Category: Practice Based Research

Fridamoneum

 

Vincent Van Gogh… occupies a special place in both art history and ‘general knowledge*. VG is the well-known and popular artist. No other Western European painter is so universally familiar…Exhibitions of his work draw large crowds throughout the world from New York to Korea. He is the subject of innumerable books, films (like Lust for Life (1956)), novels, television documentaries and so on. A large museum… displays a permanent exhibition of his paintings and drawings while also selling books, postcards, calendars, slides and other memorabilia to tourists from all over the world. VG reproductions adorn school corridors and dentists’ waiting rooms.

(Pollock, 1980, pp. 59-60)

 

Written in 1980 this work forms part of a feminist discourse exposing the hither to accepted and consequently hidden dimension of gender in the myth of the artist, the genius artist was always male. Art histories have moved on from there, it is now accepted that women and other marginalised groups can indeed paint and produce other art works, however one feels what was the periphery is now more accepted in the ‘genius’ cannon perhaps only on its pre-existing terms, the parameters remain the same for the most part, the door is only slightly ajar. Her descriptions of Van Gogh as ‘a paradigm of the ‘modern artist’’ and the fabrication of the artist themselves as artistic subject could so easily be attributed to current myth making in the here and now around the artist Frida Kahlo.

The 2018 exhibition “Making Her Self Up” at the Victoria and Albert Museum takes this polarisation one step further in displaying the artist personal paraphernalia, the stuff by which it is suggested she made herself up, invented and constructed herself  as ‘subject’ (not her art) without showing much of her artistic production at all, save a few paintings and reproductions.

I was both pruriently transfixed by the ‘death spectacle’ of the imagery and presentation style, and deeply uncomfortable dragging Kahlo forward into our modern concept of the selfie generation (Bramley, 2017).  A portentous white-noise sound track reminds you that life was hard and short for Frida Kahlo. Her bits and pieces, outfits and jewellery displayed in ethnographic style on child size beds. The premise being that she invented herself, constructed herself daily therefore we can view her and her personal belongings as ‘subject’. Blurring entirely the distinction between artistic self and artistic product as subject. Pollock’s article was keen to illustrate that the two polarised subjects ‘artist’ and ‘art’ were in fact operating within the same exclusive territory, perhaps then this exhibition could be framed as the ultimate expression of those ideas.

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MA in Art and Design in Education Exhibition 2018

Act like an Artist!

Research based practice term 4

DSC03753So Last autumn winter term I worked on these images. I constructed quick impromptu spaces to recreate/reenact images from postcards of women artist of the past.

Mimetics is a recurring theme in my artistic practice and in my teaching. In my proposal ‘Act like an Artist’, I was asking if we copy artistic behaviour, can we learn/teach anything about art or about being an artist? What are the ways in which an artist goes about her work? Can we learn, by re-enacting the physical activities of making artistic products or by striking a pose from an image, anything of the preoccupations, motivations, habits, influences, ideas, and materials beyond the mechanical use of tools and skills?

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Reenactment has a long history as social phenomena, as part of pageants, parades and religious events. The use of dressing up or more accurately ‘costumed interpretation’ (Heverin, 2015) is becoming increasingly prevalent in museums and galleries as Vanessa Agnew states,

…re-enactment is booming. History enthusiasts gather weekly to enact past events, television history programs are aired to good ratings, living museums hire costumed performers, civic governments sponsor local performances on historical themes, tourists “follow in the steps” of earlier travelers, and academics venture into public history.

(Agnew, 2004, p. 327)

Displaying the original image next to the image I created, invites a judgement of this stab at authenticity. The juxtaposition lends a satisfying story of enactment, there is a tangible delight in the closeness, or not (see Celeste Barber) of the reconstruction to the original, in noticing details, in a ‘spot the difference’ exercise. This delight reflects more than the aesthetic appeal of the finished matched photographs, but perhaps indicates an enjoyment of the aesthetics of the ‘attempt’, the fallible essentially ‘human context of their development’ (Dutton, 2004, p. 7). There is a great deal to be said for these amateur approximations (see (Dennis Severs House, 2000)) versus authentic real objects (traditional museum displays). The capturing of interpretive, and physical embodied experience seems to provide a rich resource, activating acute attention in both audience and maker.

This practice based research project seems to articulate the relation between the limited knowledge available in the experience of art as viewed from a considerable distance: looking at a post card – of an original photograph – of an artist appearing to perform an artistic act – in the past, and the actual bodily knowledge of making a work of art in the present. The latter appearing to shorten the former’s distance in the ‘lived experience’ of its construction. Claire Bishop talks about the apparent shortening of distance, between object and subject in participatory art’s audience experience. She describes Ranciere as ‘calling for spectators who are active as interpreters… putting to work the idea that we are all equally capable of inventing our own translations’ (Bishop, 2006, p. 16).

If one were just presented the pairs of images alone, the possibilities for learning are perhaps not clear, it is in the doing and the making. If, as Butler illustrates gender is an act of performance. We construct ourselves and all is constructed around us. Perhaps we can embrace this deferral of ‘definitional closure (Butler, 1990, p. 20)’ or ultimate authenticity, and allow ourselves insight into others, other ways of operating, other ways of being. It is these processes which will continue to hold my interest, the ‘batman effect’ the emancipatory nature of performing as other ‘a chance for… learning something different by enacting’ (Crang, 1996, p. 9)’.