I have enclosed my first draft of my critical review for assignment 4, along with my various thought maps. I haven’t enclosed all my notes from books, articles, videos etc because there is quite a lot, and you have seen some of them before, if however you felt it would be beneficial I could of course send some of them. Equally I haven’t completed my referencing or bibliography, though you will come across notes and page numbers in the text that are reminders for me. I will add a couple of photos to give you an idea of some of the books, etc I have referred to. I was also wondering if adding an appendix with a copy of the email from John Newling is a good idea? I do have my own uncertainties about some areas of the text, but feel it is at a reasonable place for you see. In fact I think it will be good for me to take a break from it now- I have been immersed in it for a few weeks, and there are days when it has felt like I have achieved nothing. So it will be interesting to get your feedback.
Critical Review-First draft.
My work through this course has taken a path I could not have predicted. I returned to work following the tragic loss of my teenage son. Each day I would make a willow form and then make a drawing of some detail, with the intention of later making a painting. Over time I have worked in 2 and 3 dimensions and developed an intuitive, experiential approach to my work exploring many aspects of the willow and working across media. My work has changed significantly from my starting point. This has created uncertainties in a number of respects for me around where or how my work might sit in the contemporary art world. One of these has been the nature of the materials I have chosen to work with. Their organic nature makes them ‘impermanent’, they will eventually deteriorate.
As I think about what the notion of ‘impermanence’ means, I think about something that won’t last for ever, it might fade, disintegrate, breakdown and eventually disappear all together. It is almost certain to change over time in a way that I have little or no control over, and even transform into something very different. The time referred to could be in an instant- something fleeting, transitory and ephemeral, like the new unfurling beech leaves being illuminated by a shaft of sunlight for a moment, or they could be changes that take place over time, like the erosion of a landscape. As I think about change and the lack of control my mind turns to the elemental forces- water, light and heat, often manifest in our weather conditions and in a constant state of flux. These forces often come into play in art works considered ‘impermanent’.
So why does the idea of using ‘impermanent’ materials create such anxieties? And why is it important as an artist to think about this issue? Why do we make art? herman de vrais describes the purpose of art as the ‘raising of collective consciousness that comes from the subjective completing of the work in absorbing the information it carries’. (p71) This is suggestive of an art work having something to share, something to communicate, which can only be achieved through others experiencing and responding to the work. This poses a challenge for the artist who makes work of a fragile or ephemeral nature in terms of communicating and preservation their work, in order that they may have some evidence of their work and a lasting legacy.
There are 2 artists, Eva Hesse and John Newling, who I have felt drawn to consider in relation to their chosen materials. I acknowledge that they might seem in some ways very different, but I find it quite exciting that there are elements from each of their practices that might be brought together in my own. I shall look at each artist individually with a focus on ‘impermanence’ and their chosen material and how it might relate to my work. I will then consider how bringing elements of each together can help me to anchor the context of my own work within a contemporary art setting.
There is much written about Eva Hesse despite her early death at 34yrs from a brain tumour. Much of her work is often understood as a response to traumas in her life; escaping from Nazi’s in childhood, her mother’s suicide when she was 10yrs, a broken marriage and the early death of her father. This along with having to confront her own mortality perhaps gave her insights into the impermanence’s that we have to face in life, which was translated into her work.
Eva Hesse spent time in Germany with her husband, Tom Doyle, a sculptor, from about 1964-65, where her drawing and painting went into a sort of transition. It seemed to be the start of a move from 2D work to 3 D work. She started making reliefs and collages. The studio space that she and Doyle working in was an industrial site which resulted in works made using the various discarded materials around her. She described making things out of paper mache and various soft materials. While she was in Europe, these works remained quite small but when she was back in America she continued to work in this way with her work gradually becoming larger.
Like any artist, Hesse made work in a particular context- in her case, New York in the 60’s. In the publication, ‘Converging lines’, there is a map of Lower Manhattan that illustrates the plethora of notable artists who also had studios in that area through out that time, many who were friends. Most notable being Sol Le Witt, Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt and Mel Bochner. New materials were important to fellow artists such as Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, Richard Serra and Robert Smithson. They were also using materials that were originally soft and flexible, including latex rubber, plastic, lead, polythene, and felt. ( studiowork leaflet) In an article ‘ Out of the past’, Robert Smithson describes a number of industrial suppliers, Arko and Aegis Reinforced Plastics, that serviced the needs of many artists at that time, including Hesse.
Latex showed huge potential as an artist material because of its multiple properties. It can conform to shape, remain flexible, register an imprint, be translucent or opaque, hard or soft. It can be cast, poured, or painted ( liquid latex performs as paint solidifying into malleable shapes). ( Tate Modern )
It seems that Hesse was aware at the time of making many of these pieces, particularly those in latex, that they would not last and would have an ephemeral nature about them. She expressed a sense of guilt towards anyone who may purchase them. In a video about the impermanence of her materials, she says,
‘I’m not sure what my stance is. I am conflicted because part of me feels it’s superfluous if I need the rubber to use it- that’s more important- and life doesn’t last, art doesn’t last.’
This statement gives the impression of someone who is very focused on the present- It is what she is doing right now that is important to her. She was intent on making work that was her own. In a video, ‘Excerpt from- Four Artists’, she says, ‘I want to find solely my own way. I don’t mind being miles from everyone else. The best artists are those who have stood alone’. In the conversation between Lucy Lippard and Robert Smithson they discussed her approach to the materials-
‘RS- ….. She’s interested in subjecting the materials to some sort of, how could you call it?
LL- Compulsive activity.
RS- Well, I think….. it’s almost sadistic.’
It is broadly accepted that her art practice was extremely experimental and she developed innovative working methods. She would push a particular medium to its limits by repeating a process almost obsessively.
It is of interest to hear conservators, Jill Sterrett and Michelle Bourger, discuss her materials and the issues of ‘impermanence’. In working with pieces by Hesse in order to preserve them they have achieved a much greater understanding of the processes she used-
‘In working with latex she had to build up layer upon layer. So she was working this wet into dry process. …..You really do retain the tide lines. So you’re getting tide after tide along the edge, it becomes a permanent memory. You do see the different evidence of layers and layers that have been building up. And you get this sense of her working, working in really a very long process orientated method for creating art.’
In comparing a drawing, ‘Untitled 1968’ with a sculptural piece ‘ Augment’, they draw attention to the similarities of a painterly process used for each and suggest that there was a kind of dialogue between the mediums here. So there is a sense of Hesse, not only doing things her own way with the materials she chose, but also taking processes that she might use with one medium, and trying it out with another.
When I was thinking about ‘impermanence’, my mind turned to the changeable, unpredictable qualities of elemental forces, in particular light. In the film made 17 years after her death, Mel Boucher talks about Hesse’s work as being considered more and more important, but for different reasons. He points out that her late works are unique in their physical use of light as a medium and he considers that she has made a major contribution to how ‘light, surface and scale can be used to experience an object in an emotional, psychological and physical space that is created by that object.’ The translucent qualities of materials, like latex, would allow for light to play a role in how the pieces might be experienced, and would add to each piece being experienced differently according to the space it is shown in- giving it a ‘ it’s the same, but different’ quality which is something Hesse seemed to like. There is a certain irony though that light, the thing that animates the shadow life of her works is also what has over time been the major factor that has brought about discolouration and deterioration. There were pieces that deteriorated quite early on, like ‘Stratum’, and now no longer exist.
Wagner describes what it might be to experience Hesse’s work- ‘there is always frailty and strength, chaos and order, flesh and latex, absence and presence……… (this is) its ability to exemplify such powerful dualities in singular material form that leaves them unresolved.’
John Newling was born in Birmingham in 1952 and has an acclaimed international reputation creating projects and installing works in the UK and many other countries. Nottingham-based, John Newling is a pioneer of public art with a social purpose. His works explore the natural world and the social and economic systems of society – such as money or religion. To this end Newling has innovated the possibilities and benefits for art in a renewed social and conceptual framework. He belongs to a generation of artists whose work evolved from Conceptual Art, Land Art and Arte Povera – art movements occurring during the 1960s that placed emphasis on the concept, process and site of the work, alongside material and aesthetic properties.
It is his use of plant material that has drawn me to investigate his work further. My own work with willow as a focus has taken a path where I am increasingly using material derived from willow in my work, and some of my work is in the form of living plant material. This has created uncertainties about my work that I need to address- can these living trees- ‘impermanent’ in nature- be a material? Are they art?
In a video about his ‘Miracle Tree’ project he compares the process of growing to drawing, ‘It is like drawing, if you draw a line too hard, next time you adjust it- it’s really that simple, that’s where the art connects in some ways’. ‘I learn, and I learn a lot about myself as well’. It is interesting to hear him talking in these terms, drawing parallels between the processes that enable the connection to be made to a creative act. The tree in question is the Moringa Oleifera tree which he grew through the use of hydroponic grow tent is know as the ‘miracle tree’ for it highly nutritious and valuable properties.
Newling’s exhibition ‘Ecologies of Value’ at the Nottingham Contemporary in 2013 saw the fruition of a project that involved the growing of his own materials. He took Jersey Cabbages, also known as ‘walking stick’ cabbages, and he described it as an idea that started 18 months before the exhibition where he decided that what ever the cabbage plants produced, their leaves, the stems and the stalks- the walking sticks themselves, they would be used as the material to express ideas of value, which is a common theme through out all of his work. He saw the idea as going through various phases- which would be taking the seeds and growing them through to maturity, harvesting them and then exhibiting them. Part of the exhibiting would be making the walking sticks, and at the end of the exhibition he would be giving these away to people to take home and hopefully use as a walking stick. He equates this idea with the notion of seeds being dispersed and about ideas from the exhibition being carried on in people’s memory as they use the stick. He also talks about the creation of myths as a result of this sort of activity.
The works made from the Jersey Cabbage plant materials include a panel of drawings, ‘The Walking Stick Cabbages ( Coin, Note and Eclipses) 2012. There are 27, arranged 9×3, framed works which are made up from cabbage leaves (pressed), some cut into the dimensions of a £20 note and also 2p coins, and parts of the works are gilded, with gold leaf. There is almost a sense of a narrative in that towards the left hand side there are seedlings or smaller plants, in the middle more mature plants are used, and towards the far end these have become leaves cut into the dimensions of a £20, this illustrates the process of going from a plant to being something of value. There is also another work using pressed cabbage leaves called ‘Blanket’, these have been organised in gradation of their natural colour. There are vitrines, one with a pyramid of balls, they are examples of where Newling has taken organic material or, sometimes, text, and allow them to change, alluding to the works where he will make compost which in turn is used in a work. He has made works that incorporate organic material from the cabbages together with clocks, possibly alluding to the notion of time which is a crucial factor of the work in the sense that growing is itself a slow process. One of these works features what resembles a ‘house of cards’ made from these sheets of cabbage leaves, alluding to possibly the potential frailties in nature.
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 an ephemeral 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……..’
‘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…..’
Reading the paper gave a huge insight into the nature of the work- on the one hand the factual information he recorded about his interactions with the Lemon tree- the watering, the compost, the weather, and on the other hand a deeper interrogation about what the actions he was undertaking might mean to him personally (and the lemon tree), and to the wider society.
In the text I found no obvious anxieties expressed regarding the choice of lemon tree as a material in terms of its ‘impermanent’ nature, in fact it seemed more of an intuitive choice that followed on from other ideas he was exploring in the Noah Laboratory. I did, however, find reference to the idea of ‘uncertainty’- he writes- ‘Gardeners live in an environment of uncertainty………. And as Gardeners of uncertainty we must learn to live with unknowns.’ Similar acknowledgements of thoughts relating to his actions run through the text.
Towards the end of the text there is a reference to the fragility –‘the vulnerability of the lemon tree was palpable’. The final intention for the project was that the tree should become a part of the permanent acquisition of The Lincoln collection. Newling describes an excitement about his living tree becoming part of the collection, but acknowledging that this was tempered by a sadness of it departure from his home.
Memory- Artistic legacy.
Art history relays what has been left by artists of the past, a memory of their work, and goes some way to create a narrative of our social and cultural history, how the world was perceived and what made it what it is today. So how can artists, in particular those who choose to work with ‘impermanent’ materials, ensure they leave some trace of their own contribution towards this ongoing dialogue relating to our collective consciousness. How will people remember the work? What will they remember about the work? How will it be experienced over time? Briony Fer, art historian, talks about Eva Hesse’s work-
‘I actually think that the erosion of the works, while not authentic to what they originally looked like, must be taken into account when considering their contemporary resonance. It is the contemporary appearance of these works, degraded or not, that has been important and influential for younger artists. This is Hesse’s legacy; this is what she means now.’
It alludes to the fragile nature of the materials she chose to work with and the fact that although these pieces may not now look or behave as Hesse had intended at the time of making, it is exactly these qualities that appeal to contemporary artists and give her work continued relevance.
Rachel Whiteread was fascinated by the work of Eva Hesse. She admired the fragility and the use of delicate materials to make robust works that seemed to comment upon the nature of vulnerability. She liked how the works were experienced-‘spanned, spilled and suspended’, despite influences by more minimal artists, like Donald Judd and Carl Andre, Many of Whiteread’s casts, as well as recording the physical space of objects, often also have traces of everyday materials left behind from that space; a kind of memory of what was there. In some ways I wonder if it is this ‘sense of memory’ that is the appealing thing about Hesse’s work? It is as if Hesse’s work as it is now is like a memory of what it was when it was first made. The original ideas and material are still there, but they have changed. This somehow challenges the idea of sculptures as monuments, which reflects what Hesse thought at the time of making; she wanted to make forms with a soul of their own, a sense of vulnerability. She claimed she wanted to make work that ‘changed and varied like human beings’.
Hesse’s insistence on the importance of using a material she knew would not last- it was right for what she wanted to do at the time- makes me wonder what she might think about the current interest around this aspect of her work. Her early death drew a line under what her work might potentially have become. What she has left behind has become, through the need and desire to conserve what remains, a study of her artistic processes. Conservators at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art have drawn parallels between some of the processes Hesse used in her works, drawing and sculpture, that make links to a painterly process. I think it is also this cross over of practises that hint towards almost a kind of ‘hybridisation’. ‘Is it a drawing or a painting?’ or ‘Is it a painting or a sculpture?’ Anna Lovatt talks about this idea emerging in the work of contemporary artists-
‘What emerges is not necessarily a ‘post-medium condition’ in which all specificity is lost to a catch-all term like ‘installation art’, but a situation in which divergent practices might be used to critically interrogate one another.’
The need to conserve has stimulated conversation around how and what attempts should be made to preserve, in particular those whose ephemerality is integral to their identity and conception. In his article, ‘The Enduringly Ephemeral’, Alex Potts discusses just these issues and the difficulties of coming to clear-cut ethical and aesthetic solutions.
‘Where a work was conceived and realised largely as an event, and left behind no material object, it inevitably begins to take the form of the surviving traces and records we have of it, whether visual or verbal, becoming in effect another constellation of material entities that themselves are subject to physical decay.’
In relation to Eva Hesse’s latex based works, where there are physical remains, the conversation turns to the issue of replicas. As in these works deterioration was not an intended part of their conception, and the materials have decayed and discoloured in ways that are tangential to the artist’s intention, Potts suggests ‘that replicas might legitimately be made and displayed alongside the severely deteriorated works, leaving the viewer to mediate between the two different representations of the same work.’ He does go on to discuss what might happen when the pieces have fully disintegrated and no longer able to be displayed- should it then be called a reconstruction rather than replica? He concludes that ‘given the amount of significant 20th century art is constitutively ephemeral’……’This has radically shifted the ethics of replication, both making the possibility of showing replicas much less contentious, but also creating a climate where particular care has to be taken to specify the status of any replicas being shown’.
It is a little more difficult to discuss what the artistic legacy might be in relation to a living artist like John Newling. What are the traces that he might leave behind? What I have taken from his work is his appreciation of how the work might be experienced and that it can be experience on a number of levels. In relation to his work with ‘walking- stick’ cabbages, he talks about the work of growing, the making, the showing, and the remembering. It is the remembering that interests me and the idea that certain actions can go towards the creation of myths. He talks about how he likes to think that through the dissemination of ‘seed’ – this is how he refers to the walking sticks he eventually gave away, people will from time to time be reminded of something about that exhibition or work that might stimulate some discourse, perhaps sharing of the story of the artist who made work out of cabbages. A lot of his work happens around these sorts of interaction. ‘Members of the public have not just been viewers or participants; they are instead a recurring material in many of his sculptures’. (p133) So if the memory of this ‘human material’ becomes a vessel for his work, doesn’t this take us to a precarious place? Considering the strong conceptual element of John’s work makes me wonder about his intent, is this about the relation ship between him and his material? As a process artist might allow their materials some freedom to behave according to their inherent properties, is he placing an element of trust in the participants of his work to contribute towards it being transformed into something bigger- perhaps in the collective consciousness of the local community? This sort of effect would be very difficult to measure and may only be understood retrospectively.
Artists who work with materials that are ‘impermanent’ or whose work is by its nature ephemeral need to think about how it can be shared. For an art work to endure, some aspect or trace of it has to survive in a reasonably permanent material form. Potts describes how-
‘.Allan Kaprow, for example, was quite explicit that his happenings were to be seen as one-off events that could not be embodied in any lasting object that might be shown in a museum, and persisted only in the participants memory and in the ramifications that the experience of the happening had for them. At the same time, he created an elaborate archive where he kept scores of his happening, photographs taken at them by professional art photographers such as Peter Moore ( including an abundance of contact sheets as well as prints of chosen images), cuttings from the few published reviews, notes he made for talks he gave prior to the happening, and occasional letters to critics where he elaborated on the conception and staging of the happening’
There is a clear link between this description and many of the works by John Newling. Much of Newlings work takes place outside the gallery in the public arena involving participatory and performative aspects. His intentional use of materials- the general public and elements from the natural world, often living material, which inherently have a high degree of uncertainty connected with them suggests that he is somehow embracing the ‘impermanence’. He talks about ‘liminal’ spaces- the place in-between, the ‘uncertain’ space, the space where something changes. The strong conceptual basis in his work is about the thoughts and reflections he has around the ideas he is exploring, which can at times be difficult to fathom. His choice of material is connected to the ideas he is exploring, and through their role and the actions in his works may find that place to effect change.
Newling records much of his work through writing and essays- as I discovered with his project, ‘The Lemon Tree and me’, this entails objective observations about the work and what he is doing, along with more subjective musings and reflections on related reading he may have done which comprises into a document that is evidence of a great depth of thought. I found an interesting parallel between Hesse and Newling in the influence of Robert Smithson. Smithson was a good friend and contemporary of Hesse, and one of the early land artists. Having left the gallery behind, he too resorted to documenting and disseminating his work through writings and photography. In his essay, ‘In the Arboretum of values: The Moringa Tree Plates’, Dr Jonathan Willet suggests Smithsons 1972 essay ‘Cultural Confinement’ was an influence for Newling.
‘Smithson proposed an art that takes into account the direct effect of the elements as they exist from day to day apart from representation, and worked towards a ‘second nature’ where the forces of art and life were synthesised in the creative act.’
Willet goes onto suggest that Newling has practiced the art of negotiating the elementary forms of ‘second nature’ since the late 70’s.
Newling has published 9 books of writings and documentation of his works. Along side these he also documents his work through photography and videos. One of his installations, ‘Chatham Vines’, which involved the growing of grape vines in a previously disused church, that would result in the grapes being harvested, made into wine that would then be used in a church communion service, employed the use of a dedicated website that streamed footage from inside the church. A time piece created over a year. The possibilities created by the internet allow for a piece like this to happen, not only can it be documented in real time, but it is opened out to potentially infinite audience and allows those participants to re-visit to check out what was previously immanent.
As a living artist Newling is in a position to exert a strong control over the nature of documentation, particularly as it is an integral component of his work. What happens after you have gone? Eva Hesse died in 1970 having produced a large body of work over a relatively short period. She had exhibited alongside her contemporaries in a number of notable shows before she died and these are well documented in exhibition catalogues and related articles. There is a well documented interview with Cindy Nemster from shortly before Hesse died that gives quite an in-depth insight to her own thoughts and feelings relating to her work. In addition to this material, however, her own documents became available to add to the discourse. Fred Wasserman charts the influence that the ‘tagebuchers’ created by her father had on her. Wilhelm Hesse consciously left a legacy for Eva- a documented history of her early childhood and the times she lived through. His project reflected a German Jewish tradition of carefully documenting family history and geneology, further exemplified by many family photograph albums and scrapbooks that he compiled. (p97) He wrote messages in them for Eva– May this book of your childhood become a guide in later life……None of this may get lost……..We had terrible times and I hope it will be better now……..You were so young… not able to understand…..Be thankful you are saved. (p101) Her fathers books continued until she was about 10yrs old, but seemed to have had an influence on her in terms of how to relate to and record ones own life. As a teenager she started making scrapbooks and writing extensive diaries that continued through her life. There were many diaries and date books, letters and postcards she had exchanged, most notably with Sol Le Witt during her time in Germany. She seemed to have kept everything. There are insights into her influences from brief notes on books she had read and exhibitions visited. Lucy Lippard suggested that Wilhelms diaries may have established her near obsession with autobiography, or with the past. (p101) Nancy Holt suggested, ‘I guess maybe it was because she had all those voids in her life, gaps, and that physical presence of the material maybe gave those gaps a reality’. Tom Doyle recalls, ‘I think she just felt that it was a very important documentation of her life and what she did.’ (p102) So in some respects she created her own story as a consequence of these events. It also highlights how many of her contemporaries have added to the discourse around her life and work.
There is a huge contrast with regard to documentation between Hesse and Newling. She expressed conflicting thoughts about the impermanent nature of some of her works in the Nemster interview, but given though the apparent ‘near obsession’ for collating material about her life it seems likely she will have photographed them. Its interesting how Hesse made the connection between art and life, but asserted when she was working her focus was on the materials in front of her. Through this detailed collation of material about her life though, it is almost as if her art and life have now come together in the Eva Hesse we experience today. Clearly for Newling the intention to document is much more central to his work, in some cases it has become the work.
In has been an interesting insight for me to find clear links between Hesse and Newling. My initial feeling had been that they were very different to each other. The Robert Smithson connection helped me to see that, in many ways, the world that Hesse inhabited was the very same world from which John Newlings work has evolved. I found myself thinking about how in some ways the conceptual work of Sol Le Witt, the process of Hesse and the environmental angle of Smithson have been brought together in the work of Newling. His statement also refers to the Arte Provera movement, emerging from Italy, and known for their unconventional process and ‘non-traditional’ everyday materials. In many ways this is what Hesse started to do during her time in Germany, and continued to do later in New York.
The other links that stood out was the connection between art and life. Hesse is documented as saying ‘how life and art merge’ (p19), whilst Newling influenced by Smithson’s ‘second nature’ has found ‘the act of gardening as a symbol for the art of life’. In a video discussion at Nottingham Trent University he talks about the relationship between the artist and the public, how previously artists have made art about art, but says he wants to make art about life. He does this by engaging with the public in his work. He speaks of creating work with a feeling of ‘otherness’, and describing that as a place where uncertainties lie. His works negotiate this uncertainty and the need for control, whilst acknowledging that when you grow something you don’t have control.
Newling’s work does normally start with a clear intention. These often result in transactions in his work that involve asking questions, so many of the uncertainties he works with come from the wider society. When I think of Hesse, there was a lot about her life that ‘just happened’, things she had no control over, and things that could easily create uncertainties. Along with keeping a detailed record of her life, she was known to have had psychotherapy to negotiate her concerns. Her main activity, and a space she could work with intention, was in her work. It is interesting that through her work she could then have a dialogue between order and chaos, embracing related uncertainties.
As I return to the choice of material by each artist in relation to its ‘impermanent’ qualities there is, in some ways, a link. Both artists chose the material because they felt it could help them achieve what they intended at the time. Hesse’s interest seemed to be in the inherent properties of the latex to make work that had a ‘soul’. Newling has used the growing of plants and organic material as a tool to explore ideas that interest him. It is interesting to also consider the un-intended consequences in Hesse’s work- the interest in how her work seems to defy disciplines and explored that space between practices which is an appeal and evident in the work of many contemporary artists
My initial interest in Hesse came from her approach to working with her chosen material- highly experimental and intuitive. It was only later I learned about the tragedies in her life. Once you know facts like this they become part of your experience of that person, and given my own recent loss, there are many things about her approach that resonated for me. Working with the willow was a space where I could exert some intent, when I experienced uncertainties; I took the advice Sol Le Witt gave Hesse- ‘just DO!!’ In many ways this took me to a place where I followed my ‘wondering’, leading to an experimental and intuitive approach with willow.
It was Newling’s ‘Miracle Tree’ that first drew my attention- in my confusion over growing willow as sculptures, but as I have worked through this piece with a focus on ‘impermanece’ of materials it has occurred to me that it is ‘uncertainty’ that I am exploring, perhaps extending to those in my own life. Newlings work has also helped to give me a much better grasp on how to work with an idea. Conceptual work can be difficult to grasp, but I think his work with plants and subsequent documentation has opened a gateway to understanding my work through a different way of thinking.
At a time when the starting point and where I am now, both in terms of my artistic practice and my life, have changed significantly, I have found it useful to take a step back and take a more subjective view. Looking at Hesse’s and Newling’s work has helped me to address some of my anxieties about elusive materials. It helped me to consider more closely what my work is about, how I might negotiate my ideas with the material I choose, and how I might articulate that- visually or verbally. It has also illuminated for me the idea that the work is not about control or lack of control, permanence or impermanence, but about negotiating the space in-between.