Part 2, Research point – unusual materials

I have steered round the materials I find uncomfortable; food items for instance which seems profligate and irresponsible at a time people are having to rely on food banks, and in fact when many of us experienced food insecurity for the first time in our lives as shops emptied, supermarkets had no delivery slots, and staples like flour disappeared for months. I’ve also skipped materials that give off fumes because, however interesting they might be, I am unlikely to use those products. This meant going on a search of my own for artists who use unusual materials to make their work and I came across quite a range, from chewing gum to plastic bags, coloured pencils, gambling chips and dice, coffee cups, Jell-O, and Post-It notes. Three in particular took my interest.

Cassette tapes: Found via http://www.noiseaddicts.com/2009/03/celebrity-art-made-with-cassette-tapes/ Erika Iris. (https://www.flickr.com/photos/iri5/). I’m not sure what I think about these images. I can see galleries in Brighton being full of them for a season – quirky and ‘arty’ and a novel thing to take home from a day trip. Maybe that’s a little disparaging, but maybe it comes from seeing a whole web page full of them and wondering if this is an example of someone becoming trapped into being a one trick pony. I don’t know where I heard this advice, ‘find something you’re good at that people like and keep doing it’, but my immediate reaction was to wonder why anyone creative would do that. But of course people do because they need to eat and to keep roofs over their heads. Writers do it; same formula, same or similar characters; sequels, trilogies, milliogies; and so do musicians although there’s a taste for cross-over when it comes to blues and jazz. Why not artists then? And how would anyone identify your work as yours if you kept changing the ‘genre’? Perhaps that’s what ‘periods’ were about, and movements. This is maybe Erica Iris’s cassette tape period.

Rubbish: Tom Deininger http://www.tomdeiningerart.com/works.html. Deininger is arguably one of the world’s most inventive recyclers, taking objects other people throw away and turning them into 3D sculptural art which only reveals itself as such if the observer moves away from the standard line of sight. As someone who finds mental rotation of shapes almost impossible (this has until recently been seen as a ‘boy thing’, girls being better at identifying emotional expression in eyes*), I am always astonished that someone can do this so effectively that they can mentally rotate an image not yet in existence. I remember getting quite exercised at what looked like bees pinned to a board before seeing that they were something else entirely, and before hearing him talk about conservation and how his own efforts are just ‘gluing junk on the wall’. Bit of a hero now. This is one of his videos:

Jell-O: Liz Hickok. Actually, Hickok uses a great deal more than Jell-O https://www.lizhickok.com/. and I believe I’ve found a new heroine. I’m impressed that she’s using AR (augmented reality) to enhance the story-telling of her models because, in my view, communication is everything. Why make something you feel driven to make and feel strongly about then leave viewers clueless as to what it might mean? This bee in my bonnet comes from 30 years or so working with adults with intellectual disabilities who were and are frequently excluded from social and political conversations because the language is not meant for them, the conversation depends on a level of education and references they don’t have; and because they don’t know how to guess without a clue. I think much of contemporary art does this to much of the population and risks alienating them. If I make it to Level 6, I suspect communication will feature in that final body of work.

This video is time-lapse and uses an undercurrent of sound that enhances the experience. Another of the discoveries I’ve made for myself in my own work to date and would probably take forward to that final year.

All of these (and the ones I haven’t covered in detail) are inventive approaches to making art and telling stories. Some of them using discarded materials (Deininger’s rubbish and Iris’s old tapes), others more generative and employing new technology and sound in the development of an experience for viewers. This is mark making, Jim, but not as we know it. And while some may seem very much of its time, or niche and a tad simplistic, the direction of travel appears to be the same – moving beyond traditional materials and integrating the image with back history and new technology. If that’s a bandwagon, I want to be on it playing virtual bass guitar.

*Mental rotation of shapes.

Thomas, N. J. T. 2014. Mental Rotation. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. [online] Available at https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mental-imagery/mental-rotation.html. Accessed 22 September, 2020.

Parsons, T. D., Larson, P., Kratz, K., Thiebaux, M., Bluestein, B., Buckwalter, J. G., Rizzo, A. A. 2004. Sex differences in mental rotation and spatial rotation in a virtual environment. Neuropsychologia 42, 555-562. Elsevier. [online] Available at https://ict.usc.edu/pubs/Sex%20differences%20in%20mental%20rotation%20and%20spatial%20rotation%20in%20a%20virtual%20environment.pdf. Accessed 22 September 2020.

As an additional note; there is growing but still equivocal evidence that any deficit spatial rotation in women may have less to do with any intrinsic wiring than socialisation. Until recently, most girls would be given nurturing toys while boys would have constructional ones and while this is changing, it will take a while to work its way through the social system. I still recall being shown a pink screwdriver when I asked in a DIY store for a set of screwdrivers to, well, screw and unscrew things. It had a floral handle.

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