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Journal

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

Posts tagged practice
Tutorial 2 - 18/01/19, Jonathan Kearney

This past couple of weeks I have been working on consolidating what I already have in terms of research, and paying attention to the fragments of ideas or connections I’ve jotted down on a hundred scraps of paper or notes on my phone. I really wanted to do this at this point, to start the new year with a clear focus, and my project proposal has helped me with this immensely. Most of my conversation with Jonathan last week was centred around this - moving forward into making and experimentation now that a broad framework is beginning to emerge. We discussed this idea of the framework, specifically in terms of time-based arrangements, sequencing bodies of work and subjects into acts, or something less linear. The time-based aspect I am considering more and more in terms of the work itself not having a fixed form or shape which is sympathetic maybe to the neurological process, or a kind of amnesia. It has become apparent to me that so many of the areas I have been interested in over the past couple of years converge in so many different ways, from the politics of rising sea levels and retreating landmass to memory loss and cultures of collecting, and Jonathan suggested that these areas being rooted in the same concern could be thought of as something circular with several acts which are all traversing a core principal.

With this in mind I tried to map all of those areas of consideration in that form, and the result was something which instantly clarified and furthered the connections between all of those areas in a really meaningful way. The map itself ended up resembling a kind of globe, which makes a sort of accidental sense in being viewed as such in relation to thinking of internal and external worlds; the neurologic and the geologic. I then tried converting that globe into a kind of timeline, and the word ‘retreat’ suddenly became much more meaningful; what resulted was a kind of envisioning of the retreat from the ice age (glacial deposits and land mass retreating, the North Sea and the submergence of Doggerland - more on this soon - leaving erratics in the cliffs and petrified checkpoints on the shore, retrieved to be examined as metaphors to memory, to the individual past from the collective and the physical to the mental…) to now - or more precisely a point between ‘now’ and what might be called ‘home’/a point of origin and the beginning of memory… the shed in the empty field in the photograph.

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Questions and Decisions
still from ‘Worlds in the Making’, Semiconductor, 2011

still from ‘Worlds in the Making’, Semiconductor, 2011

I am three weeks into my MA, and so far each of the students in my group have taken turns to introduce our practices to one another, and consider connections, advice and possible ways forward. This has resulted in some interesting shared ground between many of our concerns as individuals; geography and time, identity and absence amongst those. I am thankful for the questions I received in relation to my presentation, particularly that of what it is I am trying to communicate about the past in the context of technological advances, which are helping me to push forward at a point in which I am overwhelmed with possibilities for development. Pav’s question relating to technological advances, and Alexis’ comment that my work seems to be “mining, excavating and bringing forth constructs from the past that inform a future world” have tied themselves together in my thought, and the notion of ‘pointing towards a future landscape’ is something that could become a really useful pivot point. This also relates to a project I have been working on exploring political myth in the Anthropocene (more to follow in a separate post). For a while now it has been one of the primary aims of my practice to consider how to make my work current, and engaging. The mining for information and historical sources is something I have become ‘confident’ with, and this actually unsettles me slightly because there may be a danger of becoming stuck in reflective repetition. I want to explore active physical and mental processes that lay at the roots of my concerns now, and will this week begin to make enquiries with university departments, geological and neurological researchers and practitioners so as to begin communications that will hopefully inform my understandings.

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A couple of Sundays back, Emily and I took the train to York to visit the Ceramics Fair (Emily is a ceramicist and I am constantly amazed by the intricacies and hazards of ceramic process), and also the ‘Strata - Rock - Dust - Stars’ show at York Art Gallery. The day was full of serendipity, and really confronted me with identifying the properties and potentials of different media and disciplines at this crossroads in my work. There is a slight conflict in me at the moment about making objects, and whether this is something I want to continue, at least in terms of the idea of making work that seems ‘concluded’ - I think the nature and properties of print are really helpful for me as the constant in my process, because print allows me to work sequentially and feels like moving forward in a way that sculptural or assemblage based works I’ve made have not - and this is I’m sure entirely down to my individual approach. I’m trying to unravel this. Because of this, my interest in ceramics is an odd one: I have been hesitant to begin working with ceramics because I know that from my experience of observing and learning from Emily as she has been developing her practice that the discipline needs - and deserves - time, which I do not want to plough through insensitively in order to gauge it’s relative potential to my research, but I love the inherent and invoked geological aspect embedded in the foundations of making work with clay, and the work showed by various artists at the Ceramics Fair transfixed me. (Note: I think I have just decided in writing that last sentence that I should just try working with clay a little and stop overthinking. This, in combination with my tendency to be an archivist rather than an ‘activist’, might be one of my main stumbling blocks in everyday life. I’m sure Em would agree.)

^ Mitch Iburg, source: IG @mitchiburgceramics

I think the main aspect of ceramic work that grips me is that which makes accident and chance, and organic or unexpected results very visible, in contrast to and rather than controlled products which emphasise function, and obviously here I am talking about the spectrum of different intentions within the discipline. I was fortunate enough to be given two pieces made by Mitch Iburg for our wedding anniversary, and there are facets of his process which resonate very strongly with my feelings for geological history. Iburg investigates and collects from the clay deposits and natural resources inherent to specific regions, challenging practices related to the use of local materials in contemporary ceramics, and makes work from those. Aesthetically the forms he produces seem to be driven by a very honest and intuitive reverence for the inherent shape or design and character of the material, almost found-object-like as if discovered already formed, or frozen in state. A process of discovery, and recovery; reshaping an object with an abstract past. It also makes me curious about what the boulder clay from the Mappleton cliff stretch nearby would look like fired, and this is an experiment I intend to pursue. I also intend to research digital innovation and process in contemporary ceramic practices - 3D printing, clay work driven by data?

During my presentation last week, Friederike described the earth as being a collector of hidden memories made visible through fossils and studies, and that somewhere these memories “must also be present in a brain that does not remember”. Forms of memory, and the relationships between the surface (the landscape, the ‘present’, the visible) and the ‘beneath’ (the unseen, the subterranean, the ‘past’), are two immediate lines of inquiry for me as I begin to formulate my project proposal. Those relationships are interrogated in the work of the artist duo semiconductor, Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt, currently exhibiting the 3 channel film piece ‘Worlds in the Making’ at the York Art Gallery show. In the film, a number of scientific processes are used to generate and translate sound and animations from seismic data collected from beneath volcanos, amplifying the shifting, invisible forces beneath us that determine the physical foundations of the planet. The piece has a slow-burning anxiety, and the properties of the installation - it’s cinematic projection scale, and the jittering time-lapse quality of the animation (see below for a snippet), evoke the feeling that the observational lenses we employ to monitor the changing landscape are always hostage to the rapidity of natural forces which perhaps slip away before we have chance to capture meaningful measurements and interpretations. The uncontrollable rate at which are affecting the geological structures of the earth is unquestionable, and an interesting facet of this piece in my interpretation is that we are now as much observers of our own self-destruction in the context of climate as we are investigators of natural processes, and slow even in the race to catch up with ourselves and unravel the damage the industrial damage that has been done over the past couple of centuries, to understand this in ways that can translate those effects into suggested ways forward. I am interested now in considering this in relation to the human biologic, to our internal structure and memory.

Best watched full screen! Semiconductor: ‘Worlds in the Making’ preview, 2011

^ Liz Orton, from series ‘The Longest and Darkest of Recollections’, & ‘This Connection Should Make Us Suspect’

Liz Orton’s work also explores ‘entanglements of land, vision and natural science’. Her intimate photographic works invite close inspection, and relationships between forms of measurement and our relationship to geological scale seem to be called into question. There is an immediacy to Orton’s work that I appreciate, and the ‘punctured’ photographs suggest the way in which print can be connotative of memory, returning to the idea of the ‘timestamp’, or the frozen frame. Friederike’s feeling that there is great power in slowness being counter-cultural relates to this, and this is something which I am thinking about a lot right now; how to be engaging and encourage reflection in the present. This might extend beyond the counter-cultural. Seth Denizen, contributor to Making the Geologic Now (Ellsworth & Kruse, 2012) describes that in relation to the pace of material physical change we are experiencing, “The world becomes defined not by a time, but by a speed. This is the point at which the world can no longer be merely an extension of our own, a difference in degree, but rather something which takes on a difference in kind: another sea, another wind, another world at right angles to our own.”

This exhibition really presented me with a lot of a different possibilities and pause for consideration of utilising techniques and processes, especially outside of print and sculpture, through which I might discover surprising connections and paths - I am so excited about this. Time to explore. Please, if you have any comments or would like to contact me in relation to my journey and process, please do so by emailing me at mpfratson@gmail.com.

unfold.alt RYOICHI KUROKAWA, 2016, 4K video | 2ch sound

As Above, So Below
 
 

animation from gelatin prints, fossils from east yorkshire coast, 2018

… because photographs trigger a memory reflex, the scene they depict takes on a personal significance that is like a shadow and cannot be fixed precisely. This is an unconscious mechanism, silently nagging the viewer (Where does this fit in my life? Was I there?) . The places are also, of course, points on the earth, coordinates in what we call our environment, that which envelops us. In this sense they are part of a different history, but one that is much harder to comprehend, the story of a planet that has existed for more than 4 billion years before humans. This too is part of our collective unconscious. - Saylor/Morris, ‘A History of the Future’.

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One of the main threads of my practice is the idea that the only resource we have is the past, and the question of how this informs the production of visual work in relation to new technologies is something that lies at the roots for me. I am interested in the idea of the ‘time-stamp’ - fixing and unfixing a moment, and chasing the absence of a memory. This roughly began a few years ago when I decided to delve into some boxes of photographs my Nanna left behind. One in particular stood out to me, and has fixated me ever since, and this is the one you can see above. There is a shadow of a man visible in the shed, but I can’t quite see who it is. I realise that the threads of curiosity that are bound up in this can be traced back through my practice, more widely through an exploration of natural history as a field of accumulating agendas and constructs in parallel to the ‘true’ natural history of the earth, and back through my life and experiences of being a witness to various neurological diseases in my grandparents as a young person. These are perhaps both small chronicles of mystery, accumulation and loss. For these reasons the aesthetics of the archive appeal to me and sometimes I make use of this in the way I mine for historical visuals and found objects to form projections of the present, and is intrinsic to the properties of print in general. Joseph Beuys has been an influence on me in this area.

Prior to uncovering those photograph, I either actively or unconsciously avoided any personal material. The last thing I want to do is make work that is sentimental and I think this is maybe partly the reason why. More and more however I’ve realised that there is an emotive core to my practice which maybe bears potent relationships to geological process, and those threads of exploration into natural history and the archive make sense in terms of my interest in what is happening on the surface - on and between land, and below the surface - those shifting and mysterious stratifications of hidden matter which are largely absent from our active thought. Gradual change over time. I’ve spent a lot of time visiting and investigating the rapidly eroding cliffs which are eating into an agricultural area known as Holderness, on which my family lived and worked for decades and is pictured in those tiny polaroids fixating me. Thomas Sheppard’s ‘Geological Rambles in East Yorkshire’ (1903) served as a way of understanding some of the muddied and isolated locations, and became a starting point for a consideration of how this area of landmass which features the fastest eroding coastline in Europe, with bolder clay rich in fossilized life forms from ice age glacial deposits, is fragmenting and reforming like a society itself – the wear and tear of the people on the surface, the wear and tear of the crumbling clay and the shifting forces beneath our feet. I have begun to collect those fossils and make contact prints from them as an immediate visual starting point.

I am interested in the metaphysical, and the potential of the term ‘the fossil record’ as being a description of the recorded human memory of experiences of a landscape and relationships as much as it stands for a scientific collection of measurable and agreed historical evidence. The fossil record is, of course, notably incomplete. What does generation loss look like in the earth? Are there ways in which we gravitate towards anxiety in our psychological landscapes that might be reflected in the visualization of the gaps in the fossil record – in data and collections? Are there parallels to be drawn and associations to be unearthed between neurological disease, memory loss, and geological processes such as erosion and overprinting, at a point in time at which the geologic, biologic and technologic are becoming so much more tightly bound and blurred? These are all broad questions, which I seek to investigate, to distil, and push the boundaries of.