Laundry Notes

29 Jan

I remember playing in washing, a romantic memory of the feel of warm sun and the smell of cleanliness mixed with a hint of the not-allowed (to dirty the clean sheets would have been trouble). Standing between lines of towels, pants, trousers and T-shirts is like occupying a place between the layers of acetates that make up a cartoon image. When too dry washing becomes crisp and flat like a paper cut-out. Inhabiting this space I had a sense of what the characters made for my theatre must have felt like when shunted back and forth between layers of a cardboard stage-set. The theatre was called The Royal Theatre. An adult had tried to persuade me that The Theatre Royal was more fitting but this backwards syntax made no sense to me at the age of six.

Photograph by Terrill Welch

Surely one of the most-often taken tourist photographs of Venice is one of laundry strung precariously above canals. It gets me every time. The intimate, the familial, hung out across grand, historic vistas interrupting the stasis of set architecture. This laundry evokes personal resistance in a place that is slowly crumbling, a sense that by living and making Venice present its inhabitants might halt the city’s inevitable sinking-sliding.

The two-way nature of those lines, strung up between buildings, makes me wonder if people have washing line wars. The to and fro nature of the thing: does it provoke the kind of neighbourly anger that I have seen result from parking on suburban British streets? Or do people peacefully share lines- one day each perhaps, or one half per flat? Is it possible to feel that kind of petty rage in a place as beautiful and romantic as Venice, or can anywhere feel humdrum once you’ve been there long enough?

Photograph by Craig Atkinson

Perhaps it is this sense of mundanity that modernist architects wanted to avoid when designing their monolith towers of steel, concrete and glass. Hanging such untidy things on the balconies of minimal tower blocks feels heretic, rebellious. To see these garments necessitates an acknowledgment of the individual lives taking place within, of their irregular rhythms and tastes. I enjoy the fragility conjured; the flapping shirt that might fly from its perch high on the side of a building is as precarious as the sock that might plop into the Venetian canal, its owner only noticing its absence much later, when looking for a pair.

Architects might also have been aware that washing on balconies draws attention to inhabitants’ lack of private outdoor space, offering ammunition to the British objection to modernism that comes from a conservative love of boundaries and privacy: ‘but what about a garden?’. And perhaps class is an issue here too. I’m thinking of the intro to Coronation Street: the camera pans down, from a skyline of tower blocks to the more intimate scale of terraced housing, across roofs and onto a yard where a ginger cat picks its way between two washing lines. Does the laundry here in small brick yards highlight the working class yet independent nature of the neighbourhood?

However old fashioned this may seem, perhaps the idea that people are doing their own washing, not outsourcing the work to a maid or using dry-cleaning services, demonstrates a lack of financial resources. Before the widespread ownership of the washing machine in Britain, doing the laundry was a day’s work. Most people in the UK now have a washing machine, meaning that laundrettes are generally places for those in transitory situations or those with very little. Is the washing line, as a public trace of domestic labour, uncomfortable for some people?

Drying washing inside feels sad, cloth lying limp on radiators or huddled around gas fires. When no outdoor space or too much rain make hanging out impossible an endless damp smell pervades, of things that never quite dried. And then there’s the danger of nylons near heat… Here’s to the flapping of clean sheets like sails on a ship. Here’s to the loss of garments from tall hoists above water and motorways. Here’s to the intimacy of showing your smalls in and on public piazzas, yards and balconies.

These notes come, in part, from a conversation with Paul Schneider on the opening of his show ‘Hanging Out To Dry’ at Jerwood Visual Arts’ Project Space.

Painting the Stage

21 Jan

I am on the train to the opening of Jerwood Encounters: The Grantchester Pottery Paints The Stage, curated by The Grantchester Pottery. The exhibition includes work by each of the artists, makers and designers who have made work as part of The Grantchester Pottery. I am Writer in Residence at Jerwood Visual Arts from today until the end of February and then again for July and August. I have known The Grantchester Pottery since they began to work together. I had the privilege of curating the first public showing of their work at Wysing Arts Centre in 2011 and we have stayed in fairly regular contact since, working together from time to time. I am currently wearing a top designed by The Grantchester Pottery as part of a clothing range launched in the summer at an event organised by Her Eyes and My Voice and hosted at Gowlett Peaks, a programme I was running in Peckham. It is black shot silk with a pattern in mint green and claret devised from punctuation. I am afraid that by wearing this beautiful garment and reminding The Grantchester Pottery that I am in ownership of it I will invite them to ask for its return.

The Grantchester Pottery is a construction. It is a workshop and an approach to making. It is two people (Giles Round and Phil Root), their circle of friends and people whose work they admire. It is, in this sense, a familial structure that recalls biographer David Gadd’s description of The Bloomsbury Group: ‘[t]he circle of writers, artists and intellectuals to whom the name is attached was an informal group of close friends, and it was nothing more.’(1.) Its name evokes a sunny place in the early Twentieth Century where friends discuss ideas, eat, drink and swim. The Grantchester Pottery is a fictional proposition. Its name shrouds the group in mysterious anonymity. The Grantchester Pottery is not a collection of ceramicists and they are not based in Grantchester. There is, as Giles, Phil and I found out, a potter in Grantchester already. In fact, if I had to root their work in one medium, I would say that The Grantchester Pottery is primarily concerned with painting.

 

The Grantchester Pottery take their form and structure, in part, from art historical precedents. They are not beholden to the past and do not in any way replicate it, or even treat it with much reverence, but certain ideas and movements have impacted on their thinking. From time to time The Grantchester Pottery borrow Omega Workshops’ title, ‘Artist Decorators’. Like Roger Fry’s Omega Workshops Ltd., the Grantchester Pottery’s work is concerned with removing the false division between the fine and decorative arts. Also like the Omega Workshops, The Grantchester Pottery makes work anonymously, the collective endeavour being more important than the individual voice. The fictional construction and the communal name allow the group to expand and contract, inviting and absorbing other people, their ideas and making.

 

Making and production, both practical and theoretical, form the defining structure of The Grantchester Pottery. The Ceramics Studio at Wysing where Giles and Phil began to talk and make work, sometimes with coffee, sometimes with wine, has become a conceptual and practical home. In 2012 Giles and Phil decorated the studio with murals, a gesture that simultaneously made an offering to the site from which The Grantchester Pottery arose and stated that the studio was the group’s conceptual home and practical base. Interestingly, Giles and Phil do not own the studio. In fact they do not formally own any studio space. In many ways their production processes are post-studio. They have a roaming practice that uses each site of display as a site for production.

The loving decoration of the ceramics studio, though, showed an investment in place that situated the studio as a social and productive meeting place in the mode of Charleston, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s home in Sussex or Red House (but with less laudanum). This activity added to the development of the group’s fictional narrative or creation myth. Red House, William Morris’ short-lived but much-loved home and base, was a collaborative effort in which furniture was used as the bearer of personal messages between friends. (2.) The architectural design for Red House was created by Morris and Philip Webb, and the interior was developed over time, by a number of Morris’ friends and peers on workday visits and holidays. One gets a sense of the growth of a shared vocabulary of references in The Grantchester Pottery’s work with conversations becoming embedded in objects, shapes and colours.

 

The production processes of The Grantchester Pottery sit somewhere between Memphis and Morris & Co. The importance of the handmade is obvious in their work. The ‘camaraderie and joyfulness in labour’, described as a key element in Morris’ vocation by Fiona MacCarthy in the current show ‘William Morris: Anarchy & Beauty’ at the National Portrait Gallery, is apparent in The Grantchester Pottery’s ceramics, painting and fabrics. (3.) The work is imperfect in a painterly, gestural way. The group could outsource all making to ensure the production of identical and symmetrical vessels, but they don’t. The process of learning and experiencing materials, of making together and with others is important to them. Like Morris they have set up a certain amount of facilities with which they can produce work. Other works are developed with specialist makers. They tell me that if they were to mass-produce an item they would be more interested in a narrative and concept than the finished, polished outcome.

 

Their approach is also akin to that of Californian artist Peter Shire or Memphis’ Etore Scottsass, who used glue in the making of ceramics and glass respectively as a way to ‘depart from… the hermetic milieu of specialized skill’. (4.) The imperfections and signs of production in The Grantchester Pottery’s works signal their methods and intentions. They demonstrate a relationship with the work and a conversation in the studio. Giles and Phil have spent time rolling clay, playing with and delighting in the alchemy of glazes and working out how raw canvas takes paint. They want you to see that. One of many ways in which they differ from Memphis is in their relationship to making. Etore Scottsass stated that Memphis designs could be machine-made, which although not strictly true (his Carlton sideboard is a good example of something that would be far too fiddly and complex for a machine) underscored the point that the ideology of craft revival was not at the heart of their thinking. (5.) (Having said this, I should also note that Memphis were in fact heavily reliant on the innovation of Italian fabrication and design.)

 

I am not claiming The Grantchester Pottery as craft revivalists. As I have noted, they are interested in corroding the line between the craftsperson/artisan/maker, the designer, the artist and the theorist. Their work is just as much about conceptual and theoretical making as it is about handling wood, paint and fabric. The group frequently work with others to fabricate certain work (including ice cream, clothing and a metal mural). It would be misleading to state that The Grantchester Pottery collaborate with every artisan and craftsperson who is involved in their production. Some, with whom they work closely, including graphic designers, weavers, artists and writers are acknowledged, while other relationships follow a more traditional contemporary art approach whereby works are fabricated by un-named expert makers. I do not want to get into a complex discussion of craft and the division of art and craft over the past 200 years here, but that is something I may explore in later texts.

 

The Grantchester Pottery take strong cues from these historical precedents but their work is not defined by the past. It is not nostalgic. It does acknowledge, but does not mimic its predecessors. It asks: what does it mean to employ these strategies now? How does this work with or against contemporary production, technologies and notions of the role and status of the artist, designer and maker? Why is there still such a division between the useful, the decorative and the conceptually-led? I do not wish to romanticise The Grantchester Pottery’s processes or history. Their work does not come from heroic gestures. It draws on a quietly subversive British history of modernist art and design. Its core is formed of shared activity and friendship. Other programmes, theorists, makers and artists are currently exploring this but what draws me to The Grantchester Pottery’s work is its grounding in a collaborative making process that enacts what it proposes and discusses.

 

This is what I know of The Grantchester Pottery. I know that Giles is an amazing cook who has a deep knowledge of modern art and design and that Phil listens to lectures while he is driving, has a pretty good understanding of European philosophy and doesn’t like Žižek. What I do not yet know is how they have worked to make their current exhibition, how they arrived at the stage set that they are developing or what the work will look and feel like. I do not know how the stage will be activated now that it is painted. But I hope I get to keep my top.

 

 

Image by Anna Arca

  1. David Gadd, The Loving Friends (London, 1974)
  2. National Portrait Gallery, William Morris: Anarchy & Beauty, Curated by Fiona MacCarthy
  3. National Portrait Gallery, William Morris: Anarchy & Beauty, Curated by Fiona MacCarthy
  4. Catharine Rossi, Making Memphis: ‘Glue Culture’ and Postmodern Production Strategies, Postmodernism: Style and Subversion, 1970-90 (London, 2011)
  5. Catharine Rossi, Making Memphis: ‘Glue Culture’ and Postmodern Production Strategies, Postmodernism: Style and Subversion, 1970-90 (London, 2011)

Suspicion Podcast

10 Dec

Here’s the finished podcast, featuring the voices of Dan Coombs, Alfred Hitchcock, Tippi  Hedren, and others.

What happens when a film behaves like a painting?
Can still images contain narratives?
Who is ‘the girl’?

 

Suspicion: a podcast-in-progress

4 Dec

I’ve been very quiet recently – in fact I haven’t said a word – about Suspicion, the current show at Jerwood Space. That’s not because I don’t have anything to say about it, am shirking responsibilities, or am more sinisterly indisposed (have been poisoned, for example…). I’ve decided to respond to the show with a podcast, and, in my experience, it takes a surprising amount of time to put a podcast together.

But a response to the exhibition is in the works, and is partly an attempt to capture, through sound, the foreboding atmosphere that many of the paintings share. The spine of the podcast will be an interview with the painter Dan Coombs, the curator of the show. I recently met Dan in the gallery, where we talked about painting, suspense, and Alfred Hitchcock, among many other things. As Dan explained to me, his idea for the show derived from a ten-second section of Hitchcock’s 1941 psychological thriller, in which the dashing playboy Johnnie Aysgarth (played by Cary Grant) ascends a mansion staircase carrying a glass of milk for his wife Linda McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine). Hitchcock had his special effects department light the glass from within, which lends the object an otherworldly quality. It’s unclear whether or not the milk has been poisoned – we never find out, but the possibility is there – and this ambiguity charges this short sequence with the intensity, visual and symbolic, of a painting.

The podcast should be online in the next few days. In the meantime, here are a few screenshots from the scene in question:

 

I’ll shut up about hands in a moment. But first…

23 Oct

Thanks to @matthewjmclean and @LizzieHom for (inadvertently, I’m sure) embroiling themselves in a mercifully brief but entertainingly awkward Twitter exchange with the author of these blog posts several days ago. I’m glad it happened, though: Matthew kindly recommended a number of recent articles that might otherwise have escaped my (inattentive, at times) attention. I’ll be drawing on some of those texts and images in the following post. And continuing in the open, generous spirit of ‘stealing other people’s research’, I’ll also be discussing a wonderful, and wonderfully understated, short film by Yvonne Rainer suggested to me by Kate Morrell following our recent email exchange.

 

The infinite eloquence of the Picardian Facepalm

 

I was excited (and a little humbled) to encounter Kerry Doran and Lizzie Homersham’s excellent piece ’Digital Handwork‘ in Rhizome, published several months prior my post, unbeknownst to myself, in which the authors explore the various manifestations of hands in digital art: labouring hands, sensory hands, human connections. Although my ignorance of their text no doubt demonstrates the fact that it’s always good practice to Google your subject prior to going public with an article, I consider this blog an unfolding project – I think I said so at the start – and, actually, it’s as cogent and wide-ranging an essay as one could hope for: ‘In all cases,’ the authors argue, ‘hands act upon viewers, detached from bodies yet still enacting desire.’ The piece demonstrates how the advent of digital networks, augmented realities and technological bodies (engaged in labour or leisure, performance or play) have not rendered biological hands – already a familiar art-historical motif – an anachronism. These appendages have, in fact, permeated the ‘framing of human life by digital technologies, as well as the shaping and subversion of these technologies by humans.’ Humans, yes… But also, for our purposes, bears.

 

Peter Ole Rasmussen, '4 Bears, 3 Standing, One Bending Down', oil on paper. Photography Benjamin Cosmo Westoby

 

Peter Ole Rasmussen’s work in the Jerwood Drawing Prize 2014 is the self-explanatorily titled ’4 Bears, 3 Standing, One Bending Down’. The ambiguity of the image – the slightly sinister aura of a clandestine congregation of muscular animal-men; the eyeless, inscrutable faces, one of which appears to have just this moment apprehended the viewer; the suggestion of stalled movement, of creatures paused in a journey east; the quivering outlines, the sketchily drawn and re-drawn lines – make the piece, for me, among the most intriguing in the exhibition. Some of the other drawings in the show – the works by Gary Edwards and Jonathan Huxley in particular – emphasise the gravity of carbon; the paper’s receptive surface warped beneath repeated applications of lead, the steady pressure of the artist’s hand. Rasmussen’s work in oil, by contrast, offers a more provisional vocabulary of gestures and marks, one which naturally extends to his depictions of (four-fingered) hands.

 

 

It would be hard to imagine these cartoonish hands fondling smart-screens to upload selfies or fling revengeful birds across cartoon terrains. Yet the ‘inaccuracy’ of Rasmussen’s bears’ hands, their protruding, balloonish chubbiness, points towards an obvious rift between the physical hand and the surface image, the digit and the digital. Fundamental to the development of Apple’s first ‘multi-touch glass display’ – the tactile screen that to a large extent defines the operation of iPhones and iPads – during the early 2000s was an acceptance of the fact that fingers are, by computational standards, massively inaccurate, and that any technology premised upon the encounter of fingertip and computer chip would need to be built from scratch (partly, one assumes, to secure a new patent on any such technology, and thus greater market share). Who wanted a stylus? Not Steve Jobs, for one – he could not countenance that fiddly mini-pen. Retiring the stylus was an elegant and necessary design choice, to be sure, but it presented Apple with a problem. Rather than modify an existing hard- and software, a whole new operating system had to be written; one built around the fact that fingers, in relation to pixels, are fat. On this point Jobs may have been inspired, but probably wasn’t, by the episode of The Simpsons in which Homer gains weight in order to work from home.

 

 

Homer Simpson’s fatness, like his low IQ, is a running joke. By conventional Western liberal standards, he is a ‘bad father’ – stupid, capricious, lazy, self-involved; a neglectful protector and scatterbrained disciplinarian – and therein lies his satiric potential. The fact that he’s a cartoon and not a real person means that his excessive corpulence to be exaggerated for grotesque effect, milked for parody: the ‘inaccuracy’ of his representation (yellow skin, bulging eyes) makes him, counterintuitively, a perfect vehicle for exacting observation.

I first saw Rasmussen’s drawing at the Jerwood Drawing Prize 2014 private view, a matter of days after attending the private view for Paul McCarthy’s current show at Hauser and Wirth. McCarthy himself was there – haggard of beard, wicked of grin, but sporting a beautiful pair of spectacles, he resembled a gin-swigging uncle made good – in a hot room thronged with the requisite quota of perma-tanned millionaires, chatting with the (immaculately attired, to my mind) curator H.U.O., and although I was not close enough to eavesdrop it was clear from his (Obrist’s) genuflecting body language that the work was being lavishly praised. Among the lurid paintings on display was one memorable piece in which a skinny nude woman with vivid, wound-red nipples and oversized head could be observed squirting a long brown streak of liquid faeces onto the eyeless, open-mouthed supplicant below, while, elsewhere in the image, yet more pink and eyeless creatures gave and received fellatio – for all its apparent dynamism,  it was a strangely numb-seeming debauch.

 

Paul McCarthy, WS, Dolce & Gabbana, 2014 Acrylic and collage on canvas mounted on board. Hauser & Wirth

 

McCarthy’s new works were vaguely fun in a deviant, Johnny Ryan-ish way, but they were not shocking; and without the shock, there was little interest. And so, as we finished the final millilitres of our complimentary beers (Becks, the labels loosening off the bottle with condensation), we moved into the final room, which was filled with drawings.

If McCarthy’s paintings presented the ‘headline act’ in all its predictable fullness – an excess that you predicted prior to seeing the works on show; an excess that fails because it fails to exceed your anticipation of it – then the drawings possessed a virtual quality inherent to the medium of the sketch: a form which by its nature is unable to produce a ‘finished’ work. Instead of the paintings’ wisecracks and punchlines, these drawings – messy, gestural, seemingly the product of a minutes-long tantrum – were less resolved, and thus more openly suggestive. The best of these works did not present pornography as pornography (McCarthy-the-painter’s modus operandi, it would appear) but hinted towards the grim rituals by which the body is rendered object, and abject, without asserting such contexts blatantly. Hands and other body parts were caught in tangled webs of scrawling lines, carbon swirls of malignant energy.

 

 

McCarthy’s pencil-drawn hands, like Rasmussen’s pencil-and-oil ones, have a sketchy quality that invites multiple readings. The subjects and subtexts that these artists explore are clearly worlds apart, but share a resemblance in terms of technique. Indeed, the best drawing in the McCarthy show – a drawing which I did not take a photo of, have been unable to track down online, and therefore cannot present here – contains a number of bear-like creatures huddled, if I remember, in a sinister group. In the absence of that particular piece, here (and above) is ‘Mad House Drawing 3′, a work from 2011 that wasn’t actually in the show. But it gives a general idea.

 

Paul McCarthy, Mad House Drawing 3, 2011 Pencil, charcoal on paper. Hauser & Wirth

 

Conceptually and visually, sketches have an open texture that leaves them open to dismissal – vulnerable to those who disregard ‘incomplete’ work; who like to see the labour on the page. It is equally possible to fetishise the sketch, its perpetual deferral of finality, its teasing refusal to close the circle. It’s only once you get up close to Rasmussen’s work that you notice that the darker, more immediate lines, rendered in black oil, are secondary to the delicate underlying pencil. The ‘double vision’ effect draws attention to the relative importance of pencil and oil in the hierarchy of artists’ materials. The pencil marks are swifter, lighter, less consequential. The ink retains a sense of quickness, but is certainly more considered, more final. Artists’ hands always speak through prosthetic extensions, tools which have social histories; tools which in turn create a sense of motion in the hand, the foot –

 

 

– and the head.

 

 

(I never got round to the Rainer film. I’ll save it for next time.)

Interview with Kate Morrell

8 Oct

Hands are not neutral appendages. They shape and alter what they touch, leaving residues of sweat, salt and DNA; expose the fragility of protected things; surround static objects with choreographies of encounter and display; reveal the continuity of material culture through time (in touching an ancient artefact, you are, in a sense, ‘touching the past’); suggest the presence, and absence, of gendered authority; and portray the human body in ambiguous relation to the things it seeks to possess and protect.

All of these resonances are at play in the work of Kate Morrell, a multi-disciplinary artist who produces books, sculptures, installations – and drawings. Throughout her work there is an emphasis on tactility, from the uncoated paper stock and risograph ink of ‘Alpine Spoilers‘, which emphasise the textural pleasures of handling books, to her ‘Stone Axes (Group II)‘, which with their scalloped ridges and handy sizes suggest an ancient ergonomics translated into contemporary materials.

Her piece selected for the Jerwood Drawing Prize 2014, ‘A.V.M, 1954, Screenshot 2013-12-10′, is one of the reasons I’ve chosen to pursue the theme of hands. The deep ambiguity of the image – this ghostly, black-clad figure emerging from the right of the frame to put down (or pick up?) what appears to be a fairly plain, unremarkable chunk of rock – invites multiple readings. This complexity or uncertainty of perception is underscored by the pointillistic technique the artist has used. Seen from across the room, the picture has a soft and hazy, almost underwater appearance; up close, however, the image resolves into billows and gusts of tiny black marks of extraordinary precision. These marks enhance the Giclée-printed image across which they move, but also suggest a newly mediated encounter with the source material, distorting what is brought to light. The nested histories the drawing contains – the ancient world of the artefact itself; the TV programme in which the object is displayed; and finally Kate’s present-day (for the time being) drawing  – are connected by the presence of hands: hands that sculpt, handle and draw.

I spoke to Kate via email.

 

'A.V.M, 1954, Screenshot 2013-12-10' by Kate Morrell, selected for Jerwood Drawing Prize 2014 (Original image by Benjamin Cosmo Westoby)

 

Firstly, I’d be interested in hearing how the A.V.M. drawing sequence came about. What drew you to the subject? Did it emerge from ongoing research, or a chance encounter?

The work is part of a series of four drawings which were made for the solo exhibition ‘Pots Before Words’ at Gallery II, University of Bradford. The project was the result of my research within the Jacquetta Hawkes Archive, which is held at Special Collections, University of Bradford. Hawkes (1910-1996) was a writer and archaeologist who played an important role in popularising archaeology through her writings and radio and TV appearances. Much of the work produced for my show focussed on Hawkes’ interest in prehistory, and her humanist approach to archaeology. There are images of the show on my website.

The screenshots are selected from early episodes of a BBC panel show produced around the 1950s. It was one of the first examples of archaeology within popular media and Hawkes was one of the few women to appear on the programme as an expert in her field. The programme featured a panel of male ‘experts’ and a female assistant, or object handler. Objects were displayed on a slow-turning circular display wheel. Through the process of logical thought, experts identified the objects for the audience. Other than her hands and wrists, the female assistant is never shown.

I was interested in the different ‘handlers’ within the show and their role in the production of object-meanings. I found the handling by the silent assistant quite compelling – particularly these performative (but un-choreographed) gestures for display and interpretation that were created.

In the series, three of the drawings feature the (female) assistant, and one drawing shows the (male) archaeologist reaching into shot, to remove the object from the display wheel for inspection. Only the male hand features in the Jerwood Drawing Prize 2014 exhibition. It’s a shame all four drawings were not able to be shown.

 

'Pots Before Words' installation, 4 drawings

 

It would be good to hear a little about the experience of making the drawing. How long does each drawing take, for example? What is it about this specific way of working that appeals to you?

The drawings are roughly A2 size. They are made with drawing ink and paintbrushes used for miniature painting. Each drawing took around 20 hours to complete. I used 7 paintbrushes to make the series – each one was eventually discarded once it begun to disrupt the uniformity of the lines. I might have achieved greater precision with a technical drawing pen, but I like the fact that brush and ink reveals evidence of the hand, and tools, used in the process.

I’m quite conscious of the time invested in drawings. In the previous blog post you talk about ‘the work of art as a vessel of invested time, the lasting relic of ephemeral gestures’, which I think resonates with this series too.

Are you interested in this relationship between tactility implied by the image of hands, and the tactility of drawing?

A few (fragmented) thoughts:

I think this tension between protection and possession, implied by object handlers in the drawings, is also reflected in the archaeological approach to excavation and collecting. Archaeologists aim to protect and preserve, but the act of excavation itself can be destructive. It’s interesting that people who care for archives are often called the ‘keepers’ of a collection.

In handling, objects become free from their fixed interpretations assigned within static museum displays. In the process of scientific interpretation, the knowledge of the past is undergoing continuous reconstruction. The repetitive drawing technique has a transformative quality. I wanted it to depict these object-meanings to be in a state of flux.

The brushes used to make the drawing indicates the microscopic, scientific lens and a transformation of matter under close scrutiny. Lithic drawing is used by archaeologists as a process for recording finds. When illustrating stone tools, the structure of the rock, including its tactile ripples and fractures, are documented using finely-drawn black lines. It’s thought to be one of the best ways to understand the method of its production (other than through flint knapping). I think it’s an interesting use of drawing within a scientific discipline – one that relies upon direct handling and re-interpreting.

 

Experimental Archaeology workshop, organised as part of a residency in 2011. These hands belong to flint knapper and re-enactor, Will Lord.

 

Page from 'History from the earth: An introduction to archaeology', J. Forde-Johnston, Book Club Associates, London

 

Alongside this idea of drawing as a kind of science, I wonder if you would consider your drawing sequence as a form of ‘interpretation’, another ‘layer’ in the histories of these objects?

Yes, drawing is used to add another layer to the interpretation of objects, although I didn’t want the new layer to feel fixed or definitive. Much of the original image remains under the shadow.

Is there a connection between the A.V.M. drawings and your earlier sculptural work ‘Flint’? The markings on the surface of this work are quite similar.

I began the ‘Flint’ series in 2010. The markings are quite similar, but they are applied to the surface of large pieces of flint stone. They both demonstrate the transforming quality of this repetitive drawing method. This additional layer of interpretation both overwhelms and enhances the original surface markings.

 

'Flint' by Kate Morrell (2010)

 

Do hands appear in your work more widely? 

I’m planning to make a new piece of work using a stone turntable I produced: ‘Lazy Susan: Portable Toolkit’. It’s a stone apparatus which functions as a portable, table-top display. I’m going to approach various archives and collections with the sculpture, in order to play host to a series of female archivists and archaeologists and the chosen artefacts of their profession. Objects will be re-animated by the hands of archaeologists, geologists and archivists and the object presentations will be filmed.

In this context, the Lazy Susan device is a counterpart to the potters wheel – on both surfaces, matter is re-modelled, displayed and performed.

Are you also drawn to more recent non-archaeological examples of ‘handling’ and display? I’m thinking in particular of infomercials and game shows, which often feature (silent) female assistants. 

The (mostly unintentional) humour of these outdated formats appeals to me. The lo-tech lazy susan device still makes appearances on these game shows too.

I also look out for instances within printed matter, although I don’t see many contemporary examples in print. Below is an image that I picked up at a car boot sale. It was part of a portfolio of advertising images by an unnamed photographer.

 

Schweppes advert, photographer unknown


On Hands

30 Sep

Maybe it’s an obvious thing to say, but when I think about drawing, I think about hands – hands as ‘authentic’ appendages, contraptions of tactility and communication, brutality and sensuality, through which we shape the world. Drawing suggests a progenitive link between maker and art object; a link embraced by some proponents of a conservative, craft-conscious art that stands in opposition to the realities of the contemporary art market, with its armies of underpaid interns and fetish for high-spec industrial sheens. But we could see it another way. In the mid-60s Allan Kaprow articulated the idea that painting might be considered as a record of a performance, rather than the eschatological terminus towards which all art-making must tend. In shifting emphasis from materiality to temporality – by figuring the work of art as a vessel of invested time, the lasting relic of ephemeral gestures – he suggested a different model of engagement with pictorial representation, in which all marks are unavoidably the record of their maker.

 

 

We like to watch Picasso draw because Picasso was ‘a genius’. Witnessing his body at work, his guiding hand, confirms the authorship of the mark, his mark, on the page. This romantic view of artistic production is reminiscent of divine paternity: the hand that reaches out to Adam, shaping him from dirt; the male maker’s hand as an echo of God’s. Picasso’s fluid and instinctual use of the charcoal (he doesn’t appear to be deciding which marks to make; they simply happen) also illustrates Heidegger’s notion of the ‘ready-to-hand’, which, to oversimplify, describes our practical relation to things that are ‘handy’ or useful.

 

 

And then there’s Matthew Barney, who twists the idea of drawing as an expression of bodily skill into a bizarre and self-regarding display in which the drawing (as in the noun, the art object) is the tortured product of an athletic overcoming of obstacles he built himself. Barney’s Drawing Restraint works are fundamentally silly, but their will to mastery illustrates an important etymological point. ‘Hand’, from the Old English ‘hond’: power, control, possession.

 

 

It would follow, then, that the loss of the hands means the loss of control. There’s a scene in the film version of Akira (1988) when we enter the mind of Tetsuo, the traumatised orphan struggling to deal with the onset of psychic powers. The world around him begins to crack and shatter, fissures shooting through the concrete like Lichtenberg Figures, but this is no ordinary earthquake. When the cracks invade Tetuso’s body (and by extension, his mind), the first things to go are his fingers, his hands, his wrists. Dissolving hands prefigure the dissolving self.

 

 

Dissolution isn’t always bad. Ben Lerner’s new novel 10:04 contains a passage in which the author compares two depictions of disappearing hands, and extrapolates from them a mediation on possible futures. He analyses Joan of Arc (1879), by the French naturalist painter Jules Bastien-Lepage, in which the future saint is shown haunted by angels, gazing towards her destiny as a martyr. (Lerner also wrote about the painting for frieze.) Bastien-Lepage was criticised at the time for his failure to reconcile the spiritual and concrete dimensions within the painting – the floating figures of transparent saints and the rural realism of the world in which they appear – but for Lerner this creates a ‘glitch in the pictorial matrix’: Joan’s searching fingers become transparent at the tips, intimating her future transformation, through death, into a saint. Lerner contrasts this with the scene in Back to the Future (1985) in which Marty disrupts the prehistory of his family, making his siblings fade from a family snapshot. Lerner deploys these images as symbols for the presence and absence of certain futures, and the hands motif neatly echoes the language of clocks: hands are how we measure time.

 

 

And there are hands that persist after the death, the collapse of an individual’s futures: uncannily active body parts, like Thing from the Addam’s Family, say, or the twitching, seemingly reanimated CGI hand that features in Heads May Roll (2014) by Benedict Drew, recently on show in Matt’s Gallery. HD technology allows us to extend the human image into screen-space, creating ambiguous forms of imagined embodiment that thrive in the ‘uncanny valley‘. Drew’s work harnesses fragmentation – bodily, but also formal – to make a point about the strange abjection/empowerment (virtual) images produce in relatation to (actual) bodies.

 

 

If hands suggest tactility between bodies and objects; they also symbolise wider forms of apprehension and communication. Drew’s hand is evocative of ancient, ghoulish tropes of Horror fiction, Frankenstein in particular (note the eerie green background of the image above, reminiscent of Hammer Horror lighting effects); they also suggest forms of embodiment beyond the cyberpunk dream of the human corpus infiltrated and enhanced by gadgets, nanotechnology, wires and nodes. At the end of Terminator II, the cyborg’s complete moral conversion, from murderous machine to surrogate father, is communicated his final, dying gesture as he is consumed by molten metal. The universal hand-signal of approval, affirmation, positivity and friendship constitutes the ludicrously poignant crux of the film, its non-verbal emotional payoff.

 

 

If hands can communicate the inner emotional truths we (or Arnold Schwarzenegger) can’t quite put into words, in the context of crime and punishment they more straightforwardly confirm our identity, and, by extension, guilt. Towards the end of Seven (1995), Kevin Spacey’s character John Doe walks into the police station of the unnamed city in a Christ-like pose of surrender, in broad daylight, wearing a white shirt splattered with blood. His arms are ribboned with red streaks; his fingertips are swaddled in surgical tape. Detectives Mills and Somerset have been hunting Doe for months, but have thus far been bamboozled by their failure to identify him by his fingerprints (Doe leaves plenty at the scene, but they aren’t on any databases). This is because he doesn’t have any: John Doe slices the skin off his fingers between every murder, and the skin grows back in different patterns each time. This small if brutal act of self-mutilation effectively renders him invisible in the eyes of the law.

These preliminary thoughts – most of which aren’t actually related to drawing at all – will frame later investigations into the works in this year’s Drawing Prize. In a few days I’ll be posting an interview with Kate Morell, whose drawing A.V.M. 1954 screenshot 2013-12-10 (3) confronts the politics of touching and display in relation to archaeological objects.

In the meantime, here’s the customary cringe-inducing, mildly funny, tangentially related YouTube clip. (This is the internet, after all.)

 

Drawing it Out

16 Sep

The 20th annual Jerwood Drawing Prize opens later tonight. It’s the first exhibition I’ll be covering as Writer in Residence and I’m looking forward to looking at, and writing about, the work. But before we begin, a confession. I’m not a big fan of drawing.

Perhaps I should clarify. I don’t have anything against individual artists who draw, much less against drawings themselves, but the idea of drawing as a discipline – Drawing with a capital D, an institutionalised medium – makes me slightly suspicious. Traditionally the qualitative judgements in drawing are premised on verisimilitude, on the level of accuracy attained by visual facsimiles of real-world things. There’s an attendant perception of drawing as an authentic craft, something that sorts the wheat from the chaff, a litmus test of artistic skill. But skill is a boring concept. Its relevance evaporates at the horizon of capability: some people have it, others simply don’t. I also feel uneasy about reinforcing the idea of drawing as a politically ignorant medium, a species of formal purism that tends to overlook its own commodity status while producing highly desirable, decorative objects. Drawings are small and transportable; they are easy to frame and sell. Commercial gallerists love them. So does the general public: the Drawing Prize is Jerwood’s best-attended annual exhibition.

I do not air these prejudices in order to mount a pre-emptive critique of the exhibition I’ll be writing about over the coming weeks, but merely to assert a position I can’t really defend in the first place and which I hope will grow and alter over that time. It is apparent to me, though, that drawing qua drawing – a medium ring-fenced from the myriad of interchangeable genres and modes contemporary artists operate through, from sculpture to film to tumblr feeds – has an anachronistic flavour in the context of contemporary art, at odds with the post-discipline, post-internet, post-everything zeitgeist. But this may be precisely where the strength of drawing lies: its outsiderness to current forms, construed as a form of freedom. And judging from a brief glimpse at the work on display from this evening onwards, ‘drawing’ comprises a great variety of mediums, subjects approaches and tones.

You can find out a little about myself and my work at my website. Over the coming weeks I’ll talk to various artists, attempt to decipher out the narratives encoded in individual works, and think about the show as a whole, as a collective entity. I’ll also consider what place drawing has, or might have, in the wider framework of artistic and economic conditions that currently surround the Prize. Hopefully, I can lay some unexamined assumptions to rest by doing so.

One final thing: the image above. I haven’t yet worked out how to caption jpegs on this blog yet, so I’ll have to include a credit here. Plan B by Lexi Strauss. Acrylic on paper. Photography: Benjamin Cosmo Westoby

Conversations with April

30 Aug

Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen’s work sits between art and design; advanced technology and engineering. Their ongoing investigation into materials, and the political systems in which they exist, result in works that question use, value, and our increasingly symbiotic interdependence with the world of technology. In their studio, we discussed their new commission for Jerwood Visual Arts, ‘Giving More to Gain More‘ (2014), a series of LED sculptures that emit words and phrases taken from email conversations with the manufacturers of the lights, based in China. The result is a manufacturing ‘pidgin’ language; odd, a little eerie, crossing cultural and geographical divides, but linked by a strange specificity.

Giving More to Gain More (2013)

Giving More to Gain More (2013)

 

Basia: This piece seems quite different to your previous works. 

Revital: For us it’s always a natural progression from the other works – I’m interested to hear why you think it’s different?

Basia: Perhaps because of the focus on language and text, and the vernacular of manufacturing, rather than the process itself. What seems to be thematic in your work is the transportation of objects or materials out of their ‘usual’ habitats, and representing them way that alters our understanding of their use, or presence in our lives. This focus on language is more ambiguous in terms of use and value. 

Revital: This language came out of a previous work, called ‘75 Watt‘ (2013), and another, a wolf in a forest – ‘Nowhere a Shadow‘ (2013). We ordered all these LED lights for those projects, but there was something peculiar about the language of manufacturing, which we increasingly found fascinating.

Tuur: Our main focus is on materials and production. And that’s very broad. We made a piece with a pigeon – ‘Pigeon D’or‘ (2011) [a bacteria that makes pigeons defecate soap] – which was very much about biology as a material, but also the cultural, political and ethical consequences of using biology as such, in the context of mass manufacturing, but also in terms of synthetic biology.

In this instance, it was the language of production that intrigued us, and when we as artists think about these processes, we don’t think of them as purely technical. We consider them as cultural and political processes too. In ’75 Watt’, we were intrigued by the product being made, but as much by the bodies on the assembly line, too. It goes back to Frederick Winslow Taylor and the ‘efficient movement’, and time-motion studies by the Gilbreths.

At the time, we were doing a lot of work in China, and often via platforms like Alibaba.com, which are very much contemporary platforms for global mass manufacture. It struck us that this language that emerges is a pidgin language. We saw this piece as a way of reflecting on the ideas of what ‘making’ might still mean as an artist where outsourcing has become a process of making art.

 

Alibaba.com

 

Revital: It’s a reality of our work, because we use so many technological materials – they all come from China. I mean, you can get anything there. So many things are impossible to find here, but one email through Alibaba.com and 20 people want to talk to you about LEDs. There were also so many conversations around the materials themselves, which have such a specific nature. Descriptions of light, specifications, colours, letters and numbers and specs – super technical things. The only way to get these materials is to go through these conversations. That’s our manufacturing reality at this moment.

Basia: Is it related to a language (if you can call it that) like spam? A pragmatic language that occurs at the intersection between people and technology? Standing in front of your installation, the words and terms change according to where you position yourself, your body mediates the communicative element of the technology. 

Tuur: It’s a nice analogy. It definitely has many parallels. These words do go through a natural process of filtering – the people optimise their way of talking to you, in trying to get you to buy something.

Revital: Although with spam you have the sense you are just 1 in a million of copy-and-pastes, whereas here it so quickly it becomes a personal conversation.

Tuur: Yes, spam in its algorithmic nature is not like this. All the words displayed in Jerwood Visual Arts are taken from conversations we’ve had with the manufacturers of the LED lights they are displayed in. These were from April, that was her name. Obviously these are just snippets of longer emails, which we were considering to display in the gallery, but we chose not to.

Basia: They feel abstract, in a way in a word game can be – there’s a playfulness to them. Where language is usually clear to those fluent in it, words immediately recognisable, here there are long periods of not-knowing, as the words shift and reassemble. Is this also significant in the context of the cross-cultural conversations being had,  typical of many manufacturing exchanges between China and elsewhere?

Tuur: Another thing I was thinking of, when you mentioned technology and spam, is that it might well be that some of these conversations have been automatically translated, through Google or something else. A few years ago we made a work inspired by Turing, and how he defined artificial intelligence, and how central language is to our definition of humanness and human intelligence as opposed to a machinic knowledge. We made something like a music video, where we took lyrics from ‘Yesterday’ by The Beatles, and passed it multiple times through online translators, eventually back to English. In the end, we got this strange, new, poetic computer understanding of language.

‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Beatles?’ (2007)
Video, sound , 04 minutes 54 seconds

Revital: With this work, we were really interested in Alibaba.com, and this marketplace. Before the website entered our lives, we always wanted to see materials. The ideal is to go to a shop, to see and touch, and think with the material in your hand. But if you want to work with more technological materials, then it’s just not possible. So, you have to put your trust in Alibaba.com. You are never quite sure if it’s reliable, but once it becomes a part of your life, it’s like an Aladdin’s cave of materials. Everything, everything.

Basia: So it’s a portal into an infinite market place, and I wonder about the ethical dimensions of this. What is the consequence of this unfettered, unlimited access to materials? And I think this relates to a wider question about the consequence of China’s position as exporter to the world.

Tuur: If you go to Guangzhou or Shenzhen, to these electronic markets, they’re so vast. Physically having been there, it helps to understand how it is possible that there are thousands of companies manufacturing every little thing, producing masses and masses of it.

Revital: It’s probably not going to last there. It’s already moving towards Vietnam and Cambodia, and the ethical implications of that are very interesting. I wouldn’t say we have a direct answer, but that’s why we are so fascinated in working there, and working in that context.

Tuur: I think in terms of the ethics, the first thing that we have to acknowledge is that however much we think that something is ethically complex, we will always be implicated within it. What we’re trying to do with the work is partly to explore this ethical dimension, but always to start with the acknowledgement that we’re part of the process. In the piece we’re presenting at Jerwood Visual Arts, there’s an interesting reversal. We did a crazy amount of hand-work on the pieces, welding them all together, and then soldering them. In some ways, it’s the opposite: the instructions came from China, and we did all the manual labour.

Revital: But we also put work into illuminating these sentences from a young Chinese girl working in a factory, we wanted to giver her presence. She’s not just an anonymous service provider.

Tuur: When it comes to these ethical questions, and especially biology as a material, in the context of industrial production, I think these ethical implications are very profound. For example, in ’75 Watt’ we wanted to represent contemporary factories in China, in which actually labour conditions are very reasonable (although of course it’s very difficult for me to comment on that). But we didn’t want to find a sweatshop, where people sit on the floor. Although they exist. Because that would have made the work very different, and perhaps less interesting. It’s important to keep the ambiguity at an ethical level, because it’s there that we as artists keep on working and looking, walking that path.

Basia: Could you talk about how this work fits into the broader trajectory of your practice?

Revital: It feels like each project gives birth to the other (with many links). And they come together in a few different routes, which for us make perfect sense. With this commission, we wanted to pursue this language because of our earlier work with the translations of ‘Yesterday’. It’s been cooking for a while. But it is also relevant to the work we made where we assembled various technological objects and removed all the minerals from them, casting them back into a mineral form. It’s about taking apart an industrial, electronic product and exploding it, exploring the people who assemble it, the minerals that allow it to be, the places through which it comes.

H / AlCuTaAu (2014)

 

Tuur: It’s about seeing the systems that underly these modes of production as political. ’75 Watt’ came out of a quote from a handbook of mechanical engineering, which says that an average labourer on an average day can produce 75 watts, average. What we liked about that was the tension between biology and technology, a tension between the biological body on the assembly line, that can not be quantified and characterised, and cannot be understood by the same logic of engineering which it’s really relying on, the quantification, characterisation, standardisation. It cannot fit within this larger system of production. The pigeons are similar – synthetic biology is a branch of technology and science, and the people we were working with had the same sort of ideals – to standardise and characterise biology to form part of a more reliable system. That, somewhere down the line, is a capitalist system. So, these political systems are underlying modes of production, with regards to biology and technology, whether at the scale of the human body or the assembly line, or bacterial production, or urban ecologies.

 

75 Watt (2013)

 

Revital: It’s about exploring the system of manufacturing when the engineering logic is removed. When there isn’t a clear use value or end point.

Hi-low tech: Shelley James, Platonic solids and quasi-crystallography

26 Aug

Let no one ignorant of Mathematics enter here.  

or

Let no one destitute of geometry enter my doors.

(Variations of the sign that hung above Plato’s academy)

In August, I met with Shelley James and, in the prismatic glow of her contribution to the Jerwood Makers Open 2014, we talked about her ongoing exploration into Platonic solids, Euclidian geometry, quasicrystalline structures and visual perception.

Physical forms, for James, are dense, layered, complex things suspended within a wider, less visible or knowable world. Linking philosophies of form and spirit via intensive technical processes, her shapes, installed in Jerwood Visual Arts, are deeply contemplative and beguiling. What follows is an edited transcript of our exchange, with additional links, images, footnotes and further materials for thought.

 

How did these shapes evolve? 

My research at the RCA was on visual perception, and the ways in which the brain processes information from the eyes in order to understand space. This led to my exploration of how to suspend structures within glass. I wanted to create a special trick with the eyes, because with this medium you can find patterns and structures that are apparently floating, or you can replicate one set of patterns to appear as if their facets are multiplying – the optical and material qualities of the glass can be manipulated to create a confusion in the brain. And so I developed various techniques for doing this.

I realised that in order for this to operate really strongly, the patterns needed to be perfectly regular. Otherwise you shortcut that illusion and simply make a narrative. I developed a technique for layering very precise patterns within the glass, which involved working with a glass blower, but I also used classic printmaking tools, for example an Intaglio technique – where you cut away at a material. Together we worked out how to build up layers with these pocketed parts of air inside each one.

Elemental Symmetries, 2014

 

Elemental Symmetries, 2014

 

If you look at the forms closely, you can see there’s an embryo, then another layer, and then the next layer has some printed effects on it, so it’s mixing additive and subtractive techniques together.

In the past, I’ve mostly worked with curved surfaces, and I’ve spent a lot of time observing how they create a ripple and magnification effect. Here, I wanted to deal with patterns and archetypal forms but also the metaphysical, metaphorical, philosophical side of such forms. It’s about the essential, about our experience of the world. I developed another technique to cut them in to perfect shapes – slicing them from a cylinder into something else. I worked from an old book on geometry, which gave me the angles between the Platonic solids. They are sort of the ideal sculpture, because they look so beautiful from all ends.

Platonic multiplications

So their combinations with themselves and with each other give rise to endless complexities, which anyone who is to give a likely account of reality must survey.
The Timaeus, Plato

Using a milling machine and a CAD programme, I ensured that all the forms were facially regular, and then I used the same technique they’ve used since Egyptian times to smooth each piece of glass using grit. You rub the glass over the grit and it slowly wears away, gradually using a finer and finer grit until you graduate to a pumice wheel, to perfectly smooth the surfaces.

How do you see them?

I suppose what was paradoxical about making them was that although they are very technical and time-intensive, each one actually relates to one of the elements, and so I spent a great deal of time thinking about that, too.

This one, the dodecahedron is aether, the divine; this one is an icosahedron, and these are water, fire, air, earth [pointing to each shape]. I found as I made each one, I kept thinking about these elemental qualities as well. They started to have a strong emotional resonance, more than just a technical quality. My hope is that they transcend their material, technical presence to offer some way of thinking about other dimensions of our experience. That’s why I like working with print and materials, because at worst, they need to be well made. But if they transcend to something else, then that’s fantastic.

The knowledge of which geometry aims is the knowledge of the eternal. 
—Republic, VII, 52.

And why is a dodecahedron aether? What is the relationship between the geometry and metaphysics?

Plato and some of the other Greek philosophers were trying to work out the distinction between what they could see, and what lies behind or beneath the visible. They understood that there must be more than what we can visually obtain in the world. They were trying to get to the essence of what we were seeing and perceiving, and they felt that by looking closer at forms, and phenomena around them, they could identify particular shapes which had a philosophical and material resonance with what they were observing.

Plato’s idea was that our view of what we see is like a sheet, thrown over some divine reality which is just beyond our gross mortal ability to see things. A sheet thrown over a rich, fabulous, extraordinary world, and all you see are these shapes poking out. These Platonic solids are as close we can be to seeing behind that sheet. They described the elements via different shapes: a cube is solid, it has an up and a down, cardinal points. An octahedron is air, and it has a kind of forward motion, it has a movement to it. Fire is pointy, fire creates prismatic effects, it’s sharp. Others are mobile.

[Plato wrote most about the solids in Timaeus (c.360 BC). Earth, a cube. Air, an octahedron. Fire, a tetrahedron and water, an icosahedron. According to various sources, these related to the sensations or visual phenomena of the matter itself. For example: the burning heat of fire is sharp, like tetrahedra. Or, the flowing form of an icosahedron, which pours and tumbles, fluid-like.

Of the fifth solid, aether, Plato wrote:

that ..the god used for arranging the constellations on the whole heaven.]

They began to question: why is it that the stars stay up there? Or, where do we go when we die? What is beyond this realm? They looked at starfish, hands, and deduced a five-fold logic from these forms. It’s related to a five-fold symmetry – celestial. I was reading about those metaphysical, poetic qualities, and so I found myself investing some of these qualities in the work as I developed them.

The way that they play and manipulate the light makes them appear  form-less. It’s not that they are visual tricks, but our understanding of the space inside the shape is unsure and full of doubt. They are malleable, according to where you stand in relation to them. And that’s perhaps the essence of these metaphysical elements: you’re never quite sure of what is in front of you, and your position to these things is always changing and mutating. 

Precisely. It’s about trying to express that fragile equilibrium. I used microscope lamps to display them, and I wanted to think about how the presentation reflects this wider chain of fragility.

Is this part of a wider series?

The Jerwood Visual Arts commission allowed me to delve into this properly for the first time. I had been working with a crystallographer on symmetry, but inside curved forms, because they give all sorts of rippling uncertainties, depending on scale and position. This funding allowed me to explore new territory. This was the first time I’d made anything like this.

How might you develop this way of working in the future? 

I’m hoping to depart from Euclidian geometry, where the forms are confined in the world of fractions and angles from Greek geometry. I’d like to explore the next generation of math and crystals, quasi-crystollography. They’ve just discovered it thanks to new technology, and there’s a subtle variation of the five-fold shape called a quasi-crystal, for which Dan Schechtman received the Nobel Prize for his discovery in 2011. It’s looking at irrational numbers, which never repeat again in infinity. They have a whole mystery and mythology about them.

Electron diffraction pattern of an icosahedral Ho-Mg-Zn quasicrystal

[The notion of an 'aperiodic crystal' – a form that is irregular, or without translational symmetry, was first explored by Schrödinger in What is Life? (1944).]

 

What I’ve been surprised by is that expressing geometry like this triggers a poetic response. I am wondering – and its never been done before – what happens when we put this new kind of geometry into optical forms. We don’t know what we’re going to get yet.