Critical reflection Assignment 3

Stepping back a bit and trying to take this assignment as a whole, post-tutorial,  I can see themes and preoccupations emerging.

Art and Science

Firstly, the continuing association of art and science, through the use of chemical procedures, such as cyanotypes and photo polymers, and etching in different salts. There’s also the links to photography which are emerging more and more. 

These connections are coming out both in images and processes, with a key text being Kemp’s “Visualisations”, on the subject of the importance of and influence of analogies in understanding the unknown. The images I made of “moons” in the previous assignment morphed into Newton’s Apple, using the technique of chiaroscuro as created by lateral lighting, and inspired by 19th century photography of the moon, and of textured close up objects, a wrinkled hand and a wrinkled apple. These were photographic images as objects of scientific enquiry, whereby analogical thinking led to deductions about unknowable phenomena. (I’m thinking ahead to an enquiry into the appearance of a brain damaged by dementia as part of the “portrait” assignment, in which I plan to focus on my mother as a subject)

Image as object

This has led to the beginnings of an exploration of the unreliability of images, of images as objects whose form and meaning is determined by the processes of seeing and producing. After going through a series of images of a historical/biblical story, the interpretation of which is so open to biased representation and contextual understandings, I made a small model of a sculptural image, “facets” which links together ideas of media representation, conflicting lenses, the idea of “the gaze”, with connotations of feminism, distortion and self-regard,  which I would like to develop further. After discussion with my tutor, I understand how scale, shape and form of the sculptural piece would invite a viewer to engage with it in a particular way- for example, if it were scaled up to the shape and size of a body, it would invite that type of engagement, whereas it could be a landscape, a feature of a landscape such as a cave, or if dropped on the floor, scrunched up newspaper, and if hanging, then other analogies would come into play. This comes back to the power and influence of analogical thinking when interpreting the Unknown, and emphasises the role of culture in perceiving messages, thus leading to a theoretical stance that an image is a cultural object.

Xu Bing Parallel Project

This brings me back to the work of Xu Bing, and his appropriation of objects, signs and materials as a commentary on and creation of new cultural objects in his works. Text as object as a key feature of his work, in his use of tobacco company logos for example, although he works on a grand scale, creating his own languages, and challenging the way we read cultural signs: in his square-word calligraphy, he is also taking a swipe at mainland Chinese suppression of ideas by making the texts (characters)  “meaningless” in that culture. 

I continued the process of degrading materials, as I’d done earlier with copper, by creating a series of prints involving the staged destruction of a plate and the signs written on it, as a reflection and commentary on deterioration and loss, inspired by the work of Xu Bing, specifically the woodcut Series of Repetitions, but relating to the concept of metamorphosis, and the way that new objects and new signs and meanings emerge from the remnants of the older ones. The idea of process in these works would lend themselves to presentation in series, even, if I had enough images, as animation, although those are contrasting narratives. Xu Bing ‘s animation of the evolution of the Chinese character for “one” turned that into a history of the country and its politics, and could run on a loop, thus perhaps hopefully implying the “power of one”, whereas the Series of Repetition derives its pathos from the finality of the empty woodcut in plate 12. My own final image in the “greying” series is ambiguous, as it could be seen to have metamorphosed into a hopeful new sign. 

I’m contemplating whether I could make this sign a starting point in a portrait, linking birth and death in a cyclical progression: thinking of the Wordsworth quote from Intimations of Immortality:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:  

The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,

        Hath had elsewhere its setting,  

          And cometh from afar:  

        Not in entire forgetfulness,  

        And not in utter nakedness,  

But trailing clouds of glory do we come 

        From God, who is our home:

I’m also channeling TS Eliot’s Burnt Norton from The Four Quartets: “in our beginning is our end…” and the notion of linear time as an analogical construct, as a way of exploring portraiture as a mark made in time, and as a way of interpreting the world my mother now inhabits. 


This was my first real experience of collaboration , when working with students on cyanotypes, in which they turned themselves into signs, using their bodies as objects, from the perspective of the sun, that block the light, and cast shadows. They are reduced to empty outlines, although movement can be “captured” through the manipulation of shadows. This is another way to explore portraits as a mark made in time, with the bodies as variants on sundials. 

Themes to develop

Destructive processes

Text and image- text as image

Cyanotypes bodies

Sundials- passing time

Ideas to develop- progressively evolving images- perhaps a film or animated series.


Author: chrisocaprintingblog

Studying visual arts part-time with the Open College of the Arts

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