In the Studio: Experiments for Re-entry

There is a growing list of experiments that I am eager to dive into in the studio at Dartmouth Avenue. For now, I envision small models and installations: 

:: materials that read ephemeral, impermanent, vulnerable, friendly, human, warm, communicative, inviting (I have no idea how or what these involve, only the ideas at this point)

:: paper casts of small objects that have personal meaning

:: rubbings/frottage of surfaces and objects that are associated with home, place, belonging

:: combinations of objects that I associate with my father—the tools and materials he used in his work

:: playing with the relationships between and among objects

:: how to suspend, support, connect things—invent and build my own systems, frames and supports

:: invented maps—drawn directly onto wall, layered in space, suggesting not only place and location but also layers of meaning

:: installations that inhabit and occupy my space

When we return after the Christmas break, these are some possibilities for re-entering my studio practice.

In the Studio: Shared Space

Our shared studio space at Dartmouth Avenue is crowded for the First Year part-time students. While I am certainly grateful to even have studio space there, we are elbow-to-elbow and vying for every square centimeter of wall.

 Dartmouth Avenue MA Fine Art part time Year 1 studio. Image: Kelly M. O'Brien, 9 December 2017.

Dartmouth Avenue MA Fine Art part time Year 1 studio. Image: Kelly M. O'Brien, 9 December 2017.

A few weeks ago I started to feel really hemmed-in and actually encroached-upon by my neighbor to the left. I responded by drawing a pencil grid right up to, up over, and beneath sheets of sketch paper she had taped on top of my own work. Each time I returned to the studio, there was another small act of passive aggression by her work, to which I responded in kind. It felt like a bit of a dance or game, but also an act of self-preservation.

 Dartmouth Avenue MA Fine Art part time Year 1 studio. Image: Kelly M. O'Brien, 9 December 2017.

Dartmouth Avenue MA Fine Art part time Year 1 studio. Image: Kelly M. O'Brien, 9 December 2017.

A colleague revealed the artist's identity to me last week. My intention was to playfully call both of us out and explore the dynamic emerging through our work. Since I hadn't run into her at Dartmouth, I was hoping we could start the conversation during Open Studios. She didn't attend, but when I walked into the studio to finish my preparations midday Wednesday, her work declared its presence boldly and emphatically right next to mine.

It was then that my growing instinct to occupy the studio crystallized. I now have the urge to creep my installation up walls, across the ceiling, and into spaces that others have not claimed. Will this be a friendly occupation or hostile? Can torn paper fragments and thread even be aggressive? And what does this say about my desire to connect when my actions are to claim presence?

 Kelly M. O'Brien, work in progress during Open Studios. Bath Spa MA Fine Art Program, Dartmouth Avenue studio, 6-7 December, 2017.

Kelly M. O'Brien, work in progress during Open Studios. Bath Spa MA Fine Art Program, Dartmouth Avenue studio, 6-7 December, 2017.

The response from viewers during Open Studios was fascinating and informative. Some found my work to be quietly thoughtful, delicate and vulnerable. Others read it as map-like, colonizing and even encroaching. The most consistent and surprising response? How well my neighbor's work to the left and mine worked together and that there seemed to be a real dialogue happening between them. A few people even thought the combined work was by one artist.

 Kelly M. O'Brien, work in progress during Open Studios. Bath Spa MA Fine Art Program, Dartmouth Avenue studio, 6-7 December, 2017.

Kelly M. O'Brien, work in progress during Open Studios. Bath Spa MA Fine Art Program, Dartmouth Avenue studio, 6-7 December, 2017.

Study sketches

After meeting with Michelle and Andrea for the RM tutorial, the ideas have started flowing for small tests and models I want to pursue in the studio.

 O'Brien, K. (2017) 'Thread and frame studies',  Research Methodologies . Bath Spa University. Unpublished sketchbook.

O'Brien, K. (2017) 'Thread and frame studies', Research Methodologies. Bath Spa University. Unpublished sketchbook.

 O'Brien, K. (2017) 'Thread and frame studies',  Research Methodologies . Bath Spa University. Unpublished sketchbook.

O'Brien, K. (2017) 'Thread and frame studies', Research Methodologies. Bath Spa University. Unpublished sketchbook.

 O'Brien, K. (2017) 'Tape studies',  Research Methodologies . Bath Spa University. Unpublished sketchbook.

O'Brien, K. (2017) 'Tape studies', Research Methodologies. Bath Spa University. Unpublished sketchbook.

 O'Brien, K. (2017) 'Paper studies: felting machine',  Research Methodologies . Bath Spa University. Unpublished sketchbook.

O'Brien, K. (2017) 'Paper studies: felting machine', Research Methodologies. Bath Spa University. Unpublished sketchbook.

 O'Brien, K. (2017) 'Cable tie studies',  Research Methodologies . Bath Spa University. Unpublished sketchbook.

O'Brien, K. (2017) 'Cable tie studies', Research Methodologies. Bath Spa University. Unpublished sketchbook.

In the Studio: Pierced Paper Experiments

At Dartmouth Avenue there is a vintage industrial felting machine in the mixed media textiles studio. It is traditionally used to felt two pieces of textiles together, but all I could think of was running all kinds of paper through it!

 Vintage needle felting machine, Dartmouth Ave. mixed media textiles studio, Bath Spa University, 30 November 2017.

Vintage needle felting machine, Dartmouth Ave. mixed media textiles studio, Bath Spa University, 30 November 2017.

 Vintage needle felting machine, Dartmouth Ave. mixed media textiles studio, Bath Spa University, 30 November 2017.

Vintage needle felting machine, Dartmouth Ave. mixed media textiles studio, Bath Spa University, 30 November 2017.

My interest lies in testing techniques to create degrees of opacity and translucency with manipulated paper. Piercing paper has been part of my practice through the use of a sewing machine to stitch images and sheets together. Patterns made in the paper as light shines through the piercings have been an unintended but welcomed outcome.

I wanted to see what happens with a less designed approach by simply allowing hundreds of needles to transform the paper. Would it be possible to get a more organic or at least abstract result using this machine?

Since this was a spontaneous set of tests during my induction to the machine with Stephen Daniels, I used three types of paper that I had on hand: sketchpad, vellum, and acetate. They had to be taped end-to-end to form a long enough sheet to safely pass through the needle bed.

 O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: sketchbook paper, 30 November 2017.

O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: sketchbook paper, 30 November 2017.

 O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: sketchbook paper (detail), 30 November 2017.

O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: sketchbook paper (detail), 30 November 2017.

 O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: sketchbook paper, 30 November 2017.

O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: sketchbook paper, 30 November 2017.

 O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: vellum (detail), 30 November 2017.

O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: vellum (detail), 30 November 2017.

 O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: vellum (detail), 30 November 2017.

O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: vellum (detail), 30 November 2017.

 O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: acetate (detail), 30 November 2017.

O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: acetate (detail), 30 November 2017.

 O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: acetate (detail), 30 November 2017.

O'Brien, K. (2017) Pierced paper tests: acetate (detail), 30 November 2017.

This is a promising start. It seems there is potential to create the effects and feelings that I seek: translucency, veiling, delicacy, vulnerability, impermanence. These initial results are satisfying, so I will continue in this vein. I am also surprised by how beautiful the destruction is from thousands of needle punches, and excited about the potential and application to my work.

For future experiments, I am interested in:

:: creating long sheets that can be draped or hung. I need to source rolls or larger sheets that are already long enough to go through the machine, or that can be attached (sewn, taped, lightly glued/lightly tacked?)

:: trying more types of paper and materials (thicker fine art paper, tissue paper, Tyvek (a synthetic American sheeting used in construction and for disposable hazmat suits), cellophane, handmade paper, plastic sheeting)

:: experimenting with color

:: text—possibly as a way of encoding hidden or secret messages

:: combining papers—run them through as two or more sheets together, layer felted and untreated pieces

:: making larger works —because the machine bed is only 16 inches wide, I will have to attach pieces together once they are felted to build larger pieces (machine stitch, hand-sew)

:: supports and frames—how will I install, suspend, drape, hang and otherwise make use of these materials?

Research Aim + Objectives, v.3 + new questions

As ideas emerge for my research aim, it's been helpful to keep the scaffolding simple about methods I can use to test and model ideas:

Themes/Message > Materials > Form + Structure > Models + Tests

 Aim + objectives, v.3

Aim + objectives, v.3

This mind map looks fairly rational and intellectual, but there's a lot of meaning embedded in the thinking.

After a trip to the US to visit family for the first time since losing my father this Spring, I returned to the UK imbued with wanting to work with this loss. I returned with a suitcase full of the materials of Dad's work (he owned a telecommunications installation company). They now inhabit my school studio - wire, cable, zip ties, tiny metal and plastic connectors and fixtures of his trade.

As soon as I could work as a teen up through my undergraduate summers, I worked for my father, shoulder to shoulder pulling cable, punching down wires in the telephone room, making intricate cable connectors with special equipment. Dad taught me hand skills and how to work with a wide range of high-tech, piece-y materials.

 Research methods, v.1

Research methods, v.1

Now I find myself wanting to use these materials, or at least the suggestion of them. How can I use them in a manner that feels warm, connected, human, vulnerable and organic? Eva Hesse's work comes to mind—she used industrial materials (rubber, fiberglass, resin, wire) that were imbued with organic vulnerability when I saw them in person in 2013 at the Hamburger Kunsthalle. In contrast is Tara Donovan's work—brilliant but rather otherworldly and intellectual —that dazzled but didn't move me when I saw her installation at the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery in 2016.

 Eva Hesse (not dated),  Contingent 1969 , National Gallery of Australia. Available at: http://bit.ly/2BomFx6 (accessed 30 November 2017).

Eva Hesse (not dated), Contingent 1969, National Gallery of Australia. Available at: http://bit.ly/2BomFx6 (accessed 30 November 2017).

 Tara Donovan (2014),  untitled , Pace Gallery. Available at: http://bit.ly/2zEiM6H (accessed 30 November 2017).

Tara Donovan (2014), untitled, Pace Gallery. Available at: http://bit.ly/2zEiM6H (accessed 30 November 2017).

How might an installation, its materials, its form, and flow create belonging? community? connection? disconnection? crossed wires? mixed signals? confusion? being found? feeling lost? These are the small tests and models I'm leaning toward for next term, and am beginning to sketch ideas for now.

References

Eva Hesse. One More Than One (2013) Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany. 29 November 2013—2 March 2014. 

Wonder (2016) Renwick Gallery, Washington, DC. 13 November 2015—10 July 2016.

Research Aim + Objectives, v.2 + ideas for research methods

My research aim and objectives are narrowing, thankfully. The scope of what I could learn is enormous, so focus is imperative. I've gone from a bit of a kitchen sink approach to what I want to investigate (image! sound! memory! objects! video!) to a handful of keywords:

Installation art, home, dislocation, belonging, community

In turn, these ideas translate into my Aim and Objectives, v.2.

 Aim and objectives, v.2

Aim and objectives, v.2

My initial ideas for methodology include:

  1. Continue my secondary research (papers, articles, critical reviews) on the historical and current contexts of installation art - when did it emerge and why? what differentiates it from other mediums? how might it be particularly appropriate for expressing my themes of interest?
  2. Primary research to document my experience as a newcomer to BAD, a cohort of 25ish MAFA colleagues, and the broader MFA (and maybe BFA) community. I have three "logs" that I've been completing daily since November 1st to capture various aspects of my experience.
  3. Primary research in the form of an invitation to this community to respond to statements such as: "What does home mean to you?" "What object, thing or image represents 'home' to you?" I would need to work out guidelines for the response format (visual, text, sound, video?) and how to process the data, which in turn could be used in an installation (maybe).
  4. Take up a collection of small objects donated by colleagues at BAD (students, faculty, staff?) that they feel represents who they are in our community - then use the objects in an installation.
  5. Create a participatory installation that people could contribute to over its duration. Again, I would need to determine how to process and document my "findings" and conclusions. And then what do I do with the things that viewers contribute?

Things are starting to feel clearer. I'm excited about some of these ideas. It feels interesting and important that the process I use directly impacts and contributes to what I hope to create through my practice: community, a sense of belonging, a place to call "home." If I can figure this out on a small, experimental scale through my research, the applications beyond an academic environment in today's world are powerful.

In the Studio: Finding Home

Surprisingly, it has taken me until today to actually get some work started in my on-campus studio at Dartmouth Avenue. Nearly nine weeks into the term! We were told there's no hurry, that next term we "re-enter" our studio practice officially, after this term's intense focus on research. We've also been told to just get into our studio space and experiment - that it's in doing the work that we'll uncover our new direction. All of which has felt like contradictory advice and has left me feeling like a deer in the headlights, temporarily frozen.

 Kelly M. O'Brien, work in progress. Bath Spa MA Fine Art Program, Dartmouth Avenue studio, 18 November, 2017.

Kelly M. O'Brien, work in progress. Bath Spa MA Fine Art Program, Dartmouth Avenue studio, 18 November, 2017.

But I know from experience that the longer I hesitate, the harder it really is to begin again. So today I picked up where I left off in September for our group exhibition in Germany and recreated a partial version of my Mending | Tending wall installation. 

 Kelly M. O'Brien, work in progress. Bath Spa MA Fine Art Program, Dartmouth Avenue studio, 18 November, 2017.

Kelly M. O'Brien, work in progress. Bath Spa MA Fine Art Program, Dartmouth Avenue studio, 18 November, 2017.

Although it's something I've done once before, it will always be different. Kind of like moving into a new home - my belongings are the same from the previous house, but they look completely different in the new space. Surrounding myself with familiar objects and materials is grounding, comforting. It will feel like home after awhile, but not right away.

 Kreuzer, M. (2017)  Home in the re-making: Immigrants' transcultural   experiencing of   home . Journal of Business Research: Elsevier, Page 6, fig. 2. Shared consumer experiencing of home. 

Kreuzer, M. (2017) Home in the re-making: Immigrants' transcultural experiencing of home. Journal of Business Research: Elsevier, Page 6, fig. 2. Shared consumer experiencing of home. 

In a recent paper, Home in the re-making: Immigrants' transcultural experiencing of home (Kreuzer et al., 2017), Maria Kreuzer and her colleagues found three different ways that immigrants experience home: 1) longing for the past, nostalgic for what they left; 2) mingling new relationships with old and new ways of consuming (products, food, etc.); and 3) experiencing home within oneself, supported by new close social relationships and an independent sense of groundedness and wellbeing regardless of location. I can relate to all of these, with the latter being the most satisfying and beneficial to my wellbeing.

In thinking about my research aims and objectives, which have evolved and crystallized since I first wrote about them a month ago, these questions come to mind:

  1. What portion of the students in my MA program are from overseas or have relocated within the past three years?
  2. How do they define or experience home? What does home mean to them?
  3. What helps them feel at home here?
  4. What role does their participation as a student at Bath Spa play?

References

Kreuzer, M. (2017) Home in the re-making: Immigrants' transcultural experiencing of home. Journal of Business Research: Elsevier. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2017.10.047 (Accessed: 13 November 2017).

Case Study: Sarah Sze

Sarah Sze is a contemporary American sculptor and installation artist based in New York City and teaches visual art at Columbia University. Her work consists of using a mix of everyday objects—office supplies, cotton swabs, toilet paper, tape—and art mediums such as paint, prints, and video to create multimedia installations. She represented the United States at the 2013 Venice Biennale, was a MacArthur Fellow in 2003, and designed an immersive permanent artwork for the Second Avenue Subway in New York City in 2017 (Art21, 2017).

 Sze, S. (2013) Triple Point, installation view, US Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale. Available at: http://www.tanyabonakdargallery.com/exhibitions/sarah-sze-triple-point (Accessed: 13 November 2017).

Sze, S. (2013) Triple Point, installation view, US Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale. Available at: http://www.tanyabonakdargallery.com/exhibitions/sarah-sze-triple-point (Accessed: 13 November 2017).

Sze's work challenges the traditional norms of sculpture by creating fragile, impermanent works that look as if they are in the process of being built or dismantled (Enwezor, et al., 2016). The accumulation of objects combine and inhabit spaces, climb up walls, and colonize "off" spaces (storage rooms, bookshelves, ceilings) (Slyce, 1998). While comprised of "a million little pieces," (Scott, 2012) her work is vast in scale and scope.

Sze's work addresses the tension between chaos and control (Carlock, 2003) through themes that include living in the urban environment (Slyce, 1998), data proliferation (Norden, 2007), consumer society (Buchloh, B.H.D., 2016), and climate change (Volk, 2015).

 Sze, S. (1998)  Untitled (St. James) , Institute of Contemporary Arts, London. Available at: https://art21.org/gallery/sarah-sze-artwork-survey-1990s/#3 (Accessed: 9 December 2017).

Sze, S. (1998) Untitled (St. James), Institute of Contemporary Arts, London. Available at: https://art21.org/gallery/sarah-sze-artwork-survey-1990s/#3 (Accessed: 9 December 2017).

I find Sze's delicate and ephemeral work powerful and grounding—both in form and concept. A deeper dive into her work has helped me identify aspects of my own practice for further consideration and development:

:: the pace at which it is realistic to develop my concepts and the actual work—while Sze's early work as an emerging artist received a lot of critical attention, her practice has developed methodically and consistently over decades to become the tour de force that is is today.

:: practice-led research (Gray, 2004) is an appropriate path of inquiry for installation art—Sze says that she has dozens of experiments ongoing in her studio at any given time which are constantly being used in installations, then recycled for further development back in the studio before re-emerging in other installations (Art21, 2016). This practice is extended on-site during the installations themselves, with an emphasis on improvisation and spontaneity (Art21, 2012).

:: the importance of meticulous design and making—even though Sze uses bits and pieces that she buys enmass from local office suppliers and dime stores, her installations attend to sculptural formalities such as form, line, mass, balance and structure (Carlock, 2003), and are handcrafted and assembled with great care. There is nothing sloppy or haphazard about her work.

 Sze, S. (1998)  Second Means of Egress,  Installation View, Berlin Biennial, Akademie der Kunste, Berlin. Available at: https://art21.org/gallery/sarah-sze-artwork-survey-1990s/#4 (Accessed: 9 December 2017).

Sze, S. (1998) Second Means of Egress, Installation View, Berlin Biennial, Akademie der Kunste, Berlin. Available at: https://art21.org/gallery/sarah-sze-artwork-survey-1990s/#4 (Accessed: 9 December 2017).

:: pay careful attention, starting now, to how I document my work. Because installation art is temporary, the only record of its existence will be the photography and video that are made of it. Sze took documentation of her work seriously from the very beginning (Slyce, 1998), using it as a means to "further communicate its bodily effect on the viewer beyond the limited time and site of the installation" (p. 8). 

:: the role of lighting and light in installation art—Sze makes interesting use of shadows in her work, playing with angle and intensity to distort line and pattern (Hunter, 2014).

 Sze, S. (1999)  Seamless , installation view, "The Carnegie International 1999–2000," Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. Available at: https://art21.org/gallery/sarah-sze-artwork-survey-1990s/#5 (Accessed: 8 December 2017).

Sze, S. (1999) Seamless, installation view, "The Carnegie International 1999–2000," Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. Available at: https://art21.org/gallery/sarah-sze-artwork-survey-1990s/#5 (Accessed: 8 December 2017).

:: focus on quality over quantity and build from there—not all of Sze's works are room-sized. She puts her models on exhibit and has done smaller installations, especially earlier in her career.

 Sze, S. (2015)  Model Series , installation view, Victoria Miro Gallery, London. Available at: http://thisistomorrow.info/articles/sarah-sze (Accessed: 9 November 2017).

Sze, S. (2015) Model Series, installation view, Victoria Miro Gallery, London. Available at: http://thisistomorrow.info/articles/sarah-sze (Accessed: 9 November 2017).

 Sze, S. (1999) Capricious Invention of Prisons, installation view, 48th International Exhibition of Contemporary Art, Venice Biennale, Venice. Available at: https://art21.org/gallery/sarah-sze-artwork-survey-1990s/#6. Accessed: 8 December 2017).

Sze, S. (1999) Capricious Invention of Prisons, installation view, 48th International Exhibition of Contemporary Art, Venice Biennale, Venice. Available at: https://art21.org/gallery/sarah-sze-artwork-survey-1990s/#6. Accessed: 8 December 2017).

:: Sze's work is a solid contemporary contextual reference for my work. There are enough parallels—achieving mass and scale through accumulation (Slyce, 1998), site-specific response, use of marginal or atypical surfaces and spaces such as ceilings and corners, and the use of ephemeral materials to create delicate structures—for me to pay close attention to her approach and techniques, while enough difference in themes, motivations and materials to carve out a practice that is decidedly my own.

References

Art21 (2012) Improvisation: Sarah Sze. Available at: https://art21.org/watch/extended-play/sarah-sze-improvisation-short/ (Accessed: 14 October 2017).

Art21 (2016) How We See the World: Sarah Sze. Available at: https://art21.org/watch/extended-play/sarah-sze-how-we-see-the-world-short/ (Accessed: 14 October 2017).

Art21 (2017) Sarah Sze artist page. Available at: https://art21.org/artist/sarah-sze/ (Accessed: 14 October 2017).

Carlock, M. (2003) ‘Sarah Sze’s Organized Chaos’, Sculpture, November 2003, pp. 24-29.

Chiu, M. (2011) Sarah Sze: infinite line. New York: Asia Society Museum.

Enwezor, O., Buchloh, B.H.D., Hoptman, L.J. and Sze, S. (2016) Sarah Sze. London: Phaidon Press Limited.

Gray, C. and Malins, J. (2004) Visualizing research: a guide to the research process in art and design. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004.

Hunter, B.H. (2014) 'Sarah Sze at the Philadelphia The Fabric Workshop and Museum', Sculpture, October 2014, 33 (8), pp. 75-76.

Norden, L. (2007) Sarah Sze. New York: Abrams.

Scott, A.K. (2012) 'A Million Little Pieces', New Yorker, 88(13), pp. 60-66.

Slyce, J. (1998) ‘The Imagined Communities of Sarah Sze’ in Sarah Sze exhibition catalog. London: Institute of Contemporary Arts.

Volk, G. (2015) 'Sarah Sze', Art in America, 103(11), pp. 134-135.

Case Study: Grayson Perry at the Arnolfini

Grayson Perry's exhibition, The Most Popular Exhibition Ever!, at the Arnolfini in Bristol comes at an opportune moment. As students of research methodologies, we couldn't ask for a more accessible example of an artist's research and making process, from start to finish.

This is the second Perry exhibition that I've seen, the first being The Vanity of Small Differences (2016, Victoria Gallery). Then as now, Perry has deployed a repeatable methodology that involves a form of anthropological fieldwork that takes us full-circle from inception to reveal of the finished artwork back to the subjects of his research.

  The Most Popular Exhibition Ever!  Installation view (2017). Arnolfini, Bristol, UK. 29 October 2017.

The Most Popular Exhibition Ever! Installation view (2017). Arnolfini, Bristol, UK. 29 October 2017.

The Most Popular Exhibition Ever! felt refreshingly transparent. The work on exhibit is the result of his long-term project, All Man (2016, Swan Films), a documentary that investigated multiple aspects of English society and culture to understand masculinity. Perry admits that he had to overcome his own prejudices, and the impact of a traumatic childhood with a father insensitive to his needs. He coaxes transparency from the people he studies, uncovering deeper emotions beneath their macho behavior. His entire process is transparent - from conception to research through making - by giving us access to his sketchbooks and video footage of him in various socioeconomic groups, in the studio, and video of him discussing the work.

 Grayson Perry (2017),  Matching Pair  (detail). Arnolfini, Bristol, UK. 29 October 2017.

Grayson Perry (2017), Matching Pair (detail). Arnolfini, Bristol, UK. 29 October 2017.

Perry's research methods sit somewhere between non-participant observation (NPO) and participant observation (PO) (Gray, 2004) starting with a personal struggle or question, then using interviews, observation, participating in group activities, open calls for content via social media; sensitive documentation via photos, video, documentary film, and sketchbooks - all of which make sense and seem quite accessible for conducting research into cultural and social norms.

 Grayson Perry (2016),  Death of a Working Hero . Arnolfini, Bristol, UK. 29 October 2017.

Grayson Perry (2016), Death of a Working Hero. Arnolfini, Bristol, UK. 29 October 2017.

One of the most powerful outcomes of Perry's process is that he shares the work he makes with the people who inspired it. It feels like a form of ritual, validation and healing for everyone involved, completing the vase or tapestry through the viewers' response to the work. The process seems complete for Perry as he reflects on how what he learned transformed him in relation to the original struggle that inspired his search for answers.

Thank you, Arnolfini and Grayson Perry, for curating this exhibition in a way that makes it highly transparent and extremely relevant for those of us digging our way through learning how to do proper academic research in service of our practice.

References

Gray, C. and Malins, J. (2004). Visualizing research: a guide to the research process in art and design. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Swan Films (2016) Grayson Perry: All Man. Available at:http://www.swanfilms.tv/productions/grayson-perry-all-man/ (Accessed: 30 October 2017).

The Most Popular Exhibition Ever!, (2017) Arnolfini, Bristol. 27 September - 24 December 2017.

Victoria Gallery (2016) Grayson Perry: The Vanity of Small Differences. Available at: https://www.victoriagal.org.uk/events/grayson-perry-vanity-small-differences (Accessed: 30 October 2017).

Tutorial No 1: Reflection-in-Action

My first tutorial with Andrea Medjesi-Jones was yesterday. I jumped on the opportunity to meet with her as soon as possible to get a read on where I am in these early weeks of research. Five weeks into this program, let's say I'm feeling consciously incompetent (better than unconsciously incompetent). It's an uncomfortable place to be, although I realize that if I ride out the void of not knowing where my practice is heading and related anxiety, things will change. We're way too early in the process—scaffolding, as Michele Whiting reminds us—to be putting lids on things.

 Getting inspired in my shared studio space at school: mind maps of my current thinking surrounded by work of major installation artists relevant to my research interests.

Getting inspired in my shared studio space at school: mind maps of my current thinking surrounded by work of major installation artists relevant to my research interests.

That said, the mind maps that I've been doing are helping me see some emerging patterns. Within my area of focus (installation art), the themes that I'm interested in investigating remain pretty consistent (dislocation, home, belonging, impermanence, loss). The artists' work to which I'm drawn share similarities in materials (mixed media, easily-obtained materials, ephemeral, temporary, a certain sense of delicacy). And their processes appear to share things like accumulation, amassing, assemblage, casting. 

KOBrien InstArt mindmap detail.jpg

Talking with Andrea affirmed that I'm on the right track and to keep going. To stay open, be curious and not be so quick to discard an idea. When I brushed off the enlarged mind map that I had installed on the studio wall (for lack of anything else at this point), she caught it and said she could see the patterns and colors ending up in my work. I don't take that literally, but do see her point.

A significant insight occurred while talking with her - a moment of reflection-in-action (Gray, 2004). I was describing how starting this degree feels like relocating to a new country, which I've done twice in the past six years. All of the themes I'm working with are relevant: feelings of dislocation to a new, unfamiliar studio; a sense of the ground shifting beneath me; loss of what I've comfortably known; a yearning to feel "at home"; wanting to belong; looking for a "way in" but not knowing how to start; and a sense that this is all moving quickly - the impermanence of any given state. This finite period of "relocating" my art practice is a special time when senses are heightened and the eye notices everything because it's new and unfamiliar.

In that moment, I realized that I can use this experience in my research. It's not clear to me yet what that specifically means, but I am aware that I want to pay attention, capture, and use how I navigate these early weeks and months. My installation art practice will recreate these conditions with every new site (in the studio, for an exhibition, during a residency), as discussed in my last blog post on impermanence. It suddenly seems paramount that I understand and somehow codify this stage of the game.

If I can create a map for the journey now, maybe I don't need to completely reinvent the wheel each time I approach a new installation. Or at least I'll get less lost (Godin, 2017). After all, I've gained knowledge, skill, and created a repeatable process on how to do an overseas move—not only the checklists and tasks, but also how to say goodbye, let go, look around, find my tribe, and land well.

An inkling of what this process might entail includes:

:: Notice what's happening and my response

:: Record the experience through this blog, sketches, mind maps, word lists, video and voice recordings (post them here, use them in my work?)

:: over time, notice the patterns—what is emerging? what is repeatable? what might be helpful next time around?

References:

Gray, C. and Malins, J. (2004). Visualizing research: a guide to the research process in art and design. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Godin, S. (2017) 'The thing about maps', Seth's Blog, 30 October. Available at: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2017/10/the-thing-about-maps.html (Accessed: 30 October 2017).

Semiotics: It's Everything

Visual Culture Senior Lecturer Robin Marriner recently introduced us to semiotics. How did I get this far in life and not know about semiotics?

Semiotics is a broad and complex idea that covers a lot of ground. In it's simplest form, it is the study of signs (Chandler, 2007) and the meaning ascribed to them. These signs appear in many forms—words, objects, images—and the context (physical, cultural, political, emotional, etc.) that surrounds these signs is as important as the elements themselves. In the visual arts, semiotics helps us understand how meaning is constructed by both the artist and the viewer (Rose 2016).

Semiotics is underpinned by the theory of meaning, which is always conditional, since people use different sets of “rules” based on their worldview or paradigm (e.g., Modernists vs. Postmodernists) (Heywood, 2012; Marriner, 2017). Another layer of complexity is the codes and conventions at play of which we are usually unaware (Rose, 2016). All of these factors affect how we interpret any given visual artifact, and each person's interpretation will be different.

Awareness of this dynamic is of course crucial for an artist. We simply cannot assume that viewers will read our work as intended. I'm realizing that in addition to what I make, that even choices around where it is shown, what is written about my work, who writes it, and the list goes on...all contribute to how it is interpreted and received.

A place for me to dig deeper is how this ties into things like material choices, color, decisions on how to install work, and so on. Through the lens of semiotics, suddenly everything matters. And I want it to. I want the materials I choose to invoke certain themes and responses, I want my choices related to form, structure, line and even the choreography of how someone experiences my work to tell a story. And therein lies the irony, since, according to semiotics, I can't determine how the viewer interprets the work anyway.

References

Chandler, D. (2007) Semiotics: the basics. [electronic version] Available at: http://visual-memory.co.uk/daniel/Documents/S4B/sem01.html (Accessed: 18 October 2017).

Heywood, I. and Sandywell, B. (2012) The handbook of visual culture. London: Berg, 2012.

Marriner, R. (2017) Meaning of Visual Culture [Lecture], Research Methodologies MD-AR7001. Bath Spa University. 14 October 2017.

Rose, G. (2016) ‘Semiology: Laying Bare the Prejudices’, Visual Methodologies. 4th edn. London: Sage, pp. 106-146.

Impermanence

Reading Jac Scott's book, Textile Perspectives in Mixed Media Sculpture, it strikes me that my affinity for certain materials (paper, found photographs, papery artifacts such as vintage family documents, thread, tape) and an interest in creating temporary installations are an apt reflection of themes I am exploring through my work: impermanence, change, elusiveness, longing, loss. 

Scott frames the work of artists that she profiles in her book by discussing their research and creative processes, including how they use source material and the value of drawing. It was in reading about how some artists approach their sketchbooks that the lightbulb went off. Kieta Jackson works into and hand-binds her "logbooks" full of samples of actual fishing nets and woven copper materials, reference materials for her interest in entrapment—trapping and protecting her ideas along the way. Joanna Chapman uses elements of her sketchbooks (drawings, photographs, found objects, material samples) in her final work. Jac Scott feels "release" from her sketchbook when she moves to making large-scale versions of her drawings.

 Kelly M. O'Brien,  Mending | Tending,  installation view. Stadtgalerie Bad Soden. © 2017 Image: Anna Meuer

Kelly M. O'Brien, Mending | Tending, installation view. Stadtgalerie Bad Soden. © 2017 Image: Anna Meuer

Looking back on my last installation, Mending | Tending, for an exhibition in Germany last month, I recall sitting in front of the finished piece for a long time, trying to "soak it in" while it existed, knowing that it was temporary. This sense of imminent loss and impermanence was exacerbated by the fact that I had to leave in two days to return home to the UK. The work was deinstalled a month later by other artists.

Work on parts of this installation had begun twelve months before, during a time of frequent commutes between the US and UK while my father was ill—a response and coping mechanism for an illness that progressed toward his death in March.

Only now am I starting to see the sequence of events that has led to my current interest in an art form that is inherently ephemeral and impermanent. Why am I interested in recreating these feelings? Will I work them out and come to some sort of peace with them? And how do other artists address these themes? What is their process? What subjects and mediums are they investigating? What is the broader context for their work?

References

Scott, J. Textile perspectives in mixed-media sculpture. Marlborough: Crowood Press, 2003.

Exhibition: Kim Yong-Ik at Spike Island

On October 7th I went to see Kim Yong-Ik's exhibition, I Believe My Works Are Still Valid, at Spike Island in Bristol. I was introduced to his work by Spike curator Georgia Hall, who invited me to conduct a workshop there after seeing my mixed media stitched paper series during an Associates crit. As part of their monthly I Am Making Art public outreach programming, they invite artists to teach whose work is loosely associated with or inspired by the current artist on exhibit in their main gallery. Naturally, I was eager to learn more about Kim Yong-Ik's work.

  I Believe My Works Are Still Valid . Installation view (2017). Spike Island, Bristol, UK. 30 September to 17 December 2017.

I Believe My Works Are Still Valid. Installation view (2017). Spike Island, Bristol, UK. 30 September to 17 December 2017.

Kim Yong-Ik is a South Korean artist, activist and teacher who trained as a Dansaekhwa (Korean monochrome painting) modernist. Early in his career, influenced by Duchamp and Minjung ("people's") art, he started "refusing" his identity as a modernist painter in response to the repressive political environment of a military dictatorship in the 1970s by leaving his folded canvases in their shipping containers to exhibit. He became known for this tension between embracing and distancing himself from modernist roots. His airbrush paintings on canvas that are removed from the frame and draped on the wall communicate this dichotomy.

  Plane Object (second version 2015, after lost original of 1978-79) , detail. Airbrush paint on cloth. I Believe My Works Are Still Valid (2017). Acrylic on canvas, mixed media on paper, wall drawing. Spike Island, Bristol, UK. 30 September to 17 December 2017.

Plane Object (second version 2015, after lost original of 1978-79), detail. Airbrush paint on cloth. I Believe My Works Are Still Valid (2017). Acrylic on canvas, mixed media on paper, wall drawing. Spike Island, Bristol, UK. 30 September to 17 December 2017.

  To Spike Island 2017 (third version 2017, after original of 1997, second version of 2016) . I Believe My Works Are Still Valid (2017). Acrylic on canvas, mixed media on paper, wall drawing. Spike Island, Bristol, UK. 30 September to 17 December 2017.

To Spike Island 2017 (third version 2017, after original of 1997, second version of 2016). I Believe My Works Are Still Valid (2017). Acrylic on canvas, mixed media on paper, wall drawing. Spike Island, Bristol, UK. 30 September to 17 December 2017.

In his Spike Island exhibition, Kim Yong-Ik installed site-specific paintings that engage with the exhibition space through pencil lines and handwriting directly on the gallery walls. He also hung pieces that add depth, layering and dimensionality to the flat surface of a canvas, using unconventional materials and techniques. 

  Triptych (1970-2015).  I Believe My Works Are Still Valid (2017). Acrylic on canvas, oil on canvas, cloth, cotton, wood, ink on paper, coins, incense burner, oil-based ink on acetate film. Spike Island, Bristol, UK. 30 September to 17 December 2017.

Triptych (1970-2015). I Believe My Works Are Still Valid (2017). Acrylic on canvas, oil on canvas, cloth, cotton, wood, ink on paper, coins, incense burner, oil-based ink on acetate film. Spike Island, Bristol, UK. 30 September to 17 December 2017.

  Plane Object (second version 2015, after lost original of 1978-79) , detail. Airbrush paint on cloth. I Believe My Works Are Still Valid (2017). Acrylic on canvas, mixed media on paper, wall drawing. Spike Island, Bristol, UK. 30 September to 17 December 2017.

Plane Object (second version 2015, after lost original of 1978-79), detail. Airbrush paint on cloth. I Believe My Works Are Still Valid (2017). Acrylic on canvas, mixed media on paper, wall drawing. Spike Island, Bristol, UK. 30 September to 17 December 2017.

I appreciate the lighter touch he takes by inviting the viewer in for a closer look at quiet messages and wry comments. Curious observers who crouch down where wall meets floor and lean in to decipher his scribble are rewarded with layers of information and meaning. These actions rendered the work more accessible and intimate, only one degree of separation from the artist through his handwriting. 

  To Spike Island 2017 (third version 2017, after original of 1997, second version of 2016) , detail. I Believe My Works Are Still Valid (2017). Acrylic on canvas, mixed media on paper, wall drawing. Spike Island, Bristol, UK. 30 September to 17 December 2017.

To Spike Island 2017 (third version 2017, after original of 1997, second version of 2016), detail. I Believe My Works Are Still Valid (2017). Acrylic on canvas, mixed media on paper, wall drawing. Spike Island, Bristol, UK. 30 September to 17 December 2017.

  To Spike Island 2017 (third version 2017, after original of 1997, second version of 2016) , detail. I Believe My Works Are Still Valid (2017). Acrylic on canvas, mixed media on paper, wall drawing. Spike Island, Bristol, UK. 30 September to 17 December 2017.

To Spike Island 2017 (third version 2017, after original of 1997, second version of 2016), detail. I Believe My Works Are Still Valid (2017). Acrylic on canvas, mixed media on paper, wall drawing. Spike Island, Bristol, UK. 30 September to 17 December 2017.

Seeing an artist of Kim's accomplishment work this way was informative, inspiring and validating for my own practice. What was surprising is that I didn't expect to experience his work as "installations" and yet this is exactly what I was drawn to.

This exhibition informs my thinking about my aim to move from two- to three-dimensional work, how to add layers of meaning and imply memory through text and materials, tactics for creating intimacy and transparency, and site-specific responses for an installation.

  1, 5, 2, 6, 7, 3, 8 (second version 2017, after lost original of early 1980s) . Site-specific installation, detail. Pencil, paperboard on wall. I Believe My Works Are Still Valid (2017). Acrylic on canvas, mixed media on paper, wall drawing. Spike Island, Bristol, UK. 30 September to 17 December 2017.

1, 5, 2, 6, 7, 3, 8 (second version 2017, after lost original of early 1980s). Site-specific installation, detail. Pencil, paperboard on wall. I Believe My Works Are Still Valid (2017). Acrylic on canvas, mixed media on paper, wall drawing. Spike Island, Bristol, UK. 30 September to 17 December 2017.

 Spike Island. (2017) [ Instagram ] 25 September 2017. Available at: https://www.instagram.com/p/BZdjT6fjcGI/?taken-by=spikeisland (Accessed: 21 October 2017).

Spike Island. (2017) [Instagram] 25 September 2017. Available at: https://www.instagram.com/p/BZdjT6fjcGI/?taken-by=spikeisland (Accessed: 21 October 2017).

References

Spike Island (2016). Exhibition: Kim Yong-Ik. I Believe My Works Are Still Valid. Available at: http://www.spikeisland.org.uk/events/exhibitions/kim-yong-ik/ (Accessed: 21 October 2017).

artnet (2016). artnet Asks: Kim Yong-Ik and the Legacy of Modernism. Available at: https://news.artnet.com/art-world/artnet-asks-kim-yong-ik-legacy-modernism-791375 (Accessed: 21 October 2017).

Kim Yong-Ik Exhibition guide

Research Aim + Objectives, v.1

In thinking about my research project, some initial clarity is starting to emerge. This is a first stab, an attempt to get my arms around a number of ideas swirling in my head.

 Aims and objectives, v.1

Aims and objectives, v.1

After my brief brush during the Elastic Spaces Symposium with how other artists are portraying themes of belonging, dislocation, and community in their work, my thinking has opened up considerably around what mediums I might deploy in my work. I hadn't considered sound or video before, but now I am. This is exciting! Also a bit overwhelming - what do I know about sound and video? And how can I incorporate digital media with my affinity for analog materials like paper, thread, and ephemera?

While I realize that these ideas will morph and re-solidify as I move deeper into the research, it feels good to start putting some stakes in the ground. Only (already!) 3+ weeks into our program, I see that there's no time to dawdle.

Elastic Spaces Symposium

The Elastic Spaces Third International Symposium 2017 was held here at Bath Spa University on October 11-13. I went to two sessions: Thursday's research presentations at Sion Hill and Friday's VR broadcast session at the Newton Park Campus.

  Screenshot  of  Elastic 3D Space  mindmap animation

Screenshot of Elastic 3D Space mindmap animation

I went to the symposium to expose myself to other ways of thinking about my research interest themes: home, place, dislocation, belonging, distance from loved ones, leaving people behind. I also wanted to see and hear how artists present their research - how are artists who are further down the path than I talking about their art? While I could only attend these two sessions, it turns out they were well worth the time and effort!

For my purposes, I found the presentations and subsequent conversations with Santiago Tavera (Virtual Narratives of Dislocation), Philippe Battikha (Halo), and Brigitta Zics (The Role of Experience in Art) to be the most compelling. In very different ways, they each introduced me to the idea of layering in an installation setting. That is, building up and playing with layers of elements like sound, video, and projected images to create an immersive experience. 

This is a key idea for several reasons at this point in my nascent research. First, I'm inspired by the idea of layers of meaning - and investigating ways to do that with the materials I use and how they are used. Layering—like a Google Map—comes to mind, offering different views of or perspectives on a place or location. Second, the use of other media is intriguing. A blend of analog and digital, material and ephemeral. And third, I love Santiago Tavera's notion of creating a sense of community and belonging by participating in his installations:

...ephemeral installation created as a collective; exploring what it means to belong in a specific place created via participants’ stories of belonging and dislocation.
— Santiago Tavera, lecture comments, Elastic Spaces 12 Oct. 2017

My brain is buzzing with ideas. 

Autobiographical Art

Another student asked a question I've been pondering: where to start if one's work is largely based on personal, private experiences? This question has become increasingly insistent for me and was an impetus for me pursuing this degree. The answer is something I've been intuitively doing all along: look at other artists who use personal content in their work.

It feels like I'm getting a bit ahead of myself since I haven't stepped back to respond to basic questions regarding paradigm, worldview, or any other of the weighty academic terms we're learning. Which I will. But for now, I'll capture and start to reflect on the content I've been collecting so there's a record of it here. 

Starting with a series of mind maps feels so much easier than taking a bunch of notes about different artists or themes. Here's a very early version of one of Autobiographical Art.

 Mindmap for Autobiographical Art (v1).

Mindmap for Autobiographical Art (v1).

There are clearly tons to drill down into for many of these components. I can already see that I'm taking an inductive approach, allowing the content to evolve as I do the research and notice patterns (Gray, 2004). The highlighted yellow bubbles are trends that I see at this early stage. I envision more mindmaps (Installation Art, Techniques, Materials, a specific artist's influences, etc.). These little maps could well become a key part of my process.

For now, instead of getting hung up on theories and terminology, I'll allow these explorations to unfold, watching for what they want to reveal.

References

Gray, C. and Malins, J. (2004) Visualizing research: a guide to the research process in art and design. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004.

Begin Anywhere

The last time I did academic research (mid- to late-1990s), there was no Internet as we know it today. The idea of wading into research to help "underpin my practice in a more vigorous way" resonates as something entirely necessary, while leaving me slightly overwhelmed.

Nonetheless, we begin. Our first task was gently assigned: create one A4 snapshot of your current practice, list a few keywords, add a short description. 

 Bath Spa University MA Fine Arts, Task 1

Bath Spa University MA Fine Arts, Task 1

Placing this small stake in the ground is a way to begin. An accurate reflection of how I think about my work now, at Point A.

Already in our second week of class, I'm reassured and encouraged by another student's question about how to give context to deeply personal work. The answer is simple and one I do intuitively: create context by looking at other artists who use personal narrative in their work. What questions are they asking? What is their process?

If I can keep returning to what I know - and use this new scaffolding we're learning as a way to organize, deepen and broaden my perspective - this now feels doable. One step at a time.