Part 2, exercise 2:1 – unusual media plus contextual content appraisal

9th September. This Part is all about collections and the overall task is to put together a number of these, including crockery, utensils, items of clothing, pens and pencils, and personal groupings, and in this exercise, to paint at least three of them with some of the media listed. These include jam, coffee, Marmite, graphite, marble dust, house paint and a number of other substances not conventionally used for painting. Unusual implements are also listed, including a stick or the wooden end of a paint brush.

As a personal choice, I have rejected food stuffs. While using food in this way may have been acceptable when the unit was written (2015), in a world of food banks and a global pandemic, I see it as wasteful. For this first piece, I have substituted glue for jam and bird seed for the ‘pigment’. I am aiming for silhouettes rather than detailed objects.

Various metal birds and two ceramic ones.
Glue spread around imagined silhouettes and seed scattered on top. When dry, it should be possible to tap off the surplus and see ghosted birds. The bonus is that the glue can later be washed off and the seed restored to its original purpose, or it can be used as a seed mat to grow sunflowers and other plants.
Ecoline ink allowed to drift into the unglued spaces and then pulled into other spaces with the feather.

I’m hoping this meets the spirit of the exercise if not the letter of it. I’ve used glue and extraneous materials before but this was largely abstract; trying for something a bit more representational is difficult as the materials don’t lend themselves to much definition. I was thinking of drawing something out on the front path in sugar and waiting for the ants trot along and make the image but of course there are no ants at this time of year and also I have no sugar. Major flaw!

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After completing this piece and feeling unsettled for some undefinable reason, I went for a walk to let my brain sort through possible reasons and throw them up for consideration. What emerged was a feeling of irrelevance with regard not to the exploratory methods [caveat: food wastage] but to the content. The sense of trivial introspection focused on minor functional items that, in some instances, are essentially private. Nothing in my cupboards or drawers is the business of anyone else; it’s there to do a job, not to become the star of its own show. And while things on the world stage may have been less turbulent when this module was written (2015, [caveat: climate change]), they are transformed beyond belief in 2020 as I sit here looking with despair at the meaningless subjects proposed as content.

And so I’m going to stick my neck out; take a chance that the spirit rather than the letter is the most critical factor in completion of this part, and possibly of this module. There are other collections that have meaning and significance. This one, for instance; the pile of shoes taken from prisoners at Auschwitz. A timely reminder of what Fascism does when it’s not challenged.

Via https://www.flickr.com/photos/jlascar/9304668943 under CC Attribution 2.0 generic

And this. Every week our village fills up this corner of the newsagents with donations to the food bank. These are collections that bring up feelings of both pride and shame – pride at the continuous response to the needs of others, and shame that we should need to do it at all.

A small corner of the weekly collections for the food bank by people in the village. Photo is (c) Sue Plautz, owner of the newsagents and the person who started this local initiative back before the pandemic.

Other meaningful collections come to mind – endangered species in zoos, those hand stencils on the wall of a cave that originated thousands of years ago and may have been made by the earliest hominids. Anthony Gormley talked about these in the 2019 BBC2 documentary How Art Began and placed his own hand within an outline made by someone in our ancestral pre-history. Then there’s Imelda Markos’s vast collection of shoes reflecting the wealth and profligacy of inflated position.

I would prefer to use these collections for this series of exercises, and to substitute content more relevant and meaningful in today’s context where the suggested material feels insubstantial. Art, to me, even at this level, needs to be something more than fluff; it needs substance and relevance and to have a message to communicate to the observer. These are exercises but I would argue that even here, some sense of telling a story is important or what is the point? Rothko wanted people to come so close to his work that they felt totally absorbed by it and ‘moved to tears’; Pollock put his heart and soul into his abstract expressions of raw emotion; others such as Turner were telling stories of actions or showing observers the exquisite beauty of a sky that they may never see in real life.

My shoes say nothing of note, nor does my cutlery or crockery, and so it is very hard to find any purchase on their surfaces by which to be moved.

I am taking advice about this position. I can see it might be in conflict with the flow of the module and its intent, but I also feel that there are new values to accommodate which need not detract from either intent or flow and that update the core ethos of the module to include an awareness of changing priorities for the arts.

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