Circular Ruins: A Heuristic Approach to Material Inquiry

A Contemplation of Khora by artist Sharon Read

There are many words associated with the work of Sharon Read, entropy, decay, erosion, death, the body, self. However, there is one word that resonates above all others, heartbeat. Knowing the artist’s history as well as I do, it is hard for me look at her work without hearing her heart beat. It is its own being that becomes one with the work whether it be sculptural, photographic or print-based. The heartbeat permeates through the work, reaching out to my own heart and sense of being. It is that quality that makes her work so beautiful.

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Figure 1. Circular Drawing by S. Read 2017

 

The circle is symbolic to Sharon, physically and emotionally, it is a natural phenomenon. When we think of circular ruins, we think of historical settlements from centuries past, those ancient civilisations once called home. For Sharon, the circle represents her body, a home that is challenged by invisible illness, entropy and time. The hand built structures are the embodiment of physical tensions experienced by her body using conflicting materials to create installations allowing the viewer to become immersed.

Whether you spend time walking around them, or like me, step into the ruins themselves to be immersed by them, they are built in such a way that allow for an interactive, heuristic approach to material; enabling the viewer to have their own intimate experience with the material, and in turn consider their own sense of being.

Sharon’s work is holistic; all aspects of the making, the testing, the installing, the clean-up and recycling of material, along with her day-to-day experiences of fluctuating health, strength and ability, all encompasses the work. In doing so Sharon creates a holistic, contemplative and nurturing testament to her sense of self through material and sculptural inquiry. Furthermore, Sharon’s inquiry is documented in an ongoing series of photographs that hone in on one key aspect of the work that reflects her thinking. These moments of visual, phenomenological inquiry include studio shots and installation views, however the most poignant of these moments are the close-up images of concrete, ash, iron fillings and paper. These images transcend the work into a new realm of thinking, of material vibrancy; these photographs are indicative of Sharon’s autobiographical connection to her choice of materials and their significance.

“Quietly being in whatever form they have reached. Broken, used, or disregarded they exist in full vibrancy.” S. Read 2017

Her work all encompasses material, emotion and physical turmoil, existence and time. I have seen these bricks built by hand, with an intimate blend of ash, concrete, iron and memories; fragments of paper, rubble from old works and dust from her surroundings. I have watched as she chooses her materials; I have seen the vibrancy that she speaks of, both in the work itself, and in her, for one cannot exist without the other. I think about the significance of water, the element that binds, or attempts to bind these materials together. The water is challenged by these contrasting elements of concrete, iron and ash which echoes the everyday feat upon her blood by an invisible illness.

I have seen how pain takes hold of her hands under the weight of materials, of what binds them and the uncertainty that flows through her veins. I have seen how her hands shake under the residual weight of the unknown; pain like heat clamps her wrists like a vice on the studio table, challenging her ability to see the creation of the work to the end, to the moment of a new discovery. While pain often hinders creation, in Sharon’s case it aid her in her heuristic approach to material inquiry as with pain comes discovery of something other than herself, something beyond the known in the work, and furthermore, her body.

These bricks are not strong nor fragile, they are somewhere between. I have seen what happens when light touches these objects and how they transform from tactile objects to something much more ethereal; their affect is almost indescribable, they allude to a fragility beyond the physical, beyond the seen, beyond the knowable. They become another object entirely as from the creation of each brick, something else is discovered.

 

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Khora
By Bethany Murray

There is beauty in her hands poised
Over these fragments around her.
As she hovers over old prints,
Fingerprint graces fingerprint
Retrieved from the flames

To be encased with other
Moments of history.
Her history, brick by fragile brick
Ash falls from between the cracks,
Fragments of a life now past.

Like a phoenix, they go to the flames
And emerge in a new state of being.
They are given new meaning.
Placed in ruinous monument to
A heartbeat.

 


 

Author: Bethany Murray

Content & Poem © 2017 Bethany Murray

www.bethanyrm.com

Images © 2017 Sharon Read

An undesired layer of aestheticism or a process of image making?

Circular Ruin. Accrochage exhibition at Albus 3 Arts, 2016.
Figure 1. Circular Ruin. Accrochage exhibition at Albus 3 Arts, 2016.

It has become especially noted and critiqued at some length that I deliver a certain questionable layer of aesthetic to presented artworks and the documentation; of which takes place through photography.

It is true, when I look through the lens I do tend to look for an image, its composition, the light, and in many cases details of components withstanding the overall recording of the piece or event. At what point is the documenting of a work crossing a threshold and entering the realms of ‘image making’? Thus possibly becoming unfathomable and set aside from the original work in question. Is it possible for these, debatably over aestheticise images to bring forth nuances otherwise easily overlooked? How important is this form of aesthetic practice and does it provide a nexus to a greater knowledge; an understanding or acknowledgement of the totality.

Whether this is an acceptable part of a contemporary fine art practice or not is it over aestheticising, adding a potential layer of theatrical play? Fig.6 . By this I refer to dramatisation during image production processes.

It could be argued that scrutinising works in a two dimensional way is methodology for discovery; a finer observation of materials along with relationships that one hand may seem opaque and without an instant delivery of a narrative. It highlights happenstance alongside elemental situations Fig.2. It might bring about an individual aesthetical pervasiveness together with further responses; further questioning might arise within the analysis and reading of the work.  This, I feel at the moment is satisfactory to practice in so far that I see the documentation or image making as a way of seeing, another way into the work and its aesthetic dialogue not compromising the intended meaning or reading of the art work at large.  John Berger speaks of the importance of the image and how significant it is to show what we want people to see quite eloquently put, ‘we only see what we look at’ (Berger, 2008, p.8).  I am, therefore providing relevant and important information within the images that can inform and engage a reader or viewer of the entirety of the work.  I might suggest that this is indeed an activity to direct a viewer to not rely totally on a gestalt viewing; seeing the whole as more than the sum total of its parts, although this is of course equally as essential.  The documentary images are to really ‘see’ what it is the viewer is indeed looking at.  This statement does however suggest that the images are part of the work installed at any one given time, an arising critical point to digest for both past and for future instalments of all work as this point alone bring questions to be considered.

The image making process within practice strikes a chord with my aesthetical direction and further still, resonates with something private, moreover, instinctive and intuitive; a yearning towards a type of esoteric image making perhaps, nonetheless consequentially seeing aspects of the work in isolation.  What can this offer in terms of an aesthetical meaning?  Does it change the response to the images documenting or otherwise?  Furthermore do they make any sense?  These nuances in isolation; do they matter?  Are they then at this point redundant and without purpose?  An objective response might not be so objective in that there is a vested interest, but at this point I will add that a certain depth of awareness is to be established therefore examining the work as a whole, equipped and inquisitive.

There are certain aspects of image making for this particular purpose that is sought out, for instance;

Content.  What am I seeing through the lens that I can’t see as I view the work as a whole?

Context.  Am I showing a key aspect of display that is integral to the work or the importance of place?

There are times when out of content and context the image appears from the materials creating its own aesthetic dialogue.  This can manifest into metaphoric relationships between the work and self as the author of the image, with a greater understanding of an observation triggering implicit knowledge and an intuitive dialogue.

The documentative images on view in this report were taken in 2016 whilst making works entitled Circular Ruin.  Two of the images were taken when the work was in situ at Albus 3 Arts in Northampton 2016, Fig. 5 & 6.  These two images were made in order to exemplify not just the work itself but how the work was placed deliberately in order to interact with the light pouring in from a low level window.  A strategic placement making the most of the immediate surroundings and the inherent character of the building; an old town brewery since 1919 with the upper storey converted into an art space.  I subsequently borrowed some of the buildings atmospherics and this particular spot was going to lend me some strong good quality natural lighting in order for me to make some low key digital images that might add some of that ambient characteristic of the space which I felt suited the essence of the work.

Figure 2.
Figure 2.

Material enquiry is a key part of practice.  Times when the materials themselves require thought the nature of the matter, its uses, and its origins and make up, all become part of and parcel of the work.  Its beauty in strength or furthermore, fragility becomes addictive and conative with our own human strength. Author of Vibrant Matter, Jane Bennett identifies with a theory concerning the human to that that of the non-human bodies/matter and the active striving for a shared continuity and existence appropriate to materiality configuration.  (Bennett, 2010, p.2). Matter is vibrant with inclusions often taken out of quotidian existences and used as a conduit into the work.  Hinting towards a life before.

Figure 3.
Figure 3.

Images often express the contrast of materials in various states; burnt, broken familiar and unfamiliar without name and title. The neutrality tone of cement is surrounding the intentionally charred wood therefore, giving way to the nature of construction, speaking of their creation. Questions may arise from identifying states of matter, once more looking inwards and squaring with our own material state.

Figure 4.
Figure 4.

On the other hand the image can translate into alterity; a sense of something ‘other’ possibly situated in the realm of liminality between the image and the subconscious.  The viewer may experience an unfathomable and unknowable ‘thingness’.

Figure 5.
Figure 5.

The uninterrupted light fell in the interior framed by a suitably located window bearing a low sill.  This informed the space allowing me to plan where the sculpture was to be positioned in order to take full advantage of the changing atmosphere and visual appearance.  Throughout daylight hours the contrast and saturation of the light altered mood while highlighting the symmetry and careful placement of the two concentric circles.

Figure 6.
Figure 6.

As the stones lay static, motionless, and silent, the light brought time and vibrancy. Dust particles or motes pirouetted in the shaft of light above the stones giving a strange air of absence. An otherness was brought into the space; a super trooper examining slowly, intensely stones laying in formation with no beginning and no end whilst their matter gently fell away from their bodies no too unlike a personal and private morphing entropy.

It is evident to me as artist and author of works that this is absolutely necessary and quite a natural process to document in such a way bringing the media of photography into the process;  intermediality. What seems like an over aesthetical discourse is in fact a vital part of practice.

A side effect from a process has gained meaning having a role to fulfil within a body of work. Furthermore, a way of seeing the work, how I wish to see it and understand it is captured in this form of documentation. As for consideration for a viewer it is not for me to second guess any individuals response nor shall I take it for granted that any other viewer seeks the same narrative as the makers.  I have presented a door in which one decides on the level of engagement. What can be found is as personal to the audience as it is to the maker.


Bibliography:
Beardsley, J.  [1998]. Earthworks and Beyond.  3rd Ed Cross River Press, Ltd. USA.
Bennett, J.  [2010] Vibrant Matter, a political ecology of things.  Duke University Press UK
Berger, J. [1984] And our faces, my heart, brief as photos.  Pantheon Books USA
Berger, J. [2008] Ways of Seeing.  Penguin Publishers UK
Cage, J.  [1987] Silence.  Lectures and Writings.  Marion Boyars publishers’ ltd London Uk
Cage, J.  [1992] The Roaring Silence:  A Life.  Bloomsbury publishers London UK
Dean, RT. Smith, H. [2012].  Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts.
Dillon, B. [2014].  Ruin Lust. Harry N. Abrams,
Dillon, B. [2011].  Ruins (Documents of Contemporary Art).  Whitechapel Art Gallery, London.  Edinburgh University Press UK.
Kaye, N. [2000].  Site Specific Art.  Performance, Place, and Documentation.  Routledge Oxen UK.
Long, R. [ND]. Walking the Line, Paul Moorhouse and Denise Hooker.  Thames and Hudson London UK.
Long, R.  [2009].  Selected Statements and Interviews.  Haunch of Venison UK.

Author: Sharon Read

Images & Content © 2015 Sharon Read

www.sharonread.com


 

Considering Aural Inertia

A visual discourse exploring inertia and transformation within the temporal experience of sound.

The following images propose an interplay between two mediums of the senses, sound and sight, in a synaesthetic interpretation of our own immediate experience of the aural world we encounter. Consider the potential visual representation of sound, its constancy in our environment and its natural affinity towards transformation. In these visualisations one can imagine changes in pitch or volume from the direction and velocity of shapes and learn to recognise the morphology inherently contained with the materiality of sound as a temporal time-based medium.

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Author: Warren Shaw

All images and content © 2016 Warren Shaw

www.warrenshaw.net


 

A brief contemplation on the notion of “counterparts”.

P1100993Figure 1: Counterpart, 2015. 

In previous writings, there has been a preoccupation with trying to define absence, to define something that is in constant flux and contextually dependant. In some ways, absence has been connected to notions of transience and impermanence, while thought has then been placed on its shamanic value. So when such notions of absence, its shamanic value and/or its relation to the spiritual experience are ascribed to a piece of Contemporary Art, it becomes a discussion of aesthetics, of the materiality of the artwork and how that then is indicative of the spiritual experience.

More recently I have been interested in objects and their counterparts with relation to an exploration of the ‘sacred’ by taking seemingly empty space, juxtaposed with physical matter, in an attempt to make the intangible tangible. Through the use of cast space, poetry and found objects I attempt to describe a sense of ‘otherness’, and explore the distinction between the known and unknown that is directly linked to my research of the ‘sacred’. These mere encounters with material and language sit in the hinterland between that which is considered earthly and the ethereal.

There are various words within my current research and practice that are of on-going interest:

List for blog

I have recently taken part in a residency in which some of these words took precedent in order for the residential space to be read as sacred, words such as vault, room, light, and altar. The simple, meditative process of placing objects or materials could also be described as a counterpart to the creation of an object or art work or as a counterpart to the space itself. The pebbles, for example, varied in their composition. On the first instance, they were placed around the perimeter of the compartment to form a threshold, on the fourth day of the residency they took a meditative walk to form a spiral. Also the placement of salt in one of the compartments of the residential space, transformed an empty space into something contemplative and alluding to an ‘otherness’ on par with notions of the sacred.

Referring to materials, objects and space as a counterpart for something ‘other’ can be seen in other works of art. In the work of Ana Mendieta, for example, the use of earth, water and other natural materials as a counterpart for her body in her Silueta series to evoke ideas of ritual, life and death, and absence.349.1997.7##S.jpg.397x605_q85Figure 2: Ana Mendieta. Colour photograph documenting earth / body work with sand, pigment, Old Man’s Creek, Iowa City, from the series Silueta works in Iowa and Oaxaca Mexico, 1976-1978.* 

Previously, I have used the word ‘shamanic’ to describe her work, not to describe the shamanic person or being, but rather in the sense that the work is communicative and evocative of that liminal space between two states of being, between presence and absence. Its relation to ritual and ritualistic tendencies within the human psyche heightens the contemplative, spiritual nature of the work. It is Mendieta’s earth-body works that, in particular, draw upon folklore, ritual, embodiment and death.

Such ideas described in this brief discussion of materials and counterparts, with reference to research and practice concerned with the sacred, are open to further exploration. It is the idea that some of the most everyday materials and objects can be communicative of something more ethereal and contemplative that I find to be most prominent in my thoughts on aesthetics.

 

* Image sourced from:
Colour photograph documenting earth / body work with sand, pigment, Old Man’s Creek, Iowa City, from the series Silueta works in Iowa and Oaxaca Mexico, 1976-1978. Sourced from http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/349.1997.7/. Last accessed, 05.01.2016.

 

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Author: Bethany Murray

Images & Content © 2016 Bethany Murray

www.bethanymurray-artist.blogspot.co.uk

 

It’s just a piece of wood

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Figure 1. Practice based research, Knuckle.

 

The ‘knuckle’ is the name I have bestowed upon a part of the universal structure, the wooden pallet. The assemblage of wooden blocks and slats are secured hard-and-fast with certain wire thread bound nails in order for a solid and reliable construction. Over and above although not withstanding the history of the pallet, more is to be said of its function at this point. The continuous weight baring object is created to bear up to the industrial weight limits whilst transported on a global scale with its cargo in situ. Forklifts easily and efficiently manoeuvre pallets into the exact places they need to be as they carry out their function of transportation locally, nationwide and worldwide, forever in motion, circulating the planet by the billions, 2 billion in the USA alone. Totemic like stacks of these objects are found in the hinterlands of cities, borderlands, disintegrating into urban background like some kind of gargantuan bacteria, their invisibility everywhere. Noted as the red blood cells of consumer capitalism (Farley, P Roberts, MS (2011) EDGELANDS Journeys into Englands true wilderness, LONDON: Johnathon Cape p196.) they act as a type of barometer indicating slow down or inertia as they sit idle in the pallet hire yards. Companies such as Ikea have redesigned products such as the ‘Bang’ mug in order for ‘pallet cube optimisation’[1] ( Vanderbilt, T. August 2013 The Single Most Important Object in the Global Economy [online] Available from http://www.slate.com/articles/business/transport/2012/08/pallets_the_single_most_important_object_in_the_global_economy_ 31/01/2016) a term given to an area of pallet science. The redesign is said to have reduced up to 60% of all shipping costs.

My response towards this industrial object held a certain anthropomorphic quality in so far that I saw how this could relate not only to the internal weight we as humans tend to bare at points of time, but our physical baring of ‘cargo’ concerning aspects of the human condition.

Taken out of its context, I used the materiality of this potential disregarded object to embody its own theory and interpreting a human state. Gradually through a vicious process of grit blasting I was able to reveal the essence of the wood, unveiling the hard and softer elements to the matter. The flesh started to open up and cleared was for the appearance of the fixtures that kept it joined together. This in itself resonated with certain physiological degenerative situations that make the structure of our bodies vulnerable, painful. It was almost as it I had revealed the wearing of bones that required fixing by means of intervention or supporting in some way. The erosion left a gaping hole revealing its only means of support uniting elements together implied a feeling of being wounded, vulnerable almost.

The work, in my opinion, had been done the beauty found was my own aesthetic response that brought a poignant realisation of the parallels between the overlooked work of the revolutionary pallet and our own human existence as we deal with wear and tear through degenerative situations of age and disease. What I had experienced ignited a broader question concerning material and how, as artists, we imply a level of meaning.

From the latter part of the twentieth century art materials have changed and the art object has become transient and in some respects temporary. Walter Benjamin commented on how the reproduction of art lost its aura and presence in time and space[2] ( Dupreez, A. (n.d) (Im)Materiality: on the matter of art. [online] Acadamia available from https://www.academia.edu/241262/_Im_materiality_on_the_matter_of_art 31/01/2016) As an intended art object   ‘knuckle’ has emerged from a purposeful mass produced object that is symbolic statement of our place and time within a historical context.

With this in mind when I came in contact with the comment, ‘It’s just a piece of wood!’ it was with conviction that I was able to move past that critique with ease. My ‘piece of wood’ was part of a well-designed functional object that revolutionised a whole transportation system, essential to import, export, and commerce. Mechanisms of work had shifted creating an easy flow in the globalisation of industry. My ‘piece of wood’ was part of an ecological growing system that has increased the number of trees grown in the USA. My ‘piece of wood’ is a testimony to our skeletal system, muscular system, and all other complex systems that support our own flesh and bone constructions that have transported us through life.

 

‘The ultimate realisation of the work takes place when the aesthetic and narrative elements combine to form the creative event that is the work, which simultaneously unfolds in front of the viewer and through their imaginative space’ G. Hogg

 

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Figure 2. Practice Based Research, Knuckle.

Author: Sharon Read

Images & Content © 2015 Sharon Read

www.sharonread.com