MA reflection


Past, Present, Future

Exploring possibilities in time from a finite position

A process of reflection at the end of this MA research has left me feeling that some of the many possibilities that presented themselves at the beginning have been explored, some dismissed and many remain in need of further investigation.

I find myself with a certain amount of conflict. My original aims and objectives were necessarily broad, I always assumed that once embarking on the research I would find my focus narrowing and this has been the case. However I have found my practice has become more involved, I have moved towards a degree of control that I previously feared. When working with the flowing glue I was always interested in the unpredictability, I didn’t feel I could possibly have any major influence therefore I often let it just to ‘get on with it’. However during these two years I have spent far more time observing and noticing patterns and behaviours that repeat themselves. As I have observed and documented the movement of the glue, I have begun to understand the enormous impact seemingly very small details can have on the overall effect.

This would appear to be a natural and obvious progression when working with a given material, so where is the conflict? Well, I most acutely feel the conflict in the area of control and influence. As I have become more involved, over a longer period of time in the making of an installation, a canvas, or a film, I now wonder at what point do I move beyond a position from which I can continue to observe the unpredictability, into place where I orchestrate the movement, pre-write the score? This conflict came to the fore particularly when I considered the merits of interaction in the pieces I was making, but I will discuss this in more detail later.

In my original proposal I identified four areas covering possible outcomes of my research. Firstly a series of installations which involve actual flowing glue. This has been a major part of my work in both the studio and several exhibitions I have exhibited in over the two years. The dynamic of creating an environment where my art can move into a realm of ‘real movement’ (Popper 1968 p.223) has remained very important. It is where my first steps on this particular journey were taken and therefore I find such an installation forms a major part of my MA show.

Secondly, I was interested in the possibilities of using a flat screen inside a conventional frame. This has been completed and when exhibited in a solo show in April 2004, I was able to assess its impact. In that exhibition it was one of the smallest pieces and for most viewers it didn’t draw their attention to begin with. I deliberately chose one of my films which, although full of movement close up, didn’t appear to change much from a distance. However it did draw a second look and then the idea of a ‘moving still image’ started to work. It certainly added an extra dynamic to the ‘real movement’.

As part of this possible outcome I wanted to explore areas of interaction. I have explored the option of giving the audience a direct interaction with one or more of my pieces. I specifically worked on giving the audience the opportunity to change some the films I was making, to change the speed, and direction in which the frames moved. Although I was successful in making a prototype which retained a high level of image quality on screen, as well as the interaction, I quickly dismissed it. At this point in my journey as an artist I felt it had no merit other than as a mildly entertaining gimmick.

My interaction with the work I make is one of relationship. It is developed over many hours in the studio watching, observing, making choices about when to flow some glue, at what speed, in which colour, whether to change the tilt of the surface and by what degree, where to place the lights and the camera, what settings to use, and when editing the films there are as many options again. Therefore the idea of simply giving a dial for people to twist and twirl for a few seconds while watching a film pause and speed up, both forwards and in reverse, seemed far removed from my interaction in the studio. This conflict was partly resolved through investigation into Kinetic Art of the 1960s and 70s. Here much discussion revolves around the interaction of a viewer by simple virtue of being in the same room as a given piece. I remain committed to not creating art that perpetuates a dangerously oversimplified view of interaction. So often it appears that interaction is no more than a click of a mouse or push of a button, instead of interaction, I think this often produces inter-passivity, not dissimilar to that which is experienced in front of the television with remote control in hand!

Thirdly, I wrote about the movement and flow that is revealed by the still image. I have found that using stills from the films has given such poor quality images that I have continued using the dried canvas pieces I have been making. The surface which results from the dried glue, remains one of many options. I feel this is an area in which I have much still to discover, particularly when you consider that even a small degree change in the temperature can alter the drying time by several hours or even days. Add to this the digital surface and the horizon is very wide!

The fourth area of possible outcome involved adding sound to the films I have made. This has been done with a high degree of caution. I didn’t want the visual of the films and the surface they reveal to be overwhelmed by the addition of sound. For some of the films I have edited the sounds frame by frame with the flow of the glue. Sometimes this has brought to much restriction and several films where sound just sits as a background element have worked just as well.

My future development will be heavily influenced by my move to China in August 2004. This move will provide unique opportunities to explore a dramatically different culture and language. At this point there appear to be several areas that may shape and influence my future practise as an artist. Firstly the availability of PVA glue! Having used the same brand of glue for over four years, I will undoubtedly find many differences with what is available in China. It may be that I move away from using glue for a while. Secondly, I have long been fascinated by Chinese calligraphy and the relationship that have been noticed between it and, for example, Jackson Pollock’s method of working. I plan to see if this area results in any interesting avenues for research. Thirdly, China is changing at a rate previously unseen in human history. Contemporary art is also a fast shifting arena and I am intrigued by the influence one will have on the other and vice versa. There is the possibility that any of these areas, along with the current journey, will result in an interesting proposal for further research.


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Jonathan Kearney July 2004

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