Today I experienced my first dark room, and got the chance to experiment with photograms. I enjoyed learning the technique and producing my own images, though it seemed most of the time spent there was in waiting for and using the chemical trays, rather than the creation of the photograms themselves.
We had been briefed ahead to bring objects, and on some of the history of Moholy-Nagy who famously used this technique for what he would call ‘abstract seeing’ of the forms of objects themselves.
On reflection, I wonder if the text here added anything, or if I could have produced a more interesting composition from something purely abstract (as Moholy-Nagy himself did). I had several comments from my peers that the typeface reminded them of book covers, which amuses me but wasn’t quite my intention!
I was reflecting the other day about how several of the workshops we undertook in consideration of Dadaism and chance was in using objects in unusual ways/reducing them to their forms.
This reminded me of an artist I followed on instagram, Christoph Niemann (@abstractsunday) who illustrates for the New Yorker. He has an interesting TED talk which I include below, which discusses precisely this, and the role of the audience in visual communication (without recourse to cliche). I also enjoyed hearing about how this allows simple images to communicate complex ideas, even emotions – we fill in the blanks. The picture only need suggest enough.
The real magic doesn’t happen on paper, it happens in the mind of the viewer. When your expectations, your knowledge, clash with my artistic intentions.
Christoph Niemann, 2018
I am interested to use this strategy for myself. Following the success of my teapot figure I wondered about using one of the teapots I have at home.
I like these abstractions – I think I could develop them further and take better into account the space around my drawings to ensure I can best document the intended perspective in my photography (without going off the edge of the paper! Here I used A2 paper, but perhaps A1 would be better, especially when using sizeable objects.
The use of ink felt right here, as Niemann uses, as helps for quick sketching, but collage might be interesting too.
In this workshop, we collaborated as a group in generating lots of images and drawings of objects that could signify body parts – these were all photocopied and scaled in various ways to give us uniformly black and white copies. We were then tasked to create a series of characters with these body parts in collage.
The final works I created are shown above – at the end of the workshop we walked around looking at each other’s work and came together for a brief critique, where we picked out ones we thought worked well and why. My image of the kettle with the moustache (left most on the right hand image) was picked out by several peers as being interesting, for seeming in motion, or suggesting a gesture of dance, due to how I had placed the different pieces at different angles.
For the left hand figure here, I was keen to make use of this folk icon sculpture, particularly due to the interesting form and large scale. I wanted to play with this sense of solidity with a small or off-balance leg so experimented with a few options.
I enjoyed this exercise especially. I think my most successful figures used shapes and forms that I had not myself selected from the material, and I found this allowed me some ‘distance’ to objectively select what I found to be most interested and explore different combinations more easily. The forms I had found (the crab, the lampshades) perhaps did not do as successfully because I had a bias to ensuring they were used and so perhaps working them in where they might not have been entirely best suited? I do like all my figures but I think some (the teapot, the wheel) are more complete than others.
In this workshop, we had been briefed to bring in objects and in teams of 3 we pooled our objects and constructed these onto a mannequin, the shapes of which were to inspire a fashion series in a sketchbook.
One thing that I think worked well in the physical construction exercise, was use of the unusual shapes and contrasts between the different objects. I found it difficult to see this as a complete structure however with so much of the mannequin visible once it was completed. I think perhaps if we had deconstructed the objects, or used something additional that was more fluid that we could have done this?
I preferred engaging with the collage exercise in developing my own series however. Here I had a little more freedom to experiment without being limited to the rudimentary construction techniques at hand in the physical task. I could also experiment further with scale and focus on the shapes that particularly interested me.
The shapes/objects I returned to most was the fan/pleats created from the woven placemats, which I variously used as accessory and detailing, but also scaled up as top and skirt in different outfits. This object with shading and curvature the most suggested an interesting 3D structure in my photographs so I found it interesting to experiment with this, particularly since the original object is in fact flat.
I was also interested in using the flat shape of the circle as photographed from the bowl/plate. This because we are so used to seeing circles as balls/spheres, I liked playing with expectations here. It provided a suggestion of structure and rigidity to some of the outfits, which I liked in the armour-like plating in outfit 4, and the egyptian flat style of outfit 5. And I liked playing with the idea of flatness in outfit 6 along with the semi-corsetry from the rattan magazine cover.
So this contrast of 2D and 3D was interesting – particularly since the exercises were themselves reflecting on this transition.
An alarm clock seems a highly relevant object to be depicting here – alarm and a sense of urgency is precisely what is needed to drive action, and you do not allow an alarm clock to keep on ringing once it goes off – you act.
In my first drawing of the clock, I considered what time to show on the face. It immediately occurred that in depicting an analogue clock face, I could show the doomsday clock as it stands in 2019 (at two minutes to midnight https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/current-time/ )
Yesterday, Greta Thunberg gave an impassioned and uncomfortable speech to the UN Climate Summit, berating them for not acting on climate change, despite the 30 years of science warning them of the consequences. It is chilling to think of the inaction of society against such an existential threat.
This made me think of the allegory of zombies used by George Romero in his 1978 film Dawn of the Dead, as a scathing critique of consumerist culture in the Western world. The zombies’ lumbering gait and slow speed imply an inevitable threat (like climate change) but also we see they are un-thinkingly stuck within the habits they have formed in their human lives – in the film we see the zombies gravitate to the mall, and this highlights just how irrational this constant need for more is. Even more starkly, the living protagonists fight to the death over their ownership of the resources within the mall – they cannot separate their need to possess from the drive to survive. Just like these protagonists/zombies, we cannot break free of the habits of our lives despite the existential threat looming in the climate crisis, and politicians to now have sought to assuage the guilt we might feel with empty reassurances and hope rather than action.
This made me reflect on the use by Extinction Rebellion of the egg timer logo and the slogan ‘Time’s Up’. I wondered if another apt slogan might be ‘Wake Up’, in response to the idea of us and our governments being like zombies or sleepwalkers on the climate crisis.
In their return tour in the 2000s, Rage Against the Machine frontman Zack de la Rocha used this song as a platform to raise awareness on key political and social issues, by making a speech towards the end of the song during a more quiet section, to be followed by him screaming ‘WAKE UP’ 8 times.
And in the face of all this propaganda I wanna say, we have here to unite here in Europe, we have to unite here in Europe across ethnic lines across religious differences across racial lines and its now the lines are clear. It’s us against the wealthy plain and simple. It’s time to wake up. WAKE UP.
I was interested in looking more into how graphic artists have influenced the imagery of protest. One such artist of recent times is Patrick Thomas, who with his book the Protest Stencil Toolkit sought to provide activists with ready-to-go icons to use in protest banners and materials, or even street art. This builds on the relationship street art now has with social consciousness and bringing art to a wider audience – catalysed by Banksy (see below).
Banksy has long portrayed environmental concerns in his street art, but has credibly been attributed a mural that is linked to Extinction Rebellion in 2019. The use of child-like handwriting and depiction of children underlines the importance of protecting future generations – a key message of Extinction Rebellion. That his artworks are generally to be found in public spaces means that it is truly art for the masses, and speaking directly to them (without the curation of an elite art world). In this way, it may break down the artifice and engage with people more meaningfully than other art might – and so potentially be more persuasive.