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.

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.

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