In the last ‘proper’ post I said that I might come back and reflect when I had my results. I didn’t; and this image itself is almost six weeks ago – so, suffice to say, I got what I wanted and have received lots of congratulations etc, for which I’m very grateful. There are various creative activities and opportunities going on, which is also good, but this post has one main purpose, which is to make ‘public’ a particular new ‘journey’ on which I have just embarked. There will be a blog, and it can be found here – stanocadrawing! All followers welcomed if you’re prepared for a shaky ride!!
All packed up and ready to deliver, at last; it’s been a hectic few weeks, partly accentuated by a family hospitalisation that has required some time, energy and commitment. The pressure is self-inflicted, to an extent. It was only in early December that I decided, with my tutor’s agreement, that taking my submission beyond the basics and into a new, further manifestation of the New Photographic Chemistry project, was a good idea. Making that happen in just a few weeks, with Christmas intervening and the aforementioned personal commitments arising unexpectedly, has been a challenge. And, truthfully, I have ended up cutting a few corners and progressing without the level of planning, preparation and attention to detail that I normally expect to apply. The concept of what I’ve done is good; and I have brought it to a decent outcome; but there aspects of the quality, in the detail, that I might have done differently, with more time.
So, what’s in the plastic box in the foreground, above? Assignments and Tutor Reports, of course, and a small handwritten ‘occasional journal’ that has run alongside this blog; but there are two other ‘items’ that it’s worth illustrating. Let’s start with the ‘Exhibition in a Box’.
Lifting the lid reveals this, a 1:33 scale model of the micro-exhibition at Bank Street Arts – a micro-micro-exhibition!
It isn’t the one I produced when planning the event but a newly-made, more accurate representation of the exhibition, just as it was laid out back in September/October at Bank Street. It was my main publication and the key outcome of the work and the module, so the model is a way of sharing that, in three dimensional form, with the Assessors (and the big black plastic folder in the first illustration, at the beginning of this post, has a selection of large prints from the event, too). Here are a few more illustrations of the Exhibition in a Box:
The second new element of the submission is the Assessors’ Book, which incorporates a section called Exhibition in a Book. The book is hand-made, bound, and constructed by ‘yours truly’. The cover pattern is one of mine – Acutance – and is printed onto a new material I’ve just managed to source – self-adhesive, inkjet printable canvas (A3 size). I’m pleased with the way it looks from the outside.
The paper I used for most of it feels good but hasn’t printed as well as I would have liked; and I haven’t had the time to mess around and resolve that situation. It’s ‘OK’, but only ‘OK’! And my bookbinding skills were tested somewhat when combining cover and inserts – again, just about ‘OK’. Some of the pages are illustrated below.
But I have sought to build some visual elements into it. For example, I’ve created a fold-out timeline/flowchart, which presents my progress through the module visually.
And then, I have tried to bring some elements from the exhibition at Bank Street into the book.
Sample, burned, page from the old textbook; the derived image, as it was presented in the exhibition; and a scrap of fabric that appears in the image
A fold-out, A2-size, version of ‘Useful Exposure Range’
The book also includes reference to some new work from another old book that I purchased back in 2014. It’s early days with this work and I haven’t made any of it public yet but it’s useful to refer to it in the submission.
Shades of Duchamp in all this, of course, which I fully acknowledge. His ghost seems to have stalked my progress through L3 – and I thank him for that!
And that is probably it on this blog, for a while. Might be back in April to reflect on the outcome!
All done! The exhibition was installed on Thursday, open Friday & Saturday, with a social/private-view Friday evening and a student event Saturday; all taken down by 4pm Saturday afternoon (in time for the gallery’s comedy evening in that same space Saturday night!). Earlier in the week I had remarked that I had everything planned to the nth degree, so something was bound to go wrong. Nothing really did, apart from the middle one of those five frames in the foreground falling off the wall shortly after hanging (my fault) and breaking at the top right corner. We managed to fix it with some glue and a piece of ‘invisible’ tape – and no one noticed (or rather no one mentioned it!).
A formal reflection on this culmination of the publication of my work needs to form the core of Assignment Five, but here a a few informal and initial reflections:
- At a purely personal level, I’m very pleased with the way that I managed to present the work. Some details could have been better, inevitably, but I think I achieved the touch of spectacle, the variety, the use of space, and the visual interest that I was hoping for.
- That outcome was, I think, the result of good ‘research’ (I’ve learned a lot from contemporary art shows that I’ve seen in the last year or two) and meticulous planning. Fair to say, I think, this is something I take to more naturally than some artists.
- Which might be one of the reasons that I got a good response from the gallery, who have offered me the chance to do another micro-exhibition sometime next year; and encouraged me to consider some of their other opportunities, too.
- Response to the work and discussion about it with others is hugely beneficial and has, on the whole, gone really well. The audience has been a varied one – family/friends; gallery staff; fellow students; even the occasional walk-in visitor – though not large (whatever might define ‘large’, of course). I’m fairly sure that their engagement with the images/installation has been more than just ‘polite’ – testament to its visual appeal, I suspect. I enjoyed the anonymous comment in my ‘Comments’ book that said “It took me a while to realise it was a photography exhibition”. Good! One such casual visitor (not the same one) thought I’d painted the big mural on the far wall. Perhaps I’ll try that another time!
- I would observe that most such response has been on an aesthetic/formal/process basis, rather than a reading of significance in the images. I have to say that I don’t mind that in the least – whilst recognising that not everyone would feel that way. In many respects, I have begun to read it that way myself. Hopefully, for those who wish to find significance, there are enough opportunities to look and respond – and I’m pleased with that, too. But I’m also reminded of responses to Thomas Demand’s work, where one could argue that the only significance is that he made it. It’s a complex area of thinking – but there is, I think, genuinely a ‘new formalism’ in contemporary photographic art. It doesn’t appeal to everyone – but I’m quite happy to engage.
- The numbers for the Student Event on Saturday were disappointingly small. Huge thanks to those who did attend, of course – for making the effort to be there and for your contributions to the very useful discussion. I think it happened to clash with some other OCA Study Visits – and I must stress that I don’t feel any personal disappointment about it. I got what I needed from the day. But it seems a pity that more students at all levels couldn’t have seen the work. I am absolutely not blowing my own trumpet here, but I think it’s fair to say that this exhibition had much about it from which other OCA students could have gained. Anyway, “c’est la vie”.
- And finally, I have an exhibition here that could be transported and repeated elsewhere – so just need more locations!
So, overall, I’m satisfied and pleased; and I have the basis for preparing an Assignment Five submission in the next few weeks. Still need to do Assignment Three as well, of course.
In the last 4-5 months, I have entered my work for five ‘Open Call’ events. The four that have concluded have all been ‘unsuccessful’ and the one remaining is a very long shot. I have spent over £100 on the entry fees and, apart from the most recent (where I apparently made the longlist of 40 from 200 but not the final cut of 21), have had no feedback beyond the polite ‘no’. It seems like a good point at which to reflect on whether they have been worthwhile.
I have been selective in the ones I have gone for – two were recommended by other people, one of which was very definitely a good fit and the other (which felt less so) was a tutor recommendation so presumably relevant. I have approached each one as an independent ‘event’ i.e. my entries have been tailored to the competition rather than just sending off standard ‘words’ and I have no doubt at all that I have gained a lot from that very exercise. Each has given the opportunity to think about my work in a slightly different way; and the process of selecting/editing for each event is also useful. So, all in all, these entries represent a worthwhile part of the learning process associated with Sustaining Your Practice.
However, I will be weighing very carefully the cost/benefit for any future entries. I understand that each represents an opportunity to have the work looked at by someone but with no obvious criteria on which the judgements are being made and no feedback on the outcome (and, to be clear, I wasn’t expecting any – it would be very difficult), it has to be a possibility that the entry fees could be better spent … perhaps on a paid-for critique, for example. To be fair, none of these competitions has asked for a large amount, and there is no suggestion here that they are ‘profiteering from the process (though there may be some around that do) but the odd £15 or £25 here and there soon adds up and could perhaps, as I say, be more usefully directed.
In summary – useful, but to be approached in a highly selective manner in the future.
- In some ways, this was more of an idea, a concept, than an exhibition – a circular ‘completion’ of the project. It was something I felt compelled to do, regardless of the outcome – not unlike some other parts of the process such as dismantling and burning the old book. Sometimes, in the creative process, one feels a need, the ‘rightness’ of something, and so you do it. So my tutor was right to encourage me to see it that way – in some ways, more a performance than an exhibition, something that could be said of other parts, such as the aforementioned dismantling and burning.
- Continuing that theme, what I put into the bookshop was more like an installation than an exhibition (in the gallery sense, whatever that might be!) – infiltrating the outcome of my creativity into a related space, exposing it to an audience, yes, but chiefly installing it into a space.
- Those aspects increase the need to ‘record’ – photography’s postmodern role as a record of performance art, as in Crimp’s essay ‘The Photographic Activity of Postmodernism’ read way back in the early days of Contextual Studies). I have begun some work on a video about the project, in which the bookshop, the taking from and returning to, will play a part.
- Some practical reflections:
- I’ve had the experience of the planning/producing and it broadly seemed to work (for me), as reflected after the installation.
- The few other visitors who I know, and from whom I’ve been able to get feedback, were positive (though also polite, of course!).
- I sold one print!
- At a very practical level, only one ‘Command Strip’ failed (on a decidedly flaky wall – the print fell down and sustained minor damage) and just a couple of prints sustained ‘fly damage’ (!!), otherwise intact.
- More detailed planning of what to put where might have offered some minor improvements, but not sure it would have made a huge difference.
- With a bit more notice and preparation, I could have arranged an ‘event’ – opening/preview/whatever – and that would have helped gain some audience interaction.
- This is a complex project to ‘explain’, with many layers that are more or less impossible to fully communicate (not that this is so unusual or a major problem). It is work that can be presented in several ways, exploiting several different layers. It would have been asking too much of a bookshop installation for its visitors to have been able to take on board much of that complexity. A larger, more ‘formally-housed’ exhibition has more potential – but I nonetheless need to be wary of trying to do too much.
On the latter point, I am getting closer, painful step by painful step, to finalising date/location for such an exhibition – more to come on that, and the video, when I can.
Place de la Republique, Arles, Bastille Day, 14-07-16
First, a passing mention for Arles’ Bastille Day; this ‘parade’ was a bit low key – though nice to see the Arlesienne costume – but by 10.45pm, this ‘Place’ was packed and ‘rocking’ to a Peruvian band who play ‘Cumbia’ – Bareto. Sadly, when we left at about 12.15, it was to discover the sad news of events along the coast in Nice.
Back to reflections on the Rencontres. ‘Systematically Open’ is a multi-curator/multi-artist exhibition in the brand newly designed (and massive) space in the Mécanique Générale at Parc des Ateliers (here). The exhibition was subtitled ‘New forms for contemporary image production’ and was billed as exploring “… new structures for the presentation of the photographic image …” and examining “… relationships between photography and its various forms of display …”. Its ambitious objectives include “… a new framework for experiencing the image as a reproduction …” and prompting “… a structural rethinking of the photographic medium …” (all quotes from the English translation in a specially produced booklet given free on entering the show. One could say that in the context of those bold ambitions, there is only one way the exhibition could go …! On the one hand, it is good to see Arles acknowledging, in a manner that has been in short supply previously, contemporary developments in the presentation, use and experience of the photographic image; but there have been other attempts to embrace the breadth of what the photographic medium is today and the result is often a confusing kaleidoscope that dazzles but then falls short of its ambition. In some ways, of course, that is, in itself, a fair reflection of our understanding of the medium in 21st century culture!
‘Systematically Open’ is in four parts, and the first certainly fits this kaleidoscopic description. Walead Bashty has curated ‘Picture Industry’, with work from perhaps the widest array of photographic artists ever to come together in one place – from Jacob Riis to Hito Steyerl and, it feels, everywhere along every other dimension available! So it’s perhaps over-ambitious and falls short of achieving any discernable and meaningful statement beyond something like ‘Wow, it’s all, like, so amazing!’. Of course, one of the challenges for both curator and viewer at Arles is that there really is so much to see and the visitor can never really devote the time to research, view and engage with anything in sufficient depth. So the good thing about this show – that it hits you in the face with photography’s diversity and wonder – is also the bad thing – that you never really stop to fully appreciate any of its content (a bit like browsing Facebook and hitting ‘Like’ against everything and everybody!).
Elad Lassry’s element of the overall show is helpfully titled ‘Untitled’ and seems sedate and relaxing after the deluge that has just gone before – surprising, since it comprises a very large number of appropriated close-up images of teeth/gums (variously healthy, diseased, filled etc)! The images are all identically sized/framed (and I suspect processed to a common range of tones and colours) at around A3, and presented in ‘traditional’ gallery format, row after row. Extracted (!) from their original context/purpose and presented so, they form an exhibition of art – prompting us to think about all the art we observe in a gallery space and the artists/curators who choose to put it there. I appreciated the simplicity of this installation and found it quite a powerful contrast to the Bashty kaleidoscope – though I have to confess I didn’t linger long over any particular toothy image; not that that was the intention, I’m sure.
Zanele Muholi’s contribution is a series of carefully constructed and presented self-portraits, under the title ‘Somnyama Ngonyama’ a Zulu phrase, translated for us as ‘Hail, the Dark Lionness’. All beautifully printed and displayed in black & white, they are visually alluring and create quite a mesmeric, almost poetic experience. That said, they left me somewhat cold – mesmerised but not moved. In most of them, she is bedecked/coiffured in/by appropriated materials relating to the world cities in which the images were made. There is some sort of reference to the ‘selfie’ and some idea of a lonely reflection in a strange place away from home – all forming this into a very high quality body of work, but just a little cool for me.
And fatigue was setting in by the time I reached the final part of the show –‘Shutters, Frames, Collections, Repetition’, curated by Collier Schorr (and in ‘collaborative dialogue’ with Anne Collier). The exhibition seeks to posit “… a new dialogue between the nude and the cameras …”. I seem to have coincidentally encountered Anne Collier’s work in several different contexts in the last few weeks and must confess that I haven’t engaged sufficiently to ‘get it’ – my failure, not her work’s, I stress – and I was in that same situation with this presentation. I also happened to pick up and look through Collier Schorr’s book ‘8 women’ in an Arles bookshop, with more or less the same outcome. Without more research and engagement, I feel my responses are unlikely to have much value. Perhaps I just wasn’t ‘in the mood’!!
Finally, an exhibition that I particularly enjoyed was ‘Fabulous Failures’, curated by Eric Kessels and featuring a wide range of artists, including Joan Fontcuberta and Lucas Blalock, and based on the principle that artists “… like to fight perfection, embrace serendipity and search for fabulous failures”. Actually, I think I prefer the French version of the title – ‘Parfaites Imperfections’. There is way too much care and process involved on the artists’ part for this work to be so strongly billed as making serendipitous use of failures. I would see them more as embracing Flüsser’s notion of ‘playing against the camera’, perhaps subverting the perfection that it sometimes seems to demand. But regardless of that quibble, this is a combination of humour, subversion and general ‘playing’ that is both delightful and thought-provoking. Fontcuberta was represented through his ‘constellation’ images that turn out to be flies squashed on a car windscreen; Annegien Van Doorn’s mad constructions were great fun, as were Ruth Van Beek’s levitating dogs (constructed from folded found images), and Kent Rogowski’s Love=Love is a series of ‘collage’ made by mixing together elements of 60 store-bought jig-saw puzzles, many of which have been originally cut using the same factory tool. Is this exhibition open to a criticism of superficiality and lack of serious intent? As recorded in a previous post (here), I was ‘moved’ by Eamonn Doyle’s work that is most certainly serious and not superficial. But I see no contradiction in also finding ‘Parfaites Imperfections’ interesting and thought-provoking. Each, in their different ways, is interrogating the photographic image and its significance to human-kind in 21st century culture – posing/provoking questions, as art should.
I saw lots lots more in Arles that was worthy of comment in here and my chosen reflections may be somewhat arbitrary and personal. Hopefully, they do represent something of the diversity on offer at this years Rencontres, from which I have gained a very great deal that might, hopefully, inform and inspire my own work – not least, some inspiring exploitation of new and various ways in which to present work and create experience for the viewer.
It’s flattering to be asked whether OCA can use one of my images in its advertising – even more flattering if it’s a self-portrait, I suppose! (Though I did, unofficially, subtitle this one ‘Two old ruins’.) The colour image on the left is a cropped version of one of the portraits (note the deliberate shift here from ‘self-portrait’ to ‘portrait’) that I submitted within my Body of Work, and OCA used it in a full-page ad in the RPS Journal. Ironic in a way, since I used to be a member of the RPS and studying with OCA has been a contributory factor in my drifting away and eventually terminating my membership.
But the irony and cause for reflection doesn’t stop there. What exactly is this image that appears in the journal, with an enigmatic title ‘Student, Stan Dickinson’. For a start, it was always a fiction. There is a ‘back story’, as there was with all the portraits I produced. This is ‘Rhyming Stan’, a ‘Pennine Poet’, a post-modernist who famously produced a book of poems about excreta in the early 70s, which temporarily found its way onto the A-level English Literature syllabus before education was brought properly back under state control (!!). The portrait was ‘made’ by an emerging Romanian photography called Nikita Dyosnlensc (one for the crossword addicts!) and was shortlisted for the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize. So what does it mean, in this OCA ad, with the title ‘Student, Stan Dickinson’?
And then the plot thickens. Ten days ago, as I was on my way to Arles for the ‘Rencontres de la Photographie’, I got a call asking whether OCA could use it for another magazine ‘Black & White Photography’. Already on the train, there was no way I could do my own conversion to monochrome, so I consented for OCA to do it themselves. The version on the right is the result. Now, neither I nor Nikita ever intended that this portrait should be in ‘black and white’, yet here it is, in ‘Black & White’ – a publication that champions ‘black & white’! It now just has the ‘title’ ‘Stan Dickinson’. So, what does it mean in this new context?
These portraits, like all my Body of Work, were made in the context of Photography’s relationship with something perceived as ‘real’ – and the opportunity this perceived relationship presents to the contemporary artist. They were made, deliberately, with the intention that they could be read as something ‘real’, and a Google image search for ‘Stan Dickinson’ will turn up some of them. That they now appear, in this new enigmatic form, in print, apparently signifying something or other … is flattering … but it also gratifies me greatly by, in a way, fulfilling something of the original intention – that they seem to have meaning yet have none!! (Like all photography, perhaps? There’s a thought …)