Iterative processes and learning to read (and write) our own work

Having had to work intensively on production of a book manuscript to a tight deadline over the past few weeks, I haven’t felt much like writing CRJ entries (beyond the routine). I have, though, been able to reflect on the development of my practice in process terms, and relate this to my plans for the FMP. In doing this, I have tried to develop a coherent and consistent approach to the development of my own practice, which is reflected in, and consistent with, the constituent components of my final project.

The approach I am developing is iterative in the sense that it evolves incrementally through interactions between theory (general and specifically related to the arts and photography), field (what other artists/photographers are doing, both as individuals and as ‘schools’), practice (what I am doing in terms of my own photography, and other artistic and academic work) and context (the macro and micro contexts within which I am working). With a bit of thought, I could probably represent this diagrammatically, but for the moment, there are a couple issues that I would like to explore.

The first question is where to start this process? My feeling is that it doesn’t matter, hence the title ‘learning to read (and write) our own work’. Reflection is a process of making sense of our work, relating it to theory (the concepts and frameworks available to us to make sense of and advance our work) and to the field (positioning our work in relation to other practitioners and transform how we view that work relationally). The sense we make of the work is also influenced by the contexts within which we do the work, and what is possible within those contexts, and how this might affect both what we do and how we interpret and describe it. Viewed in this way, our readings of our own work (and consequently, our readings of the work of others) is becoming incrementally more sophisticated and informed, and that in turn facilitates the iterative development of that work. This does not, of course, preclude quantum leaps (radical changes in how we understand and position what we do, or in the form of work that we produce, where we do the work, where and how we distribute the work and so on). We are not, however, just producing, circulating and reading our work, but also writing it – that is making our practices and interpretations explicit. This is a necessary part of a pedagogic process (‘showing our workings’), and also a constructive component of a wider process of producing and distributing our work as part of a community of practitioners. Whilst a clear sense of intent is necessary, it is not sufficient: that intent has to be positioned (principally, but not exclusively, in the field of photography) and it has to be capable of being realised in practice.

Secondly, there is the question of the relationship between this process of development of practice and the practice itself. In an attempt to avoid an overly deterministic approach to participatory photography, I have attempted to mirror the relational and iterative nature of the development of my practice in processes that I use in my project. This is a way of escaping from the restrictions of bringing an already prefigured project to participants, which necessarily objectifies participants and restricts their agency and ability to produce something that has both value to them and to the wider project. So having defined a broad focus for the project (community engagement with urban regeneration) and a conceptual base (drawing on post-humanism and new materialism, exploring the entanglement of the human and the non-human in spacetime, and oscillation between the analogue and the digital, and the embodied and the virtual), the specific focus of each component of the project and the forms of the outcomes in each component of the project emerge from following the same process (creation of an archive, digital image making, sorting/classifying/editing/relating, rephotographing, mixing/compositing/juxtaposing, narrating, curating/disseminating). How different the outcomes are from each component/setting is an open (empirical) question.

There’s a lot to be done on every front here (for instance, in clarifying the theoretical underpinning of the move between analogue and digital, in the specification of the process, in the identification and organisation of the settings and participants, in the archival work on each location and in the development of the skills necessary for every part of the process). I’ll address these in the coming posts, and index these posts to the key themes of the module.

Surfaces (Week 5 Reflection)

This week provided the space to plan and map out activities for the remaining weeks of this module and relate this work to the development of the FMP. An outline of activities is given as a roadmap here. In terms of methodology, it has provided the opportunity to relate the exploration of different image making strategies in the first part of the module to forthcoming exploration of modes of presentation of work and engagement of audience, and consider how this relates to conceptual and theoretical development. The aim is to achieve a degree of coherence and consistency between these dimensions of practice: each must inform the other. Over this week, the major development in this respect is coming to view this as an iterative process, and then attempting to mirror this process in the way that I work with participants in the project. In terms of methodology, this has led to a more detailed mapping out of process of working with different groups, which can lead to variation in the focus of the work with each group and different forms of output at the end of the process. This is reflected in the sequence of workshops planned from each group (sketched out here). What provides coherence is an underlying conceptual framework and a broad focus on the exploration of the exploration of the experience of change in the social, cultural, built and natural environment brought about by regeneration projects. I’ll explore specific aspects of this in posts over the coming weeks. In terms of photography over the next few weeks, I want to test out elements of the process, which will entail both technical and aesthetic challenges.

Deepwater @ theprintspace, July 2019

I also had the opportunity to visit the Deepwater exhibition (graduation show for the Falmouth MA Photography programme, held at therprintspace Gallery in Spitalfields), which was useful in seeing how my project work (one image) will appear in relation to other work from the degree programme.

Strategies of Freedom (Week 4 Reflection)

It’s been a busy week, with the collaborative zine activity to complete and the 24 hour ‘Hands Off!’ activity. Plus exhibitions in Sydney, 30 hours in the air crossing continents, and guest lectures and webinars. The feedback I have received on my work and plans for the FMP have been reassuring, and I feel confident that I am well prepared for that (as long as I can get all the preliminary work done in the next two weeks, which will be tricky with a book manuscript to deliver, and an introduction to write, in 10 days time). There are also sensitive political issues to address. My major concern is determining the focus for my WIP portfolio for this module, and this will be the focus for my one-to-one tutorial with Cemre on Monday.

Anthony Luvera’s presentation was insightful. Luvera sees his work as a direct descendant of the participatory and critical photography of the Camerawork/Half Moon/Cockpit era (I knew Jo Spence, did my darkroom work at Camerawork and worked for many years with the Director of the Cockpit from that period, so know this work, and its political context and orientation, well). He places equal emphasis on the process of production and the outcomes. His presentation raised interesting issues about the ethics of participatory photography (especially in relation to the regulation of social research, and differences in ethical expectations, for instance in managing risks to the participants), and about authorship (on which he was resolute about the importance of including appropriate attribution to artist in co-authored work, for instance, assisted portraits). Having moved from using photography as an educator, both in classrooms and in the training of teachers, to placing greater emphasis on my own work as a photographer/artist, it was good to be able to position my previous work and my current practice in relation to what Luvera and others are doing. The question of authorship and attribution wasn’t quite resolved for me, and I have to think more about how I attribute work appropriately in the FMP project.

Through his journal ‘Photography for Whom‘ he intends to make visible some of the cultural history of participatory photography; it might be productive to submit a paper which explores the relationship between the fields of photography and education in the development of this work, and the impact of the different forms of institutionalisation of practice, and careers, between these fields. The point he raised about the impersonal nature of the literature and other material available to the providers and recipients of social care, and the inaccessibility of these services, is very important, and his project ‘Frequently Asked Questions‘ is an imaginative, critical and effective way of addressing this.

The zine activity was interesting, and reinforced the importance of clear communication, sense of direction and responsibility in any collaborative project. The resulting zine is successful, in the sense that the images and intent are interesting and consistent, and the final online booklet works well. The activity does, for me, raise questions about the extent to which the spirit of the zine (cheap, lo-fi, accessible, counter-cultural, from and for the community etc) has been lost, or diluted, and the distinction between the zine and the photo-book eroded (again, worth re-visiting Simon Norfolk’s (2019) view of photo-books as indulgent vanity). The final booklet can be found here.

The reflection brief asks for statements about personal practice and methodology, which I think I have addressed elsewhere. In terms of moving my project forward, the next couple of weeks will involve getting approval and making arrangements with key stakeholders, and refining the form the activities will take and working towards achieving the practical competence required (for instance, in the use of the 5×4 in the field, and processing in ecologically low impact ways).

Looking at Luvera’s current working practices has also encouraged me to look at tethering in making assisted portraits. The 24hr activity has opened up two other forms of image that could be used in my FMP (Google satellite images and electronic microscope images). The workshop with Lewis Bush on Saturday should also help me work through what kind of documents and other data I should include in presentation of the FMP (and in the process).

References

Norfolk, S. 2019. Interviewed by Ben Smith. A Small Voice [podcast], 107, 12th June 2019.

AI image production

artificial face

This image of ‘a person who does not exist’ is created by two adversarial AI systems – one creates faces and the other detects flaws (ie. it looks for faces it detects to  be artificial). Working together they refine the collective ability of the system to produce artificial faces. You can see the system in operation here.

Info on how it works is here  and there is an article about the use of these faces in social media here.

The images themselves are produced without direct human intervention. The systems are, however, produced by humans, and the images are created from other images, some of which have been created by humans (and others by capture systems such as CCTV).

Increasingly deep learning AI systems are being trained using images, such as the deep convolutional neural network platform DeepMind, which learns through ‘observation’ of massive collections of images. Humans are, of course, involved in this, not just in the creation of the systems, but also in originating (some) or the images and being the subjects of (some) of the images. As MacKensie and Munster (2019) point out, not only do images we post on platforms such as Facebook feed into these collections, but the image capture chips on the devices we use (such as smart phones) prepare the images we make for this process (of image data extraction).

‘The A11 Bionic released in 2017, iPhone 8’s chip, is optimized for image and video signal processing with a 64-bit and 6-core processor. But it is also optimized to work for machine learning using Apple’s CoreML platform. This ‘platform’ (in a localized sense) enhances image and facial recognition among its raft of AI capabilities, which also include object detection and natural language processing.’ (p.13)

These devices are perhaps more accurately viewed not as cameras, but as image sensors that produce data in a chain of operations in the formation of AI neural networks. It’s not that humans are not involved in the making of images that is changing, but rather how we are involved and what is ultimately created in the process of image/data production when we ‘take a picture’ with these kinds of digital devices.

It was interesting to do this task (seeking ‘non-human’ sources of images) alongside listening to Simon Norfolk’s reflections on the redundancy and poverty of contemporary photographic practice (and education) in his interview with Ben Smith (A Small Voice podcast, 12th June 2019). Both reinforce the need to adopt a relational view of photography, which acknowledges differences between the fields in which photographic images are made, circulated, deployed and consumed, and manner in which what we consider photography to be (and to be able to do) is transformed as we move between contexts and domains of practice. I’ll pick up the issues raised in the Norfolk interview, and relate these to my own project and practice, in a subsequent post.

References

MacKenzie, A. & Munster, A. 2019. Platform Seeing: Image Ensembles and Their Invisualities. Theory, Culture & Society. Advance online publication [https://doi.org/10.1177/0263276419847508]

Norfolk, S. 2019. Interviewed by Ben Smith. A Small Voice [podcast], 107, 12th June 2019.

FMP plan update

Having carried out the groundwork pretty much according to my research plan over the past 12 months (with interesting visual developments and a range of new possibilities and partnerships along the way), it is time to take stock and produce a deliverable plan for the FMP. The theme remains community responses to urban regeneration, and the intention is to involve community members as collaborators in a way that builds on the relationships and local knowledge that has been built up over the past year. What follows does not constitute a fully worked through proposal. It just sketches out current thinking, with a view to getting the groundwork done as soon as possible. The earlier discussions of context, theory and methodology in the CRJ and coursework still hold. The focus for the WIP portfolio for the Surfaces and Strategies module remains open – I hope to be able to submit preliminary work for the project.

What

The project aims to explore the experience of urban regeneration across generations in areas that are going through unprecedented change. The work will involve collaboration with participants in making and editing their own images and then selecting these for the production of composites using channel mixing. I will also make portraits and provide archival images, developer literature and images, planning documents, maps and other material to draw on. As well as images, participants will produce short texts relating their images and their experiences and aspirations. In terms of the distinction between a study and a project made by Chalfen (2011), this tends towards being a project (there is no tightly defined research question, and images and accounts are not being treated as data; see, though, a critical note on this distinction in an earlier post), with participants taking a role similar to the co-investigator role described by Sinha and Back (2014).

Where

I am focusing on the housing regeneration programmes in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. These are amongst the most dramatic and ambitious, and in relation to existing communities and urban landscape potentially most disruptive, in London, and one (Barking Riverside) is the largest development in Europe. My work will focus on Barking Town Centre (dubbed by the leader of the local council as ‘Manhattan on the Thames’; it includes refurbishment of the Gascoigne Estate, which was the focus of my Sustainable Prospects WIP portfolio) and the Thames Ward (which includes Barking Riverside, dubbed ‘Barcelona on the Thames’ by the local council leader, the demolished Victorian Creekmouth Estate and the nearby 1960s Riverview Estate, which featured in my WIP portfolio for Informing Contexts).

How

I will work with six groups of collaborators, leading to four pop-up exhibitions and one consolidated exhibition. The groups span age ranges from 7 to 70+ and cover the two areas of the borough undergoing the most dramatic development.

The groups are:

Barking Riverside (‘Barcelona on the Thames’)

  • New View Arts (7-11)
  • Riverside Campus (11-18)
  • Thames Ward Community Partnership (adult)

Barking Town Centre (‘Manhattan on the Thames’)

  • Greatfields School (11-14)
  • Barking College (16+)
  • Barking and Dagenham Heritage Conservation Group (adult).

In each school and each community setting I will run six workshops (fortnightly) between mid September and mid December, during which we will produce and edit individual and collective images and texts.

Session 1: Providing context and giving overview. Briefing on production of images (more detail on this in a future post). Sharing of additional resources.

Session 2: Sharing, editing and selecting images. Selecting setting for rephotographing (large format for creation of large composites and animations for projection)

Sessions 3 & 4: Re-photography and participant portraits (for processing, scanning and printing).

Session 5: Mixing and re-mixing individual and collective composites.

Session 6: Pop-up exhibition and zine design.

Output

March 2020: Pop-up exhibitions in two schools and two community settings (Greatfields and Riverside, Sue Bramley Centre and Barking Hotel). Lo-fi publication. [Ideas. 1. collection of postcard size prints. 2. small format staple bound booklet. 3. Envelope with leaflets/packets for each participant, folded A4]. Reduce cost by involving participants in folding and collating.

May 2020: Consolidated exhibition, featuring all work from participants and projections (venue to be determined – possibly at Barking and Dagenham College, or Barking Theatre, or Valence House, or one of the settings available through LBBDfilm, for instance decommissioned power station). Possible publication (could design zines in such a way that these could be combined into a consolidated publication – for instance, as leaflets or packages for each participant and for collective work, put together in the slip case or envelope).

Next steps

July 2019. Discuss with Wendy and others at Falmouth. Set up and make arrangements with schools and community groups. Make preliminary arrangements for exhibitions. Experiment further with large format and channel mixing process (including use of low environmental impact processing and silver reclamation).

August 2019. Carry out background research and archival work. Workshop design and resources.

References

Chalfen, R. 2011. ‘Differentiating Practices of Participatory Visual Media Production’, in Margolis, E. and Pauwels, L. (eds) The SAGE handbook of visual research methods. Los Angeles, Calif: SAGE, pp. 186–200.

Sinha, S. and Back, L. 2014 ‘Making methods sociable: Dialogue, ethics and authorship in qualitative research’, Qualitative Research, 14(4), pp. 473–487.

Janet Laurence: After Nature

Janet Laurence: After Nature, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, 1 March – 10 June 2019

Janet Laurence, Heartshock (After Nature), 2008/2019. Photograph: Jacquie Manning/MCA

As usual, I took in a few exhibitions on recent trip to Sydney. It was really fortunate that the visit coincided with this retrospective, plus a major new work, at the MCA. I wasn’t familiar with Laurence‘s work (though I now do remember her installation at Changi Airport in Singapore), but it is clear that there is a substantial overlap with a number of emerging themes in the development of my own work, albeit in a very different context, and with a very different emphasis. Engaging with, and reflecting on, Laurence’s work has enabled me to make a number of bridges and connections between aspects of both my visual and conceptual work. I’ll summarise these here, in relation to the exhibition, and will return to the themes in the development of my work over the coming weeks. In particular, the exhibition, and subsequent reading about Laurence’s work, has enabled me to think more clearly about the form that the outcomes of my final major project might take, and how this relates to my methodology and broader conceptual framework.

Janet Laurence, After Eden, 2012. Installation view, Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, Sydney. Video, mesh, acrylic, steel, scientific glass, taxidermy specimens. Photograph: Jamie North

This exhibition includes key works by Laurence, from early pieces using metal plates, minerals, organic substances and photographs mounted on lightboxes (exploring, for instance, the periodic table), through installations from the 2000s featuring plant and animal specimens and ‘wunderkammer’ (box of curiosities) environments, to a contemporary commissioned piece, featuring floor to ceiling ‘veils’ printed with tree images, arranged in three concentric rings through which visitors can walk, and quasi-scientific collections of plant samples and apparatus (a herbarium, an elixir bar and a botanical library). As the curator’s notes state, Laurence explores ‘the interconnection of all living things – animal, plant, mineral – through a multi-disciplinary approach’ using ‘sculpture, installation, photography and video’ (Kent, 2019, online) . As Gibson (2015a) notes, Laurence has a ‘biocentric’ view of the world, and that, through incorporation of live biotic material in her work, she goes beyond just the entanglement of the human and the (other non-human) natural to focus on questions of care and the possibility of repair and reparation.

Janet Laurence, Cellular Gardens (Where Breathing Begins) (detail), 2005. Stainless steel, mild steel, acrylic, blown glass, rainforest plants. Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased 2005. Back: Janet Laurence, Selva Veil, 2005. Archive film with ultrachrome pigment inks, aluminium brackets. Museum of Contemporary Art, donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Janet Laurence, 2013.

Gibson and Laurence (2015) explore the relationship between this work and contemporary post-humanist theory (and this is further explored by Gibson, 2015a and 2015b). Focusing on the piece Fugitive (2013) they argue that Laurence entangles the (human) viewer in the natural, making us all complicit in ecological/environmental decline, but, in the light of Barad’s non-dualist ontology, whilst shifting the human from the centre, resists re-assertion of a culture/nature divide. The collection of organic and animal material, and the multi-modal form, subverts scientific objectivity whilst questioning human subjectivity.

Citing Barad (2012) and Harraway (2004), they state that

‘The reason Karen Barad is so helpful in a discussion of Laurence’s artwork, that deals with human ruination of nature and re-performances that might create a new emergent force, is that she warns against simply inverting humanism, in order to avoid anthropocentrism. She warns against blurring boundaries between human and non- human in an effort to equalize ontology. These cautions are also iterated by Donna Haraway’s discussions of leaky distinctions between human, animal and machine. Haraway says, ‘Movements for animal rights are not irrational denials of human uniqueness; they are clear-sighted recognition of connection across the discredited breach of nature and culture…the boundary between physical and non-physical is very imprecise for us. (Haraway, 2004: 10-11)’’ (Palmer & Laurence, 2015: 46-7).

Central to this work is Barad’s idea of ‘intra-action’. As Palmer and Laurence (2015) state

‘The matter is there in the forceful enactment. The reason Barad’s concept of intra-action is so exciting is because her quantum physics expertise develops into an exploratory elaboration of this idea into the realm of phenomenology. In other words, she sees phenomena as quantumly entangled, but this is not individual entities becoming entangled but where intra-acting components are inseparable or indivisible. Perhaps, the entities don’t come together and become entangled, they already were entangled primordially’. (47)

Laurence produces places where crossing-over can take place, where difference can be questioned and entanglement experienced. There is also a sense of slowing down and focusing of attention when presented by the sheer volume, and forms, or artefact, both veiled and brightly illuminated. As Miall (2019) notes, this effect is particularly marked in Laurence’s site specific works,

‘The spatiality of installations, their insistence on embodied contemplation and the way in which they engender a haptic, bodily awareness through overlaying the processes of memory and perception with the work’s materiality, are central to the transformative experience of Laurence’s public projects’. (86)

Deep Breathing: Resuscitation for the Reef (detail) by Janet Laurence, 2015–16. Photograph: MCA

Engaging with Laurence’s work has influenced my own thinking in a number of ways. It has helped me to think more clearly about the link between post-humanist theory and art, as it relates to the kinds of contexts I am exploring. She highlights the co-dependence of the human and the natural and the reciprocity of care (which in turn, and in intention, undermines the human/natural dualism). Post-humanism is not anti-humanism, and, for me, the challenge, artistically, is to explore the de-centring of the human whilst maintaining an active commitment to equity and social justice. There is no necessary tension between non-anthropocentric view and a ‘good life’, in fact, for the latter to be sustainable the former is a necessity. The experience of Laurence’s work has given me some insight into how I might provide a sense of entwinement of individuals and communities in place, and the alienating nature of contemporary developments. This enriches the insight provided by more sociological analyses of urban development (like Klinenberg’s, 2018, studies of social infrastructure) , and provides a bridge to the neuroscience influenced work of Fitzgerald et al (2018 & 2016), which brings us back, by a different route, to the entanglement of the human and the natural in the ‘neuropolis’.

Janet Laurence, The Green That Was (detail) from the Crimes Against the Landscape series, 2008. Duraclear, polished aluminium, pigment on acrylic, mirror, burnt wood

References

Barad, K. 2012. ‘Nature’s Queer Performativity.’ Kvinder, Køn og forskning/ Women, Gender and Research. No. 1-2: 25-53.

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

Fitzgerald, D., Rose, N. and Singh, I. 2016. ‘Revitalizing sociology: Urban life and mental illness between history and the present’, British Journal of Sociology, 67(1): 138–160.

Gibson, P. and Laurence, J. 2015 ‘Janet Laurence: Aesthetics of Care’, Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture, (31): 39–52.

Gibson, P. 2015a. ‘Plant thinking as geo-philosophy’, Transformations: Journal of Media & Culture, (26): 1–9. Available at: http://www.transformationsjournal.org/journal/26/02.shtml.

Gibson, P. 2015b. Janet Laurence: The Pharmacy of Plants. Sydney: NewSouth Books.

Haraway, D. 2004. The Haraway Reader. New York, Routledge.

Kent, R. 2019. After Nature: Janet Laurence. Online at https://www.mca.com.au/artists-works/exhibitions/829-janet-laurence/ [accessed 02.01.19].

Klinenberg, E. 2018. Palaces for the People: How to Build a More Equal and United Society. London: Bodley Head.

Miall, N. 2019 ‘The Constant Gardener: On Janet Laurence’s Site-Specific Works’, in Kent, R. (ed.) Janet Laurence: After Nature. Sydney: Museum of Contemporary Art Australia: 83–95.

Planning for the Surfaces & Strategies module

My project involves the exploration of resident engagement with urban regeneration in east London. I have continued to work broadly along the lines set out in my project proposal. The work includes three levels of image making: (i) images made by residents as part of a process of understanding the experiences, lifeworlds and aspirations of individuals and communities; (ii) collaborative image making with community and activist groups for advocacy; (iii) my own artistic response to the changes that are taking place and the ways in which communities are affected by urban regeneration. Over the previous three modules I have developed close working relationships with a number of groups and have focused my work on a particular part of east London (Barking and Dagenham, though I have retained strong links with groups on and around the Olympic Park). I have strengthened the conceptual basis for my work and have developed my visual strategy and methodology in line with this. My current work can be seen here. I have posted regular updates on the development of my project in my CRJ (for instance, here). Most recently, my work has started to address environmental and ecological issues more directly, and I have begun to engage with different conceptions of time (both in response to developments in theoretical physics, and in order to move away from anthropocentric forms of understanding). I have also attempted to bring the work together with other work I have been doing on object oriented learning and indigenous forms of knowledge. I have attempted to assess how the development of my ideas and practice over the previous module relates to the learning objectives for the programme here.

According to the programme description, by the end of the module we should demonstrate: ‘an increased understanding of how complex and sophisticated image-making practices and visual communication strategies can be incorporated into your own practice’. I just want to unpack this a little to map out what I want to achieve over the course of the module, particularly given that this is the last taught component before the FMP.

In my research proposal I identified the following skills for development in this module:

Photo-book production, installation design, printing for exhibition and alternative modes of presentation to different audiences, physically and online.

In relation to the schedule for completion of the project, I earmarked the following actions for this module:

Continuing personal photographic work and collaborative image making. Explore alternative means of presenting images (including books, installations and online galleries). Conduct workshops to prepare community members for Photovoice work. Determine form of personal and collaborative image making, and process of dissemination. Start collection of Photovoice data.

In the light of the ways in which my work has developed over the past year, modifying and expanding the above, this is what I want to achieve over the coming three months:

  • Refine ways of working with participant images and image making. While in Newcastle, I will spend some time working with two projects in the Centre that are using Photovoice (Wang & Burris, 1997) styles of work and arts-based methods of enquiry (with victims of domestic violence and with young offenders in rural areas). Working from the critical work of Sinha & Back (2014), I want to refine the approach to bring it conceptually closer to other strands of my work. Within the module, there are questions about how (if at all) this work is presented to an audience, and ethical issues around working with images made by others for different purposes to be addressed.
  • Incorporate archival images into my work. I have started to do this with the erase series (which incorporates a montage made of archival images of the Creekmouth estate). I need to do some work in the Valence House archives, and also think about how to use the Courtauld archive.
  • Develop the repository of images for advocacy with the Thames Ward Community Project and the Barking and Dagenham Heritage Conservation Group. I want to address the issue of how these relate to other aspects of my work, and the extent to which, for instance, they could together be considered as some kind of archive, and if so, what form might this archive take.
  • Consolidate the conceptual strands from Informing Contexts and focus these on the development of a coherent and informed methodology (with associated strategies and tactics). Lemke’s (2017, 2015) advocacy for a form of relational post-humanism holds some potential in bringing together linguistically inflected post-structuralism with more recent post-humanist and new materialist theory (see, for instance: Barad, 2007 & 2008; Coole & Frost, 2010). Likewise, the engagement by Fitzgerald et al (2018 & 2016) of neuroscience and biology with sociology in understanding contemporary urban life facilitates incorporation of objects and the environment with exploration of the human impact of urban development. The third dimension of this is dialogue with indigenous people’s notions of relationship of the body to the land (and experience of displacement), and running through this the role of objects, materials and making in fostering understanding.
  • Explore the relationship between the digital and the analogue. In the work produced during the last module, I established a resonance between the move from analogue images to digital composites (and animations) and the rendering of residents and communities as data in the shaping of local housing development and planning initiatives. This needs to be further developed both in terms of a visual strategy and conceptually, bearing in mind, for instance, Goriunova’s (2019) notion of the digital subject.
  • Determine the focus for the final major project (from amongst the settings and themes of my work to date) and the form in which the outcomes will be presented.

References

Barad K. 2007. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham/London: Duke University Press.

Barad K. 2008. Posthumanist performativity: Toward an understanding of how matter comes to matter. In Alaimo S and Hekman S (eds) Material Feminisms. Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press: 120–154.

Coole D. and Frost S. (eds). 2010. New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics. Durham/London: Duke University Press.

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

Fitzgerald, D., Rose, N. and Singh, I. 2016. ‘Revitalizing sociology: Urban life and mental illness between history and the present’, British Journal of Sociology, 67(1): 138–160.

Goriunova, O. 2019. ‘The Digital Subject: People as Data as Persons’, Theory, Culture and Society. doi: 10.1177/0263276419840409.

Lemke, T. 2017. ‘Materialism without matter: the recurrence of subjectivism in object-oriented ontology’, Distinktion, 18(2): 133–152.

Lemke, T. 2015. ‘New Materialisms: Foucault and the “Government of Things”’, Theory, Culture & Society, 32(4): 3–25.

Sinha, S. and Back, L. 2014. ‘Making methods sociable: Dialogue, ethics and authorship in qualitative research’, Qualitative Research, 14(4): 473–487.

Wang, C. and Burris, M. A. 1997. ‘Photovoice: Concept, Methodology, and Use for Participatory Needs Assessment’, Health Education & Behavior, 24(3): 369–387.

Ruscha books at the Art Gallery of New South Wales

Ruscha books in the Art Gallery of New South Wales Study Room

I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon looking at nine of Ed Ruscha’s books with Deborah Jones (prints and drawings room coordinator) at the Art Gallery of New South Wales Study Room. Whilst the holding is well-presented online (with key information on each item and reproductions of all the images), it really makes a difference to see the books themselves.

Pages from ‘Twentysix Gasoline Stations’

The books vary dramatically in terms of format and quality of production (for instance, paper, type of binding, image reproduction), which reinforces the observation by Di Piero (2012: 49) that ‘for Ruscha, a book can be an icon, an archive, a technology, an action zone, an artistic support, a motif.’ The contrast between, for instance, the 1963 Twentysix Gasoline Stations and the 1967 Thirtyfour Parking Lots is marked. The latter is a larger format with glossy paper and higher quality images (produced for Ruscha rather than by Ruscha). Whilst the former presents a kind of narrative (a three day journey with a distinct ‘end’), the impact of the latter is in the patterns in the aerial photographs of the deserted parking lots, and the juxtaposition of these. Royal Road Test (1967) presents other contrasts, both in form (spiral bound, text, full-bleed images, jointly authored) and content (a quasi-forensic report).

Pages from ‘Royal Road Test’

Looking at the books also reinforces Dziewior’s (2012) observation that there is a distinct rhythm to Ruscha’s books, particularly in the use of blank pages. Nine Swimming Pools is peppered with blank pages (varying from two to six pages), and Colored People and A Few Palm Trees, smaller format than the other books with glossy covers, have nothing but blank pages for the second half of each book. Thirtyfour Parking Lots has photographs of different proportions, including panoramic shots (taken to its extreme in the 7.5 metre, accordion folded Every Building on the Sunset Strip). And at the end of Thirtyfour Parking Lots there is one of Ruscha’s jokes, with a panoramic shot going beyond the constraints of the page and onto a tab. Deborah remarked that Ruscha is ‘cheeky’, which seems about right.

Pages from ‘Thirtyfour Parking Lots’

The splicing of images in Every Building on the Sunset Strip is crude, with a number of partial frames and disjunctions. Initially, I thought that, as with other Ruscha works (except Royal Road Test) there were no human figures (which I take to be a comment on Los Angeles life and the dominance of the car), but there are a couple of people sitting on a bench in one frame, and a couple of figures entering a shopping mall. It was great to unfold the whole thing (which is composed of a number of sections glued together), though we didn’t have a 7.5 metre stretch to lay it out flat.

Pages from ‘Every Building on Sunset Strip’
Ed Ruscha, Every Building on Sunset Strip, 1966

I have revised two of my books for this activity to add in blank pages in line with the associated Ruscha books. If I had time to make further books, I think I would do something entitled ‘Small World’ or ‘Big Country’ which, inspired by Megan’s instagram comment, documented the ‘big’ objects (like the ‘Big Pineapple’ and the ‘Big Prawn’ which have sprung up along the Pacific Highway, using images from Google maps.

Big Prawn, West Ballina (image from Google Streetview).
Anonymised Prawn, West Ballina (image from Google Streetview).

Final note: the copy of ‘Colored People’ had the price paid in a secondhand bookshop in London . £1.

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.

Ruscha Books in Art Gallery of New South Wales holding

Twentysix Gasoline Stations, 1963
Various Small Fires, 1964
Every Building on the Sunset Strip, 1966
Thirtyfour Parking Lots, 1967
Royal Road Test, 1967
Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass, 1968
Real Estate Opportunities, 1970
A Few Palm Trees, 1971
Colored People, 1972

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

Kathryn Jeanes. Biloela: Afore and Beyond, 2019

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 packages, overalls, books), 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, 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.

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.