Thoughts about the course, Gesture and Meaning.

I am near to completing this course, the assignments have all been handed in and I’m in the process of tidying up some of the pieces for assessment in July. Several times my tutor has suggested I say something about how the work on the course might have a bearing on my future practice as an artist – I have resisted commenting for the reasons that will become apparent in this reflection. It is the reflective nature of my commentaries (amongst other things, but mainly so) that prompted my tutor to suggest I make some notes about how my work in this course will inform.

Before I make a start on that I would like to say a few words about the course and how much I have enjoyed the research aspect of it. I spent six months working on the first assignment alone – documentary. The investigations into feminism and feminist art have been at turns revelatory, depressing and uplifting. The work that I’ve done with the Echoes Group – I now have a have a contract with the NHS and I have made many contacts who are practicing artists; I have been offered gallery space for my work next year and have had my work with the Echoes Group exhibited at the Artscape Gallery, The History of Science Museum, The Pitt Rivers Museum and the Ashmolean Museum all as a direct result of that network which will continue to develop. It would probably not have happened without the spur of this course.

The breadth of genre on this course is ambitious, covering documentary, identity, feminism, fine art, portraiture, the commercial practice (and the practice of commercialism), it seemingly ran out of space and shoehorned the critical essay into the newly created assignment six which was supposed to be about getting ready for assessment. And it is this breadth of subjects that was partly responsible for me feeling somewhat disappointed despite my enthusiasm noted above. In several places in the course it is suggested that the student should decide on a subject they feel strongly about and produce some work to illustrate their reaction to it, and I wanted to but had no real comprehension about the depth of study required to do that strongly held perspective justice. The first assignment took only six months, it could have easily have taken another six, such was the level of activity I was engaged in – despite the assignment not counting, not being marked. The level of expectation being a very distant partnership with unlikely prospects of ever meeting. In the end I curtailed the work – unsatisfactorily  – and made my way to the next module. My overriding thoughts from early on in the course was that if these subjects meant something to me – and they did and still do – the means by which I was to provide a response for the assignments and consequently assessment, didn’t match my comprehension, they didn’t seem to be calibrated to what I felt about them.

I suspect it is difficult to write a course at this level, one must I suspect, assume all entrants are at the same level – mostly they are coming to a bricks and mortar university and aged somewhere between 17 and 20, but the students at this virtual school of learning have a much wider gamut of knowledge and that is something that I found difficult to manage. I have also studied the Documentary course which I found – despite it’s entirety being similar to that attempted by Assignment one (which does’t count and doesn’t get assessed in Gesture and Meaning) – engaging as a direction of travel, the one module seemingly leading naturally to the next. I am fully prepared to be challenged on any of this, but the Documentary course seemingly allowed for a development of expression whereas the disparate nature of the genre’s attempted in Gesture and Meaning seemed to hold those creatives in check by trying very hard to be a course for all students of all genre’s and practices. If the notion of considering a subject that is important to the student – maybe especially someone who has been around the block as many times as I have – then doing it justice will require more space than single assignments in this course. It was suggested to me by my tutor that I was placing too much emphasis on one particular area – the Echoes group – which he felt might not help me with assessment; now maybe I should have been more sturdy with my commitment and continued with that course, but I felt that I was trying to shove the Group into some of the assignment criteria and I would have needed greater levels of qualification to make my case more certain. However I felt in the end that the lightness of touch in the structure of the course might better be matched by my response to it in a similar vein.

All that being said, it is by no means a negative experience and my comprehension of certain aspects of art and art history, of the document and documentary, of identity and it’s relationship to the world has improved immensely, I just don’t feel I did them justice in the assignments – which by and large were received enthusiastically by my tutor. So how will this course inform my practice going forward? What aspect or aspects of these differing modules will rest with me and help light a path? It is interesting that the Documentary course has no such demand, or rather I wasn’t challenged continually on that question. With Documentary I feel/felt a natural evolutionary tread to my studies – I have no idea where it might lead, but I have a good idea where the next step might be and maybe even the one after that! With Gesture and Meaning with each module an end in itself it is difficult to discern a sense of direction and therefore a place to feel I might end up.

Of course studying feminism will inform me about inclusion, about the distance of ‘others’ and the need to find another view, to balance where imbalance is the norm. As far as the commercial aspect of the course is concerned I found it light, perhaps very light and that maybe because it has to be slim because it is only a short piece in the course and therefore the degree pathway as a whole. I shan’t be seeking a career from photography, nor from art. However I know that this course – as a whole – will, and is, providing a significantly broadened perspective on a range of subjects, but advertising and marketing aren’t them. I realise of course that I don’t know all there is to know about those twins of commercialism and some of the political theories were welcome additions to my research, but that wasn’t required by the course.

I will be happy to leave this behind me, I have spent a lot of time thinking about whether I should submit this work to assessment, I have discussed it with several people including OCA staff, friends and fellow students, though not my tutor. I have decided to submit, but like my assignment five I am unsure of it’s reception and expecting a low or maybe moderate mark. I’m not overly concerned about the mark, but I am now looking forward to the final course in this pathway, my transition from level 1 has been enormous, my comprehension of the subject has developed manifold and I am very pleased with what I have achieved in the couple of years on this course.

Assignment Five reworked.

I’ve said all I want to say about PowerPoint presentations. My tutor suggested some changes to the presentation. I have decided to stop all the animations and transitions and make it a static presentation. I have written up my text (it was in manuscript format in my note book – so at least it will be readable now, whether it will, be comprehensible will be for others to decide

Assignment five 2 reworked

The link the original is here


The Feminine Sublime

“To investigate the feminine sublime is not to embark upon a search for an autonomous female voice, realm of experience or language, although these categories may be valuable as a dimension of the strategic interventions of feminist practice. What is specifically feminine about the feminine sublime is not an assertion of innate sexual difference, but a radical rearticulation of the role gender plays in producing the history of discourse on the sublime and the formulation of an alternative position with respect to excess and the possibilities of its figuration.” The introductory sentences to Barbara Claire Freeman’s short essay on ‘The Feminine Sublime’ 1995.

These two sentences provided me with the twin insights into both the sublime and another aspect of feminism that I hadn’t expected but which illuminated so much of what I have been thinking about for some time. My own search into the meaning of the sublime has been helped by both the research and by the conversations I continue to have with fellow students on a regular basis. These images here are what I have called ‘pretty pictures’; lacking in substance and perspective, the sole intent was to ‘capture’ a sense of the scape of the land that provided an awesome response; controlling the media – film emulsion through development and then printing,  exposure – via the zone system, composition etc etc and then sales via exhibitions and commissions. In the digital era a negative might take a week to prepare before printing. Most of the images were captured on film, the whole process now feels like an act of virile expressionism – I certainly had to be fit enough to carry the ‘kit’ up some of these slopes and compose/wait for the light to adhere to certain constraints. I am still questioning the purpose of it all.

The sublime is of course a construct, “the awful, the lofty and the splendid” as Kant (1) described the three types of sublimity, but these constructs, including that of The Creator are all gendered perspectives – the notion of a landscape photographer/artist/painter is Male – see, what place is there for a Female? Most if not all the texts on the sublime are from that singular viewpoint, Longinus, Burke, Kant &c. Contemporary Sublime seems also to offer that same ‘maleness’ the Dusseldorf school being pre-eminent in supplying text after text of the awestruck male, Struth, Epstein, Burtynsky et al all striving to implant that same emotive response to the sublime (some maybe just by the size of their imagery leave alone what it is they are imaging).

Motionless and sterile, these images were all created without a sense of purpose other than demonstration of craft, clearly set in the mould of ‘modernists’ whose credo was set two generations ago. It is the image of one who wanted to express the biggest and the best, a singularly gendered stance that rejects an ‘other’. Freeman doesn’t suggest an answer but a discourse, and like Berger (Ways of Seeing) a generation earlier, doesn’t offer an answer. Berger’s stance is of course correct – what self respecting feminist would accept a solution from the ‘other’? Freeman offers a typical feminist response; discourse and engagement rather than hegemony and brute force.

(1) Introductory essay by Simon Morley ‘The Sublime’ pub’ Whitechapel Gallery 2010

Feminist artist Judy Chicago

I am a particular admirer of Judy Chicago – I went to an exhibition ‘study day‘ a while back and was moved by the work. And in this video she describes, amongst other things, the risks she took to challenge the prevailing hegemony through the late 1960’s and 1970’s. I have had many discussions, particularly with fellow students on the subject of beauty and I look forward to having more, but Chicago’s use of beauty and colour in the discourse around the position of women in art and society is a very interesting tactic, there is no doubt in my mind that a lot of her work is very beautiful, highly crafted and very subversive.