Those lovely people over at One & Other have featured the GBC newspaper in an article. Go read it here!
Logo/cover image @ One & Other
Those lovely people over at One & Other have featured the GBC newspaper in an article. Go read it here!
Logo/cover image @ One & Other
Extract from my Independent Project Proposal:
Throughout the last module I feel the ‘Garden Book Club’ work was some of my strongest, helped by my growing knowledge of practice as research. During the module I struggled to pinpoint the practice and now I have done this I feel it would be an important time to concentrate on honing it further through my independent project. I am going to concentrate on exploring it further by strengthening the research aspects and integrating this with a developing practice that holds more purpose when relating it back to theoretical work. The outcomes at this stage will be documented and reflected within a physical sketchbook as well as continuing with my online journal. At present, I predict the work will be presented in book form, most likely accompanied by a group/individual exhibition.
‘The are actions, recognitions, and judgments which we know how to carry out spontaneously; we do not have to think about them prior to or during their performance, We are often aware of having learned to do things; we simply find ourselves doing them. In some cases, we were once aware of the understandings which were subsequently internalized in our feeling for the stuff of action. In other cases, we may have never been aware of them. In both cases, however, we are usually unable to describe the knowing which our action reveals’ (Schön, 1983, pp 49-69)
Reflecting-in-action requires a certain level of existing tacit knowledge upon which spontaneous judgments can be trusted and made. Prior to starting the independent project, I had begun to build confidence in my practice by shifting the worry of the ‘end product’ to attempting to work through my practice questions by making. By doing this, I was able to take risks and essentially ‘take myself by surprise’ with my own practice. Knowing for a long time that I wanted to start to explore research areas such as nostalgia, the photo book as a distribution vehicle and use of the found image but feeling like I had no solid way of confidently researching, I have been making decisions based on my last decision made, and reflecting-in-action as I go, using only past work and a rough research plan as my guide. This has worked well for my progress as a practitioner and the project as a whole, as the creative risks (using a newspaper instead of an exhibition, eliminating other media for the project concentrating on collage) have assisted the ‘overallness’ of GBC as it stands and demonstrates a clear journey from a complex unresolved idea. Reflecting back to this time, it is easy for me to see how it has matured and changed in both content and strength, shaping to fit the areas where my theoretical interests lie.
As a photographer, documentation has generally been a well-debated part of my arts practice and one I have commented on throughout my MA. Documenting photographs in situ didn’t hold much value to me, and as Nelson (2013) comments, I was held with a constant fear my practice will eventually be subjugated to the writing elements leaving visual documentation in a firm second place. As the photographs in the last post show, I have distributed the Garden Book Club newspaper in York and Leeds. Documenting this event was not only essential to the process to prove it had taken place, it also holds value of the newspaper. Rye commented on DVD recordings not being able to capture the essence or magic of an original performance, lessening the event by reproduction. This is the same way I feel about photographing photographs, there isn’t really much value held by doing so. Photographing the newspaper in situ however, does not lessen its value but rather strengthens the outreach it has to further audiences. Furthermore, it did not interfere with the process, distribution or affect any future exchanges of the newspaper between possible readers or viewers. To photograph it taking place was simply to document the overall performativity of the project, a cataloguing exercise for a personal archive.
Nelson, R. (2013). ‘Supervision, Documentation and other Aspects of Praxis’. In. Practice as Research in the Arts: Principles, Protocols, Pedagogies, Resistances. Palgrave: London pp 71-92
Schön, D. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. Basic Books: New York.
‘Play is the primal force which built our early selves, and can revivify and infuse our adult selves with a craving for action and innovation. Play is also an attempt at self-mastery, whether shaped from the outside by education or impelled by internal dreams of a better, more integrated self’
Play as imagination
I was surprised to read in Pat Kane’s The Play Ethic that the place of Victorian public swimming pools, sports halls and parks were brought in by authorities in order to maintain the physical health of the working classes, in turn ensuring the efficiency of the workforce. Although work and play are somewhat linked in my mind, I had never really put much thought into the idea that play creates better workers. In my logic, we work in order to afford to ‘play’. Kane’s chapters, split into simple headings covering all possible aspects of play made me consider Garden Book Club in many different ways, not only through content but as an art project on the whole. ‘Play as risk’ helped me consider the audience to which the work was directed and give more thought to the response the project would receive. ‘Rise of the Soulitarians’ examined the role of the internet with play, in turn helping me ask myself questions about the role of my online presence in terms of the work I am currently making. It sparked an interest in including more of an online platform for the newspaper after it had been distributed, in the form of a submission/response website for GBC.
Although I cannot directly make this cognitive comparison for definite, as a child I felt I had one of the strongest imaginations of my peers. I could play alone for hours, for days in fact without the aid of many props or inclusion of any other person. Growing up, I managed to keep hold of this imagination, applying it creatively, dreaming intensely and ensuring it was exercised in fear of it slipping away. I couldn’t imagine losing the ability to think beyond the real world, however hard it was forced upon me to become ‘grown up’. I remember the peer pressure of getting rid of toys, all of which had personalities, a voice and a heart to me. Choosing an academic path that would lead me to studying a creative subject ensured that my imagination was applied to art work, photography and later on, psychology. Never stifled, I was able to weave creative play into my everyday world. It is this imagination that helps me create collages; which in turn were born from a frustration of not being able to translate visions through a type of mundane photography. The world that has been created for GBC is entirely imagined, and intended to be lighthearted and playful. Having the chance and reason to extend my ideas into art helps me produce considered yet arbitrary choices that can be applied to existing theory and current debates within photography and art. A type of adult play I guess? The content of the work is playful- it asks the audience to see it for what it is and take them back to the imagination that work and the demands of life in general may have made them forget about temporarily. Play forms our young selves, and it is important to keep our older selves nourished with types of play accessed through projects such as GBC.
One of the notable play theorists, Johan Huizinga in his book Homo Ludens, argued that play creates a temporary world and an order of its own. Play creates this temporary world, and within the temporary world within the real life, it has the potential to distract. Garden Book Club creates this temporary world. A world where proportion and rationality don’t come into question, a place where plants can take on the roles of humans. These aspects ultimately result in a new form of expression or interpretation of a subject. Huizinga claims that physical and solid arts are not play. They are meant instead to help facilitate play or serve a representational function. In the pataphysical world of GBC however, physical art does not exist, only created characters and scenarios. He explains, “If therefore the play-element is to all appearances lacking in the execution of a work of plastic art, in the contemplation and enjoyment of it there is no scope for it whatever. For where there is no visible action there can be no play”.
Kane, P. (2004). The Play Ethic: A Manifesto for a Different Way of Living. Macmillan Press
Huizinga, J. (1949). Homo ludens: a study of the play-element in culture, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.
We no longer share exclusively with family and friends. We post our every waking movement on social media; photographs of intimate moments once saved for family albums are now available for a much wider audience of those familiar to us, as well as strangers. Post 19th century photography broke through the private sphere by offering people the chance to purchase cameras themselves and set out onto the streets photographing pretty much anything they felt aesthetically pleasing. Fast forward to today where recording technology is embedded into most smart phones, digital cameras are smaller and cheaper than ever and sharing online is the norm, creating an undistinguishable blend between reality and the reality that the media portrays. Pre internet, people were more concerned with intimacy sociologist Richard Sennett found, whereas in contemporary society the concern has shifted to self exposure and the need for fame or success in any amount online. With the rise of supper clubs, home swaps and private rental schemes such as airbnb inviting people to share your home instead of a plush hotel, the privacy behind closed doors that once existed has various holes now punched into it, thus creating a post-private age.
There are a considerable (growing) number of artists and photographers who have used this platform for their work. Mark Wallinger captured photographs on his camera phone of people who had been overcome by sleep whilst travelling on public transport for his work Unconscious. Combining them together into a tableau with images taken straight from the internet, the viewer is drawn into a place where control is completely void and the subjects (strangers unaware of Wallinger’s presence, photo taking and perhaps even his artistic intention) are enlarged and sensationalized in a gallery context. You could argue these works are not in any way different to the work of say, Walker Evans’ subway portraits taken with a hidden camera in his overcoat, but the context in which the work is placed is worlds apart. Wallinger’s nod to Internet crazes such as women eating on the tube, or more closely matched with ‘people sleeping on the tube’ comes at a time where voyeurism is almost impossible in a public sphere, a time where almost everyone is capable of recording other people’s intimate moments or becoming a subject themselves.
Are we now so used to interacting with strangers’ images/online presence so much that it is deemed acceptable to use any photographs/content for artistic value? Desensitised to it almost, by an overfamiliarity to sharing strangers’ lives?
Found imagery has always sparked debate on authorship and ownership as the majority of works are undertaken without the subject’s consent, or used without permission. When considering and producing the final outcomes for the independent project, this instant and non-considered sharing was at the forefront of my mind. The publication is made entirely from collaged elements; from the images and collages themselves, right down to the reader letters. Trawling through ‘Yahoo answers’ after a single search for ‘botany’ brought up some extraordinary questions and anecdotes that I almost couldn’t believe were asked or shared. After clicking onto a particular user’s profile, I found that this person was asking questions to an anonymous audience on a regular basis. Questions that didn’t seem abstract in the slightest, meaning a simple Google search or asking of a friend would have probably answered them straight away. For some users, it seemed like an addiction. They would spark debate, sometimes-explicit answers from other users of the site. I was intrigued and found myself looking through these questions and answers for a considerable length of time. When using and adapting this content, I did not feel there was an issue of authorship or ownership due to the original context in which the question was placed. The person asking had displayed it to an uncontrolled audience, and I was simply extending that audience further. It did make me begin to wonder about these people’s lives and personalities, and what caused them to resort to asking such things online. When creating the GBC newspaper, these people I had encountered online became the basis of my imagined ‘club audience’. I felt their needs and woes were better suited elsewhere, and they immediately became part of a big collage game, where I remove and alter content to suit artistic need. Newspapers are now a slow communication tool in comparison to their digital counterparts and the idea of a letters page is somewhat outdated. Moving the online questions back to this format seemed more fitting. For me, the collage of existing material from the Internet highlights the journeys that your personal details and uploads may take without you ever realising. Eva Stenram’s pornography/forest_pics sees a number of forest based pornographic images downloaded freely from the Internet, and edited to remove sign of any human presence. She comments on the series saying the removal of the ‘action’ makes the setting compliments the ambiguity, but also questions public and private space after the image has left its original context. Seeing this comment made me ask- just because it is removed from context, does it make the initial theft ok? Just because it is an artistic output, it is fine to use the images? Having my bank account frequently hacked online; with strange purchases appearing on my online banking account came to mind. One fundamental difference between the two situations is the original intention of the content. Stenram’s porno images and my collaged botany questions were both intended for an uncontrolled audience, whereas my bank details are supposed to be kept securely. The author of the Yahoo answers had never expressed an interest in copyright of the content and had also openly invited people to comment on and share through various different social media buttons. I feel the post-private age that we live in will throw up many new problems such as the sharing and exhibiting of images/content in art, but to me it is more exciting than anything. The work of Wallinger, Stenram, and Henner amongst others feels new and fresh at the moment, presenting a new way of artists viewing and responding to the wide range of content available on the Internet, taking ‘found imagery’ to a whole new level.
Winter, E., Sennett, R. (2012) Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Co-operation, Library Journals, LLC.
Stenram, E. (2004) pornography/forest_pics http://www.evastenram.co.uk/pages/mum-11.htm
Wallinger, M., (2010). Unconscious. http://www.frieze.com/shows/review/mark_wallinger/
Yesterday was distribution day. You can currently find copies of Garden Book Club newspaper issue 1 in the following places in York and Leeds (and maybe a sneaky hidden copy amongst bicycles and flowers):
Poppleton Garden Centre
Dog and Bone Vintage
The Village Bookstore
Colours May Vary
Postal copies to be sent out this week nationwide to other coffee, art and botanical outlets.
Plants exist, people exist. They live like two peas in a pod. Tony climbed into his pod to snuggle his magnolias.
Pataphysical traditions tend to focus on processes of their creation and elements of chance or arbitrary choices creating imaginary solutions to imaginary problems that recreate and mimic themselves through process of doing so. Baudrillard says in his 1992 essay Pataphysics of Year 2000, ‘nothing behind us exists anymore, only the present.’ I relate this quote (and essay in its entirety) to the continuing theme within my practice of moving existing visual culture from a point of nostalgia to a new contemporary role in today’s society. History no longer exists, but it has left a lot of things behind. These things become tools in my work and I piece them together to create new stories, an imaginary world that only exists in the present. People who come across GBC in the future, even a second after it is made, will attach their own fantasies, their own stories to the work just as I have done with the existing imagery in the first place. GBC becomes a pataphor for an original idea, seeking to describe a new and separate world where that original idea has taken a life of its own.
In The Imaginary Solution, Douglas-Dworkin (2007) describes pataphysics as being two degrees of separation from reality. The plants that exist in GBC were once photographed for inclusion in a book. Being photographed is meant to replicate reality, but this does not always transcend in new meaning or new context in which the photograph is placed. The photograph then becomes one degree separated from reality. That photograph/book then moves forward in time 40 years and is picked up and that photograph cut out to be appropriated next to an image taken from a American Apparel advert where the model has also lost his head in place of a green leafy plant. The second degree of separation takes place, and no longer is the plant serving a pictorial reference for a pruning article, but is now taking a role in an entirely imagined world exploring their relationships with people, thus removing it entirely from its original context.
My practice has always been concerned with the idea of digital technologies having the capability to remove the physical photograph and attached processes from today’s culture. Digital technologies can be used to create fantasy worlds through online gaming, websites and photo manipulation software, store digital archives and be used in any facet of life whether it be through computers, smart phones or tablets. It is this distinct acceleration of digital technology and media that Baudrillard blames for the ‘losing tempo of liberation’ and means we are only now loosely attached to the real. We can no longer pin down reality or meaning because of the digital absorption that we are contained within. I wrote about a similar issue when addressing my first year MA work, in the post named ‘RIP Pat Butcher’ examining the worlds people believe in beyond reality, in places such as Eastenders; sending cards to a fictional character when she had died onscreen. When applying this to the idea of GBC, it comes down to the breakdown of foundational knowledge on which I base stereotypes and presumptions of a certain era. I was born in 1988, and remember nothing before roughly 1992-1993. Things I know about history have been taught, researched or presumed. It is this foundational knowledge on which I make presumptions about a book I find in a charity shop from 1976. It is a certain colour, it smells a certain way and the people within the pages are wearing certain clothes. These beliefs I then attach to an object that has travelled through time could be entirely untrue to begin with. Things I think have happened, that actually may not have happened at all mean I immediately breakdown the knowledge into a pataphysical idea and expand that idea further through collage and photography. The narrative that originally existed has gone through so many state changes; we know nothing true about anything except for the now. Thinking that all history no longer exists can force an obsession of the now, spurred on by its exemption from linear time. We seek immediate satisfaction but fear the forgetting, so no longer trust the meaning of events in current time. When we arrive at the event, we then arm ourselves with tools of artificial memory in order to preserve the event without experiencing it in the now, in order to recall it later in time.
Linking with ideas of the absurd, pataphysics creates meaningless worlds where if context is applied the general laws of pataphysics become weakened. Garden Book Club is an entirely pataphysical world, where proportion is ignored and facts of botanical science turned upside down. It explores a world of plant obsessives (which do in fact exist in metaphysics) but extends the idea further by changing facts and placing fully grown men in glass plant containers, among other things. The imaginary problem that GBC attempts to solve is that the imagined people who are embodied through collage have nowhere to go to talk to people of similar ilk or with the same interests. Providing a ‘club’ to which they can share stories and peculiar images of one another becomes the solution. All the content contained in GBC is made up of elements entirely removed from context, placing them in a pataphysical myth where people will attempt to apply existing foundational knowledge to when viewing. On failing to do so, people tend to become defensive or panic that their knowledge does not stretch to this new visual culture, and thoughts race whilst trying to apply something, anything relevant they can. I find that most people tend to try and understand the plant element before the role of the people, which seems a much easier process for most. I have rarely been questioned past the ‘relationships between plants and people’ answer I give to ‘what is it about?’ and I think this links directly back to seeing a world we do not recognize or have not learned through school or the internet.
This may be because plants are seemingly ‘emotionless’ physical things, although they share a few of the same qualities as humans. This lack of emotion means they are immediately easy to interpret than the more complex human aspect. They are treated as objects, and objects that do not offer opinion or any argument to the way they are treated meaning humans can abuse, or obsess about plants.
Baudrillard, J. (1992). Pataphysics of Year 2000. Galilee: Paris. Available:http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/texts/pataphysics.html
Douglas-Dworkin, C. (2007) The Imaginary Solution. Journal of Contemporary Literature. 48:1, pp. 49-60
Throughout my MA I have explored the idea of the ‘process’ of work, creating collages and photographs without identifying much thought or need for the end product. Now, coming to the end of my independent project I realise that period of my practice was in fact simply a focus into the exploration of process, and I had not yet considered the work in its final or cumulative stages at all. Instead of disregarding the end product all together, I would have been better understanding my own process of working and exploring a subject first, using my practice as research.
Garden Book Club started its life as a way of me translating nostalgia from old books and magazines into a new contemporary, sometimes absurd and humourous works that forged its own natural pattern with plants and their relationships with people. At first, I struggled to pin down the reasoning behind the work and was unsure of its place in my practice, but as the struggle subsided it was much easier to work and concentrate on being creative, with the research questions and themes coming directly from the pieces rather than me forcing them upon the work. The Create show in May was a working milestone for my practice, as I managed to show my collage through the form of a handmade book- another area I have toyed around with for much of my MA. Seeing the success of the book and its reaction from an audience, my next decision was how to move Garden Book Club on for the independent project. The work I was producing for GBC were all separate elements. I had video, collage, print and book work. Although tied together with the obvious content, they all seemed to exist as individual works. It was tying these parts together that was tricky for me. Used to producing series’ of photographs, or singular collages, it was difficult to imagine the work existing in any other way. Linking these things together in an overall ‘performance’ by creating an imagined club was the most exciting and enticing option for me creatively. Publishing as Performance (2014) examined the role of publishing practices through the notion of the performative. The easy access to web and print publishing has expanded the relationship of publishing to dissemination, and it is this ease that has enticed me to take part in this new form of the performative. Perfomance is instant, but also carries a continued outreach. I wanted GBC to have a similar impact. Accessible to people who weren’t just gathered in a gallery for an opening night, but rather have the project brought to them as an emergent identity through published material. New research questions and problems such as how will the reaction be measured in an uncontrolled environment, the ‘finished-ness’ of material distributed in such an overall way, and the new meanings it finds along the way.
The decision to create a newspaper as a vehicle for GBC was a simple one. Many of the books and magazines used for creating the collages came from an era where such things were subscribed to by post – often, the subscription cards were still held inbetween pages of the books. The idea of a book is distributing a certain message or narrative to an audience, but the GBC book’s coverage was limited by cost and reach. Being only available to buy online from one website and a select few bookshops at a cost meant that the work was only reaching so far. The natural next step was to freely distribute the work with a much further reach, and with entirely different content, giving a new audience chance to take part in the project. Inspired by mail art, performance and pataphysics, the idea of a newspaper representing the club written by a character created from one of the main collages came about. In large towns and cities, free newspapers are often distributed and discarded, some copies read by many whilst others are discarded straight away. Some stories may leave an impression on a reader, be torn out and kept or simply ignored. It was this anonymity and unpredictability that I craved from the project, not knowing what the papers would amount to once left in situ. In the same way that the books’ owners would not have known their once prized, well thumbed and earmarked pages would end up in a project some 30 years later. The idea of a newspaper rather than a magazine or book came down to a couple of things. As aforementioned, I wanted the newspaper to hold a certain amount of anonymity and slot in just as an evening newspaper would. If I had chosen a magazine or book, the end product may have been more obvious as a newcomer, or prevented people from picking a copy up due to fear of cost or existing ownership. A newspaper also holds aesthetical value to me, with it being a traditional print process- giving a nod to my analogue photography and collage methods. It is recognizable to an audience; most people are familiar with holding a paper and how it is read. It is this contrast with the unusual or unexpected content that I like, the disassociation between the two elements, and people trying to create that connection. Size was a factor; to print a book of this size would not have been cost effective whereas a paper begs to be of a larger size traditionally giving me more creative scope with the design process.
Where to distribute the newspaper was a tough decision. The newspaper is part of an imagined mythical gardening club, ran by an overprotective, blunt and sometimes obsessive character who emerged from a collage. Already with a book published, a website selling GBC merchandise and an active Twitter page, I had already created a world in which this character lived. The questions I had to ask myself when deciding on distribution and content were things like ‘is this going to be an art thing, or entirely a gardening newspaper?’ ‘Am I going to end up tricking an audience into participating in something that doesn’t exist if I go for the latter?’ ‘What happens when different types of people connect with the paper?’ It was difficult, but the answer came when creating the content. Bordering on the absurd and surreal, the articles were subtly changed or entirely rewritten, with some facts becoming false and the language intensified leading the audience to question what they were reading. The articles are peppered with collage and illustration, suggesting that the paper does actually serve a different purpose rather than being directed towards a gardening audience. Taken from online forums, books and magazines, the questions and words used in the pages form a whole new realm of collage for my practice where a whole new document has been produced from (mostly) existing culture. To reflect the content decisions and to expand reach of the project, a mixture of locations were chosen. Local coffee shops where reading material was often available and shared were first on the list. I had frequented all of them and often had picked up a well-read newspaper in there. I hoped the new publication would follow suit in these places. Some art-book and magazine shops in the area and further afield were also targeted. Selling a similar type of item, the free newspaper seemed to compliment such purchases. Garden centres seemed an obvious choice, and one where an entirely different audience would be reached. Botanical Gardens were also on the list as some of the photographs were taken at Sheffield and Glasgow Botanical Gardens, and the subject matter fitted in well there. I think of them as halfway between a gallery and a garden centre, if such a comparison exists?
The GBC newspaper has already generated some local interest even before its initial distribution, with local magazine One & Other expressing an interest in writing an article on the book and mentioning the newspaper within it. This will hopefully encourage an audience to seek out the newspaper, an element of hype almost. The newspaper contains both the GBC website and the email addresses. On some pages, the content actively asks the audience to participate by sending in photographs and letters. If any of these things are received, it will form the basis for the next issue of the paper. Ideas for the future include a subscription service, and also a locked members only content website where readers of the paper can access exclusive content online, pushing the boundaries of this mythical club even further. The character ‘running’ the newspaper is planned to become even more real and prevalent, with an actor being selected to front issue launches and video roles.
Derrida, J. 1998, Archive fever: a Freudian impression, University of Chicago Press, London; Chicago, [Ill.].
Publishing as Performance, (2014). http://www.phdarts.eu/Programme/Spring2014/PublishingasPerformance
Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” in Image Music Text, trans. Stephen Heath (New York: Hill and Wang, 1967).
Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Illuminations, trans. H. Zohn (New York: Schocken, 1963).
Ulises Carrión, “The New Art of Making Books,” Kontexts no. 6–7, 1975.
Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (Paris: Editions Buchet-Chastel, 1967) trans. Ken Knabb (bopsecrets.org: 1992);
Dear Images: Art, Copyright, and Culture, eds. Daniel McClean and Karsten Schubert (London: Ridinghouse, 2002).
Allen Ruppersberg, “Fifty helpful hints on the Art of the Everyday,” in The Secret of Life and Death (Los Angeles: The Museum of Contemporary Art, 1985), 113.