Yesterday I went to Oxford, it is usual for me to do so as every Tuesday I am a volunteer at the Echoes group, but as it was the last session before the Christmas break it was decided to meet up for a social session rather than in the Fusion Arts Centre where we normally meet. Only four turned up, myself together with the overall leader of the group and two ‘users’, perhaps suggesting that the aspect of meeting up is less valuable than the process of work that is the purpose of the group. That the therapy offered by those sessions overcomes any issues associated with being in society. There is again risk for the future of the group, something I now realise is part and parcel of these types of organisations where money is short and cuts the norm’.
The route to the Cowley road on foot takes me by the Radcliffe Camera – above – and the light was very enticing, so I made some images, the kind that I have come to dislike, pretty, tonal and their inclusion here is to recognise that I have a nurtured instinct to make these images that I am still having difficulty to deny. These ‘quick’ snaps made to look attractive, something that this part of the course is interfering with my progress.
After the session I went to see the Warhol/Morris exhibition at the Modern Art Oxford, it is a show that I’ve been looking forward to and it didn’t disappoint. I hadn’t read much about it but soon after entering the “Piper Gallery” I saw what a really interesting piece of curating Jeremy Deller had done. I hadn’t previously studied either artist, though I had preconceptions of Morris as a champion of the ‘craft’ of art and of Warhol as a cynical mover of the establishment of ‘Art’ – moving financial benefit, in my mind a kind of precursor of Koons/Hirst, but I don’t really have a great deal of vested knowledge and a lot of prejudice I suppose.
Deller found a neat convergence in these artist’s works, it seemed to me that by placing the overtly mechanised print works of Warhol on the wallpaper designed by Morris they echoed each other, perhaps even democratising the work, Warhol by debunking the artifice of ‘High Art’s’ reliance on the single image/painting/sculpture, it’s place in the museum/gallery vested with an Art historical value, primarily in fiscal terms, coupled with Morris’ craft based work which not only brought technique to the a wider audience but also created wealth (however small) to workers in history workshops and factories. Fascinating coupling. Both artists were political and overtly so and I especially enjoyed Warhol’s prints of Mao behind a stand of texts by Morris entitled “Monopoly – How Labour is Robbed”.
These still images of the Radcliffe Camera and the Bodleian behind, bereft of people but inculcated with tradition and privilege, and which are images that I also know speak volumes about the photographer. The echoes of the ‘Dreaming Spires’ that illuminate the honey coloured Cotswold sandstone edifices that abound in the city, where access is granted again by privilege that is in stark contrast to those that I meet later for a ‘social’. I also know that those seeking therapy via the good works of the Echoes Group have amongst them an old Professor of Middle Eastern Studies suggesting that no-one is immune despite their place in the social hierarchy. And perhaps with my reaction to the Warhol/Morris works, all is not necessarily what it appears, that prettiness may harbour something much more meaningful?
As I move gently move forward I am reminded of the talk given by Johanna Ward recently where she said that she started her MA work by investigating a large, fairly abstract concept – in her case it was the destruction of the environment – before realising that what she really documented was her reflection on her parents’ divorce. I have a strong inkling of what it is that I am running away from documenting, but there are some that are encouraging it.
I will continue to extract images from my surroundings as I seek a way forward in this course and I have a real sense that as I go out I am finding my narrative closer to home. It isn’t wholly clear how I will narrate that story, but to deny the existence of the kind of imagery like those above would be to cut-off an internal contextual reference for myself; it is part of who I am. I am going out for more therapy later, although I don’t expect to find what I’m looking for, just more clues.