Have I created a Frankenstein's monster?

I presented my work at a Speedy Crits session the other week (17th June), to a panel of my peers. I thought I should, not only because I really needed some feedback on my work in development, but because I can't expect other artists to do something I'm not prepared to do myself! The work has been on a slow boil, with occasional bursts of making, since October. It's had a few iterations and currently manifests as moving image, still image, sound and rudimentary sculpture. Most of it is, I'd say, at a point nearing resolution for this iteration. I can't say the project itself is nearing resolution, there is a lot more to be explored in relation to the power of language and how we receive and understand it.

The still images I presented have been detailed in a previous blog, "Have you rejected the evidence of your eyes and ears?". The moving image and frame stills are new.

Frame still from "This is what it sounds like when ..." (2020)

Frame still from "This is what it sounds like when ..." (2020)

This moving image work is a layering of newspaper headlines in text, sound waves and dis-harmony, an ever rolling repetition. It isn't pleasant to listen to and it isn't meant to be. The increasing rolling out of the headlines represents what the words don't - emotion, an emotion so deep it seeps out like the silent tears of those directly and indirectly impacted by the throw-away words. It doesn't really matter which days news, which week, which year or which decade. It happens to be covid-19 related because that is the period in which the work is being made. Which brings me to the subject of dates.

One of the provocations from the panel was that the work was dating itself. My first reaction was from a place of defence (this is a default reaction of mine, a habit I'm trying hard to break). I took it as a criticism, that the work was failing in some way because it would only ever be relevant to the time and subject matter, that it would become irrelevant as time moves forward. In retrospect I realise that yet again, my defensiveness had failed to read the nuance of what was being put to me. Although, an added remark was that it was the equivalent of an artist signing and dating their work. My more considered response is that the work is of the period it is made in, that long after it's moment of being in the present it will become an archive of what has been. No less relevant, just in a different way.

Another provocation was particularly resonant, it fed into my own thought pattern:

Had I gone too far?

The code I had so enjoyed creating to change letters into musical notes and then into shapes or graphs, was it a Frankenstein's monster? This had been playing on my mind prior to the Speedy Crits session. Did the resulting images say anything at all to the viewer? Did they say what I wanted them to say or had I completely missed the goal? Had the work lost all meaning?

"Top News 20.05.2020"

This observation resulted in an interesting dialogue between the participants about codification, secret codes and the reliance of trust from those who do not have the key to the code. The lack of transparency of the work is representational of the lack of transparency from those in power, including the media.

I responded that I would give the key to the code for viewers to decipher its meaning and, not surprisingly, another doubt I'd been having was verbalised by one of the panel. Referring to the work of Sol LeWitt and his wall drawings. It was suggested that the requirement of a code created a power divide between those that have it and those that don't. I admitted to my discomfort around this, especially as I have been quite vocal about not liking how Sol LeWitt maintained control of the wall drawings through his list of instructions. Another panel member flipped the thinking on this as a form of giving, of sharing power. The giving of knowledge. This has helped me re-frame my thinking around LeWitt's work and also my own. There is also choice on offer, the viewer does not have to take the knowledge being offered. I feel this is very representative of the news we read and hear. It is spoken in words we are familiar with, yet we are not always privy to the full context of the story or the full facts. We can choose to accept that or we can choose to investigate further.

It would be impossible to talk of coded language without eventually referencing the use of algorithms and the power structures that protect them. It brought into sharp focus a reminder to myself of the work I had previously done that investigated this very issue. The essay I wrote will be posted - eventually. This work didn't start in October 2019 after all. October 2019 just happens to be the month I tapped back into the work that I had actually begun back in 2017 when my focus was specifically on the government and the online media. I keep losing track of that and I shouldn't. I need to document the journey of this process from then through to now, even if only for myself.

The term 'concrete poetry' was expressed in reference to David Bowie. I haven't heard that term before and it is one I need to look up. What I do know though is how much I have always respected and admired the work of Bowie. That will be an enjoyable bit of research.

I had expressed a wish to produce the language shapes I had created as super sized sculptures which led to a conversation about how smaller sculptures could be used within and by a community as a form of activism - I like this thought! This then led to a discussion on graffiti/street art and the use of tags and how tags are a language only known to street artists. Perhaps this was a route I could consider.

Other ideas included focusing in more on narratives as music that have passed through generations. I don't think anyone liked the dis-harmony I created! It was also suggested the work is politically bias and a bit negative. Damn right it is and it will stay that way. I refuse to use positivity as a cover up for inadequacies and failings within society. I hate that there is this culture of "be grateful for what you have got and not what you haven't". I could go off on a rant but I think I'll save that for a separate piece of writing.

Oh, and I'll just add to that rant "why do we have to pretend to be so positive when everything is so shit?" Hiding inadequacies behind positive reinforcement is not healthy in my book, it's just a form of telling lies.

Other valuable insights and research links that were shared with me were:

Michael Dean - researching this artist since the session also led me to "The Language of Things" and I shall be doing further research on the artists that exhibited in that.

The Vanishing Mediator - it was put to me that this is what my work is about, so of course I have done some initial research - at this point that actually means: I have skimmed and bookmarked various texts on The Vanishing Mediator, and artist Elizabeth Price which include:

Slavoj Zizek - The vanishing mediator between the symbolic and the real

Elizabeth Price - The Woolworths Choir of 1979

I have also had some philosophy suggested to me:

Jaina philosophy of Anekantavada


Soren Kierkegaard in his book Fear and Trembling

The session was very valuable, there was nothing said that wasn't relevant. There is useful research for me to look at and also a reminder:

Who is it for?

What is saying?

Don't hold back!

I also presented this blog series "Work in Development" ahead of the session, and there was a general consensus that this is also a part of the work, something I had not considered. Other suggestions were to think about micro -v- macro in relation to my subject matter and to think about "the ingredients that make the cake and not the whole cake". Don't you just love the way artists speak?

I haven't done any further making since the crit, nor have I managed to do any proper research. However I have been doing lots of reflective thinking about the work. Perhaps this current iteration is resolved and a period of pondering is now required. I haven't made up my mind yet.

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