Friday, 29 August 2014

Reading Group - Lewis Camnitzer - 19th Aug 2014

Art Academy members Dorothy Massey and Jenny Walden have responded to our recent reading group - 'On the Moral Imperative in Contemporary Art' by Lewis Camnitze:

I would like to thank Jenny for that very important article on Moral/Ethics and Contemporary art by Luis Camnitzer.

Here are the ideas I got from it.

Art is not Ethical only artist are.

Some art is produced to transform artist into commercial and self profiting icons, rather than to create icons to serve cultural enrichment.

If we really want to deal with Ethics in art we will have to anchor all the questions of the art making process: WHAT? WHY? and for WHOM? with a later HOW? On a solid Ethical foundation.

The creation of a strong common ethical ground seems to be more urgent than the development of new packaging codes.

Our work with the unknown makes us researchers, not magicians.

The mystification may sell well but it is unbecoming.

I believe Ethics in art should be taken very seriously as it is in.

Medicine at local and international level. I suggest a week of conferences with people within different areas of art.

Thank you Claire and Maurice to make things happened.

Dorothy Massey.


The idea of the Moral Imperative in Contemporary Art Luis Camnitzer [1]

AA Reading Group 19th August 2014

Moral: relating to the standards of good or bad behaviour, fairness, honesty, etc. that each person believes in, rather than to laws

Ethical: morally right

The idea of the Moral Imperative in Contemporary Art is a written record of the talk given by Luis Camnitzer as part of a panel at the College Art Association meeting in San Francisco in 1989. It is provocative piece as it is laying certain things on the line in terms of art and ethics.

It is perhaps pertinent that Camnitzer’s talk was the year after Damian Hirst, as student at Goldsmith’s organised the Freeze exhibition out of which Hirst and others sold work to Charles Saatchi and the YBAs were ‘born’. It was also at a time when ‘Postmodernism’ was becoming the key topic within art college discourse.

We discussed this in the reading group as part of our key consideration of some challenging aspects from Camnitzer. What he lays on the line is a question of the honesty of art and artists.

Camnitzer suggests that artists are less honest than advertisers in that the artist does manipulate the audience but the artist avoids confronting their own manipulating, because the aesthetics of the work is shrouded in more ‘exclusive’ understanding of and even ‘the mystique’ of composition.

We discussed this difference being made between ethics and aesthetics and the question was raised as to why art might being held to account here, as many forms of work, of social interaction etc. can be seen to involve or come up against compromise. Camnitzer seems to suggest art’s own claims to matter and mean or do something or be distinct (my interpretation here) put such demands upon it. This is compounded then by a propensity to call upon the ‘aesthetic’ to absolve art from further explanation. Morry did remind us of Picasso’s statement that ‘art is the lie that reveals the truth’. (A further topic for the reading group perhaps)

The group discussed this and we debated whether Camnitzer was tough on art and artists here. We talked about work which is immediately compelling and I think we were talking about something having an honesty in and off itself, which is not easily open to explanation.

From Camnitzer, we then identified three ways in which the artist may be dealing with the issues for art, as the question of making art is played out across: ‘what, why, for whom’ and ‘how’?

These ways are: art as: for society; for profit; for self-therapy.

All three may be present in any one motivation to make and the making of art. We talked about artists who may appear to be more evidently driven by a profit motive and ‘make work to sell’ and we talked about the difference, or not, between this in a ‘large sense’ of the ‘celebrity artist’ and the everyday sense of making some sort of living out of one’s work. We talked about the guilt that might accompany making “things that sell”. There might also be a worry that the aesthetic appeal outweighs the ethical intention and ‘empties’ the ‘meaning’ of the work.

Perhaps we’re back where we came in…

We look forward to the next reading group…

Jenny Walden 

[1] Luis Camnitzer (b.1937) is a German-born Uruguayan artist and writer who moved to New York in 1964. He was at the vanguard of 1960s Conceptualism, working primarily in printmaking, sculpture, and installations. Camnitzer’s artwork explores subjects such as social injustice, repression, and institutional critique. His humorous, biting, and often politically charged use of language as art medium has distinguished his practice for over four decades… Though Camnitzer has never left New York, his practice remains intrinsically connected to his homeland and the whole of Latin America. This consistent dedication cements his place as a key figure in shaping debates around ideas of post-Colonialism, Conceptualism, and pedagogy. See http://www.alexandergray.com/artists/luis-camnitzer/ 

[2] Freeze is the title of an art exhibition that took place in July 1988 in an empty London Port Authority building at Surrey Docks Its main organiser was Damien Hirst. It was significant in the subsequent development of the Young British Artists. The YBAs gained greater fame/notoriety in 1997 when Saatchi had the Sensation Exhibition: SENSATION: YOUNG BRITISH ARTISTS FROM THE SAATCHI GALLERY THE ROYAL ACADEMY, LONDON

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Open Crit. Friday 1st August, 2014

Our latest crit was a busy affair, as due to a mix up, four artists presented work instead of the usual three! It was also very well attended by art academy members who were there to contribute but not rpesent, which was great to see.

First up to present his work was Michael Holland, who showed the group some of his huge collection of collage work made from meticulously collecting and curating pieces of everyday ephemera, and who has this to say about the experience:

"Since I've not had a crit since university it was slightly stressful but it turned out fine in the end. I showed some new work, sketches and lots of stuff on paper . The feedback I received was almost completely positive and it felt more like an airing of my work rather than a critique. I rarely show anyone any of my work so it was great to show a group of people a whole load of it all in one go. Since the crit I have been moving forward with it and creating new works in a more loose outdoor style, something that I can't keep to myself, the front of the mill has become my workspace and I have been pasting up compositions on the spaces left by gig posters. Some successful and some not so, but its nice to leave them out in the elements for other people to get involved and possibly collaborate in the same space . 

The airing of my work gave me a different perspective and allowed me to work some things out, test myself and more quickly than I previously thought, move on to the next stage in my meandering development. "




Next up was Hannah Cawthorne, who wanted advice from the group on where next to take the concepts that underpin her abstract photographic work.

"This was my first time showing my work to members of the art academy, and I was strangely nervous and excited beforehand. Everyone was very encouraging and supportive, and said some really insightful things about my work, including some aspects of it that I hadn't really thought about at all. In fact at times it felt like a bit of a therapy session, but in a good way!

Evere since I heard about these crits I've been wanting to do one, because I recognised there was a danger of my art getting a bit stagnant if I didn't branch out and try new things, so that's what I have been doing for the past few months. But then sometimes it's good to get a third opinion on whether you are headed in the right direction, and that's what I hoped the crit would provide. It did do that, and it also pointed me in the direction of several new ways forward, including the amazing opportunity to do a residency at the Mill this Autumn, which I think will be a huge thing for me. So, on balance I think the crit really surpassed my expectations about what it could do for my art practise!"


After a short break for some much need refreshments, the third artist to present was Jared Szpakowski. Jared had a very specific question he hoped the attendees would be able to answer for him, which was whether the film he presented to us was successful in its current state, needed re-doing, or was not working at all. Praise for the piece was pretty universal, and the answer seemed to be that all agreed it worked very well as it was.

The fourth and final artist was Hannah Leighton-Boyce, who wanted to share with the group plans for a recently commissioned artwork.

She explains:
"It was my first time actually attending or presenting at the Art Academy and I wasn't quite sure how it would go as I didn't have much physical work to present, just plans, maps and photos which makes it both harder to get the essence of the work across and therefore for others to feel able to give a response. The work I shared is one that I am currently making in a village north of Manchester called Helmshore. The work called 'The Event of the Thread' has been commissioned by Helmshore Mills Textile Museum but will actually be located in a housing estate above the former Mill in what was the Tenter Fields where woollen cloth was stretched across the land to dry. Essentially, a thread of around 3300 yards in length will retrace the mapped lines of the tenter frames as it is passed by residents creating one sculptural line as it crosses roads, gardens and fences, passes through houses, letterboxes, windows and doors and a temporary memorial to the site, re-connecting different lives and times, private and public, people and place. 
So much of the ‘making’ of this work is about meeting and talking to people, knocking on doors, 'taking the museum' and spinning wheel to the pub, Library, Sports Centre and market to both meet local residents as, without their interest or support, it won't happen. So, although I didn't yet have anything physical to show at the crit, I suppose that is also why I felt I wanted to share the project with the group, discussion is part of the nature of the work. Initially, I think it was hard for people to feel able to respond as I didn’t have any clear questions that needed answering but the conversation created questions and comments that were really helpful and, just the act of sounding out the work, rather than going over ideas in my head really helped to clarify what was important to the work."

And with that, we agreed to call it a day, after another very successful crit!

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.