The Need to Write (or a Reflection on the Past) Part 3

In September 2012 I started what was my second year of my Photographic Art degree, and my 3rd year in Uni (having previously completed a Foundation Degree in Art, Media and Design (which has been written about here) and my First Year as a Photographic Art Student (read about the first year here)).

I was really looking forward to this year as it was to be the first year that our grades counted towards our degree, though I’ve never really understood why our first year didn’t count towards our grade.  We had been set work to complete over the summer term, anything of our choice, so long as we had research and a completed piece of work to show for it.  I used the topic of insomnia for my body of work and chose long shutter speeds to capture the restlessness felt by the sufferer.  (That work is documented in these posts found here ) .  We all got set the task of visiting an exhibition in the holidays and writing about the visit as well as completing a full project.  I chose to go to the Tate Modern and see Damien Hirst’s exhibition and write about that.  We were to exhibit our summer projects and hand in the writing about the exhibition in the weeks after we started back for marking.  When it came to it though, we got to exhibit our work but not one of the lecturers seemed to care about the written work at all which was really disappointing on my part, not because I hadn’t enjoyed the exhibition but because I had tried really hard to produce some really good writing about the exhibition and it felt like the lecturers didn’t care and were not really interested.  This didn’t really set off the year in the most positive way for me.

One of the first projects we were set was the task of producing some kind of work in a “Make” project to ease us into the new study year.  We got to choose our own theme so long as we produced something that was made by us which was nice.  I chose to create work inspired by the colour spectrum, focusing on how the colour spectrum we were taught in school, made up of primary colours – red, blue and yellow, secondary colours – purple, green, orange, differed from the “light colour spectrum” or “Additive Light Spectrum” where white light is made up of different colours of light.  I produced a set of 3 canvases based on this theory, sets of overlapping and linking circles all painted with varying degrees of tone (this can be seen here).  I also made a hanging model of how the colours interact with each other – another balls on sticks piece!  We had to talk about our work in front of the class, which was quite nerve-wracking and I’m still not sure, to this day, whether anyone understood my work or even liked it.

The second project we did focused on the town I am from, we were to produce work about the town which could have the opportunity to be displayed in the town, which was undergoing renovation works, to hide the ongoing building work.  The whole of the class had to produce work about the town I’m from (Pontypool) and upon completion of our projects were to exhibit our work in the town for all to see.  I can’t say that working on a project that is based in your own town is easy, for me this was really hard as I have done so many projects about the town, through school and college respectively and for this project I wanted to come up with something original and different to other projects I had done on the town.  In the end I chose to create maps of the town, taking all information out of them and leaving bare roads, no distinguishable features in sight. This can be seen here.

It was through this project that I met and started working alongside artist Alexia Mellor with my friend Meg.  Alexia had been bought in to Pontypool to work on art projects for the town and was the Resident Artist.  We assisted her with art activities and were encouraged to create our own projects on the town, rather than write about these projects here you can view them individually here.  This was probably the best outcome of the work and was the most fun.  From this has stemmed a new project that I am currently part of, based in Pontypool which I will be writing about soon!

Other projects that I worked on in this time were based upon social media, the umbrella title we were given for this work was “Voyeurism, Surveillance and Control”.  My idea was based around how social media can encourage voyeurism and surveillance and control us in ways that we are not conscious of – Facebook, one of the biggest social media sites, apart from twitter (and now Instagram – which this month (December) became bigger than twitter with a reported 300 Million active users (as reported in The Guardian here ) allows users to add friends and interact with others as and when we choose, and depending on the security set by the user, can allow you to peruse other users pages and see what they are up to without even being their friend on the site.  In order to set up a page on Facebook (and by page, I mean a new person profile page, the kind that people have in order for you to “add them as a friend”), from new, the site asks for lots of information from you, some of it relevant to the site, and some not really necessary, it was this gathering of data and how the site may use it that interested me the most.  I decided to set up a new user page to see what was asked and see how much information I really needed to share.  When you start a Facebook page there is information needed, you start with your name, email, date of birth, then further boxes come up as you complete each step – hobbies, interests, schools, education, work and so many other information gathering boxes.  These boxes come up and it makes you feel that you have to give the information asked, its like you are mis-lead into giving the information out, you can skip much of the information but upon the set up of the page being complete there are prompts that come up on top of your news feed from time to time asking for further information about yourself.  I decided to take screenshots of these information boxes and reproduce them, getting them printed into a book, the idea being that most people are happy to fill in all this information which can then be shared with “friends” and can be viewable by a larger audience than you are aware of if you are not careful but would those people be happy in writing down all this information into a book which can then be picked up by anyone and read.  I then went on to produce the final piece of work for the year, which went into our end of year exhibition, which I called “Screen” – a backlit frame that contained all of the data boxes that Facebook bombard you with when signing up for a profile with them.  The work addressed the vast amount of data that we give away to these companies without really realising and just how much information we share to others without even noticing.  My interest in this field led me to write an essay on the subject (here) and I went on to cover the subject in my dissertation also.

In all I enjoyed my second year, the projects we were set were very broad-based and we were able to run with our own ideas and work production methods, I was happy that I got to produce some large-scale maps as I had been wanting to use maps in art for such a long time but never really knew what I wanted to do with them and I really enjoyed producing a book as well.  I got to learn more about what Photoshop was capable of in terms of using it for production of my work and it boosted my editing skills.  I bought the book “Photoshop CS 3 for Dummies” which helped me learn how to use different parts of Photoshop to produce my work and I still refer to it now if I need to learn something in that software.  There were some points that were not so good, the length of time we had on projects seemed, sometimes too long and I felt, at several points like I had run out of steam and inspiration for the work I was undertaking, at times I felt that there wasn’t enough support available from the tutors and that sometimes they didn’t quite understand or like the ideas that were being discussed with them and there seemed to be a lack of enthusiasm from other students when we put on our exhibition in Pontypool.

Several times I thought about quitting the course and went through so many mixed emotions during that year but I stayed and returned in September 2013 to complete my final year of the course – stay tuned, (or even subscribe!) to read the reflection of my Final Year coming soon!!!!

The Need to Write (or A Reflection on the Past) Part 2

After the first post that I wrote (which can be found here) I have decided to run a series of blog posts covering each year of my time in University.  This post will be covering my first year undertaking my Photographic Art BA Hons) degree and all that happened in that year.

September 2011 was the year that I began my Photographic Art degree, a course that wasn’t my first choice of degree (more to come on this later in the series…)but one that I was looking forward to none the less.  I received a recommended reading list and an equipment list prior to the course starting and sourced all the necessary books.  I spent a long time sourcing all the equipment stated and stocked up on camera batteries and plenty of film ready for the course to start.

I remember the first day bundling my equipment together and heading off for the bus ride in (at that point I still hadn’t learned to drive!) and being so nervous I was nearly sick.  When I got to uni I met up with a few people who had been in my class for Foundation Art which settled me somewhat.  We all made our way to the assigned class room where we would meet all our other course mates.  That day passed in a bit of a blur of meetings and talks about the university and what we could expect from the course.  The course started pretty much the next day with our first assignment being handed to us not long after.

In the first year we got taught how to use an analogue camera (one that you load with film), how to process black and white film and also how to turn the negatives into prints.  We learned two different ways to create prints bit using the same method of paper exposure to transfer the negative image onto light reactive paper, one of these was a manual, wet room way where you mix the chemicals and process the print fully yourself and another “mechanical” way in which you expose the paper and then feed it into a machine that is filled with the correct levels of chemical and processes the paper for you, the image then being fed through the machine and out the other side once the process was complete.

We leaned to use a Medium Format camera which uses a larger film and can create beautifully detailed images.  I now own several different kinds of Medium Format cameras including 2 Box Brownies (one a higher spec than the other) a Holga and a Voightlander and I really do enjoy using them.  The class took a trip to  Gregynog Hall, a beautiful old mansion-house, where we undertook a project to produce “Film Noir” style images.  A few weeks before the trip we were split into groups and were given a piece of text to use as the basis for our images, the images needed to illustrate the text and act as a visual story.  The text my group was given to work from was Roald Dahl’s Lamb to The Slaughter.  Part of the work for this project focused on planning.  Our group had several meetings where we discussed the text and chose parts of the story to illustrate.  We then went on to discuss how we wanted the images to look and how were to be shot.  We spent a lot of time sourcing props that could be used in the final images to make them look authentic, spending time in many charity and antique shops.  Once we got to Gregynog we spent a day exploring all the rooms and deciding which would provide the most suitable backdrop for the images then setting the scenes up and sorting out where the cameras would be and how to light the images.  I really enjoyed that project, it taught me a lot about the technical side of image creating and that there is a lot more to consider than just the final image.

Other projects we were given to work on included using colour film, from taking images to processing the film through a specialist machine and then onto printing the images.  I found colour photography really interesting, however I really struggled with the printing of the images as there is so much that needs to be considered.  We worked on several different projects under the umbrella heading of colour photography, one of the projects that really sticks in my head was a diary that I worked on, inspired by Corrine Day’s “Diary” and work by Ori Gersht and Tracey Ferguson titled “Day by Day”.  I was set a project about Photography and Physiognomy (definition of Physiognomy here).  I started off looking at how important the face is in recognising someone, and how the image of our face is used on so many different things, from ID cards to passports and as our profile image on social media, but after looking at “Day by Day”, a series of images taken by Ori Gersht and Tracey Ferguson when they were in a relationship together and documenting the break up of that relationship and seeing the differences in the artist’s faces as that relationship failed I became interested in creating my own diary.  I took photographs each day, 3 x a day and noted my thoughts and feelings.  I had hoped that the images produced would convey my emotions at the time.  I was surprised to see, through the images, the small changes that took place in my appearance, from my hair getting longer, my face starting to thin out and how tired I looked in some of the images, and although the emotions I was feeling didn’t seem to come out in the images I felt that I had achieved something.

My favorite project was the final project of the year that I worked on.   I can’t really remember the project brief but I called this project “A Model Family”.  With this project I examined the bonds between family and friends, trust and friendship circles and the relationships between friends and family.  I also looked at how communication within these groups happened and the movement between friendship circles.  For example, having a close friend in work can change to a friendship that only takes place on social media or email and phone conversations when the job position changes, how friendships change due to other factors such as moving and relocation.  This project became less about photography and images and manifested itself into a series of models based on atoms.  The models that I created used different sized polystyrene balls and wooden skewers painted in different colours, each different sized ball represented a different friendship group or part of my family and differentiated in size depending on the size of the allocated group.  As I put these models together it became apparent that they looked like models used in chemistry to illustrate chemical structures.  There are 4 models in total, each having a “Chemical” like formula name assigned to them, the largest is called

M=F(1IF,1EF)+Bf(1SF,1AF)+Fr(1BF,1CF)+O(1UF,1WF,1CF,1SF) which equates to Me = Family (1 Immediate Family, 1 External family) + Boyfriend (1 Step Family, Adopted Family (Boyfriends Family) + Friends (1 Best Friend, 1 Close Friend) + Others (1 group of Uni friends, 1 group of work friends, 1 group of college friends, 1 group of school friends).

The smaller models started off as just me, then my family and worked its way up in groups to become the largest model.  I really enjoyed this project the most and it changed so much from the beginning where I couldn’t really think of anything I could do into something that I am still super proud of today!

I learned quite a lot in my first year of my degree but there were some points where I questioned myself on what I was doing and whether the course would be worth it.  At the beginning of this part of my “Uni Life” I mentioned getting the equipment list and buying everything as I thought I would need it all.  I did feel a bit misled by the list as it turned out that some of the equipment I bought never got used, and wasn’t needed which had an impact on my finances because of the belief that if a list was sent out to us then we would need all the items on the list.  I think if I was to do it all again then I wouldn’t just go out and buy everything on the list but get the very basics and build up my kit as I needed things.  I also struggled as I’d never used Photoshop before starting this course, which nearly all the other students had experience of, that for me was a sharp learning curve especially as training sessions with my tutor fell through and I had to teach myself the basics.  I purchased the best book ever, one that I continue to use regularly called CS3 for Dummies, which helped me get to grips with all the things that I wanted to do.  I wouldn’t say I’m an expert by any means and am continually learning new tricks and ways to do things in Photoshop.

So, in a nutshell, that was my first year of my Photographic Art Degree.  I hope you enjoyed it!   Stay tuned, or even subscribe if you so wish(!!!) for further stories from my degree!!!!


First Solo Art Exhibition

Exhibition 2014

The end of last week was an exciting one for me!  Not only as thursday saw me turn another year older but friday became the date that my first SOLO exhibition was hung!  This is such a big thing for me as it is the first exhibition I have undertaken that displays my work since university but it is also my first exhibition where my images are the only ones on show!  🙂

I was expecting to undertake the hanging of my images on Monday 20th October but in the end, we were able to hang it on the friday before.  My curator (Giulia) made the hanging of my images super easy, fun and quick to install, the whole process went without a hitch and I’m so pleased with the work, it looks better than I could have ever anticipated!

The work is titled “Turning of the Seasons” and focuses on the colours and textures of nature as the seasons change from summer to autumn.  I love the change from summer to autumn the most as it is the most drastic change that happens, from the leaves turning different shades of yellows and orange and red, to the textures we can feel underfoot

The exhibition is taking place at the National Assembly for Wales for the next few months!

In other news, I have submitted several images to the Nikon Photo Contest (http://www.nikon-photocontest.com/en/) .  The theme for this contest is “Home”.  I chose to submit some of my images from a previous body of work which I shot at a friend’s house which has a bit of a sad story attached to it.  The friend whose house it was had died and I went there once the house was cleared to document the remains of a life past, the emptiness left behind and felt that this was a suitable “theme” for the contest, how a house is not a home once the person has gone.  The images talk of loss and emptiness but also of the promise of new beginnings.  I will be uploading the images as soon as the first round of judging has taken place (January 2015).  These images should also be published to the Nikon Photo Contest page around then too.

Future Projects

I am currently in the planning stage for a new project which will see me taking an image every day for 365 days and using the images to create a new art work.  I will be beginning this project on the 1st January as it will be easier to track the start and end of this year-long project using the first calendar date of the new year.  It will also be part of my New Years resolutions too!  I am planning on creating a video piece with the images taken and also a book to accompany the video.  I may even produce some prints at some point too.

I am also going to be having a meeting next week with the Arts Development Officer for Torfaen next week with a view to exhibiting some work in Torfaen which is pretty exciting as Torfaen is my county of residence and many of my images and artworks have been produced around that area!!!

Damien Hirst – Tate Modern

I went away at the weekend to go and see my favourite artists work on exhibition at the Tate Modern in London!  For uni, part of our summer work was to visit an exhibition and write a review of it! So, here is the review I wrote (and have just finished!!!)…

 

Damien Hirst

Tate Modern

4th April – 9th Sept 2012

The first thing that hits you when you enter the exhibition of Damien Hirst’s work at the Tate Modern is the smell.  Something lingers in the air, something that is vaguely familiar, the smell of household paint, then a musty odour of cigarettes, a chemical smell that I can’t place and something else.  Musty, old, decaying…Death, it’s that smell that follows you around, through the 14 rooms that house works of Damien’s, from his earliest spot painting to the room that contains cabinets of manufactured diamonds.  It seems that themes of death, religion and science are everywhere; you become aware of your own mortality, especially in room 3 when you are faced with that shark in formaldehyde, otherwise known as “The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”.  Pictures viewed in books and images of this installation do not do it justice, the glass acts to create an illusion of movement, causing the tiger shark inside to move about, curve and follow you around, your mind screams out that it is still alive through the movements it has tracked but common sense kicks in and you can see that it is dead.

There is noise too, not just in the visitors passing through the exhibits but the motors that turn the Spin Paintings in room 8, which also houses 2 pieces of work that rely on air, “Loving In a World Of Desire” – a beach ball suspended mid-air above a brightly painted box that houses an air blower, and the hum of the hairdryer in “What Goes Up Must Come Down”.  The only room that seems church quiet is room 14 which houses the work “The Incomplete Truth” – a dove suspended in a tank of formaldehyde and a pale spot painting “Remembrance”.

Logic wants to work overtime when viewing the spot paintings that are exhibited in room 1 and 2.  In room 1 the earliest spot painting can be seen, it is not clinically done as the later spot paintings are, clean rows and columns, the first is a messy, dribbly, affair with spots of paint marked as splodges that run down the canvas and appear still wet, having that glossy, wet look of household gloss paint.  But from this you can see the ideas already forming for later works which can be viewed in room 2.  These later works cause my eyes to dart about the canvas, trying to seek out patterns and a logic, which is a fairly impossible task as no two colours are exactly the same and no two colours appear side by side, or above and below, twice in any of the spot paintings.  Given that some of these paintings are huge, and the dots tiny, that is no mean feat.  It is clear to see how Damien developed his ideas and his love of colour in these works.

The first whiff of death that confronts us comes from “A Thousand Years”, housed in room 2.  It consists of 2 tanks side by side and joined, one houses a white box with holes in it that contains maggots, they hatch and fly away, making their way to the attached tank which holds a skinned head of a cow, hanging from the ceiling is a fly zapper with a tray below it.  The flies are drawn here, crawling over the head, feeding, reproducing and dying, the unlucky ones getting zapped to death before their bodies are caught on the tray below.  This work questions our life cycle and mortality; it brings everything into simplicity, and creates a cycle of its own.

Flies feature in Damien’s work further along the exhibition, in room12, where “Black Sun” hangs on the wall, the same smell of death and decay hovering around it.  This work is made of dead flies and resin, which until closer inspection it is hard to tell, at first I thought it may have been tarmac as it had the same texture but the smell gave it away.  It is hard to look at this work in a joyous way, it is a grim illustration of death, there is nothing happy about it, not like with other works of Damien’s which explore death.  It leaves you wondering about what happens once you have left this earth.

In contrast are the murals made to look like stained glass windows taken from churches.  These bright, pretty pieces are in fact, made up from butterfly wings that have been pressed into wet paint.  There is a different feeling to these works, even though they contain dead parts of insects, like “Black Sun” they have a joyous feel to them, one that seems to give hope after death.

Other images of death can be seen in “Mother and Child Divided” (room 9) where a cow and her calf have been cut from head to tail, dividing them into left and right parts which have been placed in four separate tanks.  The title of this work plays on the relationship between mother and baby and also the brutal reality that they have been divided, left from right, right from left.  It is possible to walk through the cow and calf and view all their insides and outsides.  This way of exhibiting felt much like the way things are displayed in biology, so that you can learn about the parts of the animal and get a good look at everything.

Further work of Damien’s which touch upon science are “Hymn”, a giant sculpture of an anatomical structure of the human body, the first work to be viewed by visitors at Tate Modern.  This work is placed outside the main entrance and is viewable from quite a distance.  This links in to Damien’s fascination with pharmaceuticals and surgical implements which can be seen throughout the exhibition, namely in room 10 where installations of cabinets full of surgical implements are on show and also in rooms 2(medicine cabinet – “Sinner”, pill cabinet “Lullaby”), and room 10 (Trinity – Pharmacology, Physiology, Pathology), not to mention the room set up as an actual pharmacy (room 7).  On viewing these works I couldn’t help but find contradiction to the view that Damien’s work is all about death, surely medicines, teaching aids and surgical appliances are about curing, prolonging and helping survival?

The circle of life has already been addressed in Damien’s work “A Thousand Years” displayed in room2.  This is re-addressed in rooms 5 and 6 where the idea remains the same but is illustrated with butterflies.  “In And Out of Love (White Paintings and Live Butterflies)” and “In And Out Of Love (Butterfly Paintings and Ash Trays)” is a two part work, room 5 houses canvases painted with bright colours and decorated with dead butterflies wings, and room 6.  In room 6 canvases hang on the walls from which huge butterflies hatch, their amniotic fluids that seep out when they hatch, drip down the canvas leaving coloured stains.  The butterflies move round the room gracefully swooping through the air, feeding on fruit that is left out, resting on the plants, before dying.  This work, although on the same thought lines as “A Thousand Years” seems more beautiful and poignant an illustration of the life cycle, the flies in “A Thousand Years” seeming more violent a description of life and death.

Death and religion are visited one final time in the quietest room of the exhibition, room 14.  This is where “Remembrance” and “The Incomplete Truth” are housed.  As you walk through from room 13 into the doorway of room 14 you see a dove, wings outstretched, hovering in a tank of formaldehyde.  The dove is symbolic in religion as hope, peace and the Holy Spirit, behind it is the palest spot painting edged in gold.  It is a beautiful sight, serene and peaceful; it offers a hope that there is more to life than just living and dying and is a brilliant way to finish the exhibition.