A class or two ago, our course leader Jonathan mentioned the importance of context as we work out our project proposals. I understood it to to mean the arena we, as an artist, chose to work in. Historically, practically, what have other artists been researching/doing that we can learn from? What confounded me, though, was HOW to understand the context specific to my work.
This is what I had been thinking about today when I decided to take some time out to listen to the video lecture by Jo Love. At first the lecture seemed too specific to her work and it made me wonder whether I could really draw any lessons from it, since our choice of mediums and approach to art was entirely different. But then, as the lecture unfolded I began to see the value in hearing someone else describe their entire thought process as they developed their research project. Listening to how Jo’s thought and research evolved her project proposal helped me understand where to begin and how to grow my ideas.
Jo mentioned the objective of her Phd project, which is, in many ways, similar to that of an MA project: students seek to pull apart their ideas, question them, elaborate on them and alter them and then come up with a new concept.
At the beginning of her studies Jo’s main focus was on drawing. Digital, in the form of photography, had only just begun to seep into her work. She was not interested in solely digital prints. Getting her hands dirty with actual mediums was an important part of the artistic process to her. Intaglio, print, drawing, ink; she was interested in how these different mediums refused to mix.
What was most interesting about her initial work was that she kept on exploring. In trial and error fashion she would create something and then realize its significance later (reflection on action), which would then translate into a new experiment (reflection in action).
Her initial experiments with photographs began as pencil drawings over giant printed photographs. One such experiment involved using a metallic pencil over a black and white photograph. Though she had initially chosen the pencil solely on the basis of its unique color, she realized AFTER the drawing had been created, the way the metallic shade reflected light and caused an illusion of depth in the photograph. That led to an experiment with a photograph in grayscale, where she learned that the metallic shade subsided into the background and the stronger gray ink of the printer appeared on top even though the layering had been done in exactly the opposite fashion.
So what was her initial question? “In what ways do we perceive/understand the picture plane through the photographic image within contemporary practice?” She stated herself that it felt clunky and clumsily put together. And she admitted that she used it as a starting point simply to take the first step; much later it evolved into an entirely different thesis.
What did I learn from that? I learnt that I have to let go of my fear. Honestly, ever since Jonathan shared the .pdf of the project proposal and asked us to begin working on them, I have been scared. Do I know what I am doing? Do I know where I am headed? What exactly am I trying to achieve? What exactly am I trying to research? Is it meaningful? And so many more questions assault me every time I even think of sitting down to organize my thoughts. Jo love’s seminar proved that as a student you are not required to have all the answers, but simply to have an inquiring enough mind to go searching for them.
Jo began her search by using a multi-method approach to practice based methodology (inspired by Gillham 2000). She would combine case study research (the major case study being her own studio practice, supplemented by studying the work of similar artists), historical study (about the context her work existed in) and practical experiments.
For theory, she turned to a study of photographs to understand further WHY they felt so integral to her work. She studied photographers who had used them for similar purposes. She did some practical experiments with a scanner, raising a photograph further and further away from the scanner bed and realized that there was something present as interference, i.e. dust, or everyday noise. This inspired her to further study orientation and materiality, after all, the noise and dust only appeared in tactile, material objects or was only attracted to solid paintings with weight. In the digital world, behind the screen, there was no such visual interruption of the photographic image.
Here are some of the artists she studied that seemed relevant and interesting to me:
Franciso Goya: she mentioned his work with aquatint to replicate the idea of noise in artwork. I didn’t understand much of it since I have limited knowledge of print making, but it definitely seemed like something I want to look into further.
Gerhard Richter: She discussed his series of ‘overpainted photographs’ where he left digital prints in his studio and flicked paint on them. It was particularly interesting when she mentioned how a photograph contains an illusion of depth. You are looking at a flat surface and yet you feel you are looking into it, like a window. It is a suspension of disbelief. Gerhard Richter’s over painted photograph series was ‘breaking that spell’ (Strauss 2008). The blob of paint landing on the photograph proving it to be nothing more than a two dimensional print.
Robert Rauschenberg: He employed a form of transferring a photograph that did not allow the whole photograph to go through, leaving behind impressions only. Again, something that I will have to look into further to understand.
Guiseppe Penone: One of Guiseppe’s series involved him using his finger print as the base for his work and tracing along the impression of his finger to create images.
After doing a multitude of research, Jo was able to identify the key case studies that would help her develop her research question. The next step was moving on the main case study: her own studio practice.
When she created artwork, she interacted with the audience to help her understand it further. She did a series of experiments by collecting and drawing dust particles and realized that she was still trying to investigate optical VS tactile touch. As Henry Foilon (?) said of an artist, ‘he caresses the skin of all things’. This was contradicted when it came to work which was on the computer screen, after all, that was beyond the range of human touch. It was then that Jo realized that the marks our fingers leave upon the screen as we work on any type of screen, are OUR way of interacting with what is behind the screen. Just like eyes, which can never genuinely touch, do make contact.
After identifying her specific area of interest, Jo made a list of key texts that would help her understand these phenomenon better. And then she evolved a new research question which became the basis of her phd.
So what ultimately was she trying to say?
Essentially, producing an MA project is an ongoing process of ‘read-think-question-create-repeat’. And as you go over this cycle, there is a sort of snowball effect. So even though you are moving in circles, you can imagine those circles as expanding outwards as you understand your work and your interests further.
So what next?
Jo’s seminar was truly insightful and a huge reason I feel prepared to take the next step towards creating my project proposal. The fact that her initial research question was nowhere near what she ended up studying gives me hope that we are not meant to have all the information and that evolution is good!
Tomorrow I am going to work on a mind-map for my project proposal to clarify a few things before I begin to formally write it down.
I am going to continue my experiments with paint and canvas, even as I research more about artists whose work may overlap mine.
Eventually, I hope to distill from all this research the questions that are important to me and derive the main idea behind my project proposal from them.