Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Image Reading Group, 22 July 2014

For this ‘Image Reading Group’ session, we took advantage of the summer weather and held it outdoors in the Islington Mill courtyard. Images were presented by three members - Jared, Claire and Maurice - which again sparked some interesting discussions around the wider context for the images.

'Studio Group' at the railway arches near Islington Mill, 8th July 2014

‘Studio Group’ is a regular Art Academy activity, exploring new possibilities for how, when and where artwork is made, and questioning the traditional role of the artists studio in this process. Temporary group ‘studio’ sessions are sited in unorthodox settings, often in public space, and are followed by a discussion and sharing of the work that each person has made during the time.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Active Curating May 6th

The second active curating session took place on Tuesday 6th May. As had been previously suggested, this session took place over the course of just one evening and following the format of an unconventional sort of game. Most people who attended brought an artwork or two, and everyone took turns at being “the curator”. Curators were allowed to move a certain number of the artworks (decided by roll of dice, or if you have no dice, numbers generated by lucky dip from hastily scribbled pieces of paper in an envelope). The curator has a strictly enforced 5 minutes to complete their moves. Then it is the turn of the next curator, who can move as many of the pieces of work as specified on their piece of paper, except one that the previous curator has nominated as unmovable for the duration of the next turn.

Despite the relatively small number of people who attended this session, which in turn made for a small number of artworks, the session was deemed a success, as it did throw up some interesting combinations and juxtapositions of work. We had a couple of small lamps and an old fashioned projector which were used to light the artworks dramatically and which really enhanced the overall effects we were able to produce. 

After everyone present had had two turns at being the curator (we had by the end also introduced the idea of the curator’s assistant, for handling tricky shaped artworks or heavy props such as tables), we declared the session finished. Afterwards we had an interesting discussion about what the focus of the activity had been, were we hoping to arrive at the best possible placement for each work of art? How would it be possible to reach a consensus on what that would be? Could the rules be tinkered with in such a way that it would aid the achievement of these goals? In this way, the session raised some interesting possibilities about how active curating could proceed in the future.

This was my first session of active curating and my impressions were that the rules of the game and the spirit in which it was conducted were light-hearted and playful, but at the same time done in earnest and taken as seriously as was needed to make it a meaningful exercise. This atmosphere of "playing seriously" seems to me to be what active curating is all about. It's not something you are invited to do much in everyday life, but it is essential to the practice of an artist, and as such I think these sessions are very practical as well as lots of fun.

Here is an account of the event by another of the people who attended:

Lauren: I’ve long been interested in ways of displaying art work that go against preconceptions of how art should be shown and arranged; making use of floor and corners rather than walls, laying paintings and pictures flat, and arranging things in awkward and ugly ways. The active curating is a good way of trying these kinds of arrangements out and seeing how it affects the viewing experience, especially as each ‘curation’ is only temporary, meaning that odd and counter-intuitive positions can be tried and discarded.

There also seems to be a value in trying-out different permutations of the ‘active curating’ method; after our first session that took place over a week, the next took place over one night and involved strict rules, and it will be interesting to try again with a new set of rules or restrictions.

In terms of the work that I have contributed; I’ve brought things that can be moved around and arranged in space in a variety of different ways, for instance my plaster beads on string can be suspended between pillars, hung on a wall, knotted, laid on the floor, used as chalk or even crushed, and this time I also brought along some traces I have been drawing from an old wrestling magazine, hoping to eventually create a print-able pattern from the tensed muscles and sinews. These are translucent and light, so can be easily taped into shapes or on to other objects. By displaying these beads and traces before they have been finished the knowledge of how they sit, hang and fall will affect how they develop, or are refined.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Open Crit. Friday 25th April 2014.

In our recent open crits, we have been experimenting with how we document the discussion which takes place. One of the ways in which we have been doing this is by inviting the 3 members who have presented work to write something about their particular experience of the crit, if and how they found it useful, and what they intended to do as a result..

Beanbag:Balloon:Pie is a body of work devised to tour round different sites, with the attributes of each environment affecting the viewer’s reading of the work. The attic space at the top of Islington Mill was the 3rd host site and we assembled up there to look at the work, bringing Jenny with us on the laptop. One of the features of this body of work is the use of text as a feature to be seen visually, rather than being ‘read’ in the accustomed way of written matter. This generated a discussion of how differently work might be read in a non-art environment. As a result, I have resolved to find new non-art sites to host the last legs of the tour of this work, which is also on its last legs. The timescale from the outset has been that the helium finally leaving the foil balloons will signify the end of the work, which is likely to be at least two months. The pieces are 12 slowly deflating helium-filled foil balloons, a beanbag filled with balloons - not beans - and a decomposing tin-foil-filled pie.

Any suggestions for possible indoor non-art sites where the work could be viewed would be gratefully received - images can be provided on request. 

Following this we went back down to the 1st floor and talked about how the research and outcomes of this work might lead on to ideas for my MA Show this September. After outlining initial ideas, the nature of site-responsive work was discussed. An indication that the ideas were responding to the institution (MMU) rather than the site has set off a train of thought that the work operates within a system by which the institution operates, with the site as host.
Useful ideas came up for thinking about how the proposed three sites of the work could be successfully negotiated by visitors to the MA Show, including a QR code and an estate agent-style performative tour.

Jackie Haynes

I presented a pair of films that I had made for a recent online commission for The Orangery building in Wakefield. As the work had been for an online context. I hadn't had the chance to explore how the films could be shown in a physical space. For the crit, I set them up on 2 monitors placed at either end of a long table. I set them playing at the same time in order to manually sync them. The first film is set in the grounds of The Orangery building after dark, and features frames of blue light picking out details of surfaces including headstones, tree bark and ground surfaces. This film was then used as the basis for the second film, where I invited a series of youtube subscribers who regularly make 'reaction videos' to produce a reaction video to this film. The blue frames of light I used were drawn from the internet - and were what is called 'Blue Screens of Death' (BSOD)- where people post images of their frozen computer screens online to ask for advice on what the problem might be. There was a suggestion was that the monitors could be turned around to face each other to invoke further the sense of them being in dialogue with each other. Another suggestion was that the films had a sense of gothic horror about them - linked to the idea of the BSOD as a symbol of a crisis in our faith in digital technologies - but also in their overall mood - being set after dark with the potentially eerie sounds of the area in which the Orangery is in the background. I hadn't really set out to evoke this kind of mood in the film, rather the choice to film after dark was a practical one so that the light of the projector could be seen. My interest in combining elements from the internet (reaction video's, BSOD) with public space is in coercing these different kinds of public space into a sometimes awkward overlapping scenario. 

Maurice Carlin

Sports Graphics Research Blog

I presented a collection of research material that I have been working on in my design job at BBC Sport. The research is an investigation into the graphical language of the sports presented on television, exploring the use of typography, colour, design motifs and other visuals.

The intention has been to investigate whether each sport, or in fact sport in general, could be seen to be branded in the same way as other products or services. At the crit I presented visuals associated with rugby and with football.

In the group we spoke in particular about the relationship between Guinness advertising and rugby graphics on TV. There was lots of discussion about the cultural associations of the sport, and the meaning that it has for different groups of people. We spoke about the importance of the fans, and ways to connect with audiences in contemporary ways. Lots of ideas were given about ways to develop the visual material, including historical uses of football kits, and how colour is used within football.

Sara Nesteruk

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Image Reading Group, 1st April 2014

Last night we held our second Image Reading Group, discussing 3 images selected by Art Academy members, Claire, Nathalie and Maurice. What seemed interesting this time was that the images acted as a cue for a broad ranging discussion; rather than focusing directly on each image as we had done in the first of these experimental reading groups, we seemed to be using the images as a springboard to talk about issues to which they were only slightly related. Much of our conversation was around photography - we discussed what makes a technically 'good' photograph when image stabilisation and other common camera features mean that it is next to impossible to take what may in the past have been considered a 'bad' photograph. Claire had just been to a show of photographs by the filmmaker, David Lynch - this brought up a conversation around galleries showing photographs by people who are more famous for other things as a way to draw large audiences. We talked about whether mainstream culture is increasingly using the photographic image as a way to communicate, and if contemporary art with its focus on language and the validation of work through texts is asserting its difference to mainstream culture by moving in the opposite direction.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Active Curating - Monday 17th to Friday 23rd March 2014

This year we have been exploring some new experimental activities. Active Curating was suggested by Lauren at a recent meeting as a method of curating, to not only explore how artworks might co-habit a space, but also to explore our negotiation and shared use of that space as a group. For this first activity, we installed a show of our works in the gallery space at Islington mill and then over the course of 1 week, we 're-curated' the works, sometimes meeting as a group to do this, sometimes individually. We kept a logbook for each of us to track the changes we had made to the show, and as a space to record other thoughts and comments. Following on from this first week long activity, Rachel suggested an evening version of Active Curating where we introduce some gaming elements and rules about how, when and where to move the works. If you're interested in the sound of this, get in touch and we'll send you the details.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Art Academy reading group: The Pedagogy of Victor Pasmore and Richard Hamilton

At our most recent Art Academy reading group we read a text about the Basic Design movement which developed in art education in the 1950s and 1960s. The article we looked at, by Richard Yeomans from the University of Warwick, compares and contrasts the methods and approaches of its two most famous advocates, the artists Richard Hamilton and Victor Pasmore who were both associated with King's College, Durham.

The text was suggested by Maurice Carlin, as Richard Hamilton is currently the subject of a retrospective at Tate Modern, and Carlin had also seen a reconstruction of some of his installations at the ICA in London; in the 1950s, Hamilton was associated with the innovative Independent Group at the ICA, which rethought what was displayed in gallery contexts, how it was shown and how it was experienced, bringing outside influences such as science, technology, industry and psychology into the gallery, a cross-fertilisation that can be hard to imagine today.

One of Hamilton's pieces, Man, Machine and Motion (1955), which presents ready-made images from the history of man-made motion, has been recreated and is currently on show alongside archival material. Although members of the group were fairly familiar with Hamilton's work as an artist – such as his collages – we knew less about his parallel career as an educator and found this really interesting. Natalie Bradbury also saw the exhibition at the ICA, and really liked another recreated piece, an Exhibit, from 1957, in which Victor Pasmore and Richard Hamilton hung perspex sheets of different colours and consistencies horizontally and vertically from the ceiling of the gallery for viewers to wander through, with the accompanying exhibition posters encouraging visitors to see themselves as players in a game who were responsible for creating their own experiences. She was struck by how modern and forward-looking it must have seemed when it was first shown in 1957.

Unfortunately, we didn't feel the article presented the subject in the most interesting way, and would have benefited from some pictures. However, it did spark some interesting discussions. Of particular interest was the idea of the student and the artist as co-creator, with the art classroom acting as a 'laboratory' for the testing of ideas around line, form and colour. We thought it was important that those teaching art were seen as being practising artists in this way, who were part of a wider art world and knew about new developments. Parallels were drawn between this type of artist-student relationship and an older tradition of Old Masters handing down their skills and thereby perpetuating 'schools' of painting.

The article explains that the Basic Design movement influenced the foundation art courses we know today, and we discussed some of the similarities between Basic Design and our educational experiences as well as the dangers of rolling out something developed by two artists as part of their particular practice on a wider scale – for example, removed from its initial purpose and context this style of teaching could be seen to rely too much on a 'cult of personality', which could succeed or fail depending on the personality and style of the teacher in question. We also discussed the difficulties of assessing the kind of work undertaken on Basic Design courses, and how our experiences of art education showed that observational likenesses were often rewarded over experimentation or more personalised approaches to representation. Someone also made the really good point that in art educational movements such as Basic Design the literature always focuses on the teachers, and there is little sense of what the students achieved from it, and whether they went on to have notable careers (although in part this could be explained by Basic Design being an introductory course that students could have taken before undertaking more specialist study).

Read the article online at