Souvenir sculptures

I’m currently working on my exhibition for the PhD which consists of a series of self-designed souvenir sculptures to represent each of the 44 cities of England. I’d originally considered producing souvenirs for the whole of the British Isles, but then decided it would be better to make it a bit more specific and self-reflexive.

The idea behind the work relates to the study of images of culture and how such images are produced as a dialogue between producers and consumers of a culture. Based on England’s long history, I decided to use a range of influences, including heraldic imagery, landmarks, mythology, and historical and contemporary figures from the region.

Each of the figures is made from paper, reflecting my previous practice using the medium, as well as the role of the material in the colonial history which tourism studies draws on. The lightweight, ephemeral material also echoes the throw-away and transitory nature of souvenirs, despite their often artisanal qualities.

Taking influence from the bright colours of tourist souvenirs and artefacts I have drawn previously, I decided to decorate these sculptures with acrylic paint, applying a vibrant background colour before painting additional imagery from the region on their surface. The work also borrows from kitsch and pop art in producing ‘mass-produced’ objects as part of a fine art tradition.

The object as representative of a location or region shows it as being part of a larger network of tradition and imagery. However, it also obstructs the agencies and decision-making processes that contribute to the production of images of culture. In this way, these sculptures are an ironic comment on whose agency is represented through souvenirs and tourist art.

 

Kinesis and Stasis conference

The Barbican
London, UK
27th November 2015
Organised by TECHNE

“Kinesis and Stasis, movement and stillness, embody an essential component of human life, and a fundamental dialectic within any culture. All entities move, and their social milieu evolve with them. Ever-newer waters flow onto those who step into the same river. Yet the constant state of flux and perpetual kinesis of our living world ultimately evokes an enduring stillness: change is the only permanence. Culture is an ever-present yet ever evolving form of sociality. Creativity is a moment of reflection and a moment of action, a mode of doing and being.” (http://techneconference.com)

The Kinesis and Stasis conference was held at the Barbican on 27th November 2015, and I was invited to present my paper ‘Fragments of Venus’. Taking my previous explorations of the Venus figure in art, I decided to present a threefold process of capturing movement in art: Firstly, my studies of the Venus sculpture by Antonio Canova described a way of navigating the object through drawing. Secondly, the Venus figure in 15th Century Florence incorporated a method for drawing movement in hair and drapery borrowed from antiquity, such as in the painting ‘The Birth of Venus’ by Sandro Botticelli. Lastly, the Venus as a motif in art and culture has perpetuated from Antiquity to the present day. This omnipresence represents the movement of pagan imagery, both geographically and temporally.

As well as providing evidence for the movement of iconography through Aby Warburg, Hugh Honour, and related topics such as Image Studies, I also discussed how my artwork had been influenced by these ideas. I showed how the initial drawings made from the sculpture had been digitally printed and then recreated into a geometric shape, in order to reassemble the drawing into a 3D form. The digital images were also bound into an artist book, reflecting the time-based element of both experiencing the sculpture and viewing the book. The presentation was supported by a selection of images from the artist book presented as an exhibition.

The Excursionist conference

Organised by b-side,
Isle of Portland, Dorset, UK
8th – 9th October 2015

On October 8th 2015, I was invited to present an ‘artistic provocation’ at The Excursionist conference on the Isle of Portland in Dorset. As the theme of the conference was art and tourism, I decided to present my curatorial postcard project ‘The Imaginary Museum: Monuments and Landmarks’, which explored co-authorship, audience participation, and tourist culture and imagery. Alongside a spoken presentation, I displayed the range of postcards from artists participating in the project for the delegates to see the work first-hand. The other artist provocations were really entertaining too and it gave me lots of ideas of how I might present my work in future.

The conference ran over two days and was well paced, with performances, presentations, discussions, and excursions. As the organisers, b-side describe on their archive page of the event: “b-side welcomed over 80 delegates to the Isle of Portland for b-side’s second Symposium event provoking debate on current issues. ‘The Excursionist’ explored the growing industry of tourism and its relationship with the arts exploring the impact of tourism on community, environment and economy and the role art and artists can play. ​Delegates enjoyed two days of provocations, presentations, discussions and artistic interventions including a bus trip to Portland’s premier tourist attraction and an unexpected performance in a graveyard.”

I met lots of interesting and friendly people, including b-side organisers, Sandy Kirby and Julie Penfold, artists Alistair Gentry and Katrina Palmer, the co-director of Art Angel, James Lingwood, and long-time Facebook friend and artist/psychogeographer, Phil Smith. I was a bit nervous about presenting my work in front of Alistair in particular as I’d seen his Arty Bollocks Theatre previously, so I hoped that my work wouldn’t fall into that category.

Another unexpected benefit of attending the conference was the opportunity to experience the immersive audio walk ‘The Loss Adjusters’, which was commissioned by Art Angel, and explored a fictional history of the island’s inhabitants, shaped by the surrounding quarries. The pace and range of activities meant that the conference never felt tiring despite the long days, and enabled me to present my work to new audiences, as well as finding out about other organisations and artists.

 

Neomedievalism

Q: What do the Mighty Boosh, 70s games programmers and the zombie apocalypse have in common?
A: Neomedievalism

In fact, neomedievalism doesn’t actually exist as a discrete academic discipline, as much as a collection of relevant discourses relating to the pre-modern era. This current para-discipline embodies a fascination with the medieval as a lens by which to justify the present and predict the future.

This concept was first brought to my attention through attending a lecture by Dr Neil Mulholland, Head of Postgraduate Programmes and Visual Culture at Edinburgh College of Art. His interest in this topic spans through his teaching and curatorial practice, into his work with the Confraternity of Neoflagellants. It also highlights some of the themes running through my own work at present. The lecture was split into three sections:

Geopolitical neomedievalism
The concept of neomedievalism was first coined by Hedley Bull in The Arnarchical Society, which described ‘a post Stalinist settlement; a system of overlapping authority and multiple loyalty’. Bull’s prophecy detailed the prominence of the localised city-state, and likens it to the shift from hierarchal to democratic systems. This is epitomised by the rise of the internet and social media, by allowing greater opportunities for sharing and networking.

Economic neomedievalism
The neomedieval ecomomy references changes in the means of production made necessary due to large scale pandemic. In the aftermath of the Black Death, the population of Europe having been severely diminished, improved production methods were required to make up for the decrease in skilled labour. In his new book, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, Chris Anderson suggests a marked return to this kind of ‘prosumer’ society, where DIY culture, coupled with increased access to new technology, leads to more opportunities for democratising production processes in a similar way to the post-plague era.

Aesthetic neomedievalism 
There is a strong performative element to this new aesthetic movement, with artists such as Marcus Coates andPlastique Fantastique recontextualising shamanistic and folk rituals for contemporary audiences. Storytelling is also a particular feature, recreating the medieval oral tradition. Even one of this years Turner Prize nominees, Spartacus Chetwynd, specialises in the retelling of cultural phenomena throughout history, using heavily ritualised and improvised performance.

My own interests lie in how ritual is reproduced in art without repeating cultural stereotypes, and I’m keen to address this in a global context. This is supported by revisionist attitudes within Medieval Studies and independent publishing houses such as the Babel Working Group. I have also noticed a recent increase in Middle Eastern responses to Victorian Curiosity Cabinets which sheds new light on the subject from a different perspective.

Further information:
Speculative Medievalisms 
Postmedieval: A Journal of Medieval Cultural Studies
The Dark Monarch: Magic and Modernity in British Art
Altermodern
Best Flame War Ever
The Digital Potlatch

Image: Marcus Coates, Journey to the Lower World, Performance Still, 2004
Photo by Nick David. Courtesy of www.artvehicle.com

New book

After sending the call out for the new Artist Book Collective exhibition, ‘Bound’, I decided to create a new work specifically for the show. I’m becoming increasingly interested in female literary characters, in this instance, Penelope from the Odyssey, with a view to researching contemporary critical sources such as Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Penelopiad’ and Janine Antoni’s ‘Slumber’, as well as the original text.

Odysseus’ absence during and after the Trojan War leads numerous suitors to attempt to woo his wife Penelope, to gain position as head of the kingdom. Penelope devises tricks to delay them, in the hope that her husband will return, one of which includes weaving a burial shroud for her father-in-law, while promising to choose a suitor after she has finished.  After 3 years, it is revealed that she has been unravelling the shroud, in an attempt to postpone her decision further.

The use of weaving within the literary context as an analogy for Penelope’s faithfulness, echoes Freudian analysis of women’s creativity as gender specific. However, her cunning in maintaining her autonomy despite unfavourable odds, supports feminist re-workings of Penelope as a woman of immense power, intellect and self-interest. The book will use the weaving metaphor in form and content, in relation to the act of binding, whilst also considering the various subtexts of Penelope’s role in the Odyssey.

 

Cyprus Summer Studio

So I decided to bite the bullet and set off in the great blue yonder; in search of inspiration, to find myself, etc, etc and other cliches… I’m currently spending 3 weeks in Cyprus at the Summer Studio in Lempa, which feels more like some kind of spiritual retreat at the moment due to the baking heat and the (very) basic facilities. Still pondering ideas and trying to concentrate on one thing at a time, which is difficult at the best of times but in 42 degrees with no air con, is downright impossible. Anyway I’ve made some tentative starts so we’ll see where they lead. I’m also gonna be writing a project page about my experiences and progress here. You can follow it by clicking this link:http://louiseatkinson.blogspot.com/2009/07/cyprus-summer-studio-lempa.html

Brussels

Saw some amazing art in and around Brussels including a beautiful exhibition in a church by painter and philosopher Caroline Chariot-Dayez. ‘Contrary to any demiurgic attitude, the concern for realism is the expression of fascination and, more generally, of the ecstatic state of mind peculiar to contemplation. Beauty is ever present; it takes possession of whoever discovers it. Realism is possession.’

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