Assignment Five – update prior to assessment

Assignment 5 – updated 4th May 2016

The documents that are required at A5 are a descriptor for the work and a course reflection.

The Reflection:

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 and 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 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 but it was only after retrieving the last of his personal belongings – his jewellery – that I found a route to insert ‘him’ into the frame through those 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 through critique from various sources, as part of “Sustaining Your Practice” have helped me to place some critical distance between the work and myself in the final edit. I am mindful 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 has been a very difficult line to find and follow and one that I still 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 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 from 1st August – 24th October 2015. 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. Visitors at the exhibition needed to be at a distance to these prints to view them, for assessment I felt that by making them smaller, presenting them as un-mounted photographs they would be able to be held in hand and be interacted with them as objects. They would thus have a private experience with them, and so I have 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. This idea of remembrance, of memory resurfacing has become a component of my research for my new work under the umbrella project title“Legacy”.

The Box

I designed the box to contain the images with twin purposes. Primarily it was a practical means by which the prints could be held and presented for viewing. The design was a collaboration between a mechanical designer, a carpenter and myself and I think it works very well from that perspective. It also addresses the relationship I have with my father and his continual disdain both for my need to design, create and make things as well as my apparent failure to do anything well. It was important to me that the box addressed those criterion and that I achieved a measure of success and I believe the box and the work achieve that mark I set for myself. I am also aware that the box has visual connotations to memento mori, a casket perhaps and that I have also chosen to call it a container.

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 that the work is seemingly 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 have designed a web-site to host this and other work and have had significant critique resulting in several updates to the site. There is a plan to update the site further with the inclusion of a blog that will detail developments in new work on-going. See below.

Artist Talk/Presentation

I have been invited to present some work at an upcoming symposium as part of Jesse Alexander’s residency at the Bank Street Gallery (BSA) in Sheffield. Link here: http://bankstreetarts.com/people/residencies/jesse-alexander/

“Pastoral Paradigms: Explorations in Landscape and the Self

The symposium that will run as part of the residency will consider how contemporary landscape practice has shifted from its pastoral traditions and embraced more nuanced and personal approaches and narrative strategies. It will be an opportunity to hear more about Jesse’s collaborative project with BSA, The Nymph and the Shepherd, as well as hear him discuss his broader research interests in critiques of pastoral representation, and the potential for landscape practice as autobiographical expression. Several other artists will also present their practice, including the photographer Michal Iwanowski, whose major project Clear of People (currently under publication), retraces the footsteps of his grandfather and great uncle as they escaped from a Soviet prisoner of war camp at the end of the Second World War back to their hometown in Poland. Further information and details of other speakers to follow.”

I’m very excited about this prospect. It has been suggested that I should prepare a presentation of around 30-45 min’s and that more details about the event will be forthcoming. My ambition at this stage will be to focus on the BoW but also to finish with an example of my new work, very probably a video.

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 work 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.

Web-Site

I looked at the Adobe on-line courses for “Muse”, which will enable me to design and construct a web-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. Now complete – link here:http://www.johnumney.co.uk. I am grateful to those who provided support and critique in what is an area of real importance to a practicing artist.

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 and this may well change for final assessment.

The presentation at the symposium will need to be tailored to the time allotted and my current thoughts are about twenty – twenty five images/slides. If I am successful for an artist presentation with the FTN I suspect that I will have a greater amount of time which would enable me to show all the current BoW and some other work.

It is all a work in progress.

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The Project Descriptor

The event specific descriptor for the Sheffield Symposium is as follows:

‘I keep looking for him – I think I always will’ uses landscape photography as a vehicle to reflect on personal memory and autobiography. Using the relationship with my deceased Father as a starting point, I explore the complex and multi layered nature of the father-son relationship through a presentation of landscapes set in Purgatory, an unsettled village in Oxfordshire, text and personal artefacts that relate to this relationship. Memory is capricious, malleable and fallible and this (perhaps impossible) search for the truth of our relationship informs ‘I keep looking for Him …’.

The overall project 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

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