At the start of this year I set myself the project to ‘make new works on somewhere you are not.’ I brainstormed ideas and decided to think of this as what is it like to not be in a fit mental state. This led to me immediately seeing an opportunity to continue my personal work that explores the theme of dementia and memory loss. This subject was also the theme of my final major project in Foundation and I saw it was a good way to explore and develop my ideas further.
I started to look at how memory is dependent on facial recognition. Through this dependency of facial recognition and what happens when there is a lack of it, I wanted to explore decay and destruction of memories. I started looking at photography and how standard 4’ x 6’ photographs as objects are key to helping us remember the past. I took a random selection of disposable photos I took in the summer that had the human figure or face as their subject matter. I then used bleach and experimented how the bleach ate away at the ink and created new surreal images.
I need to put more emphasis on controlling the ink as it runs off the photo so I will be able to control the outcomes to my desired effects. I researched the likes of Jake Peirson, Carlos Cisneros and George Condo to explore the use of repetition and colour to further this surreal and uneasy feeling I wanted to create with such familiar objects.
We were then asked to put on an exhibition to show what work we had produced so far, it was a good way to not be too precious of your work and not worry about having a final piece. For the exhibition I decided to show five photos. I choose these because I believed they were my strongest pieces and that they reflected the relationship between memory and identity. The first three images link together with the same dull green-grey colour scheme and subject matter. I decided to display these three vertically as the dried ink seems to be running off the photos.I decided to leave a considerable gap between these three photos and the other two to fill the wall space and emphasise how dementia creates divisions and distance between people.The two horizontally placed photos further down the wall are clearer than the others. This showed the difference in remembering memories and people but I was unsure of using these and if they worked with the others. However I think these are the strongest images as the white/neutral space where the ink has dissolved creating creature-like shapes eating away at the faces in the photos.
I then started looking into simplifying the shapes from the distorted disposable photos. Focusing on using continuous line drawing to create the defined lines of the eyes, cheekbones, nose and lips. Using cutouts from magazines I also drew on top of the images to use as inspiration for taking these drawing ideas forward and to use in Photoshop. While doing this I also produced a sketchbook where I wanted to develop these ideas of line and shape.
I wanted to look more into how three-dimensional objects help people deal with death and are used to remember. I researched shrines that are used in different cultures and particularly their use of candles. The idea of an abandoned shrine interested me as I believed this is a sign of a loss of hope, faith and abandonment. I explored the possibility of creating a installation with the theme of a shrine. I wish I had tried this idea out and not just wrote about it, I think this is something I can improve on next year.
Urs Fischer’s installation at the 54th Venice Biennale (2012) was my next source of inspiration. I researched his use of mediums and proportions he uses in these types of installations. Going to this Biennale myself really helped as you get the full effect of his use of space. I liked Fischer’s use of wax and decided I wanted to try this in my own work. Unlike Fischer I wanted to use wax to create forms that take on the role of an organic form like a parasite. I wanted this to be a metaphor for disease that created memory loss growing on the mind. I hoped that is would then show how memories could be distorted and changed by a power we cannot control; the wax that falls as a candle melts. Using drip candles, linking back to my interest in their use in shrines, I created small three-dimensional forms that look very organic and grew on the object the candle was placed on. I think this idea could have been developed further if I had tried melting the candles on different or more unusual objects.
I had now looked at the face, growth and three-dimensional objects and wanted a way to combine these ideas. I think life drawing and research of artists such a Khail Chrishtee and Kris Martin were essential in the development of my own ideas. I researched Philip Tracey’s hat and mask designs that use organic shapes as the main feature of their design. I used clay to explore different organic shapes which allowed me to have physical objects to experiment with. I decided to look at using a fabric or material that would allow me to build a three-dimensional mask-like structure that I could film growing across a human face. This started my development into stop motion film.
Film is a medium I had never worked with before. My early projects involved me painting patterns and forms on to my subjects face and taking individual photos before putting them into iMovie and creating a stop motion film. The main problems with these films were that they were too literal.
I decided that my work and research was now exploring not just memory loss but the growth of disease and the trapped place between life and death that this can leave a person. The Shroud of Turin was important in my research as I linked the idea that it can be seen as a way of holding on to memories in the form of a three-dimensional object and as an image. The next problem I faced was how to recreate this idea in relation to my own project.
Peter Movrin is a fashion designer who created a line called Franz Madonna. I researched his ideas behind this line, which was people’s relationships with religion, and curiosity that covered faces cause. To publicise his line Movrin has a video. I used this as inspiration to continue my work in film, I liked how the director had used black and white and had sexualised these almost religious characters making the idea of hope in religion become uncomfortable.
Next I looked at creating double exposure photographs using Photoshop. Through these photos I wanted to show how memories overlap and merge together becoming unclear especially through diseases like dementia. I think some of these photos were successful but many of them were not. I only experimented with photos I already had but through my mistake of using photos that had a dark colour scheme I have learnt to make these types of photographs successful.
‘…and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labour has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only Earth we’ll ever have…’
One of my earliest inspirations that continued throughout this year was the book ‘The Fault in our Stars,’ by John Green. The book deals with people’s relationship with death and disease and how this changes for individuals. The book mainly explores teenager’s thoughts about death and how these differ from adult’s opinions, these naïve but enlightened views make you question your own relationship with death. Throughout I have used quotes and themes that have helped me develop my own ideas.
With the influence of The Shroud of Turin I wanted to explore photography again. I decided to look at facial features again and how they change by being covered in muslin, a fabric linked to the wrapping of dead bodies in funerals. I experimented with light and changing how it shined on different parts of the face to highlight different features. I am pleased with my photos especially the close up photos of features on the face. I decided the next step would be to develop these images further in Photoshop. I edited all the photos so they were black and white and tried different techniques to emphasis the detail of the muslin in relationship to the facial features. I did this through adding layers, changing the opacity of different layers and adjusting the threshold. I believe Photoshop and digital work is one of my strengths and I am very happy with the outcomes.
I was still continuing my work in film and trying out new techniques to try and convey my ideas better. I used the muslin again in these short films but unlike the photographs I supported the muslin about 5 – 10cm in front of the camera lens and then shot my film. The films now focused on the movement of the eyes or mouth, by changing the focus of the camera I think I successfully portray the intangible relationship with death. I also started to look at adding audio to my films but I don’t think these were as effective because they didn’t allow the viewer to come to their own ideas about the piece. I researched artists who deal with memory and use audio in their films. Pat Clark does this very effectively in his work ‘Decay Theory.’ I think I should have explored audio more and tried different techniques. I would like to continue this in my work next year as I believe it works well with my ideas.
I did more research into objects and their relationship with memory focusing on the work of Sara Cwynar. Cwynar looks at nostalgia how objects can create and hold memories. From looking at her work I decided I needed to make sure my work was theme sensitive, especially as I was now starting to think about what I would like to present in the end of year exhibition. I believed my original bleached photographs at the beginning of the year were a good material choice because they standard photo size and an object that people of my generation and older link to the idea of remembering. I started thinking about how I could create this sensitivity with my ‘Shroud’ photographs. I tried getting them printed in the memorable 4’ x 6’ size and I also tried printing the images onto muslin. I think the images printed on muslin are very effective at giving a sense of loss and are the most relatable to the original Shroud of Turin. The 4’ x 6’ prints are interesting as they are recognisable objects but the image is shocking and unexpected.
I started looking at photo slides and a carousel slide projector that had belonged to my Nan and how I could use these to create an image. I decided to reuse the muslin and use it as a screen to display the images from the slides on. However I draped the muslin over metal poles so the screen would not be flat. I then photographed the projected image, focusing on details of face, colour and the muslin’s relationship with this. I think the photographs are very successful as the uneven fabric creates shadowing that wouldn’t usually be in the photo allowing pieces of the image to disappear.
For the end of year exhibition I decided to show these projected images. I decided to print my chosen photos in a standard 4’ x 6’ format to relate to my continuous idea of these types of photos become objects that allow us to relate to memories. I wanted the photos to be displayed in frames that you would associate with home decoration to continue these ideas. I chose frames that you would expect to see in an older person’s home (taking inspiration from my Nan’s house where photos are the main objects in her living room.) I decided I wanted all the frames to be white so they merge into the white exhibition wall so the attention is on the photo, making the photo the more important object. My work is now starting to look at objects and our relationship with this, over the summer and next year I want to explore this concept. I am happy with my final outcomes for the exhibition, however in my second year I am going to be more experimental and try out all my ideas.