Non- rational abstraction: trusting to intuition could give rise to several processes and outcomes. You could let the materials work, and be the amanuensis. You could maybe succeed in not having to think in words. But could it be a purely automatic process? Unlikely. You make choices at all stages. You just might not acknowledge the reasons for those choices. You might be channeling memories, maybe referencing other people’s work without trying or being aware. You might produce work that provides insight into unconscious motivations and concerns, like dreams. You might just do what’s easiest. Or maybe bits of all of these.
Science has given us ways of thinking and knowing that are held to be superior to mere intuition, or to faith or emotion. Since the Enlightenment, reason has been the highest level of thought, the way of thinking and arguing that defeats all others. On the other hand, in recent years, the practice of mindfulness and the influence of Buddhism among educated Westerners has posed some credible alternatives to the mere superstition and credulity still evident in certain parts, all of them challenging the supremacy of reason.
“The History of the Inevitable warfare between Science and Theology” is a 19th century book title- I don’t remember by whom, and I haven’t read it- but I liked the title. It was one that leapt out because it suggested itself as a title that fit this series of images. The images came first and the title came afterwards, but clearly it echoed the thoughts I had been having along the way. This is a kind of interplay between reason and intuition, between the objective and subjective, the things that can be explained and the things that are harder to understand, that are personal, deeply emotional, and which you obsess about even when there seems no point, because you think there is an explanation for them, or a solution to them, or a cure for them or an escape from them. In the past religion would have provided all of these.
The instruction to work in abstract, to eschew representation, to avoid the limitations of one object = real/ iconic significance, opens the doors to multiple suggestion, interpretation, and ambiguity. It also creates problems of finding a stimulus, and working with observation or concepts, or emotions, or whatever. What it seems to suggest first to me is the exploration of formal properties of things, the lines, the shapes, and therefore techniques of whatever medium we are going to be using. In this assignment I have been struggling with the tensions of mastering craft- in this case also science- of photopolymer, of chemicals- all things which are quite new to me- and making meaning. I have not sketched, or barely at all. The work has all been in my head, and has been jumbling around with a lot of powerful emotions just lately.
The main focus of this assignment for me has been to experiment with new techniques. At times, that has meant that the work has been about process and it has lacked any emotional heft. But out of that has emerged some pieces that reflect themes and emotions that have been dominating this time, and these pieces make sense to me. The theme of the moon, and the idea of influence, gravitational pull, and the feminine principle, links for me with the strong emotional issues I have had to deal with recently about my mother and about myself as a mother whose only child just recently got married. The themes that emerge here are of orbits, splitting, floating away, loss and the emptiness of space. I think these are the feelings that have subconsciously shaped the images I have made.
I started by considering the meaning of abstraction, looking back to historical developments and identifying rational and intuitive approaches: the former I then pursued as abstraction by distance, the latter I broke down into gestural, and process approaches. In exploring process approaches I experimented with different materials and the processes that naturally go with them, exploring how to degrade, damage or decompose the materials. My chosen artist for the parallel project, Xu Bing, is undoubtedly an influence here, as his series of woodcuts “5 series of repetitions” is an inspirational use of process in reduction printing. I was interested in making process match meaning, as he has done.
At the same time, my personal reading and practical research were talking me into the realms of science- with new processes involving chemicals, metals, photopolymers and light sources. This was all very new and presented a number of practical problems of access to resources, as well as opportunities to practice. It has meant that this assignment has been a long time on the go, very fragmented and interrupted by life events. These life events have fed into the emotional meanings that I’ve made though- by going for an intuitive approach, I believe that themes and understandings have emerged that reflect key events of my life recently. A powerful theme has emerged, linking me, my mother and my son, and these have metamorphosed into topical images of the moon, which at the time I first designed these plates, was both full and being eclipsed. The final image, of degeneration, is very poignant for me, and I am considering combining the print with the plate itself- a beautiful thing when it starts to tarnish and grow verdigris- but as a reminder of both the deception of images, and the process of irretrievable loss. The blank space on my final scroll may be inspired by Xu Bing, but anyway, emptiness is a factor to be included here.
Technically, two new processes in particular have inspired me in this assignment. The first is cyanotype printing- which is simple but beautiful, and I love the irony whereby the light of the sun creates such cold moon-like blues. An added irony is their sometimes impermanence. Something I need to research a bit more. That was particularly apt with my “Herschel 1Q84” cyanotype, where “a new planet” swam into my “ken” and soon afterwards disappeared again, making it a special moment. Doubly apt that Herschel developed this cyanotype process too. I have experimented with large scale printing on cloth, and am interested in developing something more along these lines- a mixed media approach perhaps, for Assignment 3, using this sun-printing process involving nothing but light and shade, as my take on “chiaroscuro”.
The second technique is copperplate etching using ferric chloride. (I have another chemical in the house which also might be a non-toxic etchant, and still need to try it out). I have focussed on the aquatint process, as I like the depth and granulation, and multiple shades of grey. Obviously, I am very much a novice at this, and have not explored the creative potential very far, as I’m still very focussed on the “how”. But I feel that I have taken an important step forward. When I started I was playing with monoprints, printing at home, and nothing much more. I now have the ability to work in many more ways, have a press (albeit in the wrong country) and feel fired up to move on to more professional ways of working.