Today I had to give a presentation about my work… Since I’ve been writing everything down to present anyways, here it is for your enjoyment:
My learning outcomes for this semester are Resolve, Communicate and Reflect. I’ll start with reflect, since it’s a better direction through which to bring you all into the project.
My project explores problems of perspective, time and understanding of identity. We think of our “selfs” as continuous, and tend to associate “what is on the inside” with “what is true” and “what is true” with “what is stable.” I aim to question this assumption through the objects that I make, making things that make the outside world their core, and place a projection, something that is constantly changing and moving in a place normally associated with stability and authenticity, thereby to place change and instability in the place of authenticity. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Eugene Rochberg-Halton, in their 1981 book “The Meaning of Things” come to the conclusion that a major reason that we collect objects is to help us define ourselves. The things that we surround ourselves with are indicators that we use to define who we are, they can be the basis of or evidence for our self narrative. This narrative, though we may think of it as objective, is more aspirational, we tend to make up stories about ourselves based on our past that tell us what we can be now and in the future, and justify our present selves with an “I’ve always been like this, I must be this way.” I think that if there is one thing about identity that is interesting and authentic, it is that it has no centre: it is always changing, always responding to and integrating new experiences and influences, we are made up of the intersections that we experience. Sartre’s ideas about self apply here: the self is not a unified thing, is is a task that we must engage with. We are always in the process of creating and re-evaluating our narrative, creating ourselves in the process. Modern neuroscience supports this, it finds that there is no central, unchanging self or soul, more a confluence of social and experiential aspects that we create ourselves out of. The self is much more akin to the heraklitan river that you can never step into twice than it is to an object.
So, based on that idea that the objects we live with help us to remember who we are, to build and remember our personal narratives, I have been making objects that are attempts to create a reminder of change, impermanence and choice. I intend these as tools for thinking with.
Linguists George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, the authors of “Metaphors we Live By,” argue that conceptual metaphors embedded in our language direct our thinking without us being conscious of it. Our opinions about things are modified through the language we use. Many of the metaphors we use when we speak are related to surfaces and interiors. Surfaces are often represented in English as changeable, inauthentic, disingenuous; it is what is on the inside that is seen as truthful or authentic. Beauty is not real, it is “only skin deep.” My confidence may only be a façade. We also have an intuition that our identity is unchangeable, somehow centred, and that it is possible to “uncover” our “true” self.
These objects, camera obscura integrated with engraving, challenge this common association, because they have an ever-changing interior that responds the surrounding environment, and a stable exterior, positioning the changeability in the place of authenticity, and the part that is unchangeable on the surface, reversing this common association. They project their environment into their centre. This is not to say that we are nothing but the place we are currently in – the objects make looking at the mundane here and now an interesting, and somewhat difficult task, because of the interference of the engraved surface. They are objects that must change, and to be understood, they must be interacted with, and they help the user to want to notice the here and now.
Now, resolve: There are a number of locations in which we access our identities, each of these sets of objects reference one or more of these. The first three cameras on the right continue the theme I started last year, with the layering of drawing with cameo engraved portraits, and the work that was sent to Emerge at the Bullseye Gallery in Portland. These reference the continuity of memory as a source of the self. These are meant to be individualised, particular, the overhead perspective brings a contemplative mood, and places the projection in the head of the portrait, referencing the transience of our thoughts.
The next three are similar, referencing the body as a source of identity. These are not portraits, I have tried to make them as non-recognisable as possible, hiding some of their faces and making the people curled up in the foetal position, to create an introspective feeling that could lead the user holding the object to feel protective, or compassionate towards the person in the image, and possibly find themselves in that space.
The next two simply have texture, referencing our senses as a way of integrating the world. The engraved texture interferes with the projection, but not as directly as with the opacity of the cameo in the ones to the left. This makes these a little bit more accessible to the viewer, because the projection is obvious, and makes them a good entry point to the work.
The next five palm-sized cameras, reference tradition and community as a source of identity. The cutting is based on traditionally-used glass cutting patterns, battutto and brilliant cutting, and the marks come around the shape, interfering with the projection. Like with the others, the surface engraving and texture get in the way of seeing, the existing surface interferes with understanding of the projection. Pre-conceived notions can block out some understanding, or distort perspective. These ones each have different focal points, the user has to move around with them and interact with them to figure out what they can be used to look at, at what distance they focus. As with language, we often don’t notice our culture and it’s influence on our thinking until we can step outside of it.
The piece to the far right, the large wooden camera with the stand is a reference to the multiciplicy of perspective. It is a work in progress, put together in a way that I can get it apart later. Next week, it will have a stand that is cast concrete, and the engraving will be different, and more complete. The shape references mathematically drawn lines in formal perspective. The engraving here is architectural, to emphasise the relationship with formal , single-point perspective. The image is of an Edinburgh street, full of bay windows, which you might be able to see emerging. This object plays with the idea of a single perspective by overlaying multiple optical perspectives with a singular hand made perspective.
I’ll finish off with a few words about communicate. I’ve been developing professional relationships this semester through continued participation with the Glass Engraving Network, particularly in collaboration with Katherine Coleman and Nancy Suttcliffe. That will continue to develop at an increased rate over the summer as the symposium in the Czech Republic approaches and I have more time to dedicate to it. Additionally, I have had the pleasure of having Alison Kinnaird here in the studio. She has been an invaluable resource in learning more about copper wheel engraving, and particularly about improving my figure modelling and my drawing for engraving. Amanda Simmons was also a wonderful influence and resource, we had interesting conversations about kiln forming and its aesthetic, and she was valuable in helping me to improve my skills in gravity forming. I still use my blog as a space to explore my process, but over this semester it has become less technical, I am still keeping notes on each kiln firing that I make, but they are logged in my public folder in Evernote unless there is something new that I am doing in the kiln, such as the gravity forming that I have been learning towards the end of this semester.
My website has and continues to be a place to displaying finished work, rather than process, but links to all of my other web presences.