Marion* presents the image as a pervasive and all-consuming force with an almost ominous potential to transcend its own flat state infiltrating all aspects of daily life. Jean Baudrillard’s writings also seem to touch on these ideas of a flattening of reality. In his recent Screened Out, he focusses attention towards the effects of our continued submersion in a world of multimedia technology, interactive screens and virtual reality. The immediacy and omnipresence of technology means that “distance is abolished in all things: between the sexes, between opposite poles, between stage and auditorium, between the protagonists of action, between subject and object, between the real and its double.” The separation between the real and the virtual no longer exists as “it is already increasingly difficult for us to imagine the real, to imagine History, the depth of time, three-dimensional space-just as difficult as it once was, staring out from the real world, to imagine the virtual one of the fourth dimension.”
*In The Crossing of The Visible Jean-Luc Marion
Pratfall, Detail Image, 2016
I completed my Masters at the RCA in July. When beginning the course, two years seemed like a substantial amount of time but as the course began, I swiftly realised that amongst the varied commitments of the course, time goes very quickly.
Making work within an institution has the obvious advantage of providing access to technical facilities as well as a peer group to discuss work with. The course also provides loose deadlines and frameworks in which to structure your time.
Since graduating, I have found that this sense of time changes dramatically as you adjust to your own self-imposed structure. I think about speed or pace a lot in relation to my own work. Not only in the sense of the imagery I draw from but also as a method of making work. I usually have a handful of things which I work on simultaneously and normally quite quickly.
By working on various objects at the same time, I find that this acts as a sort of buffer against overcomplicating ideas or allowing too much doubt or hesitation to arise which can become overwhelming and inhibiting at times.
When I feel that I am beginning to overcomplicate something, I try to adjust my pace by speeding up or working on something else. I think that it is often only possible to see if something makes sense by physically realising it, even if it is at the cost of it potentially being discarded.
By drawing from a wide pool of imagery and creating multiple objects which are extracted and abstracted from this, I try to create collections of sculptures which act together as both a flat image and a three-dimensional scenographic landscape.
The origins of images can become lost or diverted in this compression or confusion and often elude direct recognition. I would hope that this allows a potential for the work to hover between different reference points which can be at once banal and ridiculous, familiar and alien.
Extremely Salty, Detail Image, 2015
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The central object within the installation was a replica of a tree trunk that I had photographed. In reality, I was interested in this natural form for some of the same reasons as those of the dinosaurs at Crystal Palace.
The tree has this stubborn enormity but its thick truncated branches leave it with two stumps. It becomes vaguely figurative in this crass pose, an upturned body, legs splayed open.
The tree’s knot in the centre of the trunk doubles up as a navel or bodily orifice rendering the huge structure ridiculous and anti-heroic.
Its form also mimics Brancusi’s sculpture ‘Torso of a Young Man’ which similarly simplified the male human torso into a cylindrical form with two cylindrical stumps suggesting legs.
These dumb resemblances to a body flatten this three-dimensional object and it becomes image-like.
By recreating it, I wanted to exaggerate this occupation of both flatness and three-dimensionality, positioning it amongst other replicas of objects, both natural and man-made, where scale and perspective have been warped.
The other objects belong to a semi-natural landscape in their patterning or their form but have similarly been passed through a cartoonish filter where certain surface qualities become enhanced or dumbed down.
The three-dimensional objects within the installation sat in front of two large routed walls which incorporated line drawings of both man-made and natural objects, some of which were pulled and simplified from advertisements.
A coffee bean or a leaf doubles up as an eye or a mark of punctation. Set into the walls and scattered over the floor, I made multiple small-scale objects which I painted simplistically.
Cigarette butts, leaves, batteries, nut shells and straws litter the floor, mundane leftovers echoed in the drawings on the walls. Using the routed walls as a staged backdrop, I wanted the combination of nature and the very ordinary/prosaic to create a sense of bathos where the viewer is constantly reminded of the absurdity and artificiality of the arrangement.
Some of my work from the last year has also been impacted by a particular location in Crystal Palace Park in London whilst I have become more interested in the appropriation of nature or natural phenomena within the public sphere.
This park is home to a series of concrete sculptures of dinosaurs and other extinct prehistoric creatures.
In 1854 after the closure of the Great Exhibition, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, under the direction of Sir Richard Owen, a renowned palaeontologist of the Victorian era, created over thirty of these statues based on fossil specimens housed in the Natural History Museum and other significant collections.
To today’s audience, these impressions are no longer formidable or awesome but clumsy caricatures, rendered cartoonish and ridiculous in the face of modern science.
There is something funny in the ironic permanence of these statues, so resolute and concrete in their inaccuracies.
For example, the sculptures of the iguanodons have false horns on their faces which in fact are thumb bones misplaced from their forearms. These animals now stand as testament to the ability for scientific truth to become flattened under the weight of their historical value as Victorian relics.
The dinosaurs fail to accurately represent the past but their theatrical presence within the park staggered chronologically across the islands flattens them into a snapshot of prehistory.
The inexactitude of these objects becomes another stratum in the cultural geology of Dinosaur Court within the park.
Studying these sculptures, I was interested in the disjunction between their dumb, pictorial, cartoonish quality (their neatly segmented scales could almost double up as drawings of crazy paving) and their existence as obstinate heavy three-dimensional objects.
It is this awkward straddling of the two and three-dimensional that I have been trying to explore within my own work.
No Thumbs, 2015
Previous to my Masters, I took part in a residency which allowed me some access to technical facilities at Wimbledon College of Art. During this time, my work incorporated collage and printmaking alongside sculpture. At this point, I was using collage as a way to plan fictional sculptures.
Almost like proposals, these collages often depicted illogical balancing acts where lumpen forms were on the cusp of collapse. This sense of latent potential is something which carries over into the objects I make now where depicted gestures or actions, cut out or silhouetted, are affixed by rendering them in a clumsy, graphic, cartoon language.
Often approaching my installations as a sort of three-dimensional collage, the acts of layering and cutting out are central to my work as a whole. More recently, I have been drawing into concrete and using polymer clay to model small replicas of everyday objects which sit alongside routed drawings in wood or metal.
Whilst the materials I use belong to a sculptural vernacular, I try to apply a consistent register of hand-drawn lines and a limited colour palette of matt paint to every surface in order to flatten everything into a similarly pictorial, cartoonish state.
These flattened objects become prop-like and together become something more like a panoptic stage set suggesting some sort of anticipated movement or action.
Playing with the positioning of the work creates specific vantage points for the viewer whilst adjusting the scale and perspective encourages different elements of the works to visually frame one another. Much like the artifice of window displays or museum dioramas where the behind or the reverse is forgotten, I often position the objects in a way that creates this forced frontal aspect to try to emphasis and dramatise the falsity and absurdity of the set-up.
Through these interactions I hope there is the potential to adjust the way the viewer might formulate their own narratives or relationships between the objects.
Over the last year, I have also been working on wall reliefs. These tend to depict objects or scenes which are partly obscured or cropped by the rectilinear format of the relief. Working within the confines of a flat painterly plane, the works deny the same physical interaction that the objects within the installations might encourage.
Using routing as a tool to draw, the lines cut into the wood have a physical depth to them which for me, tries to deal specifically with this tussle between the two and three-dimensional by being both lines depicting an image and physical interruptions to the object’s surface.
Sometimes inlaying small clay pieces into the wood or filling areas with other materials, I want the reliefs to be able to adopt a chunky, object-like quality whilst still trying to exist as a flat image.
I have been particularly influenced by the early relief works of Hans Arp, especially those of the ‘object language’ series of the 1920s which incorporate the theme of people and everyday objects.
Simplified and paired in unexpected and surreal combinations, his reliefs have an enigmatic quality where biomorphic forms often sit just beyond complete recognition but also contain an intrinsic humour in this slipperiness.
His ‘Arpadian Encyclopedia’ refers to a collection of repeated motifs or ideas which reappear throughout his work such as the clock, the navel and the skeleton. This reemployment of particular forms allows the work to develop its own internal visual language.
His rounded cut outlines give even the man-made objects he represents an organic, cartoonish quality allowing the grandeur of nature to sit equally alongside the mundane and prosaic.
In the interim between first and second year at the RCA, I was working on my dissertation titled “Flat Out: The State of Flatness” which was a good outlet for organising my thoughts and research surrounding my recent work.
Within this, I researched different manifestations of flatness, primarily its relationship with comedy, failure and ignorance as well as flatness playing an important role in cartoon animation allowing conventional physical rules of the real world to be defied and tested.
I also researched its attachment to visual perception such as its significance in the understanding of camouflage, depth perception and stereoblindness.
Most importantly, I tried to expand on the relationship between flat image and three-dimensionality and the role that flatness can claim within a sculptural dialogue.
In The Crossing of The Visible Jean-Luc Marion discusses the complexity and the prevalence of the image in relation to contemporary understandings of the visual:
“Today, the image covers the surface of the earth-in addition to the surface of the eyeballs of the inhabitants of the world-only insofar as it produces itself, multiplies itself, and expands without restriction or reference.”
Pratfall detail, 2016
Approaching the second year of my MA with the dissertation completed perhaps provided me with a more focussed set of ideas surrounding my work.
During that summer, I was also awarded a travel bursary from the RCA in which I proposed to go to Japan. I was particularly interested in looking at the signage and systems of advertising in some of its major cities.
Particularly as someone who does not understand the language, I was interested in the potential for the use of a purely graphic visual language to still convey meaning.
The advertisement and display of food in Japan was of particular interest to me. Food has featured at different points in my work before and during my time at the RCA.
As I often use imagery from advertising and commercial display, the visual representation of food is something which we are constantly confronted with. We have both a visual relationship with it, ingesting it in image form but also a clumsily direct bodily relationship with its physical production and consumption.
Part of my trip to Japan was to research the use of Sampuru which is the art of making plastic replicas of dishes in restaurants to display in the windows.
I visited the area in Tokyo where these are produced. These are both incredibly realistic but are also a technical test of mimicry and skill to the point of absurdity.
For example, quite often dishes have chopsticks seemingly magically suspended by noodles in midair. There is something about this sense of aspiration and humour which is what I so often search for in the things I play with within my own work.
The importance of the representation of nature within advertising and commercial display in my work has also become enhanced by my time in Japan.
The frequent enlargement and exaggeration of objects within advertising in the public realm is something which directly informed my work for my final degree show.
Humour is something which is important within all of my work mostly for its ability to become a vehicle or access point for something more subtly critical to arise about the way in which we deal with encountering and handling objects within the world under the enforcement of a lifestyle of relentless image ingestion.
Pratfall detail, 2016
Extremely Salty, 2015
I am the third recipient of The David Troostwyk/Matt's Gallery Studio Award which provides an RCA student graduating from Sculpture with a free studio for a full year at SPACE as well as continued contact with the head of the Sculpture programme at RCA and the director of Matt’s Gallery. I moved into the studio in October and having shared a studio at RCA for two years with several other students, it has been an incredibly liberating experience occupying a larger space of my own. Upon graduation, getting a studio is the priority but inevitably comes with an untimely financial weight at the point where the majority of students are at their most vulnerable after the degree show. Not only has this award provided me with a generous space in which to work but it has also enabled me to spend much more time in the studio than I would have been financially capable of if not for the prize. In this sense, the award is invaluable. It has taken a little time to adjust to spending so much time alone when I am used to sharing conversations about work on a daily basis with other artists in a communal space but I think these adjustments are inevitable and also allow for a more sustained amount of focus. I am swiftly learning that for me, the space in which I work has a huge impact on both the pace and form of the work I make. This is mainly for technical reasons which can be as simple as the size of the doorframe of the studio but also there is this lag or disconnect between thinking about the work and making it. Being in a private studio without the immediate facilities that you become spoiled with at an institution, means that these steps between imagining something and making it have to become more methodical. A huge part of my work comes from trial, error and play. When these processes of making have to become more organised, the attitude of the work can change which I am thinking a lot about at the moment.