Monday, November 03, 2008

Some context for my work

Oh boy, I am really sorry to have ignored you all for so long, but you know why. Thanks for the messages and support from everyone who contacted me since I last posted. I've been doing a lot of writing, documenting my "research methodology". Sometimes I wondered whether it was all going to seem as if I just leapt from one idea to the next, but when I came to write it down I was relieved to find that I did actually follow some sort of logical sequence, despite at times feeling as if I was feeling my way through the fog.

I wrote the literature review back in 2005 before I left Melbourne and took my first leave of absence. I was expecting to have to do a significant re-write, but in fact there was very little to add, and I found it sets a good foundation for the work I've done. There's about a page and a half of "context" which I thought I might share. There's a bit of jargon, and I do apologize for that, but I don't think it's terribly heavy reading.

If you're not interested, just scroll to the bottom to see a pic of a clay portrait I've re-worked on perspex for this installation. This is instead of the portrait on the canvas. Oh! and I've re-made the clay pieces for the floor that the cleaner threw away...

In 1991, Suzi Gablik proposed a new paradigm for art which rejects the “autonomous individualism” of modernism and encourages “the artist to see beyond social passivity, culturally conditioned modes of distancing and the denial of responsibility.” She argued that art can no longer be about “value-free aesthetics”, but rather that the artist has a role to play in drawing a community together in a process which is less about reference to the self, and facilitates a genuine culture of caring and healing.

Responses by artists to Gablik’s call, have been varied. Bill Drummond, former member of KLF, working along social justice lines, has established The Soup Line, which runs from Belfast through Nottingham to Ipswich. Any person living on this line can contact Drummond and he will make soup for them at their home. The idea was inspired by the 13
th century tradition upheld by the Church of Scotland which celebrated communion once a year only with a communal dinner in the church.

Other artists, including Wolfgang Laib (Ottman, 2000) and Ana Mendieta (Viso, 2004) have sought to utilize their art work as a means to understand and embody their spiritual practice. Snell (2005) quoted Laib speaking about his work, “I have always had this almost na├»ve belief that a pollen piece, or a milkstone, contains a message that could change the world.” Laib has been strongly influenced by frequent trips to India where he experienced art, spiritual practice and everyday life as intricately interwoven. Similarly, Mendieta made pilgrimages to her birth land, Cuba and in her ‘Silueta’ series “sought out a primeval consciousness through spiritual communion with nature…these pieces were enacted as a kind of personal religious rite” (Feldman, 1999).

In a chapter on the potential of exploring the spiritual through conceptual art, Feldman (1999) discusses the work of a number of artists including Wolfgang Laib, Ana Mendieta and Bill Viola, video/installation artist. She states that: “Until recently, the work of German artist Joseph Beuys stood as the sole spiritual stronghold in conceptual art.”

Artists working in this way are connected by an engagement with the spiritual traditions of ancient civilizations and certain eastern religions. The belief systems underpinning such approaches focus on the interconnectedness of humans and nature, viewing life as a cyclic process, rather than as a linear progression. This is the underlying principle of process philosophy which “affirms the body-mind continuum, the social or relational self, and sympathy as an essential way of knowing. Process philosophy makes qualities and capacities that have been associated with weakness, vulnerability, and women central” (Christ 2003).

“The basic teaching of Buddhism is the teaching of transiency, or change. That everything changes is the basic truth for each existence” (Suzuki 1970). Likewise, feminist scholars of religion have attempted to define the spiritual in terms of immanence instead of transcendence and view physicality as embodying spirituality. Koppman (1999) asks: “…How would it change our lives if we were to accept change as constant, to see death as part of life as part of death?”

The work in this project will explore the concept of change as a central tenet of existence. The idea of “change” implies process, transience, fragility and ultimately death. Work which explores these must engage with time and performance, and heightens the sense of preciousness of the experiential. The notion of change and the human inclination to resist change will be explored through the materiality of the work.

This is the trace left on perspex by a low relief sculpture in white clay.
The darker lines and marks are shadows on the wall behind the perspex.


  1. I'm really pleased you put this piece in your post. It really helps me to understand and contexualise your work and it's lovely (for me) to feel like I'm engaging in some kind of critical process and debate. Part of me really envies your opportunity to be involved in these sorts of dialogues (if you go over to Michael Nobbs site, you'll see how much he's missing all this now he's just fnsihed his M.A.) and part of me is relieved that I don't have all that work to do because I just couldn't manage it.

    Re. Bill Drummond: I'm only 14 miles from Ipswich. Do you think he'd make a little detour and come and make me soup anyway. Perhaps if I summon up the spirit if Tammy Wynette it'll sway him (if you don't get that ref. search KLF and Tammy on Google) ;0)

  2. Oh I definitely get the Tammy reference. Surely re: Bill Drummond, it will depend on the scale of the map you use and whether you draw the line with a nice fat Nikko pen or not?
    I'm glad to hear you like the post. I wasn't sure if I was cheating a little, but it is what I've been working on. I have to allow myself plenty of time for writing, because there are so many days when my brain just won't operate properly, but I've found that taking folate, B6 and B12 is definitely helping with that.

  3. I find VegEPA and magnesium good for that too

  4. Hi Amanda just thought I would drop by to see how you have been and what you have been up to? Your "research methodology" sounds fine to me, unlike Michael Nobbs, I dont miss having involvement with art theory as it can make strangle ones creativity and its possible to become too analytical and well.....I just dont miss it. One question that occurred to me while reading and in looking at your final paragraph in which you set out your intentions was this. What do you feel you have learned or concluded from the process/ experience? This is a genuine question. Did the artists you mentioned ( ie their approaches/ findings (as such) inform your practice ? Did you discover new artists that made you think again. I suppose one thing I cant help wondering is whether your ongoing illness is in anyway reflected or informing to your art project/practice?

    take care and very best wishes
    as always

    in drizzly Edinburgh !! ( for a change)