A Permanence in Change

(The following text is an edited version of my written summary assessment for my first semester of the MFA in the Belfast School of Art 2017)



Cartographs 2017

When I begin to write I already have the first sentence writing itself out in my mind. I can see it and hear myself reading it out as I type or scribble. The finished result is usually a combination of multiple texts that have been reconstructed through repeated acts of disassembling and collaging. Usually I pick out the more stimulating or eye catching parts and begin with those, then try to deconstruct them until their poignancy is completely undermined. I then attempt to attach new and old pieces of text to them and sculpt the writing until it becomes fluent and seamless once again. This could easily be said for any aspect of my practice and how I go about exploring most materials and subject matter. 

I strip back the initial image/film/text and stick the pieces together onto another surface. Multiple layers with numerous shapes and consistencies are put through a meat grinder of rigorous transformations, with little or some resemblance of the original. The product communicates a fresh message about an idea or concept, translating it so to speak, resulting in a parallel truth thus the factors of its reception will be equally affected. The definitive meaning becomes a tangible medium that exceeds material boundaries.

The connections between the visual and literal, the internal and external, the positive and negative: opposites, comrades, enemies, I want to displace them all and encourage them to find new spaces to inhabit. I started this text by looking back over photographs and videos, taken with my casual camera, of the work I undertook in the studio these past few months. I  picked out a handful and attempted to describe the content as descriptively as possible, most likely influenced by Fiona Banner’s Top Gun 1994:

8. There is more paper, with sections cut out of it and sections placed randomly elsewhere, creating slices of shadows along the white wall. NOT FLYING, A POLITICAL FASCIST IMAGINARY BURIED AT NIGHT, CHEMISTRY HAS TO, RUBBER HUSBAND, IN A RAZOR BLADE. Some sit alone on their own strip of paper arranged next to others, some are together because the others have been cut away leaving gaps in the original text.

The compositional origins are lost and the prescribed meanings are in a permanent state of change. I remember the outcome of this work; a massive collection of words/text, stuck together with semi-transparent packing tape which left the whole surface looking dark and murky, like a neglected fish tank. Arranging them now within a new sentence and in the format of an assessment paper, they have changed once more and have visually metamorphosed into something entirely different. Comparing the appearance of the collage to a dirty glass object opens up new ideas too in relation to transparency and obscurity. I realised that reflection and reconsideration act as important “after” processes that can help bridge gaps and create movement again within margins that may have fallen static.

I had to stop and think more about the subjects in my work and how I was exploring them. I had continued to use the descriptive models but they were taking up too much room in my word count.

Earlier I had made a short film about synchronizing audio to visual on screen whilst also incorporating a certain amount of humour ( a characteristic I regularly chose to leave out). The idea occurred to me from a mistake in the sound recording for a short text I was reading from a book. The mistake re-shaped the editing and the final result and erased any previous inclinations I had towards the recorded material. Of course it was only later I watched Bruce Nauman’s Lip Sync 1969 and I felt like I had ripped him off, but I was also told to look up John Smith. I had watched Girl Chewing Gum 1976 by Smith when I was working on my degree piece which at this stage is nearly three years ago. I was convinced I was approaching image based communication and media from a completely different angle compared to that earlier time yet I was receiving similar feedback and reference points. So I thought about what I was really making work about, what really interested me. If Nauman and Smith were coming up again then surely I was only returning to what I had worked with before, yet I had to stop myself and just re-evaluate what this meant to me.

Instead of feeling like I am obliged to move distinctly forward or abandon previous concepts, perhaps I merely need to swing and revolve around a single fulcrum. I kept feeling like I was going backwards and I was trying desperately to go elsewhere, but with this image in mind of how my studio practice develops and moves I feel that perhaps my ideas and interests are central and I am commuting around them. Moving from place to place, recording and analysing the data in order to create an original map of new information and research.

This got me thinking about place and location and recently I had read a few chapters of a book called Mental Maps 1974 by Robert Gould which talks about our perceptions of familiar environments and how they are designed to manoeuvre around our needs and ideas rather than be practical, informative documents. This made me consider John Smith’s Black Tower 1987 in relation to Charlotte Prodger’s LBH 2017; both centering around the placement of buildings in relation to themselves rather than their fixed location. Funnily enough when looking over my descriptive exercise I came across these notes:

6. Then follows four short videos of blurry countryside scenes captured from the window of a moving bus. I had seen the film “LBH” by Charlotte Prodger in the AMINI festival that week, my difficulties in filming through moving windows was overcome when I saw how she had focused on one static object in the distance, mimicking human sight, I managed to accomplish a result I liked the look of. A small grouping of gorse in the middle of an empty green field briefly became the focal point until the usual roadside blurring of ditches and signs cut it off.

This made me consider movement and travelling as a key component in perceiving places and people and how it can remodel our mental maps. The Art and Theory module had returned me to subjects of landscapes and bodies and the meanings attached to them. It was in John Akomfrah’s The Nine Muses 2012 that the idea of migration being a catalyst for unravelling fixed and prescribed meanings came to mind. In turn I considered the layout and structure of my own mental map, especially how I use it to navigate my practice.

Returning to drawing was an unexpected curve in my work which came from a conscious effort to be brave in my making of work. It was allowing myself to “just do it” and then making the decision to bring them to studio and pursue them further rather than let them grow dust at home. Choosing this fate for the drawings was important, as I was willing to let them integrate my studio work despite feeling that they were irrelevant. Looking at them now in relation to this text helps me realise that the drawings were maybe an effort to visualise a mental map, or start a new one, and place it on a surface, in order for me to channel and combine it, strip it back and obscure it etc.

In conclusion, my work and practice this semester, even when looking back on them now, have connections like lengths of thread between two points, but also a mirroring effect of mimicking one another. At the time the influences and processes may only be fleeting, but collecting the data and documenting the happenings without carrying any expectations towards them is like taking a walk in an unknown place. Creating a unique path of one’s own  and familiarising the new encounters, then questioning and probing the superficial appearances in order to learn the truths underneath. Then turning around, crossing the road and retracing the walk in order to gain that second perspective, has turned out to be a timely yet crucial personal discovery within these past twelve weeks.  

“We must be willing to trust our own impulses about what the source of our work is-and where to go with it. It takes long periods of time, perhaps years, to understand which habits are constructive, to discover what an honest source of inspiration is and trust that source of inspiration.” 
Louise Fishman et al., Heresies, iss. 3, 1997, p. 75
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©2018 Tara McGinn