Wednesday, 18 March 2009

cardboard gallore/ October-November

As I was thinking about my battle with finding a material which allowed me to pick up a more 3 dimensional-ness from the surface of the bricks (and fighting with a frustratingly slow drying time with the cardboard smeared on the brick), it occurred to me to take a full cast of the brick (rather than just the surface of it).

I ended up working for weeks, making life sized cardboard bricks like this one. I was and am pleased with them, particularly the rugged edges.
Furthermore, the brick is fascinatingly strong/sturdy and retains few of the properties one would expect to find in a cardboard box. The brick looks fairly light weight and I wonder if there will be something to explore further in that.

The proccess of working with the cardboard, turning it to a pulp and then using the pulp to create becomes interesting when you think about it in terms of 'deconstruction and reconstruction'. It's something I'm aware of while I continue to develop these explorations.

At best, the bricks take an hour each to make. At worst (depending on blenders etc) something more like 1.5 to 2 hours each. The proccess became tedious, particularly as the bricks require weeks (literally) to dry out. I made upwards of 30 life sized bricks but then I stopped. I had a few ideas about what I wanted to do with them, once I had made a collection, but all my ideas required hundreds of bricks and I felt the whole proccess was too time intensive for the stage of exploration I was at. I also knew there would be no hard in leaving them be and returning to them at a later date.
In between brick making, I attempted to use the pulp to construct 3-D floor plans of houses I lived in. I started tracing out the floor plans, with the pulp, onto the inside bases of cardboard boxes. I experimented with a number of things, adding pigment to the pulp etc, but didn't come up with anything of much interest at least in terms of the floor plans.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Some personal histories and some values

Over the last three year I’ve been forced to make and articulate some decisions about the ‘kind’ of artist I want to be and the values I want to uphold in my practice.

I absolutely love this extract written by Georg Herold:

I’ve had it with ritzy art. I want an art that looks like it has been through as much as I have. I don’t want something to impress people in the living room; I want art that doesn’t make me look shabby when I stand next to it. I want art that I look better than. I want art that’s a survivor. That used to be an asshole. That suffered, wised up, got over and then went on to become a stand up comedian or a parole officer.

I want art that looks like you wouldn’t believe the day it had. Maybe the work has a hang over and who can blame it. But you can’t say it’s not on the job and on time.

I want art that looks like it was beat up for doing the right thing. I like art that might rot if you’re not careful. I want art that could be fixed for not too much money if my ex-wife attacked it with a hammer…

I don’t want ritzy art.... It’s vain, can’t pass up a mirror. Only talks about itself. I’m not saying I want poor art. I want rich art. Triple cream. Big, fat, sweet and inflammable. Not ritzy. Just loaded.

I, too, want art that looks like it’s been through as much as I have. I grew up in South East Asia. I’ve lived in a lot of different buildings and like most third-culture kids struggle to identify any one place as home. For that reason I’m deeply interested in the concept of Home – with all its associations, the idealisms verses the realities.

Ironically, in all the moving between houses, the one place I really do (still) associate with and consider ‘home’ was attacked and burnt down in a religious war.

I’ve been deeply affected and even defined by my childhood experiences, particularly those of grieving the idealisms of home. Sometimes I find myself in a cross-cultural tension which arises from spending my formative years in a country with different way of doing life.

As a kid, plastic mass-produced, disposable-ness never meant much to me. Now I’m not sure what it should mean to me. You, the people around me, look across to a place without plastic-ness. It’s a life characterised by scarcity and simplicity. Not my life, but their lives. I don’t think you really understand it and you can’t be blamed. I imagine that it looks a bit empty to you, possibly even boring. Usually I feel like you think something is missing. I want to tell you otherwise. I want to take the old, worn, ragged walls that would have disposed of long ago and show you that they can be beautiful. I want to take what’s authentic and flaunt it in the face of all that is plastic and mass-produced. I want to pay tribute to them; I wish they were my people.

My art practice aims to confront the questions and issues that my life has raised – often questions without answers.

September/October's work

Finally, true to word (if not a little later than planned) here are some images of the ideas and visual explorations I have been working on recently.

Although I'm most keen to document all that I'm working on now, bear with me as I try to offer some context for my ideas.


When I moved to RMS back in September, I needed to establish for myself a 'starting point' - not only for my 'next project' but also to kick start my transition from art student to aspiring artist.

In my second year at University I'd developed a home made modrock material which I used to take casts of the surfaces of bricks. For my end of year project, I applied the material to a wendy house.

The project was successful and I was sure that there was still scope for me to develop my work, taking the brick-modrock material as a new starting point. Nevertheless, regretfully, I didn't trust myself not to fall into the trap of trying to recreate a minor success and was afraid of becoming stale and repetitive. Instead of taking that risk as I progressed into third year I built a new project entirely.

This year, free to explore without the fear of failure and of not achieving a degree out of my explorations, I felt much less timid about revisiting the brick-modrock material. And so I adopted it as my new 'starting point.'

I began with the brick motif again, using different materials to take 'casts' from the surface:

PVA and mosquito netting

I chose to use mosquito netting, inspired by artist Do Ho Suh, whose work I first encountered at the Pyscho Buildings exhibtion in London (Hayward Gallery). Mosquito netting seemed appropriate for all the memories and assosiations it holds in the context of my childhood in Indonesia. In terms of formal qualities, I liked it's transparency & the idea that it's used to let some things through & keep others out. I thought it had a lot of potential to be interesting.

I'd hoped the PVA would stiffen the fabric so that it would pick up the relief of the brick surfaces - it didn't. Although the dirt from the brick formed an interesting pattern, I considered the experiment unsuccesful.

Plaster and mosquito netting

In the past, I've worked with plaster a lot. I thefore decided to try pouring plaster into the groves between the bricks, as a kind of mortar, in the hope that it would address the issue of the netting not picking up the 3-D-ness of the surface. It wasn't very successful either, as the netting tended to pull away from the plaster and the plaster cracked and crumbled.

Mosquito netting and hand stiching

Since I was working with a material I decided to try stiching the brick pattern in. I thought that by gathering material as the mortar it would become more three dimensional. I tried both hand stiching into the netting and also machine stiching. I much prefered the hand stiching to the machine work, but was still disappointed by the outcome.

Amongst all this experimentation some of the classes from the Textiles department at RMS were learning paper making techniques. As I was talking to the head of Textiles, Rachel, about my failed experiments she suggested that I tried taking a cast of the surface using paper pulp, from the paper making technique. I thought it was a great idea, and immediately set myself up to give it ago.

Newspaper sample, bricks

This is the first sample I produced. It's made from pulped newspaper.

The sample is fairly stiff and has very different properties from the home made modrock surface from my project at university. I liked it less, although do quite like the edges and the hole that accidently occured in the middle of it.

Taking a cardboard cast of brick surface

I decided to experiment with cardboard as well as the newspaper. I liked the brown/earthy colour.

This picture shows the process of taking a cast of the surface of the bricks. One problem I encoutered was drying time. The cardboard (and newspaper), unlike the home made modrock where the plaster set fairly quickly, took days to dry. Furthermore, it was barely possibly to lift the cast from the sufrace without it falling apart.

The home made modrock had very material like properties, but the newspaper and cardboard retained their paper qualities and were much less useful. For example, I wouldn't be able to curve them around corners in the same way.

cardboard 'cast' of brick surface
This is an example of the cardboard cast which disintigrated whilst trying to release it from the brick surface.

I do like it's archeological look and how it has become fragmented. I think it makes an interesting photograph, but is not particularly useful or easy to work with as a surface.

By this point I had become quite attached to cardboard as a material to work with. It's interesting to me because it draws assosiations of packing life up into a cardboard box and moving house. Also there are further significant assosiates for me, due to the stereotype of homeless people 'living out of cardboard boxes'.

And so it was in this way that I began working with cardboard, and from this point that my current project has really evolved.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Comparative Isolation

I've come to the conclusion that if I can make it through this year, still in love with the process of making and having produced and exhibited something, the year will have been a success. I aim to be realistic with myself and am beginning to acknowledge that this, my first year out of art school, may perhaps be the hardest year in my near future.

I had barely anticipated half of the challenges I have confronted since leaving a learning institution and regret how little value I consciously placed on my peers and on working in a shared studio environment whislt at University. I recollect being less than easy to get along with much of the time, driven by a competitivenses that is hard for me to shake and the uncomfrotable feelings of vulnerability and being exposed in the public-ness of a shared studio. I find it ironic that I once longed to escape the group studio (for all it's vulnerability and the relational struggles the followed me in that) and yet now, less than 9 months after leaving, I crave the artistic nourishment that came with working amongst my peers as well as the motivation to work which came from watching their work evolve infront of me. Apparently it's a 'normal' struggle, that new graduates face; that is 'sustaining [one's] practice in comparative isolation.' (Lucy Day, Art Consultant) Still, despite all it's heart-ache and struggle, I intensley miss the shared studios.

I've subscribed to A-N magazine, which has been an incredible resource to me, and has helped me feel less isolated and alone in my little making world.

I've had a bit of an adimn-y week this week, considering what it means to be a professional - and in that have had one of my semi-regular rearranging and reordering of the studio sessions. The words of Lucy Day have been ringing in my ears throughout the last week: 'Like many I know I was easily distracted into endlessly rearranging my studio, tidying up in preparation for the great plan.' I don't, however, think rearranging space is neccessarily a form of distraction -- though admit that at times it is a welcome and legitmate (at least more legitimate than facebook) distraction from confronting the Making Giant. In re-ordering, re-hanging and re-positioning documented ideas, drawings, testers, experiments, pieces etc I find I draw different assosiations between each strand of thought and see my ideas and experiments in a different light. There certainly is a value in that.

Yesterday felt like a good day. After a week away from making (I've been researching, reading, attempting to network, organising, re-ordering, thinking etc), I feel positive about my practice and am excited to work this afternoon. Yesterday Claire, one of the art teachers at the school, came down to my studio with me to help me process where I'm at and what I'm doing. As per usual, her fresh look at what I'm doing and her ability to relate to the creative proccess was invaluable and she has facilliated me with some new ideas and approaches for tackling my ideas.

...And soon, I promise, I'll finally get some of my ideas up on here. :)

Monday, 2 March 2009

The history behind the title

Art and life are tightly interlinked for me, with much of the motivation behind my work being born directly out of my childhood experiences. I value honesty and transparency, both in life and in art.

For that reason, I thought it appropriate to share a 'note' I wrote a few months ago, which will hopefully offer some context to the title of my blog and my transition from Art Student to Aspiring Artist.

I was looking through all sorts of notes on facebook the other day and stumbled across one of my own from a few months ago. I read it and remembered the struggles and frustration of one journey coming to an end (uni, and my degree in fine art) and not knowing what the next journey could possibly be. I've heard someone talk about the end of university being like the end of a conveyor belt and I remember feeling exactly like that. The anticipation of everything ending abruptly, with no plans for the future, in a career driven world, was daunting to say the least. The note I was re-reading was about finding peace for the journies ahead. I became addicted to Stephen Curtis Chapman's song, 'Great Expectations'. I set to ground my heart and mind in a promise from God which unfolded through the song words: 'I've been invited to come and believe the unbelievable, receive the inconcievable and see beyond my wildest imagination...'

And so in response to the song words I wrote this: The peace has been found in noting a promise for a hope beyond my wildest imagination. I'm ready to not go hunting for and try and win for myself the inconcieveable, but instead to receieve it. I need to learn a slightly more passive, trust rather than my panic-grabing at dirty strands of freedom and purpose and stability which I know won't satisfy.

Now I'm writing to tell you the next part of the story with the benefit of a newly aquired ounce of retrospect. I remember, in the face of leaving university, striving to 'trust' and not to worry about the future and what it may hold. In the end I resolved to enjoy the last few months in Lancaster and make my peace with not having everything lined up for the next step by the time I graduated.

One of the (many) days I was marching through the art department feeling busy I noticed an advert pinned on the notice board for a position as a resident artist at an all girls private school in Rickmansworth. I was amazed to read the advert, Rickmansworth being only 25 mins away from my family home and on the tube line for London. So I prepared and sent off an application.

Around that time I was toying with the idea of staying in and around Lancaster. I didn't want to leave friends and anticipated it would keep me nearer to Mike (my long term boyfriend). I started playing around with the idea of working at a local sixth form art college for people with complex needs. I was even handed a cut out for a job vacancy at the college; work was available, it seemed. And yet for some reason it felt right to wait and see what happened with my application to the artist-in-residence position, and I decided to not even apply else where. A totally differnet mentality from previous months where I'd spent hours reseraching potential work and filling out application forms - 'trying to keep as many doors open as possible'.

After a while I wrote to ask for some feedback on my application to the residency, which I presumed to be unsuccessful. The rest of the story may be obvious. My application hadn't be unsucessful and I was offered an interview. When I came for interview I was blown away by the place; what was infront of me was so far beyond my wildest imaginations and my highest expecations.

I got the position. SO far from my wildest expecation, my first year out of art school and I'm living independently and working as an 'artist'! Who actually gets to do that? I have 24 hour access to my art studio, which is at least 4x the size of something I could have hoped for. Probably more like 5 times the size I'd get on an MA course. I'm hooked up with my own office, free internet, computer and printer, a lush flat and all my meals are provided. My family (and friends from home) are only 25 minutes down the road.

I can't imagine any situation or place in the country more suited to me at moment. It only occured to me to write when I was looking back over notes from old and read that I had wanted to trust that God would exceed my wildest imaginations and that I would receive the inconcievable. I never dreamt it could have been this big, this far beyond my wildest imagination etc.

And now, of course, that I'm here.... I'm overwhelmed and daunted and plagued by seeds of self doubt (sometimes). But it's good for me to remember how I got here and expect that there is a purpose and a significance in it. I feel like I'm embarking on a VERY steep learning curve and though I'm excited, I do feel really timid in it too.

Anyhow, I just wanted to share my story with you. I hope it comes out as I meant it too. I'm desperate to empahsise that in my 'panic-grabing at dirty strands of freedom and purpose and stability' I got no where. I have a genuine faith in God and believe he showed me that he wanted me to recieve something and this is the undeserved, uber exciting, totally stretching and overwhelming, but utterly amazing deal I recieved!

Why the Blog

I've spent the odd few hours over the last few days scouring the iternet and digesting articles mulling particularly over strands of wisdom offered for the 'emerging artist' - a popular and optomistice phrase used to describe hopefuls like myself.

An avid amateur writer as it is, with over 50 complete journals from my teenage years boxed up for preservation, keeping a public 'artist's blog' seems a natural response to some of the advice I've been processing.

As an aspiring artist, I'm often criticised for being an over-thinker/theorizer. Though I've not yet reconcilled whether the criticism is fair (why shouldn't an artist think as much as a theorist, providing she still makes?), I hope this blog won't just become an outlet for my mullings over the meaning and purpose of art (and indeed life), but rather it will become an outline and record of my evolving practice and an insight into the perculiar world I occupy in my pursuit of the Inconceivable.