Exhibition: Other.

by Beauchamp Art

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Others
Chalk, Charcoal, Oils on Card
Portraits of my group for our ‘Other’ exhibition [Elizabeth, Rebecca, Sophie, Nicole], on the theme of Anthropology, based on photos found on Facbook, onto found card.

Other: The Exhibition

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‘Others’ Quadriptych

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Others – Lizzie

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Others – Rebecca

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Others – Sophie

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Others – Nicole

Other[s]: Presentation

The following presentation is an exercise in the ‘Information Overload’

[To be spoken in under 10 minutes without stopping]

My original intention was to produce work independently relating to our theme of anthropology – the science of humanity, or more simply ‘the other’ – before unifying the work for the exhibition, however I thought that it would make for an interesting comment on the ‘work-group/social-group’ dynamic, to use photos from Facebook of member of the group as the basis of my paintings.

Though responding to a social theme, the role of the individual’s identity cannot be overlooked, as Vera John-Steiner puts it in ‘Creative Collaboration’ (2009):

“Identities are socially constructed and shaped by participation in the communities and cultures in which the individual lives.” [6]

Firstly, I chose to work figuratively because my interest is with people in their various facets, so it seems only logical to refer to the body to reflect some aspect of the self in society, individual psychology, and human relationships. Frequently becoming obscured abstracted or distorted.

Thus, I used four images that I thought would work well painted. In selecting the images there are some criteria I considered: such as the resolution of the image – whether there was enough detail for a medium scale painting [this is one of the main reasons I choose reproduce the found photos rather than directly printing them, as well as the uncertain ownership of the image itself, how much of the ‘background’ has to be cropped or simplified.

Moreover, I refrained from ‘inventing’ too much of the image; thus defeating the purpose of choice of social media source material, and my critique on the online presentation of the self – though various other pedantic aspects to the process that did result in me adapting the source material.

Such the issue of the ‘smile’, as people frequently smile in social situations, especially – as I have discovered from searching through people’s online photos for hours on end [this rather ‘creepy’ research of looking through people’s semi-private images could be considered the longest sustained performance of the project, for it I had to epitomise the ‘Interloper’], people like to show themselves as happy, under a certain light, and so on.

In Charlie Brooker’s recent TV series, ‘Black Mirror’, there was a poignant comment that;

“The photos we keep tend to be flattering,”

Flattering may be an optimistic term. Smiling may be seen as positive in general social circles, but with portraiture, a toothy grin can easily become vulgar and distracting, indeed, they are almost totally absent from much of pre-20th century figuratism.

Joseph Ducreux’s ‘Self-Portrait as a Mocker’ in infamous example of a grinning figure that provoked outcry as being ‘inappropriate’ for the fashion and sensibilities of that time. For my piece, the appropriateness was a secondary concern [these picture are essentially ‘stolen’], but I was concerned with the uneasy aesthetic of a cheery face. Though the American artist John Currin manages to use smiling figures effectively.

I used near neutral images, or easily modifiable ones, and for the subject to be confronting the viewer, to question not only the relationship between the 4 paintings, but also the subject and the viewer, drawing one in through the forward facing gaze throughout, and the window-like arrangement, peering through the forth wall.

Indeed, my investigating into the curious nature of the social boundary online provided much provocative thought.

Similar, artist Hans-Peter Feldmann did a piece recently involving the display of the contents of handbags purchased from women the street for 500 Euros, exposing a hidden aspect of life in a museum-like exhibit. Though it could be seen as more clinically – as a dissection of an external brain, exposing parts of the extended self.

I think this is similar to how I choose to use other people’s images. Though identity was paramount; I was more concerned with the contrast between artificial interaction and face-to-face communication with the group environment.

Most of the other artists I examined were contemporary, as this is a ‘current’ subject, though there are parallels with the past [one could compare the expansion of social media to mass media]. Artist Tracey Moberly published an interesting autobiographical piece “Text Me Up”, cataloguing every [SMS] text message she received over 12 years, describing it as

“A decade of life in text, […] But it’s not just my life, I think of it as a social slice of history.”

Furthermore, The mixed media painting technique I used reflects the ephemeral and transient aspect of social relationships. It involves a layering of chalk, charcoal and oil paints on found cardboard.

I began by selecting and cutting down 4 medium sized pieces of card: paralleling the found material to the cropped found image, grounding an effective subtext to the work. I then drew out each of the portraits in charcoal, knocking back the image repeatedly, which I then worked into them with an eraser, before reapplying more charcoal and chalk for the highlights. Onto which I wrote the partially legible statements of intent. I then painted the thinned darker tones with a large brush, then mid-tones in a medium round brush, smudging the paint with sandpaper, turps covered brushes and so on, before apply the highlights and brightest colours in a small, rectangular brush, upsetting the smoothness of the under layers, leaving area exposed.

With regards to exposure, Diego Beyro’s ‘Orgasms’ series involved painting portraits of subjects at climax onto their bed sheets and displaying them on a washing line amongst derelict houses. Not only is this an unusually exposing source of images, but also the connection with the material and the subject is substantial. The relationship between the bed and sex is implied by this juxtaposition, without being explicitly erotic.

I did investigate the use of candid photography in art, but much work in that area is not particularly noteworthy or relevant. However, artist Jonny Tergo created a series of images by taking photos of people from the passenger side windows of a moving car, rending a fleeting moment somehow precious, much as I want to do with my Facebook paintings. Making the passing purposeful.

Nevertheless, regardless the time and effort these paintings embodied, they are only temporary representations of life: the nature of the materials will accelerate this inevitable decay. Much as with any form of personal relationship, ultimately the strands that hold peoples together will wither and snap or the people themselves fade to grey, passing into the obscure nothingness of death.

The inclusion of the Statements of Intent furthered the relationship between the four paintings. The ‘Other’ exhibit is unifying element, a form artificial interpersonal environment, comparable to digital socialising. As well as reflecting part of the individual’s identity, shrouded in a haze of ambiguous marks and tone – as no aspect of otherness is ever wholly clear – delineating an otherwise straightforward portrait.

‘Others’ was my original title, but after ‘Other’ became the name of the exhibition, it seemed a relevant and logical progression. I do thoroughly concern myself with titling, though for once it was relatively instinctive. I did ponder subtitling each painting, but abandoned this premise for the time being.

This has been a constructive creative collaboration, that has focused my practice and the research towards ‘otherness’, whether that is in the social media context of my current exploration, or more broadly the communication between peoples, networking and interrelationships and the value we as a society place on these connections.

In my work I do not wish to say that the Internet or new technology is not inherently bad, just that one should be aware of the potential negative impacts. As Albert Einstein put it

“I fear the day technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”

Contrasting greatly to the view of the machine as a literal and metaphorical driving force for creative output in as F. T. Marinetti’s first Futurist manifesto (1909:

“We declare that the splendour of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing automobile with its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath […]

Here the physical speed of the machine is glorified, but in a contemporary environment, bandwidth is more unilaterally sacrosanct. When considering such supermodernity, Marc Auge’s concept of the ‘non-space’ is relevant. Such ‘between places’, like motorways, airports, and waiting rooms may now need to include Cyber-Space, as it is, for all intensive purposes, placeless.

My source images are of social environments, but the photos themselves were downloaded from a social media platform, a secondary facsimile rather than the primary scene itself; it could be argued that I have not painted the people, but the representations thereof, reflected in the artificial mirror-world of Facebook.

In conclusion, I am relatively pleased with the work I produced for this exhibit, and the dynamic between the works.

After this exhibition, I may extend this piece, if my group would consent be to photographed with their portraits, or if it would be possible to have the paintings as their profile picture for a short while, returning the images to their online origins, making for a subsequent piece.

Moreover, I believe my works connect well with the rest of my group, as they feature elements relating to each person’s practice. Such as the SOI text behind the portraits comparable to Nicole’s use of text, as well as my found images to her found, or rather overheard conversation.

The distortion aspect of Lizzie’s work could also be found in my deviations from the literal representation of the form, such as the impasto-like painterly style, and the strafing effect created by smudging the paint horizontally combined with the texture of the corrugated card, create an almost pixelated effect when used in tangent with the final layer of paint, applied with a square brush.

Furthermore, a thread runs from Sophie’s psychoanalytic premise, in that the combination of description with and depiction of the figures amongst the ‘others’ reflecting some aspect of the relationship between myself, as the artist, and the subject matter – whom I know in person, but chose to reference an online representation for my pieces.

Rebecca’s concern and emotional response to gender also connects in a way that may not be immediately obvious within the context of this exhibition, but if the works were presented as a collective piece outside of this group show, they would be read differently. This is because all the people depicted, the ‘others’ of my group are female – I am not shown but am featured as the hand that forged the image. As a group exhibition, this gendering is negligible, the ‘Other’ is simple the ‘other’ people in the collective.

As Victoria Mitchell says:

“Meaning occurs in the space between the works, not in the works itself”.

However, as a male artist presenting these outside of this exhibit, it could also be seen as the ‘others’ as being women. Possibly provoking a separate line of discussion outside of the subject area I had created them in, or even compared to the ‘Female Artists’ exhibit adjacent to ours.

As a group, I believe we all benefited from the experience of putting on a group exhibition, where there group was decided for us, forcing us to work together to coalesce and create a single unified show. Indeed, in Vera John-Steiner’s words (2009),

“The varied ways in which we share and realize our intentions are powerfully embodied in collaborative endeavours.” [11]

Ultimately it is how it is read in the display amongst other works that is the paramount concern. This is why I, and I believe everyone, wanted to have a thematic connection between the works, as then they are going to be read in a context that will be beneficial to the art works, and not counterproductive.

After discussions with some other groups, it became clear that there was a variety of approaches that could have been made – such as connecting the works in the exploration of materiality, or in certain ways of displaying – indeed, we discussed the use of the triptych as a group, though this was overturned in favour of more individualistic means of display.

“What a collaboration does for you is, by spreading the risk a little bit, it encourages you to take more chances.” [Gruber] [19]

John-Steiner, (2009)

Our theme was originally ‘Society’, but ‘Anthropology fit better with everybody’s work. Anthropology, including contemporary issues such as social media, encompasses all sorts of anthropological [rather than uncanny] ‘Otherness’. Marc Auge in ‘Non-Places’ says:

“The question of the other is not just a theme that anthropology encounters from time to time; it is its sole intellectual object, the basis on which different fields of investigation may be defined. It deals with the other in the present; that is sufficient to distinguish it from history. And it deals with it simultaneously on several senses, thus distinguishing it from other social sciences. It deals with all forms of other […]”  [13]

Essentially, anthropology, and our exhibition, involves comparing anything else to the ‘I’ [or ‘we] to another.

To conclude, there is another quote from Marc Auge that would be fitting (for the themes of my work, at least):

“We in an era characterized by changes of scale […] and in the privacy of our homes, […] images of all sorts, relayed by satellites and caught by the aerials that bristle on the roofs of our remotest hamlets, can give us an instant, sometimes simultaneous vision of an event taking place on the other side of the planet. Of course we anticipate perverse effects, or possible distortions, from information whose images are selected in this way: not only can they be […] manipulated, but the broadcast image […] exercises an influence, posses a power far in excess of any objective information it carries. It should be noted, too, that the screens of the planet daily carry a mixture of images (news, advertising and fiction) of which neither the presentation nor the purpose is identical, at least in principle, but which the purpose is identical, at least in principle, but which assemble before our eyes as a universe that is relatively homogeneous in its diversity.

 

Bibliography

Others: Setting Up

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After all the meetings, the discussions; in group meetings and online, it came together in the end. Though I still find it funny how we can spend weeks planning, organising, promoting, then hours arranging and curating our little space, but ultimately the amount of feedback is directly proportional to the level of food at the private view – ‘Food for Feedback’.

Then again, a few weeks ago, Henry, Bryony and I put together an exhibition on the Painting Landing [Distortion_Decay] on the Thursday of one week, and had it set up by the Monday, with just as much of an audience [a few drinks and snacks]. Then the ‘Void’, with Nick and other members of first year was a bigger group of students working together over and even longer space of time, and we gather quite a crowd [masses of cakes and drinks], and simultaneously upstairs the ‘Gender’ exhibit had few, if any, attendants at the private view. Though whether the turn out at a private view is a measure of success is debatable, I suppose the success should be in the quality of the work, and the amount of discussion generated. Nevertheless, numbers are a must.

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