The challenge for me of Part 5 has been to actively integrate reflective learning into my practice. As I have noted in my sketchbook and in previous posts I was not using the process effectively and found I was still working in a historically random way. My experience of taking on an active response via this model has I believe made and enormous difference in the way I have been able to move forward with this final part of Drawing 1.
Walker’s (2004) paper in which he identifies 5 key components of the successful artmaking process namely:-
- delaying closure
- actively searching for contradictions
- rejecting the conventional and familiar
- exhibiting tolerance for ambiguity
has enabled me to work my way through this Assignment 5 in a more productive, structured, thoughtful way. Furthermore Doloughan (2002) articulated this even more usefully , “the language of the creative arts is necessarily metaphoric multi-layered and qualitative and that the rendering of multi-modal projects requires access to a range of meaning making resources.”
Through this more thorough understanding of the process and the self-identification of my own way of seeing the world via my dyslexic aperture has been further sensitised by the essays in “Drawing Now” (2007). Where it “abandons the resort to appearances presenting instead the use of experience of something..rather seek to experience what is NOT visible – the invisible or the unbeseen“. (p xiv)
These thoughts have led me back to a piece that I read a while ago and might even have been responsible for my continuing absorption with the female body and my own body experience. Young (2005) Throwing Like a Girl: a Phenomenology of Feminine Body Comportment, Motility and Spaciality connected me to a very personal experience of being thought of as a tom-boy, too physical, too strong, too…. Young seeks to “begin to fill a gap that thus exists in both existential phenomenology and feminist theory. It traces in a provisional way some of the basic modalities of feminine body comportment, manner of moving, and relation in space” (p 30) This is something that I had instinctively understood but never seen articulated and certainly not understood that philosophers such as Merleau-Ponty (M-P)(1962) and Beauvoir (1942) brought together “combining the insights of the theory of the lived body (M-P) and the theory of the situation of women as developed by Beauvoir.
Way way back in my life around 1985 I had been developing a 3D tapestry piece based on the Beauvoir quote – “one is not born a woman but one becomes one”. The structure of this was based on the childhood paper fortune telling game:-
Each section of the piece was to be a different life choice which a woman could take. It was to be enormous, more than life size and incorporating actual objects (including dolls) as well as other paraphernalia. A strong clash of ideas with art department staff saw that this piece or the completion of my degree was not realised. Looking back, with the insight of time I can now see that even at that stage 1980s in an art college setting my non-conformity (being married with 3 children) and having ideas of my own caused strong responses.
Reconnecting with myself and these thoughts and recognition that the body, my body has its own story to tell. I was particularly struck by a connection to understanding that “Feminine bodily existence is an inhibited intentionality, which simultaneously reaches towards a projected end with an “I can” and withholds its full bodily commitment to that end in a self-imposed “I Cannot”. (Young p 36) My choice of shapewear the modern equivalent of corsets (see Kardashian Korset) is the most recent fashion manifestation of this phenomenon.
Phenomenon and phenomenology are new concepts for me to consider in relation to my subject matter. Particularly I am drawn to the discussion “M-P claims that the reason we are apt to forget phenomena…and (he) conceives of “perception as a movement from what is ambiguous and indeterminate to what is determinate, squarely located in the shared world and so available to others” (Romdenh-Romlux p 18) through his interpretation of Husserl’s Libenswelt or lived world. Furthermore “He claims that complete objectivity is never fully achieved in perception either – I cannot view the world from nowhere. I always perceive the world from my own particular perspective”. (R-R) Without going headlong into the various philosophical debates, which as yet I have no depth of understanding. I think I am at a cross-roads in which I am finally enabled to engage in connecting to my own phenomenon – not with complete understanding, in fact after a lifetime of trying I believe I can let go of that one. What interests me is the place/places/spaces/experience between. (see personal statement)
Feminist Visual Culture
Summarising the understanding of 30 years of “feminist struggles around representation” (Betterton (2003) concludes that we are:-
- aware of how gender shapes looking and the “gaze”
- understand terms like “gender” and “patriarchy”
- a certain reflexivity in the representation of self
- a willingness to explore issues of identify and difference
- an interest in and engagement with body politics
- an ability to “read against the grain” of a given text
Interesting historically and personally as it fits entirely with my own timeline. Furthermore re-reading Wolf (1990) I am not sure how much has moved on.
“Gender is not passively scripted on the body, and neither is it determined by nature, language, the symbolic, or the overwhelming history of patriarchy. Gender is what is put on, invariable, under constraint, daily and incessantly, with anxiety and pleasure, but if this continuous act is mistaken for a natural or linguistic given, power is relinquished to expand the cultural field bodily through subversive performances of various kinds”. (Butler 2003)
But I remain sceptical about whether the gaze has now sucummed to becoming a more dominant female gaze as in the world of the internet and the incessant “selfies” loaded obsessively on-line. A recent article by Kate Maltby (2016) in the Times describes spending 30 days “winched into a “waist trainer”.
“It is not my naked body that feels like a false reflection in the mirror, but the new costumes I wear above it. If I can’t wear my favourite wrap dresses again, I won’t be me. Or at least I won’t have the right armour to take on the world“.
“I felt elegant too…I felt something far more darkly feminine: fragility…Pair it with that other engine of the beauty myth, high heals, and a gust of wind will blow you away.”
So in a way women have, if they allow themselves, come full circle back to the 1830s when women first saw representations of the “ideal woman” in advertisements and magazines. Difference, irregularity, disability, age, flaws, ……are all banished to another land, another stratosphere: is the parallel world of the lived experience of the majority of women.
Portraying a Nation: German 1919 – 1933 August Sander & Otto Dix – Tate Liverpool
The most significant part of pairing these two artists/photographer was the way that the presentation of the exhibition’s contextualised the work. Sander’s epic People of the 20th Century commanded most of his life and remained unfinished on his death. He stated:-
” I cannot show (my work) in a single photo, nor in two or three..after all, they could as well be snapshots. Photography is like a mosaic that becomes synthesis only when presented en masse”.
So of the 144 images presented we see a snapshot of a changing Germany between the wars. This is augmented by a extensive timeline covering, historical, social, technological, and cultural events. Not only is this useful for placing the Sander’s work but becomes an essential part of understanding when you move into the Otto Dix galleries.
However before leaving the Sander’s work I wanted to note how this sense of working in series and over time had begun to influence what I have been looking at in my own work.
Otto Dix – The Evil Eye
War Prints and Brothels
There seems to be a direct connection, particularly through theme, war and degenerate life, between the print works of Dix and Goya. The same gritty realism extended towards the grotesque and absurdity of life. They are more “in your face” than Goya’s prints more explicit and raw. Perhaps they echo the fact that people had more direct experience particularly of war in Europe and the ability of technology through photography to see more of the reality of the experience.
House Destroyed by Aerial Bombs 1924
In this print particularly, I see a pre-curser to Picasso’s Gernica some 20 years later. The composition, bodies, buildings and desolation built into a very dense and unremitting image. Body parts, garments what’s the difference? In war none.
Also I couldn’t pass up the chance to notice how much some of the prints resemble Paula Rego’s figures and compositional relationships.
Moving onto a different material he manages to seize the grotesque and the delicate when working with watercolours and other drawing media – mostly ink. some of the images are as brutal as the prints – mostly focusing on women, probably prostitutes but not all.
Girl in Fur 1923 – watercolour and pencil
Many like the painting above are rendered very simply in technique but retain the edge of pastiche and mocking towards his subjects.
The interesting contrast are the fully rendered portraits on which he worked in oil and a very historical technique of tempera. In many of these he creates an extremely refined surface quality full of detail and realistic features. However he also extenuates his subjects even when dealing with some of the major industrialists of the time.
I am drawn to Dix’s work because of the way he seemed to excavate the different layers of society and experience using very particular artistic methods. It is like the layers of experience of the nation built up and finely finished (although wholesomely extended) by the most particular of materials – tempera.
His work is the very epitome of his time – an evil eye – I don’t think so – an accurate eye.
Kathe Kollwitz – Ikon Gallery – Birmingham
Unemployment – late 1909
Etching, aquatint, sandpaper, soft ground with the imprint of Ziegler’s transfer paper, printed in brown on copperplate paper.
The above print was part of a series taken from drawings she had prepared for the satirical magazine Simplicissimus others of which included, alcoholism, unwanted pregnancy and suicide. So this was part of the strong socially aware perspective of which she wrote:-
“above all to be able to speak to a large audience is what always excites me and I can never get enough of it: the many silent and noisy tragedies of life in the big city”.
She was responding to Berlin, a growing metropolis of some 2+million people.
I have chosen this image particularly because for me it articulates so much about Kollwitz the artist and printmaker. Firstly the fascinating explanation of the process and materials used to create this one image. She had little training but seemed to have built up enormous expertise bringing to life this complex scene. Everything from the subtle tones where almost no marks are apparent to the dense figure of the husband in the foreground. The delicacy of the children’s faces and the spare linear marks elsewhere combine to form a complex story in the lives of poor urban workers.
From around a similar time this other dramatic and disturbing subject is both sensitively and brutally rendered – from the foreshortened body to the detail of the garden where the event too place. And not noticed by me until pointed out a child looking at her mother over the garden fence.
There are of course the amazing meticulous self-portraits as well as the Goyaesque (Satanic series) “Death and the Mother” prints where using herself and her son as models she cast her unflinching eye on these subjects. Not a very large exhibition there are a few examples of her raw woodcuts but no examples of her sculptural works which I have never seen.
What I have brought away from this experience is the appreciation of her skill of using print techniques in a range of different ways from the most subtle to angry aggressive depictions of the lives of the working poor. Although much of this work predates the Dix war prints her subjects speak in their quiet acceptance of mostly women who wait and endure and mourn.
Paula Rego – Jerwood Gallery – Hastings
Going to the Jerwood is always a joy because of its location almost on the beach and the interrelationship between the gallery and the view: the beach, fishing boats and sea. I was looking forward to viewing this Paula Rego exhibition of some of her newer works based on The boy Who Loved The Sea. Unfortunately I was disappointed in the drawings/paintings related to this particular theme. The works are large and mostly drawn with pastels, ink, coloured pencils and I think watercolour. With deference to her age – now well over 80 – I found that they have lost the vigour of her previous work – although the themes and compositions were her usual bold forms the work was flatter and lacks the dimensions of her earlier work.
I am glad to say that there was also a selection of her Jane Eyre prints which are magnificent and earlier – 2003.
They appeal because of their depiction of strong and physical women which is interpreted with deep tones, exquisite drawing translated into the printed form. The weight of her figures draw me in with the texture and movement of their garments.
Equally fascinating are a series of drawings done quite recently after she suffered a fall and had a wound on her forehead.
These are strong insightful, honest drawings. I enjoy their raw, angry, self deprecating quality.
Then finally there is a series called “Depressed” drawn during a period in 2007 when she literally drew herself out of her depression. Again the honesty, stark quality beautifully and simply rendered in pastel, crayon and pencil.
N.B. Pallant House in Chichester currently have an exhibition of Paula Rego sketchbooks which I will go to see but probably not before this Part 5 is assessed.
Somewhere in the back of my mind as I was working on my images I remembered work by Francesca Woodman. This influential but tragically short lived photographer working in the 70s I believe had a huge impact on more recent photographers. In Francesca Woodman reconsidered (2003) a discussion which included Laura Larson commenting that “Woodman’s work is useful for feminism precisely because it breaks the male gaze stranglehold by articulating a different set of terms”. But unlike the narrative aspect that Mulvey (1974) was referring to with film Woodman works engages with “seriality and repetition”.
Also she notes that “I was reminded of Woodman’s work when I saw the Hans Bellmer show….not only for the use of seriality and repetition but also its performative aspect”.
The connection and their conversation in the article about surrealism brings my thinking full circle back to my doll parts and the perception of women in parts. Margaret Sundell notes in the article how she tries to understand woodman’s two poles – fetishization and space.“The interest in space is very much about a bodily experience, which engages phenomenology and its limitations, and the interest in fetishization is very much about the disembodiment involved in producing oneself as a two-dimensional image – even if the body remains the subject of the image.”
Their discussion ends with a question which I am left with and my own questions about where I would like to go with my work.
Whether I get a chance to do/have these photographs taken or not before I submit this part of the course I don’t know. But throughout the development of my ideas I have been eager to create a series of photographs of myself naked in relation to a particular row of trees in my local park.
This would be a very Woodman/Mendieta performative experience. I have in mind various poses that literally truncate my body by the low branches and trunks of the trees which my the way are very resonant with the original Redon drawing which we were asked to consider at the beginning of the course.
All these months on my relationship to this drawing has changed and deepened and follows the experience of my journey through the course. I now see very a very physical phenomenological relationship to these trees which I see most days.
Did a very fast reveal today but did not have long but wanted to post something in the genre of what I have been thinking about in relation to my body, space, performance, series, ageing, skin etc.
Afterwards we did a few clothed “ideas” for the future. However in some cases I think that they capture their own relationship of me in the space.
Unfortunately the lack of time/opportunity and experience meant that I was not able to capture yet that quality of my ageing skin and self that I want to see in relation to these trees and their natural form. I think I definitely need to be bolder and raw and not try to pose in the “accepted” way.