Hannah Hoch at the Whitechapel, a three act play

I suppose if there was one artist that exemplifies the core of this course it might be Hannah Hoch. I was looking forward a great deal to visiting the show and I wasn’t disappointed, the work was at once beautiful and, for the most part, exploring some very important and, for it’s time, critically important subjects. However something struck me after I returned home and thought about the work, and it is about the job of curating an artists work that might be suggesting it as a ‘life’s work’. I wondered about how the curator will necessarily be limited by both the available work and the knowledge of the artist. And this slight digression has registered to me that an exhibition is of course a partial view, made so by the available work to view, the research on the artist undertaken by the curator and the ‘partialness’ of the same.

So to the work, there seemed to me to be three phases of work on show, the student life, the pre-war years and post war era – and I suppose this could be either my mis-reading of intent or that it how it was meant to be seen. The ‘student life’ seemed as much to do with aesthetics as it was about anything, the collage work didn’t seem apparent in her early work, and the works on the wall had an ‘exercise’ quality about them. My expectation of student life is that it might generally be thought of as the place where the artist might explore more widely, more cruel, more controversial. Like Laura Pannack says in one of the videos I saw yesterday – “Uni life is a place where you can fail – embrace it..” (I paraphrase), Hoch’s student work – at least what I saw – was quite sedate, pleasing, pleasant, nice and I’ve forgotten most of it.

Act II was the period from the end of her student days to WWII and this period was not only very productive for Hoch, but it was where I felt the narrative of the work had the greatest strength. Exploring the role of the female in her society might have been influenced by Hans Richter’s statement that “…she was good at buying sandwiches and making coffee…” – so much for the enlightened views of Dadaists (seemingly very similar to the Surrealists then!). Her work with collage and ideas seemed to question continually the place of women in society, how they were objectified and mute – the use of masks to reduce the personality, the presence of the female body, or parts thereof, was very common, as was the eye. The eye is clearly a reference to looking, but it’s placement within the frame was not always similar. The placement of it high up seemed to suggest the female gaze, whereas lower down (and looking up) it might as likely to be male. The depictions of women were most often parts of women and whilst this image wasn’t at the show, there seems to be a much more straightforward challenge to the viewer.

Fremde Schönheit (Strange Beuaty)

Fremde Schönheit (Strange Beauty)

This image does contain some of the areas of interest one of the conversations that we had at the show. The contents of the frame are clearly all purposeful; the background watercolour is created to host the image and therefore has narrative and contextual value, the venus like body is beautiful in form and is offered to us for our viewing pleasure. But the mask, with those spectacles – not amplified eyes – but spectacles, to magnify the intent of the wearer of the mask challenging the viewer to regard what they are viewing, not just as an object, a procurer of tea and recreation, but having depth, substance for to ignore it would be to ignore the whole.

This feminist trope was very strong in this phase of her work, Hoch didn’t contest the racism inherent in the society she live in, nor in the burgeoning National Socialists despite the clear left wing credentials of the Da-Daists and when the going got tough she moved to a cottage on the fringes of the city and waited out the war. I was particularly struck by the purposefulness of her intricate collage work, her scissor work, the precision in the placement of the layers which emphasised the narratives she was exploring. Some of it was playful, but this second act period had a strong political theme, against some of the business practices, but mostly about the depiction of the female in society and despite the main thrust of DaDaism being largely over by the mid 1920’s Hoch still held to the aesthetic very strongly until the advent of the second war. I didn’t comprehend some of the imagery, perhaps I needed to have had more research in the artist, her use of colour was very interesting and somewhat quirky, inasmuch as it didn’t always seem to chime with other works in the same period – I expect a lack of art history was at fault here, and I suspect a lot of it was of it’s time – especially the work for the ‘Ethnographic Museum” and it’s use of dark skinned people from Africa.

The third act had a much more calmer feel to it. Hoch’s problems pre war had largely been resolved, no more vilified by the society at large her work becomes softer, at ease with itself, more colour and softer colour at that, perhaps more reflective. It seemed to me to have a more settled feel to it, certainly it became much more abstract, perhaps her emotions became more difficult to define after the sharper inter-war years where things were more black and white, clearer to whichever eye was looking.

She is reported to have said at some stage ‘Gee it would have be great to have been born a man’ if so I don’t think the art would have been anywhere near as visceral as her early, post study period work was, but then she did at least survive to a good age and carried on working throughout. The main body of the exhibition seemed in my mind to centre on her pre-war work, which thinking about the curation, suggests that this period was hr most important. But what if the curator hadn’t had fuller access to the post war period? What if that necessarily encumbered the flow of narrative from the walls? The portrait of Hoch that is at this exhibition is very interesting whichever one was depicted, and curiously chimes with another artist whose work is grounded, to a much lesser extent in Da Da, that of Fontcuberta.

Reflections on Tutor report Assignment three

Resource for Assignment 4

Resource for Assignment 4

In summary, I think you have worked well on this assignment. You have produced good quality images of each sitter, images that provide a unique insight into their character and convey an interesting aspect of your own interpretation of them as artists. That there are differences between you and the individual’s assessment of the best image to portray the sitter serves to underline the quality of your work and uncovers aspects of and a depth in portraiture that demonstrate your developing voice as a photographer.”

The tutor report I received was quite comprehensive, offering a lot of advice and suggestions some of which I will address here, though interestingly, it was suggested that I didn’t write enough about the work, my intentions, my responses to the work which I found interesting as I’m sometimes concerned that I write too much!

One of the areas it was suggested that I could enlarge on was the conceptual aspects of the series: I had stated in the submission document that I wanted “…the art to be sublimated in the portraits, I wanted the creations [of the artists] to have primacy in the photographs”.

To expand on this: I believe that identity is a mutable construct that is both controllable and uncontrolled by the subject as well as the spectator, and what I wanted to explore with this work was how “an” identity – in this case, that of an ‘artist’ could be shown to have primacy rather than having the viewer look for ‘clues’ in the face of the sitter. I decided to remove the normal portrait signifiers from the frame so as to deny both the subject and the viewer the ability to construct an identity. This device of course didn’t remove the aspect of body form from the frame, comments have been made about how at least one viewer to the work tried to construct a view: “With no conventional portrait to go on I find myself searching for what body language in the portrait and artist images tells me about them. Dirk for example is a large guy but his posture is modest – his hands appear to be clasped in front of him. He looks at his work face to face. Sue on the other hand looks up at her work – it almost seems to overwhelm her. We are very dependent on the face and facial expressions to ‘read’ character into portraits. Your work denies us this. So I find myself looking for other clues.” Keith Greenough

The artist was only presented to the viewer in one of the three portraits and then standing with their back to the camera and viewing their work compositionally connected to the work they were considering. I asked the artists to pose in this position to show that connection and I also asked them to provide a piece of work that best summed up their representation in their work – piece that best described them as an artist – which I pictured as a separate image.

Behind these artifices was an intent to have the work that the artists create be ‘an’ identity; an identity other than as a business person – Julie and Dirk, a Therapist – Sue or a retired person – Denise. These ‘other’ descriptions are as singularly one-dimensional as suggesting that they are ‘artists’.

The ‘projection’ of an identity, in this case that of an artist, was what I wanted to portray, to allow for that element of their personality/character to be ascendant. The inclusion of their statements was also key to that process, knowing that the text would anchor the images and provide very strong direction to the viewer.

I did discuss the work with the artists before the shoots, in fact there were several communications back and forth to explain what it was that I wanted. And whilst each sitting was an informed collaborative event, part of the difficulty was to negotiate between them a common framework for the poses. To explain why I didn’t want to see their faces in the frames, why I wanted them to face their work but be also connected compositionally and to also capture their ‘workspace’. This last element was interesting both from a project and technical perspective. Each artist studio has very different characteristics: large and wide, to small and narrow and to extent reflect their user’s artistry. Sue’s studio is very large echoing her large expansive landscapes, whilst Denise does very precise and moderately sized water colours in the smallest studio space. Sue, on the other hand is surrounded by textiles in a converted bedroom with space enough to work on the very detailed aspects of her 3D work, which can be quite large. I think there would a lot more to explore in this comprehension of artist space, but it wasn’t really addressed in this piece.

I think my thoughts about the images that they chose still hold, but it might be worth investigating further some other time. Why for example did the female workers choose their workspace images but Dirk choose the one of him reflecting on his burgeoning and unfinished, work? It was also commented that I didn’t explain my thought processes enough about each aspect of the work, though whilst I think I did through the various instalments leading up to the submission the submission itself didn’t carry those explanations, and that is a lesson for future assignments. I am particularly pleased with this statement: “In being as creative as you have, it sets up some conflict between the brief and your own exploration of portraiture. This of itself – as I have indicated above – is not a problem as you are fulfilling one of the important elements of level 2 – the development of your own voice.”

The river goes ever on, I have a strong sense of what I want to try and achieve with the next assignment, which will be to build on the work done so far in this course and the Documentary course combined. I wonder if I will realise whether I have a developed a voice of my own…..

Resource for Assignment 4

Resource for Assignment 4

Assignment Three – submission

For this assignment I had hoped to work with four local artists and some dancers that I know quite well; both projects started quite well, but both were set with some difficulties.

The initial discussions with the ‘dancers’ was very positive, I explained what it was that I trying to achieve – that the performance is an adoption of an identity and that I wanted to capture these dancers when they ‘presented’ that identity to an audience or judge. The first session went very well I thought; I went to a rehearsal studio to watch them work and created some images, which whilst they weren’t going to directly contribute to the assignment would provide some creative ammunition. I then created a small studio area and made some images, which I thought went well. I had thought about this concept after considering the work by Marion Gronier whose piece “Les Glorieux” I saw at Arles where the artist worked with circus performers and tried to capture the moment directly after a performance and before they resumed their state of normalcy. My concept was to try and capture the moment of projection, where the performer presented an identity to enforce their apparent submersion into the character. Unfortunately, for reasons I am not aware of, the dancers decided not to carry on with the project for the time being. I hope to come back to this at a later time.

The artist project did complete, though it took much longer than I had anticipated. My idea with the artists was to create portraits of them as ‘artists’ as a specific part of their overall identity, to narrow the view of them as people and focusing on their creative element. None of these artists are full time professional artists; none of them rely on their work for an income stream, though they all have a need to create. The work with these artists isn’t meant to be a comparison on how they work, the work they do or indeed the status of their work within an art historical context. Rather it is an exploration of how their identity as an artist might me expressed with a few images and a singular purpose.

These artists are all known to me; some for many decades some for much less and all were readily agreeable to participate in the project. These artists all have a ‘place’ for their art, a place that separates them from their other lives of partner, business, family and what I noticed about all these spaces is the sense of a quiet space. Light being a fundament to the artist, all of them situated their work area in the place that had the best light available and when I look at the images that I made this light seemed almost designed for purpose. The light into Sue’s work area seemed designed for very intricate dexterous work, whilst the painters all seemed to work in very soft light – ‘north light’ and, again, the painters all have studios with light, or white walls bouncing the light around the studio space.

I talked to the artist about their identity as an artist and agreed with them that they would provide a ‘statement’ of what their art means to them and that I would use that ‘statement’ as an anchor in their portrait as an artist. For the images I tried to keep the range of capture to a minimum set of perspectives. I wanted the art to be sublimated in the portraits, I wanted the creations to have primacy in the photographs which is why, though all the artists agreed to have their portraits taken, that I haven’t used any formal portraits of the artists in this submission. I asked them to allow me to take an image of a piece of work that best summed them up as an artist; this work could be recent or early, finished or work in progress, but it was important to have a piece that the artist felt best described their work. I also wanted to make a photograph that held them reflecting on a piece of their work and another of their workplace and possibly of them at work – in each case the photographs of them working were posed for the series. The work is here:

Julie:

Image selected by Julie

Dirk:

Image selected by Dirk

Image selected by Dirk

Denise:

Image selected by Denise

Image selected by Denise

Sue:

Image selected by Sue

Image selected by Sue

The brief asks that I find out which of the images each of the sitters choose and print it out at A4, which I will do as part of the submission and then make a choice of my own. The brief doesn’t suggest a reason for the choice, so I posed the question thus :’Can you look at the attached and decide which image of the three you most prefer. The preference can be for any reason and I don’t need to know, but if you do tell me than I would be interested.’ I should then choose one for myself, again it isn’t suggested on what basis I should choose, so I have decided to use the reflecting images. I have included their statement as a reflection of the conversation I have had with each of them. The images selected offer an interesting question. The three women have chosen their work spaces, whereas Dirk has chosen the one of him reflecting his work. I wonder if that may be because Dirk is relatively early in his journey as an artist, or whether it is a gender based response? Lots to ponder I think.

Where I think this work works is in a number of areas: the sense of quietude in the work/studio area does provide a sense of ‘place’, an area when these artist can adopt the mantle of artist, by disrobing that of their other lives before entering. And together with the way the images are lit and set out, it provided a strong sense that they are intent on taking their art seriously. Incidentally, when I was discussing the project with Sue, she told me that she had a slight fascination with other artists studios and loaned me a copy of ‘Artist Studios’ which added a dimension of pressure to the process… I certainly enjoyed working with these artists on the project and am very grateful for their participation.

Where I think I could have done more is to have spent more time with the artists in the studio; the work would perhaps have benefitted from spending more time with the artists at work, working with them as they worked. I am mindful that there is in this course a underlying tone that tends to try and push things a long a bit, and in my case preventing a deeper engagement with the subject – though it has to be said that the reason this assignment took so long as one of the artists had some issues that prevented me from getting to their studio for some weeks. However it has to said that I haven’t yet mastered the compromise between involvement in the subject, and my perception of expediency in dealing with the brief.

Artist project, words.

For the artist project I have asked each of the subjects to provide 50 words that describe their work.

Now all four have submitted their words:

Julie:

Julie

Julie

Each piece consists of alternating multi-tiered layers of acrylic and oil paint, applied with a variety of implements, to aid application of paint during mark making. Drawing from nature, I try to relive the experience of being outside. Light, spatiality and the process of painting are key to each piece.

Sue:

Sua standing aside

Sua standing aside

I do believe creativity is in us all, but for me it’s a need. It keeps me sane and full of joy, and I can’t ignore it. Sometimes it seems like there are lots of images in my mind, all jostling to get to the front and be made manifest.

Dirk:

Dirk

Dirk

My art has been the single most pleasurable, rewarding new factor in my life over the past 7 years. It enthuses me in a way that no other interest, or work role has done. The irony is that  I have always been reticent to ‘sell’ myself in work settings, preferring the quality of my work to speak for itself. Yet, I have chosen (potentially, in time) a second career that requires even more self-promotion in an over-crowded art market place. Bring it on. I want my painting to define me, in a way that I have not allowed anything else to fully do before. I am comfortable calling myself an artist.

 

I have loved nature ever since I was a small child, and particularly love the autumn countryside – the colours, shapes and forms of the fruits and berries.  Even now I cannot resist the temptation to pick up conkers, acorns, fir cones, etc, just for the pleasure of their shapes, textures and symmetry.  I love living and walking in the countryside, and get immense pleasure from attempting to recreate in watercolours the beauty I see around me.

Artist project, Dirk

The third subject for the artist project is Dirk. A South African by birth he emigrated to England some time ago with his family and like all the other artists in this project doesn’t earn a living from the work that he creates, though still very important to him.

Dirk

Dirk

Work area

Work area

Work in progress

Work in progress

This process is now three quarters complete and the material is becoming clearer to me as I move through the work.

 

I am conscious of a number of things whilst processing these images. Firstly the construction of the images now seem to fall very quickly into the ‘Art as a projection of identity’ trope that I wanted this assignment to be concerned with. The concept that the results of their creative sense of identity that these artists possess, is being foregrounded, whilst the ‘self (physical)’ is being reduced outside the appearance of the work. The assignment brief is to provide a series of images that present people with a common theme, but the theme here is the ‘Art’ of the people and as such it is the art that will be sublimated at the expense of the artist whose physical presence in the image is secondary. The artist’s in this series are therefore depicted regarding their work and the spectator, without facial recognition, even of people they don’t know, sees the work in relation to the individual as an artist.

Dirk’s work is largely landscape bases and tends not to be inhabited by figures, his son though is an accomplished painter as well and tends to favour the human form, I make this observation for interest only.

 

Assignment three – artists and dancers, update

The concept for this project is about projected identity. I have two projects dealing with this, artists and dancers. For the artists I plan to photograph 4 different artists in their studios, have them pictured with a piece of their work, at work, a piece of their work which the artist feels best describes them and have them generate fifty words that sums up their approach/feelings about art. They will all see the finished work – only of their involvement, not the others and be asked to chooses one of the three images that they think best describes them – as an artist.

It is taking longer than I would have hoped, but nevertheless progressing. The dancers project will have an update later today when I meet up with one of the dancers. So this post will be about the artists.

Julie's work

Julie’s work

This piece by Julie is the one she chose to best describe her work. It is a large piece – somewhat over seven feet high (I had to staple it to her studio wall), it was created as a work when she was studying for her second BA in Fine Arts. It is a very free work, lots of collage and layers and typifies her very personal approach to landscape.

I have arranged appointments for the second pair of artists, one will be this Friday and the last one will be 4th November.