Thursday, 23 August 2018

Drawing in the space of Virtual Reality

Tilt brush in use

A few years ago I was asked to help with a project over at the University of Leeds which was concerned to look at how virtual drawing in space with 3D recognition software could be developed. The project was written up and details are available here. The sensors were clumsy but they were already adapted to differences in touch and you could make it harder or easier to move your drawing sensor in real space. I produced a few drawings but nothing really interesting, beyond an awareness that this was a technology that had serious potential. I had forgotten about the experience until the other day when I was shown a couple of videos of work using 'Tilt Brush'.   

I was particularly interested in the fact that Google had set up a project whereby several very different artists had been asked to explore the possibilities that this new software opened out. (I'm sort of wary that this is a Google project because they are so powerful and I do think that the old adage about power corrupting is often true, but I can't avoid the fact that this way of representing reality exists, so bear with me if you are also a worrier about these things) In my last post I retold a story about the Runa man that wanted to get his roof fixed. The point was that only in bringing together two very different viewpoints could a job get done, the conjunction of the viewpoints constructed a higher reality. Google are obviously very aware of this and by bringing into conjunction good artists with some of the best software designers, high levels of synergy have resulted in a program that is very sophisticated and easy to use. It's early days, but if I think about how far the technology has evolved over the last 10 years, I'm sure it will be, as one of the participant's says, a situation for artists similar to the way acrylic was thought of, initially as a very poor substitute for oil paint, but now as a type of paint that is just accepted as another medium to use, no better or worse than oil paint, just different.

I've also been looking at 3D printing recently and if you look at the way that the artist Anna Zhilyeava in the video link at the bottom of this post draws an initial 2D shape, it operates as a template or orientation around which to build her 3D image. If you look carefully at the way she works, you can see that the old x, y, z axis thinking is still there. This new technology allows you to enter into this space yourself, to surround yourself in the drawing process, something that in many ways artists have always done, but in this case it is much more palpable. There is of course the fact that seeing this on a 2D screen reduces the experience to one of having to imagine what its like, but it is a way of thinking about drawing that I believe will become more and more integrated into the way we think about space and reality, especially as virtual reality headsets become less clumsy and more easily available. At the moment I haven't seen any work out there that I could recommend as being of top quality, but that simply means that I have a very limited experience of this type of work. One aspect of this that I hadn't expected to be essential to a reception of the practice is the performative nature of it, and several artists now work in full scale theatre settings as they produce the work. 

Setting up for a performance using Tilt Brush 

In the case of the image above, an audience of 4,000 went to see Zhilyaeva's final live performance. It seemed to me somewhat of a paradox that virtual reality is watched in real space and time, but perhaps it is this acceptance of alternative or blended realities that is key to the way we have to understand our times. There are obviously a lot of people out there that are ready to experience work using this type of technology and as students of drawing you need to keep aware of how technology is moving and what possibilities it opens out for you as image makers. I thought it interesting that most online reviews of this technology were on game sites and not on art related sites. Everything has possibilities and perhaps the mixing and merging of old and new technologies will open out a space that can hold ideas in such a way that they communicate across boundaries and to audiences that would never dream of setting foot in an art gallery. 

Watch these two Tilt Brush introductory video clips:

Various artists undertaking a trial of the Tilt Brush software and responding to their experiences. 

Anna Zhilyaeva making an image using Tilt Brush

Some background information

Sunday, 19 August 2018

The continuing influence of Surrealism

Max Ernst: A classic Surrealist production

In his long poem Les Chants de Maldoror, Lautréamont described a young boy as "beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella". This idea, that the bringing together of previously unrelated things, would force the reader to become aware of a much wider aesthetic, and begin to appreciate a vision of life that was far wider and more inclusive than that previously accepted, was at the centre of Surrealist thinking. This was why Lautréamont was venerated by Breton and was seen as a Surrealist precursor. The universe however does this all the time. The random chaos that is the day to day reality of existence, ensures that unfamiliar juxtapositions are being made constantly, some adhere together, some are repelled from each other, some result in mutual annihilation and others in a new formal metamorphosis. 
In the past, dream states were exemplified as places where we might experience the fluidity of identity, where a human being could also be an animal, inhabit a landscape or live as a tree. Animist beliefs and roles such as that of the shaman were central to this type of understanding of the world, one that slipped in and out of rationality, as easily and as naturally as we now fall asleep; it was part of an everyday reality. Our dreams are no longer seen as an essential part of our lived experience, the shaman is no longer a valued member of society; but as an artist that works with often unexpected connections, I believe that perhaps the shaman has a role that will become more and more important as society becomes to rely on data rather than human instinct in order to make decisions. The deeper point about the chance meeting of seemingly totally unrelated objects is that any juxtaposition was in the past recognised as being important, chance was more often thought of as fate. The stars and their relative positions that just happen to be seen as they are from one particular point in space occupied by one particular species, have been given a vast network of meanings because of apparent relationships. Human imagination will feed on any juxtapositions and will look for meanings in them. The humans that have created a vast information lattice based on seeing stars from the point of view of the third planet out from a particular sun, are linked together by their ability to create poetic narratives, narratives that are central to their specific way of being. As other things bump into the picture of nowness that is always changing, new narratives will of course be constructed about them, but not all these narratives will be useful or interesting. In the sandbox of becoming some forms become memorable, some will change the way we think, but many will simply arise and disappear again without impinging on the consciousness of anyone else besides the dreamer in the sandbox. It is however that arising narrative, that story of possibility that allows us as a species to project ourselves out from a closed off inner world, into one that allows others to join in and share the narratives we create and in sharing in some way to bring what was a dream or a fabulation, into some form of reality. 
This is a very old thing as far as humans are concerned. In order to organise communal living some form of communication is central to the task. The first humans would have had to seek some sort of accommodation with the world and as they did that they would have had to communicate with each other as well as other non-human things that they found in the reality that they had to negotiate with. 

An Ávila area Shaman

The Runa, (A South American Indian tribe from the Ávila area), have a wonderful story about fixing a thatched roof and trapping a jaguar. They are still animist in their mind sets and because of this can address other creatures as if they were part of an extended family, no different to other humans, except other animals' separate points of view are perhaps clearer. This is how Eduardo Kohn introduces the story in his book, 'How Forests Think'. 
A man is standing on top of the straw roof of his hut and he intends to mend the many holes in the thatch, however this is a very difficult job because although he could see all the places where the holes were from inside his hut because the sun would shine through each and every hole, now he is on the roof he can't spot where they are. He needs help and the only creature in sight is a roaming jaguar. "Son-in-law" he calls, immediately informing the jaguar that they are related and therefore the big cat must have certain obligations to the man, "help me fix this roof by going into the hut and poking a stick through every hole you can see that the sun shines through." From inside the house there is a very different view point from someone on the outside, but when a stick is poked through to identify the holes the two viewpoints are aligned, no matter how different they are as individuals. Both inside and outside views converge each time as the stick breaks through and in the convergence a new 'higher' vision is achieved that will allow or facilitate a task to be completed. 
In the story there is a further twist, once the jaguar has been enticed to go inside the hut, he can of course be simply trapped by the man on the roof leaning over and shutting the door. The hut now becoming a trap. The jaguar is in one time frame a family member that has obligations, and yet the jaguar is still a jaguar, a dangerous beast that had just that last week attacked and killed two of the man's dogs. In a shamanistic world human identity can slip in and out of other creatures and things, there is no sharp defining difference that we like to think there is in our own identity centred culture. However I'm not sure our way of thinking of ourselves as individuals is as clear cut as we think it is. When I have for instance scraped the side of the car in a badly judged parking manoeuvre, I bodily felt that scrape as if I had grazed by own knee. The car had become an extension of my body. When I make a drawing, I feel the transfer of my mind to another thing very strongly. Above all when I'm working with others I find all sorts of ways to enter their point of view in order to get something done. When carrying a heavy object between two people we constantly shift our grip to accommodate changes in the other person's carrying position. An immediate empathy has to be built up or we will drop whatever it is we are carrying. The two become one in order to achieve a greater thing. Kohn says this is 'being alive to a living logic in moments of its emergence'. (2013, p. 98) Two things need to come together in order for a greater understanding to develop. This is very like depth perception when looking. Because we have two separate eyes we have two separate views of reality, by comparing them we can judge depth. It is in bringing things together that new viewpoints are discovered. 

Dali: The Great Masturbator 

Dali was very adept at recognising the power of an image that lay between two states, his liquid forms lending themselves to a constant metamorphosis and a coming into being that chimed perfectly with Surrealist doctrine. 

I have previously cited collage as one of the most important working methods to ever be introduced into art making. It is also one of the most recent and was a central weapon in the Surrealist armory. Collage relies on the fact that in a society like ours there is a great deal of waste, and the two disciplines of college and montage are it could be argued; poetic waste collectors. Assemblage or combines are also common terms to describe artworks that essentially operate by bringing together fragments of the world into new wholes and because our world is constantly seeking what is seen as new or novel, there is also a constant flow into the rubbish bins of society, things that are obsolescent and out of date. 'Who wants yesterday's papers' went that old pop song refrain, nobody, except the artist who is going to use them for collage. 

Cornell: A parrot for Juan Gris

The tribes of the Ávila are very aware of the importance of combining two or more viewpoints in order to achieve a higher understanding.  If we begin to look at collage techniques as simply another way of looking at bringing together two different points of view in order to develop a more sophisticated or 'higher' vision, collage can be regarded as a technique that helps to facilitate a much older 'shamanistic' or 'animist' way of immersing oneself back into the world. However this is not just about chance, it is more about looking for something that triggers meaning, even if this is only an idea of a possible meaning. As one image arrives in relation to another, we can as artists begin to edit these relationships and only let out into the world those that surprise or elicit a 'smile in the mind'. But we should never forget that 'fixing the roof' is a very practical thing and that the bringing together of different viewpoints is also known as triangulation and in triangulation we have not just a way of developing a better idea of something but a way of setting out a proof to others that can be verified. The 'surreal' world that many deride as fanciful could then be seen as simply a model for how the way we  build up communication with others works. By 'others' I'm intimating here that it is as important to think about how what we do affects everything else as well as how it might change our relationship with other humans. 

A less well known line from Les Chants de Maldoror is one concerning Lautréamont’s dream of being a hog. 

‘I dreamt I had entered the body of a hog, that I could not easily get out again, and that I was wallowing in the filthiest slime. Was it a kind of reward? My dearest wish had been granted, I no longer belonged to mankind’.
Maldoror, Part IV, Chapter 6

I spotted a figurine of a pig reading in a junk shop and for a while it became a character in some drawings I was making. I'm always interested when I see echoes of ways of thinking that cross cultures and times. In our current western culture these figures are now seen as kitsch and of little worth, but when we look at them historically they seem to sit in a much more important position. It could be that we are reading these small figures in the wrong way and that their ubiquitous presence is actually a sign of their continuing significance.

VarahaThe third avatar of Lord Vishnu 

The term avatar has often been used to refer to a soul that has been freed from delusion and is sent back into day to day existence to help others. Examples include Jesus Christ, Buddha, and Krishna. An avatar exists to give us hope that we can all achieve a state of consciousness far beyond what we feel is possible in our everyday experience of the world. However a more recent use of the word is in the computer generated world of virtual reality, in this we can have our own avatars that operate as separate entities from ourselves. The idea is a shell, one that we can can inhabit in several ways and hopefully it is an idea that will allow us to construct a future space for holistic communication between ourselves and others.
Pokémon sprites that can be used as avatars
Pokémon sprite Granbull: Human\bulldog hybrid

The Minotaur as depicted on early Greek pottery

Picasso: From the Vollard suite of etchings

The idea of human / animal hybrids allows us to consider what it might be to slip in and out of our own skins into another creature's.  

Patricia Piccinini 

The Chapman Brothers playing the Surrealist game of Exquisite Corpse.

'Consequences' or 'Exquisite Corpse' games are ways to artificially generate imagery by bringing together unexpected conjunctions. These games nearly always throw up interesting things, however the deeper issue of 'fate' or something underlying the apparent random nature of a chaos driven universe is what we have to look at if we are to use these games as part of a communication system. 

The dream of being something or someone else is something we all do at one time or another and it is only when we are not ourselves that we can really understand what it might be to communicate with others. Empathy is perhaps the key to being both an interesting artist and a properly integrated human being. By working with processes that bring together different things it may be possible to develop a semiotic dynamics that exceeds the human, and in the slippage of the idea of 'self' into other things, perhaps we might be able to more easily comprehend what it is to have been something that did not exist before there was a someone. 

A dusty bin money box

A now long gone TV game show has echoes of itself sitting in the junk shops of our minds, even an old dustbin has potential as a carrier of an idea of an alternative vision of ourselves, one that allows us to see ourselves as being able to have potential relationships with many things, both organic and inorganic. 

Related posts: 

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Children's Drawings in an adult world

A detail from an old school table that had been transported to the Palais de Tokyo

I was in Paris last week and amongst many cultural venues visited the Palais de Tokyo, which was hosting the exhibition, 'Another Banana Day for the Perfect Fish', an exhibition that was exploring various artists' reactions to the theme of Childhood. 

Petrit Halilaj had reconstructed an old schoolroom, sourcing desks that still had children's graffiti etched into their surfaces, he then mixed the schoolroom layout with large scale renderings of children drawings that were made in metal rod. 

Detail of Petrit Halilaj's installation

As you can see from the image above Petrit Halilaj has taken tracings of children's drawings and has had them enlarged and made up into images that cut into the space in a very disjointed and challenging manner. It is as if giant child was scribbling over everything using one of those new 3D pens. 

Petrit Halilaj

Petrit Halilaj: detail from a school desk in the installation

This was a response that I thought was OK, but one that didn't go beyond  a 'nice' idea. So why did I find the work a little thin? Perhaps it's because I had recently seen the work of Terry Hammill, another artist fascinated by the work of children, in this case his own grandchildren and Terry's response was much more profound as a meditation on how an adult imagination can be stimulated by a child's image

Solar Bomb: Terry Hammill

Sope and Water: Terry Hammill

I was privileged to see the original drawings that Terry worked from and he has realised his grandson's drawings in a way that is loving and caring, the work being very much about the tight bond that can exist between generations, a much more complex and profound idea than the idea of disjuncture that comes through in Halilaj's work. In Hammill's case what we see is one person with a very sophisticated understanding of drawing and sculptural form, willing to invest time and interest in the drawings of someone fresh to image making and not worried or unaware of drawing's ability to be both art and simply a communication tool. Both sets of work are of course humorous ideas and humour is a vital part of our relationship with children. Perhaps it is in the fresh unexpected way that children return to ideas about the world that we find both new invention and humour, and in seeing this we refresh our own often jaded senses. 

Picasso famously stated, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up". However what we read as 'originality' or 'authenticity' in child's art can simply be a mistaken way of looking at the work of young people who are simply trying to communicate. I can remember my own children's drawings and I enjoyed looking at them, but I was also aware that the drawings were part of a whole spectrum of ways that they as learning young mammals were developing communication skills. 

Children's art has been categorised and explored as to its ability to act as an indicator for things such as a child's levels of cognitive or psychological development and several theorists have attempted to classify children's art in terms of its diagnostic value rather than insights into the world. This is something I'm very wary of and would rather just enjoy the way that a child can dive directly into a visual problem and solve it by drawing. However several artists have learnt much from exploring the way that children can draw and if you want to look at good examples the most well known collection of children's drawings is that of Rhoda Kellogg

Rhoda Kellogg is well known for her studies and collection of children's art and her books are an excellent introduction to the way that children's art has now been categorised and its various tropes identified and highlighted as to what they might represent. The archive is itself now used as a platform from which artists may interact or respond to what they find there, for instance the artist Brian Belott recently visited Kellog's archive of children's art, and used what he found to develop an exhibition and had this to say about what he was interested in, “... the fact is that what you’re seeing here is a collaboration between a teacher-philosopher and a two-year-old.” Belott is one of those artists that love collecting things and his interest is I would suggest as much about Kellogg's urge to collect as her particular focus of children. 

Many artists – Kandinsky, Klee, Matisse, Picasso, Miró and Dubuffet – had sizeable collections of artwork by children. They responded to children’s pictures as though they offered a way to break through to fresh or authentic ways of seeing the world. One of the strangest but perhaps revealing moments associated with this need to emulate the 'un-control' of children's drawings was when Jean-Michel Basquiat paid an eight-year-old twenty dollars a day to paint motifs such as a rocket-like Empire State Building into Basquiat's own images, which had themselves benefitted from an association with a certain 'outsider' feel. Basquiat's work is now of course read as 'authentic', but at the time I wonder what was really going on in his mind? Did he realise he was being used for his lack of sophistication and that the more he was involved in the art world the more sophisticated he was becoming and an artist that was too knowing, would no longer be flavour of the month. As it was he died young enough for the mythology surrounding his life and work not to have become tarnished. 

                      Jean-Michel Basquiat: Revised undiscovered genius of the Mississippi Delta: 


Jasper Lack, the boy employed by Basquiat came up with the hook and line motif in the painting above. Dubuffet in his 'Portrait of Fautrier' below, on the one hand uses a childlike simplicity but in his drawing of a cigarette and some of the facial details gives away his adult sophistication. 

Dubuffet: Portrait de Fautrier, 1947

I think it is very difficult to use both outsider art and children's art as sources for your own work, not unless you are prepared to take the imagery on a journey back through an adult world. Children's art represents an idea of an art untouched by the too knowing world of adulthood, but as adults we need to take on the responsibility of being adults and therefore always remain aware that we are bringing something of ourselves to the event. There can be a directness and straightforwardness about certain types of art that are very attractive, but beware of mistaking the un-control of youth for a genuine poetic sensibility. 

                          Child's drawing

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Cécile B Evans: The Gallery of Modern Art Glasgow

I’m travelling back from Glasgow after a few days visiting family, and as always if possible I went to see some artwork while I was up there. One piece on exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art struck me as being of particular interest, especially because it brought into play several of the issues I have looked at over the course of the existence of this blog. A question I have asked several times is, “What is the relationship between an artwork and the world?” In relation to this overarching question are several others such as, does an artwork ‘model’ the world? If so how does it do so? But when we model the world are there models within models? How do moving image works relate to an expanded idea of drawing? What is the status of the storyboard within film-making, should it be regarded as being rather like a script for a play or as stage directions? Can computer generated art be looked at as a special type of drawing? When building a model, are the plans for the models an example of ‘disegno’ in operation? The movement from 2D to 3D that is proposed by making flat plans for 3D objects and working from them, can suggest a movement between dimensions, but can it also suggest a movement through time? How do we present work in such a way that the presentation itself fully realises the ideas behind the work and anchors the work into the world? If an artwork needs to be wired into the mains, what do we do with the cables and is this similar to plugging a work into reality? If an exhibition space is going to be a difficult one or one unsympathetic to the work, how do you as an artist reconcile this without compromising the work?   The work of Cécile B Evans, ‘Something tactical is coming’ 2017, has allowed me to think about all of these issues and more. So perhaps I need to begin with what the work’s title had to say on the gallery wall. 
The description of materials goes like so: Scale production model with chroma key paint, makibes screens, raspberry pi players, Real Game FX miniature fog machine, 3D prints, paper, wood, 3D printed mask dummy. 271cm x 138cm x 122cm. I am already asking myself a few questions just from this description, so a little research is needed. Chroma key paint is usually an acrylic based paint formulated to provide high luminance values and colour saturation for keying effects. Usually green but also blue, as it is in this case, it is a matte paint that does not reflect light, so it is much easier to ‘key’ out. If you want to make objects invisible when filming you can paint them all in the same chroma key paint, (this is often called green screen technology), so I’m already aware that this artwork has been used to create a background that was probably ‘keyed’ out in order to allow for some sort of substitution. Green screen filming is often used in fantasy or science fiction films, so I’m ready for some ‘special effects’. Makibes screens are touch screen interfaces often used for Raspberry Pis, the average size is 7in so we are talking small scale screen technology. A Raspberry Pi player is a video player specifically made to work with Raspberry Pi devices, which are manufactured as easy to access processing devices that support non Microsoft software such as Linux. Raspberry Pi devices were initially designed to help children and the everyday non tech computer user get into coding. A Real Game FX miniature fog machine is often used by gamers to add special effects to their model landscapes, such as mist to heighten atmosphere, as in the image below. Therefore I'm again presuming that at some point this fog machine was used to give a sense of enigma or mystery to any filming that was done using the set.  

From Real Game FX website advertising the miniature fog machine

3D prints and the 3D printed mask dummy are both using a 3D printing technology that has seen a whole raft of start-up businesses involved in creating models, replicas, and miniatures. An aspect of current society I find very interesting and one that I have been thinking about now that I have begun my own investigation into 3D printing. Several items that are office furniture look as if have been made this way. 
Detail of the office model

Most of the wood I recognise as 2 x 1 pine timber and sheets of plywood, which have been used to build what is partly a miniature stage set and partly a surface to which has been attached several small scale computer screens that are running a variety of shorts/animations both as real time footage and computer generated imagery. 

Details of the wooden supports with embedded technology

This surface is also heavily annotated in order to make the viewer aware that each screen is hosting part of a complex narrative. Like scenes from a play, or episodes in a serial, the small screens are operating from the top left to the bottom right of the plywood and pine supported surface, the wires that connect all the devices are clear to see and the wooden surface facilitates their easy attachment. Nothing is hidden on this side of the object, which is the reverse of what we see on the other side. 

Overall view of the back of the miniature stage set

The reverse side or front, depending on which side you approach this object, is a miniature stage set, partly a highly detailed model of an office and partly a blue chroma key painted area. 
The miniature stage set and blue chroma key painted area are adjacent to each other

As you walk around the art work you get to see both sides 
(a classical column blocks the full view)

On a small model chair in front of a desk rests a grey 3D printed head. Tiny books are on bookshelves and miniature files some of which are labelled RIBA, are part of what appears to be a miniature architect’s office. 

Model chair on which sits a 3D printed head

This text accompanies the work and is attached to the gallery wall, and it is quite complicated. “The question of the creation of new worlds, and specifically worlds created for networked living, is at the centre of Cécile B Evans’s work, ‘Something tactical is coming’; a sculptural installation developed from a scale model used in the filming of Episode two in her series called ‘Amos’ World’. The series, a fictional television show about a socially progressive housing estate, features Amos – an architect who has designed what he believes is a perfect individual–communal living structure. Throughout the three episodes and their installations (which will be shown in a major exhibition at Tramway, Glasgow in November 2018) the tenants of Amos’ “building” question their relationship to the structure that has been created for them. The architect’s office becomes a working site as his carefully constructed world, its nature and culture, begins to shift.”

We now know that the object we are looking at was developed from a scale model used for the filming of one part of an episode of a fictional television show. So what we are looking at is a model, which has then been added to and the model represents a fictional idea of an architect’s office. In the Gallery of Modern Art the model film set is raised up onto a 'plinth' for display as an object in the gallery. The plinth effectively 'makes it art' by removing it from the floor and raising the what was a working model up into a new status as metaphoric object. 

The set in use

The additions would appear to be the area designed to carry the various screens and raspberry pi technology as well as a base or plinth. The blue chroma painted area is to facilitate the editing out of puppet manipulation.

The set in operation, the architect doll is being manipulated

We can see from the snippets of information on the small screens fixed to the back of the miniature stage set that special effects have been used and that the hands and arms manipulating the architect are used as part of the idea. 

We also know that a major exhibition of the work being done by the artist will be held at Tramway, Glasgow in November 2018. This is therefore a spin-off from this work, perhaps a way of raising awareness that it is being constructed. Could it be that this work is being made to operate as a model for the forthcoming exhibition? Synecdoche is a rhetorical term, whereby a part can represent the whole, and I’m beginning to think that this is what is happening here. If you have ever seen the film ‘Synecdoche New York’ you will know what I mean. 

Fictional ‘episodes’ are a way to hold a viewer’s attention over a long span of time. An epic adventure is usually broken down into episodes so that it can be told as a series of stories that the narrator can link together gradually over time. When my children were small I used to tell them a long on-going story, each evening you could remind them of where we had got to and then add on a next bit, it keeps attention and builds complexity because you can always be referring to things that have happened in past episodes; thus the success of soap operas. 

Architects are real-life professionals; they are often concerned with creating buildings that will enhance the living conditions of ordinary people. Le Corbusier’s idea that a house is a machine for living in, suggests an idea of the architect as impersonal control freak, Ayn Rand’s architect hero of her novel the Fountainhead, foregrounds the idea of the architect as visionary, and I suspect that Cécile B Evans has these models at the back of her mind. The models (stereotypes) this time are of the way people behave, rather than imagined stories, but perhaps we are all imagined stories and that is the point. 

A model stage set is very like a doll’s house. When taken out of the context of the film studio its tiny scale becomes almost fetish like. We as observers are now on a God-like scale, able to imagine ourselves moving things and people about. (Hence the blue arms manipulating the model of the architect) But this work is also real size, a support structure for a range of technologically sophisticated devices that have to be wired up and plugged in. We can however slip from one level of reality into another very quickly. We turn our TVs on, push a few buttons on our remote control devices, with an awareness that these things are part of the furniture of our room, but within moments of a film starting or a soap opera beginning, we are lost in a fictional reality and are happily suspending our disbelief.  As a creature we seem to have developed a very powerful ability to respond to fiction as well as reality, something probably honed in play when we were very young. The miniature battlefields I remember building as a child were ‘real’ to myself and my friends, the stone throwing ‘explosions’ that knocked out our soldiers, created bursts of real palpable exhilaration in ourselves as we jumped with excitement if our stone throwing had resulted in a direct hit and the knocking over of a rival’s men. These muddy model battlefields were part of my learning curve and as an artist perhaps I have never outgrown them, which is perhaps why I have taken Cécile B Evans’ work so seriously. 
The model film set is raised up onto a 'plinth' for display as an object in the gallery. The plinth effectively 'makes it art' by removing it from the floor and raising the what was a working model up into a new status as metaphoric object. 
Evans' s work has been reviewed in several major media outlets such as the Guardian 
and Amos' world has been reviewed extensively; this from 'Art Viewer' on her exhibition at mumok. 

"AMOS’ WORLD is a three-part television series that takes place in a socially progressive housing estate inspired by famous Brutalist housing complexes such as Le Corbusier’s Unités d’Habitation in Marseille, Berlin, and Nantes-Rezé (1952—57), Alison and Peter Smithson’s Robin Hood Gardens in London (1972), and Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67 in Montreal (1967). The aim was to encourage perfect individual-communal living communes for the capitalist age—yet they nearly always failed, as people did not conform to the behaviors envisioned by the architects.
The first episode of AMOS’ WORLD introduces the title character Amos, who represents the stereotype of the frustrated, angry white man. He exudes an arrogance that belies his true, slightly pathetic nature, and he almost enjoys wallowing in the grotesqueness of his own actions. He additionally resembles a cross between Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s fallen-to-earth Little Prince, and architects Le Corbusier and Peter Smithson, who co-designed the famous London social housing estate Robin Hood Gardens, only to later describe the tenants disparagingly as contributors to the building’s decline.
Amos is played by a three-dimensional puppet with a digitally rendered face, and the other characters—inhabitants of the estate, and the Weather, a narrative voice as well as a kind of benevolent foil to Amos—are a mixture of real and animated performers. As in all good television, the subject of the title, Amos, is never the actual subject. As the drama unfolds, what was presented as a utopian living situation becomes ever more psychologically challenging—the characters’ emotional and physical needs are revealed to be in conflict with what those who constructed this society believe to be “good.” Fissures in this carefully constructed network reveal a breakdown of person-to-person and person-to-infrastructure power dynamics, as the audience themselves look on from units nested within an architectural construction built to echo that on screen."
The architect puppet, with 3D printed face 

Evans opens her work out by using all the formats available to her. The clips from Amos' world below could be seen as a trailer for the series or as another stand alone work. 
A trailer for Amos' world

Media conventions overlap with artists techniques such as montage and collage in Evans' work. She mixes conventions in very interesting ways and has a lot to say about current issues of technology and the way that human feelings and emotions are changed or moulded by contact with it. 
She cites 'collage' as being the technique that underlies her current approach to making art. Collage can be used to create storyboards and is an excellent medium with which to create ideas, especially ideas that reflect on our media soaked world. (See)  
Collage occupies a fascinating position between reality and mimesis. Collage materials are taken from the world but can then used to create commentary on that world. Models are made with different degrees of reality in relation to the world and are then used to create ideas whereby we can play out thoughts about real world situations. The office in Amos' World is a constructed environment, certain elements of which are made and others simply collected and reused in a different situation. The small screens playing out various episodes of Amos' World are so small they appear a models themselves, models of TV screens that it is imagined on which the soap, Amos' World is screened. 

Evans's work has helped me to think about how very different aspects of my own work could be brought together, as well as this particular piece helping me to think about recycling work and creating ways of presenting work so that a difficult environment can be dealt with. The classical columns of the Gallery of Modern Art are hard to work with but by having a totally contained world with its own plinth and space for video monitors, Evans has been able to still engage and intrigue her audience. 

Thursday, 2 August 2018

The Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize

Last years's Jerwood Drawing Prize Exhibition

I have posted on the Jerwood Drawing prize before, but things have changed and the prize has new sponsors, it is now called the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize. It is however still led by founding Director Professor Anita Taylor from Bath Spa University who is a long time supporter and champion of excellence in contemporary drawing practice. This competition is an essential part of the UK drawing calendar and because it is a touring exhibition there will usually be a venue not too far away from where you are. This year's Jerwood exhibition is however still touring, so if you are in the South West you will be able to see the exhibition at the Drawing Projects space in Trowbridge. 
The project was founded in 1994 as the Rexel Derwent Open Drawing Exhibition. It was known from 1996 until 2000 as the Cheltenham Open Drawing exhibition and was supported by a private benefactor, Westland Nurseries, The Summerfield Trust, CHK Charities and Rootstein Hopkins Foundation. Most recently, the exhibition has been known as Jerwood Drawing Prize with 17 years of significant support from Jerwood Charitable Foundation from 2001 until 2017. Trinity Buoy Wharf Trust became the principal benefactor in 2018.
I’ve just been informed that I am a shortlisted exhibitor this year, so those of you that take an interest in the drawing matters that I try to put forward in this blog and who are UK based have a chance to see what I actually do.
The Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize winners will be announced in September 2018 which is when the exhibition will open. 

My entry for this competition was the looped animation below. It was drawn using the most basic animation technology, using a dip in pen and ink, I drew directly on sheets of A4 tracing paper bought from a stationers. I photographed each frame in daylight and because it took so long to do the light conditions changed during the day, so that as the animation moves on the lighting varies according to what time of the day I was working. The sound was processed using Garage Band, I used feedback generated by trying to record and play at the same time from the same computer, once again a very basic way of generating a discordant soundtrack. As the animation ends it goes back to horizontal lines representing a calmer sea, these lines are echoed by the ones that begin the first few frames of the animation, the looping of the MP4 then results in an idea of the endless nature of the issue. Not just as something related to what is going on now as refugees attempt to cross the sea, but as something that has always been the case, every war, every famine, every natural disaster, will result in displaced people and as an island nation if these people are to find safety here at some point on their journey they will have to cross a sea. 

Garry Barker: 'Boat at Sea' Pen and ink animation
Check out these earlier posts on the Jerwood Drawing Prize