Assignment Five

And so in the post tomorrow to my tutor will be the final for Assignment Five and two additional documents. I almost wrote ‘final edit’ but of course that will depend on Tutor feedback and, in respect of SYP – the blog for which is here – where it will undoubtably continue its development. The documents that are required at A5 are a descriptor for the work and a course reflection.

The Evaluation:

An evaluation – Body of Work at Assignment Five

The course has been both the most challenging and also the most rewarding. The challenge to find a way forward had me considering what it was that I wanted to gain from photography as a means of communication i.e. what did I want to communicate and for what purpose? This process of deliberation was the most difficult period of the course as a whole, and yet it proved to be decisive in breaking through with determining what, and how, my personal voice would proceed to develop. It was clear on reflection that I was unsure what the Body of Work would be ‘about’ until the end of Assignment Three, and yet through the process of reflection and I became sure that what I wanted to deliver was a discourse on the ‘personal’ and how I fit into the world I inhabit.

The Work

The impetus to work in “Purgatory” provided the psychological trigger to make a work based on my ongoing relationship with my deceased father. There were a number of avenues of exploration that I tried in order to enter into a conversation with ‘him’. For example I tried to bring his effigy into view in a number of ways and it was only after retrieving the last of his personal belongings that I found a route to insert ‘him’ into the frame through objects presented as archeological artefacts.

I felt the need to provide a textual narrative device to enable the viewer to contextualize the work. My first attempts didn’t work particularly well, in that they were too diverse. Refining them, making them more specifically personal have strengthened them, although I am concerned that I have overdone this aspect, something I am sure that will come out at assignment review. Feedback, as part of “Sustaining Your Practice” has helped me to place some critical distance between the work and myself and this edit has resulted from considering those various feedbacks. I am mindfull of a comment Fiona Yaron-field made in her feedback regarding the texts “The last three pages from the sting of his spittle [text], next landscape, and then the rings works brilliantly together. Each element expands the narrative, is very moving and visually connects. They are all open and leave me space as the viewer to enter. Some earlier text and image are too literal and leave me outside the work.” The need for access points for viewers, to have a sense of ambiguity that fosters engagement is a very difficult line to find and follow and one which I find continually ebbs and flows.

The landscape imagery, though difficult to edit down to a manageable quantity all exhibit the sense that I want to express. That sense though came about as much by examining the work as a whole, before editing/sequencing, to form a narrative that worked visually. There are many images that remain outside the set that individually hold significant connotative strength but do not work in the series. And whilst I think that my visual language has developed I recognise there is a distance still to go.

The Outcome

As the work progressed from an as-yet undefined work in progress, to a project with defined parameters, I felt a growing sureness of how the work might or might not be presented. An early decision was to make the work small. I wanted the imagery to be personal and to represent that with images that were sympathetic to that goal. I had printed and exhibited most of the landscapes at an exhibition I had organised at the South Street Gallery in the Churchill Hospital permanent artspace. I was pleased with the way the work was hung, I was required to work with a professional technician who works for the Modern Art Oxford Gallery in physically hanging the prints which I mounted in 20” X 16” frames. Viewers needed to be at a distance to these prints to view them, I felt that by making them smaller, presenting them as un-mounted photographs they would be able to hold them in their hands and interact with them as objects. They would thus have a private experience with them, and so I made them approximately A5 size. I also made photographs out of the texts, so that the words became more physically present. I felt that if there was a sense that the words were printed from a text file they would have had an ephemeral nature. I wanted the words to have a sense similar to that of the artefacts, of having a history. These words though have remained – worn with time and remembrance – either as they had been expressed at me a half century or more ago, or with my recently un-silenced voice. I’m not sure whether viewers will capture that notion, but it has been embedded.

Take-aways

There is a fine line between allowing the work to develop, to wander, to find direction and recognizing that the work is ‘about’ something. In one of my written journals I made a note to myself to ‘believe in the project’, this was before Assignment Four. It was at a point when I ‘knew’ how I was going to complete the project – or at least the form of presentation (editing issues notwithstanding). It is evidence of maturation, I think, that enabled me to make that critical decision and subsequently feel confident enough about the work to be able to enter into discussions with interested parties about the narrative. This confidence provided me the authority to ask for feedback from comparative strangers, albeit knowing they were enabled to respond from a critical distance. I am very sure that in my next piece I won’t be so unsure about whether the project is a work in progress or a confusion of imaginings.

Once the work developed a ‘path’ I became settled in what I found myself describing, and to that extent I feel that the subject that I want to continue to research now has definition, at least for the foreseeable future. It is somewhat comforting that this sense of a ‘voice’ has found a way to direct what I shall be working on and I have some ideas about projects to work on post this course.

The comfort I feel about a ‘voice’ appearing during this final phase of the course is in stark contrast to the way in which I felt about a lack of one at the beginning of it. I feel a resonance with the way this project has developed a sense of what I want to make work about, and the conceptual framing of the work itself. The landscape imagery was conceived as a psychological response to the space that I was in and it follows that that response was a way for my voice to surface and express itself in the way it has. And I find it curious that I am still very engaged with how I see the work as successful, but maybe that’s a part of the sub-narrative.

I would like to think that I will work on other projects that allow other voices to emerge, but the central theme of love will, I think, never be far from what I want to talk about.

Looking Forward

Presentation

Some time ago I felt that the idea of finding a white wall space to exhibit this work wouldn’t be the right way to present it. As described earlier I feel the physical handling of the images works better and various people who have examined the work have corroborated this notion.

I have considered designing a book, which would be hand-made in collaboration with a bookmaker and designer I know. My thoughts are currently that in making this book it will become quite a precious object and that might not work due to the narrative and so have stayed that decision.

I am however, in the process of developing a web-site to situate my developing practice. My old web-site, which hasn’t been updated since before these studies began, is, in my view extremely poor. It does, however, represent the distance I have travelled during these studies and although the site still gets a lot of ‘hits’, it is no longer how I see my identity as an artist and so needs to re-made.

The Family Ties Network is a research group of artists, filmmakers and writers who explore memory, space, place and the family in photography and moving image. I had the opportunity to present my work, in a previous edit, at an informal session on the 20th Nov 2015. I have asked whether it would be possible to resent my BoW at a formal session at the next event, which is tentatively scheduled in Sunderland in spring of 2016. I feel this would be the ideal venue to present this work for the following reasons:

  • The Network is a research group whose main area of interest includes the main tropes of my work: memory, family, space and place.
  • The mode of delivery of the work is for the presenting artist to discuss their practice (their identity as an artist) then show their work before an extended question and answer session mediated by a facilitator.
  • Notes regarding the presentations and subsequent discussions are then hosted to the Network’s website to enable other practitioners in the field of inquiry to interrogate and develop the network.

The presentation methods at the FTN events are image projections, which may or may not incorporate sound. Some very careful consideration of how the work would be seen by an audience would be required to ensure that it was received sensitively. I have a thought that I might also accompany the work with a reading from a piece that I wrote some years ago, which would provide some contextualization as well as presenting some other wok that I have completed at HE6 (level three).

I feel I am being realistic to suggest that my chances of being selected, amongst the august academics and practicing artists in the Family Ties Network, are slim. It is with that I mind that I shall develop a web-site to show this BoW and other projects more recently developed.

Web-Site

I am about to embark on a series of courses, which will enable me to design and construct a web-site; this is how I constructed the previous site. For some time I have taken an interest in the way in which artists, and in particular lens based artists, have created their on-line presence.

The practitioners who inhabit the FTN arena have been of particular interest for obvious reasons, but I can discern no particular ‘house-style’ and they appear to be as disparate as any other practitioner. In fact diversity – or at least the apparent aspiration to be an ‘individual’ is the only common denominator amongst all those I have looked at. There are some who have clearly used “canned” ready-made profiles, some have used ‘blogs’ as a means to display themselves, there appears an almost endless variety of means to an end.

I have a couple of works that are ‘ready-to-go’, but I will make space for ambition, I’ll create a void in which new works will need to be made.

And finally

I have a strong sense that this BoW, along with other works that I have worked, on will continue. This work, as it appears for tutor assessment, will have an edit which is current, this may well change for final assessment. It may well change as it is expressed on a web-site and, if I am lucky enough to be chosen, for presentation at a future FTN event.

_______

The descriptor has changed a little from the document I took with me to the event at the Glasgow School of Art:

Descriptor:

I keep looking for him.

I think I always will.

This work deals with the relationship I have with my deceased father. Through various phases of my life I have faced success with greater trepidation than failure, for failure was a constant prediction and, therefore, more readily welcomed. Despite many clear and very obvious personal and professional achievements my learnt responses to them have always been negative. This work is the first structured correspondence into a relationship that has maligned many events in my history. And whilst he has been dead for nearly twenty years it is this burdening legacy that I have confronted here.

Purgatory is an unsettled space a few miles from my home in North Oxfordshire. I found a trigger for this project there because it had both physical and emotional resonances at a time when another potential success loomed (the final project of these studies). My technique was to try and elicit an image with the eye and then ‘find it again’ in the viewfinder. I wanted to respond to the image in an emotional way, fully aware of why I was in this ‘place’ called Purgatory. These images have very distinct personal connotations, which I recognised and composed for, seeking that ‘Punctum’ that Barthes talks about but, rather than in a photograph, I sought to find it in the making of the image.

In Purgatory I went searching for unspecified imagery that would become specific, to see if I could find, through the sub-conscious, a ‘Punctum’, fully aware that the context of the image is rested within only one person and perhaps might never resonate elsewhere. And whilst I had been focused solely on that bondless father and son relationship I now realise that the work, in its construction, reflects also on it’s meta-narrative, love.

The work comprises views of the land in and around Purgatory. Intertwined with these perspectives of the place I have introduced artefacts from a box supplied by my mother. This small box of items was given to me as a response that I made to look at whatever physical objects had survived him – this appears to be all that’s left of him. My mother didn’t want the box or its contents returned, in which I found an interesting corollary with worth/value. They were of no monetary value, nor it appeared any emotional substance – she was happy for them to leave her as he had done nearly twenty years previous.

I am principally concerned with relationships, personal and close bonds, both intergenerational and otherwise. Ideas around the presence and absence of love and how those twin perspectives might be described and illuminated. Purgatory deals with love at a meta-level, but from a single perspective, no account is made of an others view – either his, my mothers or indeed, a detached observer and this may form the basis of further research.

Artist research

After assignment four was submitted my tutor has suggested some artists to research and consider. Rafeal Dellaporta’s work, particularly the Antipersonnel series was suggested as another approach to my own in the presentation of artefacts. Dellaporta, in his work of deadly devices, describes these still-lifes in a beautiful chiaroscuro light against a black background. The background elicits the notion of preciousness, as if they were jewelled treasures from an auctioneer’s catalogue, the accompanying text though firmly places these objects as if from a manufacturers’ catalogue:

“Antipersonnel Bounding Fragmentation Mine

V- 6 9 Italy

The V-69 antipersonnel bounding fragmentation mine can be set off by footfall pressure or through a tripwire. When detonated the fuse sets off propellant gases that fire the mine’s inner body 45cm above the ground. This explodes sending out more than 1,000 pieces of chopped steel. Between 1982 and 1985, its manufacturer Valsella sold around 9 million V-69s to Iraq. The mine was given a nickname by Iraqi minelayers: the “Broom.”

  1. 120 mm wght. 3,2 kg”

The disembodiment of the treacherous device from any sense of context, its complex beauty transliterating from purpose to object d’art is the beguiling device Dellaporta uses to conceal the artifice. The indexical properties of a photograph, which might catalogue both the device and the mis-en-scene of its designated purpose come together off the page. Nowhere in an armaments catalogue would the collateral damage be available for viewing. These objects aren’t typologies in the Becher tradition, though they are imaged in a very similar construction, distant from their purpose yet imbued with menace by the accompanying textual referencing.

The artefacts in my work were conceived to the distant, their emotional presence distanced by, what I have hoped is a forensic aesthetic methodology. The visual rendering of the images is as wide as I could make it; I wanted as little information as possible missing from the frame, from the artifact, the whiteness suggesting a clinical presence. Perhaps that’s the key differentiator – black versus white, or vice versa – Dellaporta’s work draws one in whereas my imagery holds the viewer from the frame.

Also mentioned was Celine Marchbank’s work ‘Tulips’. This work is a very tender rendition of the artist’s mother decline through cancer to death. I suspect it was mentioned to me because of the imagery within the images, clearly very personal and it reminded me of fellow student’s Penny Watson’s work about her Nanny as well as Colin Gray’s work ‘In Sickness and in Health about his mother’s decline, I wrote about it here. I hope to meet Colin in Glasgow when I attend the FTN event on the 20th November as he is part of that collective.

Also suggested was Laura Larson’s work ‘Hidden Mother’ which I think has a lot more going on, archive clearly with its concomitant historical perspectives, but also about representation and motherhood. I’m not sure what relevance this has for my work, but I am intrigued and will come back to it when I have more time.

Introducing the work – updated 9.11

I am in the fortunate position to be able to show my work for critique before I finish the final assignment for the course. I have been offered the opportunity to present my work for critique at the Family Ties Network event in Glasgow on the 19th of November, I will be amongst other students presenting their work in an informal session, called ‘new voices’ by the organiser Dr. Nicky Bird who saw my work, in a previous edit and thought it worthwhile to have at the event. The programme details are here: Family Ties Network – events

It is a great opportunity and despite comments from my tutor I am a little daunted at the prospect – but in a good way. I attended the previous event in the University of Bedford and wrote about it here. I wasn’t able to stay for the post event reception last time, but I will be able to this time and hopefully find some opportunities to discuss my work within the context of the Network’s aims.

I have spent a good deal of time re-editing the work, the scale of the artefacts, the text and its position on the image. Tomorrow I will present the work to Tom, an artist I have known for sometime and who has agreed to provide a critique. Assignment five asks for the final edit (I won’t be ready too make that cut until after Glasgow) as well as an introduction. I will take the opportunity to provide Tom with an introduction I have recently completed and an artist statement – both of these I have shared with Wendy.

I shall ask Tom for his response to both these texts as well as formative responses to the BoW. No-one has seen this current edit, I have removed the video of the previous sequence due to its inherent issues as much as it is out of date.

My Introduction:

I keep looking for him.

 I think I always will.

This work deals with the relationship I have with my deceased father. Through various phases of my life I have faced success with greater trepidation than failure, for failure was a constant prediction and, therefore, more readily welcomed. Despite many clear and very obvious personal and professional achievements my learnt responses to them have always been negative. This work is the first structured correspondence into a relationship that has maligned many events in my history. And whilst he has been dead for nearly twenty years it is this burdening legacy that I have confronted here.

Purgatory is an unsettled space a few miles from my home in North Oxfordshire. I found a trigger for this project there because it had both physical and emotional resonances at a time when another success loomed (the final project of these studies). My technique was to try and elicit an image with the eye and then ‘find it again’ in the viewfinder. I wanted to respond to the image in an emotional way, fully aware of why I was in this ‘place’ called Purgatory. These images have very distinct personal connotations, which I recognised and composed for, seeking that ‘Punctum’ that Barthes talks about but, rather than in a photograph, I sought to find it in the making of the image.

In Purgatory I went searching for unspecified imagery that would become specific, to see if I could find, through the sub-conscious, a ‘punctum’, fully aware that the context of the image is rested within only one person and perhaps might never resonate elsewhere. And whilst I had been focused solely on that bondless father and son relationship I now realise that the work, in its construction, reflects also on it’s meta-narrative, love.

The work comprises views of the land in and around Purgatory. Intertwined with these perspectives of the place I have introduced artefacts from a box supplied by my mother. This small box of items was given to me as a response to look at whatever physical objects had survived him – this appears to be all that’s left of him. My mother didn’t want the box or its contents returned, in which I found an interesting corollary with worth/value. They were of no monetary value, nor it appeared any emotional substance – she was happy for them to leave her as he had done nearly twenty years previous. The texts are principally from my own recollections, though a couple are drawn from art literature, a key is provided.

I am principally concerned with relationships, personal and close bonds, both intergenerational and otherwise. Ideas around the presence and absence of love and how those twin perspectives might be described and illuminated. Purgatory deals with love at a meta-level, but from a single perspective, no account is made of an others view – either his, my mothers or indeed, a detached observer and this may form the basis of further research.

1Purgatory is an unsettled space a few miles from my home in North Oxfordshire – see attachment. I have not provided this attachment in this post.

My artist statement is:

John Umney’s project – “I keep looking for him. I think I always will.” – provides a psychological response to an environment inextricably coupled with memories from his past. Currently completing an undergraduate degree in Photography with the Open College of the Arts, John Umney has previously exhibited at Nuffield Orthopaedic Hospital permanent artspace May/June 2015 and the South Street Gallery, Churchill Hospital, Oxford July/October 2015 and will informally present his work for critique at the upcoming Family Ties network conference in Glasgow in Nov 2015.