Assignment 2 – The Collector, the voyeur

As I have worked on my collection of Angela Johnson’s I am struck by the hidden nature of what I am doing.  Often people nurture their obsessions on the quiet, and as such, reflecting an element of the uncanny in what they are doing because it is done in a secretive or hidden way.

For this project I am choosing to intrude on all these Angela Johnson’s personal lives but I am doing it secretly. I have not asked their permission, I am a voyeur.  When does this work become inappropriate if it isn’t already now?  How far do I need to delve to be considered a nuisance?  Where is the line of right and wrong?

I am the collector in this scenario – I am collecting Angela’s, I am doing it furtively, almost like a stalker and I would like that to be the investigation for this project.  The weakness of the human mind to want to gather, collect, to be secretive and obsessive.  I also want this piece to consider the impact of social media on an individual’s rights to privacy and how the ‘collector’ can use this forum to their advantage.

The brief asks for an A1 or A2 painting for this assignment. I am, however, intending to present my work in a way that further reflects the secretive nature of what I am doing, either in a drawer or cabinet of curiosities.

I researched the following artists as they all worked with presenting collections:-

The Connor Brothers

IMG_9300

I saw the above work at House of St Barnabas in June 2016. It is from The Connor Brother’sMuseum of Curiosity shows’.  They describe the work on their website as follows:-

‘The exhibition is the third instalment of our Museum of Curiosity shows, which combine art with natural history, scientific objects and antiquities. For this exhibition we have created a series of traditional cabinets of curiosity that we hope will allow people to recapture a childlike sense of wonder and curiosity at the extraordinary world we live in.’ (The Connor Brothers, 2016)

Presenting objects in a collection somehow raises them up, glorifies whatever is in the cabinet.  This series of work evokes a feeling of preciousness, particularly because of the type of objects contained within.  There is a positivity and delight to be experienced when contemplating each of the items – they all have an energy of the sacred or ancient, despite whether they are newly created objects or antiquities. I enjoy these works immensely – they are romantic and wondrous, however, my own project needs to be the flip side of this – a reflection of the hidden and the darker side of human nature which is more obvious in the works below:-

Damien Hirst ‘Forms Without Life‘ 1991

Elizabeth Manchester’s summary of the work on the Tate Website (May 2000) describes the work:-

..’Forms without Life, as its title makes explicit, directly illustrates the dilemma of collection and display. The beautiful shells are available to the viewer for visual and aesthetic appreciation through removal from their natural environment, the death of the organism inhabiting them and the possible further stage of being cleaned and polished. One kind of death is necessary for another new form of life or knowledge to be gained…’ (Manchester, 2000)

What interests me about this work is the investigation and exploration of human nature – the reflection of abuse of expected boundaries, the dismissal of respect and decency in pursuit of knowledge.  The juxtaposition of beauty with death and the uncanny sense behind the clinical, minimalist image.  Is it the frailty of the mind, an imbalance within us that drives us to seek knowledge through death in this way – or is it simply part of the human instinct, the balance of life/death, dark/light that is part of us all?

Jane Wildgoose, ‘The Wildgoose Memorial Library‘ and the article by Arleine Leis about Jane Wildgoose’s work in Garageland #19 (Leis, 2016:30) was my next exploration into the idea of collections.  This again was a different form of collection – preserving history and providing a deep insight into the upper-class culture of the 18th Century.

On the Wildgoose Memorial Library website (link above) it describes the work as follows:-

‘…Jane’s site-specific installations offer complementary perspectives on the ways in which natural history collections of the 18th-century may be understood to reflect an intertwining of the manners, taste, friendships, and material culture of the people who assembled them….’

It is collecting on a grand scale and, whilst again a positive portrayal of a collection, it also contains the darkness reflected in Hirst’s work, that the objects are removed from their natural surroundings, that there is a disregard for appreciating and respecting an object in its setting, and that the desire to own, acquire and accumulate is stronger in the act of collecting as a whole.

At this point, I feel I should have researched some psychological theories about the nature of collections and the mind of the obsessive.  I attempted to find papers on the subjects but was unable to find anything satisfying.  I put this down to lack of experience on my part in terms of my knowledge about how to research more deeply into an idea.  I also struggled finding an appropriate definition to research – This is definitely an area I would appreciate some guidance from my tutor as I can see, in terms of context, that I could have gone much deeper (and away from the field of art) with my research.

I did look up some definitions which helped me to focus my intention for this project further. They were:-

obsess – Preoccupy or fill the mind of (someone) continually and to a troubling extent (Oxford Dictionaries, 2016)

stalker – a person who harasses or persecutes someone with unwanted and obsessive attention (Oxford Dictionaries, 2016)

voyeur – a person who enjoys seeing the pain or distress of others (Oxford Dictionaries, 2016)

compulsive – resulting from or relating to an irresistible urge (Oxford Dictionaries, 2016)

uncanny – strange or mysterious, especially in an unsettling way (Oxford Dictionaries, 2016)

I also started to familiarise myself with the concept of the uncanny by reading parts of the following (most suggested by my tutor):-

The Bloody Chamber (Carter, 1979), The Uncanny (Freud, 1899), The Gothic, Documents of Contemporary Art (Williams, 2007) and The Yellow Wallpaper (Perkins-Gillman, 1892).  I found that as I immersed myself in reading these texts I started to experience more feelings of disquiet – this project was very much a ‘lived’ experience – my sense of fear has heightened, I have had instances when I have physically experienced a cold creeping dread, I have had imaginings of unseen figures in my house and as such, I have contemplated whether this project could be considered as the beginning of a phenomenological project?  Having watched Susan Kozel’s Youtube video (Susan Kozel: Phenomenology – Practice Research in the Arts, Stanford University, 2013), there were a number of points that seemed pertinent to this body of work:-

  • that phenomenology is a return to lived experience
  • this approach has a listening to the senses and insights that arrive obliquely
  • helps respect the unformed ideas, thoughts etc
  • one person’s embodied experience…may open out reflection or meaning for others
  • treat the body as a resonance chamber or column beyond meaning. Helps to move into phenomenology of affect – it can refer to the domain of impression, memories, emotion, in tuition, imagination or even the feeling that hangs in the room.
  • Affect is what is conveyed in-between words or gestures, it is the unspoken.

I, therefore, question whether I might take some of this heightened experience of fear and use it to further this project (I would appreciate feedback from my tutor on this as something to potentially take forward).

As per my earlier blog https://paintingangel.wordpress.com/2016/07/10/more-on-luc-tuymans-preparation-for-assignment-2/ I have been strongly influenced by my research into Luc Tuymans work in part 2 of UPM – there are many areas in my own work where I have been directly inspired by watching the online videos – the colour scheme, intention and composition of my work, and also the darker message behind what I am doing.

I also felt that my research into the work of Geraldine Swayne influenced my decision to continue using Humbrol in this project (partly because of the disquieting nature of her paintings and because the material is still so unfamiliar and uncomfortable to me).

My starting point for the creation of this piece was to take on the identity of the collector, the person prone to obsessive or voyeurist compulsions.

The piece of writing below was a response to seeing the Louise Bourgeouis exhibition at the Tate (Tate Modern, 2016).  I present it here though as I feel it sums up my intention for the work that follows:-

TheCollector

With assignment 2 I have tried to address the directives from my tutor from my last tutorial:-

  • make sure habit doesn’t take over and stop me observing/looking – I took on board this point and have attempted to work more slowly and in layers to avoid this happening.  I am very aware of my aptitude to rush so I approached the work very slowly and it ended up being a long drawn-out process. Every time I painted I questioned what I was seeing, why I was painting in a particular way and what I was trying to evoke in my images.
  • need to keep considering ‘what am I doing and why am I doing it?’  – The slow pace and evolution of this project has meant that I was very much engaged in constantly questioning and considering my motives, methods, processes.  It was a huge challenge for me and one that proved rather uncomfortable.  Having said that, there is a poignancy and depth to my final piece that is absent from my earlier, quicker work for Assignment 1. 
  • palette – think about what my palette of choice might be and what it might express/communicate thinking about my subject matter – I was very much influenced by the colour palette of Luc Tuymans with this project.  Having watched him speaking of keeping ambiguity and indifference in his work I felt the use of greys as a neutral non-judgmental colour would help bring a sense of equality to each image I painted
  • Need to stop and look at my experiments, make decisions about what I want to re-work and develop – I reviewed the work I had produced and realised that all the left-handed painting had really enabled me to disassemble my habitual way of working with paint.  Whilst there was very little I produced with my left hand, or my eyes closed that I was ‘pleased’ with, the net result of my efforts was far more valuable to me.  As a result of this I tried to move my learning back into how I use my right hand to paint and this project is an exploration into that.
  • Use spoiling techniques – e.g. Dumas and the scratching out/working under the eyes/mouths. Could this work for me? – I did experiment with spoiling techniques, however, I decided that this project needed to be more subtle.  This is something I will experiment with further and use in a future project.
  • How can I show my dis-ease with my materials to add to the energy of the subject matter?
    I need to try and use my dislike of the unknown/unfinished and bring that to my work. – I chose to use oil paint, thinned with liquin on Somerset paper, and humbrol paint on plastic drypoint plate to keep my discomfort going throughout this project.  The Somerset paper I have is for printmaking and I found is was hard to paint on and absorbed the paint too readily. Because of this I was forced to work in layers as I was unable to create the image I wanted in one sitting.  The humbrol was the continuation of my discomfort with learning to use a new material and also of having to work in layers.

I was able to purchase an old wooden letterpress tray for this project so I needed to take its dimensions into consideration when working on the paintings. The tray I chose had uniform size spaces to enable me to present each image in an unprejudiced way. I also wanted to continue the uniformity of the images by using the same colour palette.  I mixed up a number of different greys to work with as I wanted the images to remain monotone.  I am aware that one of my pointers for this task was to incorporate a small amount of colour into a limited or monotone palette, however, I will need to pursue that for my next set of work.  It felt important to use the neutrality of the greys to maintain a non-judgemental presentation of the individuals.  It would have been easy to pick on certain traits, from heavily religious, to race, to using the one image of an Angela that has passed away or the image of the murderer Angela to sensationalise the piece – however that would have added an imbalance to the work.  I wanted to produce something that would let other people’s minds fill the gaps, ask the questions and experience the sense of the uncanny in their own way.

The scale of the images was also important – I wanted to keep it small a) as a challenge to myself as working small is NOT easy for me!  And b) to present the images as gravatars, as most of the photos I am working from are from Facebook.  In terms of composition, I used the zooming in on certain areas of the face to imply an abuse of privacy, an enforced intimacy or a inappropriate behaviour.

AJLayer1 AJLayers2 AJlayers3

Each image was 4 x 4cm. The images above show the way in which I built up the layers – it totalled around 18 hours of painting despite the small nature of the images. I also left substantial amounts of time in-between painting each layer to enable me to return in a neutral state to continue my work. Whilst I was working on these paintings I also began working on images using Humbrol in a similar way.

Whilst there is little evidence of ‘preparation’ for this specific project, I feel that in fact, all of my work in part 2 (and the exercises I did from part 3) has been in preparation for me to work out how I might approach this project.

Having almost completed the paintings I visited one of the artist rooms in the newly opened wing of the Tate Modern focussing on Louise Bourgeiose (Tate Modern, 2016).  At the time (and as my blog regarding the visit states – https://paintingangel.wordpress.com/2016/07/10/assignement-2-prep-louise-bourgeois-tate-modern-july-16/) I was very much inspired to create heads from fabric that I could then paint on to complete this project. Unfortunately I was rather incompetent using fabric, however, I did work with salt dough as an alternative, to produce some 3D heads.  I chose 6 different Angela Johnson’s and tried to capture some characteristics when making the heads.  I engaged with the act of creating them as if I was the collector, nurturing my obsession – I had looked at finding modelling wax to do this but in fact the salt dough worked well.  One hiccup has been that despite drying the heads in the oven for at least 6 hours, they have started to go soft at the back with the warm weather.  I am hoping that they will at least survive until my tutor sees them and I will spend time now investigating how to take this idea further for future projects.

When the heads were dry I then painted over them in layers using humbrol and I was really pleased with the extremely uncanny nature of them!

As a collection I really feel they add a different energy to the work – I also tried to utilise some space within the drawer to take the eye around the work – I felt that a full drawer of images may have been too overwhelming for people to engage with.

AJCollection

Overall I have found this project incredibly challenging but also rewarding as I have experienced the evolution of my idea. It struck me when listening to Luc Tuymans speaking of the need to have a correlation between work shown together – and I feel I have started to understand how I might do this with my Angela Johnson project.  I have a number of connections for this theme – my initial paintings of 20 Angela Johnson’s as a group, this drawer of images created by ‘the collector’, the possibility to take my work with the compact mirrors further and to produce a range of them, and also the possibility of creating a phenomenological project from the Angela Johnson starting point.  I am also keen to read further about the uncanny, the gothic, the vulnerability of the mind, obsessions etc to what avenues open up to take this project on further.

Bibliography

Bourgeouis, L. (2016)  Artist Rooms  [Exhibition]. London: Tate Modern

Carter, A. (1979) The Bloody Chamber. London: Vintage Books

Freud, S. (1899) The Uncanny. London: Penguin Group

Hirst, D. (1991) Forms Without Life. At: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hirst-forms-without-life-t06657  (Accessed on 19 July 2016)

Leis, A. (2016) ‘Jane Wildgoose; Material Culture and Self-Representation in 18th and 19th century England’. In: Garageland #19 pp. 30-34

 

Manchester, E. (2000) Forms Without Life: Summary’ In: http://www.tate.org.uk May 2000 [online] At: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hirst-forms-without-life-t06657/text-summary (Accessed on 19 July 2016)

Perkins-Gilman, C. (1892) The Yellow Wallpaper. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/literatureofprescription/exhibitionAssets/digitalDocs/The-Yellow-Wall-Paper.pdf

The Connor Brothers, (2016) ProjectsFuture. At: http://www.theconnorbrothers.com/projectsfuture/ (Accessed on 19 July 2016)

Oxford Dictionaries (2016) ‘Stalker’ defininition 1 [online] At: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/stalker (Accessed on 19 July 2016)

Oxford Dictionaries (2016) ‘Voyeur’ definition 1.1 [online] At: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/voyeur (Accessed on 19 July 2016)

Oxford Dictionaries (2016) ‘Compulsive’ definition 1 [online] At: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/compulsive (Accessed on 19 July 2016)

Oxford Dictionaries (2016) ‘Uncanny’ definition 1 [online] At: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/uncanny (Accessed on 19 July 2016)

Susan Kozel: Phenomenology – Practice Research in the Arts, Stanford University (2013) [Youtube video] At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mv7Vp3NPKw4&feature=youtu.be (Accessed on 19 July 2016)

Wildgoose, J (2016) The Wildgoose Memorial Library. At: http://www.janewildgoose.co.uk/projects_and_publications/promiscuous_assemblage.html (Accessed on 19 July 2016)

Williams, G. (2007) The Gothic, Documents of Contemporary Art. London: Whitechapel Ventures Limited

 

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