Reflection and building the Portfolio

I would like to present this work so that it reflects the coherence I personally feel, now that I’m coming to the end of it.

Landscape: change and process (Assignment 1: Landscape: Observation) (Not included in Portfolio)

I started off preoccupied with a theme of disintegration: this was reflected in my quite depressing study of landscape, based on the fact that construction work had led to the cutting down of all the woodlands surrounding me to be replaced with a concrete highway and series of junctions, all connected to a tunnel through to China. All negative connotations there, which I explored using words from the poetry of ST Coleridge, Frost at Midnight, a hymn to nature and an attack on life cut off from the natural world, “mid cloisters dim.” It is also of course a blessing on his new born child, that he will grow up in the natural world and will thus speak “God’s language”.  As I was limited in terms of equipment, this work was done using monoprinting techniques. The visual language I started to develop involved the representation of process, by creating images in a series.  This was inspired by the work of Xu Bing, specifically his woodblock “5 series of repetitions” which commented on the change in land use in rural China. I won’t include these images in the portfolio, as they were quite exploratory, even though I found them quite satisfying in themselves, combining representational patterns and shapes with abstraction.. I was pleased with the scale of these- much bigger than anything I’d tried before in printmaking, and achieved using multiple impressions.

Later I learned new techniques, very different ones:

Copper plate etching, essentially a corrosive process; and

Photopolymer etching, which uses light to create etched plates on different surfaces. Inspired by this, I went on the practice other techniques related to printing with light, and focused on Cyanotypes.

Abstraction and Chiaroscuro: time passes, things fall apart (Assignments 2 and 3)

Portfolio piece 1: The enquiring mind (copperplate etching)

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Portfolio piece 2: Forgetting (copperplate etching)

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Close up
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Forgetting: copperplate on Fabriano paper scroll.

Portfolio piece 3: Greying (intaglio and photopolymer etching: series of five)

These two topics merged for me, as I was using starting to use techniques of printing with light, and corrosive/ destructive techniques, around a particular motif of the moon, the brain and the theme of aging and degeneration. This also had personal significance related to my mother’s decline due to dementia.

The images I will choose to represent these ideas are made using copper plate etching- whereby the copper has been etched to the point of near disintegration. This creates interesting visual effects, linear, shaded, textured and embossed. I will also include the series “greying” which recapitulates the idea of a series as discussed, showing progressive decay and destruction. This was made using photopolymer etching on Perspex, a brittle material which lent itself to the process. The word “greying” in reverse, became the object in this series, and became obliterated as the images progressed. Again, the work of Xu Bing was inspirational, not only the “5 Series of repetitions”, but also the exhibition “Metamorphosis” which was constructed around a narrative of transformation. It also included a biographical piece referencing his father’s death from lung cancer, a collection of pieces including a book made of tobacco leaves, which were presented in glass cases, as newly constructed “museum” pieces.

 

Portrait of my mother: “a photograph is a certificate of presence” (Assignment 4: Portrait, segueing into Assignment 5 A print from memory)

Portfolio Piece 4: This is in two parts- a suitcase which serves as a museum object, and a print which serves as its label.

Contained: Suitcase containing photo and objects, quilts and pillow book (cyanotype, mixed media)

Only through time: cyanotype and photopolymer

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With my mother moving further and further away from the present, I was beginning to search back history to remind her of who she was/had been. Photos were important for anchoring her to her own past. I was interested in photos in connection to the light-printing techniques I had been learning, but also philosophically in terms of how they “fix” the past. With image manipulation so rife now, this is not such a sure thing anymore, but at the time the old photos I was using were taken, this was the case. They were phenomenological to a degree that is no longer true. Again, I was using text and image and explored philosophical statements from TS Eliot’s poetry about the nature of time, and passing beyond time into a timeless “present”.

The techniques used here were photopolymer and Cyanotypes. I made images which combined the two, photopolymer printed over cyanotype, and explored printing on cloth, to go further into creating images as objects. Relating to my mother’s condition, I created multiple versions of her portrait from a photo, all exposed differently in my prints, and stitched them together. I made two of these collections and turned them into quilts. These are the kind of “heirloom” objects that evoke a connection with the past, but their size and texture also relate to a mother and child connection, to tactile links. At this stage I realized that as well as exploring a visual language, and considering the “truth” value of images such as photos, I was now using art as a kind of therapy too, as a way of dealing with what was happening and a way of responding to it. Still using cloth, as the soft tactile nature of these pieces were also resonating as “presences”, things to be interacted with, handled, used as comforting materials. The quilt with its set of images was also a reassurance of having been present. The other cloth piece to be included is a book, “the book of sleep and dreaming” which is also like a pillow, and again is meant to have a comforting quality. It is a book of images of space, distance, dissolving, release: letting go of the present.

Containment:

After listening to an artist’s talk by Kate MccGwire, in which she spoke about her collecting cases to contain her sculptures, I realized that the idea I had been playing with, to put the pieces related to the portrait of my mother into an antique suitcase, was the right one. It collects these items and makes them one piece, a container of emotions and memories, a repository for the past, and an invitation to participate in viewing.  The case is labeled “baggage”, which is just stating the fact, but with overtones of “emotional baggage”, and a suggestion that opening it will release something. The case contains the quilt and the book, inviting them to be unfolded, opened, handled.

It also includes the still life photo I took in a frame, and the real life objects in this photo, including objects imprinted with my mother’s image. This draws attention to the relationship between the “real” and the photograph, the way the photo operates a “certificate” that these things really existed at some time. The packaging of all these objects also serves to illustrate the practice of curating the past, selecting and saving what fits our “nature morte” imagery, and the imprinted doily and handkerchief hint at fetishisation. Finally, there is a cyanotype print inside the case. It includes a quote from Eliot’s Four quartets, about a moment out of time, of being and not being, of an existence between the material and the non-material. I think it serves to “explain” the relationship between the objects in the case, and is included as the last piece to be found when unpacking it.

This suitcase then, is presented as a kind of miniature museum, and the portrait of my mother as something fragile, a material object needing to be preserved against loss. The acts of opening up the container, exploring, refolding, sorting, arranging and repacking act as metaphors for memorialising, and adds an edge of uncertainty to the process of selecting what memories to keep, and repackaging them.

Here is a video showing how the pieces could be unpacked.

Finally, the print with the text “Only through time, time is conquered” will sit outside the case, helping to introduce it as a kind of “time capsule”. This text has a double edge- it refers simultaneously to “baggage” that is hoarded like treasure, but is subject to decay as is all material, but also to “presence” as a non-material phenomenon, as the knowledge of “something having been” lives on.

The Rose Garden (Assignment 5)

Portfolio piece 5: The Rose Garden: images in a series: mixed techniques

This series of images was an exploration of image, word and symbol, relating to the poem “Four Quartets” by TS Eliot. Apart from the link via the poem, this was a thematic and philosophical development from the work on my mother’s portrait. That study had been about history and materiality. This one proposed demateriality, a spiritual sense that eludes representation in image or word, that exists outside time. I started off thinking if these images as a series, and put them in a linear order, to create a narrative. But I realized that they can interact with each other in various ways, that there are cyclical relationships between them (as is the case in the poem), and that putting them in order would limit that. Unlike the earlier series “greying”, which had a particular order, this one could be looked at in various ways, so I propose it be viewed in such a way that the images resonate with one another.

At first they were arranged in groups on cardboard mounts, in twos and threes, but I was unsure how best to lay them out. Each juxtaposition creates a different set of relationships, yet, if they are stuck to a card, they are fixed in their relationships.

Finally, I decided to keep them as loose papers but package them inside an envelope. I used a handmade paper with dried leaves, to envelop the “leaves”  of the prints. A quote from the opening section of the poem “Four Quartets” introduces the Rose Garden as a place that was undiscovered in the past  but which now reveals itself, a foreshadowing of the theme of the poem and of this project, about new meanings being discovered from familiar texts.

Footfalls echo in the memory

Down the passage which we did not take

Towards the door we never opened

Into the rose-garden.

(T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets, Burnt Norton, 11-14)

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Emotionally, this is, to me, a quite satisfying piece, as it moves through the same emotional stages as in the earlier work, using some familiar visual language of disintegration, and fragmentation, the dissolution of language, and it moves into pure symbolism, abstraction and nonmateriality. This work was inspired by rereading and reinterpreting the poem by TS Eliot, and finding altogether different meanings from those I found in the past, when influenced by a Judeo-Christian culture. Reading it again, I was instead finding strong links to the Zen traditions evoked in the work of Xu Bing. Like the poem, I hope the collection of images “The Rose Garden”  leaves the way open for a viewer to find symbolic sense.

Moon Baby (Assignment 6)

Portfolio piece 6: Moon baby: cyanotype on cloth

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This final image is joyous, surreal, fun. It reverses the connotation of the earlier “moon” images, positing instead newness, perfection, blank slate, but in a lighthearted way. There’s an edge to it, though, literally, with the inclusion of kitchen utensils, which adds irony, or threat, slightly unnerving. I guess it’s like a cartoon, but I like it, and like the symbolism of something new emerging into the light, but with the acknowledgement of an “alien” presence too.

Going forward

I would like to explore alternative photography techniques, and develop my technical skills more in etching. I’m sure life is going to provide the thematic stimulus with lots of new beginnings coming up.