I have recently come across the work of a Taiwanese artist – Tehching Hsieh (1950). He is best known for his five One Year Performances: between 1978 and 1986.
Marina Abramović described him as a “master of performance”., when commenting on his video documenting the whole year of being locked inside a cage and, another one, punching a time clock every hour. His other pieces include an attempt to live solely outdoors for the period of 365 days. In another famous piece he tied himself to another person. Finally, he struggled to avoid any art related activity for another year.
His fascinating pieces shed a completely new light on a new understanding of the emerging concept of self isolation and waiting. This thinking is of significant relevance to my own visual investigation. Although his thinking is very similar to my project, there is one crucial difference – his work is time bound. I have researched people, who are entrapped and suspended in the vacuum of hypnotic repetition in definitively. It is impossible to predict, when their daily struggle will be over. They also do not know, when they will be allowed to return to their former life ‘cages’.
Tumbling around with my thoughts – lockdown in a dark and claustrophobic chamber of an expanding pandemic – waiting for the end!
The aim of this post is to present my work in progress in order to methodically review my practice, refine my thinking and creative intentions. It is essential for me to reflect on how my visual investigation has developed, altered and evolved, especially in response to today’s global crisis.
The above video draws a parallel to the current global crisis. Isolation and fear are overwhelming. However, The Pianist had his resource, his instrument. He was afraid to touch it and play music. My situation is contradictory – I have a lot of time in loneliness, but cant access my work and studio. Everything appears to by suspended in waiting for the return to my former hypnotic repetition of daily routines and distractions!
My project continues to change with a degree of unexpected persistency and without unnecessary overreliance on resources. The above video clip reinforces that what really matters is the act of creation; whatever the circumstances.
My role as an artist is to comment on and respond to an ever-changing, dynamic and turbulent environment.
Therefore, my principal function is to observe the world with great sensitivity and translate my research findings into art, which communicates my thinking and reflections.
My work, in turn, acts as a beacon, pointing out at new possibilities of how to understand, digest and embrace the world!
I need to accept that my initial project ideas have been altered, distorted and, perhaps, contradicted in the light of the current, brutal and rapidly progressing events.
Friday, 20th March 2020 at 9.30 with Jonathan Kearney.
This was a very unusual tutorial. It was a very personal and untypically long deep conversation in definitely extraordinary circumstances. We were both deeply concerned about a continuously expanding pandemic and all its brutal implications on all contexts of our life.
The current situation is unprecedented and overwhelming. It has an enormous impact on all aspects of our existence. Therefore, it would be at least arrogant to assume that I had no radical influence on my creative intentions and the direction of my visual interrogation.
I have explained to Jonathan the sensitivities involved in my research journey so far. Subsequently, we discussed the sudden and unexpected turn in my project, which is deeply routed in the power of the Coronavirus.
All previously taken for granted status quo had to be refined and re-evaluated. This process continues and builds up on speed. The certainty of the past has become the opposite, possibly the most uncertain. Right has changed to wrong and vice versa. The world as we know it has been turned upside down and brutally destroyed. This overpowering situation has a pivotal impact on the way, in which we live and perceive the surrounding Universe. This radical change has vulgarly and violently twisted every context and area of our inhabitation of the Earth.
My current observation is that people around the world are anxiously waiting for the return to their old hypnotic routines. They beg for entrapment and look forward to going back to their previous existence.
Subsequently, we have focused on discussing the impact of this global crisis on our final show and the arts in general. The main issue is to rethink how to display the work in a virtual environment. The idea is to try to reinforce the meaning of the project. My biggest worry was to avoid diluting my intentions and messages.
I explained to Jonathan that I would not like for the form to unnecessarily overgrow the broader meaning of my visual investigation. We continued to elaborate on a number of possibilities. Jonathan suggested that I should consider editing my films together to create an entirely new piece. Therefore, I would take my current work to a completely new level. I argued that I was attempting to avoid producing a media film, rather than a video artefact. This part of our debate was very stimulating and thought provoking. I made a number of notes – a photograph of this page in my sketchbook is included at the top of this post.
Finally, I pointed out at an exhibition of work by Emily Prince, which I saw at the Saatchi Gallery. She dealt with a visual portrayal and organisation of a large sample of data. Her drawings were colour coded, structured and displayed in two separate formats: daily columns of deaths and the map of the USA indicating the origin of killed soldiers.
I could employ a similar approach and continue filming the process of washing of my paintings. This would result in a large projection split into a large number of individual screens.
I also referred to the painstaking and methodical approach employed by Roman Opalka. He photographed himself every day for 45 years, while wearing the same shirt and and holding identical facial expression. This was in addition to the series of his Counted Paintings, from 0 to infinity. I included his quote as his words are of a special significance today.
Roman Opalka (1931-2011)
“Time as we live it and as we create it embodies our progressive disappearance; we are at the same time alive and in the face of death–that is the mystery of all living beings. The consciousness of this inevitable disappearance broadens our experiences without diminishing our joy. There is always the omnipresent idea of nature, of its ebb and flow of life. This essence of reality can be universally understood; it is not only mine but can be commonly shared in our unus mundus.”
Roman Opalka – “Rencontre par la séparation”, AFAA, Paris, 1987
My ultimate plan is to project three videos. Additionally, I would also like to restreatch the washed paintings onto their original frames and include them in my exhibition.
However, in response to the rapidly evolving and changing global crisis, I have decided to continue to evolve my ideas. My ultimate creative intention is to formulate a response, which is the most current, insightful and communicate the intrinsic qualities of my work and thinking.
I am focusing on the development of work with a strong feel of the zeitgeist. This is to elevate my role as an artist and to respond to the current issues, which affect our society in a dramatic and powerful way. I would like for my work to be an intelligent, though provoking and erudite comment. My pieces are the leader of critical analysis of reality. They point at and identify new ways of embracing our fragile lives in the context of devastating change. I am an observer of our history being made out there, here and now!
After all, we are travelling through space on a piece of rock; simultaneously spinning around and rotating at a great speed. Our existence is bizarre and impossible to imagine for an outsider.
Let’s hope that our journey is allowed to continue, develop, prosper and flourish!
Following a long period of consideration and reflection, I have restarted work today on the Thai Masseur piece.
The main issue was to complete painting the face. On the one hand, I wanted for the portrait to be recognisable, on the other, I have struggled with solving a number of ethical issues regarding a possible reaction and rejection of my work by the model. I experienced this kind of a situation with one of the former pieces. Subsequently, this unpleasant episode had let to the destruction of my own work and several alterations to other experiments.
My new idea is inspired by deeply glazed and moody flemish paintings. I am especially inspired by Metsu and his self portrait. He positioned himself inside a window arch. This implies a composition within a composition. I am also using a double rectangular. My creative intention is to achieve a sense of ambiguity while drawing all attention to the centre – on the masseur. I want to rely on a visual suggestion of portraiture rather than a descriptive portrayal of a woman. The plan is to leave her facial features undefined, like a ghostly outline of what is really there.
GABRIEL METSU (LEIDEN 1629-AMSTERDAM 1667)
A Self-Portrait c.1655-8 Oil on panel | 37.7 x 31.4 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 405943
To give the surface more vibrancy, I used water solvable oil pastels. ‘Dancing’ with a crayon on top of the painting allows me to achieve a sense of mystery – secret light, which brings out parts of the skull and the jaw – all in the dusk of the space portrayed.
The next stage of the painting process will be to glaze the overall piece with a variety of transparent layers of an acrylic medium, perhaps combined with some watered down PVA glue. This is to prepare the surface for the overprinting stage using the silk screen technique and enhance a feeling of unity between the different formal elements and parts of the composition.
I have already prepared a new pattern based on decorative elements, which I have isolated from the interior of the massage salon. I will use this design to create a random over-image. This, in turn, will have a dual function. The first is to help to engage the centre in the overall painterly illusion. The second aim is to increase the amount of detail and enhance holistic and expressive qualities of my piece.
At this stage, I am considering using a range of gold and crimson tones. This initial plan might be subsequently altered in favour of a more spontaneous and instinctive decisions and reflections in action.
I am enclosing photographs of the final stages of work today and a close up of the ‘New Face’
I have just visited fascinating glass and light exhibition at the White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey. Her pieces are full of reflections and transparency, incorporating visitors to participate in the overall scene. The work has poetic, reflective qualities and astonished with precision of execution and bizarre aesthetics of broken shards. The artefacts are suspended in the air, somehow interacting with each other while populating empty spaces. The inclusion of Chinese writing in one of the rooms contextualises her ideas while making references to both the Great Wall and a metaphorical open doorway in it.
I came across the first series of spin paintings by Damien Hirst in the early 90s. I learned about this experiments, when he first started to explore a range of possibilities using this technique in 1992 and extending on alternatives by employing the idea of a stencil.
In addition to their powerful colours, patterns and textures, they were frequently composed on circular formats. I was touched by a great similarity between the look and feel of these works and my ideas concerned with recording the spinning cycle through a bullseye circular window of a washing machine.
On reflection, I came to a conclusion that his famous spin paintings were very influential in forming my new ideas for a series of images.
The spinning motion is monotonous, repetitive and echoes the nature of what I am trying to portray and question in my project.
I include a collage based on his various work below:
Life tends to deal with these problems naturally through repetition and obsessive engagement in distractions.
An excellent interpretation of this concept was developed by Zbigniew Rybczynski(1981) and his Oscar winning piece titled ‘Tango’.
and his subsequent 1987 animation called ‘Imagine’
Both are characterised by identical starting points and their destinations.
This would imply that there is no room for progress in hypnotic repetition?
Roman Opalka, seems to be a master of this phenomenon in his ‘Counted Paintings’ series, which consumed his life.
He began painting numbers from one to infinity in 1965, in his studio in Warsaw and continued until his death in 2011.
Daily rituals, work and religion.
Time, procedures and commuting.
Breathing, heartbeat, sustenance and sleep.
Everything is done to order.
Retirement, loss of purpose and death.
Entrapment in hypnotic repetition.
Suspension in the vacuum of life.
Charlie Chaplin questioning industrial repetition as a lifestyle:
We live in an industrialised society and are compelled to take part in this repetition.
Points for discussion:
• What is your entrapment?
• Do you find it comforting and reassuring that tomorrow is going to be there?
There appears to be a sense of cohesion between life and science.
When one considers my visual responses in my project, it becomes clear that the predicament is universal.
In some small way, we are all trapped in the cycle of work, life, and existence; oscillating between certainty and uncertainty.
This can be, perhaps, best interpreted by Bruce Nauman in his ‘One Hundred Live and Die’, 1984. He boils down the essence of our being to the basic activities of life, without location or possessions.
When analysing my primary sources, I made some exciting observations:
– The less you have got the more certain your life appears.
– Contemporary life in a western society superficially looks certain.
– In reality, it is full of surprises and the most certain things become a nightmare.
– The more you have the more you want, and the less satisfied you are in life.
Points for discussion:
• Can uncertainty become inspirational?
• If the future was predictable would you have less motivation?
I have just started to work on a new portrait of a young woman. She is a local worker at a market in Myiek, Myanmar. The bazaar is based next to famous hot springs. This increases the attractiveness of this placement and maximises potential sale opportunities. She is a snakes vendor. She spends all her days crouching down on her knees, while waiting for prospective customers. Although she works outdoors, her individual stall can be seen through a window-like hole in a sheet of graffitied metal. The contrast between brown and ochre colouring of the facade, raw redness of her T-shirt and the dynamic green of the grass make an illusion of quite dramatic and full colour compositional arrangement.
Her head is decorated with a traditional Burmese turban. She is very serious, almost contemplative and very tense. She looks down, perhaps away, and tries to kill time by organising one of her snakes neatly in a plastic bag, always in readiness for the next sale.
She spends most of her time waiting in anticipation for a successful transaction and making a profit. All her days are alike, full of repetition, boredom and sameness. However, competition is tough. Sales are limited. This makes her existence very uncertain and fills her daily life with misery and anxiety.
I am hoping to overprint this piece with a repetitive pattern to increase the power and the overall impact. This process will be documented in stages.
Following a considerable amount of research and critical analysis of my own experimentation, I have slowly started to develop a deeper understanding of my creative intentions. My focus is firmly placed on uncertainties of tomorrow in the context of waiting for change. Time is a very important factor in the proposed intervention. My thinking has been extended by Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’, supported by considerations of several scientific and philosophical theories of being and perception of time space. I am interested in visualising a period of 60 seconds of waiting for something to happen and change.
60 Seconds are insignificant yet, simultaneously they are also a metaphorical milestone in the context of measuring time: 60 seconds becomes one minute, 60 minutes create one hour.
The plan is to create a series of 60 painting explorations inspired by research from my travels and observations of what people are waiting for, their cravings, dreams and desires. I plan to superimpose my painterly interpretations with photographic and, perhaps video pieces, before transferring them onto mirror card. This process creates a very important element to my project. It evokes the feeling of ambiguity and unreality. The reflective surface forces the viewer to see his own reflection in the context of the broader work. It provokes a deeper reflection on the nature of uncertainties, their meaning, importance and hierarchy. It proposes the question of what is important and what is insignificant? It also reinforces what cannot be ignored as you see your own reflection in the problem.
Reflective surface has been widely investigated by a British artist Anish Kapoor through his ‘Blood Mirror’ series.
Stainless steel and lacquer
My obsession with measuring time space comes from the earlier discussed artist Roman Opałka and his ‘Counted Paintings’.
Self-shredding image by Banksy, “Love Is in the Bin,” , 2018
Finally, I have recently read a novel titled “Hunger” by a Norvegian writer called Knut Hamsun. Throughout the book, there is an overwehelming sense of total isolation accompanied by craving for food and stomach pains. THe experience is vivid and almost real.
The project aims to interpret 60 Seconds of waiting in anticipation of a change in the context of broad ranging uncertainties of the future.
Can the presence last forever
Will anything ever change?
Will this process have a positive impact on life?
Will my perception of existence continue to deteriorate, while making reality more and more miserable and unsustainable?
My work will be continuously updated and adjusted in the light of new discoveries and research findings until it becomes a comprehensive and holistic appraisal of human uncertainties of the future in the context of my observations and responses.
Dreaming About Light. A piece of video experimentation titled ‘Lights coming on and off’, has references to general problems with electricity supply in the provinces and constant, long term power cuts in the capital of Port au Prince. This idea has been inspired by the Turner Prize winning piece by Martin Creed “The lights going on and off 2000”.
The use of black and white in the piece echoes racial issues in Haiti and its history of slavery, colonialisation and abuse. What remains is the patchines and unpredictablity of power and light
Time has always been of essence in my investigation. Therefore, I have decided to revisit some of my previous experimentations. These contradictory statements have been inspired by the thinking of Bruce Nauman.
The narrator simultaneously reads that she has time and has no time. This has been refined in the following two videos in order to develop my creative intentions further. The avoidance of direct eye contact is also of significance. It implies that the narrator is looking up to something, searching for for help from above, perhaps from the sky. This has also references to long days, which are wasted while waiting for help; for something to happen and change in their lives.