The encounter of shadow is something that has inspired artistic expression throughout human history. Yet today in an image lead culture it is often forgotten that the photograph is predominantly displaced from its place of capture.
I conceived the idea of the shadowgram as a contemporary take on the photogram. A shadowgraph is a shadow projected onto a surface that is framed by an optical device, or in my case a sheet of A4 paper. It is something I observe and respond to rather than construct. From this basic idea I have developed a way of seeing which moves away from narrative, or the representational image, and towards a concept of acknowledging the gaps and intervals between the images we see.
Notations are abstractions discovered in the public space by positioning a sheet of A4 paper to harness a shadow image. In-spite of the image space being a physical print, the abstraction itself does not exist beyond its documented notation. The paradox is that something has physically existed and yet is only authenticated by the digital.
Formations are a site-specific activity undertaken in interior spaces, A4 placeholders are placed, responding to the encounter of light and shadow, the arrangement or mosaic is harmonious rather than orderly, offering the viewer the chance to complete the picture in their own mind.
Interventions carry the formations concept back into the public space. These ephemeral street art works respond to the shadow encounter at a point in space and time. Upon completion and documentation, I surrender ownership of the work to the space. The memory, or documentation is forever incomplete, and for as long as it exists, is free to be interpreted.
Evaluation: Looking back
When I first embarked on Level 3 I had a huge motivation to continue exploring my area of interest prior to joining the OCA, interpretations of the East Asian landscape. Only this time I would look to work conceptually with a more critical eye. This was embraced and followed through with my tutor for Contextual Studies, treating it as a scholarly exercise interrogating a region that inspired me. But my tutor for Body of Work challenged me to not dismiss the photographic learnings from my previous module, Documentary 2, which he also tutored me for. I agreed it would be interesting to take more risks, with Body of Work being the area of studies I was most self-confident. This meant that the two modules would diverge from being directly related to each other, although retrospectively I would say that both are a product me being a cultural nomad in a globalised world. I also wanted to engage in a period of experimentation in my studio space before personal circumstances were due to affect not only my studies but also my home life.
While I continued to draw on the philosophical aspect from my interpretation of East Asian culture, my biggest learning was to develop a contemporary relevance to my areas of interest. Although this would be regarded as ‘my’ Body of Work, the development of the concept is due to a clear approach between me and my tutor to reflect on each assignment as checkpoints in conceptual development. I would conclude each assignment with a mini-brief to approach the next. This working structure created a rigidity to my process of making, but it was a balance of reflection and production that demonstrates both divergent and convergent thinking. My tutors ability to tailor relevant reading to my evolving concept enabled the dialogue to remain fluid mostly throughout.
The biggest mistake I would consider in my process was to assume people would have the foresight to understand the conceptual evolution of my work. After an initial fast and positive start in A1, I failed to concisely explain how I was developing a technique in A2, possibly because I was already thinking steps further ahead. I also used this time to experiment with some media such as video which did not connect well with my referencing. This meant that I had a combination of critical feedback from my tutor, along with blank faces from peers in study meetings. It was during this period of experimentation that I felt the need to defend my work, but with the understanding that I needed to much better articulate what I was doing in order to gain constructive support. This low point was ultimately inverted into a high one. As I developed A3, I was able to find a way forward where both tutor and peer networks could then contribute constructive input.
Artistically I have taken inspiration from Hiroshi Sugimoto and his ability to work conceptually, also because there is a continual dialogue in his practice between East and West. The initial technique of the shadowgram is drawn from my enjoyment of photograms by László Moholy-Nagy and György Kepes. Early on I was introduced to Uta Barth, whom I was able to take some ideas regarding working within a home space and observing light.
But my influences expand beyond photography. The notion of living with the artists way of seeing resonated with Piet Mondrian’s home studio. While the Korean painter Lee Ufan is a big influence on how I experience and arrange my shadow encounters. I appreciate the physicality of sculpture and drawing by Richard Serra. He becomes a reference point as I wanted there to be a physical element present in how my work is constructed. The conflict in A Line Made by Walking (Long, 1967) is an influence on how photography is used as a tool to document ephemeral artwork. In my case I wanted photography to be used as the tool of abstract art (the subject), while simultaneously being a method of documentation. My interventions work also plays with the street artists engagement with public space by their own invitation.
Theoretically I initially was interested in fusing two works into a method of engagement, Language of Vision (Kepes, 1944/2012) and In Praise of Shadows (Tanizaki, 1933/2001). As the concept evolved, contemporary relevance came from the writings of Nicholas Bourriaud and One Place after Another: Notes on Site Specificity (Kwon, 1997) in addressing the multiplicity of influences and the nomadic nature of the concept. A recent essay, Physical Space, Image Space, Psychical Space (Campany, 2018) concisely supports how I read the gaps and intervals between images through the Japanese concept of Ma.
I believe that my Body of Work has the potential to be positioned in a variety of areas within photography. I used the opportunity to dovetail this module with Sustaining your Practice in order to explore feedback from a variety of sources before I completed this course. The cultural sector suggests there is a place to consider artist residencies and biennials as opportunities to respond to new surroundings. The contextual relevance means I can talk about my work in a variety of different ways. But also there is commercial potential in being commissioned to produce a formation in a private space. I can also publish the work through my social media to reinforce my profile as a practitioner who continues to explore space by my own invitation which reflects well on my self-sustaining approach to research and personal development.
I feel that in presenting my Body of Work as a conceptual way of seeing, I have found a personal voice that has developed out of my primary interest in the arrangement and experience of space, creating a signature style. In contrast to my tutor, I do feel there is a validity to my non-OCA East Asian landscape work, although this is more of an aesthetic and artisan approach to photography that doesn’t have the level of theoretical depth to it. Again it demonstrates I can adjust to different levels of competence depending on the circumstances and audience.
My method of engagement becomes one more closely aligned to street art when I work in the public space. I found myself at ease to relinquish the technical process and artisan quality of manual camera work because I require more agility and the desire to be incognito. My A4-sized paper and chalk stencils out a space which I could quickly compose in my smartphone and move on. Having printing facilities means I can complete any preparations off-site before returning to install. The ephemeral nature of the site-specific work is part of the acceptance to prioritise process and outcome.
My life has undergone a dramatic transformation from being an independent cultural nomad who works self-sustainably to being in the medium term a stay at home dad. This has created a big impact on my ability to consider future projects. By being contained within a comparably much smaller space, my short term ability to create further interventions is restricted, although there is flexibility in my practice to continue to make notations, and to work within a domestic space on formations.
I believe I have throughout this course remained true to my artistic intentions, I have been open to risk and the reading proposed by my tutor. But I have remained committed to my main area of interest which is the interpretation of space. In creating a final edit, I assessed the various approaches I took in notations, formations and interventions, during which I concluded that all of the ideas I was exploring were interconnected, and so I wanted to showcase this signature style as a way of seeing rather than individual projects to be filtered out.
Above all the lesson I take away is that personal vision and collaboration can be interdependent, depending on how you use them. Similarly with feedback, it is more about selecting what to acknowledge and what to reject in order to develop as opposed to seeking the impossibility of universal approval. I am ultimately happy with my Body of Work and do not expect everyone to like it, but it is important that I do as it is me who lives with it.
Evaluation: Looking forward
Because I have a variety of approaches to the same concept of the shadowgram, my work can be experienced in a physical space, inside or outside. I can also utilise the power of social media such as Instagram to share any ephemeral work. I like the paradox of viewers liking something that physically exists without ever experiencing it. Again I draw on influences outside of photography, artists such as Robert Montgomery and Graphic Surgery, demonstrate a balance between work by their own invitation in the public space, which the audience encounters by experience or by photo documentation online. They also have commercial galleries support to income streams. This balance of public and private is one I would like to pursue.
As my work is site-specific, if I were to present my work in a physical space I would want produce a new piece relative to the encounter. In this sense a residency would be a good option but I would need to wait until early 2020 when I return to work for this to be accessible to me. My tutor for Sustaining your Practice suggested a self-imposed residency at home in response to my current situation. The idea is based on An Artists Residency in Motherhood, created by artist Lenka Clayton. Another option could be a video. In my Level 2 module Documentary, I produced a video documenting my experience of engaging with a James Turrell Skyspace, so I could undertake a similar production of me demonstrating and discussing my work.
In pursuing an event or residency my Body of Work to date becomes more of a calling card to approach organisations than the final publication. I already have an offer from Hauss Space in Malmö, Sweden. This would combine a mini-residency and event to discuss my work with an audience. Hauss has printing facilities and a recognised event schedule. If I were to do a self-imposed residency then it would be the definition of self-sustaining, but embracing my current home life. It would also be highly dependent on social media to disseminate the work.
For now I feel a sense of completion to my Body of Work and that now is a good time to conclude this period of conceptual development. The opportunities to bring it to publication are largely dependent on external factors and when I want to complete the final course, but I am satisfied with the potential options to pursue.
ARIM (no date) Available at: http://www.artistresidencyinmotherhood.com (Accessed on 19.08.19)
Barth, U (no date) Available at: http://utabarth.net (Accessed on 09.09.18)
Bourriaud, N (2002) Relational Aesthetics. Paris: Presses du Réel.
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Campany, D (2018) ‘Physical Space, Image Space, Psychical Space’ In: davidcampany.com At: https://davidcampany.com/physical-space-image-space-psychical-space/ (Accessed on 04.12.18)
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Kwon, M (1997) ‘One Place after Another: Notes on Site Specificity’. In: October, Vol.80(1), pp 85-110
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Montgomery, R (no date). Available at: http://www.robertmontgomery.org (Accessed: 19.08.19)
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Tanizaki, J (1933/2001) In Praise of Shadows. London: Vintage.
Tate (no date) ‘Richard Long A Line Made by Walking 1967’ In: Tate [online] At: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/long-a-line-made-by-walking-p07149 (Accessed on 19.08.19)
White, M (2014) ‘Mondrian Guide to Life’ In: Tate [online] At: https://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/mondrian-guide-to-life (Accessed on 07.09.18)