This idea suddenly came into my head while I was reading a book by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong called Art as Therapy, this photo↓ taken by Jessica Todd Harper is shows a family under agony, the smiling face of their child forms huge contrast with the cold air and anxious gap between the two. The woman lays her arms on a dinner table to support her despair, two wine cups on the table indicate this argument begins during/right after the meal. The man relies his body upon the kitchen table, looking anxiously at the woman.
“The Agony in the Kitchen”
As I loved this photo so much, I looked up other works by Harper that considers family scenes. This Christmas photo is from her book called Interior Exposure, which is a typical happy Christmas family picture, here, the table occupied the majority of space with objects fully laid on.
From Interior Exposure
What interests me in Harper’s photos is not the emotional figures, but the role play of objects. As in the first photo, separated tables on both sides indicate the broken family; on the other hand, the table in second one gather all the people in union. Objects here could convey a humanized message that reflect the emotion, the situation and the atmosphere of the scene.
Then I started considering about tables in our lives as witnesses to many memories. We have family meeting on table, we talk about business on table, we brainstorm ideas on table, we love on table, we break on table……well, it’s surprising to find out most of my time is actually spent on tables.
So I did a drawing with tables that may appear in your life, they seems like geometrical shapes, since I want to indicate the variety through shape and size. For example, Business Lunch on left upper corner is one of those tables that you can see at Starbucks, with a man in suits eating sandwich alone. Or New Year’s Union in the centre, which indicates a big big family meal at New Year with probably 15 members around the table.
Two more drawings I made following the similar concept, which was inspired by the tables in our school. The purely white one is named First Year, it is the table in our studio; the message is the brand new beginning of our uni life, unfamiliar with the environment and haven’t started any work yet. In contrast, the Third Year is a table I saw in seminar room filled with paints; the richness of materials on that table displays the time and memories it has been through. The colours is almost like what students gained from Chelsea after three years, if I consider the tables in this way, even the objects become emotional.
Prieto tries to stay himself away from traditional or historical way of making art, his use of material and method of working always change, you can’t find any limitation in his works. One of my favourite is THE MORE YOU ADD, THE LESS YOU SEE, it is part of the project called ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes” The work consists of a ball of transparent cling film, the more layers you added, the less transparent sphere became. Another piece called PAN CON PAN (BREAD WITH BREAD) is also a playful one relevant to the words. He is partial to such elegant paradoxes, and contributes to the tradition of Conceptual art in which objects rely on artist-bestrowed titles to grant them meaning.
Prieto’s approach of using title to define the meaning of a piece is purely conceptual, he usually reduce/simplify the form to an extreme, by using ready-made object to give straight-forward idea to the viewers, thus the viewers could only focus on the object itself without any distraction from frame or shape or pictorial elements.
The artist uses pre-existing material taken from her family’s archives, and reassembles these archives to bring contemporary context as well as to remain the intention behind original collection. “My work involving the external world has become saturated to such an extent that I decided to focus on material already accumulated.” She revisited the playground in her father’s photos in 2010 and took a series of photos, there is a quality of sensitiveness of emotion, alongside with private family archive. Her images are usually snapshots glorifying the narrative of photography but not the technical aspects.
Freriancova uses series of photos to recall certain memories, often personal, in her life. The difference between her work and tourists’ photos are the sensitive meanings she gave behind those pictures, she see them as the medium to reflect the world that she is living in, the place/view itself is less significant than the experience of her visiting.
Since the paintings I made last week seems to be unsatisfying, I restart to think about the intention and own interest behind my work. The three key things are Process/Time based, Memories/Forgotten things and Painting. During my foundation last year, I basically made time based, systematic works referring to artists like Susan Hiller and On Kawara, another reason is the joy of seeing transformation and changes happened through process. Memories and forgotten things are amusing for me due my own experience of studying in UK and traveling around the world, behind my practice, there is always an element of documentation or recording certain things, sometimes the time itself, probably my intention is encouraging people to memorize the past or to cherish the present. Another subject I’m keen on is Painting, and I’ve done some practice in the expanded field before. Amazed by Gerhald Richter’s paintings, especially his painted photos which re-create information by over-painting various parts. This is a field that I want to experiment in the future.
Two ideas about the term Memory&Documentation
①Memory Puzzle: I had an idea of re-organizing visual impressions to recall your memory, which is a development from my paintings last week featuring London’s representative scenes. Samples are like the first photos below, the wiped off arrow remind you of roads, the seagull remind you of Thames River… it is almost like a puzzle that you can interact with, spectator is the one to piece those clues together to reform an image in their mind; I was inspired by pointillism’s approach of the viewer collecting information (colours) by themselves to blend in their own eyes. Also, I read a bit about Frances A Yates’s Art of Memory but didn’t quite get it.
②Collection of things usually recall people’s certain memories about specific things, like what Susan Hiller collected in Delicated to the Unknown Artists, her collection arises from personal memory to cultural memory of UK. In another way, not only old, vintage things can achieve this, items with symbolic meanings may also do. For example, apple’s symbolism of forbidden or skull’s representation of death.
The important thing after all in this project, is to find the subject to connect the documentation and memories. In the previous research, I intended to use my own experience of exploring London, but I found it too narrow with low potential in the end, since personal memory can’t get consonance and respond from audience, in my own point of view, it’s quite essential to make art that can be reflected by viewers.
First Six photos are memory puzzles of London; last three are overlaying images of buildings at river side, for both modern and old architecture, it is joining times together.
[London, the centre of Art, Fashion or almost everything in UK, why not make my own experience into a project?] This is what I thought before I went on taking these photos in the city. In order to distinguish them from tourist pics, I chose the subjects deliberately, for sure not Big Ben or Buckingham Place, but features that recall your memory and vision of London.
Things left on a bench: can, cigarette case, newspaper, broken paper bag
Reflection of a tree at the back of a road sign board
A painting can be seen from the studio window
Eros & Piegon
Newspaper boxes in China Town
After taking the photos, I chose two of my favourite to paint, Underground and Reflection. I felt quite satisfied with them at first, but as soon as I put them on the studio wall, I noticed the problem of their flatness and stillness. Partly because of my unskilled brushstrokes (especially for the underground one) , and partly due to they are just copies of photos, there is little excitement and power on the surface. I might have focused too much on the pictorial elements to express what I saw, but not what I felt and why I thought they are interesting as subjects reflecting London. This experience let me start thinking about other methods of expression.
Susan Hillerstudied film & photography in college, then she went on doing anthropology in uni which has a great impact on her work later; but she became uncomfortable with the academic anthropology’s claim to objectivity so went on to be an artist. Well, she wrote that she did not wish her research to be part of anthropology’s “objectification of the contrariness of lived events”.
She makes variety of works from painting to installation, writing to sound piece, film to photography.
Monument1980–1 marks a continuation of Hiller’s interest in lost or forgotten identities. The work was prompted by her discovery of a neglected Victorian monument to civilian heroes in a little-known park in the City of London. The artist photographed and enlarged the park’s memorial plaques and arranged a selection corresponding to each year of her own life. She situated a park bench in front of the photographs, inviting viewers to become an element in the work while listening to its soundtrack.
Hiller’s own voice plays through the headphones and her flowing and associative commentary addresses the nature of heroism as well as the themes of death, memory and representation.
10 Months During her pregnancy in 1976–7, Hiller took photographs of her body and kept a journal to record both the external and internal changes she experienced. In the resulting work, 10 Months1977–9 groups of photographs of her pregnant belly correspond to lunar months. The images are accompanied by journal excerpts from the same period. Arranged within a symmetrical organising structure, the starkness of the imagery and typewritten texts is in contrast to the sentimentality associated with the subject and the explicit allusions to fertility and the landscape. The artist herself is at once a participant and an observer.
Delicated to the Unknown Artists
From 1972 to 1976, she collected 305 postcards, sea charts and map to make this huge piece of work called Delicate to the Unknown Artists. The story began with her trip to Brighton in 1972 where she found the first rough sea postcard (no.77). Then she found another one in weston super mare in the same year, Hiller became aware of the existence of this popular set of pictorial formats designated by a precise phrase, and this set appear to have continuity for over 70 years,
These postcards are presented as a visual display of the cards themselves, as Hiller believes the work speak for themselves with no claim to Objectivity. Because of her background as an artist includes anthropological training, she used systematic grid structure researching, classifying and indexing.
So she basically made the system according to linguistic side and visual side. Under linguistic fact, she divides classified location, caption, legend and commentary on the postcard, you may find sentimental comments at the back like ‘we went on a holiday and this is what it was like every day.” On the other hand, under visual fact, she divided them according to medium, format, colour, presentation, signature and type. The interesting one to mention is the column of Type, Hiller defined the pictorial constituents that occur in the same constructional pattern, like sea and coast, sea and ship, sea and pier or jetty, sea and building and sea and promenade, their relationships define the convention of each type.
The first reason I like about this work is the relationship between linguistic description and visual depiction. For example, “rough sea” sometimes does not describe the sea as shown which may not appear to be particularly rough. No. 217 is a good example; or, one of the postcards has a fake wave which was airbrushed in, because the caption, the words rough sea overrides the image. This remind me of the artist talk we had last week from Neil Cannings, the archive collection and bicentenary video he made for V&A, I am not judging which one is better, but I am more fund of this piece because it has got vision, and there is conflict between language and vision that would make you stand there and think it over.
The title Delicate to the Unknown Artists identifies the work as a tribute to the forgotten artists who painted, photographed or hand-tinted the images. Hiller draws attention to this unrecognised labour, here, her role is not only an artist but also a curator who collected these cultural materials, typical British weather postcards, and collaborated with these artists to present this exhibition. I think it’s a sensitive, mystic way of memorizing these artists and the view, while also arising to a cultural level cos it’s a typical British scene.
This is the second reason I chose this work, because of my own background of living in Brighton for two years, as I have seen the similar huge wave, the same pier, I was immediately drawn to this piece, so it’s a very personal reason. And I am very keen on how the experience of different people makes a difference in looking at the same thing.
The third I like about the piece is lack of difference between photography and painting. Some paintings are in fact photographic reproductions, produced mechanically in great quantity/ the pictorial elements on these paintings are almost identical, suggests that these works are not so much result of subjective rendering of special impression, but part of the artist’s convention who ‘crafted’ it.
On the other hand, many of the monochrome photographs have been painted, which means hand-coloured or tinted. In the text, Hiller discussed the individualized choice and creative effort from different people. Some of rough sea set are framed, this emphasizes one way that a photograph entitled rough sea can be art, in the sense of being seen as the precise equivalent of a painting. Interestingly, there is only one framed painting in the set, while all the other framed examples are photos.
So this ambiguous relationship between painting and photography, linguistic and visual, cultural experience, along with the romantic content of rough sea, makes this piece so interesting to me.
1.Susan Hiller, The Provisional Texture of Reality, 160 pps, 20 illus b/w, ed. & intro by Alexandra Kokoli. JRP Ringier, Zurich.
In ‘Positions’ series.
2.THE REVENANTS OF TIME, Jean Fisher (65 pp. cat. of Susan Hiller’s time-based works; illus. colour) Matt’s Gallery London with Mappin Gallery Sheffield and Third Eye Centre Glasgow
3.Rough Sea (The book was produced in conjunction with the exhibition in 1976)
“A gallery is constructed along laws as those for building a medieval church. The outside world must not come in, so windows are usually sealed off. Walls are painted white. The ceiling become source of light. The wooden floor is polished so that you click along clinically, pr carpeted so that you pad sound-free, as the saying used to go, ‘to take on its own life’.”
—-Inside The White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space, Brian O’Doherty
I found this essay in the school library the day before our Cultural Orienteering, O’ Doherty discusses the idea of white cube(art gallery) becoming part of the artwork itself, as well as the relationship between artists, spectators and the space. He thinks a modernist space redefines the spectator’s status, tinkers with his self-image; and the artists should think about their works in relation to the space.
The galleries that we went to are in East London, mislead by the wrong tube station on Google Map, we started off quite late in the morning.
①Laura Bartlett is located on a little street near Bethnal Green Park, with residence houses and scrap metal place around, the gallery is not obvious with its appearance, which almost turns out to be part of the residence houses nearby.
The inside space of Laura Bartlett forms a huge contrast with its exterior, with spiral stairs leading to the first floor, a narrow corridor leads to a big open space, with one column, two flexible panels and five windows.
The most interesting part for me is the source of lighting in the space, with a combination of natural light from five windows and fluorescent lamps, the richness of light seems to enlarge the room and allows audience to focus on the colourful paintings on wall. Allison Katz is the artist who is on show, the paintings’ interaction with the gallery space impressed me a lot. For example, The Opening shows a lady with an umbrella looking towards her right, but in the real space there is a window beside her; my photo kind of frames a new image for this story-telling scene. Also, The Thick Pink Square is just below a window, a new ‘lighting square’ is formed on the surface when sunlight projects in. Another painting called Shower’s Head is hung against a panel, the painted bathroom wall almost become part of the panel!
The Opening, 2013
The Thick Pink Square, 2013
Shower’s Head, 2013
②The second gallery we visited is Chisenhale Gallery near Regent’s Canal, the place was built in 80s based on a factory, which can be known by the heavy shutter door. Different from Laura Bartlett, Chisenhale is on a quite street with residential surroundings. With artists’ studio and dance studio nearby, though they are not from the same organization.
The exhibition space at Chisenhale is enormous, with no natural light at all but only five rows of lighting source. The huge contrast between space and works by Nick Relph, the idiosyncratic, homespum quality of his work echoes the rough, heavy environment in the gallery. Audience’s interaction with the space is also interesting, since the gallery is so big, they need to walk a long way from piece to piece, which gives them a practical sense of experiencing the place than the others can offer. As the introduction said “For audiences, Chisenhale Gallery provides an opportunity to experience the process of art production intimately – this is a place where art is not collected for presentation but where it is made.”
③Walking along the Regent’s Canal is a wonderful experience!
④Wilkinson is located on Vyner Street, one of the main East London art streets. The big heavy black door gives no significant impression for the first glance, but as you entered the space, walking up the stairs, the richness of light makes a huge contrast with the dull exterior.
My favourite part in the gallery must be the staircase between ground and first floor. Huge sheet of glass becomes the ceiling, blue sky is company with white wall and black stairs, geometric shapes and lines harmonize the colours to give a simple but modern appearance. The space is filled with natural and artificial lights, unlike Laura Bartlett, they limit the amount of natural light (with windows on only one side) so that the place is either not too bright or not too dull. The gentleness quality in Phoebe Unwin‘s paintings matches the atmosphere around.
⑤Our last stop is a little gallery at the corner on Vyner Street, Cultivate. Unlike the others we went, it is tiny, with works hung or laid everywhere in a ten square metre space. The owner is very passionate and friendly to each one who steps into his place. Maybe this is the start of every single great gallery?