3.1; Research: Victoria Ferrand Scott

Ferrand Scott’s sculptures cast in plaster and concrete are minimal. The surfaces are polished smooth and the shapes are organic and sensual. I feel quite reverential towards the sculptures, torn between wanting to touch and afraid to reach out.

Restraint (2001) reminds me of a Georgia O’Keeffe landscape. In both cases the bulges are curvaceous and feminine, line is eliminated and definition is provided through light and shadow.

Restraint is an installation, arranged in a grid format that naturally appealed to me.  Looking at how the modules are formally arranged on the floor reminded me of Whiteread’s Untitled Floor (1992). Having spent several months during Part 2, considering how to join elements within a design, I now seem to be attracted to those that interact more freely and are interconnected only by the space that travels around them.

The open space between the components is where the similarity between these two seems to end. Whereas Whiteread incorporates the marks of everyday wear and tear, Ferrand Scott seeks a flawless surface. This use of perfection has been counteracted by the spontaneous shapes that gravity has pulled the casting material into.

I enjoy pattern but am beginning to appreciate how highlighting certain features can disturb rhythm to dramatic effect, for example: the subtle variation in shape and height of each cluster of peaks in Restraint. In ‘Pointers for the Next Assignment’ my tutor advised:

“Push yourself to keep exploring imperfection and irregularity.” 

I learned a lot about when and how perfection can be used, by comparing these two artist. If Whiteread’s finish was as smooth and polished as Ferrand Scott’s her sculptures would lose their reference to humanity. If Ferrand Scott’s surfaces contained pocks and flaws this would detract from the subtlety of the forms.

My plaster investigation in Project 1, actually drew more from Rebecca Fairley’s work than Ferrand Scott because the domes I created included texture and loose fibres. In Project 2, when the casting medium is contained within a vessel, I hope to create some smoother shapes that focus more on form than texture. This will give me an opportunity to explore the link between perfection and imperfection.

3.1; Research: Rachel Whiteread

I gained a good appreciation for the development of Rachel Whiteread’s work from reading Charlotte Mullins book¹. What impressed me most is how it has evolved over time: the scale of her plaster sculptures grew until she cast an entire house, then shrank again as she explored new materials. Once more her ambition becomes apparent as small resin sculptures were replaced by enormous projects, previously considered impossible in that medium. I love her rebellious refusal to be contained by the apparent restrictions of a given material or object.

Translating empty spaces, (for example beneath furniture) into tangible sculptures that can be seen and felt, forces the viewer to regard the world differently. The changing the relationship between space and negative space, or object and space fascinates me. Untitled: Floor (1992) is my favourite example of this.

I feel much less emotionally involved with the destruction of the domestic objects in Whiteread’s work than I did with the sacrifice of natural organisms in Rachel Dein’s. However, I think it is really important that Whiteread’s chosen objects are domestic as this makes them accessible and relatable to the human body. The human link is vital to the plaster sculptures in particular, without it I think they would just be solid lumps of material, the imperfections caused by the human body add life and soul. This is a really important observation for me and my perfectionist tendencies!

The resin pieces are more forgiving because colour and translucency have already made them attractive. Of this collection of works, I found Untitled: One Hundred Spaces (1995) to be my favourite. The spaces beneath chairs have been translated into glowing, jelly like forms that are hard and solid. As well as being beautiful in their own right, the grid like arrangement is very satisfying, not least because it adds another layer of ’empty space around solid space that should be empty’.

One Hundred Spaces, is also testament to material led investigation:

“A lot of the work I do involves pushing materials to the limit. With the resin pieces, the people I spoke to about the material, the chemists, were saying that the scale of what I wanted to do was impossible. The materials were designed for making paperweights, very small objects. I spent a lot of time figuring out how I could push it. Playing with materials is very much part of my ongoing investigation.” ²

This actually reminded me of the cutting edge technologies Janet Echelman has had explore in order to actualise her vision. If I am honest this dedication to problem solving scares the life out of me- sculpture is not for the fainthearted!

Whiteread’s book sculptures had the biggest influence on me and I found this strange because I actually like them the least of all her work. I find them really creepy and looking at them makes me feel uneasy, deep down in my stomach. I am beginning to notice that I am able to sit with works that evoke unwanted and undesirable emotions. When I first started with OCA, I would have simply bypassed these pieces. I now understand that I don’t have to ‘like’ it, to judge it successful. Perhaps it is the power of the response illicit that measures success?

¹ and ² MULLINS, C. Rachel Whiteread. (2004) Tate Publishings.

 

3.1; Research: Eduardo Paolozzi

I am really interested in the subject matter and the themes addressed in Paolozzi’s collage and print works, particularly as many still factor in our lives today. I found identifying these themes really useful for understanding his three dimensional work.DSCF4842

Putting Paolozzi into the context of Post WW2, with the threat of the Cold War looming helped explain why fear seemed to play a such a huge part in Paolozzi’s work:

” a lifelong exploration into the many ways humans are influenced by external, uncontrollable forces.” ¹

I feel the presence of fear particularly strongly in his three dimensional biometric forms. The 1950’s was an era where people believed machines and technology could take over the world. Cyclops (1957) deals rather sympathetically with the human form, yet encrusts the surface with cogs and bolts.

The surfaces of Paolozzi’s sculptural works, whether 3-D form or relief, are constructed from composite shapes. They are literally littered with mechanical looking parts. There seems to be no logic to the arrangements- no suggestion that the ‘machine’ could ever function. To me this reinforces the theme of fear: there is no reason, just a fractured representation of a frightened mind.

As far as construction goes, Paolozzi welded and bolted components together, then used Lost Wax Casting to recreate the surface. This seems like a necessary step to unify the collection of ‘found items’ into a cohesive structure. I found this interesting because it seems at odds with the way I would have previously considered building a surface. I would normally think about the production of ‘modules’ which I would then connect in some manner (like a Karen Margolis structure).

My realisation that a collection objects could be assembled and cast, led me to design a Paolozzi-style tile. I evaluate this decision here.

 

3.1; Research: Rachel Dein

Rachel Dein creates floral tiles by pressing flowers and foliage into clay and then takes a plaster cast of the imprint. I discovered that as well sourcing from her own garden, she preserves wedding bouquets. In Part 2, I explored how cloth can be used to remember objects, so researching Dein seemed appropriate.

At first, I found the tiles rather attractive. The subject matter and plain white plaster suggested a cheerful, clean and stylish solution to the inevitable decay of natural materials. Yet the more I considered the tiles the more melancholy I felt. On Dein’s own website Ngoc Ming Ngo describes the tiles as ‘ghostly’ and ‘haunting’ ¹; I think these words are highly appropriate.

Dein’s process evolved from nature printing by early botanists, I wondered if this scientific heritage was what gave the tiles their cold, stillness? I researched Botanical Illustration, Botanical Art and Flower Painting; made a Master Study of G D Ehret and considered Redoute’s typical composition. What I discovered was a lot of tenderness and warmth in the details, particularly in the application of colour and extraordinary draughtsmanship, concluding this wasn’t the reason the tiles made me sad.

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The plain, empty space that characteristically surrounds the flowers in both Botanical Illustration and Dein’s work seems to contribute to the stillness. The images appear like icons, isolated and detached from their surroundings. By changing the composition in my own tiles I was able to alter the ‘feel’ of the tiles by bring texture right up to the edges. I found this combined with the addition of colour made the tiles feel more ‘alive’.

I observed that Dein’s tiles gave me a similar feeling to walking into Ipswich Museum, with its extensive collection of Victorian taxidermy. Later when reading about Rachel Whiteread I found the probable cause for this:

“The vast majority of Whiteread’s work can only be created at the expense of the object- a floorboard, a table, a room, a house. Her sculptures document the history of the object up to that moment, but only by destroying it’ future life”. ²

This could equally be applied to Rachel Dein, her subject matter is also robbed of it’s future potential. One could argue that the organic matter would shrivel and decay without her intervention and in her work it is preserved forever. I think it interferes with the nature order of things and breaks the cycle of life.

What I learned from this research regarding casting, is to look further than the aesthetics of the materials used. My initial thoughts were investigate the physical aspects of the work: colour and composition.  It wasn’t until I considered it in broader terms that I understood the feelings it provoked in me. It seems the object that is to be moulded from can be as influential as the material that records it.

¹ http://www.racheldein.com/about/

² MULLINS, C. Rachel Whiteread (2004) Tate Publishings. P47

 

 

 

 

 

3.1; Embellishment and Manipulation

Reaching the end of Project One, I realised I now had to develop my ideas by embellishment or manipulation, using what I have learned during MMT so far. At first this led to another crisis in confidence, I couldn’t see how I would be able to do this. I wondered if I naturally do this as I go along without realising it? For example my Latex yarn experiments:

I had already changed the sample taken from the texture of a meat tray by attaching it to lengths of ribbon yarn:

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I had altered the appearance of my golf ball casting by stretching over an egg cup:

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I had already considered a different technique for casting with latex by impregnating yarn and wrapping it around an object:

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I decided to take stock of what I have created so far and leave this additional development stage for now. I began to consider what I needed to do to move forward into Project 2:

  • Write up my research into Contemporary Artists.
  • Try silicone- I noticed several times in my sketchbook I had noted that this material might be an alternative, capable of producing the desired effect. (These judgements were theoretical, made with no experience of the material).

As I put these steps into action, I found a bit of distance from the problem of developing the samples really helped. I made notes in my sketchbook and was really surprised by how I was able to link current moulding experiences with previous exercises. I now have several pages of ideas to develop, which really fortified me. I felt I had a much better understanding of how working with casting materials could relate to my own work. I feel I have applied the principle:

“Produce a high ratio of ideas to applications” ¹

Previously I would have felt overwhelmed by the generation of so many possibilities, believing that each one needed to be pursued to conclusion. I now feel quite invigorated by flexing this ‘creative muscle’.

¹MAU, Bruce: An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth.

3.1; Playing with Plaster and Knits

Aims: to return to explorations with plaster, this time with particular focus on transferring the texture of a knitted surface.

Why did I select this material/process/approach? Experiments with Polydoh showed me how fibres from yarn can become trapped in the surface of the moulding material. This offers more than shape alone and reminded me of Rachel Whiteread’s work with books. The physicality of tearing the book from the mould leaving pages partially attached seemed to contrast with the very sedate work I had made so far. I was also interested in how she allowed dye from the page edges to influence the colour of the finished piece.

Sample properties: Look/Feel. Structure/texture/colour. SAMPLE 1:The combination of white cotton and white plaster revealed very little in the way of transferred fibres. Although the fibres are there, they do not contrast enough to make any visual impact. What is successful in this sample is the moulding of the stitches which are clear and crisp. Also the gentle dome effect created as the knit stretched with the weight of the plaster.

SAMPLE 2: A particularly hairy, string like yarn allowed more fibres to be captured in the surface of the plaster. The contrasting colour makes this feature much more prominent than in the previous sample. 2×2 rib has created deep furrows that run parallel across the surface, this regularity without measured perfection is pleasing. I also like the way more fibres seem to have been trapped in the recesses of the trenches, allowing the raised ridge to appear more distinguishable.

SAMPLE 3: I experimented with different types of yarn and stitch, as such this sample is more of a reference to what can be achieved than a success in its own right. I noticed sometimes fibres sat in the imprint of a stitch, enhancing the texture; Other times they actually concealed the imprint creating their own textural patterns.

SAMPLE 4: In a move away from my preferred palette, I experimented with this full spectrum novelty yarn. I was thrilled with the way the inclusions pulled away from the carrier yarn. The slight crimp in each tuft echoes the bumpy surface the knitted stitches left in the plaster. I was really pleased with the effect of this sample until my niece asked if I had “scalped a clown” – I don’t feel quite the same about it anymore!

 

How does this relate to my contextual research? Tearing the knitted swatches off the plaster casts was physical and suggested how Whiteread worked through some of her frustration at the constant delays of her Holocaust Memorial. In actual fact the samples I created more directly referenced the research I did into Rebecca Fairley.

Did I feel comfortable with the materials/techniques? Was there anything I particularly enjoyed? Having become more familiar with plaster because of earlier sampling I now had the confidence to really enjoy this set of samples. I was able to incorporate my love of knitting through the selection of yarns and process of creating swatches. I am aware I could have repurposed old knitwear or other types of fabric but I wanted to be fully immersed in the entire process.

Did I discover anything new or unexpected? I kept the gauge of the knitting fairly tight but still expected some plaster to seep through, which it didn’t.

How could I use this sample/technique/material/research in the future? I am quite keen to explore how a looser gauge or even a lacy knit effects the plaster. I would also like to experiment with the thickness of the yarn and cast some really chunky knits. I am not really sure how I would embellish or manipulate the samples further, maybe leave them as the are and develop them into a series of drawings? (see sketchbook).

Could I repeat this using a different material/techniques? It seems the possibilities are endless because of the range of stitches and types of yarn available to explore. Concrete could be substituted for plaster, however, I don’t want my investigation to follow Rebecca Fairley’s too closely, as it is instantly recognisable within OCA circles. I wonder if I could make the investigation more personal to me some how? I think the answer lies in moving onto Project 2, where the casting material is contained within a plastic bag. Although this means I will not be pulling up fibres, I will be able to explore more open weaves.

How does my learning relate to tutor feedback/personal development? The very presence of fibres trapped in the surface of one of my samples would previously have been incredibly upsetting to me. I used to seek perfection, craving a polished finish like that of Ferrand Scott now I am actively seeking imperfection. This was one of Cari’s pointers of this assignment.

What do I want/need to do next? I feel that I am almost ready to move onto Project 2, Casting the Internal Space of a Vessel. This set of samples could lead quite logically to this slight change of focus, however, the course-notes require that I develop 2/3 samples through embellishment or manipulation. I need time to review and reflect on all the samples I have made to far and decide how I am going to progress…

3.1; Playing with Mouldable Polymer

Aims: to explore a new and unfamiliar material.

Why did I select this material/process/approach? I chose the product Polydoh by Materialix, from a range of mouldable polymers available on Amazon. The decision was made solely because this pack offered six free mini bags of colour, otherwise I could see little difference between the products and their pricings.

Degree of success: What worked/What didn’t? Why? Almost all the samples I produced were ‘successful’, once I got to grips the temperature requirements! I quickly learned not to introduce or remove other surfaces whilst the plastic is too hot, which prevents unwanted sticking and distortion.

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Although there was a fantastic level of detail, it took an incredible amount of strength to separate the materials. At first, I thought the problem was the similarity between the two types of plastic but I learned from experience this is not the case, the Polydoh was simply too hot when I applied it.

Sample properties: Look/Feel. Structure/texture/colour.

SET 1: Small samples made from impressing a variety of surfaces, natural/manmade, porous/non-porous:

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The irregular shapes, that are slightly uneven and warped, won me over because of the level of detail they capture. Viewed individually, they look nothing special but as a group they are more appealing. The plastic has a wax like quality without the fragility.

SET 2: The flexibility of the polymer allowed me to impress the shell, partially enclosing it, I was then able to ‘unwrap’ it, stretching and distorting the organic spiralling pattern:

 

 

The resulting pattern can be better appreciated in my drawing, the impressions were faint and required viewing in a particular light. I included them because I like the idea of taking the surface of a 3-D object and stretching it out flat because the distortion causes an instant abstraction.

SET 3: Polydoh was surprisingly effective at capturing the pattern created by knitted stitches. Whereas Latex engulfed the yarn and was impossible to remove, Polydoh peeled away:

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What these samples added to my exploration of a knitted texture was that some fibres adhered to the surface. Although this can not be very well perceived from the photograph, there is a light covering of ‘fluff’, almost like baby hair, embedded into the surface. This is something I would like to exploit because more than the pattern is being recorded. I think this would fit into my investigation of retaining memory from Part 2.

Did I feel comfortable with the materials/techniques? Was there anything I particularly enjoyed? I really enjoyed the immediacy of this product. I found it really quite liberating compared to the other mouldable materials I have tried. The reasons for this are listed below.

Could I repeat this using a different material/techniques? I suppose most of the samples I made could be produced using other materials but I found the polymer really rather unique:

  • It has similar casting properties to clay and Papier-mâché, without extended drying times.
  • When thin, it is flexible like a latex or silicone (although it is not stretchy)
  • It can be pierced or drilled without breakage, or splitting (a property I believe is quite unrivalled).
  • Compared to plaster and clay it is very lightweight.
  • It can’t be poured like plaster or silicone but it is very ‘squishable’!
  • It captures fine detail as well as any other casting material I have trialled.
  • It can be cut with scissors, and it’s surface painted.
  • It isn’t nearly as messy as all the other materials, so it requires less planning and preparation.
  • It doesn’t smell and is totally safe to use (just watch your fingers with the hot water)
  • Best of all it is totally reversible- if you don’t like what you’ve made, ‘recycle’ it by reheating and starting again. (I don’t know how many times this could be done!)

How does this relate to my contextual research? In a rather oblique way working with the polymer did relate to my research into one contemporary artist in particular: Phyllida Barlow. I have been considering a recent article in the Guardian (here):

She uses the shortest route to get something done. She improvises, makes shortcuts, disregards time-honoured craft techniques.” ¹

This is the antithesis of my personal approach to date (perhaps excluding Washing Machine Spoon). I think the raw energy in Barlow’s work is something I could learn from. I am often frustrated by how long it takes me to make anything- my adherence to rules and meticulous nature. Richard Wentworth calls her “a bish-bash-bosh person” ² and that is a little bit how working with the Polydoh made me feel.

How could I use this material in the future? I’m not sure this material would be to everyone’s taste. It is a synthetic and it does have similar amateurish applications to Fimo, however, I really rather like it. It is incredibly immediate and versatile, I think it is a simple way to test an idea before committing to a more complex process.

Essentially, is a sort of three dimensional printing press, I think it could effectively used in conjunction with a Gelli Plate to produce prints.

What do I want/need to do next? The small samples suggest the need for presentation because in all honesty the number of samples I have already produced is driving me crazy! I am loathe to simply glue them to card, I wonder if I can incorporate some sort of puncturing (drilling) with stitch?

The success of translating the texture of knitted stitches with Polydoh has made me want to explore this further (incorporating knits in my work is a long term personal interest). I have decide to return once more to plaster but this time with more focus and the benefit of some relevant contextual research.

¹ and ²:  www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/may/09/bish-bash-bosh-how-phyllida-barlow-conquered-the-art-world-at-73