Unit 2: 3D – Data Visualisation (pt 4)

I was interested in exploring the reflective qualities of metal sheeting as analogous to that of screens, in visualising my screentime data. I was shown offcuts of aluminium sheets that I could use to experiment with. Following the performative clay work I had done, I was eager to incorporate this again, and decided that manually hammering it over an anvil would be a satisfying process to try out. In this way I could again demonstrate the human-screen interaction and also something of the strong impact this has on our lives (for better or ill). This turned out to be really fun!!

I hit it 39 times, to reflect the number of hours of screentime over the 7 day period. The marks of the hammer I used here reminded me of those I had created in my previous exercise using pastels. I like how the surface of the sheet has also distorted somewhat from the force of the blows, warping it and the way the light reflects off it.

I wanted to experiment with a round headed hammer, to see if I could produce marks that were similar to a thumbprint, so repeated this. The effect reminds me of bullet holes/impacts in shooting targets, and gives an added sense of violence.

I chose to then fold the sheet twice, to give an approximate size and shape to a phone, and repeated this exercise.

I like the way that the concave shape (a byproduct of my process) draws the eye, as though a captivating screen itself. I used two hammer types here to produce a variety of marks and depths. I was interested in exploring the folds as marks in themselves, and of pure distortion of the screen, so focused on this only for my next sheet. Placing the sheet so that it overlapped the edge of the anvil, I brought the hammer down at an angle to bend it over the edge. I repeated this action in somewhat random orientations, to produce an irregular form. Much like the hitting, I did not want to create an ordered effect, but instead imply the violence/impact to our humanity of such interaction with technology (messy and unstructured), as well as the distorted view it offers us.

I repeated this with a larger sheet, so that I could produce finer distortions. The result resembled crumpled paper and I enjoyed that this suggested the sheet was more malleable than it was in reality, and that there had been a more manual process at play.

I enjoy the way the light reflects on these, producing dark and light regions and suggestion of texture (dappling, rippling, scrunching). The effect alters as you changed your position as an observer, which was also interesting, and if close up you do get a fragmented, blurred reflection. This reminded me of some interactive reflective works I have seen recently.

Below, a Yayoi Kusama work that I had interacted with at Tate Liverpool, whose appearance altered according to the external circumstances it was placed in, and the position adopted by the observer.

The Passing Winter, Yayoi Kusama 2005 – close-up photograph peering into one of the holes opening onto the mirrored interior (with reflective exterior)

And here, an installation from Tate Modern (in an exhibition focusing on participatory art ‘Performer and participant’). The use of the blue tape is intended to integrate the mirrors with the space in which they situate, erasing the difference between real and reflected space – so that our experience is not only of the work itself but the entire environment.

Edward Krasinski (first installed in this way in 2001)

These other works have not distorted the reflective surfaces themselves, but used the quantity and distribution of them in space to add variation, and the colour/light of other parts of the environment to add further depth. Both also use suspension of these to disrupt our expectations. I would like to think further about how my own distortion works might employ these techniques too for added impact. E.g. perhaps by projecting a digital screen interface demo onto them, suspended in a dark box?

Helene Schjerfbeck exhibition: research/reflection

This weekend I visited the RA to see the retrospective on Helene Schjerfbeck, the first solo exhibition of her work in the UK. Born in Finland in 1862, she was an active painter until her death in 1946.

I was keen to visit this exhibition, to continue my run of women artist retrospectives in 2019, begun with Lee Krasner and Natalia Goncharova. This is motivated by various reasons for me – to do what I can to ‘vote with my feet’ and support the rewriting of art history to include women who deservedly should be included within it, in the process educating myself and reflecting on their practice, and further because something about observing depictions of female subjects devoid of the male gaze is palliative and reassuring to me in some ways. I have often felt very uncomfortable in the more historic wings of art galleries, filled with idealised and sexualised female forms, and while some women artists have continued in this convention in the hopes of subverting the narrative, I find it most interesting seeing depiction go beyond this.

The exhibition itself was divided into 5 sections, split across 3 rooms, suggesting that the curator could have filled a good number more rooms if given the space!

Dreaming does not suit me. To work, to live through work, that is my path.”

Helene Schjerfbeck

I think this artist held a deep emotional intelligence, and conveying complex emotional narratives in her work. I will highlight the works I found to be most interesting here, in the order in which they were presented in the exhibition.

Section 1.

The Bakery (1887)

For this painting, Schjerbeck had set up her easel in a working bakery but chosen not to depict the bakers who no doubt would have been present at the time. In this sense she is already subverting the conventions of naturalism. I found this painting a little unsettling, and reflected on it for some time. The scales, just off centre, are unbalanced. We see a large table filled with fresh baked buns, just laying there (the perspective of this feels like it is exaggerating the size and dominance of this in the space). There is a sense of stillness and murkiness in the room, which is contrasted by the vivid light from the furnace emanating from around a corner in the distance. It implies for me a sense of waste, empty endeavour, inequality in a land of plenty.

Shadow on a wall (Breton landscape), 1883

I was intrigued to see this painting in the exhibition, following my own thinking around depiction of shadows and impermanence. For me, this painting was interesting as she had taken great care to depict the detail of the young branches on the foregrounded tree, to a very fine degree, but the subject of the painting itself, the shadow, contrastingly feels slightly sketchy or blurred. I wondered if this could be defying the convention of the object of focus being also the main subject of a piece (as in photography for instance). The effect is such that it is as though we are only seeing the shadows in our peripheral vision, as though they are some ever-present looming darkness. I think this must be the intention, since the landscape itself is fairly sparse, and the space taken up by shadow is quite large, you cannot focus on the tree without seeing it.

Section 2.

Silence, 1907

There is an interesting quality of light in this painting, her blue dress and delicately lit face contrasting with the plain dark background. The shape of her long neck and sloping shoulders makes her look ethereally elongated, and removed. Again here a sense of stillness and reservation – even regret from the downturned eyes?

Section 3

This room was dedicated to her self-portraits, painted throughout her life. Her style became more abstracted over time, and she confronted her mortality and the deterioration of age head on, with the final works completed within a year of her death at 83.

I found it quite a challenging room to be in, and felt that not only was she exploring that physical change she was seeing over time, but also capturing perhaps her self-perception and attitude towards herself. It is not a sympathetic view of aging we see in her final works, the figure abstracted to almost not being human. I wondered if here the figure of Nosferatu from early cinema might have been an influence (the film was released 20 years prior) – if so characterising oneself as a monster is certainly suggesting a troubled internal world.

Schjerbeck’s technique involved applying paint and then scraping it off or rubbing it back. She repeatedly reworked surfaces with a brush, palette knife or cloth and even sandpaper. The layering and erasure emulate the effects of time in paint. In some cases, parts of the canvas are deliberately left bare, using this texture as part of the picture.”

RA notes – Helene Schjerbeck exhibition

I was interested to read about her techniques with paint – she used oils which I am not familiar with but if applied thickly I imagine a similar effect can be achieved with acrylic? Could be interesting to experiment with this.

Section 4

Girl with beret, 1935

In this room, we saw more of Schjerfbeck’s portraiture, and here her style has developed further. She is using a variety of source material, including the latest fashions from Marie Claire and Chanel, as well as using her own memories and imagination to influence her work. This results in something more abstract and generalised, and though here again there is a woman with downcast eyes, here it suggests a sort of melancholy or regret for me, with a sharper light being cast on the figure.

Section 5

Her still lifes are for me really interesting. The exhibition notes stated that she would work on multiple canvases at a time, doing these as a counterpoint to the many portraits she did. As such I think she may have been a little freer here and we see her particular approach to painting clearly evidenced.

I especially liked seeing the variety of marks she used for the pumpkin still life and how the intent with these marks is not to recreate/emphasise what must have been a very rounded shape.

This exploration and experimentation with abstraction did not quite take her far enough in my view, and I left feeling like if only there had been a further section to her working life we might have gotten somewhere exciting. It left me somewhat unsatisfied, having seen the broad experimentation of Lee Krasner and Natalia Goncharova. But I certainly enjoyed seeing the depths of emotion contained within her works nonetheless.