Option One: Textural and multiple surfaces. Project 2: Physical texture: Exercise 1.1: Physical text

In the here and now, we exist within a complex cultural framework. We are connected in global, digital and virtual terms and so to function we become nomadic. Displacement is a factor in social, political and cultural production. We borrow negate and cross borders with ease and in turn are proficient with with reinvention and negotiation.

My thoughts… complex cultural framework… we live in both an impoverished and complex cultural framework. Impoverished because of the decline of the complex cultural frameworks of local communities and villages… we may be fed lots of images on the internet and on TV/film but the semiotics merge into a global melange of meaningless surfing. So, there is an argument to be made that our culture is less rather than more complex?

The cultural framework is also time specific. In this Covid year how much complex culture, in the form of theatres/opera/art galleries, have we been able to access?

connected in global, digital and virtual terms… yes we can see images and video from around the world… but how connected are we? There could be an argument to say that we are less connected with the real world than ever before. That we live in the echo chambers of social media and selected news outlets which allow us to live within our own fictional bubbles… rather than connecting to any lived reality around the globe.

to function we become nomadic… nomadic involves real travel and having our identity within ourselves rather than in our national identities. Looking at the world and the rise of populism there is a strong argument to say that we are less nomadic than we have ever been.

Displacement is a factor in social, political and cultural production… Social/political and cultural production has always been displaced such as the use of Japanese art in the 19th century. But, given the rise of populism and nationalism around the world, and a rejection of the ‘other’ it could be argued that there is less displacement than ever before.

In entertainment (as far as popular films/music and TV are cultural products) I would argue that the movement is away from displacement and towards homogenisation. Local cultural production is destroyed, rather than transported, and replaced by global product.

We borrow negate and cross borders with ease and in turn are proficient with with reinvention and negotiation... this is trite as art has always cross fertilised.

On the narrower point of crossing borders I think we should differentiate physical from psychological borders. Digitally it is easy to cross geographic borders but unless we also cross psychological borders this is meaningless. And given rising nationalism across the globe, I think it could be questioned how far we are crossing and questioning our psychological borders.

To take a ‘hard’ scientific example the Eastern world’s experiences of viruses such as in China and Taiwan meant that they were able to apply their experience of virus control and quickly eliminate Covid-19 with minimal deaths and economic cost. Yet the western world ignored their experience and treated Covid-19 not as a ‘virus’ but as a disease. They hospitalised the very ill and paid lip service to test and trace. The result was that the West lost control of the virus, are faced with hospitals on the verge of being overwhelmed, death rates in the 10’s of thousands, and infection rates out of control. The psychological borders were not crossed and the result is a terrible differential in health and economic cost.

If ‘objective’ psychological borders are not crossed when the economy and health of nations are at stake how much cultural border crossing is there? Are artists genuinely culturally nomadic and redefining their own identities (and the identities of the cultural elite they connect to/serve) as self sufficient nomads liberated from their birth culture/state/ art? Or are they acting more as ‘entertainers’ providing distraction by harvesting culture from other times and places for ‘our’ delectation, more like the providers of cultural pineapples at a Victorian soiree than self sufficient nomads?

So, my thoughts on this quote are is that it is dated, echoing more with Nicolas Bourriaud’s personal opinion in Altermodern (Bourriaud, N. (2009) Altermodern: Tate Triennial. (s.l.): Tate Pub.) than being relevant today. It feels weakly written, generalised, and out of touch with contemporary society.

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The instructions in my coursebook say, ‘Think about and reflect on this by making at least one combine made from a number of images, texts or found objects.’

Combine has not been mentioned before so I am going to take it to mean assemblage. Further instructions are…

Pick your own theme or one from: Architecture, Literature, Celebrity, Machine, The Cosmos, Myth, Product.

Method:

The suggestion is to free associate objects and with photographs, then move them around to come to some sort of meaning, and then photograph the result.

However rather than prescriptively follow instructions we have been given some leeway to interpret exercises for our own needs.

Looking at all the assemblages in my research there is only John Bock who uses photographs, though I expect there are others who use photographs too. The assemblages by the other artists I researched work as a objects with meaning, and as aesthetic art objects… which happen to be made up of (normally) disparate objects. However in the context of the assemblage they are not disparate. For example Urs Fischer was searching for an object that fulfilled his need to ‘carry’ his disparate objects (on the theme of we are what we consume) when he saw a rhinoceros and set upon organising a 3D print for ‘Things’. He was, in effect, free associating disparate objects in his head, like a rhino and a laptop, till he found objects that worked together for his concept.

Cut up is a creative aid, in as far as it makes random associations between words (or music/speech/sounds/video/dance moves) to produce ‘revolutionary’ new meanings. We can also move around our cut up words/phrases) to make new meanings.

However, the artists that I studied for this exercise didn’t work in this way. They had a theme and then free associated random objects around their theme (like Fischer with associating his laptop, cooker and rhino around his theme of, ‘we are what we consume’). So, they were using random association of objects to find new ways of expressing their theme, rather than using random objects to create their theme in the first place.

This also fits in with the instructions to pick a theme, and the course book even supplies a helpful list of suggestions.

My theme is Christmas, and I am going to collect random objects that associate with that… Then I am going to move them around on a table (play) to see which fit best with my idea.

I am interested in the ‘real’ meaning of Christmas for me… what do I consume (mentally and physically) that becomes my Christmas. I am not going to use photographs for two reasons. Firstly, they don’t fit in with my idea for a unifying aesthetic, which is to spray my assemblage gold… this is also an ironic comment on the glittery commodification of Christmas… and a dialogue about wrapping and content. And secondly, I don’t want the historicity of time specific brand or dress codes… or images and logos that are meaningless to future generations.

I am going to build a structure to ‘hold’ my assemblage like Fischer’s rhino and put it on a pillar like Genzken.

Painting:

  1. Canvas… I have no idea about my canvas but I doubt whether I will use a rectangular canvas, though it might be an ironic semiotic to signal that I am making a painting and not a sculpture.

  2. Painting… I am really looking forward to using a variety of tools and processes, and will try masking, collage, sculptural effects (without pushing my painting into a sculpture… as well as pouring, scraping and wiping.

Obviously, this will not produce a photorealist copy of my assemblage (if that’s all I wanted to do I might as well photograph it). So I am not going to paint my assemblage as if it was a still life. My assemblage is a way of understanding my theme that will then inform my painting, though I may use some of the visual cues from my assemblage. My painting is the next step in a process of understanding, rather than any sort of copy of my assemblage.

Practical work:

Support for assemblage:

Having completed some sculptures for Painting 2: Studio Practice I decided to make my support first as that will be the structural skeleton for my assemblage. My support has got to be the right shape for my assemblage. This is the same as selecting the right canvas for a painting (rectangular, oval, tondo, round, square or 3D) because you can change your paint but you can’t change your canvas.

In painting you add paint to a canvas and in an assemblage you add objects to your canvas, but one is 2D and the other 3D. Sculptures have a physical presence which feels like you are in a room with a living creature, whereas paintings is a surface you look at… it’s similar to the difference between sitting on the front row in the theatre and a watching TV.

My first idea was to use two canvases and stand them as a ‘Christmas’ tree…

However this didn’t work so I played about with some arrangements to see if anything suggested itself…

This looked like a giant card to me and ‘felt’ right…

Smooth outside of card


‘Boxed’ inside of card

I had tried my ‘card’ in several different ways but I liked the version where the outside of the canvas was smooth and the inside showed the support.

My support reminds me of the giant versions of real life objects that Jeff Koons makes because my card is about seven or eight times bigger than real card.

I also like the clean lines of the canvases as different from the usual ‘junk’ modelling feel of many assemblages, this also fits with my theme of the slick commercial packaging of Christmas versus its real meaning.

My assemblage will break up the the rectangle of the ‘card’ but hopefully it will still suggest a card.

Cards can be used for many occasions but Christmas and birthdays are probably the most common, so hopefully my objects and the gold spray signal that this is a Christmas card.

Assemblage of objects:

First I collected a random selection of items that were in my studio and part of my Covid-Christmas. I didn’t pick anything that I thought would signal Christmas because of its signalling, I just picked anything randomly to hand that was part of Christmas.

I’m not religious and haven’t put any decorations up in my studio… though there are decorations in my house. My family isn’t coming to Christmas… I picked a face mask, cards, brussel sprouts on a stalk, chocolates, packages delivered to my door, some old party poppers, and a single rose blooming outside my window.

I then played about with how to attach the sprouts to my canvas as this felt like the structurally most important decision.

Having decided on my sprouts I worked very quickly adding the other elements and adjusting as I went along. Once I was happy I took my assemblage outside and photographed it…

Then I sprayed it gold. This was a revelation as it even though I had planned it the transformation was much greater than I had imagined.

The gold unified the assemblage, as if it was all made out of the same material… but the shapes stayed exactly the same. Several ideas popped into my head such as: we don’t need colour (lined and tone is enough) to process 3D shape as the paint I sprayed on was all the same colour, the midas touch as a concept (which I hadn’t thought of) attaching to my assemblage, what is the true gold of Christmas? How the material (what the art is made of) of a sculpture or painting affects our reaction to it and the messages it projects.

As a technical note it was much harder to spray objects gold than I had imagined.

Here is my assemblage spayed gold…

And on a plinth as I would present it in a gallery…

It’s very difficult to pick out which view I would like to paint as there is no one way of looking at my assemblage. If it were in a gallery you would want to walk round it and look at different aspects, and each view would have different meanings. So I can see why they invented cubism, to better capture how we experience/see the world.

This was a fun exercise but if my model making skills were better and I took more care this could be the basis for a powerful piece of art.

In being asked to paint my assemblage I have been forced to face how very different painting and sculpture are. Inside my head they work in totally different ways (and use different parts of my brain both in their creation and appreciation), and I can see why people love sculpture. Sculpture feels more direct and physical and painting more illusory and semiotic.

I can’t see how I can capture my assemblage in a painting so I am going to paint a view of it, but abstract the view and work quickly and intuitively.

As a photograph of my assemblage I prefer the view with the sprout top but for a painting I prefer the view flat metal surface (I think it is visually more interesting ‘as a surface’ so I am going to try and capture something of the image below.

Painting:

I have decided to use a rectangular canvas rather than a 3D canvas because I don’t want any confusion that this is a painting, or rather a 2D version of my 3D assemblage, and not a sculpture.

My next thought was that I need white, black and gold to paint my assemblage, but I quickly remembered that I’m not going to try and paint an illusion of 3D space so I don’t need the white and black paint as I don’t need to show any shadows or highlights. I am going to be working with just my gold paint and a variety of mark making, erasure, and masking tools. My ‘field’ of operation is the picture surface so I am highlighting that flat rectangle as a dynamic creative space.

The next decision is my medium. I have chosen acrylic paint because it’s much cheaper than oil paint and dries quickly.

If I am not going to paint a 3D illusion of my assemblage, in what way am I going to paint it? I am going to take one element, the geometric relationships/internal dynamics, and create recreate it in 2D using line, texture, mark making, erasure and abutting.

Finally, what is the best way of achieving this? I think it is to lay out all my tools such as masking tape, sand paper, sticks, mark making tools and brushes at the side of my canvas. And then to work quickly and intuitively, stopping as I need to, looking, and adding/erasing as I go along so that my painting evolves on the canvas. I think I will start with my canvas flat on the table and work round it as if I was ‘sculpting’ a piece of wood, or dancing on a stage. If I want drips using thinned paint I can easily pop my painting on an easel.

Set up:

Mark making tools/masked canvas

I painted the left and right sides of the canvas (either side of the masked of strip) with different brushes to differentiate them. This will not be obvious to a casual glance but will set up a dynamic between the two sides on the subconscious level.

I echoed some of the structural elements of my assemblage such as the sprouts bottom left and central strip of sweet wrappers but mainly I worked quickly laying down a foundation and experimenting with my mark making tools. Stopping, looking and then relating these marks to each other.

Christmas Bubbles, acrylic on canvas, 50 x 40 cm

When I photographed my painting I added in some yellow light which brought out the gold.

Next I painted another, looser, version using an old canvas.

First I painted it quickly with movement, on top of some masking…

Then I painted it up…

Christmas Kiss, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 50 cm

This was more difficult because I was free associating on the theme of my assemblage rather than translating my assemblage from 3D to 2D, so I was composing as I went along. I used all the tools to hand and a tray of mark making implements from the garage.

Some things worked, others didn’t. This was very intuitive and experimental.

I am very pleased with the final image because it has achieved my aim of visual interest and meaning using just the picture plane. Visually it does not refer to anything outside itself. Yet it has a metaphorical and semiotic meaning around Christmas, it refers to the bubbles imposed by the government, the gold of Christian and commercial Christmas… and even the nasty Covid-19 virus.

Also I was able to work quickly and intuitively based on a concept rather than painting a view (however loose and semi-abstracted my landscapes are still based on sketches and so are to some degrees copies/interpretations of nature rather than my own creations. This is the way I would like to move my practice so being able to do it here is very encouraging.

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