First Day: Lines
After discussions about chance and control, surface and structure, and parts of a whole, we each devised an exercise to explore these topics.
- make parts
- make rules
- judge the points at which we were pleased or unhappy with the outcome
- ask questions
On both days we chose to work with white materials so that we wouldn’t be distracted by a choice of colour.
On a chilly day we booked the large gallery space at Centrespace where we work, closed the shutters to deter viewers and set to work.
The first exercise related to structure and triangulation, lines and shadows.
White paper straws were cut up into varying lengths and we each threw dice to determine what length of straw we should pick. They were then threaded on a long wire to form a line of triangles. The aim was to work at speed and not try to guess the outcome.
The first half hour went well, but problems arose; for example you can’t have a triangle made of two 1 inch lengths and one 6 inch length. We began discarding straws, making 4 sided shapes, making up new rules, halving the odds by blocking some numbers on the dice and many other tricks to get to the outcome we expected. Immediately the lines of shapes became more contrived and we got bored and more critical. We realised that sometimes you have to work through the boredom before something interesting happens.
Good things to emerge were that the shadows cast by the white lines were beautiful and often more interesting than the objects themselves;
a mass of the shapes tumbled together was appealing;
the structures could be made on a larger scale.
One surprising thing was that Jess doesn’t like acute angles. Over the months since we did this her aversion to triangles and points has become more apparent, whereas I like lines and sharp angles.
We both decided that the physical outcome of the exercise wasn’t worth the time we had put into it. This is a problem that we both come across in our practice. At what point do we each decide to invest time and materials in making a finished piece of work? And does all spontaneity disappear at that point?
Second Day: Blocks
The second project was devised by Jess and we each made some plaster blocks.
I have never cast anything before and was excited by the possibilities of adding this technique to my practice. I like the matte material, the making process and the anticipation when releasing the object from the mould. I like the shapes and the shadows they cast.
We each took a pile and began to arrange them to investigate the relationships between them, the spaces and the shadows. I found this exercise much harder and it was difficult to come up with coherent thoughts and strategies. My arrangements were purely instinctive and I couldn’t articulate why some were pleasing and others were not. I felt that I never really fully participated in this project and this might have been helped if we had devised a series of rules to initiate the process of play as well as for the casting of the blocks. We were working separately and talked less, partly because Jess was really absorbed, and because I was tired. My lack of stamina began to show and in future I think we should work together for just one day at a time so that I have time to reflect before embarking on a new part of the project.
I took lots of photographs of my blocks but was over-critical and the element of play was lacking. The ideas that emerged were that I don’t like the very regular shapes to which I can give a name such as square, cube, rhombus or diamond. I do like the blocks which have different length sides and those with angled sides so that shadows are cast beneath as well as around them. I felt that the blocks were much nicer when displayed as a collection of individuals, rather than thinking of them as a coherent group. Looked at from a low angle they looked like standing stones. However, my blocks never reached the potential that they had offered when sitting in their box.
Our plan for both days was to make initial decisions about the elements we would be using and then use rules for their arrangement as a way of preventing us from over-controlling this part of the process. As Dail says, this led to some practical issues. However, I do think it’s a valid method for developing work as allows unexpected and uncontrolled things to happen.
I found it difficult not to have in mind all the time how might I translate what I was doing into my usual materials & techniques and I had to consciously switch off these thoughts. What I wanted to do over the two days was to discover ways of working that were different from how I usually approach my work. It didn’t really matter about the end product. By making myself a little uncomfortable I was able to ‘notice’ and question my decision making process and the habits I find myself falling in to.
One of the exercises I did during the second day was with a thin slab of white plaster that I had prepared a few days earlier. I wanted to allow some chance into the way the slab was broken up, and to create individual pieces that were not too regular. To this end I roughly scored a loose grid on the back of the slab and repeatedly dropped the slab on the floor, allowing it to gradually break up into increasingly smaller sections. These were then randomly rearranged. I made a photographic record of each stage of the process.
Unexpected small things that happen in the making can be very important and can spark a whole new series of ideas. For instance, I was very taken with a mark created in my plaster slab by the tape that I had used to hold the mould together.
The by-product of the process is often particularly interesting, for instance the traces of plaster on the gallery floor
Photographing the work was not just about recording the object but continuing to develop ideas through framing, cropping and layering.
Thoughts on collaboration:
We need to be careful that one person does not dominate or if they are leading the exercise that this is clearly agreed beforehand. But also, that we both remain open to exploring ideas suggested by the other even if (or especially if) this takes us to a place where we feel uncomfortable.
Although we both have a very similar aesthetic we work in quite different ways and it is important to the project that we acknowledge this and don’t allow it to cause problems.
This activity reinforced our decision to work separately but in parallel on our own ideas rather than choosing a common theme – it felt somehow that a common theme would always be more appropriate to one of us than to the other and one or other of us would therefore feel compromised. It would also prevent one of us from following an unexpected path that had opened up through conversation and that we were eager to explore, even if the other had found it irrelevant or less interesting. This project will be about celebrating the differences between our practices as well as the similarities.
In the end the exercises and the conversations are what we both value most.