Formative Reviews – Reflection

Last week we conducted formative reviews of our peer groups work, and gained some general feedback from the teaching staff on the Foundation course. This proved a great opportunity to get an insight into the working practices of my fellow students, and reflect on my own approach and how I could be refining it further in the coming weeks and months.

The key takeout in relation to my own work, is that I should use my sketchbook for even more experimentation and exercises beyond the brief. This should extend also to how I go about using my sketchbook in different ways and experimenting with the scale of drawings within the book itself and mixed media. Clearly documenting my progress in projects and sequentially helps guide the reader through my thinking.

I think thus far I have as a first impulse gone to my journal and hesitated to put pen to paper in my sketchbook until I have worked through my thinking in words. I think a good exercise for me would be to go first to the sketchbook with something.

Here are some examples of work by my peers that I found particularly interesting:

Sketchbook work: beyond the brief

Sketchbook work: experimentation

Sketchbook work: Mixed Media

At the end of the session, in the general feedback, Louise shared this blog with the group as an ‘outstanding’ example! This was due to the regularity of posting, variety of posts and how I was documenting everything, including research and influences from elsewhere. I was really chuffed with this! So I shall look to be continuing this as we progress in the course.

Play – Exquisite Corpse: Critique/my work

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.

There were some forms I was immediately drawn to, and for the middle figure, the two objects that form it seemed to come together perfectly in the first instant. This is the only character for whom I did not go through an iterative process. I especially like how off balance but simultaneously complete it strikes you.

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.

Meanwhile on my second sheet, I liked this other lamp shape for other legs, and also the teapot, but didn’t feel they quite worked together in an interesting way. The middle figure I felt had a bit too much going on, though I was interested in incorporating the eyes somehow – I liked them being detached here from the body itself.

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.

Play – Unconventional Bodies: Critique/my work

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.

Play – Gained in Translation: Critique/my work

Our 2nd theme is related to Dada and Surrealism, and we will be exploring various elements of play and chance around this in the next few weeks.

In the first of our briefs, we were to seek to remove ourselves from the subject matter. This would be achieved by the subject not being direct interaction with an object itself but the description of that object by someone only feeling it with their hands from inside a bag (reminiscent of some parlour games I had played as a child). So the visual object was twice removed from the subject of the drawing we were to make initially, and three times removed from the eventual cardboard sculpture we would construct from the drawing. It was only once we had completed our sculpture that we would discover what that object really was. We were paired up and took it in turns to describe or draw a different object.

In this way we were exploring the idea of authorship and subject as done by Francis Alys – who briefs into two sign painters to create a triptych based on his own original painting.

Francis Alÿs, Untitled (in three parts), 1995-1996. Triptych, encaustic on linen. Collection of Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami. Gift of Stanley and Nancy Singer.

I found this task very interesting, and enjoyed the challenge of conceptualising the object in a new and different way. The fact that we were working from organic forms which would not usually be summarised by geometric shapes made this an interesting challenge. When describing the object for my partner, it was easiest to talk in comparison and simile, e.g. ‘it is curved inwards like a spoon or a shovel’, and to use gesture to help indicate the contorted forms and shapes in the air.

The object I described to my partner, her drawing of this description, and the cardboard sculpture she created of this, 09/2019

It was interesting to see the elements of my description that were picked up in her drawing, and what details were lost. The form was greatly simplified and generalised, but the crucial elements remain (of the broad curved planes and the twisted dimension). The finer detail and symmetry of the piece was lost, though these had been described they were perhaps less easily conceptualised by the non-viewer.

My drawing and sculpture, based on the object described to me by my partner, 09/2019

Here too the forms were simplified towards geometry. I drew tentatively, so that I could reshape and revisit the lines as the description progressed. She began describing the foot itself as a rectangle, before clarifying that it was in fact more sloping and curved. Other elements were depicted that were less visible, but tangible nonetheless, e.g. the seam of the plastic moulding of the foot.

When converting the drawing to a cardboard sculpture, I further generalised the forms, in light of the thick cardboard material we were given. The curved shapes and ‘lumps’ that ended up being the toes were details that were lost. After finding the gummed tape difficult to use as a fast adhesive for the structures I was seeking to achieve, I redesigned the foot to be formed from one piece to minimise the need of the tape. I used scoring to gain the bends that would be needed.

A failed foot attempt using two pieces, using gummed tape which made the cardboard itself soggy and unable to retain its shape

I enjoyed the conceptual challenges in this task, but am not overall happy with the artefacts produced. That said, the task was indeed to remove our own aesthetic preferences from the process, so in this sense I have been successful!!

What has interested me is this notion of reducing objects to their essential elements, or simplifying them. I am reminded of the notion of Plato’s Forms, which were the ideal essence of the objects we see in the world (i.e. that there is a Chair Form which all chairs in the world harken to and symbolize in some way, that we recognise). Perhaps this act of simplification gets us closer to the Form?

I am interested to learn more about the idea of form in sculpture, and plan to visit the Henry Moore studios to discover more.

Personal Cartography: Peer Critique

My initial thoughts on receiving the brief were to use data to map the desire lines on campus, or to map my interactions with the geography of Oxford Brookes in my first week, as a record of spatial navigation.

I liked these ideas as a way of joining up a map of the space itself with human intentions and behaviour, and how the two inform each other. So how our behaviours shape the spaces around us (e.g. the paths created across green spaces where people walking through have worn away the grass) and how the spaces themselves impact our behaviour (e.g. the positioning of doors impacting the way we cross a large open space). However I felt this might be a more interesting investigation once there were more bodies to observe, and I had more time to do this observation (i.e. once term had gotten underway for the majority). I also did not feel it necessarily fit in with another element I was interested to explore – how I am discovering a new place and so in the process of creating my interactions.

I was therefore interested to see some peers producing maps that played on these themes, and to observe what did/didn’t work in their executions here.

A map showing the routes taken in 1st week on campus at Oxford Brookes: Unknown FAD student

The use of a birdseye view here (a convention in maps) serves to produce a highly simplified view of the campus lay out, with the mostly straight, angled buildings juxtaposing with the more fluid movement of the student. I like the use of stitched thread here as this implies for me that they are making their mark in this space and the movement across that space (i.e. one stitch at a time).

However, it seems as though the travel is only ever across the space, in and out. This implies that it is a transitory relationship at this time, which may or may not have been the intention. There is also only red and black thread used, and no key for what these might symbolise, nor labels for the buildings or indication of any activity that might have happened through the course of the day. The piece itself is decentralised on the page, and the paper is folded and scrumpled, suggesting that it is unfinished.

This map has similarly used thread to indicate routes across the map, though here the subject is broader than the campus alone. Similar to a bus route map, we here see different way points/landmarks along each route that might symbolise a place in which they stopped along the way, e.g. aldi being one that 3 routes convene on. There is also a paper cutout of ‘me’ that can be slide along the threads to indicate their progress through the map – an adjustable ‘You are Here’ marker, which is a clever device.

The map itself has been mounted on cardboard, to allow for the pins to be fixed in place, but has been cut to an unusual shape which defies the convention of maps as there is no clear geographic reason for the shape of this ‘island’ of sorts. Here too we do not have a key though the threads are in different colours, but there is description of the points marked out. X marks the spot though we know not to what (a convention from Treasure Island) – and this stands out as somewhat not in keeping with the rest of the map as a reference to something not otherwise explored.

I think what I might take from these works would be that a use of thread can help to delineate routes from the maps themselves, though colour keys would be useful. Also too that use of stitching might help to communicate speed/time passing which could be useful if cataloguing multiple agents across a space. Though I think care is needed to understand what is wanting to be communicated vs the level of detail and explanation required to effectively do so.

Personal Cartography: Peer Critique

Topographical hand map of Oxford Brookes campus 09/19: Unknown FAD student

I was interested in this piece for several reasons.

Firstly – relief shading (a convention in geographical maps) has been used here to good effect, to indicate the ‘hills’ and ‘valleys’ of the artist’s own hands, and can be immediately recognised and visually navigated without need of a key.

This has been applied with perhaps watercolour in careful layering to provide the subdued colour blocking necessary for this style, as is typical in printed maps.

This juxtaposes with the use of biro for the outlining of the hands, and the marking of landmarks and instructions on the hands themselves. The pen itself is central to the depiction, which denotes it’s importance to the narrative of the piece – i.e. that this is a map in two senses. It is a map of the hand topographically, but it is also a map of Oxford Brookes campus as the student learns to navigate this new environment. It is commenting on the common behaviour to scribble crib notes or key routes on your hand to help guide you later on.

Looking closely at the notation, it tells the story of a day spent at Brookes, including the time the alarm will go off, their route in ‘Don’t be late!’ and key landmarks they travel to in their day.

The use of hands as maps is also symbolically interesting for me. As this was created in our first week of the course, it was interesting to situate this early mapping of a new environment on hands, which are typically characterised as something we know intimately per the idiom ‘I know it like the back of my hand’. Hands are also something we naturally look to as one of the key ways we interact with places and objects, and one of the first means by which young children discover.

I would be interested to consider more about the symbolism of hands