IA13 Degree Show

July 31, 2013

End of degree number two! I was lucky to have three pieces in the show; two in the main Interactive Arts show, and one specially commissioned piece by the Manchester School of Art for the roof terrace on the new building.

This year I used Zen poetry as my main influence because its philosophy of constantly asserting the transience of our existence is something I wanted from my artwork. I feel that light has this transient quality through its visibility and invisibility which could then be used to visually activate the meaning of the poetry. With this in mind, I defined my project as creating a modern Zen scroll.

Sun Scroll at midday

Sun Scroll at midday

‘Sun Scroll’ is a Zen poem revealed by sunlight. It addresses themes of transience, emphasised by the transient sunlight. The projected words appear differently throughout the day and year depending on the angle of the sun.

'Leap And The Net Will Appear'

‘Leap And The Net Will Appear’

‘Leap and the net will appear’ is a Zen saying that I appropriated into a piece of text art activated by light. You know the light’s path but you can’t see it all, requiring you to trust in the leap to the text.

'Sun Bowls' on display

‘Sun Bowls’ on display

The ‘Sun Bowls’ contain extracts from Zen poems that refer to a transience of existence echoed in the use of glass and light to illuminate the words. The shifting lighting conditions within a room changes the visibility of the words – sometimes readable from above, others from the projection onto the surface below, and occasionally not at all. The bowls are intended to be lived with and viewed over a period of time, becoming part of the owner’s personal context and place.

'Sun Bowl' in the home

‘Sun Bowl’ in the home



‘Happiness II’

I showed my work in the Haecceity Project at Nouvel Organon Gallery in Paris this July. It was a wonderful experience to show my work outside of the UK and to reach a new audience.

I designed ‘Happiness II’ to create a temporary projected document on the pages of the book using sunlight. I re-appropriated a line from a Stephen Dunn poem to visually highlight the transience of happiness. This meant that sometimes it would ‘work’ and other times it would not, depending on the lighting conditions. The first day it rained, but in the evening the light from the street lamps activated the work, which surprised everyone, including myself, as I had only really designed it with sunlight in mind.

The sun came out over the next few days, which made the piece work as intended. This certainly pleased me, but as an artwork that highlights the transience and intangibility of an emotion, it would have fulfilled its conceptual purpose whether the sun came out or not.

One thing I did not anticipate was that the graffiti acid-etched into the gallery window, which also projected onto the work at times. At first this frustrated me, but then I realised that I had created a piece which was ephemeral and relied totally on outside factors to work or not work, and this was something I had to accept. The graffiti was a part of the city, and that was literally becoming part of the experience of my work, for better or worse. Not unlike the experience of happiness.

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I’ve had a couple of months to ruminate on this photography book by Rinko Kawauchi. I like to make a cup of tea and sit down with it, gently turning the pages bound with a Japanese binding technique, and admiring the way the photos have been placed together.

The pictures are varied in subject matter but all give the impression that they have been happened upon by Kawauchi during a lifetime of  travelling around, camera poised to capture life through her perspective. She uses her camera’s settings skillfully and artistically, over-exposing on some to give an ethereal effect; in the case of her Japanese blossoms the images lift my spirits and bring a smile to my face each time I look at them.

Rinko Kawauchi Blossom picture from 'Illuminance'

Each picture subtly relates to the next, be it the echo of a shape or colour, a line of light in a swimming pool travelling across to the strips of light on a tube train; or energetic splashes of water from swimmers to the static dew droplets caught on spiders’ webs.

Rinko Kawauchi from 'Illuminance'

Then there is the light. As the title of the book suggests, light, even in the darker pictures, is the essential tool to making each picture so special. Orbs of light are scattered across the body of work, appearing at intervals like old friends, never seen to the naked eye, but caught by the camera’s lens.

Rinko Kawauchi Light picture from 'Illuminance'

The moments she captures make up the stuff of life, and with her help, we notice beauty in some of the most inconsequential of subjects. A new colour palette and way of looking at surroundings emerges, and for that, I find this book visually and soulfully nourishing.

Rinko Kawauchi from 'Illuminance'

Zen Garden

February 23, 2012

This recent site specific work is a tiny Zen garden. I say Zen garden, but in reality, even though I followed as many rules as I could to create this piece, it will never compete with the wonderful Zen Gardens of Japan. It is more about the act of raking the stones once/twice a day in order to get oneself into a meditative state and to have a place to go away from the crazy world we’re in and to concentrate on our mere existence.

This garden is placed in a natural circle formed in the grass of All Saints Park, Manchester. I put down some white gravel then decided that in accordance with my research, I should wait for the central stones (not that I knew they would be placed in the centre at the time) to find me. I had spent a little time actively looking before this decision, but found absolutely nothing. So, I let go of any anxiety towards finding these stones before the day I had to present my work, then on that very day I walked down a pathway to find three stones of the perfect size and shape for my garden. I took care to position them as I found them, not placing them standing up if they were originally on their side.

I spent about half an hour each day for a week raking the stones, come rain or shine. To many, I looked a bit mental, but it worked a treat to clear my mind and get into a meditative state. I was surprised at how quickly I was able to lose a sense of ‘self’ and just started to watch the continuous flow of the stones, like water when being raked (stones like these often represent water in typical Zen Gardens). I know half an hour is not a long time to some, but to an unseasoned person in meditation with a busy schedule (the garden was meant as a chance to take a break from busy schedules), this was enough to get in the right frame of mind for the day.

The garden was meant to be a temporary installation, but is still there at the moment, ready to be raked by anyone who would like to. For those who know me, just ask to borrow the rake I store in my studio, for those that don’t, then feel free to bring your own rake! I’d like nothing more than to come across someone using their own rake on the garden and getting something out of the repetitive motion of raking in a circle.

Thanks to Helen Wheeler who took the photo of me raking away.

Lumiere Festival, Durham

November 25, 2011

Le Borgne 'Les Voyageurs'

I went to the Lumiere Festival in Durham in November 2011, and what a lovely experience it was! Light can be a wonderful spectacle that can bring joy just by looking at it, the works in this festival were able to do just this. The colours and luminescence of site specific works such as the illuminated waterfall ‘Splash’ by Peter Lewis (engineered by Water Sculptures UK), the ‘Durham bridges’ (Martin Warden) and ‘Rainbow’ (Deadgood Studios) highlighted the beauty of these bridges which would normally be in darkness at night and probably overlooked by passers by. It’s hard to say exactly why light like this is so enjoyed, perhaps it’s its ethereal nature, it’s there but you can’t grasp it and it will so quickly go away, or perhaps just the novelty of the spectacle. One piece which particularly captured my wonderment and managed to harness light into something tangible was ‘Les Voyageurs’ (The Travellers) by French artist Cédric Le Borgne; wire sculptures of people suspended as if flying above us on narrow streets, perched on buildings, their whole being illuminated. These figures were curious to look at, they were at once uplifting when considering yourself in their position of flight, gloriously lit up, but they were also sad, alone in their positions, untouchable and certainly not free or travelling. This is the conundrum of the existence of light and of ourselves; light needs a conduit to see it, just as our spirit needs one to live in, but this is both a liberating and restricting experience.

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Fog and a hanging ball

October 21, 2011

I’ve been buzzing around quite a few galleries recently, two shows that I went to on the same day that couldn’t have been more different in medium, but rather similar in concerns were ‘Zee’ at FACT Gallery and the Magritte exhibition at Tate Liverpool.

‘Zee’ by Kurt Hentschlager at Liverpool’s FACT Gallery was an experience to remember. Essentially a room filled to the brim with fog you might think it a claustrophobic piece of work, but this was not the case for me anyway. Guided into the room in groups of no more than 12, participants must grasp hold of a tight red rope to give some sort of point of reference for the first few steps into the fog and towards a bright white light, then when comfortable, let go of the rope and wander tentatively around the room. A low rumbling of sound and a mixture of strobe and pulse lights of different patterns and swathes of colour envelop even more intensely than the fog itself, it is merely the conduit for the light.

The first time I went in with friends, we were astonished at the experience. We giggled and exclaimed how wonderful it was, there was a real sense of joie de vivre and I certainly felt the kind of giddy excitement I did as a child, when everything is new and emotions are expressed regardless of the social situation.  The second time I entered the space with more composure, ready to take the experience but more actively analyse it. As the work progressed I found myself smiling, unaware of whether my eyes were open or closed (the strobes work through eyelids), I felt that as I could see nothing else but the light and the occasional phantom shadow, that I was almost not there. During some of the more intense light patterns it occurred to me that if death is no more than a dissipation of energy back into the world, then this was something akin to what I believe death to be. I don’t mean to sound morbid, in fact quite the opposite, feeling as if on the cusp of existing and not existing was quite liberating and not at all scary. When asked whether I preferred the first or the second experience best, I think the first; because even though the second experience gave a certain epiphany, the first brought me back to existing in the same way that a child exists. A child takes in everything as new, just enjoying the experience and reacting directly through laughter and excitement.

Magritte 'The Secret Life'

Magritte 'The Secret Life'

A different medium, but for me, with similar concerns, was the excellent Magritte painting exhibition at Liverpool Tate. The exhibition was a comprehensive education in Magritte’s life and progression through the styles and concerns of his work, which should be credited to the curators, Christoph Grunenberg and Darren Pih, for their insightful and thoughtful layout of the work.

The walls were coloured grey/blue and particularly in the first room named ‘The Surreal Encounter’ the lighting was muted to the extent that it gave the impression of standing in one of his paintings, yet viewing them at the same time. This is a clever curatorial decision as many of his works play with the boundary of the painting, what is real and what is not.

From this large exhibition I could go on about so many of the paintings, but in an attempt at brevity I shall just note the piece I found most personally impacting after a day of considering the existence of things; this was ‘The Secret Life’ 1928 (pictured above). I stood in front of this painting for quite a while, I found the ball hanging in mid-air in this darkened bare room quite innocuous. This spherical ‘thing’ appears to be in a state of being/existing in this space whether we are there to view it or not. I looked at this painting in situ with many people around me, yet it felt as if it was very much alone and I had intruded on its quiet existence, a bit like coming across a ghost. Perhaps this painting is a visual version of the philosophical conundrum ‘if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?’ it is a question of perception and existence.


It’s not often that I feel compelled to quote an article on this blog, but I’ve been thinking about the funding cuts to the arts recently. I fervently believe in funding the arts, so many great things are made, opportunities created. I feel that good art is good for your health, I don’t always know why it is ‘good’ but if it brings me some sort of joy or makes me think about something which is hard to express in other ways, then I feel it is serving a purpose. It is often difficult to then argue for the arts when someone poses the rather crass either/or question of would you rather pay for NHS equipment or buy a painting for a gallery? Of course you would want to save a life; however I think that Grant Gibson‘s editorial in this May/June issue of Crafts Magazine is rather a succinct rebuttal to this question as he points towards the importance of cultural identity through art:

The truth of the matter is, set against the backdrop of human tragedy (both micro and macro), the arts may well appear insignificant, but they are more than mere frippery. For proof I generally point people in the direction of The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War, the brilliant book by Robert Bevan that vividly illustrates how the eradication of architecture and culture has been used over history to gut a nation’s identity – from the Romans razing Carthage and Hitler’s burning of the synagogues to contemporary atrocities. As the Czech author Milan Kundera wrote: “The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then you have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was.”

I don’t intend to discuss the rights and wrongs of Arts Council England‘s funding strategy here, but merely to point out that the arts (and crafts) genuinely matter and must be nurtured like any other sector of society.

I know there are many facets to this argument, I just thought this was a valid point made and worth repeating.

I recommend giving Crafts Magazine a read to any contemporary artist. I have found many an inspiring piece of work within this publication, not only that, I have been informed of interesting new materials and technologies that the more traditional fine art magazines do not normally address.

In memory of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, Manchester School of Art students went out onto the moors just over Glossop to attempt to fly some kites or similar contraptions. These moors were the very same moors Wittgenstein went as a young man to fly various chemicals at different altitudes in his own home-made kites when he worked as an assistant to science students studying the chemicals properties. The kites for this project were not really to do with his scientific work, but more to be used as a symbol for his philosophical thinking, the flight of the mind, imagination – all of which we are exploring as artists.

My own kite was a mini version of a traditional kite shape, I made it from acetate to withstand the moors’ wind, rather than just tissue paper which I’ve seen other small kites made out of. It did have a beautiful purple tail to but, alas, this came off in my bag. It was quite a lucky thing however, as normally the tail stabilises the kite as it flies, but without it the kite was able to dance around in the wind with a life of its own! Many people tried to capture its dance on film or in photos but most of the time it bounced out of shot, there was only once when I managed to capture it for any real length of time as you can see from the video below.

What happened that day on the moors will be blogged about by many, but the whole experience can never fully be captured. I’m sure that this little dancing kite and it’s reluctance to be captured on film signifies much of what was trying to be achieved; but between the laughter and general mirth of the whole day, I think I’ll avoid labouring the point…