Office at Night (2) : material and possibly outcomes [A1 / office at night revisions]

This post updates on the revisions of Assignment 1: Office at Night.

[UPDATED 8 September 2017 with decision on final form, see end of this post]

I now concluded the second round of image making for the Office at Night.

The first one consisted of meeting a colleague in her office, us jointly taking images while discussing a series of questions over office, work, night, desire. I then developed the images (made on iphone and Minox 35 mm film camera) to form both the manual and digital montages of assignment 1.

The final submission of the assignment is here; the tutor report for it here.

In my first submission I was deliberate as to the provisional status of the images: while impermanence was a deliberate aspect of the manual montages, which were just temporarily arranged in my notebook, while working in the coffee shop, it nonetheless wasn’t a formal resolution for this assignment yet.

During the first part of the course I also experimented with my own bedroom/office as a workspace that exceeds its boundaries. These images formed project Project 1_2: through a digital lens.

The main point of critique of the tutor report concerned the aesthetic qualities of the images: they did not engage, arrest, invite to concern oneself more with them:

You practice is very well informed, contextually, but to be honest, I don’t find that the formal outcome of either these approaches actually have aesthetic qualities that match their intellectual underpinning. Forgive me if this sounds trite or pedestrian, but my view is that artwork – in all forms – is presented to be engaged with, and it needs to be aesthetically enticing to do so effectively. I think this is particularly the case with your ‘manual montages’ – I think one needs to always ask the frank question, of whether anyone else is actually going to want to engage with a piece of one’s work.

— as they originated in a fleeting process and formed a documented record, I didn’t mind this criticism too much and found it fair. It also, over the following 18 months led to much investigation, reflection as to what I consider the underpinnings of my artistic practice, what role what kind of aesthetic plays in this and how to work towards resolutions that address both the the conceptual concerns and a visual realisations that matches these.

My immediate line of thought for this was three-fold:

a. to produce a series of considered still set up far more formally, possibly photographed on film again (and pursuing a few months later the acquisition of a medium-format camera) to allow for a -reembedding back into a slowed down, quietened context.

b. to investigate whether the stills and montages could themselves become part of my main working process, i.e. become the material that constitutes (or: re-constitutes) a notebook. I conducted a series of first printing experiments in disassembled journals to see if this was feasible, but stopped at this point.

c. to engage my interview partner in examining and rearranging the earlier images together to then document this second part in photography again.

In Summer 2016 I sent a single-use camera to another colleague and invited her to document, (inspired by the short set of pointers that I already used for the first conversation) to record anything around the theme, while I would do something similar for my own office at night, again also on a 35mm camera (though not single use but with fairly high-quality lens and a 3200 ISO film).

We then met again (10 months later), in her office/ bedroom and looked at the images, talked about the process, any themes arising while setting up over the course of a couple of hours and with a tripod and the medium-format camera (Kodak Ektar 100, i.e. saturated slow film) a series of stills, some of these featuring ourselves also. I choose to work with available light for this and fairly slow shutter speeds to make use of the narrow DoF of the camera.

On the basis of this second process, I can now envisage a series of revisions for the initial assignment:

  1. the submission of a single A3 print that consists of the diptych in my own bedroom/ office at night1_2 My office triptych.jpg
  2.  a series of images that are referencing the different offices, in which this project has been located:
    Office at Night Angela single1_2 My office triptychDIC_A1_montage1-2Office at Night Angela Diptych 1Office at Night Angela Diptych 2
    2017_08_062017_09_022017_09_032017_09_08— the main question for this approach: single images? combined images for Office at Night (A), and my own office, plus the single digital montage for the original Office at Night (H)?
  3. an artist book in the form of a reassembled notebook, with some printed pages, some text, empty pages and a set of the original source images to invite the viewer/reader to perform their own manual montages in this? [no marquette of this yet, but will reinsert this]
    — what role do the more formal montages play in this notebook? e.g., do they form a cover or back image, are they included as a print also?
    — is there a book per office? i.e. like a potential series?
    — is there scope to turn this into multiples? [e.g. by photocopying, inkjet printing, risograph or indeed screenprinting?This is the type of notebook I use, it is stitched and I in the past already disassembled them and rebound in different forms. It is slightly too large for the pages to go through my inkjet printer but the thinness of the paper is as such not a problem for the printer.
    It also contains a pouch in the back, which could easily take a series of 6×4 prints.IMG_20170731_123912.jpg


Final decision on format

Following further discussion and reflection, I arrived at the decision to print single images, fairly large (such as 10×10, or above; though 10×10 is possibly the print size limit for assessment submission – which I will need to check). These will be the following six images:

[I need to upload the current diptych as two single images]

Jeff Wall (1979) Picture for Women [A1/ office at night revisions]

— one of the references for exploring further what is contained in the material that formed the first assignment.

As my tutor points out: it is a retaking of Edouard Manet’s (1982) A Bar at the Folies-Bergère and its complex viewpoints. The multiplicity of the gaze is the one that my tutor picked up from the digital montages of the initial submission.

The Courtauld website points towards a series of themes: the bar as site for drinking and meeting prostitutes, described by a contemporary as ‘umixed joy’. The sternness of the central figures expression does not match that description (and also sits at odds with the bustle visible in the mirror behind her. Also: we, as viewer, stand in the place of a man depicted solely in reflection. That the reflection of his face and her back is skewed, shifted too far to the right, is one of the points for discussion.

Jeff Wall’s remaking of the bar scene moves the setting into either a classroom, a dance studio or another, not quite defined, space. Again, we can assume there is a mirror, through which we see the whole scene. In the dead centre of it, a large format camera. A woman to our left, a man, identified as Wall himself to the right, looking at the woman (or, perhaps more precisely, her back). We see it is nighttime: the window front in the back shows a dark outside, overhead are several bare light bulbs. The woman stands still, seems to look at herself in reflection (or indeed at us?), Walls seems to be suspended in a walking movement, is he holding something in his hand?

It is a place of activity, foremost: that of the making of a photograph; i.e. it is the workplace of a photographer (Wall), and still, what else is going here? Is she model? As women at that time in such a space would be. Knowing the origin in Manet’s painting, I realise that I am asking myself too as to what the sexual relationship between the two are. Is there one? Is my wondering intended?

Campany, in the short video clip about the book he published on this single work also relates Wall’s work to Hitchcock’s voyeurism, and outlines the circumstance that this was a large-scale back-lit gallery installation, not a photograph as print. Also: a single work, not a series or a body of work.

[I have ordered the book and will take a closer read of this, as I realise that the Office at Night will remain an ongoing project beyond the remits of this module and assignment


First play with printouts:

the first prints have arrived and I started to assemble them on the wall.

a. a grid of the grasses:


b. a first playful grouping of various from across the three other ‘groups’:


I had started with the Gallery Shadows and the Roadwork, and then added the night shadow images as and where they seemed to fit, replaced a few of the others. Nothing meaningful/ explicit so far, more a sense of seeing them next to each other. A few of the smaller groupings are here in close up:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Earlier photomontages

Having started working on exercise 1_1 – photomontage, I wanted to go back to earlier work that I have done to start looking at how I had worked with layering images – photographs, drawings, scans, various form of printmaking (screen and photographure) – to get a sense of a base point where I am starting from but also to remind myself what the processes and interests were that had led me – 4, 5 years ago – towards these approaches.

2_Anni'sAlbum_study_photographure_GHelmsAnni’s Album is a process/ technique piece: various forms of source material (drawing, manipulated photograph, old family photo) are used as basis for a photo-etching process: to get a sense of how materials behave and textures are carried across on the etching plate.

5_Delimiter_digprint_GhHelmsDelimiter is a digital print file that I never realised as an actual print but laboriously (and fairly unsuccessfully) then translated into a screen print (too large, too unwieldy, too expensive); I relatively late realised that it was the screen’s luminosity that was key in this piece for me. A lightbox may have been the most appropriate realisation of it.

3_DV(red)_monoprint_GHelmsDV (red) is a monoprint: oil/ graphite drawing with screenprinting on top. The manipulation of the photographic files was relatively minimal; the mixing of media in the horizonline the main focus. I would probably work with the photographic source material far more purposefully; but am still excited by the transparency of the oil/graphite layer.

4_Daucus Carota_mixedmedia_GHelmsThis drawing precedes the prints: Daucus Carota, wild carrots explored at different scales and rhythms, the needing to get close to an image to discover delicate print layers hidden behind. Stepping in, stepping out was a key discovery in this process, the photography is, if I remember scans of pen and ink drawings, I am not sure I actual used indexical images of actual plants.

There is now Wild Carrot growing in the meadow at the back of my house, I discovered it earlier this summer and with the plant so closely tagged to my parents’ garden, I am thrilled to have some more and current source images of it now here. I still have many pressed specimen stored somewhere.

6_Enon Lake a_mixed media_Installation and closeup_GHelmsEnon Lake was a collaboration with sound artist Jason Kavanagh. It was possibly the most conceptual piece of that time: repetition and glitching were trying to find an appropriate form for the blandness of the shopping precinct with view of Ben Lomond. It feels like a work of mine that is the least mine and recognisable as such; it is possibly the most academic of the works of that time (and that may have to do with the subject matter being close to my research interests of the time). The print quality is in the main ropey: my old inkjet, but deliberately so and appropriate for the subject matter. We put this in for an exhibition and it didn’t get selected – mounting it on board would have been a far better form than the perspect and thin paper that we did use.

     1_Treebirds(nest)_mixed media_installation and detail_GHelmsTreebirds (nest) works with a simple composite image printed on drafting paper (about A0 in scale, the largest of these pieces by far), then cut and animated by hanging chestnut flower buds. The potentials for movement and depth are most pertinent in this, and still excite.

This was all work I did while not doing the Drawing 1 course; the photography is used as a reference marker and frame work: either in foreground (Treebirds) or as hidden detail (Daucus Carota). The more complex ones are moving into space/ time with sounds and installation quality. As such they also deliberately establish a relationship with a viewer or onlooker in a dialogical manner; though with different emotional registers: Enon Lake is resigned/ frustrated; Treebirds more poetic and somewhat elegiac.

Enon Lake possibly has the most potential in terms of photographic image construction for this course, and I had forgotten how sequencing, fragmenting, glitching and repeating have been fairly consistent concerns (and didn’t only emerge in TAOP); several of them; and then, the cutting into, shining light on and layering of details behind the main image are also strategies to revisit again.

As far as photomontage is concerned, they are all pretty straightforward, those who consist of several layers (Anni’s Album and Delimiter) are blended reasonably straightforward; all screenprints are based on digital screen separations with each separation prepared and the printed on acetate before exposed on the frame.

Daucus Carota and Enon Lake in the main use manual montage techniques.

While there is possibly not much in terms of technique to take forward from the digital montages, I have a sense that the manual layering can provide some directions to work with (and possibly also translate/transfer back to) in a digital context.

Starting (after having ended) : Reflections on TAOP

I posted my TAOP materials yesterday, and so the past few weeks were a transition from one course to the next.

Here are the reflections on TAOP as a waymarker of sorts to help me go back to the starting points and interests that led me from one very old course to a brand new one.

Reflection on whole course: what have I learned? what did I do? || what do I want to learn and do next?

Starting questions to begin TAOP with in summer 2013 were:

  • How do photographs function in relation to
    a. instantaneous capture?
    b. recording all that is there?
    < very much coming from a fine arts practice that constructs a visual experience from ‘nothing’, I was very aware of the complexity of anything captured, of everything being included and the need to have an approach that allowed focusing, editing, authoring in a way different to the media that I worked with before
  • How have I used photographs so far and how can photography fit as part of my artistic practice?
  • What else may there be that I don’t know yet?

Photography as new discipline to me

In the early parts of the course I was getting excited by discovering a new field with its debates, silences, traditions and transgressions. Excitement of encountering Abelardo Morell, Lee Friedlander and Francis Woodman in particular.

Slowing down and becoming conscious of my control over the viewfinder as early learning.
Getting to grips with technical aspects but also seeing that the technology is there to help me construct an approach, view, concept.

The technology is limitation: this is the ontology that a camera produces; this is the knowledge it constructs. And: there is a long-standing debate of this.

>> a conceptual understanding of this medium is far more widely discussed than e.g. what I encountered with printmaking or drawing. So: the question over reality, indexicality, authorship, mediation is at the heart of this medium, and easily accessible. And so is a sense of working with the present, the what is now.

<< much of my interest in drawing became (a) process-based, (b) exploring, critically, the role of ‘creator’, ‘maker’, (c) a sense of a non-representational approach towards visual arts: e.g., indexicality in drawing (Anna Barribal); these interests were far more central to photography than what I had encountered before in fine arts debates and it was useful to make those links.

Construction: an image, a set

Possibly from that interest over indexicality, observation and recording stems some of the earlier difficulty to approach photography as constructive, performative: of creating an image in a deliberate manner – in my visual arts (but also in my social science research) I was keen and intent on exploring what was already there, rather than foregrounding construction.

The grid: repetition and difference
The grid: ordering and sorting
The grid: sequentiality

Fairly early on I became interested in the ways how photographs are viewed/ shown and the order in which they ‘unfold’ (Helga Paris’s exhibition at Streetlevel made that apparent to me).
Working in series was based on an earlier interest of mine but, again, much more foregrounded in photography (or at least the approach to it in TAOP).
A line became a grid, became a variable, foldable grid.

From this exploration of temporality in viewing/ showing came an interest in the time captured on film: notably, the stretching of time, blurring, a sense of excess but also a sense of being at the edge of the defining characteristics of the medium. Francis Woodman’s work was key here.

Photographic studies in self and identity construction

Her work also became key to investigating self and identity, assignments 3-5 explored this in a variety of approaches. Again, Paris’s work on a place and time (East Germany of 1970s onwards) also placed my own family and memory into the context of this course: her series ‘Memories of Z.’ are a restaging of childhood memories, and writing this up now, I realise, also informed my approach to House (Stories). [one of the photos of that series is included here: ‘And everything smells like post-war‘]

Probably from Assignment 3 onwards I felt I was able to achieve photographs that displayed my intentions, but also to capture meaningfully what I was seeing in a ‘view’ or scene. It was also becoming clearly by that point what constitutes research and development for a photography project: how to develop and progress through a line of enquiry. Here, Assignment 4, Hand play, was the first fully articulated set at the end of a research phase.

The project, appr0ach, out of which House (Stories) (Assignment 5) arose, presents to date the most complex artistic project that I undertook. I developed it as a residencies, conducted much preparatory work – as social practice but also exploratory as to visual research and preparation. The fortnight spent there was intense, the emotional register often informed by fear, trepidation and sometimes close to panic. I was able to put in place shooting plans and mini-projects within the wider context that not only made use of these emotions but were also effective responses. I was also able to develop my projects over that period of time to a considerable extent (and much further than I thought possible before I went). I was excited by being able to translate my intentions and interests into photographs that were speaking to them (not only to myself but also others). I also realised what I had learned in terms of photographic skills to do so effectively.

For this project, I also realised how fitting a lens-based medium was for my intentions and for what I was after artistically at this moment in time: it was able to incorporate an attention to a present condition and also include not only a record of objects but of the time itself. It was a sense of congruity that I hadn’t had for other mediums in the past, and I was certain that I wanted to pursue that further: in terms of skills but also concepts and debates.

With some of these concerns, I feel almost as if I have gone back to some of my earlier concerns: those about recording, being informed and speaking to a present (while attending to time/memory/temporality). So, I am possibly less interested in some of the conventions of photography – I realise that e.g. the debates over authenticity and truth are not interesting me all that much right now; I am also not interested in the forms and skills that produce commercially images – other than questions over how these suffuse and circulate, cross-over into many forms of self-representation, etc.