We have a meeting this afternoon about the catalogue for the Barnsley exhibition and this process has lead me to reflect upon the role of the catalogue and ask a few questions. This is especially pertinent to me as I do not really see the ‘need’ of a catalogue and, whilst wanting to contribute to the workload of preparing for the exhibition, I have chosen to be more involved with the installation at the Civic and less in the publicity for the show. However, being involved in the process has awakened me to the need for that publicity and the importance of connecting to the ‘right’ people. In my case that means the section of the ‘artworld’ that pretty much functions outside of the artworld and often in opposition to how it operates. This process has helped me to think very specifically about how I draw people to see my work here. In Barnsley it is more difficult to draw people to see the work or to know who there is nearby. I have contacted people I know who live on Yorkshire to see if they have any contacts. As I am showing here first and have the work already, I am tackling those issues now for my own exhibition. The university here are insisting on making the posters (using images I provided) I named the show ‘narrativas desconocidas’ (unknown narratives). But it is obviously up to me to back all that up.
For example I am asking myself the following:
- How to photograph the work?
- How to curate the show – specifically how to connect the ‘tools of the trade’ objects to the images of people?
- How to pitch the written statements?
- How can I get more people aware of the show and therefore my work?
- Should I try and produce an online catalogue?
- if so should I try to get someone to write something?
- what should the ‘comments’ book be like?
without decent photographs I cannot do anything so I am setting aside an afternoon next week when I can hang the work up outside at work and photograph them using natural light and a good camera. In terms of curating I am undecided and may play more in the studio with more interactive display with the bricks. The idea of an online catalogue is appealing to me. It means no paper or waste but allows me to outline the main points of the work as in the space. The OCA process has made me think a lot about how the work is presented. In particular the idea that someone else needs to in some way validate the work. It feels odd getting someone who has never seen any of your work to write about it. If it is for the OCA I do not mind as they have given me (us) and opportunity to study for an MA which would otherwise have been impossible so I am happy to help promote them. However for me as an artist I do not understand the value as they are not allowed to be critical. Maybe I am still not understanding the function of the catalogue well enough yet.
It has occurred to me that the requirements of the Barnsley exhibition are about us learning to do those things and realize what is involved. Rather like my students help the older students to put up their exhibitions in order to make their own show the following year. Therefore this thinking has made me realise that if it is just my exhibition it would be relatively easy to get someone who knows and understands my work from another discipline to write about it. For example I have friends who are both historians and psychotherapists who could write things. That feels more genuine. If I hadn’t been involved with Barnsley I doubt I would have thought of that. I wouldn’t even have considered making any kind of catalogue because I would always have remained more focused on the work and the display.
So far I have a list of artists for my contextual study some of which I have mentioned here already. They are mainly women and use some element of drawing or other action, maybe relating to domestic labour, in a performative way in their work. After practicing the act of cleaning in public I became aware that whilst I was performing this action also had something in common with the more traditional art gestures of painting than I had expected. It reminded me of when I had worked on a mural project in Málaga in a large group when we had to create the work in one weekend. The experience was very physical. It also reminded me of watching those famous videos of Jackson Pollock making work which led me to think about action painting.
There are more differences than similarities between action painting and cleaning. The first is largely a male dominated art movement in which the artists became relatively well known individuals.There is a sense of freedom in the making of this work and although the emphasis of action painting is on the process of painting the resulting works often became hugely expensive commodities. Professional cleaners on the other hand are largely anonymous, mainly women (unless we include street cleaning) and their work is poorly paid. It is also an invisible action in many cases we can barely notice the difference. The results of the cleaners’ actions is often very short lived. My friend’s sister who gets angry when people immediately step on the floor reminds me of when I go downstairs early in the morning and cannot avoid treading on the wet stairs. The freedom of the action painter’s mark making can also be contrasted with the care with which the cleaner works. The social status of Jackson Pollock cannot be compared to that of someone working on or below the minimum wage without a proper contract even if artists are not generally speaking well paid if we look at the well know amongst the action painters there is a big contrast. Even though many artists get pretty dirty when working, myself included. This is unlike the way we see those who have this daily close contact with other’s dirt.
Another male artist I wanted to look at is Vik Muniz because I felt it might be good to consider how he uses trash and manipulates a variety of materials to draw and paint. Although I am not interested in the way these become photographs, drawing is very important to his process. I was surprised to see that he has not only used trash and chocolate to draw with but also made ‘Pictures of Dust’ in the late 90s. These drawings are made with dust from the Whitney museum of Art. Muniz used dust from the vacuum cleaners used in the gallery itself and chose to draw minimalist sculptures. He saw a great contrast with these sculptures, which are all about themselves and aim at not referencing anything else, and the dust which is all about everything else. Although Muniz uses photographs of these drawings of objects and not the actual objects this is difficult to percieve as I have only ever seen his work online. It is therefore difficult to appreciate the difference the work therefore has within the gallery. This tension between the attempted control of cleaning or minimalism and the chaos of dust and action painting is fascinating.
On Monday 20th we met as a whole cohort and then split into smaller groups of 4 to ask questions and give feedback. It was a really useful session as it allowed us to see where we were not being clear enough, even with ourselves. The introduction to the session was also really useful because Angela went over some basic advice which although we probably all know we tend to forget. I found this reminded really helpful as I now have these notes on one page.
As we have an earlier deadline for this work it is close to my exhibition in Madrid. However, I am glad I hadn’t actually started writing the essay as I realise now I need to change the focus. I keep veering towards making ‘walking’ too important. As I have already read quite a lot about walking that would be easier maybe than sticking to the more important topics of drawings and cleaning (and possibly looking at domestic work in general to a certain extent). In 3000 words walking will not count as a main point. In fact I am not walking in the making of the work more than I have in the past. I am also really clear that I do not want to include artworks which are specifically about walking – although here of course there is a crossover as many ‘walking’ art projects create drawings – Richard Long’s are a famous example. Here I believe I need to insert cleaning or other domestic working actions in place of walking. There is a slight overlap, for example when we sweep the floor we tend to walk, but I will focus on the work element here.
Part of the problem with the writing I had submitted for Monday’s hangout was that I wrote it on Friday pm for a 12 midnight deadline barely meeting it. Last week I had completed my Grade 12 exhibition at school which is actually excellent news as that means after this week I will have no Grade 12, making it easier to keep teaching and making art separate. There is always a rush of teaching deadlines in March which I have learnt to live with as it pays the bills well. I therefore think it took me a while to get back to my excellent tutorial with Angela at half term in which I had already focused away from walking to a large extent.
The other problematic element of my plan was how the female gaze is an integral part of the piece of writing, and when questioned on Monday it did not neatly fit in. I need to maybe let go of these theories although here I am more reluctant as I lose most of the theoretical base of my work, in terms of what I have already read and I perceive this as a problem
Now that my focus is firmly on drawing and cleaning: two aspects which I feel confident about, I feel I need a new question to guide my contextual study. Something like ‘How can the actions of cleaning produce drawings which trace the unseen work make that labour more visible? One of the problems I see is the importance of not illustrating or describing my own experiments as a part of the final written piece but to put those here. The other very big difficulty I have and will encounter is to maintain a critical linguistic register and yet analyse my own actions in the first person. I will write a plan too but one that I can discard as necessary. For me though the question or title is fundamental to starting, however provisional it may be.
Yesterday we had a peer review of the Contextual Study – more about that later. What it made me reflect on at the end though was the perceived lack of connection between what I am doing for the Barnsley show and what I do ‘normally’. This started to make me feel quite anxious. I was concerned that the ‘line from Madrid to Barnsley’ was contrived and somehow outside of what I do. I understand that some of my peers where looking for the work and I haven’t got anything to show. I also realise that for a group show this could be a problem. However, I do not have a very strong desire to have a specific place within the show, I realise my peers are generally more concerned about this than I am. My work could adapt to the space more easily, and, having worked in a more site responsive way I suppose I expect that I respond to the space given to a certain extent.
So how is this work a complete departure from recent projects? I am not intending to create images of people in any way and and that is something I have done a lot of. I am not thinking of making representational drawings or paintings either. This made me think about previous work. Had it all been figurative? During the MA course when since I have presented work yes but before than not always. It has, however, always been about drawing and exploring mark making and that is consistent with the Barnsley line. It has also often had a relationship to traces, map making and journeys. Both interior and exterior.
The other connections are quite clear to me. I am concerned about the world of work. The image of my studio above is very much what is happening there now. Completing work for ‘La Corrala’ in Madrid, all of which is planned now for the show in May alongside the mapping of the route to Barnsley. Maybe this apparently very different route makes it difficult to market me? It might be problematic for the PPP also. How do I fit in?
Nevertheless many of the techniques and thinking is not so different either. I do not feel that it is wrong to change direction and I was surprised by the surprise. I also considered other ideas for Barnsley and their world of work more specifically and I felt very uncomfortable with that position. This questioning will be ongoing I think.
Having tried cleaning in a carpark in Epping I began to realise how varied the surfaces of pavements are. Here in Hackney there were a real variety of surfaces. I decided to try the larger paving slabs this time as the rough carpark surface I had used before. I wanted to see myself and my friend offered to film me which was really helpful. I have been trying to decide what to use and how big an area to clean. I know I want to start by sweeping the dirt which I will then collect. However, I am much less sure what I want to do after that. On this occasion I swept, first using the large brush which was excellent for outdoors and made a wonderful sound. I then swept into a small dustpan with a small brush for collecting. I realised I needed knee pads and was reminded of when I was small my mother had a kind of pad for her knees when cleaning floors. I wonder if they even exist anymore. I am thinking of using my daughters knee pads she had for skating.
I decided to try cleaning using water with different cleaning tools. First using cloths and then scourers and then brushes. The most satisfying in terms of sound and marks was the small brush I had. Maybe this is why I like painting? this allowed me to make marks, which are immediately covered but also allows you to clean more quickly. I was reminded of the physicality of action painting when brushing with this outdoor broom my friend has loaned me. I realize I need this type of broom rather than the indoor type I have at home. The hard bristles worked well on the paving slabs. I then used the yellow cloths before the water had dried to take prints of the paving slabs.
These are the cloths dried which show, of course, that we just move the dirt around. The dirt, apart from that collected has just been moved around by the water. I have chosen not to use products with might kill bacteria but in any case would add chemicals to the environment. I could use a mop which might pick up more of the dirt and which is what I do at home but with some chemicals. At the moment the cloths are the drawings and the documentation of the performance. Although I have the video I do not want to show that in the gallery. The cloths are a possibility because they are quite a genuine part of tracing the action. I would like to somehow capture the trace of the action in another way but am not sure how to do this without digital technology and I am not sure that is either appropriate to the project or what I do.
Looking back at my original proposal as I am drafting the final one I am reminded of the significance of the line. For my next experiment I will use the line as a basis of the cleaning: both collecting dirt and mopping with water. I am thinking of introducing the mop for next experiment. I am not sure why I had avoided this up til now.
This artist uses her body in performative drawing in projects such as Line down Manhattan (2003) and Drawing your desire (2006). Both of these projects use chalk and temporarily trace her and other’s walking. In line down Manhattan she used a brick sized piece of chalk to trace her walk through Manhattan using a route used by native Americans. In drawing your desire, by following passers by in a quadrant at UAL (Chelsea) she showed which ‘routes’ were the most common as they became heavier lines.
The chalk is a good material as it is not permanent and also is natural. I have chosen not to add any chemicals to the water when I clean as I do not want to cause any harm to the environment. I do not wish to add any paint either as I want the traces to be temporary like the cleaning. The fact that they become invisible is also part of the effect of cleaning and feels like a good thing.
Mary Clare Foa has also participated in the group Drawn Together . Here is their blog which documents more collaborative drawing projects.
This brings me back to the idea of the line and how I am possibly relating the cleaning to walking. Although I had let go of the idea of walking being this central to the project I feel more excited by the idea of cleaning a line than cleaning an area.
Emily Speed recommended that I look at the work of Claire Weetman as there are various connections to her practice and what I am planning for the final Major project of the MA. I am really interested in her work as not only does she use similar materials (pavement and water in Watermark – Istanbul 2012) and draw lines and make marks in public spaces but also she uses drawing as documentation. Although Weetman uses video installations in gallery settings she also draws. Sometimes this drawing is a performance in the gallery but the drawings also remain. Her lines are often about the walking of people in the place. She shows where people encounter the public space and how they negotiate it.
In this video of watermark you can see a video of the work. The screen is split into 4 so we can see the artist from a low eye level from different directions and also the public whose encounter with the space is disrupted by the presence of the artist and her actions. On this page there is also a link to how the project is documented in the gallery. Four video screens are used and there is also a drawing of another work entitled ‘migrate: free movement of workers’. One of my main concerns as the deadline for the final proposal draws close is this issue of documentation and the gallery display. I really do not want to use digital photography or video, although I have used them both as process. I am thinking now about the possibility of drawing and analogue photography but not sure if this is too contrived. I feel that drawing has to remain at the heart of the project and that I am reluctant to use digital documentation in the gallery setting.
link to Claire Weetman’s webpage