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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Costello, workbooks

Week 8, 11-15 May 2010

Formative critique assessment, essay for Fine Arts Research, continuing preparations for St Alban's participatory project and discussions on art dissemination strategies.

1. FORMATIVE CRITIQUE This week was 200 level critique. Some fantastic works presented and am enjoying the discussions. Below is my presentation and assessment following the 400 level formative critique last week.


Slideshow St Albans
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My project focuses on materiality and has been guided by the principles of vibrant matter and distributive agency. Initial exploration of two materials I selected (pōhutukawa stamen and pōhutukawa wood) resulted in artworks of felted and dispersed stamen situated in nature and in my home, and the making of rustic wooden stools from 110 year-old timber. Photographs of these objects and a video documenting the dispersal of stamen were shown at formative critique.

Responding to the agency and vibrancy of these materials has led to the idea of a participatory art project that will focus on the 110 year-old pōhutukawa trees recently removed from St Alban's Church frontage as both their height and roots were damaging nearby structures.

The project’s vision is to explore the space where human ritual, memory and nature interconnect. Its aim to is to honour the space the pōhutukawa trees created for Eastbourne families for over a century within the context of births (christenings), marriages and deaths (funerals). The project scope was shared at formative critique along with a draft of proposed questions for participants. I asked for feedback on these questions.

These are the key relevant discussion points raised during my formative critique and the insights they offer to my project -

  1. Validation of vision, focus and aim of the Participatory Project Pip: ‘opportunity to share the experiences in such a beautiful space’ Richard: ‘keep pohutukawa present in a literal sense; brutal before and after …murder of trees quite compelling, hang on to memory of church’ It was helpful and encouraging to get feedback on the value of the participatory art project and affirmation that the project may be a beneficial experience for participants. I feel strongly that artistic merit should not be the primary motive for the project, nor that it should criticize the parish’s decision to remove the trees. Rather, I hope this project might be a “platform to amplify” as described by Theaster Gates in his Sanctum for Bristol project. Theaster Gates suggests collaborative community performances differ from monumental public works by acting as “a plinth, or platform to amplify” and that by creating a big enough platform “the platform can become the work” that engages first a village and then a city. He describes himself as a provocateur to engagement (Gates, Situations).

  2. Memories Millie: ‘memories, things change with memory’ ‘what stays in your memory compared to what you forget or didn’t notice’ ‘If no one had seen it before how would you describe it? Trees are so concrete how would they experience them - those who have experienced the trees compared to those who haven’t?’ ‘Temporal vs Permanence’ ‘Video is temporal’ ‘Passing of experience’ Tyson: ‘when 5 or 6 years old I noticed a leaf falling from tree then went home to find out dog had died – now when I see a leaf fall wonder if some bad news might occur’ Rose: ‘brings up really personal experiences in the process of things changing’ Connor: Richard Powers book The Overstory, ‘people’s relationship to trees and how central they are’ I was surprised by how much of the formative critique discussion centred on memory, not just from the personal memories shared but also the thoughtful investigation into the process of recording and retaining memories and sharing these with others. This did impress on me the real value of the work and what the platform will amplify. It raised two concerns for me – (i) that I need to do more research around areas of both memory and participatory projects; and (ii) I need to appreciate that the project may amplify memories of loss and sadness and how do I make this a safe and caring experience for participants. What is my role and responsibility (if any) in resolving these emotions? I will need to discuss these issues with my mentors.

  3. Video as an artwork and/or a dissemination strategy Richard: ‘video is an artwork of the ’act of doing it’ ‘document of action – daughter sprinkling…feel, smell’ Pip: ‘watching the video is quite meditative’ ‘imitating a tree shedding stamen like ashes of someone you’ve lost who is dear to you’ This is my first foray into video documentation brought about due to Covid-19 restrictions. Initially I had considered it only as a dissemination strategy but gradually, and reluctantly, I am appreciating its value to the artmaking process. The video I presented at formative critique enabled others to share in the beauty of the artwork as it revealed itself through the sprinkling of the stamen onto the floor. As Richard said, the ‘video is an artwork of the ’act of doing’’ and contrasts with the engagement of a finished object. By capturing the process of making, the video provides an opportunity for people to engage with a participatory artwork after the event. Digital platforms create a space that is outside real space, place and linear time. These platforms can be accessed in multiple places at the same time or in perpetuality and are a powerful art dissemination strategy. Further, the capacity for digital recording to capture and share memories resonates with my project’s amplification of memories within a space. While I appreciate the value in digitally recording the participatory art installation, it raises several questions and concerns. Firstly, what is the artwork and what is the dissemination strategy? Are there two artworks and dissemination strategies operating i.e. a participatory artwork/dissemination strategy and a video artwork/dissemination strategy? Will two artworks compromise the project? Secondly, while this tension provides a creative opportunity it presents a completely new medium that I have not engaged with before and will test my limited digital technical skills. This makes me nervous! I will need to do lots of research on the role of filmmaking as an art practice. I will also be more dependent on others as I will require ongoing support from mentors and technicians to complete my project.

  4. Questions vs Data Collection Connor: ‘what will you do with the data collected?’ Richard: ‘where is the artwork in this? Is the experience enough, are questions and answering them enough? Is the video just documentation? ‘ ‘Academic style questions rather than a conversation starter’ ‘If aim is to get people talking are they too formal?’ Millie: ‘if the ploy is to get people somewhere and let the conversation flow maybe questions could be used to come back to if necessary’ The feedback about the proposed questions for participants was very useful and confirmed my hesitancy in presenting them to participants prior to the commencement of the project. I think it would be best to do as Millie suggested and create a space that allows conversation to generate spontaneously rather than follow a script and use the questions only as necessary.

  5. How to document the Performative Practice Millie: ‘Zoom stuff is hard to show what you’ve done’ Connor: ‘would you be satisfied with the performance existing without the documentation? Maybe photographs’ Millie: ‘Is performance the whole work? Filming it may be too intrusive - mum goes silent if videoed Maybe photos less intrusive, more anonymous and people happy to speak’ Again, these comments raise an important point as to what is the artwork and what is the dissemination strategy and how videoing may affect the experience of participating in the performative artwork. I will need to reflect more thoughtfully on how I document the participatory project and why i.e. the value or otherwise of digitally recording.

2. FINE ARTS RESEARCH - ASSIGNMENT 2 We discussed how our areas of interest seem to have changed during Covid-19. Dani shared her recent investigations into New Narrative which has resonance with my investigations into New Materialism and semiotics.

I've been reading a collection of essays in Carnal Knowledge: Towards a 'New Materialism' through the Arts edited by Estelle Barrett and Barbara Bolt. Katve-Kaisa Kontturi's essay From Double Navel to Particle-Sign:Toward the A-Signifying Work of Painting discusses a new method for interpreting art - the way of non-encounter - which allows something else to speak in the artwork beyond the recognition of a form and content that we already know. 'Interpretation as a non-encounter' challenges our habitual being in the world and forces us to think in order to produce something new.

Examining Susan Nevado's painting Honest Fortune, Kontturi describes how Nevado's process of removing layers of paint to reveal new strata allows the unstable dynamism between form and matter to engage in a process of becoming. Within this strata, 'semiotic components are inseparable from material components and form and content are no longer in hierarchical conjunction'. Kontturi describes this as a-signifying semiotics that 'operate by directly and non-communicatively "transmitting ideas, functions, intensities, or sensations with no need to signify any meaning" (Watson 2008)'. Here 'form interacts directly on matter' in a reciprocal relation between material fluxes and the semiotic machine'.

I am hesitantly learning to enjoy this space between material fluxes and the semiotic machine. It was something I had encountered, but was unable to articulate, when making the work Brand vs Form. During the artmaking process I understood there was a hierarchical conjunction between form and content i.e. that semiotics interrupted the reading of the form of the cardboard box. Finding a way to reconcile this tension between form and content through my investigations into New Materialism has been both surprising and revelatory. That there is a space where form and semiotics can mutually and reciprocally co-exist in a process of becoming is exciting.

When researching New Narrative I stumbled upon this linguistic device described by Dr Christopher McGee, Professor, Children's and Young Adult Literature and Co-Director of Women's and Gender Studies at Longwood University, Virginia USA. It is very interesting and has relevance to artmaking.

  • Metafictional (or Metatextual) by Dr C McGee "My working definition: This is a quality of certain types of literature [we might say that a certain book or movie is very “meta-fictional”] that seem to have two levels of dialogue going on at once. The text, whatever it is, has a layer in which it generally proceeds as normal – it is a typical text. At the same time, however, there is a second level of commentary in which the text knowingly comments on what it is doing. It calls your attention to the process of its own creation, or the text will knowingly get in its own way, constantly interrupting what it is doing. Or to put it another way, the text draws attention to its status as an artifact (something that is made by someone for a certain purpose) in order to be funny, to try to break free from old forms, or to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality. These are works in which the process by which the story itself is created becomes a central focus. Although we may be getting a little far from the definition, here on some different ways a text can be especially metafictional:

  • by being self-referential – when ever the text recognizes itself as a text – it breaks the illusion that it is reality – the text (or characters) become self-aware

  • by breaking the fourth wall – the fourth wall is the agreed-upon boundary between the audience and the performers – sometimes the characters in the text will directly confront the audience

  • by blurring the lines between the fictional world and the real world – characters walk off the page, characters read scripts of the text they are in, the text calls attention to the boundaries between worlds, such as the world between different texts (parodying other texts, in other words)

  • the narrator does too much (or too little) of what he or she is supposed to – typically the narrator is an almost invisibly presence – in metafictional texts the narrator constantly interrupts, or fails to pull the story together, goes on too long or doesn’t say enough

  • the text reminds you of the material fact that it is a book, or movie – jokes are hidden everywhere, you are reminded that you are holding an actual book in your hand One last definition: Metafiction emphasizes its refusal to take for granted how stories should be told and thus implicitly comments on the nature of fiction itself, playing with, and exploring, how stories are told.

That's pretty cool.

3. ST ALBAN'S PARTICIPATORY PROJECT No response for participants or photographs following the article in the parish newsletter. I approached Patsy, parish co-coordinator, to see if she might suggest families who have a long history with the church - four people have been invited to participate in the project so far. I have completed the invitation and ethics forms and sent them out. Tentative dates have been proposed.

St Alban's Invitation and Information Sh
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This is a list of questions that might help your (participants') reflections for Saturday 23rd May 2020 but please don't be limited by them -

  • In this space between the front of the church and where the pōhutukawa trees were - > What are your earliest memories associated with this space? > What important events and rituals from your life are associated with this space? > Who did you share them with?

  • Environments form and influence our experiences They create the space between us > How significant was this space in creating your experiences and reinforcing your memories? > What did the trees bring to your experiences?

  • This space has been disrupted and disturbed The church building has been closed since 2016 due to non-building compliance The pōhutukawa trees have now been removed > How have these disruptions to this space affected you? > How do these disturbances alter your memories?

St Alban Tree Story
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This is proving to be a problematic course! This is the email I have sent to Eugene to try to resolve what is appropriate to deliver for the assignment

Email dated 15/05/2020 to Eugene and Richard Hi Eugene (and Richard), (I have included Richard Reddaway in this email as this is relevant to both Art Studio and Art in Context.) Well its clear Art in Context is confusing and frustrating me Eugene!! After pondering this for a little bit, these are my thoughts regarding participatory art as a dissemination strategy. I'd appreciate your feedback on them Eugene and Richard. I need to confirm what I will do for this assignment so comments on that would be helpful also Eugene. Thank you.  1. An art dissemination strategy is a method to reach an audience 2. An audience is someone who encounters the artwork and is invited to engage with it 3. If an audience chooses to engage with the artwork, they can engage actively or passively  4. Participatory art invites the audience to engage actively with the artwork - blurring the lines between participant/artist and audience 5. Participatory art is a highly effective method to reach and engage an audience 6. See 1. I feel this strategy does fit within the context of Art in Context and is modeled on one of the dissemination strategies used by Olivia Webb in her Anthems of Belonging. I was surprised by the critical analysis of the discussion yesterday. My thoughts on your comment that participatory art is 'coercive' does not negate it as a strategy of dissemination but does raise a question - does every art dissemination strategy hold an element of trying to manipulate its audience? If I video the work then it becomes not only a record of the work but an artwork in and of itself. This invites another dissemination strategy. This is where it is problematic for me. The participatory art I am hoping to do is for Art Studio. I could record it with photos and that could be the documentation of the process for Art Studio assessment. If I also video it, and the church has asked for it to be part of its archive, this too is another dissemination strategy. Interestingly, and in the spirit of participatory art, it is a dissemination strategy that the audience has been involved in, blurring the line again between participant/artist/audience. So, if this is all too problematic, I can photocopy some zines I made last year for the Print Book course and disseminate them at the local library. I could discuss with the librarians if I could read it to a class of young school students. But as this artwork has already been assessed is it appropriate to use for this course? Otherwise I could make an artwork that is sited outside and its dissemination strategy is to just be there for anyone who notices (a strategy I like but did not discuss in assignment 1). Measuring the dissemination strategies success could be problematic but okay. Thanks Eugene

Email dated 17/05/2020 Eugene's response 17th May 2020 Hi Suzy, (and Richard)

I’m sorry that you are finding the course frustrating, although some degree of confusion can be useful when worked through. And my sense is that you are not alone in finding that it can be difficult to distinguish between dissemination of an art work and the production of an art work. This is particularly true when we move in to what might be defined as post object, conceptual and social practice based works. While I think that these are important ideas to discuss I don’t want overzealous semantic definitions to be an impediment to students exploring new dissemination processes, That would clearly run counter to the aims of the course.

I am primarily in agreement with you in regards to your points 1 through 4 and believe the fundamental aim of the course is to test the efficacy of a dissemination strategy, so I would pose point 5 as a question rather than as a statement of fact.

I agree with you that Olivia’s work is an interesting precedent for your project and thinking about this makes me wonder if the terminology we are using might be causing some of the confusion. I might characterize Olivas work as a collaborative project rather than participatory. (and again I would ask if the dissemination of the work was in the making of it or in the exhibiting of it through St Paul’s st and through the Dowse? Perhaps in a rather old fashioned way what generally springs to mind for me when talking about participatory art is less collaborative in the production of the work, I tend to think of works where the audience are asked to perform the work or to activate a more singular vision of the artist. And I do maintain that I find those types of work coercive. I‘m sorry if you thought I was calling you or your work coercive, It certainly doesn’t appear that way to me.

With your multiplicity of options for the final part of Art and Context my suggestion would be to pursue the strategy you feel either most interested in knowing more about or the one you feel will be of most use to you and your practice. And its great that you have copied Richard in here as if you do use your stools project for your case study we will need to be clear what I am to mark as an exploration of dissemination and what he is to consider in terms of production.

My final comment is to say that I find the relationships between dissemination and production interesting in this project, Yes tricky, but No not too tricky. I hope this has helped clarify things for you, I’m happy to answer an further questions.

Naku noa

Na Eugene


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