This final assignment is a recapitulation and a resolution, much more of a resolution than I had ever expected it to be.
It is supposed to reflect the subject of the parallel project. Well, as I have discussed, Xu Bing tells stories. The exhibition I saw, which influenced me, was cyclical, and told a story beginning with “metamorphosis”.
For this project, I returned to cyanotype printing, using direct images, or photocopying onto the light sensitive cloth.
My original idea was to create a series of images to represent ages of women. I planned to be the central image myself, which of course meant I would need help. After planning several possibilities, these were the ones I felt would work.
Image 1: Foetus: This was to start with a foetus shape- this was to be me curled up, with a tape/ paper line around my shape, and a pair of scissors, suggesting the idea of being cut to shape, or cut out, constructed. It would also reference domestic crafts, and dressmaking, which fit the use of cloth.
Image 2: Construction of identity: referencing the old “Bunty” comic we girls all used to get, which featured on its back page a cut-out doll with clothes that were to be cut out to dress her. The clothes had tabs to hold them onto the doll. Again, I was to be the model/ body shape, and I would fit tabs to clothes, which I would lay flat. Again, this would reference being cut to shape, constructed, and involve the use of dressmaking materials.
Image 3: Queen of Hearts: this one would be based again, on dressing up- this time as a fantasy powerful woman- a ridiculous one though. I decided this time to create the shape with cut paper or something artificial, and lay out the clothes in such a way as to be slightly surreal, misaligned, to create an unsettled tone, and reference the Alice story. Power dressing, as we did in the 80s. Mocking the idea of power as a constructed thing, a fake, and very short lived. Heartshapes would reference the Alice theme but also the fake adulation of the powerful.
Image 4: Shroud. For this one I thought I could soak cloth so it was stained on both sides, then wrap it around myself and expose to the sun. The result would be hard to predict, and I wasn’t sure if the shape would be recognisable at all. It would also be on both sides of the cloth.
Image 5: Earth: of this one I planned to create a skeleton shape, but using materials such as tools, or cutlery and kitchen appliances, to create the bones.
I can see how this series reflects my preoccupations over the past couple of years. Literally carving out a space amongst competing demands, and consciously entering a new phase of life myself. Being a member of that older generation, at the stage where you lose your parents, and becoming the “next to go”, being aware of keeping historical records, putting things down for posterity. Facing my mother’s condition, her impression on the world fading and her history being forgotten. Photography has interested me for this reason. It creates a record and a curatable object.
It was important to match the materials and the subject- hence the relationship to domestic objects and crafts, but the process too was important- the idea of imprinting a shape that is exactly the same size and dimensions as the real life body, or tool, creates a visceral connection between the subject and the image, as the subject and the ground have to touch. What is variable and serendipidous is the shadows cast – these can be controlled by the direction of the light, but are also highly dependent on environmental factors such as time of day, weather, location and UV strength. However, I had also noted the process used by Rauschenberg and Weil, and had a UV lamp to use as well- as the direct exposures of my own body would be very hard to arrange outdoors, without exposing the cloth too soon. That method would allow the exposure to be done inside, and the shapes arranged in a darkened room. I also realised that to an extent, double exposures could be arranged, and that errors could be fixed by re-applying cyanotype chemicals and re-exposing.
I started with the foetus shape- but changed my idea as I realised that making a curled up shape would not be very clear in silhouette. Instead tried to make an image of myself trying to cut out of the cloth, cutting along a dotted line- I cut the cloth to show this process.
This was done indoors, using a UV lamp, which of course I had to get help with. Making something this size meant the lamp had to be moved- this means that shadows are obliterated by the moving lamp, and in the end the image was not at all clear. There were also patches, which I think was to do with my rinsing in vinegar which had been previously used for this, and which still contained dye. The watery effect is not unpleasant, but on the whole this didn’t work. I felt that I should not pursue this method. It was too hard to be lying still giving instructions and unable to check what was happening. I need to involve another model and control the light myself.
I then tried using the lamp myself to create the “Queen of Hearts” image. This one worked a bit better, but it was clear that the UV lamp was much less effective than bright sun. it was hard to get details- for example there were lacy textures and mesh, but these did not come out- the movement of the lamp would have been to blame, whereas strong sun would fix the image clearly with a constant direction.
Then, everything changed, and I haven’t finished this series.
I got this image to play with- first grandchild.
I combined my ideas of tools/cutlery, and the foetus shape, and tried various arrangements.The weak wintery sun now wasn’t quite up to it, and so I also tried the UV lamp again. Outcomes varied, and sometimes the chemicals just washed out completely. I wanted to bring back the “moon” theme from earlier- and used a crescent shape, and circles- now the shadows are not as powerful as earlier in the year though, so effects are very different.
After a few poor attempts, I knew this was the one:
I love it.
Now the “moon” is full, and perfect, unlike the corroded and degenerated forms I was making earlier, which reflected my mother’s condition. It’s outsize, like a real foetus. The use of a sieve is playful, making fun of the idea of a brain being “like a sieve”, but also reminds of my mother at the other end of the spectrum. The use of cutlery is meant to be playful, although a sense of threat might be felt too, but the pose is of a young child exploring- crawling. The “technique/ technology” involves blocking light to form an image, and the ultrasound works in a similar way but with sound waves. Both are testament to something “being there”, to presence. Both create positives out of negatives. Overall, it should be fun, joyful, new- positive in that sense too.
For me it marks a turning point , and a much needed relief from the thoughts and emotions that have been obsessing me for the past year. As this moon baby emerges “into the light”, I feel I am emerging from darkness too. And so this is a good place to end.