I’ve spent quite a lot of time working with second year students this last week and this is done using the old model of the studio wanderer. Whoever is in and working you pick up a conversation with and gradually move that conversation from what are you up to towards where can you go to?
I have had some interesting conversations over the last week. Someone had some looped footage of old home movies using super 8 film. We ended up using rough sand paper on both sides of the film, so that we could examine a gradual erosion of images. Different colour scratches, black, white, blue etc. started to emerge as the scratching was done. (I’m letting the film run through the projector, but gently holding two pieces of rough sandpaper and sanding the film as it passes through my fingers). We start talking about the erasure of memory. Then what if? We discuss the movie ‘Total Recall’, where the hero (Philip K Dick’s ‘We can remember it for you wholesale’) has his memories removed and replaced, implying that as one memory is erased it could be replaced by another. We then discuss how a similar short piece of footage to the one being used (this is found film sourced on e bay) could be re-shot using contemporary actors (I’m sure in this case it would be other students) run backwards and again filmed while being scratched away. Video footage could of course be taken if the film is projected on a freestanding backlight screen and then run either backwards or forwards, reconstructing either the event of scratching away the memory or reconstructing the memory. We then talked about soundtrack. The sound of an old super 8 projector is very evocative, but the projector can’t be run for long before it stops and overheats. So the sound could be recorded as a soundtrack for a video, perhaps put onto magnetic tape and again run through sandpaper to echo what was happening on film, the whole thing could finally be edited together as a video, or re-enacted as a performance piece, using all the old bits of technology. Possibilities open out very quickly and before I move on we discuss how ‘closure’ of the idea might be established.
Painting students are a very difficult group to work with. Not because they are difficult but because the subject of painting is difficult because it is so loaded with tradition. I have been trying to get more thought into the way students are colour mixing and using paint consistency lately, just to make sure painters are more in control of their medium, but I realise the time will come soon when I have to challenge them in terms of what they are painting. One student is starting to look at North American Indian sand painting and is having dreams, which from what I can make out, consist of entoptic images, so perhaps these could become starting points for image making. I ask him to make small images from his dreams, so we can all see what they are like. I must remember to direct him to David Lewis-Williams' ‘System of Entoptic Phenomenon’. His book, ‘The Mind in the Cave’, I still recommend to students as an entry into a tradition over 30,000 years old. The old game of image and ground is so played out that it’s very hard to enliven and refresh it. But fresh minds engaged with the problem can come up with fresh answers, focus and hard work, together with constant awareness of what is arriving are all needed here. That slippery fish of newness needs catching and it slips through the net so easily if you take your eye off the game.
Another student is looking at projectors that can cast images of the surface of the sea onto ceilings. He is making white plaster objects based on coral and other underwater phenomenon (he really wants to be a scuba diver). I point out he could have these projectors mounted in the ceiling, (he has a potential studio space nearby consisting of three sides of a box, each side 8 feet high by 4 feet wide), could put his objects on a raised plinth area within this, 4 x 4 foot, just above the objects stretch taut translucent polythene sheet, have the images projected onto this and then cover the top 3 feet of the implied box front, leaving a one foot open strip in which to look. This could perhaps be like looking into an illuminated tropical fish tank, or slice of an underwater experience. I think he gets it and I draw a cross section and front elevation of what I’m talking about. I do a lot of drawings as I walk around the studios, it’s a simple and very clear way to communicate an idea. Some of which I leave with the students, others I’m usually drawing on the back of some administrative paperwork I’ve yet to hand in, so must take away with me.
One student has taken an image of herself totally out of focus, she feels this represents her own view of herself and her self-worth. She has also written some text again mainly about the fact she feels almost invisible and has a problem with her self-image. We talk technical details around the idea of focus. At a given distance, with a given aperture, the longer the focal length of the lens, the shallower the depth of field is. We discuss using careful control f-stops to shape depth of field (also use of a tripod and a cable release) and finally diagram a series of potential images, the first totally out of focus, the second with just the tip of the nose in focus etc. until the head has been effectively ‘scanned’ by slightly changing focus and related narrow depth of field. We then move on to think about taking photographs of herself behind frosted glass and other translucent materials. We talk about the differences in materials and their meanings. Frosted glass might suggest seeing someone through a bathroom door, however seeing someone through the translucence of a dustbin bag could be suggestive of something we want to get rid of. One issue here of course is about the student’s well being. There is a call to be made as to whether there is a problem here or whether this is a project about finding a personal identity, something which fine art students often feel a need to do. In this case because we can talk about it rationally I’m pretty sure this is about finding a way into producing interesting art work and this is not about someone having a difficult time mentally. The test of this is whether or not the images are universal or particular. Are they readable in such a way that their ‘language’ can be read as texts about wider issues than the individual need to self-express?
I’ve also discussed flowers and ritual; vanitas, nature morte and momento mori this week, as well as Op Art and Neo-Geo as science fiction tools; biblical hermeneutics type and text and a related metal sculpture as well as thinking through issues with a student who is a craftsman about his worry about conceptual ideas. We ended up discussing the embodied mind, as well as fat belly plaster stuff, metal casting and weight, spinning drills and copies made in wood.
These discussions are quite tricky. How far do you lead the debate and how far do you try and clarify what it is the student is doing? If it gets all too clear it can become boring and uninteresting, but if confusion reigns it’s hard to make decisions.
I’ve also been talking to people about preparing drawing kits for this week’s drawing sessions.