Common Property 1: SUPERFLEX and Tristram Shandy

3 Feb

by Tom Overton

Jerwood Encounters: Common Property is an exhibition about contemporary artists and copyright curated by Hannah Pierce. While it’s installed in the Jerwood Space on Union Street, London (15 January – 21 February 2016), I’m going to use this blog to publish a series of three interconnected essays about One Direction, magic eye pictures, Marcel Duchamp, John Berger, Kirill Medvedev, Alexander Pope, and how copyright law and creativity have been intertwined for at least the last 300 years. This is the first.

I’m writing this on a stackable chair with four steel legs. The wood-veneer seat is of one, curved piece with the back, and there are symmetrical cutaways roughly where my hips are. Something very like it – Arne Jacobsen’s 1952 ‘Ant chair’ – costs £296 from the Danish furniture company who own the design. If the one I’m sat on were worth anywhere near that, the previous tenants of my flat wouldn’t have left it behind. The differently shaped, less severe cutaways allow it to have most of the functionality of Jacobsen’s design without infringing upon his intellectual property. Copy Right, a 2006 piece by the Danish artists’ collective SUPERFLEX which features in Common Property, takes on this precise story by sawing the silhouettes of similar chairs back down to something close to an Ant Chair. The sawdust and excess wood sit on the floor just below; giving a physical, and appropriately messy form to the concept of ‘intellectual property’. In a few grams of otherwise worthless material, it represents the grounds for what could be an extremely expensive law suit.

SUPERFLEX, Copyright (2006). Photograph by Hydar Dewachi (http://www.hydardewachi.com/)

SUPERFLEX, Copy Right, 2006. Photograph by Hydar Dewachi (http://www.hydardewachi.com/)

The work pinpoints the almost metaphysical question at the core of copyright: even if you pay your £296, you own a chair, but not the right to reproduce it. There is a clear separation of idea and object at work here. Interestingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the Washington State University page on plagiarism connects the philosophy of René Descartes (1596–1650) – and his  famous assertion ‘I think therefore I am’ – directly to the development of intellectual property legislation.

Whether or not there’s anything in that, the laws which govern SUPERFLEX’s activity began to take shape in the century after Descartes’ death, as a way of responding to the copying abilities of the printing press. The British Government’s 1710 ‘Statute of Anne’ is generally recognised as the first real piece of copyright legislation. Visual artists like William Hogarth (1697 – 1764) were demanding greater commercial control over their images; a law was passed in 1735 in response.

As I’ll explore in later posts, Common Property is partly about artists responding to digital reproduction by blurring the boundaries between artistic and legal creativity. Centuries before, mechanical reproduction stimulated the same energy and cunning.

In a delightfully grubby episode entirely of his own engineering, the poet Alexander Pope (1688–1744) anonymously released a cache of his letters to the publisher Edmund Curll (d. 1747), a long-standing adversary who was soliciting material for a pirated Pope biography; Curll ‘took the bait’[1] and published them in 1735. Pope’s hand now appeared forced into publishing a ‘correct’ edition of his own letters. By 1737, an undeterred Curll had published five volumes of Pope’s correspondence from a Covent Garden shop that used the poet’s head as a sign.[2] When he published Dean Swift’s Literary Correspondence in 1741, a volume including letters between Pope and Jonathan Swift, Pope took him to court, claiming rights over both those he’d sent and those he’d received. According to the academic Mark Rose, Lord Chancellor Hardwicke’s decision marked ‘an important moment in the production of the concept of intellectual property […] in the court’s response, the essentially immaterial nature of the object of copyright was born’:[3]

It is only a special property in the receiver, possibly the paper may belong to him; but this does not give a licence to any person whatsoever to publish them to the world, for at most the receiver only has a joint property with the writer.[4]

As the academic Tim Padfield points out, Lawrence Sterne put it more concisely in Tristram Shandy (1760–7): ‘the sweat of a man’s brows and the exsudations of a man’s brains, are as much a man’s own property, as the breeches upon his backside’.[5]

Now we’re back on the subject of seating, SUPERFLEX made Copy Right as a continuation of the themes of another 2006 work, Guaraná Power. This work was made for the Sao Paulo Biennial, but barred at the last minute at the insistence of the multinational drinks company whose copyright it infringed. SUPERFLEX’s web page incorporates the story into the work by obscuring brand names with black rectangles. It’s the aesthetics of censorship we associate with a twentieth-century state at war, put in service of fizzy pop. The intention had been to work in collaboration with the farmers of guaraná, the energy drink ingredient, to highlight how manufacturers were increasing their profits while reducing what they paid the farmers. If eighteenth-century poets or painters needed to be supported as the originators of works which then went through various technological processes as it is mass-produced into the market, aren’t guaraná farmers the originators of the drink in which their produce is the active ingredient? That’s clearly not how it works. The deciding factor seems to be what part of the process we decide to value more, and for what reasons. It’s an issue I’ll try explore in my next post in relation to Owen G. Parry’s work in the exhibition, which draws on the relationship the band One Direction have with their fans.

SUPERFLEX, Copyright (2006). Photograph by Hydar Dewachi (http://www.hydardewachi.com/)

SUPERFLEX, Copy Right, 2006. Photograph by Hydar Dewachi (http://www.hydardewachi.com/)

[1] Howard Erskine-Hill, ‘Pope, Alexander (1688–1744)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008) <http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/22526> [accessed 17 August 2011].

[2] Raymond N. MacKenzie, ‘Curll, Edmund (d. 1747)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008) <http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/22526> [accessed 17 August 2011].

[3] Mark Rose, ‘The Author in Court: Pope v. Curll (1741)’, Cultural Critique, 21 (1992), 197– 217 (p. 198).

[4] PRO C11/1569/29, cit. Irene Tucker, ‘Writing Home: Evelina, the Epistolary Novel and the Paradox of Property’, ELH, 60 (Summer, 1993), 419–39 (p. 419).

[5] Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman [1760-7], ed. by Ian Campbell Moss (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 177.

Matthew Finn: ‘Mother’, the family home and photography

16 Dec

This interview is the last of my blog posts relating to the Jerwood/Photoworks Awards 2015.* It was conducted over email and edited to develop some of the themes of my first post on ‘Mother’, 1987-present, a long duration series of photos depicting Finn’s mother Jean in the context of the family home they shared until her health, deteriorating since 2014, called for her to move into an assisted living residence.

Matthew Finn, Untitled, from the series 'Mother', 1987-Present, 2015

Matthew Finn, Untitled, from the series ‘Mother’, 1987-Present, 2015


Lizzie Homersham:
I have almost the inverse relationship to my mother, my family home and photography: I lived away from home during my degree, returning to stay with my newly single mum immediately after graduation, aged twenty-three. The home I grew up in was no longer my parents’, or family home; my mum asked my dad to move out in the final year of my studies, when she found out about the latest in a twenty-five-year-long string of denied until they became undeniable affairs. My sister, three years older than me, had left home at the age of eighteen. So it was just my mum and I, driving each other mad with circular conversations regarding my ability to find paid work and move out and her capacity to understand my father. I remember her questioning his yet to be expressed interest in the family photo albums. The atmosphere was suffocating, and tearful until a friend, the photographer Esther Teichmann, whose photography has also captured members of her family, came to the rescue: she invited me to share her flat for an undefined period, at no charge until I got myself on my feet – she knew I’d be better off in London when it came to finding work. I want to ask you how easy or difficult you found sharing a home with your mother, and did the camera play a part in facilitating your relationship?

Matthew Finn: It was easy; my mother protected me from many of the difficult episodes that she had to deal with, especially issues around my father. It was not until his death when I was twenty-one that I began to get an idea of how much of a complex man he was and how much my family had protected me. Or if you look at it another way, how much they kept hidden from me! I was given time and money to experiment with photography even when money was in short supply. I could come and go as I pleased and eventually went off to college but came back most weekends to photograph and get my washing done and have a proper cooked meal. My mother and I were not the type of family to talk about our problems and emotions, except when she was drinking – at that point I could never get a word in. Photography gave me my mother back: the more I photographed her, the more she gave me her time. It helped our relationship in so many ways; in fact memories only occasionally surface as to what family life was like before the project started.

LH: How do the photos that you have taken of your family, especially your mother, compare with any pre-existing photos taken by other people?

MF: Initially they were very similar, partly due to the camera I used, an old Polaroid with the flash bulbs mounted on top. The subject matter also mimicked the family snaps seen in most of the albums of days out with my mother and my aunties and cousins. But once I’d made the decision to concentrate on my mother using the home as a backdrop, then my photos attained a style of their own. I arrived at this decision by looking at photography at art school, spending time looking at the work of other photographers. It was through that period of study that I developed certain formal arrangements and the isolation of my mother within the frame.

LH: Was the final photo of the series included in the exhibition at Jerwood Visual Arts? And did you intend to give a sense of an ending in those photos I guessed might be the last?

MF: The last image I’ve taken is in the show but the series may not yet be complete. It’s a first and a last image in one; the first photo taken in my mother’s new environment of the nursing home also represents the end – the end of our relationship, the end of being able to communicate with one another. I wanted to give the audience a sudden jolt, a real sense of the decline in my mother’s physical appearance. I am happy to include the images that show mental and physical change and maybe it is time to say goodbye.

LH: During the talk held at Jerwood on 23 November, you said that dissatisfaction with your work is the thing that keeps you going; you tell yourself the next project will be better. Could you talk about which aspects of ‘Mother’ you feel dissatisfied by, and where you might go next?

MF: I only know that my work is good because I have been told that it is by people who have seen it. But what am I to do from there? Only the maker of the work can find a way to move forward. I’ve never been happy with the images in ‘Mother’ but as I started putting them into order they began to make sense. And the conversation I had with my mother when she was still well, regarding the work that she liked, just had to be enough. For a long time, I didn’t know how to stop but after the death of her brother Des in 2014 and the decline of her health that coincided with his passing, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to improve the series by adding to it. I could see that my mother no longer needed to be photographed; she needed to be looked after. So I started paying her bills, sorting out issues with her home, doing the food shopping and ordering the tablets she was prescribed. The need to find my mother a smaller, ground floor flat to live in had to take precedence over my need to make images. Before the circumstances demanded that I stop, I didn’t know how to, partly because my photography was allowing my mother and I to talk and spend time together. Working on projects of a personal nature can be a godsend insofar as there is no one telling you when they need the work by. The downside is that things can spiral out of control. I knew from an early stage that ‘Mother’ had to be much more than just a few images, and that the series had to be made over a number of years. In the late 1980s, I was looking at other artists who worked over longer periods of time: Nan Goldin, Nicholas Nixon, Emmet Gowin and Bernd and Hilla Becher. I still need to find a voice for my other long-term body of work ‘Uncle’, which involved photographing Des over a twenty-five year period. But my next work will be a yearlong project on rugby players in Hull. I was brought up on rugby league and in some ways it brings me closer to family members who have passed away. I just hope it does only take a year and not another quarter century.

LH: About how many photos did you take in total while working on ‘Mother’, and can you describe how you went about the process of editing the larger body of work for the Jerwood/Photoworks Awards 2015 show?

MF: I can’t say for certain but looking at the boxes the negatives are housed in, there are about 1,500 rolls of Ilford film, so over 50,000 negatives. Editing is always a difficult and lengthy process. It helped to know which spaces the work would be shown in, and I was assisted by the group of mentors I was assigned as part of the Award. I showed larger edits to these mentors, which was useful as well as complicated because when you show your work to many other people they each have a tendency to take the work down routes that they themselves have an interest in. I took small amounts of advice from all of the mentors and from the staff at Jerwood Visual Arts and Photoworks. The final edit you saw on the wall was a collaboration of ideas, as well as the product of practical decisions made within space and budget restrictions. Interestingly, the more easily read images made the edit, whilst my more complex images involving shadows and surrealism (my personal favourites) did not. In future, I would like to try showing my larger edit, which presently stands at about 200 photos.

LH: I visited your website and have seen other images of your mother in colour. Why exclusively, except for the image featuring a photo on a windowsill, exhibit black and white photography at Jerwood Visual Arts?

MF: Because I hadn’t shown the work before I think I wanted continuity, and the majority of my work is in black and white so it’s also more representative of what I do. The single colour image breaks that continuity, and the continuity of me as the photographer; the picture on the windowsill is one that was taken of my mother many years before I was born.

LH: I’d love to hear more about the ways in which Jean’s awareness of her self-image, which increased the more she was photographed for the series, led to her playing a decisive role in your representation of her.

MF: Once I’d decided only to make images within the home, and on a daily basis, the terms of representation were set. We wanted to make a document rather than construct a character through costume and props in the manner of say Cindy Sherman. The visual material was plentiful, though simply inspired by our daily routines and the objects found in the spaces my mother had put them in over the years. Over time, my mother’s understanding of her image became very apparent. She started to arrange me, telling me where to stand, telling me how close I could go in with the lens and at which angle she was happy to be photographed. In a sense, my mother played the part of director and I was simply the technician pressing the button. When I look back at pictures of my mother from the 1960s it is obvious that she understood how to pose and what to wear. She had many lovely images of herself taken in photographic studios when she was younger, and later she was happy to pose for me in a domestic setting and just be herself.

LH: I wonder whether your anxiety around showing photos of a highly personal nature has been deepened by the prevailing attitudes in the world of photography and photographic discourse?

MF: It has to do with timing I think. I’ve long been asking myself: will the photography world want these images and how will they respond to them? Ten years ago there did not seem to be much appetite for work like mine, especially in photographic discourse. But that has changed as the wider discussions on age and mental health have broken into the mainstream, leading to a better reception of projects like mine. I did show the work to several people about eight years ago and got nothing from the exchange. As a result I kept on making more work but with no real need or desire to show it. I kept it buried. It was only after a conversation with my mother about how we would feel about losing control of the work, if and when it was released, that I realised we were happy to take that risk. I then started showing the work to those I felt would be responsive individuals. They were mainly women: besides my mother, Carol Hudson is a photographer and friend and she offers incredible insights into my work and its possible position within the photographic canon. She is a fierce critic who makes you think about every element of the work. Bridget Coaker from the Guardian offers different insights regarding the photographic market and pays incredible attention to detail in editing. I owe them both a lot and I owe a huge amount to my wife who drives me forward and allows me the time I need to continue working in this medium.

*I will return in March and April to write about the Jerwood/FVU Awards 2016: ‘Borrowed Time’, featuring work by Karen Kramer and Alice May Williams.

The Unseen

12 Dec

As a small child, like many small children, I was afraid of the dark and going to bed would involve a dilemma. To avoid going to sleep surrounded by pitch black (the fear, I think, had to do with not being able to distinguish visually between the state of having my eyes closed or open) I would have to leave my door ajar to let in some light from the hall. And yet, lying in bed, I couldn’t help focusing on the vertical gap between the edge of the door and its frame, mentally conjuring all the things that might be just out of sight – witches ready to slip through the slit as soon as my eyelids fell. The hallway light would also let dramatic shadows leap onto the wall above my bookcase: I remember soft toys turning into looming mutant Donnie Darko-esque forms. Or, on one occasion, waking up in the middle of the night to see a shiny foil helium balloon, left in my room by my dad returning home when I was already asleep, transformed into a towering human figure made doubly terrifying by its reflection in the mirror at the foot of my bed.

Like many children, I also used to like confined space and building dens: creating a prism out of a clothes horse and draping a blanket over the top, or clearing enough room in my wardrobe to climb in, close the door and hide out until the pleasure of privacy turned through lack of attention into an uneasy state of boredom. This second habit must have involved confronting fear of darkness: it was no lighter under the blanket than in the wardrobe. Maybe the dark just wasn’t scary when I’d created the conditions for it myself, when I’d been in control and could emerge into light again at will.

Tereza Zelenkova, The Unseen, 2015

Tereza Zelenkova, The Unseen, 2015

The distinction between personally controlled and externally imposed darkness is the only way I can think to reconcile the above two childhood experiences involving bedtime and play and fear and amusement respectively. It’s a distinction that I’ve been thinking about while looking at Tereza Zelenkova’s work, which appears, alongside the similarly black and white images comprising Matthew Finn’s Mother and Joanna Piotrowska’s studies of adolescent women, in the Jerwood/Photoworks Awards 2015 exhibition at Jerwood Visual Arts. Zelenkova’s The Unseen, 2015, depicts four women gathered around a lace covered table, three of them sat on wooden chairs, legs crossed and hands folded into their skirts while another stands behind the table in the background, ambiguously poised as either head of the family or a waitress preparing to serve. All of their faces have been covered in white fabric that hangs down around their shoulders and falls into points over their breasts. A wooden floor is visible but the background is completely black, making the group portrait the stuff of hallucinatory visions and haunting dreams, unnerving due to its lack of context and raising of questions we can’t as viewers hope to answer with any certainty.

Who covered these women’s faces? What kind of faces lie beneath? They look like they’re waiting for something – for what? Zelenkova places the viewer in a position of unknowing that I think of as resembling the position of the child who is afraid of the dark – I want to see and understand the things that an external hand has concealed. It’s like watching a horror film, when tension mounts around a figure, creature or force that is far scarier all the while it’s out of sight, often comical once revealed. In another photo, titled Dog Cemetery, Zelenkova allows the viewer to see everything within the frame, letting us feel more in control. And she also appeals to a playful tendency, learned in childhood, to look for faces in natural forms – a lump of rock set in one of the Czech landscapes of the photographer’s own childhood has well-defined eyes, nose and mouth.

Tereza Zelenkova, Dog Cemetery, 2015

Tereza Zelenkova, Dog Cemetery, 2015

In Joanna Piotrowska’s work faces also take on an important role, and are for the most part either partially or completely hidden by body parts or hair, employed in the interests of self-protection or as a way of establishing privacy. We’re out of childhood and into adolescence in these photos in which the girls’ poses derive from self-defence manuals but sometimes look like they could instead originate from cinematic seduction scenes. The girl whose body is all angles, her jutting knee and elbow making lines as straight as those found in the hedge behind her and on the tiled ground, has become a shield ready to ward off anyone else.

Jerwood/Photoworks Awards 2015, installation view of Joanna Piotrowska's work at Jerwood Space. Image: Anna Arca.

Jerwood/Photoworks Awards 2015, installation view of Joanna Piotrowska’s work at Jerwood Space. Image: Anna Arca.

But the girls sat on a wicker bench look as though they’re in a moment of indecision: caught between a headlock and an embrace.

Joanna Piotrowska, Untitled, 2015

Joanna Piotrowska, Untitled, 2015

Standing with her back to the pond, in a shot that makes me wonder whether Piotrowska has seen Stranger by the Lake, the girl with shadowy arms and long hair hiding her face could just as well be ready to pin down the friend she looks down on, or she may be contemplating a caress. I think to Berlin-based artist Anna Zett’s new video work Circuit Training and about Zett’s writing about self-defence, specifically boxing, which is described as ‘a radical form of dialogue, just like a caress, but at the other end of language.’ Boxing, like the work of Zelenkova and Piotrowsksa, also entails navigating the other and moving between positions of control or of being controlled. What I liked most about Piotrowska’s work is that the idea of transition and movement – along a scale of being dominated or dominating – is made physical: this exhibition represents the first time Piotrowska has used free-standing, larger than human size frames for the display of some of her work, which viewers have to encounter at different angles, do battle with or confront in some sense, in order to see the rest of the smaller, wall-mounted work.

Jerwood/Photoworks Awards 2015, installation view of Joanna Piotrowska's work at Jerwood Space. Image: Anna Arca.

Jerwood/Photoworks Awards 2015, installation view of Joanna Piotrowska’s work at Jerwood Space. Image: Anna Arca.

These smaller pictures have been arranged so as to refer to spreads of illustrations laid out in self-defence manuals, however they refuse the instructional role that images in manuals usually aim for. Where figures in books would more commonly be photographed in spare settings, helping readers concentrate on the body, Piotrowska surrounds her subjects in busily patterned domestic environments where lace curtains clash with several different flower patterns embellishing wallpaper, carpet and couch. The comparative simplicity, clean lines of the girl’s body and the fact that she is acting out self-defence training methods, suggests the home itself is hostile and a context that the adolescent must learn to confront and distinguish herself against.

Mothers

7 Dec

At the talk held at Jerwood Visual Arts on 23 November (Jerwood/Photoworks Awards 2015: Matthew Finn, Joanna Piotrowska and Tereza Zelenkova in conversation with Martin Barnes), Matthew Finn said he wouldn’t recommend the way he works: over long periods of time spent in close proximity with family members and that only end when life or a certain way of living concludes. Finn’s Uncle series terminated because it had to, at the point of his uncle’s death, and he was forced to finish photographing his mother (for Mother, 1987-Present) when she moved into an assisted living residence – out of the family home she and Matthew had shared and which served as the setting of his photography of her for more than twenty five years. I found it humbling to stand in front of a body of work that had been in development for longer than I have been alive, and that had been built up in private according to a different, much slower pace than the one at which I tend to work, in the compromised time of unrelenting deadlines. The idea of slowing down holds a lot of appeal right now, the idea of having to stop because of a death or other form of loss of course much less so.

P_030

Jerwood/Photoworks Awards 2015, installation view at Jerwood Space. Image: Anna Arca.

 

Without asking Finn, it’s unknown if the final photograph taken in the series has been included in the display at Jerwood Visual Arts. Nonetheless, after the talk I went to look at Mother for a second time and found myself trying to locate a possible ending amongst a non-chronological extract of a vaster body of work. The edit that Finn presents takes in his varied approaches to representing his mother, by means of conventional portraiture as well as through objects such as domestic appliances and food, all of them black and white and fairly small scale, like the favourite photos of a family album, a few plucked out, slightly enlarged and hung in frames in a household hallway. From the available selection, I narrowed down the final photo to one or two. Could it be the square format photograph in which the absence of Matthew’s mother, Jean, is most keenly felt? Empty frames within frames: light shines through French doors and another two sets of doorways before falling onto a clean expanse vinyl wood-effect flooring, also empty save for a Henry hoover that assumes the subject position taken up by Jean in most of the other pictures. I focused in on Henry’s eyes, obviously expressionless though I charged them with guilt for having vacuumed up all evidence of Jean’s clothing, home decoration choices and habits that are in abundance in several other shots: tomatoes ripen on a lace curtain-framed windowsill; Jean sits in the sun and drinks a glass of water while holding a lit cigarette; the sofa Jean has drifted off on is striped and made of velour.

MatthewFinn_Untitledfromtheseriesmother_JPA_Lores01

Matthew Finn, Untitled, the the series Mother, 1987-Present, 2015

 

Or, perhaps the final photograph was the contrastingly cluttered square format photograph in which Jean is slumped sideways in a chair pulled up close to a wrinkled bed. She is surrounded by her own small collection of photos, clustered together on top of a chest of drawers. It’s the only photo where she looks diminished and unwell. I imagine that continuing to photograph her from this point would have been too much of an intrusion, too exploitative to carry on. (In the talk, Finn cautioned against the photographic tendency to aestheticise or blow up images that emphasises human distress.) In many other photos Jean faces the camera, or is more clearly conscious of its presence: as poised as a dancer as she stands between washing machine and fridge in her galley kitchen, head on a tilt to show her ‘best side’. In another photo she stretches a bed sheet out beneath her chin as a photographer’s assistant might hold a reflector, clearly aware of the ways in which light can be flatteringly employed. She appears in charge of her own composition, acting the part of the woman she wants to see portrayed.

Matthew Finn, Untitled, the the series Mother, 1987-Present, 2015

 

Despite Jean’s apparent comfort with the camera, Finn said that he worried about exhibiting this work: his difficulty has been in bringing something so intimate to a broader audience – ‘What happens when you make something that is so personal and that yet has to distance itself from the personal in order to open out beyond the individual who has made it?’, he asked. I know that many artists and writers share this worry of overexposure or that sharing something apparently intimate may be met with derision or dismissive charges of narcissism and self-obsession. It’s a problem with deep roots that art historians and critics have contributed to – Rosalind Krauss for example: In The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson recalls the graduate school seminar she attended in 1998, in which Krauss responded in an outrageously belittling manner to Jane Gallop’s new work. Gallop presented a slideshow of naked photos of herself and her son – Nelson recalls that:

‘She was trying to talk about photography from the standpoint of the photographed subject, which, as she said, “may be the position from which it is most difficult to claim valid general insights.” And she was coupling this subjective position with that of being a mother, in an attempt to get at the experience of being photographed as a mother (another position generally assumed to be, as Gallop put it, “troublingly personal, anecdotal, self-concerned”)’

Where Nelson thought Gallop was ‘onto something and letting us in on it before she fully understood it. She was hanging her shit out to dry: a start’, Krauss ‘excoriated Gallop for taking her own personal situation as subject matter, accused her of having an almost willful blindness to photography’s long history.’

Krauss’s stance seems so outdated and yet we continue today to have to battle against such a stance. Finn needn’t have worried – the personal nature of his work makes it no less relevant to others. It’s prompted me, in the week or so since viewing it, to look again at the mother-son work of Leigh Ledare and to search online for clips of No Home Movie, 2015, the mother-daughter last work of Chantal Akerman which emphasises the role of the camera and the ways in which different technological filters can affect child-mother relationships – how a mother can be be brought closer by video services like Skype, the physical distance imposed by Akerman’s travels minimised. Spending time with Finn’s Mother also made me reflect on the host of mothers I’ve been reading about lately; besides The Argonauts I’ve just finished Jenny Diski’s travelogue-memoir Skating to Antarctica, in which she describes a troubled family history and estrangement from a mother of whom she owns a single photograph. Diski’s family album was also lost – entrusted to a man who worked in the boiler room of the home her mother hastily moved the family out of, and never saw again.

Finn’s Mother is perhaps first and foremost about avoiding loss – capturing as close as possible every moment – he even had a camera in hand while watching television with his mother and once caught himself watching TV through his camera’s viewfinder. The series has also been about control: Finn said that part of the motivation behind Mother was about taking charge of the representation of his reduced family (he’s the only child to Jean, his single mum). He had been looking at family albums and at what happens when families break up – as Diski’s book testifies, the family album gets broken up and he wanted to create a ‘safe’ album: an album that would at once be his own and that could also be shared in exhibitions. I think of Mother’s audience becoming members of an extended family.

‘I’d rather be there if I could’

9 Oct

by Tom Overton

I wasn’t at ‘A Singular Line’, a panel discussion of the two video works in the Jerwood Drawing Prize 2015 chaired by Elena Hill. I eavesdropped a couple of days later on SoundCloud. Scribbling notes down on a pad in front of the screen, I watched the recording roll by from left to right, the audio represented by a row of vertical equaliser bars which started as white for unplayed, then slowly shaded into orange.

The recording lasts fifty-one minutes and fifteen seconds; a nicely palindromic number, mirrored by the way the greater height of the bars at the beginning and the end show the audience’s applause. The only thing which gets in the way of the line’s symmetry is a taller bar showing the moment one of the artists, Elisa Alaluusua, moves closer to the microphone suddenly increases the volume. Finer details – the gentle, rain-like sound of cars passing along Union Street and past the gallery – are generalized out, registering on headphones, but not on the screen.

Alaluusua’s film, Unconditional Line, won second place in this year’s Jerwood Drawing Prize. It’s a record of a journey by plane from her home town Luusua, Finland to London, where she now lives and works. Rather than the line of progress the Indiana Jones films use to show flights on a map, the details here are abstracted into a seven-minute record of the grids and patterns on the runway: hieroglyphs from a writing system she admits not to understand beyond the abstract sense that they communicate safety.

Unconditional Line

Elisa Alaluusua, Unconditional Line, 2015 Video, duration: 7mins (still illustrated)

 

I don’t understand the original meaning of these symbols either. Nor do I remember, when I watched it for the first time a couple of weeks before, trying to. Each of them is intersected by the sound of her daughter drawing out notes on the cello – not so much the lines of a melody, but the varying tautnesses of the strings and the bow, slowly and resonantly scraping against each other. I thought about the texture of the tarmac, and the texture of the strings, and how each was a core, running from pegs to bridge, wound round and round with a thinner, spiralling wire. The sound telescopes a distance of a couple of thousand miles into a couple of millimetres, all the more intimately for being a recording by a mother of a daughter.

‘I don’t like looking out of the window’, Alaluusua said of her attitude to travel at one point during the discussion; ‘I’d rather be there if I could.’ If her piece shows a journey through the things at its periphery, Cleaning Up by Sean Maltby very specifically shows the journey itself. The journey, that is, of a rake with a camera attached to it, across different surfaces – the gravel is the noisiest – rattling through the gallery headphones and coming to a stop after one minute and six seconds.

Sean Maltby, Cleaning Up, 2014 Video, duration 1min 6sec (still illustrated)

Sean Maltby, Cleaning Up, 2014 Video, duration 1min 6sec (still illustrated)

 

In a review mentioned at various points in the evening, which compared Chinese and European practices of drawing, the Guardian’s Jonathan Jones picked up on Alaluusua’s piece: he ‘would probably be more purist about what constitutes drawing’, and not allow it in. ‘Doesn’t video get plenty of space elsewhere?’ he asked.

What would this purity look like? Reducing things to the marking tool, the marked surface, or support, and the act of making the marks, with whatever motive and design which sits behind it? In the open discussion before the applause at the end, Oliver Fuke – the gallery manager – addressed the first by mentioning Alexandre Astruc’s concept of the caméra-stylo; the idea that directors could use their cameras like a pen and cinema could be a kind of writing. It is easy to imagine how Astruc might have arrived at the analogy: he was both a director and a critical writer about film.

Though often illuminating, comparisons between disciplines – film, writing and drawing in this case – tend to get off the ground by generalising about the constituent parts. Like a hot air balloon, we’ve undoubtedly thrown some important things out as ballast, but we wouldn’t have this usefully elevated perspective if we hadn’t.

Comparing drawing to writing has a tendency to pull both back to the innovations in writing technology and print reproduction around the European Renaissance; the point in history, Maltby suggested in the discussion, when we started to think of the default substrate of drawing and writing as being paper or card. As Jones himself pointed out in both his review and another of the British Museum’s Drawing in Silver and Gold exhibition, the technologies have actually always been more plural than that. His own piece in mind, Maltby mentions the mark-making involved in the Nazca lines in the Peruvian desert, the Chauvet caves in France, or more recently, the stamping and yomping involved in Richard Long’s work.

Having addressed the tool and support, this leaves the act itself. Around 38 minutes in to the recording, Alaluuasua hands Professor Anita Taylor, the Director of the Prize, a marked-up transcript of an interview Taylor gave the British Library’s Artists’ Lives series, and asks her to read it out. Like Maltby, Alaluusua considers her work to be about drawing, and balances the film work with more traditional pieces on paper; Taylor’s definition was instructive for her.

Professor Anita Taylor, Elena Hill, Sean Maltby, Elisa Alaluusua

Professor Anita Taylor, Elena Hill, Sean Maltby, Elisa Alaluusua

 

Except it isn’t really a definition at all; it interprets, suggests, and invites contradiction and addition. Taylor argues that drawing is something that articulates a surface and a space, involving a bare ground and a residue moved across it, which can just as much be the light on the surfaces of Alaluusua’s piece as the rake on the surfaces of Maltby’s.

‘I like the word dragan’, Taylor says, ‘which is about dragging something’. For her, this Old Saxon term ‘is at the root of drawing’ as much as the Renaissance Italianate ‘disegno’, which the National Gallery call ‘the ability to make the drawing and the intellectual capacity to invent the design’. The physicality – the action of moving from one point to another – is at least as important to her as the planning behind it. But isn’t the same true of the study of the origin of words? Isn’t etymology also a kind of steady, rolling motion through the unknowable number of people who’ve used a word like ‘drawing’, and off into an equally unknowable future?

Luke McCreadie: Be in the air, but not be air, be in the no air

16 Sep

In the Piazza outside the front of the British Library on the Euston Road, there’s a large monumental sculpture of a naked Isaac Newton, sat down, bent double with a pair of compasses in his hand. It’s Sir Eduardo Paolozzi’s version of a watercolour which William Blake made almost exactly 200 years earlier, and the Isaac Newton Institute describe it as  ‘inspired by the union between two British geniuses, both representing nature, poetry, art, and architecture.’ For others it’s an attack on Newton’s  neglect of visionary, poetic or religious thinking in favour of scientific rationality. The art historians at Tate, for example, link it to a poem Blake wrote in a letter to his patron, Thomas Butts:

May God us keep

From single vision and Newton’s sleep.

Is Newton’s focus on his compasses blinding him to the iridescent rocks around him in Blake’s version, or the geometric patterns in Paolozzi’s? Is Paolozzi – who had designs for the library’s gates turned down – misreading Blake, or using him to make an arch comment on the organisational ambitions of a library?

In 1997, the year the sculpture was unveiled by Cherie Blair, Robert Wyatt released his album Shleep. Wyatt – who has a face like the Ancient of Days, but a gentle, reedy, boyish singing voice more appropriate to one of the figures from Songs of Innocence – is in the visionary, anti-rationalistic and slightly unhinged English tradition of Blake, just as Luke McCreadie is in the visionary, anti-rationalistic and slightly unhinged tradition of Wyatt. McCreadie’s current exhibition in the Jerwood Project Space is titled ‘Be in the air, but not be air, be in the no air’, after a line from Shleep’s ‘Free Will and Testament’; the switching of ‘Last’ for ‘Free’ in the title hints at an eagerness for meanings to proliferate, rather than to settle down into anything like a single vision. For Wyatt, this means writing lines like ‘what kind of spider understands arachnophobia?’. For McCreadie it means making a work like Mobile (2015), a pattern of primary-coloured arrows, crosses and circlings which look like the symbols in software, made quasi-hand-drawn to suggest the gestures of a live hand: quite literally, this is a system of floating signifiers.

Project Space

Luke McCreadie, ‘Plan for Untitled (mobile)’, 2015. Courtesy the artist.

 

Mobile is a riff both on Wyatt and on Alexander Calder, and a part of an interest in the idea of being in a tradition which runs through the whole show. There are five unglazed black ceramic shelves on the wall, each named after the author of the replica work which sits on it. Around each replica there’s an alphabet soup of letters on sticks; like either the arms of a typewriter, or the shaft of the kind of brand used to mark cattle in cowboy films. Though the letters are a cacophonous mess, the shelves are one symbol of order, and their contents another: each holds a canonical work, a landmark for navigating art history. There’s a Clarice Shelf, with a piece by the ceramicist Clarice Cliff, a Kazimir and Constantin Shelf with a Malevich and Brancusi’s Endless Column, and an Ernő Shelf with Ernő Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower. In each case McCreadie’s titling puts us on first-name terms, reflecting the fact that these are versions of bigger works reimagined on a much more intimate scale. The Marcel Shelf – replete with a miniature copy of the famous Fountain – is of particular note given Duchamp’s training as an archivist.

McCreadie is interested in ‘the stuff that skirts between mythology and empiricism as something powerful and important that we increasingly stand to lose, in terms of the stories that we tell each other, because our imaginations are being somehow curtailed’. So he builds up a rich imaginative mythography  behind his work, in which Duchamp – with Georges Bataille and Roger Caillois – is the third part of a portmanteaued, composite character called Marcel Callaille, who seeks out a character called Thomas Eade to congratulate him on his crumbling, Borgesian library in Toxteth, Devon. Eade grew out of McCreadie’s commission last year as part of the Warwick Stafford Fellowship in Newcastle. The press release for that exhibition quoted a text he supposedly wrote called The Ruins of the Bibliotheca Universalis (1923):

The information between the books is the missing link, the order and categorisation of books is not irrelevant and should be based on how closely the information on the last page of one book leads on to the information on the first page of the next. A string of connected events as it were, piled in chaos and eventually turning the earth off its axis.

There is no Toxteth in Devon, and Eade’s dates of birth and death change within the same press release. He’s an archivist who stands for the impossibility of the accurate recording of history; the fact that the order of any archival catalogue is a kind of fiction. McCreadie first imagined him while working in an idiosyncratically organised archive at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Revelling in the confusion of objects, he picked out a tiny blown-glass dolphin from Syria (c.400 AD) and a painted fragment of pottery from 13th-century Iran, and gave them lives: in the film Fragment Dolphin (2014), they went on a road trip, falling in and out of love. Actually, they were masks, worn by McCreadie and his wife Alice, and the format – 8mm film – was the same that his grandfather had used to make family films in Africa. (There’s a sense of the family as a living, continuing archive here: McCreadie’s baby daughter apparently throws her father’s books out on the floor, creating precisely the kind of unexpected connections he references in his work.)

IMG_0649

Luke McCreadie, ‘Be in the air, but not be air, be in the no air’ still, 2015. Courtesy the artist.

 

The film element of McCreadie’s Jerwood Project Space show – called Bibliothèque Sauvage – picks up some of the same threads: a salt-dough commemorative blue plaque to Thomas Eade features, and there are characters with masks, this time made of vinyl LP sleeves, communicating through a kind of pictorial version of music. The latter are outgrowths of McCreadie’s twin preoccupations with the disappearance of language, and a very slow form of apocalypse; a process so slow and unlike those in Hollywood film – or even images by Blake – as to be imperceptible, but an apocalypse nevertheless.

For McCreadie, Blake’s Newton is an image of the difference between ‘intuition’ and ‘planning and writing and a sort of textual understanding’: ‘Be in the air, but not be air, be in the no air’ is about something like what Blake’s contemporary John Keats called negative capability, a capacity for ‘being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason’. So to give you a succinct conclusion would be rather to miss the point.

Be in the air, but not be air, be in the no air is in the Jerwood Project Space until 12 December 2015.

‘I seem very mixed up today’: notes on three drawings

16 Sep

by Tom Overton

1)

At the bottom right-hand corner of Sue England’s entry to the Jerwood Drawing Prize, a line of pencilled text reads ‘I am sorry to be like this…I seem very mixed up today.’ The words – almost imperceptible when you look at a reproduction –  are at the densest part of the drawing, looped around and woven into the texture of the irregular grid which covers the centre of the paper. A thicker line runs around the overall shape; because it’s just inside its margins, it doesn’t quite define the edges. The warp and weft of the resulting grid seem to billow out above it, suggesting a sense of depth, or of something contained. It looks like a brain seen in profile through an MRI scanner, facing to the right, the cerebellum slightly lower on the left; perhaps the thicker line is an artery.

The title – The Productivity of Absence (Hairnet) – nearly, but not quite proves this initial impression wrong. The hairnet is the one worn by England’s mother every night, keeping what I imagine to be a neat perm in place: a comforting, regular routine among the slippages, gaps and disappearances of dementia. Other lines are variations on ‘I went for my pension now I can’t find my money’; ‘please help me’ turns up a few times. When England describes the net as ‘holding in her anxieties, while the connections unwind’; the pronoun is meant for her mother, but it can’t but stand for the artist too. And for most of the people looking at the drawing – the Alzheimer’s Society estimate that one in three people in the UK will suffer from dementia.

The lines that gently suggest the owner’s sadness and fear at people losing patience with her are almost unbearable, precisely because of their involvement in such a delicate structure. But when England calls it the ‘the gradual unravelling of a mind and life’, and metaphorically weaves these threads back into family history in old, cotton-weaving industrial Lancashire, there seems to be some kind of consolation in the ‘Northern work ethic’ she talks about inheriting. It’s everywhere in the understated meticulousness of this drawing.

702 England

Sue England, ‘The Productivity of Absence’, 2015.

 

2)

Emma Douglas’s Cato Marble Graffiti (2014/15) is a rectangle of marble, propped landscape-format between the floor and the wall, as though it hasn’t been hung yet. Like England’s piece it doesn’t reproduce very well, but as the name suggests, it’s covered in graffiti. On seeing the name Cato – I knew he was a Latin poet, but Wikipedia says grammarian too – the Roman numerals, and the arrowed love-heart, I started guessing. Was it a wry comment linking drawing to the hubris of toilet-door or school desk graffitists, underlined by the classicising touch of the material. Now this will last, I thought  it might be saying, deliberately telescoping millennia of history by anachronistically scratching a mobile phone number next to Cato’s name. (I remembered, at this point, a story about a mausoleum commissioned by Silvio Berlusconi complete with grave-goods for a contemporary Pharaoh; there was apparently a marble mobile phone in there.)

Just look at the solidity of the marble; it was too weighty to be mounted on the wall alongside those other, flimsier works. But even then, just when such a gesture might seem a little pompous and self-satisfied, it might refer over to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 55, with its confidence that it’s the well-constructed declaration of love which will endure, not the expensive material.

Douglas’s statement in the catalogue reassured me at first, explaining her interest ‘in the graffiti you see carved into park benches […] I always fantasise about the lives of people who put it there.’ Then, doing this a little in the space of the line breaks, I read that the hubris had actually been mine. I’d not looked carefully enough at ‘25.12.1988 – 14.12.2010′, in Roman and Arabic numerals:

When my son, Cato, died suddenly at the age of twenty-one, we were building a kitchen for him. This piece of marble was cut out to make room for the stove.

The marks on the marble are part of his story, my graffiti about him.

77 Douglas

Emma Douglas, ‘Cato marble graffiti’, 2014/5.

 

3)

I don’t think I misinterpreted Lee John Phillips’ The Shed Project so much as interpret it in the light of Douglas and England’s pieces. For reasons that will become clear it seems important to be as accurate about the materials used as possible: an A4 Moleskine-type black-covered, cream, plain-papered notebook, and what I imagine to be a series of very fine-tipped pens, running out of ink in succession of each other. With these materials, Phillips has begun a drawn, numbered inventory of his late grandfather’s tool shed, piece by piece, including multiples: there are page upon page of washers, nuts and bolts; some of the pliers and compasses look traced onto the paper. This is only volume 1; he’s completed 4,000 of an estimated 80,000. Thickness and texture are suggested with hatching or, occasionally, an asterisk indicating an unusual material; they have a playfulness and sense of eccentricity which means that, despite the accuracy of the drawings, they look closer to a very precisely executed cartoon than a Haynes manual or set of assembly instructions. Phillips calls it ‘an exercise of discipline’ and ‘a record of my own cultural and industrial heritage, reflecting on a social ethos I feel is being sadly eroded.’ The effect is of an outline of his grandfather: a careful, exacting presence suggested through the surfaces of things he touched and arranged.

2152 Phillips

Lee John Phillips, ‘The Shed Project: Volume 1’, 2014/5

The Jerwood Drawing Prize is open until the 25th of October.

Interview with Jasleen Kaur

25 Aug

Jasleen Kaur

Jasleen Kaur

Elinor Morgan: It seems like your work is a meeting of categories of making and materials as well as locations and cultures.

Jasleen Kaur: I’ve never thought of it in that way but I do think of myself as a cobbler. I pull together unlearned and culturally acquired knowledge in my work. When I was training as a jeweller at the Glasgow School of Art I had quite a particular way of making; I’m not very precise. I was brought up in a very religious Sikh family in Glasgow and although my work is not hugely autobiographical it is about meeting points. 

EM: Does this work represent that cobbling nature?

JK: My dad owns a hardware shop and I use a lot of found objects. The work I have made for the Jerwood Makers Open came from those marbled buckets you get outside hardware shops. I wanted to take the revered material of marble and shift it into a less valuable material. The people depicted shift too, from being Lords or Gods, those traditionally shown in Western portrait busts and Indian religious sculptures, to being three men or women.

EM: But they aren’t women…

JK: No, but I don’t see that as important, especially because I hope the project isn’t finished so I may add women in. There’s a very specific reason why I chose to show these three men. First first is my great granddad who moved from Punjab to Glasgow in the 1950s, the first in my family to come and make that cultural shift. When he left the Punjab he had a Turban and a beard and in the few photos we have of him in his early days in the UK he wears a flat cap and a moustache. He was keen to assimilate and because he didn’t have a community around him until later. He was a key member of the Sikh community in Glasgow; he used to borrow Bollywood films from his friends in Leicester to play in the cinema after temple on Sunday. 

Then Edward Said is in the middle. When I came across his writing at the Glasgow School of Art it gave me a real sense of place as a practitioner. I realised that people were writing about the ideas that I was thinking about and making about. The last is Lord Robert Napier. His great grandfather fought in two Anglo-Sikh wars in the time of the British Raj and there’s a big statue of him outside of the Royal College of Art. The history of British-Indian relations is so complex and so fascinating. 

I contacted the current Lord Robert Napier when I was studying at the RCA. I wanted to tie a turban on his head as a visual marker of where we are now. He said yes, so I took my dad as the turban tier to Wiltshire and we made a portrait. It feels like the three busts represent a starting point, a mid-point – or sense of place – and a sense of how I am working as an artist now to shape the dialogue. 

Jasleen Kaur, Lord Robert Napier, 2011

Jasleen Kaur, Lord Robert Napier, 2011

EM: Busts like this might normally be made from marble. Here they are made from marbled plastic. Beyond this pun, why did you decide to make bust portraits in this rather Western, classical style?

JK: I am very interested in the typologies of sculpture and it’s role. In the European tradition, to make a marble bust is to revere someone through a laborious material process to the point where the material inhabits its own monumental sphere and cannot be touched. I have been thinking about equivalents in Indian sculpture, which depicts Gods and Goddesses and Buddha in this way.  

People bathe them in milk and feed them fruits and in some situations people even put them to bed at night and wake them up in the morning. This humanises the statues by making them functioning objects in daily routines. The busts I have made signify meeting points between these opposing traditions and, of course, they play with the marble/plastic materials. 

Jasleen Kaur, Chai Tea Stall, 2010

Jasleen Kaur, Chai Tea Stall, 2010

EM: You applied to the Jerwood Makers Open; do you think of yourself as a maker?

JK: I make things that can operate in a number of contexts. For the piece ‘Chai Tea Stall’, in 2010, for example, I made a travelling tea stall with small clay cups. In the gallery it was an artwork by Jasleen the artist, but in a community centre or family home it was just Jasleen making tea. If something functions in a number of contexts then I think it works. That’s a litmus test for me. I am not interested in hierarchies between art and craft or maker and artist. For me it’s about the maker’s intentions. To do something artfully is to give it time and care.

EM: What have you gained from your involvement in the Makers Open?

JK: It has been different for each of the five of us. I applied to shift my practice away from relying on found objects, so that while my work would still be informed by the qualities of found objects I would have more independence and agency. It’s been a chance to produce something in completely different materials with a completely different aesthetic because the project took me out of a comfort zone. 

Conversation with Malene Hartmann Rasmussen

14 Aug

Conversation with Malene Hartmann Rasmussen

3-in-the-dead-of-night-malene-hartmann-rasmussen-photo-sylvain-deleu_670

Conversation with Malene Hartmann Rasmussen
Recorded at Jerwood Space, London
10 June 2015
Listen here.

Interview with Studio Silo

30 Jul

Silo Studio, Newton’s Bucket, 2015. Photo: Sylvain Deleu

Silo Studio, Newton’s Bucket, 2015. Photo: Sylvain Deleu

 

Your work appears to start with an interest in subverting and confounding expectations of materials.
We start with how to challenge the use and perceptions of materials. It is very difficult not to have a preconception of how something will look when completed but we try to be as open as possible. We generally approach things in a naïve way and learn through making.

For us it is really important that the making is evident in the final piece. So, for example, when we made glass pieces with fabric moulds it was very important to us that the stitches and texture of the textiles that had formed the vessels were visible in the final objects.

Tell me a bit about the process of making and how these works came about.
We work with material, process and basic physical principles. Our research involves reading, playing with materials and watching YouTube tutorials. We were both interested in rotor moulding, a method used to make large, hollow plastic objects, tanks for example, or plastic chairs.

What is rotor moulding?
1. It is a two – or more – part mould.
2. You put powdered plastic inside, not to fill the mould, just a little.
3. Then it rotates and is heated and the plastic gets distributed and sticks to the mould.
4. When it cools you have a shiny object that pops out the mould.

It is a cheap process to use for small scale production. It was invented by Swiss Chocolate makers and is used to make Easter Eggs.

I often think about where materials come from but don’t always consider the way that processes of making develop.
All technology has a route; often it is military. Those routes are part of our research. In this instance we were looking at Liquid Mirror Zenith Telescopes, which are a cheaper alternative to conventional telescopes which use glass or polished metal as a mirror. Liquid mirror telescopes are spinning discs of liquid, low-melt alloy, often mercury. When spun the mercury makes a perfect parabola shape. You then put a lens on top and can see things that are directly above the liquid. We realised that this was rotational moulding but only on one axis.

In that instance the liquid is in continual motion; perfectly stable but never set.
Exactly, and we started looking into this and thinking about how Isaac Newton had described inertia with a theory now called ‘Newton’s Bucket’. He hung a bucket of water on a rope, twisted the rope and let the bucket spin. He described how the water remains flat at first but after a while the bucket communicates the movement to the water and the water adopts a parabola shape.

We started to experiment with rota moulding aluminium but we realised that it did not convey the movement in the making process so we started to use acrylic reinforced gypsum plaster (or Jesmonite) which enabled us to use colour to describe the motion. We poured liquid Plaster of Paris with acrylic hardener into a hemisphere shape and rotated it. We used different colours to describe the motion, for example, in the green piece, the middle part doesn’t move as much as the outer part which communicates something of the inertia principle. The bowl starts turning and the liquid has to catch up so you get a dynamic S-shaped curve.

How do you keep the colours separate?
There is an additive in the material that ensures they don’t blend. When we started with plaster this wasn’t the case. This material is much harder and the colours stay clear and clean. We polish the bowls to make them more vibrant.

Are these functional objects? What do you imagine people will use them for?
We see them in the applied arts area so you would not eat from them but they are decorative pieces to be used in people’s homes. They’re not high functional and they’re not high art. We often work in series and these pieces are between a multiple and a one-off.

Silo Studio, Newton's Bucket, 2015. Photo: Anna Arca

Silo Studio, Newton’s Bucket, 2015. Photo: Anna Arca

 

The vessels sit on three-legged metal stools that reference the kitchen stool. Tell me a bit about the display of the work.
The display of our work is important to us. This is something we think should be well considered as it has a strong impact on how the pieces are perceived. Our glass blower made the glass stands so that you can see the complete object and our design studio logo on the base. The metal spinner who made the moulds for the bowls made the tops of the plinths for us and we selected the grey to match the tone of the gallery.

Do you share all of your processes in an open source way?
We don’t want people to copy what we are doing but we want to excite people to explore some of these processes and materials. In fact, that is why we avoid brand names like Jesmonite. It is important to us to use more scientific terms that better describe the materials as you can’t get branded materials across the world and we want to encourage others to make.

We encourage openness in our practice and make videos that communicate how our work is made. These act as a visual aid that helps us to communicate more quickly but also describe the tone and pace of the studio. The videos are shorthand but we also run workshops to teach people some of our methods.