Archive | George Vasey RSS feed for this section

Bodies in Motion

24 Dec

For my last post on the Jerwood blog I’ve written a collaborative text with Joanna Piotrowska about her work. The blog will continue after Christmas with the next Jerwood writer in residence…


'XI / FROWST' Silver Gelatin Print, 2012 Joanna Piotrowska


The photographs are connected to the histories of contact improvisation, a dance technique in which the physical contact provides the starting point for exploring movement. It is a way of generating empathy and community, the first thing that happens when we start to discipline the body socially is that we remove physical contact, this is most apparent in learning. We start by learning in the sand pit and end it sitting at a desk. Environment dictates forms of bodily behaviour – self control of the body is a primary mechanism for social inclusion. We can also look to the formation of gyms, and sports activities in the 19th century as an effect of industrialism – organising the working body so that it was healthier and more productive.

What can a body do to be safe?


“In a state of trust to the body and the earth, we believe that we could learn how to handle the forces involved into physical interactions between two people who permit each other the freedom to improvise. Memory of past judgments tells me that pre-judging is not secure.”

I’m interested in psychological violence and its connotations with love and desire.

The Material Body

A photograph, like a body is able to reproduce itself, embedded in the photographic image is the will towards procreation. The DNA of the analogue image is the negative, each print offers differences in the image – it mutates.

Dance is a language, and as in love, the most beautiful things are said through the body.


The Staged Body 

There is a shallow depth of field, shot with a flash that flattens out the image, although the image is shot in domestic and private spaces the image recalls the imagery found on billboards. The theatrical quality of the work creates a form of distance – there is a disjuncture between the tropes of public and private address.



The Anonymous Body

The faces of the people are anything but blank. They are loaded with emotional intensity which never happens in fashion photography and the “set“ of forced smiles – slightly open lips, particular expression of the eyes – so called “fashion squint” never appears in the work. It is significant that there is a lack of self – confidence that the models possess. The represented figures appear withdrawn, unreachable – they seem to be trapped somewhere else.



The Repressed Body

“A choreographer who shall remain nameless said: “The body does not Lie”. Such a remark is based on that disgusting old modernist myth bogged down in judeo-christianity. The body is not the sanctuary of truth, authenticity or uniqueness. It is deeply subjugated to culture, politics and history”

Jerome Bell in Conversation with Geral Siegmund.


'Untitled', Silver Gelatin Print, 2013 Joanna Piotrowska

The Timeless Body

The photographs remain analogue. Theblack and white image is timeless. There is nothing in these images that help us to place them. They could have been made at any point in the last 50 years. The images have the resolution of a dream. Black and White is more claustrophobic. Content is clearer and bodies are heavier. Black and White invokes nostalgia and longing for the past. Black and white makes the subject more important.

Do photographs document reality or create it? Who is looking at who? To paraphase Diane Arbus, what do these photographs teach us to see? It makes me laugh, we always end up back at beginning, the simple questions are always the hardest to answer. Why do we photograph? Who do we make images for?  



‘Family Politics’ Some Reflections

16 Dec

For my penultimate post as the Jerwood writer in residence I have written a series of short reflections on the Family Politics exhibition. Later this week I will upload my final posting, a collaborative text with Joanna Piotrowska.



1) My dad was a keen amateur photographer, he commandeered the bathroom as a dark room. I remember days out with a Nikon SLR strapped to his arm. He would dress my brother and myself in our best clothes – near identical but with slight variations, bomber jackets or shell suits (or whatever was fashionable at the time). He would often have us pose in front of local landmarks. My mum would be in the middle and my brother and myself to either side, symmetrical and centred in the frame – staring back at the camera. Pierre Bourdieu would call this a request for ‘reciprocal reverence’ – the subject facing towards the camera is a call for recognition from the spectator. Staring at the camera, the three of us would say sausages or cheese, and sometimes both. When I look back at these photographs I’m never quite sure what I’m looking at; myself in the past tense, or my younger self peering into the future. Most of an audience for an image aren’t born yet – early photographic discourse focused on the idea that the photograph would outlive its subject. It seems this anxiety was translated into the linguistic system around it, in the catalogue for the group exhibition ‘Anxiety of Photography’, Matthew Thompson writes that photography has always been absorbed in the rhetoric of aggression “We shoot frames, and bombard the world with images”. It seems anomalous to pair paternalistic care, formalised through family photography with the language of war. Maybe it is the disjunctive quality between aggression and affection that returns us to these images over and over?



2) What does it mean to look at photographs of families that we do not recognise? There is a distinction between those that we know, and others that remain out side of our scope of recognition. I often look through junk shops, and car boot sales at boxes full of discarded family photographs. Janet and Peter – Magaluf 1984, the Jones Family – Christmas 1973. The captions further estrange us from the content of the images – they remain archetypes, their narratives undisclosed to us, fixed smiles and stiff postures. How do these images operate? When Nikolai Ishchuk takes images of people that he doesn’t recognise, he is using the photograph as a form of data. Something that can be edited and remixed at will. This unknowingness enables us to project our own narratives onto the images, they becomes more like mirrors. It is part of the natural life of every image – they end up concealing more than they reveal.



3) There are many different historical functions for representing the family. Some include, solidifying familial relationships, asserting normative models of behaviour, demanding recognition and visibility, and showing the ‘family’ in their best light. I like the idea that most family photography is about looking good to ourselves. Of course, social media has done much to shift the visibility  the private sphere of the family. Historically, you can make a cursory distinction between middle class and working class forms of representation. Depictions of a monied class often go hand in hand with a form of soft propaganda. When I think about the representation of working class voices at the advent of photography, I think more about documentary forms allied to a social agenda. Roland Barthes talks extensively about photography’s ‘correspondence to the explosion of the private into the public’. For Barthes, the photograph aides the consumption of the private within the public arena. Photography becomes central to new forms of political visibility – visual representation becomes another currency.  How does family photography operate under these conditions?


'Mr and Mrs Andrews' (1750) Thomas Gainsborough


4) The rise of the family as a social unit coincides with the formation of the Nation State and with it an understanding of privacy and ownership. We can see a concurrent interest in diary writing in the 18th century and newly emergent class that arose through new economic forms. Where the diary contributed to the formation of interiority and ‘expressionism’. The family image, as painted by leading artists of the day, was a tool to assert forms of cultural and social authority. Thomas Gainsborough’s ‘Mr and Mrs Andrews’ (1750) is typical in this regard. It is an image that conflates two distinct genres – landscape and portraiture. The lap of Mrs Andrews remains unfinished, and it was left deliberately blank so that a child could be painted in a later date. It is an image about proprietary, the private sphere of the family portrait is used to assert class and ownership. The couple are situated just in front of the Oak tree, further establishing a sense of natural entitlement to the land pictured. The (monied) family image is a public statement of private entitlement. Celebrity images act in exactly the same way – increasingly we trade privacy for visibility. In network culture the currency of ‘the private’ has become subject to devaluation, so we must provide more and more of it to keep up.



5) If we take the word ‘family’ back to its etymological root it rarely meant ‘parents with children’, rather it was more aligned to how we would use the term ‘domestic’ today. Originally, servants and relatives, even boarders and lodgers would be described as ‘family’ of a household. We could look towards platforms such as Facebook et al, as using an earlier understanding of the family. Personal photography is now shared to a much broader network of associates, and friends – I think you can see these ideas in the work of the Photocopy Club and Claudia Sola’s work. How do we start to formulate a more fluid sense of family representation? What gets put in and taken out of representation? How do artists find new forms to arrest the normative models of 99% of image production? The artists in ‘Family Politics’, in different ways think through these questions in new and compelling ways.




















Interview with Nikolai Ishchuk

6 Dec

I caught up with Nikolai Ishchuk via email to ask him some questions about his work. The ‘Family Politics’ exhibition will be closing this Sunday, so catch it while you can. Next week I will be posting one more interview with from one of the participating artists and a brief reflection on the exhibition in the form of a short photo-essay.  You can see more of Ishchuk’s work HERE.


What was your route into becoming an artist – was there a moment or influence that catalyzed this decision?  


I was growing up a very creative child. My parents enrolled me in a creative development pre-school program, and I did everything from drawing – I don’t think I was ever good at the figurative stuff, but I’d be praised for my sense of color and composition – to radio. And I kept at it for some time, taking more classes and such, and then I stopped abruptly when I was about 14. Perhaps it was the environment. Children in Russia used to leave school a little earlier, at 16-17, so at 14 you already had to start thinking about university. In the tumult of the 90s, no-one considered arts a career, bar a few crazies. (Even though deciding what you want to be and sticking to it at 14 is clearly crazier still.) So I went to study Economics and Sociology thinking I’d probably end up in finance or consulting. I was good at it too and got a First. I then did a Masters in Social and Political Science, quietly dropping most of Economics, and, following that, I was finally out on the labor market. Finding a job and sorting out permits took over half a year. I decided to do a short photography course at the old Central Saint Martins in the meantime so as to have some structure. (My friends kept telling me that I was glued to my camera.) I learned how to print and was hooked. By the end of the course, I landed a job in business conference production, hardly my top choice. I took another course, in the evenings, which happened to be with the same tutor as the first one. And then… there were some changes at the office, my probation was about to elapse, I was growing increasingly listless, the tutor kept saying I should give it a shot, I was mounting a self-prouced show of early work (cringe) at a cafe in Soho, and it all converged at this point where I walked into the office one morning and thought: ‘This for 40 more years? I don’t think so.’ I called my parents and asked whether they’d mind awfully if I were penniless for the next few years while cultivating my creativity. They said no, which I suspect they’ve regretted ever since until about a year ago. And the rest has led to this, and now the hole is too deep to stop.


In terms of ‘Offset’, could you quickly explain the process of how you make the work? I’m still confused as to how they are made – they seem somehow symmetrical and the title refers to a procedure on Photoshop? 


The logic of it isn’t really complicated. Imagine digitally splitting an image down the line running through the middle of the couple/family, then swapping these two parts around. That’d be the Offset command in Photoshop. Then it goes kind of like this:



What struck me immediately on encountering the work was the lack of ‘centrality’, the figures (due to the way that they’ve been manipulated) are on the margins of the image. This seems significant – when we think of family portraiture the figure is often in the middle, they claim the image – where as your work, it seems ‘wrong’ – like a mistake somehow – I was wondering whether you could expand on this? 


Making the ‘wrong’ kind of pictures that lead you back to the ‘right’ ones was exactly the point. When you flick through a family album, it doesn’t seem odd in the least that, one after another, you see a hundred pictures with the figures bunched up in the middle. But create a different formal composition, repeat it incessantly, and suddenly the whole thing seems highly suspect.


Nikolai Ishchuk (536 from the series Offset)


Also, when we see both the digitally manipulated images alongside the silhouettes – there is a dramatizing of the relationship between the figures – we become more aware, I think, of their gestures -You get this in John Stezaker’s early work – the negative space around the figure becomes really important -what are your thoughts on this? 


Yes, you’re probably right about that – dramatization. With the reworked pictures, I think the first instinct for the viewer is to still want them to be about the people. But, because the eye can’t lock on both edges at the same time, it ends up crossing and falling into the gaping hole of a center. You end up looking through the figures at… something. The series started out as just images, but I was struggling a bit with how to emphasize that it’s not just the couple anymore but the couple and this third thing smack in the middle that has been made visible with a simple gesture, really. This is how the cutouts appeared. Speaking of Stezaker, a lot of whose work I love, my first few mock-ups for the series were of this ‘crude’ variety, but it just didn’t seem like that went far enough.


Nikolai Ishchuk (B-449 from the series Offset)

How important for you are these images are ‘found’ – in that the represented figures are anonymous to you? 


I was interested in what you say about the family album being a ‘cover up’ – the myriad narratives that it conceals (as much as reveals) – I was wondering whether you would like to expand? I was thinking that these images become cyphers – or archetypes perhaps. We skip over the specifics and start to recognise parts of ourselves in them. 


I don’t think I can answer this one without simultaneously answering the question about the ‘cover up’… The images’ being anonymous is precisely what allows them to become archetypes, or something akin to that. I know ‘them’, you know ‘them, everyone knows ‘them’. And exactly, I didn’t want the series to take viewers on some kind of fact-finding mission and leave it at that. I’d like to think it will make them look at how they consume the narratives at which they themselves play a hand constructing. When you browse your old ‘happy times’ albums and everyone is smiling, but you recall the times actually being rather shit, what’s this a record of?


The cropping, to me, seems to suggest a film strip – they add a temporal element but refute that (we look for changes but the image isn’t ‘animated’) its like the image is somehow stuck in this ‘in between’ part of a frame, was the ‘temporal’ something that interested you?


Ha, no, I never thought it about like that. I can see what you mean though. Well, there is no movement here in the sense that the only thing that either edge segues into is… the other edge! The image only loops onto itself. Could it be seen rather as pointing to the claustrophobic feeling of being stuck in a dysfunctional relationship?


What are your future plans, upcoming exhibitions etc? 


I now have representation in New York with Denny Gallery, since last spring, and they are showing some of my recent work in Miami Beach this week, at the UNTITLED. fair. And then it’s just over a month before my first solo exhibition at the gallery, which is titled Indeterminate Objects and will run Jan 30 – Mar 9. It will focus on my sculptural work. Funnily enough, Jonny Briggs will be having a show at around the same time only a few blocks away! But I’m currently in an itinerant phase, which impacts on my ability to work in 3D, so at the moment it’s back to images. I’m doing something that I’ve been thinking about for a while involving found mobile pictures, tentatively called Non Sequitur. It’s all in the editing though – I have in the region of 800 images to filter and sequence – and that will take some time. Beyond that, who knows. I can share one as a little safe-for-work preview. Editing is a non-issue with one!


Nikolai Ishchuk (0162, from the 'Non Sequitur' series. 2013)

Interview with The Photocopy Club

4 Dec

I interviewed the photocopy club (Matt Martin) via email about his inclusion in the ‘Jerwood Encounters: Family Politics’ exhibition. You can get more information about the photocopy club at their website HERE.


Hi Matt, maybe we should start with explaining what is the photocopy club is?

The photocopy club was made to make a photography exhibition that was accessible to everyone. I wanted to make a giant zine that everyone could take a page from. I had been doing pop up style exhibitions since college and I love working with people to put together shows. I wanted to make a project that was low cost for the photographer, the curator and the collector and help to get young people into printing and buying photography. The idea of the photocopy club is that photographers submit their work printed using the lowest cost printing method and that is the photocopier. They then post their submission to us and we exhibit it. All the work is for sale for £5 and the money made goes towards the hires of the venues and photocopy club zines.


What do you think is the central question in your work?


I wanted to break down the walls of the art/photography world. I want to get photographers to start printing their work again. Photography on the internet plays such a huge part in world and we see so many images every day, that I wanted to try and get photographers to slow down their process and really think about the images they were showing. Printing them on a photocopier puts a new twist on the image and lets people see it in a different light – maybe something that comes across more personal to the viewer. To get photographers to exhibit on a level platform as well. To have professionals exhibit alongside up and comers was the main plan of the project. All the work is signed on the back by the photographers but no one knows who took what image until the image is payed for. That way you are taking something home because you love the image and not because of who took it.


Do you feel that the physical is a more stable archiving medium than the internet?


I have always made my own photography with the outcome being in a book format. From looking at photo albums as a child, I have always loved to hold images. I’m lucky because I am part of the on the cusp generation between film and digital. I have had an equal amount of each medium. Because we take so many images now, to store work digitally or online just makes sense. It costs less and takes up less space.


What do you think happens to the image offline that is different to an online environment?


I think in a way an image offline feels like it can live forever. The internet is not under our control but books and prints have and always will be cared for. Through books, photographers feel like once they are gone there images will keep them living on forever. I don’t think they feel the same about the images online. It’s to disposable.


The aesthetics of photocopying, for me, are synonymous with the punk and fanzine era and alternative forms of distribution. Are you evoking this in some way? Do you feel like this has now become fetishised?


I come from a DIY and Punk background. From the moment I heard the Clash at the age of 14/15 I was into punk music. I play in bands, I skateboard and I make stuff out of what I have. I used to do graffiti and because I was not the best painter I would take photos of my mates painting and then print them out on photocopies and wheat paste them around the city. Photocopies have always played a big part in my art work from when I was at college. The problem with final exhibitions is that the cost of printing and framing is too much for some people, so you have to find other means to show your work.

Zines and these other low cost printing methods are just a way to get your work out into your community. Zines have always been in some way a collectors item. Even when they were being made to tell people in the world what main news media wasn’t telling you or about what’s going on in your scene, they would only run in small editions and once it was gone it was gone. In more recent years with the zine format being taken on within the photography and art world, these small run self publish books are definitely something that people fetish over. They are now quite far removed from the original word and DIY style of fanzine and with more care on paper, binding and distribution they are a strong format into which way an artists can showcase their work.


Did you see the recent Xerography  show at Firstsite in Colchester? It’s interesting to think that historically the use of photocopying was tied to a DIY agenda, and the availability of cheap mass produced publishing. It certainly has a very different effect now – it seems to me about something far more aestheticised…


I didn’t see the exhibition. I think the fact that photocopies are looked at as a “retro” method, similar to film, tapes, VHS, and vinyl that it is now seen as more artistically pleasing. They are not perfect and they are different every time. Each print, in a way, is a one off.


Online images – or the poor image to paraphrase Hito Steyerl – are abundant – is your work about creating an image scarcity within this context of abundance? A photocopy is situated somewhere between an artist’s edition and a freely available image found online…


I don’t think we have to look that deep into it. It’s just about getting people to exhibit their photography in print without anyone being more well off than the other. It’s about the photograph itself, not how it’s presented.


Do you see a connection to what you are doing and mail art?


At first I didn’t even think about that. But when we started getting all these amazing envelopes and notes from people the envelopes became a huge part of the exhibition. People love to see where the work has come from. It’s a huge part of the photocopy club experience.


I’m interested in the fact that you describe the installations as open zines – For me, it is very different seeing the images simultaneously all out on the wall. You have a more spatial, rather than a linear relationship then you get online. I was wondering whether you would like to talk about this?


When I’m curating the wall I always think about the shape and the flow of the whole exhibition. I like the viewer to be moved throughout the space. The shape and the images need to play off each other to help the viewer move from one piece to the next. It’s also made in a way that you can keep coming back and see new things. You can also step away from the wall and see the whole shape and layout as one big piece of work. I’m very interested in the way we walk around galleries. Some people follow a strict line and others just go to what catches their eye. I want to make an exhibition that works in both aspects, in which you’re not stuck to one route but you can come in at what ever point and be inspired.


The American theorist Laurent Berlant talks very well about the role that intimacy plays within public life. This is what creates a social sphere, a space where we connect and share our intimacies and personal stories to create an ‘empathetic public’. This seems very pertinent to the iconography of the family – and in relation to your work, what are your thoughts on this?


As a photographer I shoot my everyday life. My friends, relationships, family, everyday situations and then put them online for everyone to see or in a zine for people to buy. Why are people interested in other peoples lives? We say that we are documenting our path through life for future generations, but will these images be as sort after in the future as the images of the past are to us.Photography is all about telling a story. It’s about freezing time and letting the mind figure out what’s going on. We are so used to sharing our most personal details online these days for all to see. We feel that by showing this we can gain a reaction from our peers. But will those memories last in the photographic form? In 30 years time will people be finding old hard drives in charity shops and making books about times gone by.

Jonny Briggs Studio Visit

20 Nov

George Vasey caught up with Jonny Briggs in his studio to talk about his work and inclusion in the ‘Family Politics’ exhibition curated by Photoworks at the Jerwood Space. 


G- I haven’t prepared any questions!

J- We can just chat and see where the conversation leads us…

G- Okay, so you’re really interested in psychology?

J- Yeah, I studied it at A’ Level. After that I’ve focused a lot on psychoanalysis. I’m really fascinated by it. It’s beyond an interest really, it’s like an interest in my interest, which can be more interesting than interest it self.

G- Wow! Thats a quote and a half, although i’m not really sure what you mean….

J- Haha, I wouldn’t say that my interest inspires the work – but its more like it lets me know where the work is coming from. – in some ways I see my inspiration as my interest.

G- A reflexivity?

J- Yeah it helps me figure out what my mind is trying to do.

G- Do you view the theory as a type of framework, that structures your practice?

J- Yes, although the work does happen first, then I read around it afterwards. I’m just trying to figure out who I am really.

G- When did you start making work about your family?

J- Ten years ago. As soon as I was on the foundation course starting out, it just made sense – ideas kept flowing when I was working with my family. It’s what I know and so embedded in me. We were a very close family, living very rurally in the woods – I grew up in a bubble.  I’ve become really interested in names. My Grandma had a dog called Simba who died, so she went out and got the exact same breed and also called the dog Simba. There is a need for keeping the family close.

G- And continuation, a way of outliving your own mortality, keeping part of yourself in the world.

J- Yeah, the passing on of tradition.

G- That happens through photography very clearly. This normative and traditional representation is constructed through photography. You told me that your dad was always taking photographs of you as a child?

J- Yeah, he was a keen amateur, I think he is a quiet man and photography was a way for him to get involved. There was this bottling of emotion, and this is why the family photo really resonates, this ideal staged scenario. Where for a moment you have to stand and look a particular way at key moments. But i’m interested in giving other things a voice too, that need to be spoken about and represented.

G- Well this comes back to you your interest in psychology.

J- Yeah i’m interested in what is suppressed, looking back at my ancestors, seeing the world through their eyes. I often felt quite displaced when I was growing up.

G- Was it an artistic background?

J- Not so much, but I was really interested in ideas and I became a vegetation in late childhood. There were several ways that I realised that I was a bit different. I became quite solitary. I had four older sisters which probably had an impact on it.

G- Was there a point where you really wanted to go to art college?

J- Yeah It was always my favourite subject at school. I actually went to study architecture as I thought that was more of a route into a career. In my one year at college I designed a cheese farm for a farmer on top of a prostitutes grave yard in Southwark. I was learning all about cows, and it was really abstract. I realised quite quickly that I wasn’t really an architect.

G- You were making a conceptual installation!

J- So I transferred to art college, and I loved every moment of it. It was such a relief that I could do anything as an artist, I wasn’t restricted.

G- Could you take about the sculptural elements in the work?

J- Yeah, my dad’s head! It is milled from a 3d file.

G- So it’s your dad’s profile on the outside then you enclose it over your own face?

J- Yes, the profile on the inside is shaped for my face – it’s also shaped to make me smile.

G- In your work you often invert the relationships and assumptions…

J- Like a role reversal. I’m interested in the work looking like i’m caring for him yet we could also be in conflict.

Reclaiming, 2011 (Father and self wearing wooden mask of Father's head)


G- Your dad in this image looks infantilized.

J- This gesture recurs in another work also – where I’m cradling my dad.

G- The outsized wooden head feels both empathetic and disconcerting.

J- Yeah!

G- I think this is the conflict, which ties your work to a surrealist tradition.

J- I’m interested in subverting a notion of the ‘normal’ that I was socialised into. I was talking to someone the other day, and they made a startling observation. They noted that my dad’s name was Norman, and I talked about this idea of ‘normal’ a lot. It was if I had conflated the two in my head so they then represented the same thing. Your parents become agents of society, they socialize you, and its only in late adolescence that you start to learn about different versions of your self.

G- That is what adolescence is about, your identity becomes more fluid and you take on different roles until you find something that you can inhabit.

J-  When I was a teenager I didn’t really rebel. I think that sometimes I’m now living through that somehow in my work.

G- How did your dad respond to the work?

J- Silence. He’s quiet, he doesn’t really say anything.

G- Of course, when you talked anecdotally about the woods growing up you start to understand the significance of the rural symbolism in your work.

J- I’m interested in how objects and places become embedded in histories and myths. I was thinking a lot about the placement of the hands, onto my own and how my dads are mirrored.

G- I saw your bodies as interlocked yet somehow oppositional.

J- There is this similarity and difference between my dad and me. We’re so different. I remember a moment when I was in my early twenties and I was sitting in the front room with my dad, and I noticed we both had the same body language – so I changed the way I was sitting – it was really weird! Anyway, I’m really interested in anthropology and ethnography, learning about other cultures. I’ve been researching around loss recently.

G- Its interesting when you talk about this idea of loss, because I read the sculpture of your dad face as a form of death mask. I wonder whether there is an oedipal gesture there somehow, inhabiting your dad…

J- It’s like a possession, which has a lot to do with belonging…

G- About taking control over a narrative by possessing it, you talk very clearly about that feeling of alienation until you decided to become an artist and claim that narrative.  So, in terms of the tapestries that you are showing at the Jerwood, how do they relate to this other body of work?

J- They feel very different. Although I think they are getting at the same thing from a different place.  They all help me to get at what I’m exploring.

The Other, 2011, Tapestry


G- How are the tapestries made?

J- They are photographs montaged with drawings, and then digitally programmed in to a SINGLE-bed Jacquard loom. There is only two in the country, and one of them at the Royal College. I make them and then unpick parts of the image so they start to fray.

G- The image looks like a photocopy, really degraded.

J- Yeah, or a shroud.

G- There is something about the erasure of identity. You pick open the weave and the degradation of the weave makes it difficult to discern who the figures are. They become archetypes.

J- I like all the frayed edges, pinning them to the wall really modestly. It makes me think about different relationships to loss again. Some cultures are interested in permanence where other favour the idea of ephemerality.

G- In the Victorian era, they would cut the hair of the dead and weave it into a small decorative items. The object is charged with something directly from the body of the deceased.

Vintage Woven Human Hair Mourning Cross

G- Do you see the works as collaborations?

J- Perhaps, certainly not in terms of ideas, but I often think of the photographs as documents from private performances.

G- Do you see the work as cathartic?

J- To an extent, it’s important that the people in the work feel safe, and protected when making the work.

G- They become the first audience in a sense for the images? Do you see the work as a type of fiction?

J- I used to say that the images were constructed as fictions, but in fact it is just another reality – it is two versions of the truth positioned next to each other.

G- That seems like a good place to leave things!

‘Married with Children’ discuss Photography

8 Nov

‘Family Politics’ curated by Photoworks opened at the Jerwood this week. It brings together work by Jonny Briggs, Robert Crosse, Nikolai Ishchuk, Joanna Piotrowska, Claudia Sola, and The Photocopy Club. I’m in the process of meeting with the artists and discussing their work, so will be uploading these interviews over the next month. In the mean time I thought I would leave you with Married with Children.


Reflections on Three Works in the Jerwood Drawing Prize

2 Nov

I thought I would finish my writing on the Jerwood Drawing Prize by taking a closer look at three works in the exhibition and offer a couple of short reflections. With over seventy artists in the exhibition there were obvious difficulties in trying to sum up such a diverse range of positions and approaches. As I noted last week, drawing is a slippery term, and I think that definitions are probably best left to lexicographers.  I’ll be back next week exploring ‘Jerwood Encounters: Family Politics’.

The Jerwood Drawing Prize will be travelling to the Hatton Gallery (Newcastle), Plymouth College of Art, and Sidney Cooper Gallery (Canterbury), so there are plenty of more opportunities to see the work for yourself over the next 6 months.


'Chin Up', Scott Robertson (2013)


“Ever Tried. Ever Failed. No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.”

Samuel Beckett

The only thing harder than starting is finishing. So lets start again. Lets never finish. What does it feel like to go into the studio again and again, day after day? An old tutor once told me that his work would often start on the desk, then move to the floor and finally end up in the bin. If it was rescued from the floor, and moved back onto the desk, it was a ‘goer’. Maybe every artist should have a version of Scott Robertson’s ‘Chin Up’ (2013) in their studio. Right next to Fischli and Weiss’s ten point manifesto ‘How To Work Better’.

Of course, what comes first, the crumpled paper, or the phrase ‘chin up’? How much of this despondency is choreographed? Aren’t great artists meant to make it look easy? It seems flippant – taped to the wall, cocky perhaps. The neat line graphic line works in contrast to the crumpled paper. ‘Chin Up’ seems to be about trying too much and not enough. Was it Bill Hicks who famously said comedians are the most serious people you will ever meet?


'Solidier', Justar Misdemeanor (2013)


“Drawing makes you see clearer…clear enough until your eyes ache.”

David Hockney

If Scott Robertson is perhaps claiming John Cage’s credo that he has ‘nothing to say and he is saying it’, then Misdemeanor’s work is an art of social issues. What does drawing bring to our understanding of a photograph? Is it a documentary image or something imagined – fact of fiction? The soldier has been removed from any contextual or historical narrative. Details date the soldier; certainly 20th century, perhaps 2nd World War, maybe Vietnam. The work is large and unframed, and nailed to the wall – it feels like like the figure is being crucified.

The image is antithetical to a Don McCullin type heroism. If at first the drawing seems to bulldoze any subtly, further complications are suggested. We’re being asked to identify and empathize with the soldier, yet any narrative resolution is resisted, his face remains hidden. The image is an archetype, offering the broad brush strokes of a dream rather than the detail of a memory. David Hockney once said that drawing something was a way of rescuing it, and this notion of paternalistic care seems significant. Perhaps, through drawing this soldier Misdemeanor’s work offers a similar attempt at remembrance. This lack of identification recalls the war memorials that scatter towns across the country – a monument to the idea of war. The lack of identification enables the soldier to become a cypher for ‘every man’. Although figurative, parallels can be made to Minimalism (which became the default aesthetic of memorials). Both ask us to project our own subjectivities onto them, they absorb multiple historical and ideological positions.


'Saint Stansted (and Other Stuff)', Gary Lawrence (2013)


“I’m at a place called vertigo (where is it?), it’s everything I wish I didn’t know, except you give me something I can feel..”


What does it mean to give time to something? To really invest. Gary Lawrence often works on his drawings over a year, their surfaces are so marked by the process, they look like leather – full of small tears, and creases from the heavily worked surface. It is interesting to note that the artist always uses biros and has made a series of works on the back of old posters salvaged from Woolworths. He takes the materials of recession and bureaucracy and fashions something altogether more otherworldly. This excessive labour seems important. As everything becomes increasing liquid (economy, technology, and socially) we seek responsive strategies of resistance. Societies tend to build monuments and museums at moments of transition and growth. China is currently building over a 100 museums a year.

Perhaps we can see Lawrence’s ‘Saint Stansted’ as a similar quest for monumentality? The current interest in materialist archeologies most notably expressed during last year’s Documenta further articulates this shift. We could look towards the Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman formulation of a move towards a  ‘light’ and ‘liquid’ state (service economies) from a ‘solid’ and ‘heavy’ type of modernity (industrialism) . The heaviness in Lawrence’s work seems to counteract the vertigo induced by the liquidity articulated by Bauman. It is a material and spiritual heaviness that, I think, can be paralleled by the Chinese buzz for museum building, or the quest for material genealogies. Lawrence’s work is about rooting, and anchoring – simultaneously creating other worlds while attempting to make sense of this one.



Some Thoughts on Drawing (Reflections on the Jerwood Drawing Prize)

25 Oct

I’m drawing a blank! No, really. How do you talk about drawing without resorting to tired cliches? When I was a child I used to draw all the time; war scenes, cars, airplanes, and footballers, you can imagine. Classic suburban boy stuff. We draw on what we know and what surrounds us. Art should, I think, attempt to break us out of these habits. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we talk and write on art without resorting to the same habit forming routines. Take the terms; clarity, seduction, immediacy, confidence, modesty, and slightness. Now lets replace each word on this list with its antonym; dissonant, oblique, ugly, and indeterminate  etc. The first list of words were used by the judges to describe why they shortlisted certain works over others for the Jerwood Drawing Prize. You could also easily apply the second list of words to describe a great work of art too – can a work of art be both seductive and repellent? When is something too modest? When does confidence become cockiness? What do words actually tell us about the art that we are looking at? It’s certainly an unenviable task editing over three thousand works down to under hundred but we can see the difficulty in trying to translate intuition into words; what makes something better than something else? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all. One of the judges Michael Craig-Martin noted that you can never generalize about art, you can never say that a drawing is this or a painting is that – as soon as you start to define things you’ll find something that contradicts the rule.

Richard Serra noted in the Seventies that there was a generation of artists such as Sol Le Witt, Robert Morris et al who turned drawing from a noun into a verb. They started to see drawing as a methodology (verb) rather than an object (noun). If we look at art as a verb, we can look to performance, sculpture, and video as a type of drawing. Verb artists tend to ‘do’ drawing as a process, and noun artists see drawing as a product, where the former advocates chance, and intuition; the later is perhaps more prescriptive and controlled. If drawing is an approach rather than an object, we can draw on (no pun intended!) the various idioms that utilize ‘drawing’ as a verb; ‘to draw straws’, ‘drawing a blank’, or ‘I draw the line at this’. So then, drawing is a slippery term, full of indeterminacy and indecision.

'Line Made by Walking' Richard Long 1967


Richard Long walking over the same patch of grass so that a flattened line can be discerned and documented, a biker mapping their journey through a city with GPS, a curator drawing links between areas of knowledge and objects – drawing suggests a type of journey. Whether you travel by foot, on pen, with paper, or in a car, each journey leaves a different type of trace; foot prints, graphite marks, carbon omissions and tyre marks. We’re all drawing in some way, it’s just that some journeys leave different traces in the world. Of course, this reductive model (verb and noun artist) contradicts Craig-Martin’s assertion that you should never apply rules to art works. Art is something until an artist tells us it is something else.

'Erased de Kooning Drawing' Robert Rauschenberg, 1953


Can a negation be a type of affirmation? Is it possible to draw backwards? When Robert Rauschenberg invited De Kooning to make a drawing and then subsequently erase it – what kind of gesture was he enacting? You could say that Rauschenberg is making his mark in the world by removing someone else’s mark. He is replacing graphite marks for column inches, actual lines for symbolic ones. This work recalls an anecdote someone told me the other day about the oldest known drawings in the world – the Lascoux caves in the south of France. These drawings of animals are thought to be 17,300 years old and lay undisturbed until an 18 year old boy stumbled across them in 1940. Since their discovery thousands of people have made pilgrimages to the cave; scientists, art historians, and tourists. The countless people traipsing through have disturbed previously dormant germs in the ground. Add these germs to an uncontrollable level of carbon dioxide generated through the breathing of daily visitors and it has created a perfect breeding ground for mould to appear. This mould now threatens the drawings, slowly spreading the across the surface of the cave. Scientists are battling to slow down and eradicate the mould, yet one could say that they are only delaying the inevitable.

Lascaux Caves (Detail)


We can see the mould as anther type of drawing, created naturally, yet one catalyzed by human intervention. This anecdote suggests a complex ecology layering different traces; long and short term, verb and noun. It shows us that every move we make has consequences and leaves some form of trace. A mark on a piece of paper is more permanent than a plume of smoke, yet the later may have longer lasting consequences. This text, with its digressions and anecdotes offers a way of thinking through a few examples of what drawing is today. I came across an article the other day about someone who had attempted to weigh the grease (formed by finger marks) found on an Iphone screen. We are always leaving parts of our own body behind. In disparate ways each artist in the Jerwood Drawing Prize is thinking about what kind of mark they want to leave behind – whether that is with a biro, astroturf, steel, or perhaps even a pencil.  Until next time…

Iphone 'Oil Paintings'



Interview with Jerwood Drawing Prize Artist Beatriz Olabarrieta

11 Oct

I met up with Jerwood Drawing Prize artist Beatriz Olabarrieta to talk about her work, objects talking back and losing control. Beatriz will be in an upcoming exhibition at Wysing art Centre in collaboration with X Marks the Bökship, further details can be found HERE


George Vasey (G) – Have you shown ‘Bolas’ (the work in the exhibition) before?

Beatriz Olabarrieta (B) -Yes it came out of a show I did in Spain. Three weeks before the show the gallery asked me to send an artist statement about what I was making, and I was attempting to write it, then this work came out of that.

Bolas, Beatriz Olabarrieta, video still, 2012


G – So this work came out of trying to write an artist’s text?

B – Yes, or the impossibility. I just ended up turning it into another work.

G – I was thinking about how your installations feel like sedimented versions of the videos – you often display them alongside each other so there is a tension between this stasis and movement.

B – I think the videos are sometimes a way of generating new systems of organizing or better, disorganizing space.  For a recent work I tied a pen to an elastic band and it just bounced up and down making these marks, and it was interesting to see the relationship that happened between this performative action and how high and narrow the exhibiting space was. Like an action mimicking an architecture,my body trying to act or reenact that space.

Pixels in Wet Mascara, Beatriz Olabarrieta, video still, 2012


G – The marbles in the ‘Bolas’ work are interesting in that they define your body as much as you define them – you’re fighting to control them.

B – Exactly, they extend the body.

G – How would you say the idea of drawing relates to your practice?

B – Drawing is an important aspect of my practice, my work tends to be quite graphic with an interest in line, not only visually but also conceptually. I use it to move from organicity to technology…ummm don’t know if this explains it really well…like fitting and unfitting within the lines.

G – But this work seems to be about losing control of something…

B – I’m interested in the idea of losing authorship, when the subject becomes the object and visa versa. I was talking about this the other day, that if you listen to objects they tell you what they do and don’t want to be.

G – So the object takes on its own agency.

B – Yes the object becomes performative, I’m interested when sculpture, function and performative space overlap. Some objects become characters, yet you can also see it as a type of stage.

G – Is the notion of openness important to you?

B – Very, although it is very difficult, especially when you start to sell the work – this idea of when something is finished can be become quite difficult. But I guess it is an attempt to defy language and imply continuity.

G – It’s funny to think that what started off as an artist statement quickly became a work about illegibility and then we come back to interviewing you about it. Can you talk more about the distinction between drawing and writing?

B – I used to do a lot of writing, and previously I worked in theatre so used to write a lot of texts or scripts. Now I find it really difficult to write on my own work. The other day I had to talk on my work at a gallery and I actually started with this video as I thought it summed up the feeling of how I try to process information.

G – I’m interested in this idea that the materials can answer back. How was the work like to put together, did it come easily?

B – A compression of a lot of failures, one works on a lot of things and then you get the moment when it all comes together seemingly by itself, it is important to smell when is the moment to let go and allow this to happen, when the ego needs to submit!

G – Whistler said that it took him a life time of painting to get to the point where he could paint something in 5 minutes!

B – Yes. The previous year I started making these pieces that people really liked, they consisted of ply wood that was cut so that it could stand freely. It looks super simple but took me years to figure out how to do it! It took me a long time to reduce all that information into one object.

INARTICULADO COMO ESA PLANTA QUE FLOTA, Beatriz Olabarrieta, Installation at Trayecto Gallery, 2011


G – Are there artists that have been important to you?

B – I´ve been looking recently to Gabriel Kuri, I enjoy the quality of materials he connects. I like Urs Fischer, Rachel Harrison, Mike Kelley, and Franz West…artists who make objects that release a huge amount of freedom.

G – What I find great about Franz West is that he take a monumental language and makes these quite dumb funny objects.

B – Yeah, certainly it is all very serious while we can laugh inside and/or outside our heads.

G – To come back to this idea of language, how do we start to articulate something that remains beyond language – that resists it?

B – If the objects could speak they would answer to that, but you would need a translator and a translator of the translator too.

G – You can trace a history from Kindergarten games in the 19th century to early Modernism. There is an interesting overlap between geometric formalism and pre-literate learning. Mondrian’s paintings look remarkably similar to children’s building blocks!

Kindergarten games from the 19th century


B – Yeah, I collect these blocks! One of my favourite art works ever is John Baldessari’s ‘Teaching a Plant the Alphabet’. I don’t know whether the plant is the art work, or the artist is a plant.

G – This playfulness seems important, and of course to come back to the work in the exhibition, marbles are a kids game. When I first saw the work I thought you were trying to draw a face, I couldn’t help but see things in the scribbles. Is making art an attempt to break these habits? Of always seeing the same thing…

B – Yes, I studied music for a long time and people always bring that up. Music is really important in terms of the mathematical order, there is a structure but it can be broken.  I like it when sounds become really messy.  Jazz or electronic music, for instance, isn’t a narrative from left to right but it branches out. In that way its Deleuzen, and rhizomatic.

G – It’s the difference between a conversation and a speech, a speech is a bit like a painting and a conversation is more like a drawing.

B – You’re less in charge of a conversation, it can go off on tangents, and that is very analogous to making art. Then you have to work backwards to try and map it. Everything that I do is connected somehow, and I have to cut a chunk out of it when I show it.

FOLIAGE, Beatriz Olabarrieta, Installation at MOT Brussels, 2012

G – So in a sense each installation is a component of a larger ongoing work?

B – Yes like cutting off parts of my own ever expanding body. I like the fact its elements can be continually reconfigured. Each work is a part of a greater whole. I like to think of my work as an organism, it moves and spreads like moist moss.

G – This comes back to the idea of agency of the object.

B – For a recent show in Spain, I made a video of elements of the installation being photocopied, and then projected this videos from the works themselves. It was as if the installation started to reproduce itself, endlessly.

G – Like the installation had developed a tumour?

B- The machine can start to replicate itself, I can remove myself from it and it could just carry on without me. I become the work’s employee!

G – The work becomes embodied…

B – Yes, a friend suggested I read Graham Harman’s ‘The Quadruple object’.

G – This is massively influential at the moment.

B – Back to the object…

G- Well it comes back to what you said about losing authorship – of losing control in some way so that you’re surprised by what comes back.

B- Big time.





Jerwood Drawing Prize: Twitter Interview with Marie von Heyl

3 Oct

I conducted an interview with Jerwood Drawing Prize artist Marie von Heyl on twitter yesterday. You can see our conversation below.