Whilst the roots of my practice lie in photography, over the past two years my work has increasingly become multimodal (Kress, 2009), combining and juxtaposing photographic images with text, soundscapes, maps, documents and artefacts. In this work photography is seen not as a singular practice, but as a diverse set of social, cultural, aesthetic and technical practices, shaped by context and involving a range of both analogue and digital means for the production, processing and distribution of images. My current work focuses on the relationship between human activity and the natural and built environment in urban contexts in flux. This exploration overlaps with and is enriched by engagement with other artists working in different media and with practitioners and researchers working in other fields and disciplines on related issues and questions. I create the context for this work by working collaboratively with community and activist groups in a succession of projects focused on a particular place or set of issues.
My practice as an artist has developed alongside professional work as a sociologist and educator. I have until recently seen these as separate but related domains of practice, to the extent of avoiding overtly sociological and educational themes in my artistic work. This has created a space in which my artistic practice can grow and now opens up the prospect of the development of a constructive interaction and dialogue between my activity and expertise as an artist, sociologist and educator. The increasing involvement of artists in multi-disciplinary activity and enquiry has led me to consider: (i) what distinctively can the arts bring to multi-disciplinary projects and (ii) what are the implications of individual practitioners working in two or more domains? The latter question relates to what sociologist Bernard Lahire (2011) has referred to as ‘plurality’. Lahire (2006) has studied contemporary writers, many of whom combined writing with other professional work, constituting a frequently hidden ‘double life’. Rather than see this other profession as an unwelcome but necessary distraction from writing, as Richman (2010) notes, it can be energising and animating, and illustrates how we develop a plurality of values, dispositions, skills and relations in order to inhabit multiple social worlds. Through the work produced in the course of each project I aim to explore this constructive entanglement of art and non-art, alongside the messy entanglements that the work itself addresses and from which it arises.
Beyond this, the substantive focus, or content, of the bodies of work produced will depend on the context within which each project is carried out. In the first year of the programme, the context will be a residency with the River Roding Trust. The work will focus on exploration of a slice of untended urban edgeland (a term coined by environmentalist Marion Shoard; see Farley & Roberts, 2011, p.5) that lies between a major road and the river as it passes through a formerly industrial area of east London. The roads that run alongside, the railway lines that cut across, the power cables which rise above and the wastewater which flows below act to contain and define the space in relation to human activity and permeate it with the constant roar of traffic and petrochemically derived air, ground and water pollution. These infrastructural technologies transport people and commodities though the area and provide no services to the place itself. From a posthumanist, non-anthropomorphic perspective, this place is, however, more than the mere product of human carelessness and exploitation. The entwined component parts precede, and will likely exceed, human presence, and at the intersection between green and grey ecologies (Wolfe, Jafari and Gomez-Luque, M. 2018) the place provides opportunities for exploration of human and more-than human entanglement in the present and over time. Art in this context actively engages in a dialogue with a range of alternative discourses, including late-capitalist economics and legal regimes relating to access, ownership, ecological sustainability and nonhuman rights. In subsequent years, the various settings of the projects will influence the substantive content of the work. The unifying principle across the projects is a concern for multi-disciplinary enquiry and plurality.
Farley, P. & Roberts, M. S. (2011) Edgelands: Journeys into England’s True Wilderness. London: Jonathan Cape.
Kress, G. (2009) Multimodality: A social semiotic approach to contemporary communication. London: Routledge.
Lahire, B. (2011), The Plural Actor, Cambridge: Polity.
Lahire, B. (2006) La condition littéraire: la double vie des écrivains, Paris: La Découverte.
Richman, M. (2010) ‘Bernard Lahire and “The Double Life of Writers”‘, New Literary History 41 (2), pp. 439-441.
Wolfe, C., Jafari, G. and Gomez-Luque, M. (2018) ‘Critical Ecologies of Posthumanism’, New Geographies 09: Posthuman, pp. 177-184.