Conversations

After I wrote my last blog post, I shared it on Facebook and Twitter. As this work looks very different to my previous projects I wasn’t sure how it would be received, so I was pleasantly surprised when lots of people started to engage by writing comments and sharing their thoughts.

Through the process of writing my PhD and conversations with ethnographers, I’ve started to think about these interactions as data that can contribute to the work. In particular, I’ve been inspired by one of my colleagues J who often uses elements of conversations, texts, emails, alongside more scholarly excerpts in her writing.

Due to this, I decided to capture some of the information that people were sharing. To begin with, M said that the Bradford souvenir made her think of canopic jars, which in turn reminded her of a photograph that she’d taken of the Egyptian-style monument at Undercliffe Cemetery.

Thinking about architecture and monuments which had been inspired by Egypt also reminded me of the Temple Works building in Leeds, which had been built as a replica of an Egyptian temple. These architectural anomalies were the result of the Victorian fascination with Egyptology, which was linked with Western Imperialism.

J said she liked the bright colours and that “visually, they connect with figureheads, sculpted figures on old fairground rides, and the kinds of busts seen on buildings.” This made me happy, as I’d been thinking about the work in relation to folk art in some way, after visiting the British Folk Art exhibition at Tate Britain in 2014. She also told me about the carved village signs from Norfolk, which depicted stories from the history of the village.

Over on Twitter, the people at the Seaside Heritage Network, a new subject specialist network, noticed the work and were interested to know how many there would be in total. Whereas E wondered if I could make more hyper local versions of the souvenirs with participants.

These conversations have made me think a lot more about how I want to proceed with the sculptures and how they fit with my existing ideas. For example, I was keen to stress that I didn’t want the souvenir to be too literal a representation of a place, like a landmark, but I enjoyed the connections that people made with them.

I am also interested in exploring how the things we think of as ‘English’ are the result of trade, migration, and colonialism. Due to the nature of the souvenirs there isn’t much scope to explore the range of influences in each area. However, I think it would be good to focus on a smaller geographical area, such as Leeds, in future.

 

Adding colour to the souvenirs

I’m continuing my work producing souvenir sculptures for each city in England. I’ve started adding colour and they seem a lot brighter than my usual work. This feels a bit unnerving, but I’m taking that as a sign that I’m doing something outside of my comfort zone and that it will lead to a more creative result.

I began this process by researching each city, elements of its history, mythology, and heraldry. I then began sketching each object to determine how I might create it in paper. My intention was to do more sketchbook work around the imagery that would be painted on the objects, but I decided to take a more organic approach by working directly onto the sculptures, using a process of appropriation and intuition. Through working in this way, new possibilities arise for this, and future work.

For example, the objects of Bath and Brighton are represented using human figures. I began by painting them bright colours in a similar way to the others. However, I wanted to pull out their features a bit more, so I repainted their faces white. Although I will do more work on these sculptures, I like the effect of the white against the colour so I’m documenting the process to return to later.

One of the finished souvenirs, representing Bradford, takes the story of a wild boar from the Middle Ages, the motif of which is featured on the city’s coat of arms. Using the boar as the object, I then took the image of the brick well and highlighted the shape of the bricks as a reference to the building material of the Industrial North. The design running across the top of the boar’s head reflects the water motif also taken from the city’s coat of arms.

As I am working on each of the sculptures, I have started to see similarities in some of the motifs, therefore they have come to represent both distinct and general aspects of the histories of English cities, to highlight the separate elements of a homogenised country, united through language and government.

 

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.

 

Tweetart

This is my second blog post in as many days so I’m feeling quite proud of myself for that. As for art making, I’m currently wrestling with a few opportunities and exhibitions, so I’m stuck in my studio trying to trick myself into thinking that I don’t want to go outside and enjoy the early spring. One of the shows is a project called #tweetart, instigated on twitter by @peepart, with the only requirement for entering being that artists had a twitter account. I’ve been meaning to submit something for a while but didn’t have any inspiration. That is, until I decided to go meta and paint avatars as a kind of visual #ff to people who responded to the idea of being involved.

My first thought was to draw them onto board with pastel as I’ve been working a lot with this medium lately. However, it seems acrylic was the most effective way to make the images, so I picked up a brush for the first time in years and started painting.

Those of you who are artists will understand how a non-painter feels about this, after spending much of my artistic career explaining to people that I don’t paint despite the fact I’m an artist, but I’m not one to restrict myself arbitrarily. One of the main reasons I stopped painting tho, is that I’m notoriously messy, and usually get the urge to make art when I’m wearing nice things, so I’m expecting to run out of clothes without paint on them within about a month. I’m currently working on the next images for the show and hoping that one or more will be finished soon. So for now I’ll leave you with my first #tweetart contribution, a portrait of @peepart.