Watt Space Exhibitions

Ella Dreyfus, Under Twenty-Seven, Watt Space Gallery, Newcastle, 01.05.19-26.05.19.

Beyond the Binary, Head On Photo Festival, Watt Space Gallery, Newcastle, 01.05.19-26.05.19.

Dreyfus is an established and widely exhibited photographer. This work charts the physical changes over time of a group of boys (members of her son’s primary school football team) photographed at the ages of 11, 18 and 25 (reminiscent of the TV documentary 7Up, which reaches 63Up this year). The impact of the exhibition rests on the formal nature of the portraits, of identical form and format at all three points in time, and the formality of the arrangement in the gallery, in which each of the three portraits in a sequence are placed side by side. This effectively accentuates the changes that have taken place over time, as the boys mature into young men.

Ella Dreyfus, Under Twenty-Seven, 2019

Beyond the Binary is a group show exploring subjectivity, sexual difference and gender division. There are two points of particular interest. One is the use of construction, montage and mixed-media.

Beyond the Binary, 2019

The other is the variety of hanging and display methods used, and specifically the use of frameless forms of display (for instance, the use of bulldog clips on the print, hung on nails, and of pins stuck through the print into the wall). Given the low contrast of some of my images, it is necessary to explore glass-less forms of reflective display (as well as projective forms of display, but this removes the materiality of the photographic print).

Beyond the Binary, 2019

Installations, the body and constraint

Kathryn Jeanes. Biloela: Afore and Beyond. The University Gallery, University of Newcastle, NSW. 24.04.19-08.06.19

KNOWN/UNKNOWN, The Lock Up, Newcastle, NSW. 06.04.19-26.05.19. Featuring artists Bleck, Toby Cedar, Rakini Devi, John A. Douglas, Amala Groom and Amrita Hepi. Curated by Jessi England.

The Biloela installation is part of a PhD project. It is based on research into nineteenth century schools for ‘wayward’ working class girls in Newcastle and Parramatta.

Kathryn Jeanes. Biloela: Afore and Beyond, 2019

There are no visual records of the girls, so Jeanes has created her own archival works to convey some sense of the traumatic experience of incarceration. The work is about exploring a gap in accounts of the past and exposing brutality. The exhibition comprises of text (on the wall, accompanying images, in books), artefacts (piled up documents, soiled overalls), images (mounted directly on, and curving away from, the wall) and a concertina, sewn book with text, on a shelf running along three sides of the gallery.

Kathryn Jeanes. Biloela: Afore and Beyond, 2019

In all, it makes a hidden past visceral. In relation to my own work, it provides an example of the creation of an (imagined) archive and the mediation of this in gallery space. It raises the question of the extent to which the research should be visible. How much is experiential, how much is intellectual; what is said and what is not. Ultimately, this is about constraint of the body, but within a narrative of state and colonial brutality and control.

KNOWN/UNKNOWN similarly relates to the body. It is a group show, with all featured artists involved in making art with the body.

Rakini Devi, Urban Kali, 2018

In the notes to the exhibition the curator, Jessi England, quotes Tracey Warr (2000: no page given) from the preface of The Artist’s Body, and observes that each of the artists touches on one or more of the ideas and issues identified.

Over the course of the last hundred years, artists and others have interrogated the way in which the body has been depicted and how it has been conceived. The idea of the physical and mental self as a stable and finite form has gradually eroded, echoing influential twentieth-century developments in the fields of psychoanalysis, philosophy, anthropology, medicine and science. Artists have investigated the temporality, contingency, and instability of the body, and have explored the notion of consciousness, reaching to express the self that is invisible, formless and liminal. They have addressed issues of risk, fear, death, danger, and sexuality, at times when the body has been most threatened by these things.

All exhibits have a video component, with varying use of artefacts, still images, sound and text. The exhibition space is a former colonial prison, with a number of exhibition spaces of varying size (some of these very small cells). Whilst the space fits well with the theme, it appears that some of the exhibits were not designed specifically for the setting. The ‘cells’ offer a constrained viewing space, which could be used to good effect in an installation created specifically for the space.

The Lock Up, Newcastle, NSW

Reflecting on my own work, I need to think about the extent to which it is portable and adaptable to different spaces. My exhibition at the Sue Bramley Centre was very much a ‘pop-up’ that could easily be reconfigured for other places. I haven’t thought clearly yet about how best to display my more recent, less conventional, work, though I did try projection today following a workshop.

Andrew Brown, projection of image from erase series, Newcastle NSW, 2019

Getting high enough resolution is an issue. A number of the video exhibits in Known/Unknown used large LCD screens, which is worth exploring. One also used VR; a step too far for me at the moment.

Amrita Hepi’s frame from The Pace, 2018

The most impactful piece for me is Amrita Hepi‘s The Pace (2018), a three channel video work with rope artefacts co-commissioned by the gallery. The fast-paced film centres on the activity of skipping, as a historical form of women’s culture, but relates this to other social and cultural activities, particularly the indigenous art of weaving (resonating with Munro’s yarning work), and switching between practices involving rope, chains, braids, threads and spider’s web. The film is fast paced with a driving soundtrack, edited to layer imagery and resist traditional narrative. The piece occupies the larger central gallery space, giving it room to breathe and for the audience to circulate (a contrast to the more constrained and claustrophobic side cells/galleries. The exhibition impressed on me the need to design installations around the exhibition space, and brought to mind the constructed temporary ‘gallery’ spaces used by Samar Maqusi to set up exhibitions and installations in refugee camps.

References

England, J. 2019. Notes for KNOWN/UNKNOWN, The Lock Up, Newcastle NSW.

Warr, T. 2010. The Artist’s Body. London: Phaidon.

Yearning to Yarn

Simon Munro, Yearning to Yarn: The Artefact in Research, The University Gallery, University of Newcastle, NSW. Workshop: 14th May 2019.

Simon Munro, Axe from Yearning to Yarn, 2019

This exhibition is the culmination of a research project at the University of Newcastle Department of Rural Health in Tamworth, NSW. The project explores the ways in which aboriginal ways of knowing can be used to support the clinical placement experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health professional students. The project was part of one of the research programmes funded and supported by the Centre for Excellence in Equity in Higher Education, in which I work. My role has been to run workshops on research design, methodology and methods, and on academic writing and publication, and to advise and mentor grant holders. In this CRJ post, I am going to focus specifically on the arts-based methodology used in this project, on the exhibition and associated workshop and on the more general issue of the significance and use of artefacts in enhancing our understanding. The work also raises questions about how we understand our relationship to the land and the environment (a key component of Australian aboriginal culture). These are all issues at the heart of the development of my photographic practice. The exhibition, and reflection on the process developed by Simon and the project team, provide an apposite opportunity to gather together thoughts and relate these to the development of my FMP and my photographic practice more generally.

Cordage from Yearning to Yarn workshop, 2019

At the heart of the project is the use of the practice of ‘yarning’ to meet together, talk and to exchange ideas. Yarning involves both making of artefacts (in this case, weaving and making cordage, see example above) and conversation/storytelling (in this case, exploring a number of questions relating to the research). The underlying principles of the approach are based on the notion of Winanga-Li, a word/concept from the aboriginal nations of the North-West and Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, meaning hear, listen, know, remember. The starting point for the conversation related to kinship and land, with the initial question ‘where’s your mob from?’.

Simon Munro, Box 3: The pedagogy of Winanga-Li, from Yearning to Yarn, 2019

This is not the place to go into the process and outcomes of the research (that is covered in Munro, 2019), but rather to relate these specifically to the development of my project and photographic practice. The exhibition included a number of boxes made by Munro which ‘contain’ the principles, processes and outcomes of the project. It also included some of the weaving and other artefacts produced and Munro’s own artwork, including a number of tools and artefacts made through a combination of Aboriginal and European techniques (reflecting Munro’s own dual heritage, something that is difficult to address both within Aboriginal and European heritage communities). Visitors are encouraged to handle the exhibits. The exhibition thus addresses a range of complex issues in a way that places artefacts at the core and puts very different cultural understandings and practices alongside, and in dialogue with, each other.

Yearning to Yarn workshop, 14th May 2019.

The opening of the exhibition was accompanied by a workshop led by Munro, in which participants did some ‘yarning’ (that’s my cordage in the photograph above) while he mapped out the development and outcomes of the project (there was a longer workshop the following day around the making of a possum-skin cloak), and I was fortunate to be asked to make a response and give an appreciation of the work by Munro and the team at the Centre for Rural Health.

Like this project, the work I have done to date on my project has been collaborative and interactive. I have treated photographs as artefacts, using a portable printer to produce prints in situ, and encouraging members of the community to bring photographs of their own (and also to bring artefacts). Munro’s exhibition raises the question for me about the extent to which I want to make objects, and the production of artefacts, a more prominent feature of the work. Critical engagement with post-humanist theory, new-materialism and object oriented ontology gives a theoretical basis for engagement with objects, and the work done as part of the ‘Object Lessons’ course and consideration of the work by Fitzgerald et al (2018) on the ‘neuropolis’ reinforces both the conceptual and practical base for this (explored further in another post). Aboriginal conceptions of the relationship between human activity and the land/environment also holds potential, though how this relates/translates to the contexts within which I am working is an open question. Looking forward, Munro’s exhibition and workshop leads me to think more broadly about the potential outcomes of the Final Major Project, both in terms of a possible exhibition/event (which will be multi-faceted and multi-modal) but also about whether some sort of workshop (or interaction or performance) should be a component of this. That’s not to be settled here, but should be high amongst my own objectives for the Surfaces and Strategies module. Having run, for the second year, the national writing programme for equity practitioners in the week following the exhibition, I am also thinking about the relationship between my writing and my photographic work (and the relationship between the production of visual work and the process of writing – and, provoked by engagement with Ruscha’s art, text as a component, or primary focus, of visual work).

References

Fitzgerald, D., Rose, N. and Singh, I. 2018. ‘Living Well in the Neuropolis’, The Sociological Review, 64: 221–237.

Munro, S. 2019. Yearning to Yarn: The Artefact in Research. Newcastle, NSW: University of Newcastle.

Preliminary Activity: Conversation with Ed Ruscha

Andrew Brown, 102 Maitland Road, 2019

In contrast to the now near ubiquitous ‘photobook’ in contemporary photographic practice, as Di Piero (2012: 49) observes, ‘for Ruscha, a book can be an icon, an archive, a technology, an action zone, an artistic support, a motif.’ This suggests that, in engaging with Ruscha’s work in book form, we should take care to consider how each work is situated in relation to these possibilities. This is particularly important in considering the selection, cropping and placement of images, the form taken by the book (for instance, how it is bound and the use of blank pages), the form and use of text (including fonts used and the layout of the cover, title and other pages) and titles (including the variations in precision in relation to quantity, from ‘twentysix’ to ‘various’, for instance) and the pacing and rhythm of the images. Given Ruscha’s particular interest in words as a component, or, indeed, the primary focus, of his visual work, the book provides an apposite medium for his art, making it far more than a ‘portable exhibition’ (Lippard, 1977). As Dziewior (2012) observes, there is a subjective rhythm to Ruscha’s books, in, for instance, the shape and arrangement of images, which contrasts with the formality of the covers. The shape, pattern and arrangement of words is purposeful, as it is in Ruscha’s work more generally, and paper is carefully chosen. Narrative structure is asserted in some works (Twentysix Gasoline Stations gives a sense of a three day journey in its arrangement of images, with the Fina image marking an end point) and subverted in others (for instance, in the lack of discernible structure in, say, the arrangement of images in Real Estate Opportunities). And there are jokes (‘Camera facing west on all photos’ in A Few Palm Trees), fitting of the creator of OOF.

Ed Ruscha, OOF, 1963

As an artist, Ruscha is very much embedded in place, specifically Los Angeles, and more precisely Hollywood, (see Schwartz, 2010). Given the focus of my work on urban regeneration, it is this place related aspect of Ruscha’s work that most interests me. Reynolds (2015) explores Ruscha’s relationship with the redevelopment of Hollywood through the analysis of Then & Now: Hollywood Boulevard, 1973-2004, which consists of two continuous panoramas of the north and south sides of Hollywood Boulevard at two different points in time, thus mapping the transformation of the neighbourhood resulting from the Hollywood Redevelopment Project (HRP). The format of the book revisits the structure of his earlier Every Building on the Sunset Strip. Reynolds’ reading challenges the view that Ruscha’s art is primarily nostalgic, and draws out the potential of the juxtaposition of images in this way for a more radical reading, which subverts the idea of the reclaiming of a golden age, framed in this case by the fantasies of the Hollywood film industry. Space is left in the work for a more dynamic relationship between the past and the present and for imagining possible, non-utopian, futures.

Ed Ruscha, 2005, Section from Then & Now: Hollywood Boulevard, 1973-2004, Steidl Verlag.

Then & Now: Hollywood Boulevard, 1973-2004 is the only work by Ruscha using this form of juxtaposition, accentuating change over time. His other Los Angeles works focus of a given point in time, and present images of the vernacular architecture of the city. The drabness of the images makes it difficult to view this work as nostalgic. In engaging with this work for this task, I want to get a firmer sense of the how the books that focus specifically on Los Angeles might constitute a form of critique of development, and how the process of construction of similar texts might provide a means of exploration of both personal relation to place and the dynamics of change in the built environment.

Ideally, I would have focused on exploration of East London in the creation of some Ruscha style books. However, the task was set just a few days before setting off to work in Australia, so I have focused on issues relating to that move, and to my Australian context. I have produced three books: Illegal Immigrants, Twelve Barber Shops, and High Pedestrian Traffic. There are separate posts about each of these below. If I can make the time, I might put together a book focusing on east London, using street level images from Google Maps.

The camera may not quite have ‘always been facing west’, but I have been a little frivolous with this activity, partly as a result of the demands of my current work in Australia. Given more time, I’d explore the relationship between the images more carefully – the Hunter Street works have an explicit material basis for sequencing (they both follow the numerical order of the buildings) which pragmatically (given time constraints) denies the opportunity to construct a visual pattern or rhythm. I would also like to explore the relationship between text and image further, and examine the relationship between the organisation of text in Ruscha’s books to his other text based art (he discusses his attraction to the treatment of text as blocks in this interview), and, in my own work, pursue the case for thinking more about the function of text in cityscapes (Text in the City?). In relation to the production of books, exploring Ruscha’s work has increased my interest in non-narrative oriented books (where sequences do not ‘tell a story’, and might even subvert narrative form).

I have an appointment to visit the Study Room at the Art Gallery of New South Wales on Friday to look at their holding of Ed Ruscha photobooks, so will write more when I’ve had the opportunity to actually see and handle some of the work.

References

Di Piero, W.S. 2012. ‘The sand is in the vaseline’. In Reading Ed Ruscha, edited by Y. Dziewior and K. Bregenz. Köln: Kunsthaus Bregenz. 46-53.

Dziewior, Y. 2012. ‘Reading Ed Ruscha’. In Reading Ed Ruscha, edited by Y. Dziewior and K. Bregenz. Köln: Kunsthaus Bregenz. 18-25.

Lippard, L. 1977. ‘The artist’s book goes public’. Art in America, Jan-Feb 1977; reproduced in Lippard, L. 1984. Get the Message? A Decade of Art for Social Change. New York: E.P. Dutton. 48-52.

Reynolds, M. 2015. ‘Landscape in Motion: Nostalgia and Urban Redevelopment in Ed Ruscha’s Then & Now: Hollywood Boulevard, 1973-2004’. Journal of Urban History, 41(6): 1052–1072.

Ruscha, E. 2013. The Tension of Words and Images. TateShots. Video interview available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HoNePbo9DD0 [accessed 20.05.19]

Schwartz, A. 2010. Ed Ruscha’s Los Angeles. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Ruscha Activity 3: High Pedestrian Traffic

The starting point for this is Real Estate Opportunities. In the regeneration of Hunter Street, there remain a large number of empty properties. The book presents these in order. Following Ruscha, the ‘For Lease’ signs are sometimes hard to discern (as in Paul Graham’s Troubled Land series, in which you have to hunt around the mundane Northern Ireland landscape for the signifiers of identity, distinction and difference).

Paul Graham, Untitled, Troubled Land series, 1984-86

In making and organising the work I have thought more about the distinguishing features of the architecture and form of urban development of Newcastle, the intertwining of the built and natural environment and the constraints of my own ‘new topographics’ inflected image-making in exploring this. By ordering the the images according to street number, I have evaded consideration of the rhythm and patterning of images noted in Ruscha’s work by Dziewior (2012). The title comes from the text of one of the ‘For Lease’ signs, paradoxical in the light of the absence (as in Ruscha’s work) of human figures (reflecting the lack of pedestrians in Hunter Street, though there are, as in the LA photographs, cars).

References

Dziewior, Y. 2012. ‘Reading Ed Ruscha’. In Reading Ed Ruscha, edited by Y. Dziewior and K. Bregenz. Köln: Kunsthaus Bregenz. 18-25.

Ruscha Activity 2: Twelve Barber Shops

Newcastle is a former steel town reinventing itself as a knowledge and creative industries hub. Whilst it remains the world’s busiest coal port, there is extensive development to reinvigorate the centre of the city, which hollowed out much in the same way as the centres of industrial US cities such as Detroit. Hunter Street, once the retail, administrative and commercial core of the city, is now at the centre of regeneration. I had read that in the decline of the UK high street, there had been a paradoxical flourishing of barber shops. So here are all the Barber shops in Hunter Street. Plus a vestige of a, not quite, bygone age, one of the ‘Gentleman’s Clubs’ and massage parlours that pepper the seedier end of the street. I followed the form of Nine Swimming Pools for this one, with colour images and a final tangential image, which provides a twist at the end of the book. The colour of the text for the title page is taken from the dominant brown colouring of the images (in the same way that the colour of the text in Ruscha’s book is taken from that of the pools).

Ruscha activity 1: Illegal Immigrants

My first shot. I made this while I was packing. It draws inspiration from Ruscha’s ‘Colored People’. The use by Ruscha of a contentious title (a demeaning, if not racist, term) draws attention to the problematic nature of a white artist casting a gaze on an(other) community, which is subverted by the, seemingly unrelated, content (which does, though, relate to the content of an earlier Ruscha book, but now with colour rather than monochrome images – this draws attention to the synchronic and diachronic dimensions in understanding a body of work). As a first attempt, my work is rather crude. As anyone who has traveled to Australia knows, there are strict interdictions on the import of plant and other organic material, and this is firmly policed at the airport. The government also sanctions harsh treatment of refugees and others seeking entry to the country, particularly those who travel by boat. I don’t want to develop this further, but its an interesting, if frivolous, attempt to get a feel for the format. I haven’t done the required photoshop work to get the full Ruscha look (which is important for this work, in that the tight masking of the images suggests a clinical/colonial gaze, which abstracts its object from context and lays it out for scrutiny, in the manner that, for instance, plants and animals are laid out for zoological and botanical analysis and classification, and different racial and social groups become objects in Galton’s racist eugenic project). Packing took priority, though.