Tutorial 1

Date: 1st November

Professor: Jonathan Kearney

This was how I felt before the tutorial.

And this is me after:

Seriously. It was as if I held unsolved jigsaw puzzle pieces in my head that somehow came together over the course of the conversation.

The morning before the tutorial began, I was thinking abstractly about all the concepts which were important to me. I had read the pdf file on writing a project proposal but I wasn’t quite ready to formulate my own. All I knew was:

  • I am interested in story telling

  • I guessed that that categorized my work as narrative art

  • However, I wanted to capture the stories told by objects, places, images and words, not by expressions or people.

  • Therefore, I was looking at a more amorphous concept than the typical ‘mono-myth’ (the hero’s journey) of storytelling.

  • I was and am inspired by the works of Katherine Mansfield; she takes a ‘slice of life’ approach in her short stories.

  • I have no idea what the context of my work is or how to explore it.

A few minutes before the tutorial began, I stumbled onto this: http://exhibitions.guggenheim.org/storylines/about/exhibition. The ‘Storylines’ exhibition at the Guggenheim. A virtual exhibition dedicated to narrative art, but more importantly, a specific and unusual kind of narrative art: one that involved abstract concepts. The intro to the exhibition seemed to be essentially all I had been trying to say:

Storylines examines the diverse ways in which artists today engage narrative through installation, painting, photography, sculpture, video, and performance. For these artists, storytelling does not necessarily require plots, characters, or settings. Rather, narrative potential lies in everyday objects and materials, and their embedded cultural associations. In projects created through extensive research, acts of appropriation, or performance, the artists in Storylines uncover layers of meaning, turning to individual experience as a means of conveying shared stories, whether real or fictional.

The recent narrative turn in contemporary art cannot be separated from the current age of social media with its reverberating cycles of communication, dissemination, and interpretation. Seemingly every aspect of life is now subject to commentary and circulation via digital text and images. These new narrative frames highlight the roles that each of us can play as both author and reader, foregrounding the fact that meaning is contingent in today’s interconnected and multivalent world. As a means of celebrating this dynamic, the museum has invited writers to contribute reflections—in prose or poetry—on selected works in Storylines. Engaging the rich historical relationship between literature and art, the resulting polyphony signals the diverse interpretive potential that lies within each object on display.

This was it. This was EXACTLY where my meandering thought process had been trying to lead. So, at the beginning of the tutorial I shared this link with Jonathan and also expressed my fears about my lack of understanding of the context of my artwork. And, of course, he immediately pointed out that I could peruse this virtual exhibition at the Guggenheim and I would be sure to find artists who had worked on similar themes as I was aiming for.

He then switched to another topic by asking a question which he said may seem unrelated but may help to tie everything together at the end (how was he so right???). He told me he had just read my blogpost on my visit to Arbab al Heraf and that he wanted me to describe, in my own words, what that had been all about. I explained how art in Jeddah was generally on the down-low and how I wanted to step out to see what could be found (more info here) so I had made a list of places that seemed potentially interesting and was organizing free group tours to check them out and connect like-minded people in the process. And here Jonathan pointed out the second answer to my question about context, THIS was the legitimate context of my work!

As I recall, the specific words he used were: “Read narratives into the work… understand Jeddah, question further… use the location.” A possible step in the right direction, for example, might be to interview the founder of this interesting cafe, to understand his inspiration. Essentially, he helped me understand that I was already building a story. For example, one of the places I want to go next happens to be a gallery created by an old Saudi artist to showcase her work and her collections such as her exceptional oud guitar collection from all over the world (oud guitars being handmade by artists similar to violins). How interesting would it be to see her collections and record her story!

He then mentioned another artist, Jane Wildgoose, who mdae a memorial library. Some of her work was with regard to collections displayed in these victorian inspired display cabinets. This was something, perhaps, worth looking into. Maybe my work could feature something to do with objects, collections and the stories behind them. This felt like such an inspirational idea, I am still trying to digest it and understand how to incorporate it into my work.

We then discussed the importance of creating a project proposal anyway, despite the fact that I had not yet distilled my work down into exactly what I wanted to achieve. Writing my thoughts down in some detail would allow me to keep a check on myself, and see if I was actually moving forward. It would allow me to set goals and if I could not reach them, I would be able to stop and question why? Was it because the goals were too difficult? Or perhaps I had realized overtime that they were not important goals at all? So writing would help me DEFINE the problems I encounter.

At this point, I had been mulling over the conversation we’d had so far. The point about objects, collections and storylines was spinning round and round in my head because I now realized that it was such a natural progression from what I had been trying to say earlier. I explained to Jonathan how I may never have had a painter I was inspired by, but I DID have someone. That someone was Katherine Mansfield. She inspired me because she painted with words. She relied on objects and everyday trifles to tell a story. She relied on atmosphere, mood and the internal thoughts of her characters (stream of consciousness) to define the progression of a story as opposed to the plot. Jonathan agreed that this was not a bad place to draw inspiration from, especially since art lends itself to a similar idea of time progression: after all people can approach art themselves at whatever time they want, in whatever mood or state of mind they want. The viewer brings their understanding to the artist’s internal stream of consciousness, and that dialogue creates art in itself.

So here then, was the whole connection between my work.

and that was it. We ended the tutorial with a discussion on how, strange as it may sound, a good way to feel at the end of this master’s program is: frustrated. Yes you read it right! It is good to realize that you were interested in so many diverse things and while you distilled it down for your final project, you were not able to explore every single thing. However, in these two years, you DID manage to gain a greater understanding of all the things you WERE interested in, and now have clear direction about what you want to do for the next 5-10 years. Convoluted but sensible right??

Anyway, so the question we are left with is, what next? Here are some of the things that the tutorial popped into my next to-do list:

  1. Look through the Guggenheim exhibition ‘Storylines’ and see contemporary narrative artists at work; also try to find inspiration/examples/like-minded artists

  2. Look up the work of Jane Wildgoose and how it can tie into my work

  3. Continue to visit places of interest in Jeddah and at the same time, question further into the places I have already visited. For example, schedule an interview with the founder of Arbab al Heraf.

  4. Write down a rough draft of the project proposal to define more clearly where I am and where I plan to go.

  5. Continue work in the studio, not only in the current direction, but also whichever direction inspiration strikes in order to see how this combination of stories, landscapes, calligraphy, (and now) objects and collections can dynamically, organically come together.

Alright, time to scroll up and see where my thoughts have led me. As I end, one thing’s for sure; this tutorial gave me A LOT of food for thought and was possibly one of the most clarifying conversations I have ever had about my work with anyone. I feel so excited every time I think back to it and all the possibilities it opened up. How great it is to discuss isn’t it? Especially if that discussion happens with experienced professors and peers who have so much diversity of thought and idea to offer.

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