About Portability and Cheapness and being seduced by materials.

The issue of why this matters so much to me needs to be revisited – in my tutorial with Lucy Day last week we talked about materials and I identified these concerns of mine which I originally became aware of in MA1.  I think this will also help with my PPP this year.

I think that apart from rational ideologies this desire to work with simple materials and make them transportable or mailable is deeply ingrained in me. It is also reflected in other lifestyle choices. whilst I collect discarded pieces of junk and use them for practical or decorative purposes  I do find that possessions weigh me down.I am good at throwing stuff away. I have now more or less escaped my art school training of ‘never throw work away’ too. The things I value the most are those which have zero or minimal exchange value. I chose to live in the middle of a flea market and I love skips and dislike shopping. I do not really like many new clothes, furniture or other consumer items. Part of my interest in work is that there is so much value placed on what I see as pointless activities. I see value in caring professions, cleaning, maintaining, growing food, but less in financial services, marketing or industries creating new needs. I also question how it could be with so much new technology anyone needs to work more – rather everyone could work less.

I also believe that people are more fulfilled by having more time and less things. That making things by hand gives us pleasure. I am often ‘seduced by materials’ and enjoy working with certain media regardless of their connotations. Maybe that is why I am stripping the materials away for the final major project and collecting dirt and possibly debris along the way. In this way I feel more confident that I can justify what I do end up using in the gallery and in the process.

Although this relates to the exchange value attached to ‘things’ being over emphasized in general I think in my case the need to use low value materials is deeper. There is of course a practical element, I am not able to buy or transport expensive materials but I also question their necessity as I do with many consumer items. Most of my recent work is not a commodity that is for sale as an object. Often it can be ephemeral or given away. That does not mean I do not think I should be paid for making it but not necessarily by an individual. I have of course sold work in the past but I was making and exhibiting it in a very different way. I now need to resolve my relationship with how I make money from work. Until now I have lived from teaching or other part time employment but I would like the balance of my time to change. As teaching has become more and more time consuming I am finding my self compromised and would like to find other means of income. 


Taking the Dots off

img_2424I have been questioned about the dots a lot and always struggled with the words to explain why I put them on. When Máire came to visit she explained that she always wanted to take them off so she could see what was behind them. This I found really interesting because it means they are in some way annoying to the view that in obscuring a figurative image they stop us from seeing something. This is sort of what I am wanting to do. To make the image fall back into another plane behind the surface of the fabric and to make it’s superficiality more apparent. The life scale humans therefore being part of an irregular grid pattern.

Obviously the size of the dots matter and some obscure the image more than others.

img_2432For this exercise on our making day I chose to remove the dots. With this one it was easiest because the dots are large. I realised I could therefore do it much quicker. They also follow the rules of aerial perspective in that the blue people recede and the warm coloured dots float forwards.

This was also an old making day experiment so it was appropriate that it could be chopped up – it was the first time I stuck muslin to a wall – in my flat.

Left – Máire with the first dot I cut out. She was a bit concerned I was unmaking something as a reaction to her comment – I reassured her I really appreciated her comments.




Another image of Máire moving the dot I cut out – the wall I revealed is even more invasive of the ‘people’ image in a way – some of the paint came off the wall too so that revealed the original wall from decades ago within the image.


I wonder which gallery would let me do this?




fullsizerender-2                                                     fullsizerender-3

The final dot I left in – a reference to the old red dot when you sell something? Of course taking the dots off is nothing like not painting them in the first place and there are dots which obscure way more than others. By taking them off and working directly on the wall the work has sunk into the wall in a more complete way. The wall is very much a part of it. I will leave it to Máire to describe what she did with the dots. I am thinking of redrawing the irregular grid on top.

Pilgrimage to Barnsley


Since talking to another member of my cohort and saying jokingly that I would like to walk from Madrid to Barnsley I have been gripped by this totally unrealistic idea. I cannot take 2 months (or more) out of work in order to do this walk, even if I was totally up to date with all the other MA3 requirements, so it is clearly a fantasy. However I want to think about why it is such an exciting prospect and how it relates to my own existing ideas and other’s projects.

The line it makes through Spain, France and England on the map is quite lovely because it is relatively straight but not. It also symbolically links Barnsley a town that is happy to leave Europe back into its own European heritage. I would not be making a line in the way some artists (Francis Alys springs to mind) literally have so my drawing of the line would not be literal. I could however, consider adding pointers more like the ‘camino de santiago’ shells mark out the routes or traditional road / way side markers measure the distance between 2 points. These signs often become like codes and I like the idea of symbols. Apart from how straight the line is, the other curious and rather surprising thing about the Google route is that it doesnt go through places I know in any of the countries it is all untrod territory.

The Lure of the Lost was Anthony Schrag’s 2015 Venice bienalle project to walk from Scotland to Venice in a kind of challenge to the Biennale. This project which is called a pilgrimage and took it’s name from his saint Anthony – the patron of lost things. After looking at the website I was taken by the idea of how he planned the journey: I had initially thought of taking things and leaving things along the way – Anthony Scrag called for collaboration. I would also need to contact people for help, shelter and contributions. That would be one of the most frightening aspects of the project.

Of course I cannot take 2 months off work. So the pilgrimage idea will not work – 322 hours 2000 kms – it is not realistic. Also my initial idea seems to have been done to a large extent. The difference with my connection to Barnsley is about work – Barnsley is not Venice. I would find it interesting to connect both Barnsley and Madrid and all the places in between.

In my tutorial with Emily Speed she suggested I look at Hayley Newman as she fabricates documentary evidence and from there I wondered about pretending to make the pilgrimage. I also wonder how I can connect the pilgrimage to existing work about the nature of work. 

The Natural Flow of Things

Here is my exhibition review for Monday 12th December. I chose to look at an exhibition which is very much about processes and that chimes with our current focus on process in our ‘conversations’ for the online exhibition:

The Natural Flow of Things – Casa Encendida – 14th october 2016 to January to 8th January 2017

The idea of process and taking the necessary time for a task are embedded in this exhibition through its starting point: a quote taken from Joan Miró in 1958 when the artist was in his 65th year. Miro is quoted by Yvon Taillandier as saying ‘I work like a gardener’ during a long conversation he held with the artist about how he worked. The curator Tania Pardo has taken this quote as a starting point for an exhibition which is spread over 3 spaces in Madrid’s Casa Encendida. Each space interprets this theme differently which I believe leads to a rich experience and although the whole show is relatively small it leaves one much to ponder on.

img_3377Adolfo Schlosser, El Cielo sobre la Tierra (The Sky/Heaven above the Earth) 1994  

How then is an artist like a gardener? Let us start in Room A, although there is no prescribed order. In this space we find a wealth of materials that could be found in a garden and with which the agricultural labour might feel at home. They have been manipulated and displayed in a thought provoking way. The natural materials have been categorised, framed and stuck together at times to form figurative images, but were perhaps their most convincing when displayed in a way they themselves had so strongly suggested. In the ‘Heaven Above the Earth’ by Adolfo Schlosser we see cut and burnt pine branches placed on the floor of the gallery in concentric circles of ever smaller pieces. There is a sense of how we can use natural elements to reflect upon our lived experience through the considered repetition and use of simple humble materials.

In a small annex to Room A, a video of Francis Alys’s 2002 ‘When Faith Moves Mountains’ was playing. This work, for the 2002 Lima Biennale tells the story of a how a group of volunteers, mainly engineering students, use shovels move a dune on the outskirts of Lima by 10cm. The action took place at a time of great upheaval in Peru’s political life: during the final month of Fujimori’s rule and as a direct reaction to the dictatorship. This is an allegory which is an enormous effort physical effort to achieve something so imperceivable. In the video they form a quite beautiful line as they all dig together.


From ‘When Faith moves Mountains’ Francis Alys 2002

Here the work of the gardener is the most physically demanding but also is about working as a team in close harmony, not only with nature and the elements but also in time with a large group. At the end of the video the students joke about the next project which they say could be to ‘paint the sky’. There is a great sense of achievement in modifying the Peruvian landscape, which of course is unnoticeable and seemingly pointless.

The act of digging and planting like a gardener is most literally seen in Room B which includes actual soil and planting. Nicolás Paris for example uses elements of an allotment as part of his work ‘Garden needs Watering’ and adds the idea of an educational function to the piece which is displayed as a slightly raised wooden bed and invites one to get on a small ‘stage’. However we are not allowed to get up there. The staff do the watering and this stage will change with the time however this feels disappointing and in relation to education and possibly restricts our learning. We read about it and we look at from one point of view at the installation but is ultimately frustrating as we can not participate.

butter-cup-2000Polly Apfelbaum – Buttercup 2000

A more satisfying aspect of Room B which were the works which relate to gardening in a less direct way. Here the idea of stopping pausing and looking more closely was easier and one could see the smallest details. Polly Apfelbaum’s enigmatically lit ‘buttercup’ in particular made one stop and examine the marks and subtle colour changes whilst circling the floor and worked as a sensual experience as a symbol for a huge spiral flower and, on closer investigation, as hundreds of small velvet paintings each different and yet the same. The form echoing Schlosser’s pine installation in the previous room. This alongside the small delicate twigs on rotating mirrors of Daniel Steegman, in ‘Split Branches’, invited the viewer to look closer at familiar shapes and forms from new perspectives. These works drew one in.

Although the exhibition can be visited in any order, the final room (C), which is very much about colour does make a fitting finale to the exhibition. In this  space we see work from a range of artists who all work with organic forms using a wide variety of media. On entering the room there is a great burst of colour and also sense of play. Here the sense of flow feels like a celebration. The ceramic mural of Betty Woodman is made up of movement and flows across the far wall acting as a great backdrop to the smaller pieces.

room-cRoom C works by Melena Muzkiz, Betty Woodman (from left to right) and Matthew Ronay in the distance.

Plantlike ceramic pieces by Melena Muzkiz are like a small exotic and exuberant plot in the middle of the room and appear to be growing from an eclectic and non homogeneous combination of textures and materials. As with most of the pieces in this and the other spaces, there is a great sense of play in these organic forms which allow us to consider our relationships to nature, working and perhaps most importantly contemplation and time. The curator Tania Pardo sees the exhibition as a story, It felt rather more like a journey to me, a journey which we could take at our own pace and using our own compass. Although they might be very different what artists and gardeners share are worth considering and looking at.

We read our reviews at the hangout on 12/12/16. The idea being to reflect about this type of writing for our exhibition catalogue piece or other writing about our work. It was interesting to hear what other people had chosen to focus on in their reviews. We had only 1000 words to use for the piece so it was hard to choose. I felt at the end I could have described individual pieces in more detail and in the end I skated over some things and therefore did not get enough depth. I also felt that I do not have the review voice yet. Although I talk about artist’s work and exhibitions from a personal interest view point in my journal this more detached but not academic writing was a bit of a challenge. I don’t think I would have made a good journalist.

The exhibition webpage in English There is also a video on the page in Spanish with English subtitles.

Video of interview with Tania Pardo – Curator

Francis Alys video


Critiquing the critics 7th November 2016

slide show

This afternoon we had to present our research into the reviews of a show we had not seen. I looked at ‘Take Care of Yourself’ Sophie Calle’s project for the 2007 Venice Biennale. The project was a reaction to the artist being ‘dumped’ by her boyfriend in an email. She did not know how to react:

Slide 1

I received an email telling me it was over.

I didn’t know how to respond.

It was almost as if it hadn’t been meant for me.

It ended with the words, “Take care of yourself.”

And so I did

She sent the email to 107 women and asked them to respond to it as professionals. She then realised that much of the response was in the form of text in French and therefore not accessible to much of the public in Venice. She therefore documented the piece using photography and video. Due to the lack of reviews for the 2007 Bienale show I also used the reviews for later shows of this project and therefore the writing was responding to different installations of the show. I also used 2 interviews which is probably not ideal but in the lack of other depth at least they showed the artist’s voice.

Slide 2 – Jonathan Jones in the Guardian19/10/09

A very short article with very minimal details and compares the project to ‘ a brilliant contemporary novel..’ The review starts with an ’emotional roar’ and tails off. No details of what was exhibited or how. Nor depth of analysis.

Slide 3 –Up close and (too) personal: A Sophie Calle retrospective –Hannah Duguid in The Independent

This review did not take the work very seriously. It was in the form of an interview and did not explain or address the questioning title in any way. Duguid starts of by questioning whether Calle is mad and confirms that she is not using her physical appearance as evidence. Another annoyingly unquestioned comment is that Calle ‘does not make her own work as such’. I thought the Independent was better than this and was obviously mistaken.

Slide 4 –Conceptual artist dumped by email gets revenge on ex-lover -Henry Samuel in the Telegraph

Another very short piece with provocative title. Samuel does not mention the exhibition but does point out the vous – polite form in the title. He also uses emotive language but article too short to go into any depth.

Slide 5 – Jonathan Haber in Personal Blog – To the letter

I was not going to include this as it is a blog but after reading articles like the previous ones I was pleasantly surprised. Haber actually takes us around the 2009 New York show and asks some questions about the work.He not only takes it seriously but also seems less scared to give an opinion. ‘Sophie Calle is not giving anything away’. He points to the division between Calle as a private individual and her personal life, through her work and distances her from ‘confessional’ artists such as Emin. Haber is the first example which feels like a review and there is a personal voice who is not scared of speaking.

Slide 6 – Louise Neri ‘Interview’- Sophie Calle

I found this interview interesting and included it because the writer is, or was, an editor, curator and director of the Gasgogian Gallery in NYC. She therefore comes from a different part of the art world. Neri is gushing and the tone of the writing very different. However, in spite of returning several times to Louise Bourgeois in the interview, she does allow Calle her own voice to explain some significant ideas which give insight into the process of curating the show. Once again however there is no real review of the exhibition of ‘Take care of yourself’

Slide 7 – She’s lost control – Fisun Gűner in The New Statesman

This could also be a provocative title but is a more thoughtful article. Guner describes the images as sumptuous and takes on the nature of the text and imagery combined in the show. Describing Calle as a detective she declares the work as much more than confessional and in spite of the strength of the images it is.. ‘the text and the deconstruction of the text that draw in the viewer and sustain HIS attention… Apart from the gender address this is general but a helpful comment to the reader. The review stays very much with the general and does not go into great depth.

Slide 8 – Roberta Smith in the New York Times – 

A very confident voice speaking to the culturally educated describes the exhibition as an ‘Operatic monument to late capitalism’. The style is much more assured than any of the other reviewers it is educated but non academic. It’s weaknesses are the generalisations and lack of detail. While it does not shy away from depth it is a short piece there are no examples of curation or images of work. There are some insights which would make me curious to see the show. The last two sentences merit quotation as they are daring and unconventionally well written:

‘Underneath, it is larded with issues of lifestyle, class and privilege, not to mention stereotypes of age and beauty. And it is deeply, enthrallingly, and at times annoyingly French.’ This is the most critical sentence in the reviews. I wish this one had been longer.

Slide 9 – Cora Fisher for The Brooklyn Rail

What makes this my favourite review is the desire to question. Crucially this piece goes into more detail about the exhibition. It looks at how the work is presented. It not only goes into details of various of the 107 responses but also analyses some of them in this questioning way. Fisher does not have Smith’s confidence or authoritative voice but she does have many ways of engaging the reader. For example: describing the responses she talks about the ‘humour, expertise and empathy of the women uplift and entertain the viewer. I think Fisher would reach more people as she uses varied but open language. This does not mean she is afraid to give opinions and be critical or use theory. But she draws on theory in an accessible way. Quoting Wittgenstein whilst summing up by saying..’ the limits of my language are the limits of my world…..then Calle’s work translates the broader feminine experience into a formalized world of possibilities. The “answers” are less important than the forms of engagement and investigation, the invitation to construct meaning’. The writing is accessible but not dumbed down. Making the work more accessible to us.


  • Overall I had a great disappointment in the reviews I found. There was a lack of depth or even description of what was on show and how it was shown in most examples. Given the display of this work was crucial to the artist’s role this is odd. Most reviewers merely listed a few of the participating professionals and outlined the concept.
  • the use of images in the reviews was poor and there were 3 reviews which used images of Calle, quite why this was necessary or helpful I do not know. There were no images of the installed work.
  • There felt like a reluctance to criticise the work. There were sweeping statements but no rationed critical depth. The display was never evaluated.
  • in the worst cases it felt the reviewer had not really grasped what the show was about. this was combined with a fear of critique, it did not feel like I was reading criticism.

@laborolove in the Transition Gallery


The @laborolove postcards are in an exhibition called Europa which reflects on what it is to be European at the Transition Gallery in Hackney London. This is a subject close to my heart as I feel more of a european than any national identity. I have decided this blog is really useful and will carry it on through the summer – now that I caught up with the backlog of other ‘work’. If I don’t get through MA2 I suppose this will have to be elsewhere but I do find it useful and the Summer is when I have most time to work.

First summer task is to resubmit a proposal for 2017 for the ‘corrala’ a museum of ‘folk’ art (artes populares) in my street. There is a gallery downstairs and they accept proposals. They wrote to me this week asking questions about my work as I sent them a proposal last year for 2016 but was too late. Apart from this we are all waiting…waiting to find out if UK stays in Europe, waiting for the MA results and waiting to see if we get a good government in the Spanish general elections – all this next week.

Curating: The Hunterian Vs The Grant Museum of Zoology

Whilst in London at easter I finally visited these two museums which I have been aiming to see for a long time. I am slightly ashamed that I had never visited them when I lived within walking distance for so long and wonder why so few of us know about them.

The Grant Museum of Zoology is part of the UCL and is only open weekdays from 1-5pm it is very close to the Welcome Foundation. The Hunterian is the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in Lincoln Inns Fields (in Front of Sir John Soane’s Museum). Apart from excellent resources for drawing (and they encourage sketchers) they are both fascinating collections which relate to their respective disciplines and beyond.

As someone who loves drawing but didn’t study biology they were fascinating on all levels. I use animals in a rather anthropomorphic; way am fascinated by insects and humans are often my subjects. However one thing that struck me was the curating of the museums. My daughter, currently studying in London, had never been to the Grant museum before. We were both enthralled by the collection and shocked to learn about some animals skeletal properties. However, she immediately compared it to the Hunterian Museum which she felt was better curated which was too late because I was in love with the display in the Grant. We then visited the Hunterian the following day.

In fact they are both wonderful. Both allow you to sketch. The museums have large collections, are free to visit and have fascinating collections. The Hunterian museum is lighter, larger but not too big and, obviously, focuses on the human. These museums are crammed full but it is true that the Hunterian appears to be better organised. The Grant Museum’s vitrines are not so well labelled, there are categories but they are not necessarily legible. IMG_1956

Therefore it is more difficult to see some of the Grant museum’s collection and the presentation is more eclectic. If you want to draw something they will take it out for you to one of the tables however. They also allow photography so, as someone who does not like taking photographs, I had to use my phone a lot. This for me was so exciting. To find a place in the centre of London which most people ignore, which is hidden away in WC1 feels like a treasure. I also appreciate the size and the aesthetics, dark and cluttered is not a problem for me. One of the most fascinating displays was a ceiling high lightbox installation no larger than 1m x 1m which included old negatives, drawings etc all as trasparencies litterally from floor to ceiling. IMG_1960

The display included sketches of large animals and microscopic cells: all types of biological data in a tiny cubby hole. This made me reflect further on my ideas about drawing as a way of knowing in science. I feel I should be teaching science students to draw rather than in art at times.

Finally the Hunterian museum was also excellent and, although I could not photograph I did find this image of one of the most fascinating exhibits. john-evelyn-dissecting-table-c-the-hunterian-museum-at-the-royal-college-of-surgeons

As one enters on the left there are a series of surgeons tables collected by John Evelyn in the 1600s in which you can see the study of nerves, veins arteries etc. They are stunningly beautiful.




Mind maps

These maps I made in response to an exercise set by Les Bicknell when we needed to consider how our work relates to audience. The first was made quickly and scanned within the hangout so we could look at each others’ in the cohort. Les then suggested we try and draw our ‘ideal’ model map and I finally realised I had not done this in April, after the Testing Your Boundaries project. In fact that was quite useful as I hadn’t predicted the importance of social media in the process.