Final Major Project – Idea Generation

I already had established I wanted to explore self-expression in my final major project, but I needed to get a broader view of what directions I might explore. I began by considering the different associations of the inner and outer self, to understand how I might investigate their relationship.

It seemed to me that there were lots of ways in which the outer self can make known or express the inner self – e.g. through behaviour, gesture, grooming, ritual, touch etc. But too there were some elements relating to the outer self that might frustrate or obscure this – such as cultural norms, comparison with others, beauty standards, restrictions, and indeed gender. Reflecting that, if I am to explore self-expression I would need to do so as myself – a woman – I wanted to explore too the factors relating to identity in this gendered case.

I feel I barely scratched the surface (and this by no means counts as some proper feminist/gender theory – merely a brain dump in the moment). But it helped to coalesce in my mind that there are various societal structures that obscure the female self. Who am I really if I stripped away the gender roles and behavioural conventions expected of me? How would I act? How much of my personality has been shaped irrevocably by the expectations and experiences of my gender from early childhood?

So it seemed that to adopt a gendered lens to my exploration of self-expression might be an interesting path to pursue. But I was keen to move beyond the male gaze topic I had previously explored in my contextualising research of earlier units, and not only explore literal self-portraiture. I want to explore expression specifically – of thoughts or feelings – to make the inner world apparent.

I knew this would bring me back to the world of abstract expressionism, where I had previously learnt of Lee Krasner in particular. I was excited to learn that there was an exhibition on the 9th street artists at Gazelli Art House in London, who I had been reading about back in Unit 1, so went along to see some of their works for myself. Below are some of the works I liked most from that exhibition:

It is intriguing that several of my preferred pieces were by Grace Hartigan, she seems to here have particularly intriguing use of colour.

This coincided with a performance I learned of through an instagram post (below). The idea of natural barefoot dance defying the social norms of the day intrigued me, so I decided to attend the performance!

It was fascinating to learn about this pioneering woman, whose tumultuous life was immortalised in film, who led a sea-change in the approach to modern dance. She was opposed to the unnatural restricting and painful movements imposed on ballet dancers (who are intended to produce the appearance of floating on air), and instead sought a freedom of movement that expressed the innermost spirit, hoping to inspire individuality and authentic movement for all. As such she was a proponent of improvisation in dance, and was often danced in response to great musical pieces.

She was inspired by ocean waves, and the poses of Ancient Greek sculpture – from which she also derived her flowing fabric costumes.

There were 3 performances at the Barbican that night. One was a restaging of an original Duncan choreographed piece – The Dance of the Furies (with 5 dancers). The Second was Five Brahms Watzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan, a choreography by Frederick Ashton that took on the style of Duncan (A solo piece). The final piece was a new work developed specially for this Barbican bill, which was inspired by this technique, called Unda (with 6 dancers).

It was entrancing to watch these dancers across the various pieces. I was particularly moved by the solo piece, in which the expression of the dancer was most apparent.

This is a short excerpt from a similar staging of the Five Brahms Waltzes from a few years ago

The group pieces were fascinating, though I found it more difficult to glean perhaps a clear expression in the Unda work, it seemed more of a narrative to me (around friendships forming, routine, death and loss). There was an interesting use of water in it – dripping from above into large washing bowls placed around the set. The finale of the piece involved the dancers ‘washing’ themselves and then splashing the water around using their hair and limbs. IT was quite interesting to see these precise movements interacting with the liquid.

The Dance of the Furies was intriguing, the movements used by the dancers were forceful and directive. That they sometimes ran across the stage, and moved aggressively really brought out the sense that these were human movements – heavy and earthy. I was particularly drawn to a repeated motion of upraised forearms (with the elbows bent) as though beating an invisible surface with the underside of your fists. There was often too a sense of undulation – the bodies rocking to one side and then retreating, much like waves. It gave a sense of being cyclical or inevitable.

They were evoking the mythological Furies, the goddesses of vengeance from Ancient Greece. They feature in the opera by Gluck of Orpheus and Eurydice, from which the music was taken that they danced to in this piece.

I am intrigued to pursue the notion of expressive and improvised dance for myself, and experiment with the movement of my body, to hopefully inform gestural mark-making in my work. It could be also interesting to understand how gesture and movement express within the convention of performance art and whether there is crossover with the world of modern dance.

Play: abstract use of objects – Research/my work

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.

I particularly enjoyed learning about his strategy here, in choosing an object from his home and reflecting on it for some time in how it might be portrayed differently.

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.

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.