Further reflections on documentation.

This in some ways follows on from my ‘holding back on assignment 3’ discussion with Michele. She felt I was successfully collating and editing my way through the production of work, but need to pin down a methodology to work to in order to establish a rigorous practice.

Artists who document their work-

Robert Smithson

Along side Smithson‘s earthworks, sculpture and drawings are his photoworks, films and essays that document them and record his related thoughts. It was interesting to hear Tacita Dean talking about his work in connection with JG Ballard- her work is inspired by him.


There is a short video on his site that asks ‘Why are the projects temporary?’- he talks about their fragility and the fact that many of the projects only happen for a limited time and will never happen again- they create a ‘presence of missing’, and this uniqueness gives an additional aesthetic quality. So what remains after these projects are the document relating to them in the form of maps, drawings, photographs, film, and other related documents like planning applications and the like. I found it interesting looking at his early works, in particular the wrapped objects- they reminded me of the bundles I have made for the solar dye experiments. It amused me that he also has a ‘wrapped tree’ 1966 – it’s a birch tree.

Dieter Roth

The MoMA Interactive site connected to ‘Roth Time- a Dieter Roth Retrospective 2004 state that for Roth ‘Art and life flowed readily into each other and where impossible to separate’. The exhibition features a number of large works made over a period of years. They reflect the continuous process of art making and the unvarying strategy of growth and decay that was so crucial to the artist. Process of collecting, archiving, record keeping and accumulation, and ideas of quality and quantity, entropy and order characterized his installations. He also worked with organic materials. There are 3 videos- Dieter Roth ; Selves (Retrospective), Switzerland 2011, ‘The Dieter Roth Diaries’ at the Fruitmarket, Edinburgh 2012 and one showing the installation of the ‘Dieter Roth : Bjorn Roth’ exhibition for Hauser and Wirth 2013. They are interesting as they show the diversity in his work and in addition to his accumulations, much of his work is in the form of documentation, dairies and folders. In the later years, his son described it as recording his own demise, he set up multiple cameras in his living and work space that recorded virtually his every move- this work was shown through the use of multiple video screens together. When talking about his father, Bjorn described him as someone who worked all the time, ‘why make 2 drawings when you can make 20!’ he didn’t know where to begin and where to stop, so selected everything and included everything.

John Newling.

John Newling is the artist who I have come across more recently and have taken an interest in for some of the similarities with my work and because he is a working contemporary artist. I have already written about him and a piece about his exhibition ‘Ecologies of Value’ earlier in my blog. More recently I contacted him about a project he did called ‘The Lemon Tree and me’, which he did in relation to a larger project- The Noah Laboratory. I was interested in this work as it relates quite strongly to my work with willows. In the project he grew a lemon tree in soil he’d made in the ‘laboratory’ and recorded in a diary his day to day trials and tribulations, thoughts and concerns about this relationship and associated issues like care and responsibility. I was interested by how a work such as this may be shown or shared with others as a creative work. Photographs and some description was included in the publication ‘The Noah Laboratory’, but a publication relating to ‘The Lemon Tree and me’ is due to be published later this year- John Newling allowed me a glimpse of the text which is a collection of writing interspersed with entries from his diary-

‘I feed and water the tree. The leaves are beginning to curl and the first 9cms of topsoil is very dry. All the petals have now dropped off the flowers……..’

along with-

 ‘Culture is a meaningful and material substance that is generated in the relationship between us, our histories and the changing nature of the physical environment. My relationship with the Lemon tree is like that- it is vital and creative ground for reframing our place in the bigger picture of nature as gardeners of responsibility’

 ‘…. The act of gardening as a symbol for the art of life…..’

I quite like the language he used in the piece- he used gardening related words and terms in the text which somehow helped to anchor it and add a hint of the poetic. Something I noticed in a number of his projects is his use of a ‘newspaper’ as a kind of device for disseminating images and text, often to reach an ‘out of the gallery’ audience, to create some kind of dialogue or transaction.

willow pools and pondsIt has been interesting looking at all of these, and thought provoking in relation to my own work. I can see the similarities with each of them and appreciate that they highlight some of the ways I could work across media in order to present my work. In many ways this is what I am already doing, but can see it is important to have resolved my thoughts about this. Michele talked about ‘pools and ponds’ – the what  goes where. I described having loads of photos relation to everything I have been doing that I felt I need to organise more coherently, which I have done. I wrote each file name on a post it note then further organised them in to groups, like a mind map.

There are-

  • the living willow sculptures
  • photos relating to the natural history of willows
  • making materials from willow- ink, charcoal, paper, colour
  • 3 dimensional art work (forms)
  • 2 dimensional art works ( experimenting with other materials)
  • ‘the plantation’- creating a sustainability

A piece that I wrote for contextual studies around ‘conversation’ was quite revealing about my relationship with willow. I have actually been working with W. in various forms for probably 15 years. The recent events in my life left a space and in some ways it is almost as if the willow has stepped in guide me through, like an old friend. Each of the elements above seems important, and like Dieter Roth I feel like I want to include everything. It is tempting to start trying to un-pick the work, but I have talked about this in the blog before and feel that the ‘doing’ is the important thing, and as Eva Hesse acknowledged the work couldn’t be separated from life, but focusing on her materials and the work in hand was primary.

So, as I look through my notes I see the question ‘where is the work?’- this has haunted me to the extent I now have a sketch of an empty gallery with a neon light asking ‘where is the work?’- a student on a painting course with no paintings!! I have been reassured in this respect after reading a piece relating to Hesse’s contemporary resonance, ‘The legacy of Eva’, where Dean Hughes (now Head of the School of Art, University of Edinburgh) says, ‘Hesse was important to me when I was at art college, particularly because I was studying painting, but didn’t make any paintings; at the same time, my work wasn’t sculpture. Her work seems to defy the idea of separate disciplines, which has a contemporary feel.’

I think I feel confident in the ability to draw upon different media, as seems appropriate to communicate my work. I can see that some of the works I have made, like ‘making a charcoal sphere’, might only be shared through a form of documentation, like photography, because of the very fragile nature of the work. I can also see though there is potential to expand this idea into an experience of something different, either in a gallery or some other location. As I think about this and the nature of my work, I am drawn to the idea of sharing both in and outside the gallery. Hesse, Roth and Newling make the connection between art and life, and whilst I have a feeling that the work I have been making recently is very much tied up with current events in my life, I can also see that there are many aspects tied up with, as Newling suggests, ‘us, our histories and the changing nature of the physical environment’.

Things in my head that seem relevant-

  • Since the end of last year (which was a difficult time) I have bought a diary where I have jotted down what I have done each day (to keep a track of things), and what might have prevented me from my creative endeavour. ( I must remember to note the first willow are starting to sprout!)
  • Comment from my blog– ‘Another thing I took from this talk was Kovats comments about her work not having a ‘look’, there isn’t a generally recognisable style. The thing that links them is her investigation of a single subject- Water. This is certainly very poignant in terms of my own work relating to willow.’
  • Hybridisation– this is something I brought up in relation to my work in connection to a characteristic of willow that I haven’t forgotten about, but haven’t brought into my personal statement.
  • ‘Who can look at your work?’- that’s from my notes, and it does make me think about the possibilities available today for communicating your work- Tania Kovats is just one example of an artist employing the use of the internet to reach a new audience. There is the possibility, through the use of blogs or specific websites, to engage with a new/different audience.
  • Where does it sit?’– The curator of John Newling’s ‘The Noah Laboratory’ describes in the associated publication his other legacy-
  • He challenges any strict definition of artistic process and practice.
  • He has broken down perceptual boundaries between collecting, exhibiting, producing and showing.
  • He has changed the way people think about Contemporary Art.
  • aren’t these things that many artists might hope to achieve. There are many things in his work that I can relate to, and added to this knowing that he is a working contemporary artist, who has also been lecturer in Visual Arts and Professor of Installation Sculpture at Nottingham Trent University until 2010, does allow me an element of confidence in relation to how my work might sit in a contemporary art world.

As a sort of experiment in relation to the archive of data relating to my study of willow over recent months and my need to resolve ideas around the nature of how I will communicate my work more widely, I have selected my folder relating to the living willow sculpture ‘3’O’s’ from which to work. From those photos I created a collage that was very much reflective of elements or qualities of the 3’O’s sculpture ( relating totally to this year), but at the same time reflective of concerns reflective of my life, notably a major loss (all the photos are of shadows, stains, traces, spaces, gaps – of an absence) , and these can relate to the on-going concerns and potential loss of our wider natural environment. In the collage there is one image of 8 leaves from 3’O’s collected during the year, which in some respects represents the physical presence of the ‘sculpture’. I kind of visualize this some how being transformed by physically cutting out the shape of the leaves- to give a sense of the absence.

collage of images from 3'O's

collage of images from 3’O’s

When I showed my husband this collage, he said ‘but aren’t they all works in their own right? ‘Isn’t that a body of work? And I can see it might be tempting to agree, but there is something about the combination of images that allude to many aspects of willow over time, but also all of one time. There are instants- shadows gone in an moment, there are traces- the colour and staining left behind from roots and leaves, there are interpretations that drawn on memory- drawings made using materials derived from the subject, and images of the physical embodiment of 3’O’s- photos of the different shaped leaves. This is an example of how I might choose to share my work and I feel that I could adequately articulate my reasoning.

When I was thinking about what seemed relevant in relation to my work, but what I have left out so far, is the use of ‘words’. There are times during this last year where I have found myself writing phrases or more in my note/sketchbook-

  • ‘dark mass rising’
  • ‘walking on a carpet of curls’
  • ‘in these gardens….’

I’m not sure yet whether these will feature in my work, but it remains a possibility.

This entry was posted in Painting 3- Contextual Studies, Painting 3- Major Project, Reading and Research and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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