery 2 are two of Barba's slightly earlier works; Time Machine (2007), a glowing silkscreened script, and Coro Spezzato: The Future Lasts One Day (2009), a carefully choreographed multi-projector installation. Shown in conjunction with Subconscious Society, these two works provide an ideological and aesthetic framework for the new commission, but are also compelling in their own right.
In both galleries there is a distinct sense of being 'behind the scenes', and although this is certainly a product of the work itself, it can't help but be emphasized by the site, considering that Cornerhouse is perhaps best known as an independent cinema complex. It is unusual as a viewer, and consumer, to be privy to the inner workings of the machines and structures which deliver culture, and there is a curious excitement in being allowed experience this. Indeed, due to the way in which Subconscious Society is back-projected on to a huge screen in the centre of the gallery, it is possible to walk around the screen, to walk behind the screen, and to therefore be 'behind the scene'. Then, again, with Coro Spezzato: The Future Lasts One Day (2009), whereby modified 16mm projectors are arranged to mimic a spatially separated choir, bodily movement between and around the work is crucial, and exhilarating.
In the official copy, Barba's new commission is described as 'taking the industrial age as its' subject', a subject which I found to be exposed and illustrated strikingly well with sound. On entering gallery 3 the visitor is greeted by the rattle of three projectors running simultaneously, and whilst parts of Subconscious Society are accompanied by edited voice-overs from the local protagonists of the film, there is also a brutal, but musical soundtrack which clangs, drones and squeals; blending in with the live sound of the projectors. The way in which these mechanical sounds are accentuated is indicative of Barba's concern with, and exploration into the physical properties of analogue film, exposing how narratives are, and can be constructed, deconstructed and represented within the medium.
As part of Subconscious Society, as well as one large projector behind a central screen, there are two smaller projectors which beam uneven quadrilateral shapes at intervals on to the lower left, and right hand sides of the screen, over-writing the film with blank creamy light. This act of overwriting, or multiple exposure is used throughout the film, with ghostly figures clambering, or stained glass windows hovering, serving to further fragment the narrative, whilst representing the inevitability of multiple viewpoints and diverse memories, through the use of techniques and effects particular to the medium.
Similarly, with Barba's two earlier works; Time Machine (2007) and Coro Spezzato: The Future Lasts One Day (2009) the expectation of linear narrative in film, of being told a story, is blatantly confounded. Text it utilised within both of these works, either printed or projected, and it is near impossible, or at least highly impractical to read every word, here Barba purposefully impairs objectivity, meaning that the viewer is unable to perceive what is shown as a whole. Throughout Subject to Constant Change the viewer consciously edits their own experience, and it is intriguing to encounter film in this way, to be invited in and left to explore. Through her careful fragmentation of narrative and emphasis on multifarious viewpoints and voices, Barba draws attention to the plurality of individual experience and memory. She advocates the value in seeking out and taking notice of unconventional or ignored histories, by way of personal accounts and mysterious ruins, chiming in with how the clattering materiality of film is revealed in her sculptural installations.
Saturday, 12 January 2013
Lionel Dobie Project is an innovative residency project developed by Manchester-based artist/curator duo Helen Collett and Lois Macdonald, providing a dedicated space for research and curating, and revealing the dynamic nature of these practices through unusual events and live-tweeted conversations. Collett and Macdonald have been working in partnership since 2009, with an emphasis on research and discursive interactions. They also continue to jointly undertake artistic and curatorial projects outside of Lionel Dobie, most recently with ‘YouI fig. (iv)’ the continuation of a series of performances reflexively examining their working relationship.
LDP is based in an enclosed railway arch near Deansgate station, opposite Castlefield Gallery, and contains one of the specially designed chalets from Jane Anderson and The Office for Subversive Architecture's summer project Atelier Zero. However, whilst physically situated firmly within the established Manchester art scene, Collet and Macdonald aim to offer something which they feel is not catered for by the existing institutions, and to engage new audiences.
Lauren Velvick: How did you meet?
Lois Macdonald: We met when we were studying at Manchester Metropolitan University, on the Interactive Arts programme there. They have a student gallery space, the Holden Gallery, which we both wanted to curate, and we were given the opportunity to do so together. At the time neither of us wanted to work collaboratively, and it was difficult at first, but we soon realised that we have similar methods and we learnt to trust each other.
LV: How did your reflexive focus develop?
LM: The YouI project (2009) was the first performance we did that was about how we work together, it was very visual and explored how in working collaboratively you have to learn how to respond to other people, in order to get what you want or need out of a situation.
Helen Collett: Our performances have changed with our working relationship. As we have started working on bigger projects we've been thinking about how we brand our partnership, and how we are perceived through social media.
LV: So, you reflect on the nature of working relationships, but not necessarily your own?
LM: Yes, I'd never worked collaboratively before we met, and have been interested in the dynamic between people as they learn to productively work together, overcoming initial misgivings.
HC: I hadn't previously collaborated either, and I think it's because of this that we constantly question each other, in a competitive, but productive way.
LM: In our most recent performance, where we re-created Youl, the progression of our working relationship over the past three years meant that we were much more concerned with our context. We now have to consider how we fit into the scheme of things, rather than being safe in our identities as students.
LV: LDP is based in a railway arch, with the occasional low rattle of a train going overhead - how did you come to be working in such a striking space?
LM: Soon after we met we developed Free For Arts Festival, an important part of which was to source as many venues as possible, for free. Through our enquiries, we made a contact at the company which owns many of these arches.
HC: We approached her about this project, and have negotiated mutually beneficial deal.
LV: On your website, you describe LDP as a venture “Allowing curators the same freedom of exploration that is commonplace for artists”. Do you feel that curating, as a practice, is otherwise neglected?
LM: It's not that it's neglected, there just aren't the same opportunities for graduates as there are in visual arts, and we want to bring some of that variety of opportunity to curating. We found that when we were approaching graduation and were thinking about what to do next, there were no opportunities to help us take the next step with our curatorial and research practice, no stepping stone between graduation, and owning your own space or working as a curator. We felt that the best way to tackle these difficulties would be to start up a project whereby we could ask what curating is, how important it is, and how change it, whilst facilitating and promoting independent practice.
LV: Do you have any criteria that define a curating practice as opposed to an art practice? Considering how contemporary art forms such as installation and performance can sometimes seem to blur the two?
HC: The difficulty in defining curating is central this project. Our own research is based on observing how the LDP resident curators approach their practice, and how they define curating for themselves. Curating is so vast, and the reality of contemporary curating can differ wildly from traditional notions.
You might want to call yourself an Artist because then it feels like you can do anything, but the title of curator is considered much narrower. With this in mind, we've wondered what our title should be, eventually making a conscious decision to call ourselves the 'project managers' of LDP.
LM: We don't call ourselves the curators of the project because we try not to have too much creative input, or control over what the residents do here.
LV: Do you see yourselves as providing a service?
HC: There are so many residency opportunities for Artists that are really open, and something I want to do is provide a similar space for curators, where they can ask questions.
LM: We're supporting research, and have said that we aren't going to have any exhibitions here unless they are a part of the research. So far everything has been participatory, with conversations and performative events. We think of it as a 'think tank' as opposed to a gallery space, but because the space looks like a gallery a lot of people think that's what it is!
LV: In terms of being a service provider, how do you see yourselves as distinct, or linked to alternative education projects, and the arts courses at the Manchester universities?
LM: There are educational elements to the project, in that the curators who are resident here have hosted open seminars. Helen and Myself also work at Manchester School of Art, so we're linked in that sense.
HC: I think it's important to keep Lionel Dobie very separate from my work as a tutor, we want students and graduates to engage with the project, but as something separate to their course. It can also function as a link between the different local Universities.
LV.Could you tell me about your current resident curators at LDP?
LM: There's the Lionel Dobie Project Collective, whereby we have fortnightly meetings and an events budget, and then there's Mike Chavez Dawson, who's our first resident. He's looking at performance and curating; where an artwork actually exists.
HC: We've been talking a lot about whether his work is curatorial or artistic.
LM: He has been doing lot's of projects outside of this residency, but he sees them as all part of the same thing, under his name. It's been really interesting working with him, as he is quite name-driven and highly motivated.
LM: Then we've got Conway and Young, who are actually based in Leeds but are doing an MA here, and they come from a design background – they look at the design of space.
HC: They have been considering curating in a traditional sense, as 'taking care'.
LM: Our third resident is Toby Huddlestone, who is based in London and is interested in archiving. He is working towards an exhibition, which he is trying to predict beforehand, by archiving it before it happens.
HC: We really like his work, but as he's based in another city we mostly work with him on line.
LM: We wanted to pick up on the idea of 'active research', so whilst the curators are working they get feedback as they're going along, so instead of working towards one big show at the end, we thought it would be better for them the host a few small events throughout the duration of their residency.
LV. Do you take applications for residencies, or do you seek out curators to work with?
LM: It's been a combination, for the first few we did choose people to invite because we were interested in the way they worked, and now we're hosting an open submission. Anybody can apply, and we'll select somebody who's work contrasts with the previous three. There will also be a sixth residency, which will be chosen based on what we've done so far; we wanted to leave the last few open because the whole project is an experiment, and we want to leave room for it to grow and change. The residencies are six months long, with each starting two months after the last so that they overlap. It started at the beginning of July 2012 with Mike's residency, and will finish at the end of August 2013.
LV: Outside of the LDP residents, do you have an audience in mind – are you seeking to engage local creatives, or a wider public?
LM: We want the audience to be as broad as possible - not just people who are already involved with art, which is why some of the events won't be held here. Discussion is really important to the project, and hopefully we'll be able to engage people who aren't necessarily art fans to begin with.
LV: Is your use of terms like 'think tank' and 'project managers' part of this?
LM: I did some interviews on the opening night, asking people about curating with questions donated by people associated with LDP. The questions were things like; 'do curators have a social responsibility?', which I felt were fairly straightforward. However when I was typing up the answers it seemed like people were quite daunted, perhaps because they are used to considering art in terms of individual pieces of work, but not how and why the work is there. There is a gap there, and that's something we need to think about.
HC: We're also really interested in ideas around inclusivity and exclusivity at the moment, which has arisen from deciding who we should invite to events.
LM: Some of the conversations and debates we've hosted so far have been really intense and focussed on specific ideas, and we haven't wanted to invite people who're just going to be bored. Whereas now we're looking at hosting events which still ask questions about curating, but are perhaps easier to engage with.
LV: Whilst the LDP website (http://lioneldobieproject.com/) doesn't have a huge amount of information on it, anybody can follow what happens here in great detail via your twitter (@lioneldobieproj). Why have you decided to engage so heavily with social media?
LM: We're using them for different things, it has been a time issue as well, but the website is there as a standing document of what we're doing here, but [LDP] is developing all the time, and we can't convey that on a website; it wouldn't be the right way to do it, it would be too much information.
HC: When we first started using twitter it was quite promotional. Then when we got the rest of the collective in and they all had the login codes, we got more of a conversation going, which is what we needed to engage properly.
LM: We wanted to focus a bit more on audience participation in this project. Not coming to watch what the artist and curators are doing, but actually being involved, and that follows through into social media; we don't want people just to agree with us and pat us on the back, we're asking questions, and we want to hear as many questions and constructive criticisms as possible. We're not hear to say we're right, we're here to get to the bottom of things.
This interview is also available in a shorter version here: http://www.corridor8.co.uk/online/interview-helen-collet-and-lois-macdonald-of-lionel-dobie-project/
Friday, 14 December 2012
Review: David Shrigley, How Are You Feeling?
This review is also available here: http://www.corridor8.co.uk/online/review-david-shrigley-at-cornerhouse-manchester/
This review is also available here: http://www.corridor8.co.uk/online/review-david-shrigley-at-cornerhouse-manchester/
David Shrigley's new solo exhibition, How Are You Feeling?, takes over the upper floors of Cornerhouse, to the extent where certain works are even visible from outside the building. Curated by Mike Chavez Dawson, How Are You Feeling? comprises a participatory journey into the artist's world, mirroring reality with mordant wit, and offering advice along the way, whilst satirically replicating aspects of the self-help industry.
In Gallery 1 it becomes obvious that we are expected to play our part. The sculptures, props and video work on this floor nod to psychological techniques, whilst the ubiquitous silliness of Shrigley's work emboldens us to write down our feelings in public, and to make loud noises. Many of the works boast healing properties, and in the exhibition guide you will find instructions on how to 'use' or interact with them. For example, The Burden (2012), a comically immense rucksack which forces the wearer to bend double, is worn by gallery staff or other visitors whom you are instructed to ask about it because; “it's good to talk about this kind of thing”1.
Up another floor in Gallery 2, along with Napping Station II (2012), the walls are pasted with an overwhelming number of drawings. Given that a precedent for participation has already been set, this illustrated chamber is unexpectedly affecting, as Shrigley's disturbingly accurate depictions of the human condition seem to reflect us wherever we look. This sense of being reflected and subsumed is amplified as the space unexpectedly tapers to a tight corner, absorbing the viewer in a superabundance of Shrigley's hilarious portrayals of shame, brutality, and foolishness.
A huge animatronic sculpture dominates gallery 3, resembling one of the ugly men from Shrigley's drawings, but in full colour and made solid. The giant is surrounded by an art-class set up, and here again you will find instructions in the exhibition guide – to make your own life-drawing which will be added to the many which already hang on the surrounding walls. On this third and final floor, the invitations to participation demand more of us; to your right as you walk in you'll notice the empty 'set' of a play called Self Portrait, and a screen on the wall playing a performance of it, which a gallery attendant offers to turn off, if we'd like to perform the play ourselves.
How Are You Feeling claims to be a form of 'Art therapy',and even though much of Shrigley's work invokes humanities' wretchedness, he also reveals the joy in our ridiculous state of being. It's rare for there to be so much giggling in a gallery, and with the intermittent sound Gong (2012) echoing from gallery one, it can't help but feel like the therapy is working.
1Quoted from the exhibition guide.
To be hoist by your own petard means to be blown up by your own bomb, and that's a risk that we are willing to take. HbOOP is an experiment with 'art' as the subject, and with 'money' and 'every day life' as variables, but there are no guarantees that 'art' as we know it will survive the process. HbOOP firstly takes the form of an exhibition, where objects and pictures of stunning complexity and gross candour invite you to consider the nature of skill, effort and creativity. Of the individual artworks which go to form HbOOP(the exhibition), the majority were constructed within the creators home, and the concept of 'home' is a concern within much of the work on show. This is made evident with familiar and perhaps comforting shapes, textures, and colours; to some extent the gallery is made domestic. However the home is as much a site of disgust as it is of comfort, and if there is a boundary between the two, it is impossible to define.
In the work of Darren Adcock, cancerous cellular patterns coalesce into dystopian cityscapes, which appear at once distant and magnified. Adcocks pictures are meticulously hand drawn, with patterns that seem to have germinated instinctively. Similarly, in the work of Pascal Nichols, bulbous and irregularly limbed sculptural forms purposefully emphasize the base-ness of clay, whilst sitting snugly on household shelves, displayed (or stored) in their intended situation as part of a room. Suspended centrally, Susan Fitzpatrick's mutant, overdeveloped creature-garments confound with their sinister, cute, woolliness. Knitting is a richly connotative technique, and is
employed by Fitzpatrick without strict patterns or traditional 'grandma' skill, yet cheerfully bright
'hats' seem as though they would protect the wearer from more than just the cold. Meanwhile, Kerry Hindmarch paints with oils, making pictures which seek to expose the perversities which underly social conditioning. Hindmarch's interests lie in the abject and maternal, expressed via violent daubings of colour, which congeal into raging figures, and non sequential narratives. Joincey's is the largest body of work on show, whereby a superabundance of incidental photographic images give a baffling, but honest, account of a life. Hunker down in a curtained grotto to view the world through pictures taken on a whim, created in a moment, which are now archived, arranged and projected for your pleasure.
Hboop takes place as part of Free For Arts Festival, a week long series of exhibitions and events which seeks to “provide inventive and unique experiences for the public “on the house”, and it is within this context that we will question the 'Free-ness' of art. The five artists who's work features do not consider themselves to be 'professional artists', as is evidenced in their first hand accounts. Here, art happens in between and as part of 'work' and 'leisure', it does not have it's own distinct space set aside, with equal status. This means that time spent doing art can't help but be perceived as time lost from 'work' and 'leisure'. Art is the co-opted, and becomes part of both; which is discussed in more depth by Susan Fitzpatrick in; Art and uneven development's cause is one: reflections on art and 'regeneration'.
For art to flourish, and to be a way of experimenting, is it necessary to carve out a third space of “action” as defined by Hannah Arendt1, whereby thinking, making and experimenting 'for the sake of it' would be vital? In order to explore this question, and others, you are invited on Sunday the 21st of October 2012, to take part in a microcosmic badge-making economy, where you must put a price on your own creativity. Meanwhile, in conjunction with the 'Free for Arts Publishing Fair', musicians will peddle their songs for whatever you are willing to pay. Songs being an extreme example of how ubiquitous it has become to acquire commodities, for prices which do not reflect the labour that created them, and how it is essential that we examine our spending habits to work out how, and if, art can be 'free'. We will also be holding a 'Sumi Ink Club Meeting'2, whereby you, and everybody else, are invited to contribute to a collaborative ink drawing. 'Sumi Ink Club' was founded in 2005 by artists' Sarah Rara and Luke Fischbeck, as a kind of accessible social therapy, and will form a much needed counterpoint to the individualistic, and speculative nature of badge-making-business and human jukeboxes.
1Arendt, Hannah the Human Condition (1958) The University of Chicago