Category Archives: Practice research

Practice based research

By the end of unit 1 I had established a strand of activity in the studio based on photograms and flatbed photography.  My project proposal stabilised around version 2 (Liminality and Intermedia) and the broad theme of liminality challenged me to consider ways of working outside the studio and to also move beyond a static photographic approach in my practice.
The following section covers mainly the technical aspect of my practice which I focused on at the beginning of Unit 2 between November 2017 and March 2018. This was directed to two aspects;  improving the portability of my lighting and motion control equipment, and increasing the scale over which it could operate, from cms to metres.  These aspects are useful in themsleves but particularly in combination.

As a first step I decided to invest in building  portable equipment of lighting and motion control to reduce my reliance on a studio environment.  I built portable versions of my lighting rig, DC motor controller and stepper motor controller detailed below.

These portable components were used to make a series of initial real time animations of objects in the studio detailed here that worked successfully.

I also took some of this equipment to a studio in Portland where I have worked before and made some digital photograms and also videos around Portland using a mobile lighting rig.

This was my main activity working outside the studio.  It was clearly possible to take this further but with preparations for the final show I ended up continuing to work mainly in the studio.

I discovered that the lighting system I was using was underpowered for the applications I had in mind so I replaced my torches with 3 high power Cree LEDS

This worked very well and the load resistors also heated the studio in the winter!  I was now able to project sharp shadows on a scale of metres and record video with a normal exposure of 1/30 sec. allowing me to make real-time video on a large scale in the studio.

I then scaled up my linear and rotation rig to allow translation over a 3m distance…

I also bought plenty of green screen material and black velvet for backdrops and composites.  This allowed me to animate sculptures over a distance of 3m and in realtime (ie not stop motion). The only limitation was the size of my studio…. as the Openbuild framework

can be extended to any size . So with increased light levels and scale it is possible to work outside the studio in an architectural environment, or out of doors (with or without ambient light).

It also became clear to me that the earlier phase of working with what I termed flatbed photography

could also be extended to a much larger scale with the same equipment.  This fundamentally changed the scope of the flatbed work in the studio which could now involve a large scale photomontages of areas on the m2 scale.  Studies of 3D structures (subject to DOF) or surfaces (limited only by the size of the studio) could now be made. I also realised that by replacing the track with a tripod and extender arm it would be possible to freestyle flatbed outside and over rough terrain with some compromise in the quality of the photomerge. I tried this and it worked but I didn’t have time to follow up to any extent.

In terms of making work, there were two main areas of activity; the two popup shows (2 Girls, Camberwell) and the final show.  Here I will focus on the final show because it more closely relates to my project proposal – the popups shows were interesting but due to space limitations the work produced did not really address the project proposal directly.

I had initially focused my efforts on producing projection and screen based work.   Much of this is covered more conceptually in the reflective journal. However as I focused my efforts on the final show I realised it was possible I would be able unable to realise a larger scale projection installation under controlled lighting that would be able to reflect my project proposal as I hoped, depending on space and other students plans.  A key decision was then triggered by seeing the installations of Pele’s Empire, an artist duo based in Berlin.

This work demonstrated that it is possible to combine photography and sculpture in an installation in a compelling way.   At this point I realised that my large scale flatbed photography could form part of an installation environment that included sculpture (defined broadly to include readymades etc), video (LCD screen or projection) and possibly sound.

The final show narrative..

Thematically my research on liminality had introduced two areas to explore further; ruins and the ragpicker.   It turned out these converged in the notion of the fragment, the fragments of ruins and the performative fragment – the ragpicker as theorised by Benjamin (see reflective journal).

I therefore started to make a series of shardscapes – fragmentary flatbed photographs composed of 10 or 15 individual photographs merged into a single photo file. Each flatbed file is enormous – upto 40,000 pixels in height for example, far larger then any large format camera. Inkjet prints metres in length formed from these files can be viewed at a number of scales – from a distance and also closeup, and rather like a real object they reveal different details from different viewing positions.  This is quite different from the experience of viewing a conventional banner where there is an expected viewing distance (say 3m to infinity) and the detail disappears on close inspection.

I decided to install the flatbed photos in a way that emphasised their materiality and also the performativity of the space.  I managed to source a supply of scaffolding kee-clamps and black Aluminium tubing with a 27mm dia  (smaller than 48mm stage scaffolding) which would work in an exhibition space.  This could be used to hang the prints and create structures within the space. This is intended as a direct reference to the infrastructure of the stage, but on a smaller scale.

At the same time I realised it would be possible to further complicate the flatbed photography by individually animating the shards in the photograph. i.e. explicity staging the opposition between stillness of the photograph and the motion of the video.  The idea of individually picking and animating each shard (see Symp 2 video for time-lapse footage) into a composite is absurd but appealing.  I called this the shard lava lamp.

I animated each shard to have a parabolic (ballistic) trajectory through space, as though, having been picked, they have been thrown into space.  This is also mirrored by the parabolic profile of the banner flatbed hanging from the wall.

I decided to add a performative element (performative fragment) by including my hand either picking or placing shards at intervals throughout the video.

All the shards are green screened into a composite of falling and rising shards – the background is plain or comprised of historic graphic material from the macro flatbeds.

The macro flatbeds…

are a scaled down version of the large scale flatbeds using a macro lens to create a photograph of prexisting print material on a scale of cms rather than metres. Individual paper threads, blemishes and engraving marks are visible when printed at roughly 100-200x magnification. The subject matter is a mid 19c print of glaciers and glacial debris at a time when glaciers seemed sublime and (relatively)  permanent objects… I chose this material aesthically to form a contrast with the pure flatbed photography and also because I wanted to recirculate small images from the 19c in dialogue with the contemporary shardscapes.

Finally the sound element has evolved since the final space was allocated.  The key development was in conceiving the sound as event based rather than as a continuous presence, working between silence and sound. This was partly driven by a need to make a case for sound  in a shared space, but eventually it developed a logic of its own as a way of temporalising the experience of being in the space i.e. a sound every 15mins for example.

The sound is delivered via the media player which is mounted on a board with an audio splitter and Behringer mixer, all of which can be placed in a flight case.

The mixer allows me to mix in other sounds easily, control levels and also connect a microphone for performed sound.

The sound is delivered either by a two channel ampifier in the flight case or by a 4 channel amplifier positioned alongside….

….which spatialises the stereo sound through the installation, with 2 ‘upper’ speakers and 2 ‘lower’ speakers.  In Cascade I used my own recordings of beads falling into a glass cylinder – in keeping with the falling of the shards and the glacial theme (hence the choice of cylinders to channel loudspeaker noise).  The granularity of the sound also quoted (methodologically) an early piece by Xenakis – Concret PH.  Developed for the Philips pavilion this work is intrinsically spatialised and also credited as the first work of granular synthesis.

The tubes have interesting acoustic properties (not least open tube resonance when raised slightly off the ground) but I didn’t have time to explore this. 4 of them are sized to sound the Tristan chord in resonance but that’s for another time…

Due to the high level of traffic noise I decided the event sound needed to be more assertive to make the most of the limited temporal presence. Field recordings I had prepared which sounded good via the tubes at home were more or less inaudible with the traffic in 212a.  A bit too subtle.  I therefore (partly due to time constraints) decided to quote musically from two works that are important to me;

Some of The Harmony of Maine – an organ work by John Cage (fits with the tubes)

Freedom from Want and Fear – from the Miners Hymns by Johan Johansson (trumpet call)

The john Cage piece is itself fragmentary – composed by removing notes and extending others from a 18c church music book. I also like the fact that it required 6 people to play the organ – 1 for the keyboard and 5 others to help setting the stops on the organ which Cage had made deliberately complex to require collaboration in the narrow space of the loft.

The running sequence is therefore, if the installation starts on the hour…

On the hour: Freedom from Want and Fear – 1 min sample

15, 45 mins past the hour – Some of  ‘Some of The Harmony of Maine’

30mins past the hour – Cascade  (own composition)

Finally (writing this on the 3rd July) I have decided to complete the installation with a kind of hybrid musical readymade  – a music stand made from a converted camera tripod and a recycled screen which also carries a mic. The live mic feeds back ambient or spoken sound to the loudspeaker-tubes via the mixer.  In this way I hope to imply that the installation is a space for a potential performance.

Finally for the second time (writing 4th July) the title for the work is ‘Handlungs’.   This is a hydrid German-English word which has a number of associations for me relevant to the installation..

Some of The Harmony of Maine – John Cage’s organ music

I’m planning to use this in the Final show

Good overview from Rob Haskins below

It’s a pity, though, that Cage hadn’t been asked for new organ works sooner. The King of Instruments seems to me an instrument ideally suited to Cage’s aesthetic. With all its various stops (found in countless dispositions on as many organs), one can think of it as the ultimate prepared instrument. Also, the very fact that sound emanates from a number of pipes all placed at discrete locations in space nicely accords with Cage’s idea that the separation of sounds in space proved desirable for new music. It surely represented a vast multiplicity of possibilities that could be released into sound through the use of chance operations. For this reason, I believe that Cage’s organ music occupies a small but quite important place within his output.

Some of “The Harmony of Maine” forms part of a family of pieces that Cage made beginning with Apartment House 1776 (1976). In the earlier work, one element consisted of a series of pieces Cage dubbed “harmonies”; he selected eighteenth-century hymns by William Billings, Andrew Law, and Supply Belcher and altered them by extending certain tones and removing others through chance operations so as to attenuate the functional harmony underlying them. The process fixes a listener’s attention on the individual pitches so that they become self-sufficient, each—as in Buddhist thought—the most honored of all, and likewise the heightened presence of silence in the music reaffirms the important role of ambience in Cage’s work: not so much a lack of sound that articulates or makes more dramatic the sounds around it, but rather (again, borrowing from Buddhism) a nosound that forms, alongside sound, an eternal unity: perceiving the Śūnyatā (emptiness) in the world facilitates the awareness of the world’s Tathatā (suchness). Here and there, melodic fragments from the original hymns remain; these further underscore the fact that, in Cage, the sounding music continues to present the unpredictable, no matter how it is made.

Each of the thirteen separate pieces in Cage’s organ work draws exclusively from the 1794 collection The Harmony of Maine by the American composer Supply Belcher (1751–1836). The titles in the original, which Cage retains, include in most instances an abbreviation that refers to the metrical structure of the words (useful when one wants to use the musical setting of one hymn for the text of another): thus, C.M. (common meter) refers to a quatrain with a syllable count of 8–6–8–6; L.M. (long meter), to one of 8–8–8–8; S.M. (short meter), to one of 6–6–8–6; and the especially Cagean P.M. (peculiar meter), to one that is irregular. An awareness of meter (interpreted as phrase length) is helpful in this work since Cage tended to respect the phrase boundaries of his source material in his compositional process and probably does so in the organ work as well.

In order to capitalize on the organ’s innate ability to create an extraordinary variety of timbres, Cage also employed chance operations in Some of “The Harmony of Maine” to make a complex series of registration changes, which must be effected by no fewer than six registrants. (However, Gary Verkade recalls that he performed as one of only three registrants in the first German performance, noting that the number of registrants depends on such factors as the size of instrument and the amount of space found in the organ loft.) Stops are referred to only by number, allowing the work to be performed on a great number of instruments. This aspect is very much in keeping with Cage’s approach to composition: to learn all the possibilities of an instrument (or device, in the case of, say, the film One11) and then use chance to select new and previously unimagined combinations of those possibilities.

Mark Bradford and Theaster Gates

Two artists who are becoming increasingly important for me, both of them have socially engaged practices and work with found materials.

I like the way Mark Bradford references Asger Jorn contra American abstraction, questioning the dominant historical discourse in painting.

Theaster Gates has more of a Duchampian gesture, redeploying objects and materials sometimes on a vast scale but always with a critical strategy.

What this opens up for me to an increasing extent

  • Use of found materials
  • Ready mades

An Artist_s Mythic Rebellion for the Venice Biennale – The New York Times

Three Artists Who Think Outside the Box – The New York Times

Theaster Gates: Using the Art Economy to Funnel Funds to Underserved Communities | Art for Sale | Artspace

Mark Bradford Maps the Suffering of Bodies

Mark Bradford interview white wall

Mark Bradford parkett