LCN Saturday #1 – Where am I? Ways to present, strategise and fund

SPACE Ilford, 29 February 2020

‘This day will begin with a practical session of developing your presentation skills and techniques for effective communication. We will then look at the different economies and strategies that exist to support artists and artistic development, followed by a session around crowdfunding’.

The first LCN day was excellent, not only for the substantive content but also for being able to get to know other artists working in the area. I want to make some quick notes about the sessions, focussing on aspects of particular relevance to my current work and thinking about what I might do after the MA.

Introduction to SPACE – Persilia Caton, Exhibitions Curator, SPACE

Persilia was able to give us insight into the process by which the work for the first exhibition (by Lindsey Mendick) was selected through an open call process and how the gallery worked collaboratively with the artist. A key factor was engagement with the local community, and the ability to ensure both that the process of producing the work was of value, and that the outcome is a worthwhile and engaging exhibition. In particular, it was interesting to see how the work from the workshops (making work in clay with elderly people from the area with no prior experience) fed into the exhibition. The process also allowed the artist to experiment with new ways of working, and for participants to gain new skills and interests. The central theme for the exhibition (advice that you wish you had been given and taken, inspired by Baz Luhrmann’s Sunscreen), was clear and relatable.

Presenting Yourself – Alex Evans

Good opportunity to get to know other members of the group and learn about Alex’s practice (which spans community focused work in east London and his own drawing based work). One of the communication activities involved describing a Lego construction to a partner who had to construct it solely on the basis of the description, exploring the need for a common language. This was reinforced in relation to describing our own practice to different audiences and for different purposes.

Alex introduced the Who (you, brand, partners, fabrications, collaborations, organisations, audiences, customers, clients), What (activity, product, services, company, charity), When (milestones, markers, timelines, stages, evolution), Where (places, spaces, residencies, stockists, connections, communities), Why (reasons, motivations, drive, values, ‘call to action’, ‘reasons to believe’), How (processes, skills, ethics, forms, discoveries), Wow (concepts, achievements, unexpected, magical, imagined) structure and we prepared one minute statements to share and discuss in groups of three (see below for mine).

The framework provides a structure and set of prompts for production of accounts (for instance, and artist or project statement) that can be adapted to different audiences (by, for instance, shifting focus, realigning priorities and changing language). It can also be used cyclically and a different levels in the same account, for instance to describe practice in general and the details of a specific project or a particular work.

Mapping and Strategising your Networks – Kathrin Böhm

In this session we (i) identified and mapped out our networks; (ii) looked at the economic underpinning of artistic practice; (iii) considered an ‘iceberg self-portrait’.

The network mapping helped me to think about the relationship between my prior (academic) work and my current (artistic) practice, and the manner in which networks relating to these different domains might be mutually supportive. For me this is a matter of bringing my artistic and photographic work to a state of relative maturity, and keeping in mind how the work produced (and the processes and contexts of production) might constructively draw on and feed into my academic work and networks (for instance, in forming partnerships between academics and artists in the development of community relationships around UCL East). It was particularly productive to be able to put artistic practice at the centre of the network diagram. Kathrin emphasised the power of working as a collective.

Katherine Gibson’s (2014) iceberg metaphor was used in considering the economics of artistic production. This acknowledges that visible practice is supported by a greater volume and diversity of invisible activities (both personal and institutional). This led to a consideration of the diversity of forms of and audiences for art, and Stephen Wright’s concept of ‘usership’ rather that spectatorship, emphasising a need to be clear about how art is used in different contexts and by different communities. This relates to the manner in which I am using different forms of photography, and using photography in different ways, in different parts of my project (for instance, in activism and as a collective activity). Similar ideas are put forward by Arte Util (useful art); I will explore these further in the critical review of practice, in clarifying the relationship between the components of my project, and, in particular, the positioning of the outcomes of the FMP (as a subset of a wider programme of activities). Returning to the iceberg metaphor, we considered Gregory Sholette’s (2011) application of the idea of dark matter – the stuff that holds the market together but is not readily visible – and where in our own practice we might identify the ‘visibility’ line. Art viewed in this way is special (as a particular form of activity) but not other (set above or apart from everyday activity), resembling Laruelle’s notion of ‘non-philosophy‘.

We explored diagrammatic forms of representations of relationships between activities, like those produced by the Institute for Human Activities.

These are similar to the diagrams produced by Brett Bloom and Nuno Sacramento. Kathrin has produced a diagram to represent how Company Drinks is positioned artistically and economically.

This session was particularly important for me in (i) helping to think through alternative forms of relationship between art and everyday practice, particularly through the idea of ‘usership’; (ii) thinking through how I can use visual means to describe the relationship between the components of my work (for instance, in providing a ‘visual index’ in my FMP pdf submission).

Crowdfunding – Tamara Stoll

Tamara mapped out how she moved from the production of a book dummy for her Ridley Road project (8 years and 150 colour images) to publication, and how she used crowdfunding to fund the print run. The project stemmed from identification of a gap in the Hackney archives around the history of the market, and evolved into a site specific, collaborative project concerned with ‘streets and the people who make the streets’. Centerprise was an important influence (in both the publication of local writing and as a place to meet). As in my own work, building trust among the community was important, and she took on the informal role of campaign photographer for the Save Ridley Road campaign, organising workshops and exhibitions. She uses a TLR on a tripod to make the portraits, which quickly distinguishes her from the opportunistic street photographers who are not particularly welcome in the area.

Lots of insights into Crowdfunding – see notes below (and pdf provided by Tamara).

The major insight for me, however, was into Tamara’s work, and resonances with aspects of my own work. In all, the day provided a number of strands to follow up, particularly around relationship between the community engagement aspects of my project and my own work

References

Gibson-Graham, J. K. 2014. ‘Rethinking the Economy with Thick Description and Weak Theory’. Current Anthropology 55, S9: S147-153. doi:10.1086/676646. [Accessed March 7, 2020].

Sholette, G. 2011. Dark Matter : Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture. London; New York: Pluto Press.

Wright, S. 2014. Toward a Lexicon of Usership. Eindhoven: Van Abbemuseum. Online at https://www.arte-util.org/tools/lexicon/ [Accessed March 7, 2020].

Risograph printing

London Centre for Book Arts, 22nd February 2020

Half day session at the London Centre for Book Arts. Had the opportunity to talk through ideas for constructing my archive boxes for the FMP with people there, as well as learning about and experimenting with Risograph printing. Lots of potential for producing vibrant colour work at volume for a reasonable price (cutting a stencil costs £1.50, ink costs £1.50 for 50 sheets, provide your own paper). Could be useful for outputs from community focused work, and in particular production of posters, zines and books (paper up to A3, and can scale up). Not sure whether this is something I would use for the FMP as it is currently conceived, though people have used it for reproduction of photographic work (see work by Christine, who has produced a case bound book combining letterpress with risograph – see test prints below).

We worked from original and found artwork, but it is also possible to work with digital files (though the software for this is dated). Useful tips for using risograph printing at http://stencil.wiki/

Vincent Desailly, The Trap book launch

31st January 2020. The Photobook Cafe, London EC1.

Interesting to talk to Vincent about the project and process of producing the book. He’s known as a portrait photographer, and has an image in the 2018 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition (see below – also from The Trap).

Vincent Desailly, Red Dawn, 2018

It took three trips to Atlanta to complete the project. He was disappointed with the images from the first trip, principally because they were predominantly portraits which gave little sense of the distinct context (as he observed, they could have been taken in London). The images from the next two trips convey much more of the context and the relationship between people and place. For the editing and sequencing the images, he worked with an editor who asked to look at all of the images, and some images (including the cover image) were included in the final edit that had initially been rejected (this reinforces the importance of working with an experienced editor). It is interesting to see the manner in which images, which may not seem strong in their own right, can form effective bridges and transitions between other images. I particularly like the manner in which maps, on tracing paper, are included in the text, further emphasizing the importance of place in this particular project.

References

Desailly, V. 2019. The Trap. Edited by Hatje Cantz – 51 pictures, 128 pages, English text, introduction by Gucci Mane. https://www.vincent-desailly.com/

TWCP exhibition at the Warehouse

3rd February 2020. TWCP 4th Resident Growth Summit, The Warehouse, Thames Road, Barking.

This gave me the opportunity to try out the idea of a rapid set up (and demount) exhibition, and to show the work I have produced with the Thames Ward Community Project. In total there were 120 prints, which took a week to produce and mount. Putting the work up took about four hours, mainly because pieces had to be clipped to each other to adapt to the space. I feel more confident about exhibiting in these kinds of challenging spaces, and being able to put together sets of images and other resources that can be displayed effectively and quickly.

The exhibition was easily taken down and stored at the end of the day. I need to produced appropriate storage boxes for the mounted images and the materials needed to put together the display. I am not going to use any of these images for my final project, though the work I have done with TWCP will influence the form and content of the work and the manner in which it will be presented to an audience, and the exhibition is part of a sequence of project engagement activities. I’ll write about this in the Critical Review of Practice.

Shedlife portraits

First shot at looking playing around with different ways of representing the group, taking influences from forms of group and individual portraiture. We spent some time looking through Dutch 17th Century paintings of civic leaders. This one by Bartholomeus van der Helst appealed, so we had a go using a simple single strobe set up.

Bartholomeus van der Helst, Four aldermen of the Kloveniersdoelen in Amsterdam, 1655.

We’re going to need a shorter table … More to follow maybe, after the group have looked at the prints. Followed a session of individual portrait work.

We took a look at the Taylor Wessing Prize catalogues for 2018 and 2019 and thought about different forms of portraiture for future sessions.

neuropolis book

Experimenting with different book forms. The challenge with the neuropolis series has been to show the relationship between each final image and its three constituent images. I used Japanese stab binding for this book. As the pages are folded (with the open edge at the binding), I have been able to print the grid of initial images ‘inside’ alternate folded pages, and cut windows to show the three images that are used for each of the final images.

The paper is double-sided matt 170 gm. Heavier than I would have liked, but OK for a trial. More difficult is getting photo paper with the right grain direction. To get the book pages to sit properly requires short grain, but this paper is long grain. The only solution, for small scale production by hand, would seem to be to use watercolour or sketching paper (which can be bought in larger sheets and cut to size with the correct grain), and to coat it for inkjet printing.

Stab binding isn’t ideal for this kind of book. It would be better to use a form of binding which would allow the pages to lie flat. I also still like the idea of presenting these images in a portfolio box, and allowing the reader to order the images in different ways. More experiments to come.

Prototype displays

I am working through ideas for a portable exhibitions, and seeing what can be produced with existing resources. Following earlier consideration of work by Dayanita Singh, I have produced some prototype accordion books, to explore size and format, and the suitability of different types of paper (in terms of printing, use in book production and in display). I’ve used the following images of housing developments in Barking, for instance.

I’ve used 200 gsm single-side coated matt photopaper for this. There is a problem in getting stock from which I can get A3 sheets which are short grain. The print surface is good (certainly works well for these monochrome images) and it handles well for book making.

There is work to be done on how they would be used in display, and how different angles of view and light can be used creatively (and, consequently, how images are sequenced and arranged). Some kind of clip that holds each fold at 90 degrees would be helpful (I saw something like this used at Paris Photo last year). The next step is to explore other formats for books/displays and other sequences of images.

I have been looking at work by Heather Weston, a book artist who explores ways in which established book forms can be used creatively to produce resonances, and tensions, between form and content, for instance in her works a diction (2004) in which the pages are the shape of a pint glass, and unfold into a circle, READ (past, tense) (2000) which is printed with heat sensitive ink that responds to the touch of the reader and Paper Cut: relief (2007) dealing with self harm and taking the form of an accordion book with cut outs (below).

Heather Weston, a diction, 2004
Heather Weston, Paper Cut: relief, 2007

In Bookcraft (2008), she refers to Karen Hanmer’s Destination Moon (2003) which takes the form of a ‘flag book’ (a kind of accordion book) that juxtaposes archival photographs of the Apollo Manned Space Programme with John F. Kennedy’s “Man on the Moon by the end of the decade” speech and a whimsical song about a romantic journey to the moon.

Karen Hanmer, Destination Moon, 2003

This dynamic handmade book form, which has been produced using an inkjet printer, is well suited to the forms of juxtaposition and change that I am exploring in my own work, and warrants some exploration.

As a foonote, the black and white images above are all reflections of developments along the River Roding taken from the same place as this 1832 drawing of Barking town (the vantage point is now a supermarket car park).

References

Weston, H. 2008. Bookcraft. London: Quarto.

Portable exhibitions

I’m preparing work for two pop-up exhibitions over the coming two weeks: (i) images from the Creekmouth project with 7-11 year olds over the summer to accompany a public viewing of the film made with NewView Arts and funded by the Arts Council: (ii) images from the English courses being run for parents at Riverside Campus and for residents at Sue Bramley Centre. As with the earlier Shed Life pop-up, I am printing and mounting photographs and figuring out how to exhibit them in the space available in a way that is quick to assemble and low impact on the space. At the end of the Shed Life event, I gave most of the photographs away to people who took part, and it’s likely that I’ll do the same for these events.

Longer term, though, and in relation to the outcomes of the FMP, I need to think about developing a way of displaying my work which is both durable and portable. Using an archive box has enabled me to carry and show the work I am doing in an intimate manner, and it might be fruitful to develop this further for material that can be displayed.

Dayanita Singh, Box 507, Spontaneous Books, New Delhi, 2019.

This idea of portability and adaptability is at the heart of Dayanita Singh’s work, and in particular her book objects. For instance, her Box 507, which she describes as follows:

‘an unbound book of 30 image cards held together in a wooden structure. It is meant to be hung on a wall or placed as an object on a table. The structure has been built to allow the collector to change the front image as often as they like. The image cards, however, exist as a set of 30 and are not meant to be separated from each other or the box. Once you have more than one box, you become the curator of my work, as you build your own conversations between the boxes. Box 507 has been published in an edition of 360 and is available only in its exhibition format. It is to be acquired directly off the wall. In this way the exhibition disappears with time and when all the boxes are sold, the edition and exhibition are over.’

The work thus consists of both the images and the casing, which allows the images to be transported and exhibited in different ways in different spaces. Museum Bhavan takes this a step further in presenting a number of ‘museums’ as a set of books, allowing the reader to construct different configurations of the work.

Dayanita Singh, Museum Bhavan, published by Steidl-Verlag, 2017
Dayanita Singh, Museum Bhavan, 2016

This ‘pocket museum’ mirrors Singh’s traveling exhibition, which can be configured in different ways in different galleries. The plan below is the scheme for her Haywood Gallery exhibition.

Dayanita Singh, Museum Bhavan, Haywood Gallery exhibition view, 2016
Dayanita Singh, Museum Bhavan walkthrough

Accordion-fold books are also used as a way of displaying work, which I will explore with the work that I have been doing with Thames Wards Community Project (better, I think, than zine format as it provides a more satisfying object and allows the work to be displayed).

Dayanita Singh, ‘Sent a Letter’ (2008/17): leather case embossed with a poem, teak wood enclosure, seven accordion-fold offset printed booklets.
Dayanita Singh, ‘Sent a Letter’ (2008/17): leather case embossed with a poem, teak wood enclosure, seven accordion-fold offset printed booklets.

Looking at other forms of low-cost but flexible forms of display, the Gerrit Rietveld Academie exhibit at Unseen Amsterdam this year is interesting.

Gerrit Rietveld Academie exhibit at Unseen Amsterdam, 2019

Their Uncut 2019 group exhibition provides another option (using photostands for the suspension of large prints).

Gerrit Rietveld Academie exhibit, Uncut, 2019

References

Dayanita Singh, http://dayanitasingh.net

Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Uncut 2019