envelope is rust.
I can hear its fundamental particles.
They are crying for a paperknife
– and wind.
26 February 2016
envelope is rust.
I can hear its fundamental particles.
They are crying for a paperknife
– and wind.
26 February 2016
It’s horrid when you read an old post and realise you sounded like a prat.
Today is one such.
On 19 November, we were fortunate to have Trevor Abbott as a visiting speaker this year. Trevor won the 2014 neo:printprize biennial award and at the time, his exhibition The Contingent Image – a solo exhibition exploring the theme of the digital image – was showing at neo:’s Gallery 27 space in Bolton. Trevor had also recently completed his 12-week neo:artists residency, that was part of the award.
He gained his undergraduate degree, a BA (Hons) in Fine Art, from the Winchester School of Art (1979-1982). However, it is his more recent and continuing journey with print-making that is of greater relevance to his lecture. Following on from a one-week print-making summer school in Falmouth, he undertook an MA in Visual Arts (Printmaking) at the Camberwell School of Art (2011-2013). It seems the summer school was a turning point.
It was a real education to spend an hour or so listening to Trevor talk about his work – his chosen medium is screen printing. What follows is a precis of my notes from the day – I hope they are as informative to you as his talk was to me. I know I shall use this knowledge many time as I develop as an artist.
As a by-rpoduct of his MA, Trevor learned the value of REFLECTION. He now spends a lot of time in reflexive practice – both on his work, and on the screen printing process itself. I think this is what led him to the printmaking methods he has used for The Contingent Image.
Graduation from the MA, and exposure of his MA show, inspired Trevor to submit for an award that he won- gaining a residency within a commercial organisation. This set him in the centre of a new world – a different, much more directed and directive world that was governed by new dynamics, such as deadlines. As such, he learned to be creative within the constraints of this. He found it was not just the production process that became externally driven, it was also the creative processes that came about pre-print – and then also in the editing process that happened post-production.
TOP TIP – When considering how to place your work and working practice, search out the most credible open submission shows. Note: neo:printprize and neo:artprize are both examples of credible open submission awards.
The output from Trevor’s commercial residency took the form of a portfolio of work that ended up in the Victoria and Albert (V & A) Collection. Through undertaking the residency, he also ended up submitting to and showing in an exhibition in the North East of England. This then led him to find out about and pursue the neo:printprize. His submission to the neo:printprize was successful – he won the award, which included a 12-week, expenses paid residency with neo:artists (part-sponsored the University of Bolton).
TOP TIP – success in one area can lead you to success in others if you are willing to be flexible in outlook and put in the hard work.
During the 12-week neo: residency, Trevor said that he was able to consolidate his professional practice, creating and producing a body of work. Via some of his original sources of inspiration (he quoted Baudrillard’s The Evil Demon of Images) he was returning to the nature and creation of THE IMAGE itself.
Trevor Abbott’s website states:
“We have arrived at a point where it would seem unnatural to go anywhere, corporeal or virtual, without having some digital device capable of capturing either still or moving images. Our response to a destination, event or experience is to produce yet another image to be added to the mass of ever circulating images.
Found tourist images provide a starting point for a series of digressions based on the notion of that such images now circulate endlessly in an inchoate state. These images are always available, never resolved, emerging accidentally from a field of possibilities.”
During his lecture with us, Trevor was eloquent on the gradual degradation that takes place during the journey a digital image takes from its origination to its re-appearance as a finished work. As the image passes through each aspect of the change process, it is distorted, manipulated, degraded and its purity is lost. The raw material of the digital image is added to, reduced, changed. It is, in the most literal sense, “contingent” – upon the processed which exert change. As 2-d digital images, they conform to the binaries of coding, of layering (eg in photoshop). As screen-printed images they are also decoded (ie into colours) and layers (ie each screen used represents a layer in the final print). As trevor worked upon the original images he followed a sequence:
In other words – the end product was still the original – it still bore its traces and essence – but it was different.
Trevor has more latterly been using low-resolution, impressionistic, low-grade and uncertain digital images for his source material. Some he created, or had created for him. Others were “found”. He referred to these low-grade images as “aberrant”.
As the images travel through the processes described above, they are poor”, incomplete, inchoate (which means ‘rudimentary’, or ‘just begun’ and so ‘unformed, not fully developed’).
When I asked him later what “poor” meant, he talked about the images being “itinerants” – they travel between people digitally and float around the ether. Trevor’s intention is to bring them back into the real world, where they become concrete again. Screen-printing is the method that he uses to accomplish this.
This “Deconstruction – work – reconstruction” process has ushered him into a new relationship with his work and his artistic practice. Trevor spoke about the effects of the curation process for The Contingent Image exhibition as having led to a transition – he moved between considering them as individual pieces, to a new place where he had begun to see them as a coherent body of work: an installation.
With this in mind, it seems that “process” has played a fundamental part in the genesis and birthing of The Contingent Image as an installation. For Trevor, it seems that the screen-printing process is also on display – with its intrinsic re-making of the source images, in parallel to that which happens in the artist’s head.
Distortions are concrete – such as pixilation. I will try to explain what I think he meant: Pixilation distorts both the material and the ephemeral. Hence, it changes the visual textures, by changing the material components and their relations with one another (eg dots may be fewer, less densely packed; larger or smaller, grainy or sharp). In screen printing one can play about with the threads per inch of the material used in the screen. Or perhaps to mix the colours roughly so they are not fully combined. These are just examples I can think of, now.
If, as Trevor said, it is the process of printing from which the actual works arise – then to me, a lot of his prints appear impressionistic. The title of the show, The Contingent Image, is his way of encapsulating these qualities of process.
It evokes the reality of the fact that the works he has produced for it – the images – are contingent. They represent what was (and is) possible and probable, given the constraints of his circumstances: the meditations of his heart and mind, the 12-week residency at neo: and whatever else was going on for him during its creation.
TOP TIP – if you have to name an installation, or exhibition, or body of work… MAKE THE NAME AS RELEVANT AS POSSIBLE.
So, to conclude, to me it seems that the 12-week neo: residency has helped Trevor to consolidate the learning from past 3+ years. This learning spans the MA course at Camberwell, the status he gained from having his final pieces in the V & A, then winning the 12-week commercial residency with its new constraints for practice, followed by the submission process to the award in the North East and finally the submission to, and award of the neo:printprize in 2014.
In closing, Trevor said that the most useful outcome for his professional practice and what he takes forward with him as the residency comes to an end, is that from now on he will focus on what he produces as coherent bodies of work. And as installations – rather than as individual pieces.
Listening to Trevor Abbott talk about his work has been a true revelation, and I’ve come away from it with a very different perspective on my own.
Venue: Bury Art & Sculpture Centre 19 September 2015 – 23 January 2016
Bury’s Sculpture Centre, part of the vibrant Bury Arts Museum complex, is increasingly well-known for its good quality, eclectic shows. Opened in May 2014, and hosting international and national artists, it has quickly become a popular North West arts venue. The Centre’s current exhibition, Hilary Jack’s The Late Great Planet Earth is its first solo show by a UK artist. To give some measure of popularity for both the Sculpture Centre and Hilary Jack’s exhibition, by mid-November it had been visited by over 10,000 visitors (including me). This was only half-way through its run.1
Hilary Jack’s website states, “Hilary Jack works across media in research based projects involving the collection and re-purpose of found objects in site referential artworks and sculptural installations and interventions.” 2
Entitled after Hal Lindsey’s 1970s book, The Late Great Planet Earth is a seven-piece show in which the artist stiches together strands of social commentary on our ongoing preoccupation with the world’s end, from predominantly religious perspectives. In her re-presentation of a litany of unfulfilled prophecy that peppered the latter decades of the twentieth century, Jack offers us a semi-permeable membrane between art and reality. The exhibition content takes us into inter-disciplinary territory: during my research, I came across one online critique of Turquoise Bag in a Tree that had been authored by an Oxford University Professor of Archaeology, Dan Hicks. He argues, “In its archaeological encounters, Jack’s work invites us to extend complex intentionalities to nonhuman objects (not just to humans).” 3
The gallery plate summary explained that, in this exhibition, “Hilary Jack considers the elegiac narratives of a pre-digital world and acknowledges the contemporary anxieties over geopolitics, environmental change and rare celestial occurrences”. Elegiac means, ‘suitable for, or resembling, a eulogy; expressing sorrow or lamentation’ – this was, I felt, entirely appropriate for these works. As a space, the whole gallery felt light, airy and new, which was in stark contrast to the generalised sobriety of the message. But this did not undermine the atmospheric nature of her installations, it merely called them out more loudly as a comment on, “…our relationship with everyday objects and highlights the concept of built in obsolescence and the politics of a particular location.” 3
Souvenir was simultaneously fascinating and depressing. Created from a found fragment of uncrafted wood, the (on first glance, from a distance) apparently sightless ‘eye’ of the knot at its centre was an irresistible draw to my imagination. I found it impossible not to look – and doing so revealed a looping sequence of images. There were vast, natural landscapes, incredible skies, woodlands and suchlike, into which artificial devastation wrought by humankind: explosions, dereliction, decay was interspersed. Each new view came in accompanied by a slide falling, audibly, into its slot as though chosen from a menu, such as on a mobile phone set to give that sliding, scraping, clunking sound when capturing an image. Pasted-in over the top of this was the soporific whirr of a projector’s fan (that invariably sent me to sleep as a child in the 60s, watching things at school). I returned to this piece several times during the hour or so I spent in the gallery space.
Although it was mid-morning on a wet Friday, I was not alone in the gallery and found to my great interest, as we made our way around the artworks, that I shared the space with a young mother and toddler. I wondered what the smaller one would make of the artist’s ‘re-purposing’ of found objects, such as the Turquoise Bag in a Tree, or the ducking stool suspended over mirrors in the piece, In Anglund All is Broc. I could not ask, but observed the toddler’s great interest in these two otherwise mundane objects a lesson in looking, as she sat on her heels gazing earnestly at the found objects strewn about the floor under the chair.
In another area, and diametrically opposed to its pristine, light-space gallery context, standing in half-light inside The Prophet (below), I found the haunting aural soundscape of a bare, windswept expanse reminiscent of Genesis 1:1, where “…the Spirit of God was brooding over the waters…”. Standing, eyes closed, I allowed myself to engage with its inhabitants and found my spine a-tingle. In its belly, Jack had glued onto the walls a tattoo of cut-out newspaper, spelling out The Blood Moon Prophecy, from which her central piece had found its inspiration.
In the dull glow from a single, large orb of graduated red light hanging near the end opposite the door, the words are barely legible. Like the prophecy, they seem diminished by an atmosphere of darkness. Apocalypse is an ancient Greek word. Translated literally, it means ‘a disclosure of knowledge’ – in religious contexts, ‘the revelation of something hidden’. Whatever Jack’s intent, as I peered through gloom at The Blood Moon Prophecy spelled out by Revelation chapter 6, verse 12: “…and Lo, there was a great earthquake and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood…” (see below) I wondered whether she had taken full account of its potential.
Perhaps my favourite, though, was Turquoise Bag Hanging in a Tree was so much like my daily view of urban Bolton, with its confetti of sweetie wrappers and tympanic cans that lately join me on the road beside my walk, barrelling along on the gusts of Storm Frank, or whatever. My eyes are often drawn to the distal branches of a winter tree, ornamented with the detritus of obsolescence. To realise this turquoise bag is made of bronze, suspended using wire and not the peripheral suspension brought about by wind, and plastic’s interaction with the sharpness of wood was unexpected. It did indeed look real. Did I say, “Real”? I suppose I mean it looks like one of those I see when I’m out walking, bobbing out of reach of anything except my own oblique disinterest.
Hilary Jack’s Turquoise Bag in a Tree project, started in 2003, emerged from her interest in such bags which, once she had begun to photograph them, appeared all over the place once her awareness had been heightened. Interviewing Jack, one author reflects that they became a sort of “…waste on display as a city-wide ersatz guerrilla exhibition…” 4 I was very interested and rather affectionately amused to find that the artist has created an online presence that she, “dedicated to turquoise bags in trees everywhere” (see: http://www.turquoisebaginatree.co.uk/page2.htm).
Bury Art Museum was opened in 1901 to house the 200-strong art collection of Thomas Wrigley (a local paper tycoon), which he amassed during the Industrial Revolution. However, since 1901, our local and national manufacturing economies have declined significantly and, in the process, been replaced by countries like China on the world stage. This sustained downturn was at great cost to the fortunes of Bury’s heritage.5
The present curator/manager of Bury Art Museum, John Trehy, saw an opportunity to exploit this wonderful heritage by way of innovation brought on by a need to survive. And so his brainchild, Toward Modernity: Three Centuries of British Art, was set in motion. He canvassed local curators of art collections of the same era, ultimately amassing 80 notable works to tell the story of England’s – and specifically the North West’s – industrial development. Artworks included those by JMW Turner, Lowry, Constable, Henry Moore and Lucian Freud and came from collections in Chester, Carlisle, Salford and Stalybridge. Bury Art Museum has never looked back. John Trehy’s innovative notion has also reaped benefits for 3D art with the opening of Bury’s new Sculpture Centre in May of 2014, when it joined:
“…an established network of sculpture across the North of England, including the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield and the Henry Moore Foundation, Leeds.” [Greville Worthington, chair of Yorkshire Sculpture Park; 2014] 4
In summary, to me, the Sculpture Centre’s lineage is important to any review of The Late Great Planet Earth. Both the exhibition and the gallery space itself are products of ‘re-purposing’. Each one is a testament to the politics of ‘place’.
This image emerged from exploring shifts in my identity that were taking place alongside some fairly fundamental health-related changes. My body had hosted a pacemaker since the spring of 1987.
Starting in April 2004, an ultimately fruitless sequence of revisions, re-locations and rectifications left me no longer equipped to ‘host’ one any more.
And so, for 7 years, as my body dealt with replacements and reacted like a recalcitrant child, I found myself caught up in a process of transition as I fought my corner with the NHS over why Something Should Be Done.
When, in 2011, exploratory operations finally took place, they that my body had ‘shut up shop’ in the relevant veins – therefore a further pacing implant was impossible. Apart from an impressive array of pectoral scars that Captain Jack Sparrow would be proud of, I have nothing left to show for my journey except 2 of the 5 pacemakers that became a. my friends, or b. the bane of my life (delete as applicable) and a now redundant medic-alert bracelet.
It is these items that I later assembled into a piece I’ve called ‘Still Life’.
Because, as it turns out, there is indeed still life after my pacemakers.
This is my contribution for today.
I cannot read this poem from John Berger without a tightening occurring somewhere in my chest. It is connection. Or, perhaps, the anchor of a deep-seated experience of longing.
and our faces, my heart, brief as photos
When I open my wallet
to show my papers
or check the time of a train
I look at your face.
The flower’s pollen
is older than the mountains
Aravis is young
as mountains go.
The flower’s ovules
will be seeding still
when Aravis then aged
is no more than a hill.
The flower in the heart’s
wallet, the force
of what lives us
outliving the mountain.
And our faces, my heart, brief as
© John Berger, (1984) ‘and our faces, my heart, brief as photos’ New York: Random House
From pages 21 and 22 in the same volume, Berger says: ‘Poems, even when narrative, do not resemble stories. All stories are about battles, of one kind or another, which end in victory and defeat. Everything moves towards the end, when the outcome will be known.
Poems, regardless of any outcome, cross the battlefields, tending the wounded, listening to the wild monologues of the triumphant or the fearful. They bring a kind of peace. Not by anesthesia or easy reassurance, but by recognition and the promise that what has been experienced cannot disappear as if it had never been. Yet the promise is not of a monument. . . The promise is that language has acknowledged, has given shelter, to the experience which demanded, which cried out.
Poems are nearer to prayers than stories, but in poetry there is no one behind the language being prayed to. It is the language itself which has to hear and acknowledge. For the religious poet, the Word is the first attribute of God. In all poetry, words are a presence before they are a means of communication.’
John Berger’s articulacy leaves me speechless …would that I were able to express myself so well.
Neo:artists, founded by a group of University of Bolton School of the Arts alumni, is a Bolton-based, artist led, not-for-profit organisation which is earning national acclaim. Whilst its Directors (now successful contemporary artists in their own right) are fully committed to their vision of an innovative crossover between creative practitioners and community spaces, they do not focus exclusively on aesthetics and the place-making qualities of public art.
The artprize actually comprises seven individual awards, chief of these being the coveted neo:artprize – a £1500 cash prize, awarded in 2015 to Sally-Ann Hayes, for her multi-part installation The Bigger Picture. As a composite piece, I guestimate this occupied around one sixth of the total gallery space. Using old cine film, sound recordings and factual stories, Hayes “looks at and considers” the concealment of realities, and is influenced by Situationist Theory. With its beginnings in ‘avant-garde’ artistic traditions, the Situationist perspective works at their interface with politicised rebellion, and the subversion and negation of modern neo-capitalist society. Situationists see such society through frozen moments in time, in which class-driven alienation prevents one from fully engaging with or influencing not only the external world, but also the lived experiences of one’s inner world (Plant, 1992).
I would strongly encourage anyone visiting this exhibition to purchase the catalogue. Pieces in the show are curated using numbers only, so the usefulness of having the titles (some very enigmatic) cannot be overemphasised. Most are also accompanied by a short description from the artist. In the case of The Bigger Picture, its description was not overly enlightening. With no prior knowledge of Situationist Theory (the summary above distils my later reading) I struggled to connect with the fullness of Hayes’ installation. Although I found her oil of the Pennine moors a viscerally engaging painting and was fascinated by the tiny figure suspended by balloons, I had no mental platform on which to place them. I pasted-in an imperfect scenario for the clothing on the mannequin, but the video left me feeling strangely, “So what?”
I have had to go away and research this piece more fully to glean even a half of its conceptual substance. For this reason, I feel it is too complex a piece for curation in the absence of an accompanying, free-of-charge and accessibly-written artist’s explication. That is not to say I felt it should not have won the Award – it was masterful – just poorly explained for the naïve viewer (me) who had no £5 for the catalogue.
The overall awards tally includes a neo:residency and solo show. In 2015 this was won by Freya Gabie, for Hole Made By A Meteorite, a Sikhote-Alin Meteorite re-cast into a nail, hammered into the wall. The five other awards, which were (in no particular order): the Alec Tiranti 3D award (Nicola Guastamacchia for Here and there, a living sculpture with five goldfish, five bowls and one fish tank); the John Purcell Paper award (Alison Unsworth for Starling (Edition 1/3), an archival digital print with watercolour); the GreatArt sponsored award (Tina Warren for fml, a large-scale water-based oil and oil on canvas); the Screenstretch sponsored screenprint award (Anastasia Mina for Last Year’s Fiancée, a large-scale screenprint on paper); and the Intaglio sponsored print award (Liz Miller for A Classic on Vinyl: Debussy- Clair de Lune – Part 1, an etching and printed vinyl record).
The spin-off from neo:artists’ biennial artprize is its delivery of an accessible and internationally acclaimed exhibition of contemporary art. The competition itself this year drew in submissions from as far afield the North Americas and East Asia. Less concretely, the exhibition’s content is a consummate lesson about the neo:artprize’s judging panel: they are not shy of process-driven works with an intrinsic power to unsettle or challenge the viewer’s preconceptions.
On Liz Miller’s A Classic on Vinyl: Debussy- Clair de Lune – Part 1 [see above] and its sister piece, A Classic on Vinyl – Clair de Lune – Debussy – Part 5, taking time to contemplate, I felt a similar calm as I might otherwise feel listening to the melody itself. While Miller’s musical scores are a new, alternative representation of the familiar, her compositions reminisce of gramophones, or perhaps the bygone years of dance. The scores are circular rather than linear in form and emphasise repetitive linguistic patterns from an information graphics perspective.
I have a slight criticism, in that these pieces were situated in such a way as to hinder my engagement with them. I felt hemmed-in by the proximity of a something to my right, and should have preferred more space (both mentally and physically) for contemplation. It may be worth saying here that several of the artworks were mounted by the submitting artists using reflective rather than non-reflective glass, resulting in visual interference. Those that stand out were broodingly atmospheric photographic pieces and, in each case, my engagement with the work was spoiled by intrusive reflections from other works. This was affected Saskia Boelsums’ Water (it was virtually impossible to really make out the image from one angle), Ben Ark’s Linear Moon, and Lee Furlong’s Let’s meet in the park… However, for me, most noticeably affected was Bin Feng’s The American Dream – Starring Jackie Chan and John Cusack, Dragon Blade 3D IMAX will be released in February 2015.
This was a particular shame, in curatorial terms, because Bin Feng’s picture is one of a series in which he explores “the American Dream” through the gaze of an eastern male and uses iconic references in staged, illusory moments in daily life. For me, the picture’s stillness and visual clarity are key elements, so having to content with the presence of what amounted to static white noise was an unwelcomed distraction from the artwork.
Two of my personal favourites were Mark Langley’s Unrequited Object (gold leaf on discarded picture hook) [see above] and Hole Made By A Meteorite from Freya Gabie [see below]. I am not naturally drawn to strongly conceptual or subverted artworks unless I can do research beforehand and take a long, quiet look at them as pieces – and this time I had neither. That said, I felt an immediate affinity with the two diminutive pieces. The artists’ conceptual standpoints appear very different. Langley describes his work as, “often contradictory, witty, melancholic or romantic in spirit” whereas Freya Gabie is all but silent on hers.
Gabie’s peremptory styles was reflected by the one-liner she provided for Hole…, namely: “Sikhote-Alin Meteorite re-cast into a nail, hammered into the wall”. I have since wondered at Gabie’s interest in the medium and the manner of its re-appropriation. The intuitive narrative from both these pieces was helped enormously by a short Q&A with Jason Simpson, one of neo:’s Directors, who was in the gallery at the time.
In conclusion, this has been an engaging and challenging exhibition. It has taught me some sound, practical lessons on the realities of curation in finite spaces and the presentation of work. It has also brought to my attention the pivotal role of being able to effectively articulate the internalised processes that underlie one’s work.
Plant, S. (1992) The Most Radical Gesture: The Situationist International in a postmodern age. London & New York: Routledge
Freya Gabie’s website: http://www.freyagabie.com/
Liz Miller’s website: http://www.lizmillerart.co.uk/
Mark Langley’s website: http://www.marklangley.co/
Sally-Ann Hayes’ website: http://www.sallyahayes.moonfruit.com/