Creating your own audience: Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales

Paul Strohm (2014), in Chaucer’s Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury, identifies the cultivation of, and through performance direct engagement with, an audience, as vital to the practice and status of the medieval poet. In moving from London to Kent, Chaucer lost his audience, albeit intimate and small in number. His solution, in Strohm’s account, was novel and transformative. In the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer created his own audience for his writing within the text itself, by making the thirty pilgrims an audience for, and commentators on, each other’s stories. The pilgrims come from different walks of life, and the stories differ in form and content. In seeking a form of direct address to mobilise his narrative, Chaucer’s artistic breakthrough is, according to Strohm, to create ‘a body of ambitiously mixed participants suitable for a collection of tales unprecedented in their variety and scope … a portable audience’ (227) enabling Chaucer to produce a work of art that places itself ‘beyond the vagaries of time and circumstance’ (228). ‘The idea starts with a mixed company of Pilgrim tale-tellers. From this mixed company issues the form of the work: It will be serial, multivoiced, stylistically mixed, many-themed, and contentious’ (228).

I’m reflecting on this as I plan the protocols for working with different groups on my micro-projects. It prompts me to consider the extent to which diversity both within and between groups can be reflected in the forms of visual outcomes. Chaucer’s literary strategy provides a way of managing this diversity, in constituting each group as both producers and an audience for, and interlocutors with, what is produced. This allows the space, in each group, to produce diverse forms of constituent images and collective outcomes, and makes the fieldwork a generative enterprise. The outcomes will be ‘multivoiced, stylistically mixed, many-themed’ and are likely to be ‘contentious’ (particularly where the perceptions and experiences of individuals and groups lie in opposition to, or diverge from, those of, for instance, the local authority and developers). The work produced is thus presented to an audience in the process of production, and potentially transformed. It is formalised in the creation of a pop-up exhibition, with the prospect of enlarging the audience. The outcomes are unlikely to be serial, in the sense of a manuscript of Chaucer’s work, unless the constituent projects are presented, in part or whole, as books or other linear forms (which presents another dimension of challenge).

Thinking of the groups and the work produced in these terms strengthens the collaborative nature of the process, and allows the meaningful production of a range of forms of image. It also reinforces the poetic/lyrical nature of the project (rather than the third party construction and mediation of narratives).

Related posts

References

Paul Strohm (2014), Chaucer’s Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury, New York: Viking.

Reflection on October FMP Module Leader Group Critique

Andrew Brown, Test Portrait Composite, 2019

It was good to catch up with the development of other people’s projects. Particularly good to see Alison’s project, which is in the final edit stage. The key general messages for me were:

  • there is no need to be epic. Can focus on a particular aspect of a project. Important to do something that is manageable, achievable and coherent. Better to limit the scope and ensure that the project is well realised and documented.
  • think carefully about the translation from the materiality of the outputs and the presentation as an online document. Think about how the feel and scale of the work produced are communicated in the final pdf.
  • the edit for a book or an exhibition will be very different from the edit for the pdf. Think carefully about the purpose of each edit.
  • document everything so that evidence can be included where needed in the final pdf edit.
  • it is important to have some form of public output/engagement, but this can take a number of different forms. The quality and appropriateness of the engagement, and the detail of the documentation, are more important than duration, scale or size of audience. Transient and impermanent events can be impactful.

In relation to my own project, the discussion reinforced the value of the pop-up exhibitions and events and workshops/seminars as outcomes from the project.

I presented some images from my S&S WIP portfolio (which others in the group will not have seen) plus an example of how I might incorporate portraits of participants (see above). The discussion reinforced the importance of thinking about ways of presenting the work to a wider audience (see discussion of feedback on FMP Proposal).

Valérie Belin: portraits and superimposition

Valérie Belin, Fox Chase Antiques, 2019

Belin’s recent commission for the V&A (for which she produced layered images using photographs from the V&A archive) has prompted me to revisit her work. My principal interest is to explore ways of incorporating portraits into my collaborative composites, layering them with built and natural environment images, artefacts, maps, archival images and so on. Whilst Belin’s practice is very different from my own (in most cases she uses professional models to pose for the portrait components, for instance, whereas I am working collaboratively with community members in the production of portraits and composites), it is instructive to explore her visual strategies and technical production processes.

Valérie Belin, Bravissimo, Stage Sets series, 2011

It is her earlier monochrome layering work that bears the closest resemblance to what I am doing. In Stage Sets (2011) she superimposes stage sets on urban street scenes, her first exploration of the landscape, also using solarisation in a similar way to her Interiors (2012) series (the process of conversion of channel mixed images to black and white produces a similar effect).

Valérie Belin, XXX Toys, Brides series, 2012

Brides (2012) combines earlier images of Moroccan Brides with street scenes, producing an interaction between the adornments of the brides with the complexity of shopfronts (with neon signs and text). Bob (2012) combines the human figure with theatrical prop store interiors and China Girls (2018) blends models with highly complex images of flowers and fruit, merging figure with background.

Valérie Belin, Bohemian Glass Cup, China Girls series, 2018

This work differs from my own not just in process and focus, but in the number of images combined (two in Belin’s case, three in my case) and the contrast (her images are high contrast, mine must lower in contrast). The size of her prints is also notable – each of the images in China Girls is 173 x 130 cm (in and edition of 6 with two artist’s prints). She is working with large format film, which is then scanned and manipulated.

Valérie Belin, Pieris Japonica Mountain Fire, Black-Eyed Susan II series, 2013

Of particular interest in the development of my own work is the production of colour prints in the series All Star (2016), Super Models (2015), Black-Eyed Susan II (2013) and Black-Eyed Susan I (2010). By following Welling’s channel mixing approach, colour in my images is an artefact (the initial images are black and white, which are fed into red, blue and green channels before being converted/manipulated to produce a final black and white image – the colour images thus bear no relation to the colour of the original objects).

Valérie Belin, Ishtar, Super Models series, 2015

To achieve her effect, Belin is clearly superimposing in this work, which produces a ‘natural’ colour image, but does not allow the interaction of tones and entanglement of images achieved in the process I am using. As I am not able to process colour film myself, adopting Belin’s process would require me to shoot digitally, which will limit the size of image I can ultimately produce. Something to explore: colour images would be more engaging, I think, for some of the community projects. I also want to explore ways in which Belin has drawn out the faces of the models in China Girls (compare this with the images from Brides, which more closely resemble my initial composites with portraits, but again without the tonal interaction/interruption).

Valérie Belin, Golden Girl, All Star series, 2016

Lots to be learned from this work, both in relation to similarity in the use of layering/superimposition and the the underlying rationale for this (bringing things together in the frame which don’t physically and temporally co-exist in a given place, but which psychologically, socially and culturally do interact with each other in the development of a sense of ‘locatedness’ and becoming). My process is, however, is very different, and the underlying intent (and theory) is distinct. There is, however, no clear rationale for producing black and white images (apart from the evocation of a fiction, rather than a representation), so exploration of ways of producing large colour images would be productive.

Resources

Valérie Belin, https://valeriebelin.com/ [accessed 01.11.19]

Warner, M (2019) Valérie Belin’s reflections of the real and imaginary, British Journal of Photography, 22.10.19. Online at https://www.bjp-online.com/2019/10/valerie-belins-va/ [accessed 01.11.19]

The passage of time and becoming

Kim Boske

http://www.kimboske.com

Kim Boske, Snow, 2015

At Unseen, I was immediately drawn to Boske’s black and white ‘Snow’ (2015) for its similarity, in look, to my monochrome manipulation of channel mixing. This was exhibited as a 153×103 cm C-print in artist’s frame (in an edition of seven prints plus two artist’s prints).

Kim Boske, untitled B/W, 2015

Whilst the form of layering suggests a similar process of production (and the more recent ‘untitled B/W’ series bears even closer similarity), looking at other colour work suggests that a different technique is used.

Kim Boske, A forest, 2019
Kim Boske, Mapping 14, 2017

Boske states that she is ‘fascinated by how different moments in time and space determine our perspective and define reality’ and by ‘a way of thinking that presents itself more as “becoming” rather than “being”’ producing a ‘collection of afterimages taken from past and present, together constructing an image of ‘now’, revealing a phenomenon that is impossible to see or witness with the naked eye’. She sees art and nature as in dialogue and ‘entwined’ and states that her work is ‘basically an investigation of time and space’ informed by reading Deleuze and Bergson [artist’s website]. The human figure is absent from the images, only implied through the process of capture of the constituent moments that combine to make the final image. There is clearly resonance with my composites, but Boske focuses only on the ‘natural’ (not built environment, nor human activity). I’d like to explore this further, particularly the use of colour, and maybe experiment with the juxtaposition of natural/built/human images of this sort (rather than combining these within one image, though I think conceptually this works better).

Kim Boske, Kamiyama, photographic prints on washi paper, dyed in natural indigo, 2018

It was also interesting to see the work she has done that is presented as large prints suspended on wires (not framed).

Whilst Boske explores the becoming of the natural (and implies some sense of continuity) my interest is in exploration of entwining as a core component of the process of change, and the instability and unpredictability of this process as a result of interaction between the natural, built and human (and the ultimate negation of those categories as distinct).

Kim Boske, Untitled (FW-TKY) Video on Photography, 2014 [installation shot]

The work reinforces, for me, that the composites are tenable as a visual form, but that I need to explore further ways of presenting the work. Interestingly, Boske also produces animations, displayed on LCD panels, as well as large prints.

The book as object/archive

I was fortunate to be able to talk to Lukas Birk at Unseen. A number of his projects have given rise to ‘archive’ style publications, where a range of different kinds of images are brought together into a single place around a central common theme. For my project, his ‘FERNWEH – a man’s journey‘ is particularly interesting. This brings together a number small A5 handmade books, some of which are altered texts, and others of which are collections of found or family photographs. Individually each has its own theme and identity, and collectively (presented together in a box), according to Birk, they constitute ‘a riveting travelogue memoir that unwraps the lifetime of three generations of men who shared a passion for traveling, photography and the mountains’.

Apart from a pamphlet with a short essay and list of plates, there is no text and all images are full bleed. The reader can clearly look at the constituent booklets in whatever order they wish. The essay (by Natasha Christia) reinforces this, stating that ‘the five booklets … are fragments of an incomplete photographic memory, misconstrued by nature. They also operate as interconnected vessels of a shared universal experience, inviting us to step back and forth in time and engage with content according to our own personal visual and emotional resonances’. In thinking about the relationship between this kind of portable print output and exhibitions, it is interesting to note that Birk states that FERNWEH ‘was originally conceived as a mutating touring exhibition’ This invokes the kind of adaptable exhibition resource produced by Dayanita Singh, and the notion of ‘locatedness’ explored by composer Georgia Roberts. In producing site specific compositions, Roberts explores the sonic characteristics of the place, seeking resonances and frequencies that ‘belong’ or are optimal in the place. This can also be seen as a process of ‘extraction’ of music from a place, and then a placement of the listener in this sonically animated space. There is more to explore here, particularly in drawing comparisons with between contemporary composition and the visual arts. For my FMP project, however, the key outcome is to think about the way in which I can produce a collection of images and other material which could constitute a resource for the production of exhibitions or installations that adapt to the spaces in which they are presented, and the basis for other outputs (such as an artist book). ‘Locatedness’ is a central theme both in the production and presentation of the work.

Kurt Tong, Combing for Ice and Jade, page spread, 2019

Kurt Tong’s ‘Combing for Ice and Jade‘ was also available at the book exhibition. The book draws of a range of types of image and text to present an account of the life of his amah. This includes family photographs, still life photos, period publications, texts and more. Coming initially from a design created at the ‘Photobook as Object’ workshop, it has the structure and content of a handmade artist book, but being produced by a commercial publisher, has a very different feel. The commercial production also limits the range of different kinds of papers and printing used, a key characteristic of the handmade artist book (it does, though, have cutouts, tipped in images and gatefolds, and other features typical of the handmade book).

Kurt Tong, Combing for Ice and Jade, Exhibition view, 2019

It was interesting to see the work as an exhibition at Arles. The book as a strong linear narrative structure, reinforced by text which maintains direction and pace. Though images are the principal focus of the book, the exhibition is a more visual experience. It allows the viewer to diverge from the linear narrative, and it is a more social experience (in that the viewing takes place with other people, which creates the possibility of interaction). A considerable amount of work needs to be done to turn an exhibition into a book and vice versa, and clearly one or the other may not be appropriate for a particular project.

References

Birk, L. 2019. FERNWEH – a man’s journey. Fraglich Publishing.
http://www.lukasbirk.com/portfolio/fernweh-a-mans-journey/

Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. 2019. Georgia Rodgers and ‘locatedness’. https://hcmf.co.uk/georgia-rodgers-and-locatedness/

Tong, K. 2019. Combing for Ice and Jade. Jiazazhi
https://jiazazhistore.com/products/kurt-tong-combing-for-ice-and-jade

Unseen Amsterdam Reflection

20th-22nd September 2019

https://amsterdam.unseenplatform.com/event

Falmouth MA group, Unseen Amsterdam, 2019

A somewhat belated reflection on Unseen Amsterdam 2019. This was the weekend before the beginning of the FMP module. Going back through my notes four weeks on, and with the development of my FMP at the forefront of my mind (the fieldwork phase starts tomorrow), I am going to focus on the work that has particular relevance for the development of my own practice, and specifically my final major project. Rather than one long post covering a lot of ground, I’m going to break up the reflection into five short, themed, posts: using corporate computer generated images (Felicity Hammond), past, present and becoming (Kim Boske), from digital image to chemical print (Michael Lundgren), surface modified images (Sylvie Bonnot, Sasan Abri, Parisa Aminolahi), the book as object/archive (Kurt Tong, Lukas Birk, the Photobook as Object workshop). The greatest benefit of the weekend was, as with Paris and Arles, being able to meet up with fellow MA students and tutors, and talk about our work. Wasn’t able to stay for the portfolio review, unfortunately, but only a few weeks since the last review in Bristol.

FMP Proposal and Schedule

The major benefit of putting the research proposal together for me has been drawing up a provisional timeline for the completion of the work. The nature of the project means that I have to leave the possible outputs fairly open, but the major milestones are clear. Here’s the full proposal. The timeline is below. Important to keep this under review (and assess the impact of any slippage).

Final-Project-Proposal-AB

Planning and set up
(23rd September 2019 to 20th October 2019)

Week 1 Unseen Amsterdam. Meetings with partners and participants, making images for the community, community day, demonstration.
Week 2 PK presentation and first tutorial. Planning session at school. Visit exhibition spaces.
Week 3 Meeting with Barking and Dagenham College. London Prosperity Board meeting. Initial briefing of community groups and schools.
Week 4 Submission of Final Project Proposal. Archive work at Valance House.

Collaborative image making and micro projects
(21st October to 15th December 2019)

Week 5 Workshops and fieldwork.
Week 6 Workshops and fieldwork. Feedback on Final Project Proposal.
Week 7 Workshops and fieldwork.
Week 8 Workshops and fieldwork. MPF/RPS group meeting (Bristol).
Week 9 Workshops and fieldwork. Magnum weekend workshop with Sim Chi Yin.
Week 10 Workshops and fieldwork.
Week 11 Workshops and fieldwork.
Week 12 Workshops and fieldwork.

Series of workshops and photographic fieldwork with the following groups: Greatfields School, Barking and Dagenham College, Thames Ward Community Programme, Thames View Residents Association, Thames Reach Residents Association, New View Arts, Eastside Community Heritage, Barking and Dagenham Heritage Conservation Group. Each series will have a specific focus relating to community and regeneration determined by the group.

Composite image-making and preparation for pop-up exhibitions and simple publications
(16th December 2019 to 12th January 2020)

Week 13 Collation of images
Week 14 Creation of composites
Week 15 Printing and preparation of outputs
Week 16 Initial sequencing and layout

Sharing of composites, feedback, pop-up exhibitions and preparation of cumulative outcomes
(13th January 2020 to 23rd February 2020)

Week 17 Selection and exhibition layout with participants
Week 18 Preparation of publications with participants
Week 19 Preparation of publications with participants
Week 20 Pop-up exhibitions
Week 21 Pop-up exhibitions
Week 22 Reflection and follow-up with participants

Final outcomes: exhibition, artists book/archive and presentation
(24th February 2020 to 5th April 2020)

Week 23 Finalisation of outcomes
Week 24 Exhibition
Week 25 Exhibition. Falmouth workshops and portfolio review
Week 26 [Canterbury Elder Care]
Week 27 [Singapore Expert Panel]
Week 28 Public presentations

Preparation of FMP submission
(6th April 2020 to 1st May 2020)

Week 29 Review CRJ and online portfolio
Week 30 Finalise Critical Review of Practice
Week 31 Finalise Project pdf
Week 32 Submit Project pdf and Critical Review of Practice

Through our Eyes; Housing & Health

Ideas Store, Gladstone Place, Roman Road, Bow, London E3 5EU.
18th Sept – 10th October 2019.

Through our Eyes; Housing & Health, Ideas Store, London E3, 2019
Through our Eyes; Housing & Health, Ideas Store, London E3, 2019

I was interested to see how the outcomes of a photovoice style community research project could be presented as a public exhibition. This work was part of a research project on the relationship between housing and health in Tower Hamlets. It is stated that:

‘The eight exhibitors have used photography to capture their experiences, thoughts and feelings on the topic of housing in their community and in their own home. Issues explored included whether residents have experienced any changes since the introduction of the cuts to public spending particularly affecting the budgets of local government.’ [online]

As, I think, with all photovoice type work (where making and discussing images is at the core of exploration of participants’ lifeworlds), there is a tension between the role of images in the process and the use of images as (exhibitible) outcomes. Fitzgibbon and Stengel (2018) note that the nature of images produced by participants (which can relate to sensitive aspects of their everyday lives) combined with the interdiction placed on images of people where anonymity has been promised, limits which images can be used in accounts of the outcomes of photovoice studies. In their own work, these images may, for instance, represent or infer illegal activities, or situations that might threaten the safety of participants. The images used in the account of their research are consequently apparently mundane and difficult to interpret (the significance of the image lies in the account of the participant). The weight of communicating outcomes rests, as a consequence, on the text, with images playing a very minor part.

Figure 2. ‘Don’t inject dope, because you’ll be taken by the police’. Figure taken by Chicks Day employee Bora. From Fitzgibbon and Stengel (2018)

The images in this exhibition are similarly mundane, and reliant upon the text to make the message of each image explicit. There is little in the way of surprise (the concerns of the residents are much as would be expected) or challenge in either the text or the images (though it would have been interested to see a selection of images without the accompanying text). This particular exhibition thus raises question about both the photovoice process as an effective approach to insightful, coherent and convincing research, and as a means of producing powerful images. The exhibition on its own falls short of achieving the aim ‘to stimulate dialogue between residents, policy makers and practitioners’. As Liebenberg (2018) argues, photovoice can be a powerful approach to research and social change, but to achieve this it needs to be conceived, and operationalised, as a form of participatory action research.

References

Fitzgibbon, W. and Stengel, C. M. 2018. ‘Women’s voices made visible: Photovoice in visual criminology’, Punishment and Society, 20(4), pp. 411–431.

Liebenberg, L. 2018. ‘Thinking critically about photovoice: Achieving empowerment and social change’, International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 17(1), pp. 1–9.

PK presentation and first tutorial reflection

Having to put together the PK presentation was a mixed blessing. Valuable to think about where my project was coming from and where it was heading. I’m not sure whether the fixed duration for each slide is helpful. Greater freedom in the timing and number of frames would have given a better presentation of the work (but still within seven minutes).

Helpful discussion with Wendy, which has given me confidence to develop the proposed focus for the FMP (which can only be a relatively small part of a bigger, over-arching project). Important to think about strategies for exhibiting and disseminating the work. Will check out Ponte City project by Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse as a way of exploring life in a particular housing project. The spreads from the working book dummy are particularly useful.

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse, Ponte City, spread from book dummy.

And look more closely at Gideon Mendel’s Dzhangal project (focussing on left behind objects, which resonates with my earlier object related work in museums and collections and the refugee archive work at UCL).

Open City Documentary Film Festival 2019

My second year at this event, and a good opportunity to think again about the relationship between film and photography, common issues in both, and seek out ideas and work that help me to think through my own project.

Research as Creative Practice

The focus of the discussion was principally exploration of the extent to which non-fiction film making could be considered to be research, fuelled perhaps by the association of all three panel members with universities, and concerns around what counts for the Research Excellence Framework, and other measures of research productivity. Each panelist presented examples from their work, each of which had some resonance with my own. Brett Story’s The Hottest August is formed around casual conversation around New York during a heatwave, starting with the question ‘what are your hopes for the future’, creating a sense of the anxieties of people at this particular place and point in time. Whether or not this constitutes research, it does provide some insight, and uses visual (and audio) means to capture these encounters and engage and provoke the viewer. For me, it raises the question of the capability of photography to do capture everyday activity in this way. The method used is interesting as well – walking around with a camera and sound rig and asking the question to whoever you encounter, something that could certainly be done with still photography (though, interestingly, it might be more difficult to explain as an activity – the higher visibility of the video and audio rig giving a much clearer initial message about what is going on and what is expected of the participants; presumably permission are sought after the event). The idea of the production of an archive of the present, through these conversations with strangers, is interesting. A still image cannot do the same thing, but it can sit alongside other artefacts and media in a way that extended video cannot. This relates back to an earlier discussion provoked by Stephen Heath’s presentation at last year’s festival: the relative advantages of the installation over the film (in this case, his film Island). An enduring question, for those working in any media, is ‘who are you in this encounter?’

Bo Wang‘s Many Undulating Things explores spatial inequality in Hong Kong, starting and ending in a shopping centre, and exploring different kinds of public and private spaces (from housing projects to commercial warehouses). Interesting issues here include the difficulties in gaining access to privately owned land (and ways of subverting this) and the nature of the encounters with people (and rejections), leading in some cases to verbal interactions off-camera, but on sound track (interesting to explore with still images, with either text or audio). The primary focus of the film is on the experience of social and physical space, and the bodily experience of inhabited space, questions that are implicit in my work, but should perhaps be more explicit.

Interesting discussion, and resonates with my own approach to using photography as a means of investigation and interrogation (as research) rather than seeing research as just a precursor to visual work. How this might then contribute to inter-disciplinary research programmes remains a core question (which will be addressed again in future posts).

Masterclass: Mila Turajlic on Filming a Nation

https://www.othersideofeverything.com/

Raised interesting questions about the use of archives, and what happens when a country ceases to exist and archives are scattered. Also about the creating and maintaining spaces for dialogue (and the manner in which polarisation destroys this, constantly asking the question ‘whose side were you on?’). Who do you trust to tell the story of the past? On working in the archive ‘Every day in the archive is a shooting day for the Director’ (ie, creating content).

Films and shorts

I booked a session to view a selection of films and shorts, including the following (of particular relevance to my project).

Here for Life, Andrea Luka Zimmerman & Adrian Jackson, 2019

https://www.fugitiveimages.org.uk/projects/here-for-life-2019/

Collaborative film with ten Londoners, where individual stories blend one into the other. A number of scenes that provoke thoughts for my own project (i) posing in front of developer CGIs on hoardings; (ii) conversations between local people and site workers; (iii) darkened interiors, street scenes, court converted into a hotel; (iv) flickering between the poetic and the mundane; (v) acting on and in the world; (vi) privatisation of the land; (vii) sequestering of labour; (viii) juxtaposition of folk song and demonstrations; (ix) production of a community play. Most importantly, has provoked me to go back to earlier work by Zimmerman and Fugitive Images around Haggerston.

On the Border: Yoshiki Nishimura, 2018. Japan. 7’

Visually arresting photogrammetric rendering of beach debris with soundtrack.

E-ticket. Simon Liu. 2019. Hong Kong, UK. 13’

Cut up archive of 35mm film, 16k splices, spliced together in rigid increments. Good to think about in relation to the animations I have made from composites.