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Journal

A reflective journal of my practice, process, and thoughts.

Posts in Process
Tutorial 3 - 21/06/19 + Process May-July

In my recent tutorial with Jonathan I shared some of the practical experiments I’ve undertaken in the past couple of months which had not been published here - for that reason I have developed a short video to summarise my activity. I find documenting my process in this way to be advantageous in that it demands reflection in even the piecing together of the bare material (scans, screenshots, photographs), clarifying progress made and action to be taken. Through questioning the ways in which I see the project developing in relation to the lenses I am applying to my research and building a vocabulary through which to communicate, our discussion helped clarify the skeleton of my intention as to form methods of communicating a narrative rooted in identity and personal experience utilising multiple languages (written, material, digital); informed but essentially speculative rather than didactic. This is a continuous exploration through metaphor and poetic association between specific fields (neurology, geology, technology) that pivot around the ‘fixed’ point of home, represented by the ‘shed’ (a basic symbolic reference to Aristotle’s storehouse theory) a place which all of these explorations which are represented in different forms (text, manipulations of text as visual form, rendering, contact prints, video, 360° AR/VR) return to and fold into. I am taking the opportunity this week at the beginning of my summer break from work to consolidate and reflect, to update my project proposal, and to identify key action points for development moving forward.

 
 
Paste By Numbers / 'Inseparate' / MA Summer Shows
 
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I am delighted to be featured in Round 1 of Paste by Numbers - an exhibition in Hull of large-format poster-printed interpretations of the number 1. My piece draws from the pivot point of my ongoing project - the question of ‘home’, and consists of a halftone-processed cut-out of a Native American tipi. Beneath the tipi is the iOS share icon.

The short video piece I submitted for the 1st Years Interim Show, ‘Inseparate’ began as a series of manipulations of old family photographs cut in half and mirrored to become symmetrical. The first of these I made to accompany the recent write-up of my conversation with Naiara Demnitz. On a basic level here I had Rorschach tests in mind, the internal and the external, using the ‘shed’/home symbol I produced in connection to the CG rendering project and had laser-cut and printed, as a frame around the photographs which fade very slowly into one another over the 6 minutes of the animation. Over the photographs I placed a dark sphere which hovers and dissolves almost imperceptibly and obscures the already elusive detail of the image - a kind of ‘blind spot’ - the opposite of a spotlight, the pursuit of information with a function inverted, a struggle to reconcile fragments of image and memory together and a small analogy for dementia. The blurry rotating circles at the beginning of the video are manipulations of glass lantern slides showing x-rays from a human skull.

I am very grateful to those that installed the piece in the space at Camberwell, and was excited to see how it had been presented when I visited at the weekend - I did not expect the loop across 3 screens and this is actually something that I think holds potential for exhibiting similar works in the future - in terms of my piece it seemed to make a kind of sense, the blue light which Janet described as reading like a reference to the digital in itself (additive, processing), glowing and fading, slow firings, ahead and behind, drew attention to the time-bound nature of the work.

I found the MA Summer Shows to have been full of strong work and sensitively curated. I have since been thinking about practicalities of installation and logistics - what exactly might be possible, and as I push forward practically bearing in mind the advice Alejandro reiterated at the VR workshop in February - keep your work concise physically and practically, particularly in terms of technology, in order for it to be received most effectively - important in terms of AR/VR or film.

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London Trip - 15-06-19 - AI and The Invisible / Semiconductor Revisited
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A couple of weekends ago I went back down to London for a day to check out some shows I’d been eager to see for a while, particularly ‘AI: More than Human’ at the Barbican.

As an examination of how AI is increasingly permeating our lives, at a glance and if at least through the cacophonous curation of show, I think it worked reasonably well as an introduction to the development of technologies driven by an insatiable human pursuit of pattern, measurement and ‘progress’. However, by the time I had squeezed my body a third of the way through the show it was hard not to feel completely overwhelmed by the unbelievable volume of work and display in a narrow tunnel-like space in The Curve, on top of the sheer volume of people jostling to be able to focus for more than ten seconds on one piece. Truthfully, maybe worst of all, I simply didn’t even find much in the exhibition very interesting (which to be honest is a feeling I very rarely encounter or feel weighed down by). I spent the visit wading through and elbowing people ‘playing’ with pieces that barely seemed to offer space for meaning or a question beyond a gimmick. Another factor which did affect my navigation of the show was having felt personally quite low for a few weeks due to several work-related issues - not in and of itself relevant or of interest, but in terms of the context of the show and some of the words that came to mind - power/powerlessness, control, prediction, removal - my interaction with the work suffered from a lack of focus in curation and design which might have provided more space for a critical human reading… most of the people around me seemed to be at the very least excited by the interactive quality of each zone but I question how much collectively was taken away in terms of a reflection of the place of creativity in an AI driven social landscape. Scattered throughout were subjects which I intend to explore further and would have liked to have been able to hone in on, for example neural networks and bioengineering (Organ-Chips in the form of tiny devices lined with responsive living human cells and tissue designed by Emulate Inc. - which sounds like the name of a corporation straight out of a sci-fi movie - to ‘better predict’ human responses to drugs, I read as being at once hopeful and disquieting). I don’t typically find Jonathan Jones’ writing to be constructive and balanced, but I understand the central questions he asks of the show in reflecting on my experience; ‘The question I’m left with is why so much is being invested in talking up the creativity of AI.’ My frustration I think gravitated not towards a feeling that creativity was not to be found in AI technologies - at least not the undercurrent - but the talking-up and hype did not allow for a critical analysis of how an AI can become creative. This perhaps was not a central concern of the premise but the premise itself to me also seemed slightly muddled.

An element that did interest me was some of the focus on written language - one piece in particular tucked away amongst the noise presented extracts of text and asked the viewer whether it was written by a human or an AI, and revealed the answers (one extract for example, pictured above, was a film script generated by ‘Benjamin’, written by a neural network trained on dozens of sci-fi screenplays), which were interesting I think in terms of the way we process poetry or word association… botpoet.com offers a similar ‘test’, and an article from New Scientist (‘Neural network poetry is so bad we think it’s written by humans’) perhaps rightly argues that while an AI could be programmed to write about Brexit in the style of a Greek epic, the emotive drivers of creative intent are missing. This is perhaps not entirely unrelated to Austin Kleon’s reflections on his own ‘newspaper blackout’ work which we discussed in our group Skype chat (18 June) - questioning intent in relation to the ways in which we develop ideas, and maybe some of our hang-ups about originality. I find these convolutions in itself compelling rather than ineffective or purely pointless; the origin of the algorithm itself contains human intent, which has to emit an undercurrent of meaning, especially if we stop to reconsider that AI again is ‘artificial’ - designed, and is not an infallible non-human species. Anxieties abound. The podcast ‘The End of the World’ with Josh Clark effectively explores such considerations of the limits to which AI might influence and shape the future of civilisation outside of our control and the degree to which AI could be, or already represents, an existential threat, and is presented in a way which introduces subjects and issues in an accessible, scaffolded manner. Language, and the use of multiple forms of language is something Jonathan and I discussed in my last tutorial which will be detailed in a post to follow, and building on a suggestion I received in the Mid-Point Review, an exploration of written work and the incorporation of text in visual sequences is something I am focusing on now in making. Memory, as the container of meaning, perhaps still lies buried at the roots of the mechanised plant, and in this I will be researching more on neural networks and deep learning, and the ‘mining’ of natural neurological systems, in order to inform the potency of my project. This will also feed into my research paper which will examine the work of Jon Rafman - again, more to follow.

Today those who peer into the future want only relief from anxiety. Unable to face the prospect that the cycles of war will continue, they are desperate to find a pattern of improvement in history. It is only natural that believers in reason... should turn to the sorcery of numbers... Just as the Elizabethan magus transcribed tables shown to him by angels, the modern scientific scryer deciphers numerical auguries of angels hidden in ourselves.
— John Gray (The Soul of the Marionette, 2015)

Unsound:Undead by AUDINT at arebyte Gallery was not immune to the swamp of future-collapse anxiety either; toxic-green projections and percolating sound (crickets chirping, robotic corporate-style narration of animations describing how the brain processes auditory signals, meandering interviews with White House employees) bounce the viewers’ attention around a media frenzy, over the unravelling of a situation involving alleged sonic attacks on US embassies in Cuba and South China, and speculation on the source of the recorded signal leading to reports of ‘mild-traumatic brain injury’ among US diplomats.

‘The air is crammed and not a moment goes by that doesn’t presage the demise of an eleven billion strong species. Volatile weather systems, environmental warfare, and insect-machine hybrids that infect humans via targeted DNA sequencing, all meld this ecology of collapse. The hierarchy of Earth’s species is about to enter an irreversible flux.’ - Ghostcode, AUDINT

One of the main things I’ve taken away from the two shows I’ve seen at arebyte is that the curation in itself I’ve found very sensitive and effective in enabling the work to engage and not collectively overwhelm. Visiting RE-FIGURE-GROUND was an important moment for me in February, encouraging me to explore intricacies of new technologies and methods of presentation - I appreciate the currentness of the gallery’s programming and Unsound:Undead continued to make me reflect back on my intentions in those terms. How and in what ways do I intend for my project to be immersive? While Unsound:Undead was visually compelling and curated in a way which conveyed a sense of urgency and the battle for persuasion taking place beneath the hum of the swarming media broadcasts and in the rapid-fire twitterbot monitor, I did also consider the penetrability of the work and how, despite being installed in a cohesive way, possibly lacked cohesion in message and effectively suggesting relationships between the video work and the physical cabinet-style assemblage containing 3D printed symbols that seemed to be associated with weaponised sound. The ambiguity and offset focus of the work, the dim but frenetic buzz of the panicked communications, substantially reflected what I read as being an examination of an imminent thread-bare social order, but across the show sound seemed to come secondary to the visual narrative somehow, which I was not expecting. This serves as a reminder for me to continually consider clarity and the specific properties of how my work communicates so that the project engages and reaches as many viewers as possible in offering a space for meaning and reflection.


SEMICONDUCTOR REVISITED

Through the AEgIS, semiconductor, 2017

Through the AEgIS, semiconductor, 2017

In contrast to the Barbican show, the Dark Matter show at Science Gallery London presented a collection of fragile and captivating work which effectively communicated complex principles, questions and introductions to contexts in contemporary physics, in a manner which did not seek to provide an exhaustive history or review. A piece from artist duo semiconductor seemed central to the investigation - their intentions of ‘putting the human back into the data’, working often in residency with research facilities such as CERN, the Smithsonian and the British Geological Survey, serves to draw our attention to the ways in which we rely upon the scientific lens in our understanding of the natural world and forces that shape our environment. The piece ‘Through the AEgIS’ (2017), in which isolated particles nervously scratch and burn across a photographic plate, has a magnetic visual simplicity, and the sensitivity of the formats chosen to examine and translate information into visual sequences throughout their work, which often include obsolete domestic technologies that might have promised the future of recording or display, stitches together narratives of change; growth and recession, activity and disappearance, knowing and unknowing.

There is a great flexibility and versatility in their approach which I admire, and specifically influential on my thought process over the past year has been the use of multiple languages, as previously described, sequenced together to form stories or constructs that question time and our perceptions of environment. I will be exploring their practice and methodology more extensively this week, in order to consolidate and evaluate the relevance and impact on my thought and practice as I move forward.

 
 
 
Low Residency

The low residency last month was a wonderfully enriching experience in a number of ways, and prepared me for moving forward in my project contextually and practically. Meeting everyone in person felt very seamless, and I think it is a strength of the course format that after having only communicated online to that point, as a group we are close in being knowledgable of the rhythms of each of our concerns and processes.

I felt this strongly in the group tutorial session on day 2. Our group was led by the MA Designer Maker course leader Maiko Tsutsumi, and I shared my work with Michelle, Chris, Lyu, and Omer (IG @omerder) from the Designer Maker course, who showed us around his ‘work in progress’ show installation - something which I think we were all very grateful for. There is a tenderness to Omer’s use of materials in his sculptural work - an echo of the inner subjects which reveal themselves on closer inspection - relationships between gender, place and expectation, identity and geological activity. I found the installation cohesive and the work itself seductive, and this has since made me pause to think more about exhibition and presentation of my project and how that might work. The gallery visits, tutorials and workshops on 3D printing and Virtual Reality work, have pushed those considerations forward as discussed within my Mid-Point Review material and evaluation in my last blog post.

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Gillian and George in the 3D workshop guided me through the practical refinement of the extruded model from my primary school achievement binder scans I’d been struggling with in Fusion, and printed a sample of the model for me which demonstrated how the properties of what I had produced in Fusion would result in a brittle, spiky surface. Part way through the print, the sample looked much closer to what I had hoped for, with a more ‘readable’ topography than the finished piece in which the detail had been pulled out from the base of the mesh to such an extent that it resembled more of a forest, which I felt overshadowed the subject and lost clarity. George shared an alternative method of producing height maps in Blender which seemed much more appropriate than Fusion - much faster and easier to configure, and more intuitive to me, and he explained to me how I could use a plane to cut through and achieve a surface that did not taper into the tall spines that the original produced.

Our visit to areByte gallery fed into the VR workshop I attended, led by Fine Art Digital alumni Alejandro Escobar, and both experiences were thoroughly constructive and informative. Alejandro showed us how to animate scenes and export as 360 video in Blender, as well as explaining the context of contemporary VR work in art-making, and an introduction to the vast array of technical considerations or variables that related processes involve. Both the workshop and the ‘RE-FIGURE-GROUND’ show at areByte were incredibly engaging, (I found Lorna Mills animated GIF work and Eva Papamargariti’s sequencing of CGI, text components and live-action film especially compelling) and, building on the tutorials I had with Gillian and George, the week coalesced to a great learning experience in which the vitality of the media and processes at the base of interdisciplinary VR, CGI, simulation, and print gripped my attention and gave me many ideas. These have informed the second version of my Project Proposal.

Installation shots credit: Christopher MacInnes https://www.arebyte.com/installation-shots-refigureground

Yellowhirlaway, Lorna Mills. 4-channel GIF animation, 2017.

But for now all i can promise is that things will become weirder (Trailer) - Eva Papamargariti

The stream of human knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality. The universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter. We are beginning to suspect that we ought rather to hail it as the creator and governor of this realm.
— Sir James Jeans (1930)

Alejandro Escobar, 2018 www.alejandroescobar.com

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Thanks to Danni (thank you again!) I had the opportunity to attend a performance of WHIST at the Watermans Arts Centre, which again was so motivating and tied into the same considerations and concerns. One of the most immediately clear benefits of attending Alejandro’s workshop was to be able to interpret and analyse WHIST in the context of it’s design and also functionality as a VR piece, and to be able to apply questioning which has begun to inform ideas for ways forward in my own project. The problems I experienced with the object identification element (the Augmented Reality component) during the performance hindered the immersive continuity of the narrative, and this, while being maybe my only substantial criticism of the piece, which was otherwise wildly compelling and pretty much unlike anything I’ve experienced before, did make me think about applying focus and a thorough process to ideas that might run the risk of being interpreted as over-reaching or unintentionally disparate. This specifically is something which I try to be mindful of as I map out what I referred to as the kind of ‘borderless geography’ of the narrative I’m developing. Certain pieces in the areByte exhibition also highlighted the technology not ‘being quite there yet’ in different ways - a few of us actually hit the gallery wall in the corner where Claudia Hart’s VR stage piece was shown as we attempted to physically navigate her maze of capitalist symbolism wearing the headset, and the joystick seemed to over-complicate the accessibility of the piece. Alejandro’s workshop generated a lot of very valuable questioning and discussion on issues from health and safety considerations to simply utilising the technology you have to it’s most effective potential rather than pushing for something that weakens an idea. I intend to begin forming sequences of animated scenes to work into larger pieces, and the experiences of the low residency week will certainly help guide me in making informed practical decisions.

 
 
Mid-Point Review

FEEDBACK

The feedback I received during the crit session has already proved tremendously helpful and I’m grateful for everyone’s comments and insights - it’s so important to share work, and to ‘test’ it - is the work doing what you expected it to? This is one of the aspects I’m most enjoying about the course, being back in a shared environment with the framework in which that is an objective.

To a large extent and overall I feel as if the recurring themes throughout my crit align very strongly with my own feelings about where I am at right now, and some of the questions that would be constructive to consider. This is very encouraging.

The question of the extent to which my project is rooted in and weighted by personal history and identity, and how effective it might be in communicating something relatable on a wider scale is something I think is central for me to address, and it one of those continuous considerations that I am working to unravel. It was very valuable to hear how, for example, Betty read the project as being more concerned with a search for identity than an investigation into geography and change, and in response to this Ed said that he felt that identity was one of several subjects tied in together, being expressed through metaphor, and that the tricky part will be to communicate all of that in a way that each subject gives meaning to another. This is definitely a key objective for me now and something which I will focus on more as I work my way through the project - Aristotle describes what I am handling as a ‘phenomenal amount of data’ - and I do feel this. Identity is definitely a concern, and the way I have been approaching the project is from a point of this forming the basis, or the roots, of it and everything that follows or is overlaid or extruded from personal narrative, into something that I intend to speak more of our collective experiences in today’s geological context, and something that works outside of the confines of my own geography, or my home. More and more I am treating this project as something which is so multi-faceted that I do not, in one way, want to impose borders on it, but rather begin to focus in on one metaphor or ‘dimension’ at a time. I will be revisiting and reworking the globe-shaped project map, in order to begin working into it - the project - now, rather than reading around it. I hope to develop something compelling in that multi-faceted way, in which connections that at the moment feel like hints or confusions might emerge more thoroughly as the result of working on this for years to come.

Action Points / Development

Consider the potential of both writing, and verbal description, as a branch of methodology in the communicative behaviour of the project

Pav commented that he felt the quality of the spoken narrative in the video was more important and effective than the visual communication. This is one of a few comments that surprise me - it is intriguing and I am very eager to engage with this. I did not write a script for the video presentation. I made the video piece in a way that was possibly much less efficient than I could have, and I think that this is actually an example of my continuous approach and nature to labor over something, which often results in research dominating time I could be utilising more carefully in making. I developed the video in a very linear way, beginning to end, adding visuals and making mental notes for what I might say as I worked my way along the timeline, then made two sound recordings for the narration - a hiccupy and stumbling rough edit and then something a little better. However, I did greatly enjoy this and this is important actually in a couple of ways - I love writing and research and I have often gravitated towards those modes over visual communication. In this case, I spent much longer processing the visual work I had made and images I had collected along the way via the research than the text. This feedback is helpful also because it suggests to me that the text or the ‘non-visual’ research is at a point where I have something I can begin to articulate and make sense of in terms of a basic framework, so now I can really push forward with that framework more into visual/aural. Having said that, there is something about the spoken element which I, though I do not necessarily in any way enjoy listening to own my monotone drone, think might be worth pushing or at least reminding myself of as I work because it could inform part of the communicative behaviour of the project. Alexis provided a connection to the work of Stephen Jay Gould, explaining how “his essays sweep ideas together in classic form taking one through a disclosure of idea that eventually settles as a sedimentary bed in ones mind, creating a geology of thought”. In response to Alexis’ question, I have considered writing previously, and the feedback he has offered encourages me to revisit it in this context, and indeed how writing could form a dimension of the project in itself, in relation to the thread of historical constructs and reconstruction.

Explore the soundscape, and evaluate it’s potential relationship to the aesthetic of the project

For the Mid-Point Review video piece I wanted to record a very simple soundscape, and something that echoed the time-bound aspect in connection to the research; deep time, memory, life-span. I slowed down and amplified a recording I made of ice cubes cracking in warm water, and this together with one piano chord formed the basis of it. I did enjoy this, and I am thankful for the feedback I received as regards how the sound worked; Aristotle commented that it was significant in his reading of the project, and this seemed to be a shared interpretation amongst others in the group. The development of soundscapes in correlation to the environments that I am imagining each of those metaphorical dimensions within my project to ‘look’ like is definitely something I intend to pursue - I will continue experimentation, and I plan to make field recordings to enrich the process moving forward.

Continue to investigate: extrusion, depth maps, interaction

As I state in the video, testing and trialling methods and techniques of making the project immersive and experiential is a key objective of the project. Christopher suggested the concept of being able to navigate through the embossed landscapes in real-time, which certainly speaks to the thoughts I have regarding experimentation I plan to begin this week in connection to perceptions of the past. On the subject of the embossed landscapes, I’m grateful to Ed for pointing out that those I included in my presentation look very similar to satellite recordings of the breaking up of ice sheets in the Antarctic - this is a useful reference point. Kelda spoke about the way in which I’m currently switching between digital and physical and how that is intriguing and this is something which I have thought about quite a lot; generally I imagine this as actually being a comment within the work somewhere about the two, and about formats - I’m thinking back here a little bit to Daria Martin’s show at the Barbican which I discussed in my previous blog post, and also I am always quite mindful of, for example, the fluency of Joseph Beuys’ interdisciplinary process. I’m also very interested in Kelda’s reading that my work “has a gritty monotone approach a bit like a black and white documentary, which looks real but is a representation of the real.” Documentary is very important to me… there are a few very distinct qualities concerning direction, narrative, and truth (Werner Herzog’s pursuit of the ‘ecstatic truth’ comes to mind) which I have always been fascinated by in that field that deals with negotiating representations of the real - and persuasion. I’d like to pay some more attention to this. Dannii and Jonathan referred back to the concept of extrusion as a device which should be investigated further, and core samples as frozen records of previous events and environments, lifeforms, being literally pulled from within the earth, the question of how our behaviours will be defined in future samples - layers of plastics, the ‘unnatural’… These are certainly reflective of, and valuable extensions of, my thought process. All of the feedback I have received is beginning to inform my planning and direction, and the weight of the focus I give to certain questions that directly affect the experience of viewer.

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COMMENTS FROM ONLINE STUDENTS >

COMMENTS FROM THE STUDIO -

 
 
Mining for Material - Mappleton (Nov 18 - Jan 19)
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‘The muddy cliff morphed into thousands of dragons’ teeth, then concrete-filled oil cans; a slipway staggered past, atop it a compound of caravans reached by a rusty iron flight. The cliff slid on, and now up above me lanced the spars and beams of structures recently undermined. Drainpipes thrust up from the mud, together with coils of wire, dead-birds’ wings of polythene… To the west, unseen, the sun was setting into this clay, the sky silvered, then grieged.’ - Will Self, ‘Spurn Head’

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Emily and I decided to try breaking down and processing the boulder clay we collected, to purify and wedge it for some experimental firings. The clay is beautifully plastic and fires to a bright red terracotta with flecks of mica that glisten. The process of breaking down, reshaping, ‘fixing’ that shape through a kiln firing felt very thorough, and now that I understand the properties of the material a little more I can consider the potential of using it in different ways. Something I have in mind is to fire a clump of unprocessed clay, rocks and all, in a sagger, maybe as less a piece of design - this is something which I wrote about in October in relation to my specific questions I have surrounding ceramics work.

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At the Edge of the Humber

In September I attended an interesting lecture by historical and cultural geographer Dr. Briony McDonagh, during the British Science Festival at University of Hull. The lecture traced the histories of settlements on the River Humber, beginning with an examination of the intercommoned wetland marshes of Wallingfen which resisted drainage and agricultural development until the eighteenth century and parliamentary enclosure, working along to the mouth of the river via the remote Sunk Island in Holderness, all of which was also waterlogged until the Middle Ages, and has more in common geologically with the Netherlands than other parts of Yorkshire. I am much more familiar with Sunk Island, living nearby and aware of it’s strange, fractured and lonely beauty, and did not previously know of the existence of Wallingfen, but figments of the soft Holderness clay and the way I visualised the Norfolk Fens in my reading of Graham Swift’s Waterland came to mind, which is probably quite an obvious and reductive reference to make at first. Incidentally, a couple of years ago I traced my mother’s family back a few generations to living in Norfolk. One of the reasons for them moving north and settling in Holderness might have been connected to a more widespread migration of labourers from Norfolk to Yorkshire in the early 1800s as the result of an excess of agricultural workers in a region feeling the effects of increased mechanisation. Nonetheless, it made me consider the winding rural psychogeography Swift developed; the drenched landscape an active witness slowly shifting and churning the past into the shared present, reshaped - reclaimed, and present back beneath, eventually out to the river and lost into the sea. “That's the way it is: life includes a lot of empty space. We are one-tenth living tissue, nine-tenths water; life is one-tenth Here and Now, nine-tenths a history lesson. For most of the time the Here and Now is neither now nor here.” 

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Collapsed WWII gun emplacements exposed as the cliffs wear away at Kilnsea.

Read The Draining of the Marshlands of South Holderness and the Vale of York, June A. Sheppard, 1966

This Is_Land / Process & Print
REIGNITE BRITISH SPIRIT (2).  2018.

REIGNITE BRITISH SPIRIT (2). 2018.

I am still deliberating over the ‘success’, at least in terms of having positively communicated some ideas and questions, of a project I exhibited earlier this year at Artlink Hull, and carried through to the Hull Print Fair last Sunday. ‘This Is _ Land’ grew out as a branch of my research last year, when I realised that my interest in social ecology in relation to migration was very much interwoven with my concerns about geological change, and a number of broad questions bloomed from that: how do we respond to climate change or resource driven migration in humanitarian ways in an age of rising nationalism and an intoxication with borders?

The Banksy piece on Scott Street Bridge in Hull which appeared back in January. To me, it feels gesturally powerful in it’s location at the end of Hull’s City of Culture year, a city in which the majority of voters in the EU Referendum opted to Leave, something which still does not quite correlate with my experience of the general values of the people I have grown up with and around. Maybe this vote was both a decision given to the public and taken away at the same time; personally, I wonder to what extent the result was a demonstration of the stranglehold of right-leaning press and mainstream media power, and rising populism on opinion, promoting experiences of the past lived vicariously, because none of us were there when we knew economic harmony; ‘It didn’t used to be like this’, so the headlines ‘remind’ us. Fear the unknown, for it is worse than it ever was.

The Banksy piece on Scott Street Bridge in Hull which appeared back in January. To me, it feels gesturally powerful in it’s location at the end of Hull’s City of Culture year, a city in which the majority of voters in the EU Referendum opted to Leave, something which still does not quite correlate with my experience of the general values of the people I have grown up with and around. Maybe this vote was both a decision given to the public and taken away at the same time; personally, I wonder to what extent the result was a demonstration of the stranglehold of right-leaning press and mainstream media power, and rising populism on opinion, promoting experiences of the past lived vicariously, because none of us were there when we knew economic harmony; ‘It didn’t used to be like this’, so the headlines ‘remind’ us. Fear the unknown, for it is worse than it ever was.

Part of my objective with the project was, possibly, to have more of an objective. It is part of the nature of my process as it stands, that I simultaneously try to distill, while naturally abstract information. This is perhaps not especially unique, but my aim here was to explore a slightly more ‘direct’ aesthetic - to utilise saturation in order to comment on saturation, and I wanted to play with a type of visual counter-point reflective of the binary modes we are conditioned to process feeling through politically, with at least reductive and at worst catastrophic - and unwanted - results, as a way of opening up questions on what we are being fed by sensationalist news feeds and agendas. The idea of, on some level, subverting convenience was present in this as well. This began to take the form of screenprints from digital manipulations. I am always interested in the suggestion of the halftone as being a mediator, and the screen as a mechanism for processing and transferring information, conferring emotive material, the basis even of an agenda, through the code of black dots (or something like that). This is obviously ingrained in the ‘press’. In parallel to the physical work, I created a separate instagram feed for the project, and as I worked through a range of different combinations and churning of those into screens, it became increasingly clear to me, especially after the Artlink show and in evaluating that, that the digital work seemed much more potent and engaging in it’s digital form, and with the print based work I received better feedback for the pieces that were less busy, with fewer layers. In designing the digital manipulation layers for the screenprint series, drawing from sensationalist tabloid cuttings, screen grabs from pixelated propaganda films and news reports, iOS function symbols, I realise now that they became overwrought and slightly laboured, whereas the digital pieces did what I had originally intended much more effectively. This has brought about a real sense of question for me now as I move forward - what is the physical ‘stamp’ of the print doing that the digital representation isn’t. The question of what it means to digest print digitally is something which I am now thinking about a lot. This context might be creating an interesting ground for innovation in print. In an article from July 2009 on the site Printeresting, exploring a web-based program which allowed the creation of protest-poster style graphics, designed in reaction to the aftermath of elections in Iran of the same year, the term Metaprint was used to describe the generation of the work:

“At the risk of overusing the ‘meta’ prefix, the Internet seems to be creating an era of Metaprint. Historically, images had to be distributed by physical means to affect change. Now, distributed is executed through an electronic network and reaches the audience without a printed component. The print (if there is one) is the last step, a step farmed out to the audience as an optional souvenir.”

Selection of social media post collages, IG: thisis__land, 2018.

Selection of social media post collages, IG: thisis__land, 2018.

The word ‘souvenir’ connotes a number of things and if they tend to be keepsakes or tokens, then there is an element of souvenirs representing memories, or as being ‘reminders’. This is something that also fed into the act of participating in the Print Fair last weekend. Back in the lead up to my spotlight show earlier this year I labelled a number of pieces ‘Reminder’s - postcard size screen prints on reflective card representing geological change and excavation, and these were exhibited beneath larger, more densely layered collage pieces at Artlink. That particular choice of wording ‘souvenir’ in my reading of the article has a slightly negative tone which suggests that the physical piece would essentially be the inactive, obligatory object. This is interesting in itself, and while that’s not necessarily representative of how I feel at this point about print work (the physical piece can ask of a small investigation from the viewer, is a gestural communication, is a space, and is an important mode of presentation in so many ways whether this is referring to a mounted piece, a print in a smallholder’s display rack, a publication), the argument is compelling and something I intend to be mindful of in my process - the pursuit of making work engaging in a saturated environment, and using those platforms which are now very much a mainstream visual currency, inside and outside of the gallery; the screen.

In evaluating the project now, I can identify a few important action points for moving forward. The work I have made so far has bloomed into a broad collection - probably broader than I had originally intended, interrogating a range of visual sources from life rafts in online museum collections and tabloid articles perpetuating misinformed immigration hysteria, to technicolour renderings of oil spills and ecological catastrophe in 1970s National Geographic issues and photographs of thawed animal remains from the Siberian permafrost. This wide, exploratory approach both in terms of subjects and mediums has led me to reshaping my intentions. In a return to the basic questions I had at the beginning of the year, I have recently begun discussing social ecology and political myth with regards to nationalism and climate change, with Dr Jeremy F. G. Moulton, Associate Lecturer in Environmental Politics at the University of York, and these discussions are having a significant impact on my knowledge of the issues surrounding my concerns. In a collaborative spirit we are continuing to ask questions of one another’s concerns from the perspectives of our individual practices and experiences, and I am planning on publishing transcriptions of these conversations online soon, as part of a dedicated This _ Land __ site. The site will also feed from the project instagram account, and be a screen-based experience and space for continually developing visual work, as I learn more about the specific contexts I am addressing and how my experiences of those have been shaped, through related ideas and possibilities arising from collaboration.

What I stand for is what I stand on.
— Wendell Berry
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