Make, Do & Moan

•January 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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Right, enough procrastinating. I’ve put off this new post for months. I often forget how much blogging helps my creative process – or helps me process my creativity! Writing, even if it is mainly to myself, makes things clearer, weeds out promising ideas from  corny ones and generally eases the frustrations of making work. 

It wasn’t until a friend recently recommended a book called Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland that I began to look at how I work most efficiently. I haven’t been able to create anything substantial for months, and kept sublimating my ideas into procrastination tactics like hoovering, tidying files, baking or doing another batch of laundry. Admittedly, I’ve also spent a lot of time surfing the web thinking of it as “online research” but truthfully just getting mired in the bogs of relentless social media posts.

The Art & Fear book led me on to other books about how to overcome creative blocks, and while many of them tend to lean towards a jaded self-help genre, some of them have great advice to offer the struggling artist. The latest golden nugget came from a sample of the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. That really got me going. In the first part of the book, Pressfield talks about the artist’s number one enemy Resistance. How it makes you put off everything till tomorrow and fills you with doubt. The fact is that there is never a good time to sit down and do work. There’s always something else to attend to, but you just need to sit down and do it. Hence this blog post!

In Art & Fear, the authors touch upon another idea that made me sit up straight and read the chapter a second time. They hypothesise that if you suddenly feel “blocked” and unable to make work, the reason may be that you changed something fundamental about your routine. For example, if you used to draw during the day and write at night, but for some reason flipped your schedule around, this may not be conducive to your work. I heard alarm bells going off all over my head when I read that one. After leaving art school two years ago, I was good at maintaining the same working rhythm. I continued to blog, make sketch books, carry out tons of ideas, even though they didn’t all work out, and set myself deadlines by signing up for exhibitions. After the last organised exhibition, however, which coincided with some tumultuous changes in my personal life, things went awry. Moving from place to place for a few months and needing to sort out practical life obligations was the kiss of death for my artmaking routine. I stopped doing the things I used to do to keep up the momentum, and before I knew it, the inevitable happened: I stopped making work. 

My many attempts to come up with ideas for new bodies of work were like trawling through the swamps of sadness in the Neverending Story. The going was thick and heavy, and I seemed to be sinking a little more with every step. I was so confused, because ideas (however unlikely and corny) used to flow from me in a steady stream; at times so prolifically I couldn’t keep up! But suddenly it was like squeezing blood from the proverbial stone. Squeeze…. nothing. I spent huge amounts of energy writing bursary, grant and residency proposals, trying to come up with ideas for work. In the end not anything I wasn’t content with per se, but I made the mistake of depending on the results to fuel my further efforts. When the applications were rejected, I felt even more hopeless. Not only could I not make work, I was struggling to come up with ideas and apparently writing bad (or at least  unsuccessful) applications to boot! What was I doing wrong?

I think I’ve finally figured out part of the answer. I won’t necessarily go so far as to say that we create our own circumstances, because I don’t know if I fully believe that. Nevertheless, to me it was a sign of some sort. I was pushing in the wrong direction. My English professor once told me to never give up my day job. I wrote a lot of poetry at the time and dreamed of a life of unadulterated freedom with no obligations, in which someone would pay me to do what I loved. He adamantly disagreed. “You need to be part of the world to write good poetry”, he said. “If William Faulkner hadn’t been forced to shovel coal for a living, he would never have written As I Lay Dying. That novel was written in a completely innovative way, because he kept having to stop writing in order to stoke the boiler. Every time his writing was interrupted, he started with a new perspective. If he’d had all the time in the world, he’d have written the same old kind of novel, no matter how talented he was”. That piece of advice stuck with me (although somewhat begrudgingly) – and I do think there’s a significant element of truth to it. 

I remembered my professor’s words and began to think about my artist statement and the kind of work I do. I apply “a make-do and mend approach to my work”. That’s the core of my practice. Finding things, transforming one thing into something else with the means I already have or can source cheaply. It’s sometimes an obstruction, but it is an essential one which helps the work. Whether I’m capturing something unusual with my camera phone, picking up discarded things on the street or working with material found in my own archives, it’s all about sourcing things from the everyday to look at them in a different light. 

I also remember reading somewhere about how David Shrigley started out with his characteristic black-and-white drawings after graduating from art school. It may be a case of Chinese Whispers since I can’t remember the original source, but the gist of it is that he was too poor to make anything else! Black felt tip pen on white copy paper was a cheap and accessible resource that allowed itself to be reproduced via black & white photocopies just as easily and cheaply. In other words, financial restrictions necessitated creative thinking. 

You need look no further than to the beautiful boro fabrics of Japan that are stitched together from bits and pieces of torn clothing both to mend tears and create layering for warmth. These exquisite composites are like patchwork quilts, each one unique. 

So it’s time to get back in gear. Grants notwithstanding. Making work by thinking about work and experimenting despite obstacles and financial restrictions. Do what you can, this second, not tomorrow, not when you get unexpected money, not when a “good” idea hits you. Make, do and stop moaning.

Doll Face

•October 22, 2013 • Leave a Comment

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I came across these haunting photographs this morning. The Finnish photographer Pertu Saska has made a series of portraits of street monkeys in Jakarta. The sad fate of these monkeys is to be dressed up in doll’s clothes to attract money and attention from tourists. Held in chains and trained to put on old doll’s heads as masks, these monkeys beg for money on the streets of Jakarta. It’s hard not to find them fascinating, but these photographs make you question your immediate reaction and understand that this is a sad and deeply disturbing phenomenon takes place for the sake of entertainment.

I’m so moved by these photographs and the uncannily human poses of the monkeys. They are like the living dead, tiny automatons that are actually live animals in chains. Thought-provoking…

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Film You Can Feel

•October 21, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I have recently discovered the wonderful work of Margaret Tait, the Scottish experimental filmmaker and poet. I had heard of the Margaret Tait Award but never given it much thought until a friend of mine mentioned her work and that I might enjoy it. Soon after, I looked her up and was amazed at what she made in her lifetime. Such poetic, moving films that play with collages of moving image and sound. I completely understand her way of approaching the world, in fragments and through memory.

One of my favourite films is “A Portrait of Ga”, a film about Tait’s mother. It doesn’t tell the viewer much about Ga, and yet it manages to say everything. The way the footage is shot and edited together, combined with the voiceover and the sensibility of movements where you can almost taste, touch or smell what’s on the screen. You can feel the wind blowing, the smell of the land between rain and sunshine underneath a rainbow, the delicious stickiness of a sweetie kept too long in a warm pocket. Truly inspiring.

Letter to the Sea

•October 16, 2013 • 2 Comments

This is my most recent film poem. I edited together a video I made while scattering my uncle’s ashes with a poem I wrote a few months ago about the sea. It sometimes amazes me how two mediums can come together and turn into something bigger than as separate entities. This was one of those times for me. And I want to make more…

“Letter to the Sea”

There is a sea for every stage of grief:
All are full of salt.
It is said that signs of drowning look like waving;
no way to tell dead calm from done for.

At night no one can find you;
black water reflects back rock.

The moon is a lighthouse,
darkened and mostly invisible.
Only the shipping forecasts make waves
to predict the speed at which you fall:

Quickly. Slowly. Not at all.

Alan Berliner’s Family Album

•October 16, 2013 • Leave a Comment

The disappointment of having to work at my day job at the exact same time artist and filmmaker Alan Berliner comes to Glasgow to deliver a master class free of charge! I, embarrassingly, knew nothing about this wonderfully interesting man until I was introduced to his work by a close friend. No one could take my shift, so I suffered with a visible pout until I could escape my shackles and head off to watch his latest film “First Cousin, Once Removed” with a Q&A session immediately after. I think it’s fair to say I’m enraptured by Berliner’s work.

I have seldom felt so inspired by an artist and understood so much of his process. To think that I wrote a dissertation on the subject of domestic photography, the archive and memory without including Berliner’s work. I don’t understand how I could have missed it. Even our aesthetics are almost identical. He also uses a typewriter font and old family photographs as well as archival material in his work. I have indeed discovered my master.

I could go on raving about Alan Berliner, but I won’t. Suffice to say, I’m currently trying to see everything he has made and allowing myself to be immersed and inspired. Missing the master class was dreadful, but I got a great compensation in the end. After the film, I was privileged enough to meet him, and we had a discussion about the unreliability of memory, the family album and collecting. As a thank you, I gave him my dissertation and apologised for not including him in it. He’ll definitely be featured in my next one.

 

Agnes Varda on Poetry and Cinema

•October 16, 2013 • Leave a Comment

It’s been far too long since I’ve been active on the blog. So many things have happened that there is too much to tell in one post. So I will get myself going with a barrage of visual inspiration that I’ve been gathering in the past few months. My work has been transitioning from the sculpture and installation back to photography and video lately. I find it easier to think in images, sound and text than objects or spaces at the moment. So instead of trying force work that is material-based, I’m going to go with the flow and release the image-based side of my practice again.

I’ve been researching film poems and cinematic non-fiction, the essay film and the personal camera. In my readings, I came across Agnes Varda. I remember that a film of hers was playing at the Glasgow Film Theatre when I was in second year at art school, but I never got around to seeing it. Now I wish I had! Varda is a fascinating woman with such an innovative approach to cinema. Can’t wait to see more of her work.

Let Me In

•June 29, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Let Me In

As I was photographing an odd object in the stairwell of my tenement building tonight, I suddenly realised I was being watched. A cat was lying on the upstairs neighbour’s door mat. I have a thing for flash photos of cats so I decided to indulge. Didn’t get a great shot but the attention coaxed it down one flight of stairs and gave me a few more shots. None of them good. When I tried to get back into my flat so did the cat. I was determined not to let it so I put the door ajar and attempted a few more shots for the hell of it. This was one of them and it really excites me! The colours are great and it’s so unlike anything I’ve taken before. Think I’ll need to try and print this as big as it will go! Below, the photograph I initially set out to take.

 

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