Essay by Bridget S. Prince
A number of subjects arise in ’Preparatory Ways’ that look to the emancipation of forms of organisation and structure. Through individual explorations of methods of art-making, the group comment on ‘real’ and or ‘fictional’ structures of creation and how these are taught, controlled and explored.
Stage 1 - Exploring the Terrain
Straddling elements of both history and the future, the artists within the show utilise and explore materials and content that pull in references from amongst other things; science fiction, pageantry and new technologies. Karen Cunningham through her use of overlapping themes and imagery appears to question the organisation of space and time and how we record, present and understand ideas and objects from history. Cunningham creates futuristic looking propositions of understanding from magazine imagery, VHS cassettes and bricks. These reference space travel and science fiction and often assume a likeness to other works of art from history. Reclining Figure, 2009 bearing a close resemblance to; pre-historic art, Earth Art, minimalism and the figurative work of for example Henry Moore.
There appears to exist within the work an interest in the infinite, recurrent nature of history. A feeling of desire to delve into and control ones understanding of what lies around us, behind us and in front of us, rationally or not. Both a need to perfect illusion in some way and project a new form of visual knowledge via artistic process.
At various times and from various positions within the show we come face to face with images and notions from; the past, the future as seen in the past, and future notions of the present. Their traditional concepts are twisted and associations fused together to become a mass of intriguing contradictions.
Stage 2 - Presenting the Process
Each artist can be seen to be clearly acknowledging their own process of art-making and making visibly clear their conditions and methods of production.
A Survey of Models looking at Artists, 2009, by Yuen Fong Ling, an evolving display of drawing boards from life rooms across the UK, most clearly comments on this process and of the act of becoming an artist. Compiled by Ling through a series of artists performances the work co-opts the format of the life class as a means of documenting the event; re-configuring the class to highlight the problems with some forms of conceptual art ideology.
Capturing the innate marks and inscriptions of artists produced whilst at work in the life class, the boards document the beginnings of a nostalgic journey familiar to most art students. For many this act gradually falls out of use as they free themselves from the traditional order and conventions of the life class and move towards establishing an independent style. Ling acknowledges this tradition and its past and present place, whilst also dismantling hierarchies and re-contextualising the act for future presentation.
Ling has been developing his project Life Class for a number of years presenting the project throughout the UK and abroad exploring the traditional need of the artist to perfect the illusion of the human form. Here, the life class simultaneously entangles the audience into the reading, making and staging of the artwork. Lings use of The Screasel, 2008 on which to present the drawing boards provides an interesting dimension both as a form of display and as a work in itself. The work becomes similar to a scientific or art historical artefact, the structure providing us with some form of visual order from which we can decipher and reason with the individual marks on each board. The thoughts and free-will actions of individuals forging a collective harmony.
Stage 3 - Defining a Structure
The role of the life class in the art college structure and an artists training is often overlooked and underrated. We can view it as the beginning of a journey or as the end, as the artist attempts to break with tradition and order.
We could imagine Sophie Mackfall having inscribed some of these marks; either deep in concentration or mindlessly bored, practising and contemplating brushstrokes in between poses. One of her interests stems from the approaches and methodologies that exist in the teaching of painting and drawing, her paintings revealing her own artistic authorship and order. The layering of paint and the multitude of marks, a combination of both familiar forms and those more abstract, are a response to collected and found imagery, much like in the painted processes of Cunningham and Ling.
In Working Title, 2009 Mackfall presents us with an abstract image of a globe like sphere radiating beneath a collection of translucent, multi-coloured brushstrokes. There is the feeling that this may be an entry point to another dimension, another time, a utopic new age. We could see the work as an abstract, visual representation of some of the ideas explored by Mayer in his film and the Biosphere 2 experiment.
Mackfall applies paint in a way that renders its control difficult, playing upon risk and chance. In some works areas of the surface are left uncovered or semi-transparent, the combination of thick and watered down marks revealing the layers of patterns and varying tones of light. This tension between the physical brushstrokes is intrinsic to the work providing depth and tactility.
Mackfall’s work is intuitive and direct providing an interesting interplay in the show between her working methods and for example the heavily researched practice of Ralo Mayer.
Stage 4 - Communicating Understanding
In the work of Ralo Mayer we are given an insight into his whole working practice from the gathering of information, its accumulation and organisation, through to its presentation as he develops seemingly infinite associations from fact and his own fiction.
Exploring in detail the scientific experiment Biosphere 2, (a greenhouse constructed between 1987 and 1991 in Arizona as a self-contained ecosystem in which eight scientists spent two years living in a world in miniature and experienced the visionary experiment's failure), his documentary An Intro is a Footnote… (2008) delves into amongst other things time travel, popular music and modern literature.
The work a combination of a filmed lecture cum documentary, uses excerpts of found footage from the Biosphere 2 experiment as a starting point for his own narrative structure. Through time-lapse and slow motion sequence he renders an organic process that interweaves fiction and reality, questioning organisational structure and authorship. Mayer often presents his creative processes in a variety of organised forms; through diagrams, story boards, documentary films and installation, each piece collaborating to create a whole narrative.
Mayer’s practice lends itself to collaboration and exchange, much like Ling’s does with the participants of his life class. For the work in Transmission Mayer invited others to participate in the making of the geometric clay quilt as part of its installation. During this process participants engaged in conversation relating to the ideas and themes explored in the film. Through collaboration the work becomes an ever evolving matrix for the exchange of ideas, allowing for the continual re-organisation and translation of structure and ideas that assist in the infinite questioning of what and where the past, present and future of things lie.
Stage 5 - Questioning the Answer
Each artist creates their own form of taxonomy, organising and structuring objects and images, predominantly formed through art and science. These subjects share an interesting relationship; ripe with contradiction, yet reliant upon a constant questioning, re-organisation and dialogue that looks towards a new tomorrow built from the futures of the past.