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Journal of Visual Arts Practice: Volume: 6 | Issue: 3

Journal of Visual Arts Practice: Volume: 6 | Issue: 3

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Published by Intellect Books
The domain of visual art hosts a multitude of artistic forms and practices. The Journal of Visual Art Practice supports research across the entire range of this varied field. The journal engages with the progressive nature of the subject, reflecting upon the changing terrain of art in recent years.
The domain of visual art hosts a multitude of artistic forms and practices. The Journal of Visual Art Practice supports research across the entire range of this varied field. The journal engages with the progressive nature of the subject, reflecting upon the changing terrain of art in recent years.

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ISSN 1470-2029
6.3
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Journal of
Visual Arts Practice
Volume 6 Number 3 – 2007
167–174 Special Edition Editorial
The Problem of Documenting Fine Art Practices and Processes
Rebecca Fortnum and Chris Smith
Articles
175–189 Collecting the traces: an archivist’s perspective
Sue Breakell and Victoria Worsley
191–199 Relating process: accounts of influence in the life history interview
Linda Sandino
201–213 Articulating the tacit dimension in artmaking
Michael Jarvis
215–228 Seeing what, how and why: the ARTnews series, 1953–58
Nigel Whiteley
229–243 Post-production or how pictures come to life or play dead
Ruth Pelzer-Montada
245–250 Andrew Grassie: Document First
Andrew Grassie
251–256 Apocotropes, Dutton and Peacock, The Dog and Duck, Dutton and
Swindells
Steve Dutton
257–267 Considering If...Then...Else...
Mary Maclean
268 Index
9 771470 202003
ISSN 1470-2029
6 3
JVAP_6.3_Cover.indd 1 12/14/07 6:13:32 PM
ISSN 1470-2029
This journal Is abstracted and
indexed by ART Bibliographies.
Journal of Visual Arts Practice – Volume 6 Number 3
The Journal of Visual Arts Practice (JVAP) is a forum for debate for the
international community engaged in or concerned with research in fine
art and the visual arts more generally. It is concerned with exploring
the boundaries of these disciplines and sharing debate on research and
creative practices. The journal works within a frame that recognises both
the expanding practices that constitute research in the fine and visual
arts, as well as the increasing cross and interdisciplinary nature of creative
practices in the field.
JVAP encourages contributions relating to scholarly, pure, develop-
mental, applied and pedagogical research. It encourages submissions
exploring new critical theories of research and practice as well as evalua-
tions of the practical and educational impact of such research. JVAP will
support critical debate within and across fields. It is peer reviewed, but
has mechanisms for supporting and encouraging new contributors. The
journal will proactively support doctoral researchers as well as estab-
lished academics.
The journal of Visual Arts Practice is a refereed journal supported by
the National Association for Fine Art Education.
Editorial Board
lain Biggs (University of the West of England, UK)
Mary Anne Francis (Brighton University, UK)
Ken Friedman (Norwegian School of Management, Norway;
Demark’s Design
School Copenhagen, Denmark)
Jill Journeaux (Coventry University, UK)
Judith Mottram (Nottingham Trent University, UK)
Kristina Niedderer (University of Wolverhampton, UK)
Francis Halsall (National College of Art and Design Dublin)
Editorial Advisory Board
Jale Erzen (Middle Eastern Technical University, Ankara)
Mick Finch (Ecole des Beaux-arts de Valenciennes, France)
Henk Slager (Editor of Lier en Boog, Amsterdam)
( JVAP has chosen not to use academic titles)
Editor
Chris Smith
Sir John Cass Department
of Art, Media and Design
London Metropolitan University
Central House
59–63 Whitechapel High Street
London E1 7PF
UK
e-mail:
c.d.smith@londonmet.ac.uk
http://www2.ntu.ac.uk/ntsad/
nafae/publications.shtml
The Journal of Visual Arts Practice is published three times per year by Intellect, The
Mill, Parnall Road, Bristol, BS16 3JG, UK. The current subscription rates are £30
(personal) and £210 (institutional). Postage is free within the UK, £5 for the rest of
Europe and £10 elsewhere. Advertising enquiries should be addressed to:
marketing@intellectbooks.com
© 2007 Intellect Ltd. Authorization to photocopy items for internal or personal
use or the internal or personal use of specific clients is granted by Intellect Ltd for
libraries and other users registered with the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) in
the UK or the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) Transactional Reporting Service
in the USA provided that the base fee is paid directly to the relevant organization.
JVAP_6.3_00_FM.qxd 12/12/07 4:30 PM Page 165
3. The following points should be noted:
• Margins should be at least one inch wide all
round
• Pagination should be continuous.
• Quotations should be used sparingly and be
identified by single quotation marks; longer
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indented without quotes.
• Words and phrases in languages other than
English inserted in the text should be underlined.
• Acronyms should be avoided where possible.
Where their use is unavoidable because of repe-
tition, the title should be written in full in the
first instance with the acronym following in a
bracket. For example,
The National Association for Fine Art Education
(NAFAE).
• Figures, tables, etc. should be both clearly
printed and numbered consecutively. The
source must be indicated below, and when these
appear on a separate sheet or file, a clear indica-
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4. Bibliographical references and other notes
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Notes to contributors
1. The Editor welcomes contributions. Articles
should:
• be written in English;
• be original and not under consideration by any
other publication;
• normally be between 4000 and 6000 words in
length;
• be written in a clear and concise style, avoiding
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The Editor will then decide whether the contribu-
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Any matters concerning the format and presentation of articles not covered by the above notes
should be addressed to the Editor. The guidance on this page is by no means comprehensive: it must
be read in conjunction with Intellect Notes for Contributors. These notes can be referred to by contrib-
utors to any of Intellect’s journals, and so are, in turn, not sufficient; contributors will also need to
refer to the guidance such as this given for each specific journal. Intellect Notes for Contributors
is obtainable from http://www.intellectbooks.co.uk/journals.php?issn=14702029, or on request from
the Editor of this journal.
JVAP_6.3_00_FM.qxd 12/12/07 4:30 PM Page 166
Journal of Visual Arts Practice Volume 6 Number 3 © 2007 Intellect Ltd
Editorial. English Language. doi: 10.1386/jvap.6.3.167/2
Special Edition Editorial
The Problem of Documenting
Fine Art Practices and Processes
Rebecca Fortnum University of the Arts London
Chris Smith London Metropolitan University
Abstract
This editorial to a special edition, devoted to the documentation of artists’
processes, acts as an introduction to the debate and its generation in relation to
the articles in this edition. It outlines problems related to the methodologies and
ideology of documenting creative processes within the visual arts.
This issue of JVAP generates from observations that documentation and
the data produced as a trace of the artists’ processes has become one of the
central issues of the debate in relation to research into artistic practice. This
is perhaps made fraught by debates on the status of such documentation
as well as the source of such material. Who documents and why are
important questions – ‘who will/should narrate the story?’ – for instance.
This is further expanded on in this editorial and through the articles to be
found in this edition.
Alongside the articles on documenting artists’ processes of production
this edition of JVAP, on artists documentation, introduces a double reflexive
process in that we have used work by artists that document their process in
and through their own work. These are represented through the visual work
of Andrew Grassie, Mary Maclean and Steve Dutton. It is also the first
edition where we have introduced the use of colour in the journal.
This experiment leads, of course, to a debate in turn about the repre-
sentation of scholarly endeavour and in what medium. We would be grateful
for a response through either the NAFAE website, or directly to the editor,
on the substantive issues of this edition in representing the documentation
of the processes of artistic practice thus providing data for further research or,
indeed, the processes of documenting research, which is in itself a practice.
It might be also be a debate on what extent these are coterminous.
The documentation of an artist’s creative process is a problematic area
for research. In 1962 Rudolf Arnheim voiced some of the concerns facing
both artists and researchers,
‘Artists … have learned to tread cautiously when it comes to reporting the
internal events that produce their works. They watch with suspicion all
attempts to invade the inner workshop and to systematise its secrets.
[Arnheim, 1962:1]
167 JVAP 6 (3) pp. 167–174 © Intellect Ltd 2007
Keywords
Documentation
Practice
Research into practice
Creative process
JVAP_6.3_01_edt_Fortnum 12/12/07 4:31 PM Page 167
For the archetypal artist, working alone in the studio, the documentation of
his or her process was felt to impede or alter the relationship between artist
and work. One of the most celebrated examples of this is Hans Namuth’s
attempts to document Jackson Pollock’s painting ‘in action’. It is recorded
that when Namuth and Pollock finished filming in 1950, Pollock pulled out
a bottle of whisky, saying,
‘This is the first drink I’ve had in two years. Dammit, we need it!’
[Potter, 1985]
Whilst it may be too simplistic to blame Pollock’s description of himself
and Namuth as ‘phoneys’ and his subsequent downward spiral on their
documentary project, there is a pervasive sense, even today, that too much
introspection is bad for creativity. And this is all the more interesting
because artists’ practices and their relationship to documentation and its
technology have shifted considerably over the last fifty years.
Since the 1960s, when the artist began to engage creatively with the
documentation of their own (often performative or dematerialised) prac-
tices, the relationship between process and documentation has become
ever more complex. Today many artists engage materially with their work in
a variety of ways, often choosing not to physically fabricate their own work or
make work that takes temporary, ephemeral or even no material form.
Indeed the exchange between documentation, process and finished art
work has become blurred. Nicholas Bourriaud in his essay Postproduction
states,
‘…the contemporary work of art does not position itself as the termination
point of the ‘creative process” ( a “finished product” to be contemplated) but
as a site of navigation, a portal, a generator of activities.’
[Bourriaud, 2005:19]
For many artists, even studio based ones, these shifts in thinking about art
production have lead to their creative processes becoming more available
to a public. From the early 1990s we have witnessed artist-in-residence
schemes requiring artists to display ‘work in progress’ and over the last ten
years the strategy of artists creating gallery exhibitions where the work gets
made over the period of display have became commonplace. Recent tech-
nology has increased the types of documentation possible and, courtesy of
various ‘reality’ media enterprises, we are much more familiar with the
notion of being observed. However whether this does indeed lead to a greater
understanding or a ‘demystification’ of the creative process is debateable
and the sculptor Phyllida Barlow has commented recently,
‘An ignorance of how art becomes made and how artists work – what artists
do – is prevalent at all levels of art, from secondary school through to high
level retrospective exhibitions at international venues.’
Further to what was stated above, this issue of JVAP reflects on how and
why artists’ processes get documented as well as debating the problems
of such documents. It emerges from work being done by the Visual
168
Rebecca Fortnum and Chris Smith
JVAP_6.3_01_edt_Fortnum 12/12/07 4:31 PM Page 168
Intelligences Research Project at the Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary
Arts at Lancaster University. An aspect of this project has been to investi-
gate the way visual artists think and make and, most importantly, the
relationship between their thinking and making. The project’s initiator
Nigel Whiteley, in his contribution to this edition, quotes Martin Kemp,
‘…works of art are physical products made by executants who face real
challenges, and do not come ready-made from the heads of their makers.’
[Kemp 2003: 37]
– a statement rings true for most artists and, if demonstrated, does much
to challenge populist views of the ‘conceptual’ nature of contemporary art.
The Visual Intelligences Research Project has begun to debate and docu-
ment these ‘real challenges’ faced by artists. It acknowledges that most
visual artists make a number of decisions whilst making their work that
aren’t purely conceptual or only to do with material and technique but lie in
the relationships between these aspects of making.
An initial strategy of the project was to facilitate a closed seminar where
ten established artists debated a number of questions that directly
addressed their own processes. Questions were chosen to elicit reflection
on creative decision making, for example;
• What scope is there for unforeseen events occurring in your process?
• Have you ever exhibited or sold your work before you felt ready to do so?
• If you had to choose one work to represent you from all that you have
made which would you choose and why? [for complete list of questions
please see www.visualintelligences.com]
The artists’ statements and emerging debate was fascinating. Patterns of
process emerged; the self imposed parameters of a practice, the way artists
strategically balance unknown outcomes with known procedures and ideas,
the movement between different types of engagement with materials and
concepts, the drive towards [and away from] resolution. This paved the way
to look at the issue in greater depth.
In December 2005 a symposium to explore the area further was held at
Lancaster University where VIRP joined forces with the University’s CASCPP
(Centre for the Advanced Study of Contemporary Performance Practice).
Entitled The Documentation of Fine Art Processes and Practices, ten speakers
discussed a range of methodologies for documentation. Fine art practitioners
discussed the use of the aural interview (Bill Furlong), the artist’s archive
(Julie Bacon) and forms such as the blog (Sue Wilks) and the artist’s note-
book (Gerry Davies) used by artists to develop and document their
processes. They were joined by speakers from other creative practices,
where more established methodologies of documentation had evolved
through the context and needs of their particular discipline. Paul Harper
spoke about his research developing ways to document (and thus preserve)
the skills and approaches of different crafts practitioners. Choreographer
Nigel Stewart demonstrated how in his own practice the documentation of
improvised dance forms the basis for future choreographed works. Chris
Smith framed an important aspect of the debate by suggesting that artists
169
The Problem of Documenting Fine Art Practices and Processes
JVAP_6.3_01_edt_Fortnum 12/12/07 4:31 PM Page 169
take note of the many possible determinants shaping the accounting of
their practices. He debated the several meanings of the term ‘account’, ask-
ing what might determine their appropriateness, intelligibility, and authen-
ticity? This discussion of the ways we can account for our practices and
processes seemed timely within art education both in relation to develop-
ment of Fine Art practice based research degrees and to the (then looming,
now upon us) Research Assessment Exercise. However more important
that these immediate, and perhaps parochial, concerns was the sense
that documentation will be needed to provide information for future scholar-
ship and for rich and deep research.
Most recently a second symposium Did Hans Namuth kill Jackson
Pollock? The problem of documenting the creative process was held at Chelsea
College of Art in April this year and marked a collaboration between the
VIRP and the University of the Arts London (Camberwell College) with sup-
port from the National Association for Fine Art Education. This symposium
shifted the emphasis from the methodologies of documenting fine art
processes to the relationship between the artist’s work and the documenta-
tion of its process, exploring their mutual dependency. This was demon-
strated in very different ways in the presentations from artists Art &
Language and Andrew Grassie. Additionally Ian Kirkwood, Head of the
School of Fine and Applied Art at De Montfort University, discussed his
participation in an early 1970s BBC documentary of the radical course at St.
Martins School of Art, known as the year of ‘the locked room’. But as
Kirkwood pointed out
‘The documentary however was a ‘docudrama’ made during the following
year using the students as actors to dramatise some of the key events as they
had unfolded on the course … [which raised] questions not only about the
nature of the course in its focus on the creative process but also about the
possibility of documenting it.”
[Kirkwood, 2007]
Interestingly the symposium ended with a visit to see this and other docu-
mentation forming the display St Martins Sculpture Department 1966–7 at
Tate Britain with its co-curator Hester Westley. The symposium also drew
on research by art historians, academics and museum archivists to specu-
late on how documents of process might elucidate an artist’s work. Some
of those papers have been developed for this edition of JVAP.
Coinciding with this event an exhibition, Inspiration to Order, could be
seen at the University of the Arts London research gallery at Wimbledon
College of Art. The exhibition, which had also been shown at Southampton
University’s Winchester Gallery and California State University Stanislas
Gallery earlier in the year, incorporated documentation made in collabora-
tion with the exhibition’s curator Rebecca Fortnum during a VIRP small
AHRC grant’s pilot study of the methodology of documentation. The show
aimed to enact some of the issues the symposium debated, providing an
audience with a sense of the processes of making and thinking of contem-
porary art practice. Notes, drawings, films, aural and written commentaries
and photographs were shown with artworks, allowing the audience to be
guided through the ten exhibiting artists’ decision-making processes.
170
Rebecca Fortnum and Chris Smith
JVAP_6.3_01_edt_Fortnum 12/12/07 4:31 PM Page 170
For example the painter Michael Ginsborg recorded his thoughts on film as
he made a work for the exhibition whilst Beth Harland’s interactive digital
work allowed the viewer to explore her extensive resources and influences.
A podcast recorded conversations by the artist Vong Phaophanit’s and
writer Claire Obussier that occurred whilst editing his film All that is solid
melts into air (Karl Marx) and alongside Emma Rose and Neil Boynton’s
installed film Rush one could view a short film of the collaborators dis-
cussing the making of the work. Paula Kane exhibited her ‘studio wall’ of
studies and resource material as well as her landscape paintings and Mary
Maclean’s written reflection published here, accompanied her photograph
in the form of a leaflet designed to unfold like a map and be taken away by
the audience.
Fundamental to this debate is an underlying question – why document
the creative process? Although (arguably) Namuth’s film assured Pollock
his place in history does it really has help us understand his creative
process? And can engaging with the making of a work of art make us better
critics or artists? Arguments put forward in this edition make a convincing
case that this is so.
As artists how we voice what we do, both to ourselves and others, nec-
essarily feeds into what we make. As Linda Sandino observes in her essay
‘Relating Process’ on artists’ oral life histories; the stories that artists nar-
rate in relation to their own processes may not necessarily be accurate but
how these stories are shaped (‘organised, connected and evaluated’) may
determine the artist’s sense of identity and thus inform the artists’ path,
containing the seeds of future works. The artist does not work in a vacuum
but constructs ‘narrative strategies of the self’ that are both ‘cultural and
personal’ negotiating historical and contemporary figures, encountered
both in person and through art works. This chimes with Michael Jarvis’s
assertion that ‘the artist is the quintessential ‘reflective practitioner’.
‘Jarvis speculates on the worth of making the hidden or tacit knowledge of
artists available to a wider public. He makes a strong argument for the
advantages to the audience as well as to artists themselves who, in doing
so, will ‘achieve an ever increasing clarity of utterance’. Ruth Pelzer also
reflects upon the ways in which documentation can create insights into
(her own) visual practice. She uses the term ‘post-production’ to reflect on
a particular quality of documentation, namely the practice of theory after
an exhibition of the author’s work. It is suggested that the insights gained
through such documentary post-production become the foundation for
further practice, both for other artists and the author herself. This is
equally true, whether post-production relates to the practice of theory or
artistic practice. Indeed the artists’ pages here, by Steve Dutton, Andrew
Grassie and Mary Maclean, demonstrate the contemporary artists’
clear-sighted ability to reflect on their ways of making. For these artists
this consideration of process is creative; not only does it pave the way for
future strategies and works, it can also produce texts and images as art
works themselves.
Most in depth studies of an artist’s work will examine their working
method and, as we are establishing, the relation between artworks and
process is complex. Sue Breakell and Victoria Worsley’s paper discusses
the archival material of Prunella Clough and Helen Chadwick,
171
The Problem of Documenting Fine Art Practices and Processes
JVAP_6.3_01_edt_Fortnum 12/12/07 4:31 PM Page 171
‘two artists for whom documentation is an intrinsic and inextricable part of
the creative process.’
In the discussion of these artists’ notebooks, letters, photographs and
other ephemera, we become aware of the substantial layer of creative
research activity necessary to the production of these artists’ ‘finished’ art
works. The production and ordering of this material allowed the artists to
develop their serious and sustained practices. From the audience’s per-
spective a glimpse into this activity can,
‘considerably enrich the visitor’s experience because it offers alternative ways
to approach the works …’
Nigel Whiteley examining the ARTnews series, 1953–1958 also draws out
the importance of this kind of access to process. He suggests that the
pluralistic approach adopted in this series is rarely found in documents
today,
‘Description, analysis, interpretation and evaluation combine to give a rich
insight into the evolution of an art work, revealing what is usually tacit knowl-
edge and, most significantly, adding the dimension of why, to the usual realm
of what, and the occasionally available how.’
He calls for a reprise of such enterprises. If viewed as one strand of infor-
mation (amongst others) for those considering a work of art the dilemmas
or ‘problems’ of documenting creative process become more straightfor-
ward to resolve. Indeed from an historical perspective it would be difficult
to mount a case against the documentation of process. Certainly interest in
process as a way of gaining purchase on an artists work has established
precedent within art history.
Svetlana Alpers and Michael Baxandall’s Tiepolo and the Pictorial
Intelligence charts the relationship between Tiepolo’s drawing and painting and
develops a convincing argument that each stage of the artist’s process
allows for visual problem solving expedient to the final work. Tiepolo is an
artist working towards an as yet unenvisaged image, his sketches do not
simply detail his plans on a small scale, rather they evidence his thinking
around the problems that the work creates. During every part of his process
Tiepolo is to be found negotiating his imagery, composition, situation,
materials and techniques. His sketches are working drawings and, even
though some may have been sold commercially, they have a job to do.
Alpers and Baxandall extend this notion even further when they say that
Tiepolo’s finished pictures ‘exhibit the process of its making’ (Alpers and
Baxandall, 1994:51) . They continue,
‘an earlier process has been internalised into the finished forms of the figures
[…] that he represents: their forms declare the process’.
[Alpers and Baxandall, 1994:51]
Alpers and Baxandall’s investigation of Tiepolo’s large-scale fresco Four
Continents at Wurzburg shows us an artist who works best in that medium
172
Rebecca Fortnum and Chris Smith
JVAP_6.3_01_edt_Fortnum 12/12/07 4:31 PM Page 172
and whose other work often sustains and develops the skills needed for his
fresco. Tiepolo’s process is responsive to changes in environment and
media and this continuous evolution is important. Both in terms of the
viewer’s experience (perceptions change in different lights and viewing
positions) and the artist’s process, it marks the practice as one without pre-
determined conclusions. Alpers and Baxandall discuss this quality as
‘a notion of performance [that when] discretely used …can be of further use
where Tiepolo is concerned. It focuses attention not on an object that has
been made, but on the activity of making’
[Alpers and Baxandall, 1994:27].
This is an exciting proposition, not only does the evidence of the process
give insight into the artist’s masterwork but it appears that this work in
turn can lead the viewer into process. It is clear that the relationship
between process and artwork has always been complex and that art as a
‘state of encounter’ (Bourriaud) is by no means confined to contemporary
practice.
However problems remain. As we have seen the historians and archivists
of art seek to preserve evidence of the creative process and thinking for
entirely valid reasons. But these documents mediate between the artist and
posterity and in doing so wield enormous (cultural and fiscal) power. Can
living artists publicly engage in documenting their own processes in a disin-
terested way? Or should we merely attempt to keep producing documents,
consigning their preservation to history’s sifting and the discrimination of
future generations. Kerstin Mey, one of the recent symposium’s speakers,
succinctly summed up
‘a) processes of making art and their documentation influence each other
b) the documentation of art/creative processes and their outcomes underpin
the validation of art practices as they allow us to determine precedents (and
their genealogy) c) the practices of producing and dealing with archives in
which those databases are ‘exposed’ to different forms of significant processes
and narrative structuring is social practice in itself. Thus archives tell us a lot
about power relations and value hierarchies d) documenting and archiving
means conscious and active participation in civil society.’
[Mey, 2007]
Can we, as artists, archivists, art historians and cultural analysts, afford not
be pro-active in this process? The Visual Intelligences Research Project at
LICA and its collaborators at UAL and elsewhere are committed to working
with artists to develop new and creative ways of documenting their
processes. We must have confidence in the value of the production, the
preservation and, eventually, the evaluation of documents of process.
References
Svetlana Alpers and Michael Baxandall, Tiepolo and the Pictorial Intelligence by Yale
University Press, 1994.
Arnheim Rudolf, The Genesis of a Painting: Picasso’s Guernica, University of
California Press; (New Ed edition 1981) 1962.
173
The Problem of Documenting Fine Art Practices and Processes
JVAP_6.3_01_edt_Fortnum 12/12/07 4:31 PM Page 173
Potter Jeffrey, To a Violent Grave: An Oral Biography of Jackson Pollock, Pushcart
Press 2nd Printing edition (November 1987) 1985.
Bourriaud Nicolas, Postproduction, Lukas & Sternberg, 2005.
Kemp, Martin ‘Best Books of the Decade’, The Art Book, volume 10, issue 2, March
2003.
Kirkwood Ian, paper abstract, Did Hans Namuth kill Jackson Pollock? The problem
of documenting the creative process, www.visualintelligences.com, 2007.
Mey Kerstin, paper abstract, Did Hans Namuth kill Jackson Pollock? The problem of
documenting the creative process, www.visualintelligences.com, 2007.
Suggested citation
Fortnum, R. and Smith, C. (2007), ‘The Problem of Documenting, Fine Art Practices and
Processes’ Journal of Visual Arts Practice 6: 3, pp. 167–174, doi: 10.1386/jvap.6.3.167/2
Contributor details
Rebecca Fortnum read English at Oxford before gaining an MFA from Newcastle
University and taking up a fellowship at the Skowhegan School of Painting and
Sculpture, USA. She has been a Visiting Fellow in Painting at Plymouth University
and at Winchester School of Art, a visiting artist at The School of the Art Institute of
Chicago, and a Senior Lecturer at Norwich School of Art and Wimbledon School of
Art. She has received several awards including from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation,
the British Council, the Arts Council of England, the British School in Rome and
the Art and Humanities Research Council. She has exhibited widely including
solo shows at the Collective Gallery, Edinburgh, Spacex Gallery, Exeter, Kapil
Jariwala Gallery, London, Angel Row Gallery, Nottingham, The Drawing Gallery,
London and Gallery 33, Berlin. She was instrumental in founding the artist-run
spaces Cubitt Gallery and Gasworks Gallery in London. Her book of interviews,
Contemporary British Women Artists, in their own words, was published this year by I
B Tauris. She is currently a recipient of the Art House’s Space for 10 award for mid-
career artists and lead international artist for the TRADE project in Roscommon &
Leitrim, Ireland. Contact: Rebecca Fortnum is Research Fellow, The Lancaster
Institute for the Contemporary Arts, Lancaster University & Senior Lecturer,
Camberwell College, University of the Arts London.
E-mail: r.fortnum@camberwell.arts.ac.uk
Chris Smith is Convenor of the Visual Arts Practice Research Group and editor of
the Journal of Visual Art Practice. His research interests lie in the field of art and
design philosophy, particularly the connection between theory and practice, and a
concern with praxis in art and design. He collaborates with others from the Visual
Arts Practice Research Group in projects related to the relationship of imagination
and image, and with Art & Language on the question of ‘What work does the art-
work do?’ This has led to various national and international symposia and exhibi-
tions. Chris supervises a range of doctoral students drawn from art and design as
well as the crafts. He has run a number of workshops in collaboration with the
Centre for Learning and Teaching in Art and Design, University of the Arts, London,
on supervision of Masters and Doctoral students. He also sits on the Council for
Higher Education in Art and Design AHRC working group, examining issues related
to practice-led research. Contact: Chris Smith is Principal Lecturer at the Sir John
Cass Department of Art, Media, and Design, and editor of the Journal of Visual Art
Practice.
E-mail: c.d.smith@londonmet.ac.uk
174
Rebecca Fortnum and Chris Smith
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Journal of Visual Arts Practice Volume 6 Number 3 © 2007 Intellect Ltd
Article. English Language. doi: 10.1386/jvap.6.3.175/1
Collecting the traces: an archivist’s
perspective
Sue Breakell Tate Library & Archive
Victoria Worsley Henry Moore Institute
Abstract
The phenomenon of artists drawing on their own and other archives is not a new
one, but over the past few years there has undoubtedly been a significant increase
in attention, among both artist and art historians, given to the archive as part of
the creative process, as well as to archive practice. Archives have also become
contested territory, caught up in discourses about the nature of museums and
individual anxieties about the significance and preservation of documentation.
From an archivist’s point of view, archives have a positive and fertile role as both
a resonant collective memory resource and a site of creative regeneration through
revisiting the traces of earlier ideas and actions. Archive theory also emphasizes
the importance of context in the assessment of the meaning of a document
within a body of archive material. Consideration of the archives of Prunella
Clough and Helen Chadwick within this wider context of archival theory and
practice reveals in both cases a distinctly archival attitude to the documentation
of the creative process, one which provides a rewarding insight into their work.
Without memory support systems – from a tool to a digitalised archive –
there would be no experience of the past and nothing from which to ‘select’ in
order to invent the future
(Beardsworth 1996: 47)
Archives are the hinge between the past and the future. They are prosthetic
memories which are activated in the present. Archives always exist in the
present tense, capturing that moment of a past action and fixing it. This
instant is thereafter reignited in another present moment when they are
translated by an unknown reader of the future. This article examines the
meaning of the archive from the perspective of two archivists working in
institutional art archives. In the context of recent dialogues, it asserts the
significance of the archive as both a collective memory and a site of creative
regeneration. Two case studies will demonstrate how the archives of two
individual artists document their creative process and how this is integral
to their practice.
Misconceiving the archive
The notion of the archive has become popularly associated with somewhat
insidious stereotypes, which are contrary to archivists’ views of their work
175 JVAP 6 (3) pp. 175–189 © Intellect Ltd 2007
Keywords
archives
contemporary art
creative process
documentation
Helen Chadwick
memory
Prunella Clough
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as practitioners. The archive is popularly conceived as a space where things
are hidden in a state of stasis, imbued with secrecy, mystery and power. The
motif that pervasively recurs is that of dust and dirt. Dustiness implies a
place of no movement, of objects that have been left to rest. Archives are
often perceived as dark spaces, stereotypically located in the basement sig-
nifying a burial or entombment of things past. Because they are sometimes
seen as beginning at the end, archives are inextricably linked with death. As
Andrew Wilson comments, ‘archives can, indeed, be depressing places...
What had been creation (the gesture that articulated) has now become little
more than a mute document for a life lived’ (Wilson 2002: 67).
A particularly modern malady is the increasing anxiety about the sheer
volume of material which is being generated. At the same time, making any
selection is problematic, given that any selection process is inevitably
loaded and politicized. In ‘The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away’, Ilya
Kabakov expresses this ambivalence. The room of the man of the title is
filled with a lifetime’s garbage, bearing witness to meaningless and ulti-
mately pointless efforts to classify and record all the links:
A simple feeling speaks about the value, the importance of everything... this is
the memory associated with all the events connected to each of these papers.
To deprive ourselves of these paper symbols and testimonies is to deprive
ourselves somewhat of our memories. In our memory everything becomes
equally valuable and significant. All points of our recollections are tied to one
another. They form chains and connections in our memory which ultimately
comprise the story of life.
(Kabakov 2006: 33)
Archives have also been implicated in ideological discourses about the
museum, reflecting both personal and political anxieties, such as those of
Christian Boltanski:
Preventing forgetfulness, stopping the disappearance of things and beings
seemed to me a noble goal, but I quickly realised that this ambition was
bound to fail, for as soon as we try to preserve something, we fix it. We can
preserve things only by stopping life’s course. If I put my glasses in a vitrine,
they will never break, but will they still be considered glasses?... Once glasses
are part of a museum’s collection, they forget their function, they are then
only an image of glasses. In a vitrine, my glasses will have lost their reason for
being, but they will also have lost their identity.
(McShine 1999: 91)
Daniel Buren, meanwhile, has written of the problematics of the art museum
and its activities, which he describes as ‘a careful camouflage undertaken by
the prevalent bourgeois ideology, assisted by the artists themselves. A cam-
ouflage which has until now made it possible to transform the reality of the
world into an image of the world’ (McShine 1999: 221).
Positive spaces
As archivists we see a positive and fertile reading available in the space of
the archive, with its endless possibilities of reiteration and regeneration.
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Unlike libraries which classify books by subject, archives retain the original
order of the set of documents as they entered the archive, where such an
order exists, because this order itself has evidential value. From these
collected traces (an archive is never complete) the raw material offers an
endlessness of readings – not one set account. This presents the viewer/
researcher with the freedom to reactivate the archive, producing their own
unmediated responses and subjective stories from what they find, like a
Deleuzean rhizome.
Archives have always been stored in the most secure places, so that they
are isolated from contamination or corruption and can exist in their own
context as immutable entities. This inaccessibility transforms them into the
most authoritative and powerful testimony of actions. The archivist pre-
serves the archive’s authenticity, which goes beyond physical security, by
intellectually preserving the organic integrity of the interrelationships within
the sets of papers, through the description of their context.
Archives are also spaces of remembrance. This encompasses two oppo-
site but complimentary purposes; to remember is both to store and to
retrieve. But documents have to pass over the archival threshold, which
becomes the locus of recognition and empowerment. While the notion of
the entry and therefore selection of documents into the archive is ideologi-
cally problematic, there must ultimately be some kind of selection because
we cannot keep everything. Yet no selection is free of bias, and this is why
archives should seek to be as transparent as possible about their processes
and avoid the stereotype of mystery; to show that there is a body of profes-
sional consideration and evolved practice which testifies to an awareness of
the problematic of its position, and seeks to explain its response to that sit-
uation. Once over the threshold, archives become perpetual memories of,
and monuments to, the actions they bear witness to. Their pastness con-
tinues to exist, and is recognized in their presentness.
Recently, there has been a significant resurgence and interest in the past
and how it is represented archivally outside the archive, especially with
artists. In contrast to the melancholia and cynicism associated with post-
modernism, Hal Foster has identified an archival impulse in which nothing
is passive about the word archival; in fact remembering through archives
becomes a political act which Foster defines as an ‘aesthetics of resistance’.
In the face of ‘an amnesiac society of advanced capitalism dominated by
culture industries and sports spectacles... a world at once roiled and
arrested by information flow and product glut’ (Foster 2004: 10), he posits
the artist-as-archivist, who recovers gaps from the past and converts them
into beginnings perhaps to remind culture of its own wish symbols and for-
feited dreams. It is ‘[the] desire to turn belatedness into becomingness, to
recoup failed visions... and everyday life into possible scenarios... to turn
“excavation sites” into “construction sites”’ (Foster 2004: 22).
This comes out of a discourse which has been defined by Derrida as
archive fever:
We are all ‘en mal d’archive’: in need of archives.... [we] burn with a passion
never to rest interminably, from searching for the archive right where it slips
away.... It is to have a compulsive, repetitive, and nostalgic desire for the
archive, an irrepressible desire to return to the origin, a homesickness, a
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nostalgia for the return of the most archaic place of absolute commencement.
No desire, no passion, no drive, no compulsion … can arise for a person who
is not already, in one way or another, ‘en mal d’archive’.
(Derrida 1996: 91)
As art archivists in an institutional context, it is part of our role to collect
the traces, highlight them and rehabilitate them, and in doing so continue
the memory of the actions represented there, and open them up for new
beginnings and juxtapositions. This too is an aspect of archives which
many artists find of particular interest: the opportunity to subvert and re-
figure existing orders and practices, a notion Susan Hiller has described as
‘orchestrated relationships, invented or discovered fluid taxonomies’
(McShine 1999: 93).
Carolyn Steedman, in her book Dust, writes that ‘the archive is also a
place of dreams; humanity is its own creation’ (Steedman 2002: 56). In her
vision, people can be re-written or re-performed into being; not just resur-
rected, but given actual life and presentness. It is this almost magical qual-
ity that is recognized by Umberto Eco when he writes of the mediaeval
manuscripts in the monasteries in The Name of the Rose, which are any-
thing but dormant.
I had not thought each book spoke of things human or divine that lie outside
books. Now I realised that not infrequently books speak of books; it is as if
they spoke among themselves... it was then a place of long, centuries old
murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another,
a living thing, a receptacle of power not to be ruled by a human mind, a trea-
sure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who
had produced them or been their conveyors.
(Eco 1998: 286)
Even Kabakov’s nihilistic depiction of garbage contains a note of hopeful-
ness which echoes this concept:
A dump not only devours everything, preserving it forever, but one might say
it also continually generates something; this is where some kinds of shoots
come from new projects, ideas, a certain enthusiasm arises, hopes for the
rebirth of something...
(Kabakov 2006: 37)
It is against this background that we consider the question of whether doc-
umentation destroys the creative process. Our response to this question is
to turn to two artists for whom documentation is an intrinsic and inextrica-
ble part of the creative process. In doing so, we must first consider the
nature of documents in the context of the creative process.
Creative constructions
As outlined above, the viewer of archive material must always take into
consideration the context of its creation: its position within a wider body
of material created by that same individual or unit. The traditional record
of the creative process was the sketchbook or preparatory study, which
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can tell us how an image evolved, what changes were made, at what
stage, and why. But there are far more complex questions than this in
relation to the archive material. As well as preparatory drawings, there is
a whole ripple effect of documentation of the creative process within less
obvious sources: a letter to a friend might include a reference to the
work, directly documenting the process in the artist’s own words. A diary
entry recording a visit to a particular place, a play seen, a social appoint-
ment, documents possible influences. It is this material, these traces of a
life and its experiences, which are such a vital element of the analysis of
an artist’s work.
While schools of critical thought consider the validity of different
approaches to the work itself, there is no doubt that much insight into the
artist’s creative process can be gleaned from the complete body of docu-
mentation of their life and work – and preserving and giving access to this
material is the purpose of the archivist’s work. Each individual piece of doc-
umentation has the potential to converse with others: while the sum of the
archive can never add up to the whole of a life lived and experienced organ-
ically, viewed together this cacophony of tales functions as an unstructured
biography.
Ripples or concentric circles of information radiate out from the work at
the centre: the work itself; immediate preparatory documentation, such
as sketchbooks and notes for the work; more general documentation
about the creative process not so closely linked to this work, but indicat-
ing areas of interest, themes and broader ideas; references to the work/
process in letters or diaries, which can show when the work was in progress,
or the artist’s personal responses to the work; and finally references to
external influences, such as other people’s work, exhibitions, friends and
places.
As the rings spread outwards, they move from the specific to the gen-
eral, and the potential field through which the relevant traces are scattered
grows wider. It is important to consider as wide a range of evidence as pos-
sible, from 360 degrees around the work, to form a full and balanced per-
spective. The rings are not all present in any one artist’s documentation; all
archives are different, just as each person has their own creative process
which may or may not be documented in their archive. We must also
acknowledge the gaps – the unrecorded (or lost?) reason for a particular
activity, or the play seen but that fact not documented. But that way mad-
ness, or archive fever, lies – the wish to have and hold every piece of archive
information as if the source of some kind of power. For it is precisely in the
serendipitous survival of some information, and not others, that lies the joy
of using archives. House moves and clearouts, spilt cups of tea, the need
for a scrap of paper for a shopping list: such are the everyday events which
can affect the survival of archives. The thrill of a discovery lies in the uncer-
tainty of its survival.
The significance exists in assessing not only the content of the docu-
mentation, but its context. Why was the document created? What was the
intention? As an archive, was it generated unconsciously, as part of a
process, or was there an element of self-consciousness or self-reflexivity in
the act of recording? The conscious creation of documentation can be com-
pared with the act of autobiography, which involves the attempt to control
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and shape the received idea of one’s life, and a conscious selection and
analysis of information about that life, through a very subjective filter. For
some, this consciousness is an intrinsic part of their work; for others it is
simply reflective of a wider culture which is more aware of the presence and
potential significance of archive material.
Prunella Clough
A particularly rich source of the kind of documentation described in this
model is the archive of Prunella Clough. The archive was donated to Tate
by her estate in 2005 and selections from it are part of the Prunella Clough
display which was shown first at Tate Britain, and subsequently at the
Castle Museum, Norwich, and the Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal. An
online interactive also featured in the show at Tate Britain and remains on
Tate’s website (http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/prunellaclough/
interactive.shtm). The display demonstrates the important function of doc-
umentation of the creative process. It can considerably enrich the visitor’s
experience because it offers alternative ways to approach the works, and to
understand the imagery for viewers to whom the apparently abstract works
may be difficult to read.
While Tate has many artists’ archives, rich in correspondence, sketch-
books and a wealth of other documentary material, Clough’s is an excep-
tional example in relation to the creative process, and her own distinctly
archival approach to documentation demonstrates its importance to her
immediate and future practice. The collection includes notebooks, colour
swatches, photographs, extensive and varied notes on colour and paint,
and little compositional drawings. There are also very characteristic textual
notes which vary from what are effectively diary entries, to notes which look
like concrete poetry and which capture what, for her, are the essential char-
acteristics of the environment or object in question:
Sky/roof
Steely wet black grey, warming to wet brick work
Cold pick-up on last leaves very blue-green with shine, graduating through
(Monet-wise) to ochre naples
The selection for the display and the interactive were made with the aim of
recreating the sense of discovery and exploration of the archive. It is excep-
tionally focused and rich: suddenly a dazzling light is shone on her creative
process, all the more illuminating because of the lack of such information
during her lifetime as a possible approach to her work. Clough was a very
private person; she did not seek publicity or public favour, and made few
public statements about her work (although some of these are published in
the Tate exhibition catalogue). It seems unlikely that she generated docu-
mentation with an eye on any viewer but herself. This archive was created
partly as a natural product of her creative process, and also for her own
future use, building up a body of practice, for reference and for further
works. Because of the nature of the material, little relates to specific works,
but rather it is a sort of primordial soup within which the genesis of the
works begins. There is rarely direct preparatory work; although there are
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some direct links, the process is generally more subtle. Clough always said
this was not source material in that sense:
‘Since I do not draw directly in a landscape, it is the memory or recollection of
a scene, which is also a whole event, that concerns me. A painting is made
from many such events, rather than one; and in fact its sources are many layered
and can be quite distant in time, and are rarely if ever direct’ (quoted in
Tufnell 2007: 99)
The poet Stephen Spender wrote of his own note making:
A few fragments of unfinished poems [written fifteen years ago] enable me to
enter immediately into the experiences from which they were derived, the cir-
cumstances in which they were written, and unwritten feelings in the poem
that were projected but never put into words. .... The imagination is an exer-
cise of memory.
(Spender 1946: 71)
This is how Clough’s archive operates. Her economical verbal or visual
aides memoire act as triggers so that she can access the memory or sensa-
tion again and develop it. She said
If I take a thing from the real world, detach it and put it into a painting, some-
thing takes over that goes further than anything that I can logically describe or
assess.... Paintings are made slowly because I work slowly on many things at
once.
(quoted in Tufnell 2007: 53)
As viewers of the archive, we cannot access the memory, but we can follow
its trace and in this way edge closer to understanding her process, as well
as finding clues as to the content or conception of the work.
The extent of the use of verbal rather than visual material in Clough’s
creative process is significant. Stephen Spender wrote that ‘[a poet] should
be able to think in images; he should have as great a mastery of language
as a painter has over his palate [sic]’ (Spender 1946: 61). Clough’s use of
language reverses this analogy to confirm its point – as a painter, she has a
mastery over language as a tool of her creativity. Her father Eric wrote
poems, and so did she – a number of typed-up poems exist in the archive,
mostly dating from the 1940s or 1950s. A diary entry records the submis-
sion of poems to the publisher John Lehmann. It seems they were not pub-
lished, but her verses demonstrate the characteristics of her writing: an
idiosyncratic perspective, expressed through a spikily economical verbal
idiom, which is in close parallel to her visual work.
Evident in the archive is a conscious desire to record and classify, from an
early age. This includes notes made from her extensive reading, not only
about art (history and practice) but across many disciplines. Several note-
books meticulously record her reading, quotes from literature and philosophy,
instructions from technical guides and artists’ manuals. Even her pocket
diaries demonstrate her particularly spare yet rigidly organized approach: in
tiny pocket diaries dating from the Second World War, one part of the day’s
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small apportioned space records events in the war; the advance of troops
through France, for example, or a fierce bombing raid; in another, somewhat
cryptical jottings record what she has done or will do that day, including con-
certs or meetings with friends; and in another, her current reading.
While generally the archive does not relate directly to specific composi-
tions, the relationship between the archive and finished works is clear. Text
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Sue Breakell and Victoria Worsley
Figure 1.
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and images supplement one another; words capture the colours, the subtle
relationships between elements of form, graduations of colour, compara-
tive and relational observations. Photographs record structural forms and
juxtapositions, and an overall picture which might later be cropped or
zoomed in on. For example, detailed notebook entries describing her view
of Lowestoft harbourside, her own photographs of scenes at the fishing
dock (Figure 1) and published postcards of the same site, all relate closely
to a series of works depicting scenes at the harbour, including ‘Fishermen
with Sprats I’ (1948, Pembroke College Oxford) and ‘Man Hosing Metal
Fish Boxes’ (1951, Tate). Tantalizingly, the notebooks often describe images
similar to those used in finished works, but not quite as seen. It is a constant
process of evolution; a later entry may document new sights and influ-
ences, or an evolving idea on which she has made further progress.
Sprats
Fish on tarp on floor in rel. dark
In nets irreg, being picked up & shaken out, flying up in front of men. Net
ochre & trans, in all shaken folds being piled onto net carrier. REF
Similarly, her photographs of industrial scenes inform works such as ‘Lorry
with Ladder’ (1953, Private Collection) or ‘Cooling Tower II’ (1958, Tate)
(Figure 2). The photographs are often gathered by her into groups, and
placed in envelopes marked with such titles as – LIGHT, RIVER, GASWORKS
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Collecting the traces: an archivist’s perspective
Figure 2.
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or LIGHT INDUSTRIAL. She wrote extensive notes from close observation of
the busy scenes, not only along the Thames on her doorstep, but on visits
to industrial areas all over the country. A notebook from the 1950s docu-
ments scenes from Doncaster, Grimsby, Derbyshire, Lancashire, Gravesend
and Neasden. Here she observes factory and industrial sites, buildings, lor-
ries and the men who operate in this environment, and the interaction
between these elements.
Cranes and Lorries
First wharf crane bunch new appearance... jagged toothed form, grey on grey,
sky metal = only latter darker with black lines etc light linear look. Taller crane
swinging crates, pale warm REF 1950s notebook
Clough’s photographs of such apparently unlovely scenes are an evocative
document of their time and place. As Margaret Garlake points out, her
images of street scenes and shop windows are reminiscent of the broadly
contemporary images of Nigel Henderson (Tufnell 2007: 99). The archive
shows that this interest in more unconventional subjects dates back as
early as the 1930s, when she was taking photographs of a power station in
Norway and an abstracted image of a glacier.
In many cases, there is evidence that Clough cropped or framed her
images to take on a flat-plane abstraction which relates directly not only to the
forms within her paintings but also to their composition. A photograph of
parked cars on the street in the sunshine, or of piles of cheap plastic products
at a street market, are taken not because of the materials being recorded but
for the formal and structural accidents of the elements they contain.
By her own intrinsic documentation of her creative process, Clough allows
access to her world in a way which would not be possible without it. It takes
on a secondary purpose in allowing us to see her work in a very different way
than through responding only to the works themselves. Indeed, her view on
the world asserts itself powerfully on the eye of the beholder of her archive.
Helen Chadwick
Helen Chadwick who died in 1996 at the age of 42 is an artist that pre-
figured the artist-as-archivist. Her fastidious research and production of
her art was coupled with an extensive documentation of the process of her
practice. This bears parallels with contemporary archival art but with a sig-
nificant difference, the process for Chadwick, was retained in the personal
sphere and not made public.
Her papers came into the Henry Moore Institute in 2003 and became
part of the public realm. There are over one hundred boxes of material
including notebooks, accounts, papers relating to the arrangement of exhi-
bitions, photographs, studies and test-pieces for works, press-cuttings and
her extensive library. On first inspection, there was an obvious and systematic
organization to the archive made by Chadwick. This perhaps counteracts
the image of the creative artist who works in a disorganized manner, from
impulse, but many artists, especially successful ones, keep well-organized
records of their work and the business of being an artist. Hans Ulrich
Olbrist’s film of ‘The Secret Files of Gilbert & George’ reveals that record-
keeping is fundamental to their practice and the same is the case with the
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German artist, Thomas Schütte, who showed me his archive at his studio in
Düsseldorf. Following on from the archival tendencies of his teacher, Gerhard
Richter, Schütte decided as a student that the first investment he would make
in being an artist would be a filing cabinet. As his career developed, the num-
ber of filing cabinets increased so that he now has a suite of them, elegantly
coloured in an olive green, containing all the documentation relating to his
work. He acts as his own archivist and adds any relevant document to the
relevant file so that he can then forget about it allowing him to live in the
present whilst consigning the past safely to his green filing cabinets.
In some cases, an artist will be able to edit their papers before they
cross over the archival threshold and become public. More often than not,
an artist will die without having had the chance to decide what, if anything
should be kept for posterity. This was the case with Chadwick, whose sudden
death left this responsibility to her estate. Chadwick had already deposited
an edited version of her notes and artwork relating to ‘Of Mutability’ at the
Victoria & Albert Museum, who had purchased this work. Her archive at
the Henry Moore Institute contains further, more detailed and often intimate
accounts of the development of this piece and this clearly presents an
ethical dilemma about the intentions and wishes of the artist and what they
would have wanted in the public domain. This has to be balanced against
the historical importance of the material and if necessary, the archivist or
estate, can put a closure period on any material which is deemed sensitive.
It is only through access to Chadwick’s archive that we can trace the
detailed intellectual construction of her works. This process can be revealed
by examining just one example of her works, ‘Ego Geometrica Sum’ (I am
Geometry) (Figure 3) of 1982–84 which comprises ten geometric sculptures
that represent key moments in Chadwick’s growth from her premature birth
to the age of thirty. It includes an incubator, a font, a pram, a boat, a wigwam,
a bed, a piano, a gym horse, a cube representing high school and a statue
representing the ages fifteen to thirty. In addition to the sculptures are ten
185
Collecting the traces: an archivist’s perspective
Figure 3.
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photographs called ‘The Labours’ which depict Chadwick holding and then
grappling with each of the ever-bigger sculptures.
When the piece was completed Chadwick wrote a rhetorical ‘artist’s
apology’ which gives a highly condensed version of its meaning in the form
of a prose poem:
suppose ones body could be traced back through a succession of geometric
solids... as rare and pure as crystalline structures, taking form from the pres-
sure of recalled external forces... and if geometry is an expression of external
and exact truths, inherent in the natural law of matter and thus manifesta-
tions of an absolute beauty, predestined, of divine origin... then let this model
of mathematical harmony be infused with a poetry of feeling and memory to
sublimate the discord and desire in a recomposed neutrality of being
Chadwick’s artist’s apology references the renaissance ‘Apology for Poetry’
by Philip Sidney, using similar devices of obscuring meaning and censor-
ship through metaphor and allegory – it both reveals and conceals her posi-
tion – whereas the documentation in her archive discloses her creative
process. Her self-conscious documentation of her practice is evident even
in her student years when she constructed a catalogue raisonne of her art
which extends to two volumes in which she pasted contact prints of the
work annotated with their titles and dates.
‘Ego Geometria Sum’ represents the axis between the private life of the
artist and the public artwork through Chadwick’s investigation of her per-
sonal identity through her memory and the emotions she had connected to
significant events in her past. This process is most consciously docu-
mented in her notebook for ‘Ego’ in which she records her research, feel-
ings and development of the work. In noting ideas for the possible title and
a description of the piece she describes it as her ‘personal museum’ and ‘a
metaphor for memory’.
Chadwick began her research by reconstructing her life story through
her family and personal archives. She collected amongst many other things
old toys, receipts for her pram, clothes, letters about the piano lessons she
hated, birthday cards, photos and school reports. She collated and cata-
logued this documentary evidence into a year-by-year listing of her life using
the material traces as prompts for the forms which later became the sculp-
tures. Chadwick stated she was ‘building up a picture of the past through
objects that (a) contained me (b) reoriented me (c) moulded/shaped me’.
At the same time she revisited the architectural spaces where the events of
her past had been played out and photographed them including the hospi-
tal she was born, the church she was baptized and her schools and she
wrote that ‘bricks and mortar remain, physically concrete, yet memory and
past life is gone evaporated’. She also created an ‘Album of Photographies’
in which she set these photographs of buildings next to a source photo for
that period. For the page that relates to her wigwam sculpture that repre-
sented her life at five years of age, for example, she sets a contemporary
photograph of herself in front of a wigwam with her parents in the garden
of her home next to an image of her former family home in Croydon taken
in the early 1980s. The latter emphasizes the electric pylon that was next to
the house and this features on one of the sides in the final sculpture.
186
Sue Breakell and Victoria Worsley
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The documents and images of her past became the sources for the
forms of the geometric shapes in ‘Ego Geometria Sum’ and also for the
photographic images which appeared upon the surface of them, through a
photographic emulsion which was absorbed into the plywood of the sculp-
tures. Chadwick defined these as ‘archaeological presentations’ and described
them as ‘coffins/tombs/wombs/shelters’.
Chadwick combined the emotive with the mathematical in what she saw
as a set of ‘metaphysical shapes taken from my size and shape using my
own body measurements and dimensions to calculate the size of the cabi-
nets’ at each different age so that she could be ‘contained within them’. She
used a scientific model for the ‘curve of growth’ from J. M. Tanner’s Foetus
into Man. On a graph in this book that gives each of the heights and
weights in the development of a human’s growth into adulthood she plot-
ted her own ages and heights and added the geometric shapes she would
use to represent each particular age in ‘Ego Geometria Sum’. She used
these calculations to establish the exact volume of her body at the ten dif-
ferent points in her development that she chose so that the volume of the
geometric sculpture corresponded exactly to her body at that time. Tanner
also noted that a human stops growing at the age of thirty which became
the end point for the artwork (Figure 4).
187
Collecting the traces: an archivist’s perspective
1
50
27” ≡ 69
32” ≡ 81
41” ≡ 104
45” ≡ 114
54” ≡ 137
60” ≡ 152.5
63” ≡
50” ≡ 127
17 ” ≡ 45
1
2
1
4
22” ≡ 56
60
70
80
90
100
110
120
130
140
150
160
170
180
190
cm
GIRLS
Foetus into Man
Longitudinal
standards
Limits for
single occasions
(cross-sectional)
97
97
F
M
50 50
25
97
90
75
10
3
3
3
Height
170
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
97 90 75 50 25 10 3
97 90 75 50 25 10 3
Age, years
97 90 75 50 25 10 3
5+
4+
3+
2+
Breast
stage
5+
4+
3+
2+
Public hair
stage
Menarche
Figure 4.
JVAP_6.3_02_art_Breakwell.qxd 12/12/07 4:32 PM Page 187
In her notebook Chadwick wrote she wanted ‘to apply some code/
rule/theory to the work to validate it as an organizational model of growth
not just an illustration of life’ and she researched on a wide variety of
subjects. The theoretical model that allowed her to move away from what
she said were ‘personal details to immutable laws’ was in Arthur Koestler’s
book the Sleepwalkers. Her annotated copy of this book from her library
reveals how she linked the ten sculptures to the mystical number ten of
Pythagorean theory. The harmony of numbers which Koestler writes about
was also influenced by Kepler’s disproved theory that the universe was
supported by an invisible skeleton made of geometric shapes which
Chadwick also used as a means of devising the work.
The notebook also discloses how Chadwick felt the simple images of her
past were too bland on their own and how she determined to combine
them with a nude image of her adult self like a ‘ghost’ as a double exposure
on the sculptures. The archive includes all her contact prints for the nudes
which shows how she composed her body into a form that related to each
sculpture – foetus-like for the incubator and standing upright in the final
piece of the statue. Her archive shows she researched physical manifesta-
tions of mental distress, including catalepsy, for the poses – which give the
nude a sense of rigidity.
In contrast to the artist’s apology, the archive reveals the many layers of
the intellectual and physical processes involved in the construction of ‘Ego
Geometria Sum’. As with Clough, there is a clear contrast between what is
publicly revealed by the artist – the artist’s apology, or her silence – and
what their private documentation explores and reveals.
These two artists are only given as empirical examples from a mass of
records; all of the documentation exists in the archive to be consulted by
any researcher who will bring their own interpretation to the material. We
have argued that the documentation in archives enriches and deepens our
understanding of artistic practice. They situate, contextualize and allow
multiple readings or stories to be constructed from them. In this way the
past resonates in the present.
References
Beardsworth, Richard (1996), Derrida and the Political, London: Routledge.
Derrida, Jacques (1996), Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, Chicago: University of
Chicago Press.
Eco, Umberto (1998), The Name of the Rose, London: Vintage.
Foster, Hal (2004), ‘An Archival Impulse’, October 110 (Fall), pp.3–22.
Kabakov, Ilya (2006), ‘The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away’, in Charles
Merewether (ed.), The Archive, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press/London: Whitechapel,
pp. 32–37.
McShine, Kynaston (ed.) (1999), The Museum as Muse, New York, Museum of
Modern Art.
Spender, Stephen (1970 [1946]), ‘The Making of a Poem’ in P E Vernon (ed.),
Creativity: Selected Readings, London: Penguin, pp. 61–76.
Steedman, Carolyn (2002), Dust: The Archive and Cultural History, New Brunswick:
Rutgers University Press.
188
Sue Breakell and Victoria Worsley
JVAP_6.3_02_art_Breakwell.qxd 12/12/07 4:32 PM Page 188
Tufnell, Ben (ed.) (2007), Prunella Clough, London: Tate.
Wilson, Andrew (2002), ‘Archives are Exhausting’, in Anna Harding (ed.), Potential:
Ongoing Archive Artimo/John Hansard Gallery, pp.66–69.
http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/prunellaclough/interactive.shtm
Unpublished material
TGA 2005 11 Papers of Prunella Clough, Tate Archive, London.
2003.19 Helen Chadwick Papers, Leeds Museums & Galleries (Henry Moore
Institute).
Suggested citation
Breakell, S. and Worsley, V. (2007), ‘Collecting the traces: an archivist’s perspective’,
Journal of Visual Arts Practice, 6: 3, pp. 175–189, doi: 10.1386/jvap.6.3.175/1.
Contributor details
Sue Breakell heads the Archive department in Tate Library and Archive. The Archive
collects material relating to British Art since 1900, including the records of artists,
galleries, art institutions and critics, as well as managing Tate’s own institutional
records. She has a particular interest in the relationship between art and archives
and archives and memory. Contact: Archivist, Tate Library & Archive, Tate Britain,
Millbank, London SW1P 4RG, UK.
E-mail: sue.breakell@tate.org.uk
Victoria Worsley is Archivist at the Henry Moore Institute Archive, a specialist repos-
itory holding papers relating to British sculpture. She has a particular interest in
artist’s books and concrete poetry, the display and exhibition of archives and mean-
ing and memory in archives. Contact: Archivist, Henry Moore Institute, 74 The
Headrow, Leeds, LS1 3AH, UK.
E-mail: victoria@henry-moore.ac.uk
189
Collecting the traces: an archivist’s perspective
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Journal of Visual Arts Practice Volume 6 Number 3 © 2007 Intellect Ltd
Article. English Language. doi: 10.1386/jvap.6.3.191/1
Relating process: accounts of influence in
the life history interview
Linda Sandino University of the Arts London
Abstract
This article explores how process is narrated in artists’ life history recordings. An
artist’s identity is entwined with his/her processes and the work. Talking about
process, therefore, is also an identity story constructed under the rubric of the life
history. I use the term ‘life history’ in this instance to denote an audio recording
that broadly spans family background, education and professional practice. ‘Life
stories’ refer to the bounded narratives that occur in the life history, while
‘narrative’ itself, in this article, refers to the process of narration and the text it
produces. This article explores how oral history interviews elicit ‘stories’ which
enable artists to situate the meaning of their creative processes in relational
contexts arising out of events, and characters encountered in their lives. With its
focus on the spoken word as the story telling medium, artists engage in making
verbalized sense of their actions not only to the listener but also to themselves. It
must be made clear, however, that life histories, like autobiographies, are here
problematized as deeply mediated texts that do not transparently reflect their
authors’ intentions, nor present any immanent ‘truths’, nor construct a unified
subject. The article opens with a discussion of how life histories in the visual arts
are situated in a cultural context as a set of relationships, following on with a
discussion of the concept of the individual ‘relational self ’ as a narrative strategy
of identity in stories of process and making.
Introduction
Reviewing Richard Cándida Smith’s Utopia and Dissent: Art, Poetry and
Politics in California (1995), a work based on oral history sources, for The
American Historical Review, art historian, Abraham Davidson criticized
Smith for not focusing sufficiently on the actual artworks. ‘In some cases’,
Davidson wrote, ‘we are given too much about the writer or artist, not quite
enough about the achievements. Such is the case with the Abstract
Expressionist Clyfford Still: we’re told of his arrogance, of his comments to
his students, of his exhibitions, but not quite enough about his painting
style’ (Davidson 1996: 914). However, turning to the section on Still, I
found substantial discussion of the reception of Still’s paintings in
California, with richly layered descriptions of his then ‘style’ from the per-
spective of critics, students and Still himself (Smith 1995: 16).
Davidson’s criticism seems to raise the fundamental question for oral
historians working with artists: should we focus on the life or the work? As
Davidson’s comment demonstrates, the distinction is disciplinary: art
history, cultural history, social history, all maintain a particular subject
191 JVAP 6 (3) pp. 191–199 © Intellect Ltd 2007
Keywords
identity
life stories
narrative
process
relational self
Introduction
JVAP_6.3_03_art_Sandino.qxd 12/12/07 4:32 PM Page 191
specificity in their approaches to their research material. In life history work,
however, disciplinary distinctions, the separation of life and work, and the
monovisual lens is fractured and experience is represented in its multiple
configurations. Unlike the thematic focused interview, or the monographic
text, life histories provide individuals with a discursive space in which to
construct their tales of identity and reflect on how this was achieved both
psychologically and socially.
Such is Smith’s thesis in Utopia and Dissent using archived interviews in
order to examine the impact of the increasingly subjective focus of post-war
Californian art and poetry on American social and political culture. With
this primary research material, he weaves a compelling cultural history,
situating individual lives within their socio-historical context, stressing the
importance of the interplay of the study of work and life. His aim is, there-
fore, to
bring to the surface the discourses of familiarity that interweave with those of
authority to create the matrix for a professional life. Neither analysis of work
nor analysis of utterance alone is sufficient, because both contain each other,
although in ways that mask the other voice.
(Smith 1995: xxiii)
One is compelled, therefore, to listen ‘in stereo’ (Anderson and Jack 1991)
to recordings to both the individual voice and the larger discourses which
structure it (Tamboukou 2003). But as Smith demonstrates, the discourse
of post-war avant-gardism in the United States was responsible for both
maintaining and challenging the myth of autonomous practice.
The California situation reveals that aesthetic practice was both a field for the
construction of identities that reproduced existing hierarchical relations and
an arena for subversion and disruption of those same identities.
(Smith 1995: xxiv)
This conflict or paradox could be applied to most contemporary arts
practice in the West as artists forge new identities created out of their
transactions with existing ones.
Drawing on oral history archives, Smith describes Still’s shift to non-
representation in 1941 when he
began experimenting with lines and colors [sic] for their own sake, without
any element of figurative allusion. He credited the breakthrough to intensive
study of Pacific Northwest Coast Indian Art, but unlike others who appropri-
ated Native American imagery and myth, Still looked for a way of visualizing
that might help him repudiate the ‘authoritarian implications’ present in the
‘grand tradition’ of European painting, but without in any way using imagery
meaningful only to the specific context of Indian societies.
(Smith 1995: 99)
This explanation on the face of it is a fairly standard account of how an
artist, through the means of appropriation, is able to move forward in
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his/her practice. Ironically of course, Still’s ‘borrowing’ of Native American
art echoes Picasso’s strategy with African art in the early twentieth century
(Rubin 1884). However, rather than seeing this as a failure on Still’s part to
escape the modernist paradigm, I want to show how such strategies can
be seen as specifically ‘narrative’ strategies of the self, and how lives can be
structured as ‘stories’ that are both cultural and personal. Furthermore, that
stories of appropriation in the arts are instances of how selves are created
‘relationally’ (Eakin 1999).
The relational self
Autobiographical theorist, Paul John Eakin in How Our Lives Become
Stories (1999) has mapped the concept of the autonomous self in auto-
biographical writing and its prominence in male autobiographies from
Enlightenment individualism, in which the self is unique and separate, to
current feminist critiques of this model. He demonstrates how despite
offering a different model of identity formation, feminist autobiographical
theorists have, nevertheless resulted in sustaining male
-
female binaries in
which:
• the individual is opposed to the collective
• the autonomous is opposed to the relational
• narrative is opposed to non-linear, non-teleological forms (Eakin 1999: 48).
Despite attempts to move beyond these binaries, the relational self contin-
ues to be characterized as female (p. 51), and the autonomous as male, and
Eakin rightly asks how it might be possible ‘to recognize both the
autonomous and the relational dimensions of men’s and women’s lives
without placing them in opposition’ (p. 52).
Eakin proposes a relational model of identity as one where the self is
‘developed collaboratively’ in conjunction with either an ‘entire social envi-
ronment’ such as family, community or institutions, and/or other ‘key’ indi-
viduals (p. 69; in his examples usually family members). As Norbert Elias
had already suggested:
What are often conceptually separated as two different substances or two dif-
ferent strata within the human being, his [sic] ‘individuality’ and his ‘social
conditioning’, are in fact nothing other than two different functions of people
in their relations to each other, one of which cannot exist without the other.
[emphasis added] They are terms for the specific activity of the individual in
relation to his [sic] fellows, and for his capacity to be influenced and shaped
by their activity; for the dependence of others on him and his dependence on
others; expressions for his function as both die and coin.
(Elias in Eakin 1999: 66)
Psychologist Eliott Mishler’s influential work also proposes a relational
model of identity as opposed to a linear, developmental model in which
identity is ‘immanent and indwelling’ (Mishler 1999: 16). Citing the various
ways in which relational models have been variously characterized as either
‘dialogical’, ‘discursive’ or ‘narrated’, they all nevertheless
193
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represent a radical shift in viewpoint, from the autonomous individual as the
locus of identity and the source of its stability and constancy over time and
across situations, to the socially situated production of identity and to the
ways individuals position themselves vis-à-vis others.
(Mishler 1999: 111)
While ‘influence’ may be seen as a ‘common sense’ view of how identity
can be construed as relational, I want to propose how the relational thesis
can be extended to account for and in some sense reconfigure the prob-
lematic notion of influence in the arts in which the myth of autonomous
individualism continues despite late twentieth-century art history’s mission
to be contextual and to unmask its ideologies. For most art historians
auto/biography continues to be seen as a form of patriarchal mythmaking,
only valid if it reflects the lives of marginalized others challenging universal
truths (Acton 2004; Meecham and Sheldon 2005).
Although Eakin concentrates on autobiography, he extends his argument
to include life stories generally. Drawing on the work of psychologist Jerome
Bruner and the philosopher Paul Ricoeur, he concurs with the notion of a
‘narrative identity’, noting that ‘narrative is not merely an appropriate form
for the expression of identity; it is an identity content’ in which the self is
‘defined by and transacted in narrative process’ (Eakin 1999: 100, 101).
In the context of a life history, asking the initial questions about process
may be quite straightforward while the answer roams over a more expanded
space since the telling is part of a larger retrospective and reflective account
which will incorporate more than issues of techniques. Respondents, as
psychologist Elliott Mishler notes (1999: 69) ‘transform questions… into
those to which they can give meaningful answers’. Sometimes for instance,
individuals describe their introduction to making art by focussing on an
epiphanic moment in their childhood as in the following example.
One fine art ceramicist describes her introduction to pottery at the age
of nine when she attended Saturday morning classes at the Chelsea Pottery,
describing her teacher as ‘benign’, and ‘lovely’, ‘he’d just give you the licence
to make anything you wanted to make. There was no sense that: This is what
you’re going to do today’ (Track 4). Her teacher, therefore, provided a cre-
atively supportive but liberating space in which the artist could successfully
realize her young imaginative creativity: ‘I loved it. Absolutely loved it’, she
emphasized. Reflecting on her reasons for ‘desperately’ wanting to attend
these classes, she resisted rationalization: ‘I don’t know why I wanted to do
it this much but I just had this thing about clay […] from when I was tiny.’ In
the coherence of artists’ life stories, such affinities are frequently stated, or
located as immanent signs. However, as Bruner (citing anthropologist
Michelle Rosaldo) points out these feelings of affect, ‘grow not from
“inner” essence relatively independent of the social world, but from experi-
ence in a world of meanings, images, and social bonds’ (Bruner 1990: 42).
So, rather than focusing exclusively on the artist’s emphasis on affect, one
must note the contexts in which these feelings arose: the nurturing, sup-
portive environment of the class and her teacher. Significantly, this con-
trasting anecdote is part of a section describing A Level art classes at
Putney School for Girls as ‘very limited. We did still life and composition….
We couldn’t do life drawing […] because we weren’t allowed to have a model so
194
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we had to go to evening classes’ at the Central School. There, she also
remembers feeling ‘liberated’ because ‘the teacher was good and I remember
feeling that my skills were really progressing there. I was really being taught how
to look at the figure. How to do it in a way that I hadn’t really been taught how
to […] before’ (viva004/05-4).
1
These accounts of being taught art are signif-
icant not only because of what they might tell us about art education in the
late 1960s or early 1970s but are important in representing memories of
experiences of the institutional sites of art production: at once bound by
rules and but also as a site of freedom from rules.
Relating and referring
Jerome Bruner has challenged the concept of autonomous individualism
demonstrating how ‘transactions’ play an important role in constructing
identities. Bruner is concerned with language as ‘our principal means of
referring’ in which crucially: ‘Achieving joint reference is achieving a kind of
solidarity with somebody’ (Bruner 1986: 63). Solidarity is culture forming,
and the stories individuals narrate construct knowledge thereby sustaining
their particular worldview (p. 132). Other work on the concept of identity
and relationality has focused particularly on family relationships and their
role in helping children to become storied selves (Eakin 1999), and how
individuals mark out their identities within families (Mishler 1999). But
artist’s life histories demonstrate the transformative stories to be told
about the relational dimension with objects (or surfaces) as well as with
other artists. Referring is not simply a shorthand tactic but an act of com-
munication indicating the shared world space in which the ‘transactional
self’ is situated. Although these affinities are noted professionally by critics,
curators, historians and students, when artists incorporate them into their
narratives, the positioning of these affinities is used to reveal, or explain,
qualities which the artist seeks to transmit to the listener. Since the inter-
views are audio not video, the narrator must use stories and references to
translate images into words and it is the occasion of telling the life that
enables this relationality to be made manifest:
Funnily enough that connection is one I make now. That wasn’t what I was work-
ing towards when I was making the slip. It was something I recognized when I
made it as being […] maybe subconsciously something I was […] looking at when
just looking at wall surfaces that have a bit of accidental marking on them that’s
to do with some little event that’s happened […].
The beginning of this story and the meaning (Portelli 2006) of the ‘vaguely
painted effect’ glaze was then linked to seeing the works of Cy Twombly,
‘which are, some of the things that just deeply move me more than anything’.
However, the question I asked was not: ‘How does it move you?’, a ques-
tion situated in the present requiring another register of translation,
extremely difficult to express, which is the language of feeling. The question
I asked was: ‘So, when did you first come across Cy Twombly’s work?’
because the structure of the interview is retrospective. By requesting a story
situated in the past, emotions are woven into the description of the event
and become part of its poetic reconstruction which does not leave the teller
struggling to find words to express feelings. Memories in which emotions
195
Relating process: accounts of influence in the life history interview
1. This interview is part
of the VIVA (Voices in
the Visual Arts)
archive held at
Camberwell College of
Arts, University of the
Arts London. The
recording is with Sara
Radstone viva004/05.
JVAP_6.3_03_art_Sandino.qxd 12/12/07 4:32 PM Page 195
play a powerful role are usually recalled more easily (Evans 2001), and nar-
rating the experience converts emotions into a storied form providing them
with a framework of ‘sequence’ and ‘consequence’ (Riessman 1993, 2001;
Riessman and Speedy 2007) in which ‘events are selected, organized, con-
nected and evaluated as meaningful’ (Riessman and Speedy 2007: 430).
However, in this story sequence and consequence (or evaluation) are
reversed since for artists ‘explanation’ and ‘justification’ is the established
practice of artist’s public narratives, as enshrined in the Artist’s statement,
or manifesto, which then structures talk about work generally. Art is where
the artist’s ‘I’ begins.
LS. So, when did you come across Cy Twombly’s work?
S. I don’t know when I first came across it […], years and years ago. And, having
said that makes it sound as though it was a very close thing but it’s actually
not. It’s something I’ve recognized as an inspiration more than sort of followed
it, if you know what I mean? It’s something I think that’s a connection and that’s
what draws me back to his work. More than thinking: That’s what inspires me,
I want to do something like that. It’s never been anything like that. It’s to do
with finding, a sort of, a particular approach and sensibility in it retrospectively.
The story of seeing Twombly’s work in 1990 at a MOMA retrospective is
presented in terms of an epiphanic encounter with the auratic presence of
the actual works, formerly seen only through the opacity of the printed
reproduction. Epiphanies, of course, are themselves ‘interactional moments
and experiences which leave their marks on people’s lives’ (Denzin 1989)
and often provide particularly vivid accounts which want to defy narrative
ordering.
And it just, I mean I don’t know how to describe what it did to me but it was the
most, almost a life-changing experience seeing that exhibition and seeing the work
in the flesh […]. I mean it was a revelation. It really was. I just couldn’t believe the
brilliance of it, and the depth of it, and the questions that it kicked up about every-
thing to me. And I was completely bowled over. It was absolutely the most won-
derful experience, seeing it.
The impact of this encounter with Twombly’s work continues as a visual
dialogue with the catalogue that ‘sits’ in the studio enabling the artist to
continue the intensity of the dialogic encounter initiated by the exhibition.
‘And, I bought the catalogue and that sits in the studio and I look at it, you
know, weekly.’
The narrative continues to describe in detail the affinity with, and impact
of Twombly’s work, relating it to the earlier description of the artist’s uses
of glazes:
And, I just find that whole, the whole idea of making a piece of art in a frame, I’m
talking about his two dimensional work, and […] what the frame does to that piece
which couldn’t not be art. You know, what’s the statement saying: this is art, and
this isn’t art? The wall is a wall but this is framed as being something particular
and special. And that’s just so fascinating to me. And the nature of his work, it
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being this apparent intense casualness of the text and the markings and the quality
of the surface which is so beautiful in reality. The sort of depth of it and the way it’s
applied. The absolute painterliness which you don’t really see that much in repro-
ductions. And then taking that onto the three dimensional works which are so dif-
ferent obviously from the two dimensional but seem to be speaking about exactly
the same sort of issue, of taking an object that’s so casual and putting it separately
and joining it with another, saying: this is worth looking at. And the way it makes
you look at the world, obviously in a very simplistic level, in a fresh way. I found it
just so wonderful. So it continues to be, sort of intriguing, for that.
Life histories and stories
As stated above, the place of autobiography has been problematic in the
interpretation of artists’ work. However, the increasing use of interviews is
evidence of the continuing desire to understand the lens, or perspective, of
the author/speaker (Andrews 1991, 2007). In dialogue between interviewer
and interviewee closed meanings are destabilized through the interactivity
of the conversation in which statements can be questioned, clarified, rein-
terpreted, shared and archived to preserve their historical moment for fur-
ther analysis.
Life histories produce narratives that focus on singularities. As
Tamboukou has suggested they ‘grasp the living moments of the subjects’
subtle interrelatedness with their world’ in which ‘the auto/biographical
exercise of memory is not about the self becoming ‘intelligible’; it is rather
about the experience that the self has of being narratable and therefore
familiar’ (Tamboukou 2008). In documenting process via the medium of
the life history interview, a text is created that is open and multiple
because the process of the interview enables a constantly reflexive, evalua-
tive self to emerge. Life histories in the arts have been used to pin down
meanings, to uncover ‘intention’ but these quests can never be conclusive
as one analyses the complex representations and interpretations within
the recordings (Proctor 2006). Rather life history narratives enable ‘auto-
biographical understanding […] through the interpretive and imaginative
labor of meaning making’ (Freeman 2007). The story of encountering
Twombly’s work and its effects of brilliance, depth, art/not-art, provided
the interviewee with a context in which to understand and communicate
meanings about her own work. Twombly is the referent for a meaningful,
identifiable language of surfaces used to communicate the questions that
drive her own work.
As presented here, the story seems to conform to Riessman’s sequence
and consequence model: seeing the exhibition and its effect. The model is
useful in helping to select where stories might begin and end. However,
stories of identity are not so clearly distinct since they are embedded in the
totality of the narrative. Artists’ oral life histories are thoughts-in-process
that contain the polysemic complexity of an identity-in-process. Artworks
and the artist’s identity are as much ‘works in progress’, or ‘in process’.
Personal narratives are the ‘die and coin’ in which experience is made
meaningful, in which individuals situate themselves in time and place citing
significant others who have contributed to shaping their identity as artists,
and also as parents, children, teacher, friend and the many other identities
which constitute the self of the telling.
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For stories define the range of canonical characters, the settings in which they
operate, the actions that are permissible and comprehensible. And thereby
provide… a map of possible roles and of possible worlds in which action,
thought, and self-definition are permissible (or desirable).
(Bruner 1986: 66)
Life histories, therefore, provide a rich text of the ongoing strategies of
meaning-making captured in the moment of the dialogic encounter of the
recording. But rather than seeing these stories as providing access to
truths, the recordings offer an opportunity to hear the self in the process of
becoming through reflective narration. By listening and responding to these
narratives, we can unravel the singular and complex ways in which artists’
identities are created and re-created, and understand how artists’ stories of
process are imbricated in the larger project of identity formation. Stories
always have meanings as well as intentions. They are also populated with
characters whose roles in the plots demonstrate the relational networks in
which meaningful identities and concepts are constituted and shared.
References
Acton, M. (2004), Learning to Look at Modern Art, London: Routledge.
Anderson, K. and Jack, D. C. (1991), ‘Learning to Listen: Interview Techniques and
Analyses’, in S. B. Gluck and D. Patai (eds), Women’s Words: The feminist practice
of oral history, New York and London: Routledge.
Andrews, M. (1991), Lifetimes of Commitment: Aging, Politics, Psychology, Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
—— (2007), ‘Exploring Cross-Cultural Boundaries’, in D. J. Clandinin (ed.),
Handbook of Narrative Inquiry: Mapping a Methodology, Thousand Oaks, London
and Delhi: Sage.
Bruner, J. (1986), Actual Minds, Possible Worlds, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press.
—— (1990), Acts of Meaning, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Davidson, A. (Reviewer) (1996), ‘Utopia and Dissent: Art Poetry and Politics in
California’, American Historical Review, (June): 914.
Denzin, N. K. (1989), Interpretive Biography, London: Sage.
Eakin, P. J. (1999), How Our Lives Become Stories: Making Selves, Ithaca/London:
Cornell University Press.
Evans, D. (2001), Emotion, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Freeman, M. (2007), ‘Autobiogrphical Understanding and Narrative Inquiry’, in D. J.
Clandinin (ed.), Handbook of Narrative Inquiry: Mapping a Methodology,
Thousand Oaks, London and Delhi: Sage.
Meecham, P. and Sheldon, J. (2005), Modern Art: A Critical Introduction, London:
Routledge.
Mishler, E. G. (1999), Storylines: Craftartists’ Narratives of Identity, Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.
Portelli, A. (2006), ‘What Makes Oral History Different (1979)’, in R. Perks and A.
Thomson (eds), The Oral History Reader, 2nd edn, London and New York:
Routledge.
Proctor, R. (2006), ‘The Architect’s Intention: Interpreting Post-War Modernism
though the Architect’s Interview’, Journal of Design History, 19: 4, pp. 295–307.
198
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Riessman, C. K. (1993), Narrative Analysis, London: Sage.
—— (2001), ‘Analysis of Personal Narratives’, in J. F. Gubrium and J. A. Holstein
(eds), Handbook of Interview Research: Context and Method, Thousand Oaks,
London: Sage.
—— and Speedy, J. (2007), ‘Narrative Inquiry in the Pscyhotherapy Professions: A
Critial Review’, in D. J. Clandinin (ed.), Handbook of Narrative Inquiry: Mapping a
Methodology.
Rubin, W. (ed.) (1884), ‘Primitivism’ in Twentieth-Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and
the Modern, Vol. Exhibition catalogue, New York: MOMA.
Smith, R. C. (1995), Utopia and Dissent: Art, Poetry, and Politics in California, Berkeley
and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.
Tamboukou, M. (2003), Women, Education and the Self, Basingstoke: Palgrave
Macmillan.
—— (2008), ‘Redefining the Narratable Subject’, Qualitative Research, Sage. forth-
coming article
Suggested citation
Sandino, L. (2007), ‘Relating process: accounts of influence in the life history interview’,
Journal of Visual Arts Practice 6: 3, pp. 191–199, doi: 10.1386/jvap.6.3.199/1.
Contributor details
Linda Sandino is Senior Research Fellow working on narrative and oral histories at
Camberwell College of Arts’ Voices in the Visual Arts project. She has also under-
taken extensive oral history recordings for the Life Story Collection at The British
Library National Sound Archive. Contact: Camberwell College of Arts, University of
the Arts London.
E-mail: l.sandino@camberwell.arts.ac.uk
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Journal of Visual Arts Practice Volume 6 Number 3 © 2007 Intellect Ltd
Article. English Language. doi: 10.1386/jvap.6.3.201/1
Articulating the tacit dimension in
artmaking
Michael Jarvis Northumbria University
Abstract
It is important for artists not only to acknowledge the often ‘tacit’ nature of
what they do, but to attempt to articulate their practice in a variety of contexts.
Developing knowledge about the complicated processes of making art must
inevitably lead to a more enlightened grasp, understanding and encouragement
of the artist in the contemporary climate. Thus, the common multiplicity of roles
assumed by the artist (e.g. the artist as curator or teacher) should have greater
acknowledgement and lead to an enhanced sense of the worth of art in society.
A more effective articulation of practice can enable the subsequent relation-
ship between artist, artwork and viewer to become closer. The analysis of tacit
and often hidden artmaking processes and meanings should help to develop a
more informed viewer.
In the article, I will discuss the practice of artist Alex Katz and how his tech-
niques can be seen to mask the extensive effort involved in the design and con-
struction of his paintings. The elegant surfaces of Katz’s paintings belie the
complex and tacit procedures of their making.
I also maintain that by connecting the procedures of artmaking to active
and reflective researching their often unacknowledged, implicit and tacit values
can be better understood.
An initial scrutiny of some artworks can be misleading in that the very art-
fulness of the image can often conceal the artistry of its making. A work like
‘Black Scarf’ of 1996 by Alex Katz (Figure 1) is a typical instance of this. It is
a large painting, six foot in height, featuring a figure dressed in a coat
appearing from a flat blue grey background and a preternatural bright face
emerging from the shadows. The facial features are precisely delineated
against a flat pale yellow colour with only the faintest of accents in brown
indicating eyebrows, eyes and eyelashes and shadows. The flat red of the
lips are modelled only slightly by minimal touches of white and pink. The
scarf around the neck and coat lapels are indicated with the minimum of
tonal modulation while the hair makes a transition from a silvery white grey
at the crown down into a shadowy black which merges with the scarf. It is a
painting whose cool, glacial elegance seems artificially contrived and whose
temper is created by the very technical procedure of constructing the work
in the first instance.
Michael Podro explains how the very procedure of the making of the
painting can exemplify its subject matter. Thus he describes Tintoretto’s
painting of Vincenzo Morosini (c.1585) as a work which ‘urbanely acts the
grandee it depicts’ (Podro 1998: 91). In other words, the way in which the
201 JVAP 6 (3) pp. 201–213 © Intellect Ltd 2007
Keywords
artistry
expertise
implicit
intuition
process
procedure
reflective practitioner
tacit
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painter deploys his techniques of specific brushwork and painterly ‘hand-
writing’, of the use of textural contrasts and the way colour is chosen and
applied all contribute to mirror the elegance and nobility of the person
depicted. It is as if the technical qualities embody the character of the per-
son portrayed and there is a reciprocity of relationship between them.
Such work, whether contemporary like that of Katz or from Tintoretto’s
sixteenth century Venice can appear to us to be ‘effortless’ and to somehow
belie the amount of preparatory work which has gone before, the often
unacknowledged part of artistic practice which is mainly unseen. In this
article, I want to discuss the hidden ‘tacit’ dimension of artmaking and to
speculate upon the importance of documenting the creative making
process.
It is important to focus upon the way artworks create a discourse and
interaction with their viewing audience. Podro highlights the way in which
the artist can manipulate the relationship between the artwork and the
viewer. ‘At the core lies the relation of the viewer and the viewed, and the
way each may identify with and address the other while the painter by turn
takes all the parts’ (Podro 1998: 106).
There is a sense here of the artist being like a puppeteer, able to
transform the art of viewing (the viewing experience) by means of technical
trickery. This is important to emphasize because it reveals that the artist is
in command of what is being shown and, in the completion of a work
which appears ‘effortless’, there is a deliberate attempt to conceal pre-
vious procedures in the searching for a particular stylistic effect or appear-
ance. Painting is an interesting practice to explore in this context because
some painters do not bother to conceal their procedures. In fact some, like
the Belgian painter Raoul de Keyser, are often concerned to show the ‘history’
of their procedures of painting in quite deliberate ways and are content to
let the painting exist as a kind of ‘palimpsest.’
In this article I will be discussing paintings by Katz as they seem to
demonstrate certain key attributes, not the least of which is the elegant
mastery of technical means, which effectively hides the actual effort involved
in their preparatory procedures. Why is it necessary or even important to
locate this tacit process, to try and reveal how a creative process may be
documented?
Art practice and process has historically been almost hermetically sealed
from the public gaze, perhaps because that which is worthwhile and radical
in art is at the frontier where real possibilities of failure are more often than
not the ‘norm’ and where to invite scrutiny (to make one’s process too
nakedly available) is to let the genii out of the bottle and to render oneself
and one’s practice impotent and almost powerless. As the experience of
Jackson Pollock with the photographer Hans Namuth shows, observation
of intimate transactions between an artist and his/her material processes
can blunt and even ossify practice. Furthermore, if the trend in current pro-
fessional practice is to identify those aspects which are deemed to be
‘good’ or ‘best’ practice, then there is a danger that this will invite a host of
imitators which will, in turn, deny opportunities for newer and more radical
forms of practice.
There is also the need to challenge some popular mythologies about
artistic work. The actual truth of the way artists work in exploratory, intuitive
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but often seemingly chaotic ways can disguise the careful methodologies
underpinning practice, where ideas are conceived, worked through, discarded,
adapted, modified and so on. This actuality of a process occurring over
time goes against the grain of popular mythology whereby the artist suddenly
happens upon a ‘big idea’ or key pivotal concept which will have revolutionary
consequences. Thus, Matthew Collings recently criticized the simplistic
version of how art is made in the film ‘Pollock’ of 2000 where the painter’s
use and ‘discovery’ of the drip technique is seen as an accidental revelation,
something seen incidentally, out of the corner of an eye and which was
gainfully exploited as a technique which changed the course of modern art
(Collings 2007: 44–47). The further implication is, of course, that this
insignificant incident took a ‘genius’ to recognize and to develop. Not only
is this a grotesque parody of artistic practice but it also panders to the
quintessential modernist myth of the lone genius (usually male) discovering
revelatory breakthroughs in practice as a matter of inevitability, a significant
point upon a steady and unbroken trajectory of achievement.
I wonder whether such distortions are a reason why many films about
art are probably doomed to failure and unsatisfactory because they can only
depict those moments of revelation and to show how characters respond to
them rather than depict the actualities of practice which are arguably, mun-
dane, monotonous and repetitive.
Such fictional fakery tells us little about an artist’s procedures and work-
ing practices. Where a process has been documented, for example, Hans
Namuth’s filmic and photographic recordings of Jackson Pollock taken
between June and November 1950, it seems artificial and contrived, a per-
formance put on for the benefit of an audience. Namuth’s film was choreo-
graphed to such a degree that any sense of truth or authenticity must be
treated with suspicion. This is not to say that the word ‘performance’ is
inaccurate or inappropriate but just that it is very difficult to document a
practice and to ascertain what these rehearsals or demonstrations amount
to or where they lead.
Why is it important for the tacit and hidden aspects of making to be
articulated? The word tacit is derived from the Latin tacere meaning to be
silent, and in our usage has come to mean something being understood or
implied without being stated (see Compact Oxford English Dictionary, 1996).
In the Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts symposium of 2005
the underlying rationale was to investigate ‘the relationship between artists’
thinking and making’ (LICA, The Documentation of Fine Art Processes and
Practices, December 2005), and was concerned with identifying how proce-
dural decisions and processes are evidenced in an artist’s finished work. If
a relationship is postulated here between the artwork in its making and its
final manifestation, it is especially important to identify how the visual
properties of the artwork and its potential meanings are constructed and
sustained.
A further rationale might be that art processes are becoming increas-
ingly available to public scrutiny. Work ‘in progress’ is now an acceptable
way of looking at art and artists in the same way that other professional
practitioners (like doctors, lawyers and teachers) are becoming familiar with
such public appraisal and judgement. There are, of course problems with this
increased ‘transparency’. Increased scrutiny can lead to a concomitant
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culture of ‘accountability’. Such accountability often can lead to a quantita-
tive logic of league tables and spurious rankings, and worse, an inspection
culture that can deter risk and inhibit innovative practice.
In Higher Education and universities art is often assessed alongside
other subject areas often with little account being taken of art’s intrinsic
qualities and differences. In the case of practice-based Ph.D. research the
judgement of ‘worth’ or ‘quality’ is seen as problematic with questions
being raised as to their equivalence in Ph.D. terms with other more easily
measurable research outcomes. As MacLeod and Holdridge mention about
Art and Design,
it’s shape, form and content are little known and understood. It is part of a young
research culture.....which sits uneasily within the broader academic research
frame of universities within the UK (and EU). It remains curiously focused on
research methods and protocols rather than on an elucidation of the culture itself
through reference to what is being produced by doctoral students.
(MacLeod and Holdridge 2004: 156)
Arguably, it is precisely because of the often tacit nature of practical work
and the difficulties of articulating practical concepts and procedures into
conventional language that these protocols remain inadequate to actual art
practice.
Art practice as tacit knowledge
What needs to be restated is the way in which art practice is able to con-
struct a dialogue between theory and practice. Perhaps its very ‘tacitness’
lies in the binding together of theory and practice so that one cannot be dis-
tinguished from the other? Carr (1986: 183) emphasizes the importance of
self-reflection as a valid category of knowledge so that theory and practice
can be viewed as mutually constitutive and dialectically related. He argues
for a recovery of self-reflection as a valid category of knowledge in order for
this to occur.
Such a transition need not be from theory to practice or vice versa, but
from irrationality to rationality, from ignorance and habit to knowledge and
reflection. This idea can be applied to fine art practice in some interesting
ways. For example, dialogue can be inherent between an artist and the
medium, often a silent interchange, or can be activated between the work
and the viewer. Guy Claxton analyses expertise as ‘the unreflective mastery
of complex but familiar domains’ (Atkinson and Claxton 2000: 35) and I think
this applies well to how artists exhibit mastery within a context of routines,
procedures and repertoires. Catherine Dunton, in describing such proce-
dures in relation to the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci argues that,
The significance of the unique relationship between perception and facture is
that attention is now caught up with intention. Once fixed, the next line, the
next investigation of the eye is fatally influenced by these marks. The eye is no
longer free to rove where it will but must enter into a highly sensitive relationship
with the choreography of lines that take on their own rhythm and pace. The
hand is not the tool of the mind reproducing the object after the eye’s
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unremitting gaze. Rather, its movements become a constituting part of the
creative-perceptual process.
(Dunton 1999:342)
Perhaps the need to make one’s practice more ‘explicit’ is a consequence of
the changing modes of looking? For example, in painting there are key rela-
tionships between the artist and the emerging marks on a surface of a paint-
ing, and also between the viewpoint and the visual field so that the process of
making, of mark and gesture superceding other marks and gestures is contin-
ually present on the surface of the image. Thus, there is an additional element
in what Catherine Dunton calls ‘the reciprocal process of vision’ (Dunton
1999: 341). By making the process of practice more explicit the artist is accen-
tuating the implicit differences between art as opposed to ordinary visual
experience. ‘In art, we do not require an act of memory to account for the
presence of the journey of the eye in its successor; it is recorded on the page
to which the eye constantly returns’ (Dunton 1999: 341).
In the transition from a position of ‘not knowingness’ to an increasingly
sharper and more finely grained self-reflexive knowledge the practice of Alex
Katz makes for an interesting case study.
Donald Schon (1988: 28) distinguished between ‘reflection in action’
and ‘reflection on action’ where the former is a more spontaneous or
intuitive response to a problematic situation (characteristic of artistic practice)
where the knowing is in the action. The latter is a more retrospective response
in which thoughts and choices between actions are considered with a view
to improving effectiveness in future situations. This is a more critical and
theoretical stance. One needs to value both types of reflection as the con-
struction of a relationship between the two is a necessary aspect of being a
reflective practitioner.
Such notions call into question traditional concepts of professional
knowledge. Often, an outstanding practitioner in any field is defined not by
the extent of their explicit, professional knowledge, but by qualities of
wisdom, talent, intuition and artistry. It is interesting that such terms are
often used to define phenomena which elude conventional strategies of
explanation. As such they also elude conventional strategies of measure-
ment and quantification. Schon’s premise is that inherent in the practice of
the competent professional is a core of artistry. He defines this artistry as
‘an exercise of intelligence, rigour and a kind of knowing’ (Schon 1988: 13)
and is characterized by practitioners who are adept at handling situations
of uncertainty, uniqueness and conflict.
I would argue that the artist is the quintessential ‘reflective practitioner’,
especially with regard to the interaction of hand, body, tools and materials,
where to become ‘skilful in the use of a tool is to learn and appreciate
directly, without processes of intermediate reasoning, the qualities of the
materials that we apprehend through the tacit sensations of the tool in our
hand.’ (Schon 1988: 22). As Thornton explains it, a key idea is to explicate
the ‘process of continuous responsiveness to experience that is often evi-
denced in the practice of professionals but is sometimes shrouded in mystery,
perhaps, because the process has seemed difficult to explain (Thornton
2005: 172).
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Careful reflection does not keep means and ends separate but enables
one to define them interactively in response to a problematic situation. This
type of thinking and problem solving is often alluded to but less explained,
as a crucial approach to knowledge and skill acquisition. It can be seen as a
critique of prevailing, traditional hierarchies of knowledge where general,
theoretical, propositional knowledge has enjoyed a privileged position as
against a more problem solving, speculative and ontological type of knowl-
edge where the mode of being or thinking is more intuitive than deductive.
The studio – a context for artistry
Of especial interest to artistic practice is how to frame (or understand) the
context within which such artistry can flourish, that is, in situations which
are unstable or unpredictable and in which one’s previous knowledge or
experience may only partially help in managing problems. The operation of
such creative artistry would seem particularly apposite to the practice of
many different types of artist.
What is germane to artistic practice is that any artist has an interaction
with materials to a greater or lesser extent (and I define ‘materials’ in as wide
a spectrum of practice as possible, from clay to film, from paint to perfor-
mance, from working alone to collaborating with other practitioners etc.)
Schon argues that reflection in and on action constitutes a critical dialogue
with one’s knowledge in action and which enables one to develop and experi-
ment. He cites jazz improvisation and conversation as evidencing this collec-
tive (and sometimes singular) mode of improvisation. Crucially, in responding
to the indeterminate and difficult areas of one’s practice, one can open a
reflective conversation with the materials of their craft and practice, thereby
remaking a part of the practice world and thus engaging with the usually tacit
processes of world making which underpins their daily practice.
Claxton, in (Atkinson and Claxton2000: 41) relates intuition to experi-
ence arguing that ‘intuition is more a matter of drawing upon and extract-
ing meaning from a largely tacit database of first hand experience, than it is
of rational delineation.’ Further, that ‘creative individuals tend to be those
steeped in their specific disciplines and who are able to draw upon a well of
experience in novel, flexible and integrative ways’ (Claxton 2000: 41). He
discusses intuition as being more than unconscious tacit understanding
and knowledge, but also to do with the faculty by which one is open to a dif-
ferent flow of events or alternative ways of working. In Katz’s case it is this
ability to improvise after a long period of deliberation.
There is also a connection with processes of learning here. Michael
Eraut, in (Atkinson and Claxton 2000: 256) contrasts modes of learning
which are explicit and conscious with those which are implicit and more
intuitive. These seem to me to be subtly related. For example, you can be
reading a textbook and quite consciously taking notes but the actual import
of that text may only come later on when you are thinking about it at leisure.
Claxton goes on to offer an anatomy of intuition, a family of ‘ways of
knowing’ which can also be seen to be a compendium of tacit characteris-
tics belonging to the artist. Among them are qualities of expertise, implicit
learning, judgement, sensitivity, creativity and rumination. In looking
closely at the work of artists I think it is possible to recognize how these
attributes can characterize their working procedures so I will go on to
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discuss the work of Alex Katz and how his procedures exemplify and fore-
ground the qualities of expertise and implicit learning.
The tacit artistry of implicit learning
I think that both explicit and implicit modes of learning act upon each other
and that both enable us to acquire knowledge that is not always manifested
at the time, and that we are not always completely aware of acquiring?
Katz, for example, talks about learning to make work over a period of time
(Sylvester 1999: 192). In other words, it is the practising and acquiring of
expertise within a context of repetitive routines, procedures and repertoires
so that an apparent mastery and ease of execution hides the tacit ‘artistry’
of laborious preparation and improvised, seemingly flawless execution.
Claxton discusses such expertise as the ‘unreflective mastery of complex
but familiar domains’(Atkinson and Claxton 2000: 40) and I think that such
mastery also connects deep learning with constant practice so that an
almost slavish adherence to certain procedures enable one to operate in
almost an ‘unthinking’ way and allows opportunities for new and fresh
insights to be made.
The idea of performance is the other key aspect of the Katzian project.
In large works, he will complete the process in a single painting phase but
this is painstakingly prepared for in a series of smaller studies and full size
cartoons, where, in an emulation of traditional ‘pouncing’ techniques, a
system whereby charcoal and chalk dust is brushed onto a final design
through a network of tiny, pinpricked holes in a full size cartoon, he will
transfer key information to the larger canvas and execute the painting ‘wet
in wet’ over the course of a single day. The extensive ‘Wedding Dress’ series
of 1992 is a typical example of this studied and painstaking approach. Such
works demonstrate how Katz achieves a distancing strategy by means of
the progressive development of the image into sketch, then drawing, then
cartoon and finally into the painting. This ‘distancing’ involves the transi-
tion from the ‘seen’ object or body into the 2D language of painting, initially
of brushstroke, facture and surface and then into flat and unmodulated
planes of colour. In the work of Katz, the tacit expertise is expressed in the
temporal but very deliberate process of making, the development of various
studies over time so that enough information is collected for a definitive
final performance.
This process of painting is a risky technical undertaking and relies upon
the artist’s deep understanding of the properties and viscosity of paint and
different pigments, of, for example, how much the paint needs to be thinned
out to enable specific brushstrokes to be made, and which particular
medium will give the optimum bloom and effect.
Katz is preoccupied with problems of style and performance. He has a
concern with the flatness and objecthood of a painting, and with the potential
repertoire of marks and possibilities which goes into the making process.
Katz explains how with
the sketches and drawings, its an indirect procedure to get to the big canvas
and the colours are pre-mixed the day before and on a lot of them I have to
get specific brushes for specific strokes.
(Sylvester 1999:180)
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The whole process is conceptualized beforehand. The subject material is
transferred to the final canvas and the preparations are made for the final
performance. In this way figures and objects are extracted from everyday
existence, transmuted through the sketches and preparatory studies and
then transformed into the artificial, simulated life of art.
The expertise of the painting procedure
Some commentators have compared the distancing and artificiality in Katz
with the Mannerist style of the sixteenth-century painters like Bronzino,
Pontormo and Giulio Romano. In fact, to follow Shearman, the very term is
derived from the Italian term maniera which literally means ‘style’. It is a
conceptual, intellectual approach, one that ‘should, by tradition, speak a
silver-tongued language of articulate, if unnatural, beauty, not one of inco-
herence, menace and despair; it is, in a phrase, the stylish style’ (Shearman
1979: 19). A. B. Oliva describes the typical detachment of this style as not
an outcome of a process but rather as the process in itself (Oliva 1999: 40).
The concept of maniera was originally developed from a literature of man-
ners in the Renaissance and was used to define a way of living which was
cultured and refined, almost an artwork in itself.
This aspect can be plainly seen in paintings like the Katz Black Scarf
of 1996 (Figure 1) and, for example, a Bronzino portrait like that of Eleonora
of Toledo with her son Giovanni de Medici of c.1546 (see Graham-Dixon
1999) where the sheer beauty of surface is immediately apparent. The
lack of tangible facture and lack of evidence of the painter’s intervention
with signature markings and brush strokes means that we are not
invited to penetrate beyond or beneath the surface. Every formal aspect
is articulated across the respective surfaces which act like mirrors for
our sensibilities. Graham-Dixon describes Eleonora’s face as a mask.
‘She has nothing to declare but her visible perfection’ (Graham-Dixon
1999: 297). The painters have ensured that nothing is allowed to distract
us from the evident beauty of their stylistic transformations. With the
Bronzino it is the richness and complexity of pattern and line which is
being demonstrated while the Katz focuses upon subtle gradations of
tone and colour.
The tacit knowledge and skill in Katz’s painting which results in such an
‘unnatural beauty’ can be analysed more carefully. For example, in the Black
Scarf there is a careful loading of different brushes with grey and white
paint and caressing of these onto the surface with one continuous move-
ment, from top of head to where it fades out at top of collar. Also, where the
paint amounts are carefully judged to run out at a precise moment and
place. In re-running an imaginary video one might detect one or two broad
wedged brushes loaded with pigment being traced downwards in three or
four strokes and on top of the wet black underpainting below.
In this performance it is perhaps the quality of improvisation which con-
nect with the idea of implicit learning, where expertise is acquired by non-
conscious, non-conceptual means by the manipulation of tools, materials
and media. Katz attempts to describe this process in different ways. Thus,
when discussing the ‘wet in wet’ technique he says that, ‘ it’s like finding a
part of yourself that you didn’t know was there and working with it’
(Sylvester in Katz 1999: 172).
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Articulating the tacit dimension in artmaking
Figure 1: Alex Katz, Black Scarf, 1996 oil on canvas 183 ∞ 117 cm.
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Further, that there is a kind of heightened awareness during the painting
process that is both conscious and unconscious, ‘...when you paint percep-
tually and you’re painting faster than you think so to speak, you speed it up,
and when you speed it up to that degree your unconscious takes over. The
brushstrokes are not conscious at all’ (Sylvester in Katz 1999: 174).
Katz identifies the importance of working with aspects or entities which
are unknown, and to leave oneself open to this as a new way of working can
result. ‘I work with different parts of myself. I like to open up and let any-
thing happen and then try to figure out what happened. Then it becomes
another process’ (Brehm in Katz 1999: 48).
The process of improvisation enables the painter to short circuit pre-
conceptions in the attempt to keep an image fresh and alive, and in order
not to be circumscribed by previous solutions. If the practical explication of
knowledge and experience can be temporarily clarified in a ‘finished’ painting,
there is also a sense in which this product must remain provisional and
incomplete as it tends to initiate further enquiry and problem solving. Then,
it is to the more implicit framework of knowledge and intuitive expertise to
which the painter must return.
The expertise of the procedure is located in the balance between the
process of planning and intuitive action. Katz again notes the importance
of conscious and unconscious cognitive processes working in tandem
…it’s hot and cold. Because it’s all pre-planned and pre-mixed like a print. But
when you paint, the performance part, you have to let your conscious mind go
and float. You may know what colour is going on top of what colour but the
marks you make have to come out of your unconscious…
(Brehm in Katz 1999:50)
It is precisely because of the amount of preparation that Katz is able to
make, that the final performance can be an intuitive and spontaneous exer-
cise. The statement implies that the pre-planning process enables the final
performance to be freer, even a more unconscious and liberating experi-
ence. ‘The optical element is the most important thing to me. That the
paintings actually have to do with seeing. It has to do not with what it
means but how it appears’ (Brehm in Katz 1999: 44).
Katz talks about the primacy of the optical element of making and seeing.
Brehm argues that there is a lack of congruence between the original image
and final painting which renders the act of seeing a more conscious one. This
further implies that the act of transformation, in itself, is of vital importance,
a progressive curve on the way to a definitive final performance. The distance
traversed between the different stages of image making also enables Katz to
work through any emotional attachment he has to the subject material so that
the final work can be made in a more meditative and detached spirit.
There is often a disjunction between the perceived image, the planned
stages and the final piece. For example, the differences between the small,
initial painterly sketch, ‘Good Morning’ of 1974 is in stark contrast to the
subsequent much larger and more stylized version, ‘Good Afternoon’, com-
pleted in the same year, where all traces of gestural brushwork and texture
are sacrificed to the overall integration of the composition. The hand and
mind of the painter intervene in conscious and unconscious ways. The
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lengthy process of gestation allows the final pieces to appear effortless.
Despite their genesis in reality the pictures are defined more by the way
they are made, by their stylistic attributes. This seems to indicate what Katz
means when he talks about wanting style to take the place of content.
Conclusion
I would argue that it is important for the contemporary artist to be able to
acknowledge the often tacit nature of what they do. This runs contrary to
the traditional position of artistic practices being largely hidden and unac-
knowledged because of a resistance to theory and explanation. Esser-Hall
for example argues that,
Amongst students of art practice a resentment against theory is evident,
because with its emphasis on an imposed structure and method, it presents
itself as the ‘Other’, that is part of a hierarchical education system. Theory is
perceived as relating to practice as the rigid to the freeflow, the constructed to
the playful, the prescriptive to the creative – almost as captivity to freedom.
(Esser-Hall 2000:289)
It is time that these rather simplistic binary oppositions were challenged.
The making explicit by the artist of their particular position or mode of prac-
tice is helpful in the way that practice can be defined, positioned and con-
textualized.
Why is this of critical importance? There are a number of pressures for
the contemporary artist at the interface between their public and private
personas, where artists and makers are required to ‘legitimate’ their prac-
tice, and to be accountable in the development and outcomes of specific
projects. This is mirrored by the burgeoning of creative and practice-based
MA and Ph.D. routes in universities in which there is posited a close rela-
tionship between theory and practice, and where the practice is required to
be explicated, not only to validate the creative self, but for a wider profes-
sional validation and critical acceptance across the whole spectrum of other
academic disciplines.
However, I think there is a deeper, more complex cultural level which
might be affected by such ‘articulation’ and which should be seen as benefi-
cial. If we accept the idea of the artist as a reflective practitioner then part of
that process is a willingness to articulate the tacit and more unacknowl-
edged aspects of practice. This involves a self-conscious reflexivity and acute
awareness of procedure similar to that demonstrated by artists like Katz and
Francis Bacon before him. It is in this articulation of practice that the
processes and findings of artistic research can be analysed and understood.
Of course it might be argued that the artistic endeavour is essentially a soli-
tary one. However, by legitimating art as a form of ‘action research’, that is,
as a form of enquiry which is problem posing as much as problem solving
(see Cohen, Manion and Morrison 2007: 298) we would be placing it more
squarely within the wider public and societal context. As MacNiff argues,
I have generally found that a heuristic approach to research benefits from
being tempered with an orientation to other people, the medium of expres-
sion, and the objective properties of the process of creation. I have discovered
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that a complete focus on the self tends to generate disconnected, unfocused,
and random expressions which are of little significance to a larger community
of people.
(MacNiff 2004: 152)
I think that developing and sharing knowledge about the complicated
processes of making art must inevitably lead to a more enlightened grasp,
understanding and encouragement of the artist in contemporary society.
Thus, the common multiplicity of roles assumed by the artist, for example,
as curator or teacher, should have greater acknowledgement and lead to an
enhanced sense of the worth of art in our society.
A more effective articulation of practice can enable the subsequent rela-
tionship between artist, artwork and viewer to become closer. The analysis
of tacit and often hidden artmaking processes and meanings should help to
develop a more informed viewer. The question for us, as artist practitioners,
is not about the worth or value of articulating our practice but to consider
how we can achieve an ever increasing clarity of utterance.
References
Atkinson, T. and Claxton, G. (2000), The Intuitive Practitioner, Buckingham &
Philadelphia: Oxford University Press.
Brehm, M. (1999), ‘Art by Nature’, Alex Katz – Galleria Civica di Arte Contemporanea,
Trento, Hopefulmonster.
Carr, W. (1986), ‘Theories of Theory & Practice’, Journal of Philosophy of Education
20: 2, pp. 177–86.
Cohen, L., Manion, L. and Morrison, K. (2007), Research Methods in Education, 6th
edn, London and New York: Routledge.
Collings, M. (2007), ‘Diary’, Modern Painters, June, pp. 44–47.
Dunton, C. (1999), ‘A Merleau-Pontian Account of Leonardo’s Studies from Life’, Art
History, 22: 3, pp. 331–46.
Esser-Hall, G. (2000), ‘The Role of Phenomenological Hermeneutics in Art
Education’, International Journal of Art Education, 19: 3, pp. 286–96.
Graham-Dixon, A. (1999), Renaissance, London: BBC Worldwide Ltd.
MacLeod, K. and Holdridge, L. (2004), ‘The Doctorate in Fine Art: The Importance
of Exemplars to the Research Culture’, International Journal of Art and Design
Education, 23: 2, pp. 155–68.
MacNiff, S. (2004), Art-Based Research, London and New York: Jessica Kingsley
Publishers.
Oliva, A.P. (1999), ‘The Oblique realism of Alex Katz’, in Alex Katz – Galleria Civica
di Arte Contemporanea, Trento, Hopefulmonster.
Podro, M. (1998), Depiction, New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
Shearman, J. (1979), Mannerism (Style and Civilisation), London: Penguin Books.
Schon, D.A. (1988), Educating the Reflective Practitioner, San Francisco and London:
Jossey Bass Publishers.
Soanes, C. (ed.) (1996), The Compact Oxford English Dictionary of Current English,
Oxford University Press.
Sylvester, D. (1999), ‘Interview with Alex Katz’, Alex Katz Galleria Civica di Arte
Contemporanea, Trento, Hopefulmonster.
212
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Thornton, A. (2005), ‘The Artist Teacher as Reflective Practitioner’, International
Journal of Art and Design Education, 24: 2, pp. 166–74.
Further works (illustrations)
Figure 1: Alex Katz, Black Scarf, 1996 oil on canvas 183 ∞ 117 cm
Reproduced with permission (Copyright) DACS, LONDON/VAGA New
York 2007. to appear on page I of the above article
Suggested citation
Jarvis, M. (2007), ‘Articulating the tacit dimension in artmaking’, Journal of Visual
Arts Practice, 6: 3, pp. 201–213, doi: 10.1386/jvap.6.3.201/1.
Contributor details
Michael Jarvis is an artist, writer and lecturer. He works at Northumbria University
in Newcastle upon Tyne where he contributes to undergraduate and postgraduate
programmes in Teacher Education and Fine Art.
Currently he is studying for a Ph.D. in Fine Art at Lancaster University. The
research is concerned with the practice of painting in relation to various announce-
ments of its ‘death’ and demise since 1840. Contact: Northumbria University,
School of Health, Social Work and Education, Coach Lane Campus, Newcastle upon
Tyne NE 7 7XA, UK.
E-mail: Mike.Jarvis@unn.ac.uk
Research institution address: Lancaster University, Lancaster Institute for the
Contemporary Arts, Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YW, UK.
E-mail: michael@jarvis6747.fsnet.co.uk
213
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Journal of Visual Arts Practice Volume 6 Number 3 © 2007 Intellect Ltd
Article. English Language. doi: 10.1386/jvap.6.3.215/1
Seeing what, how and why: the ARTnews
series, 1953–58
Nigel Whiteley Lancaster University
Abstract
Between 1953 and 1958, ARTnews in the United States included a series that
focused on a particular contemporary artist who was interviewed while making
an artwork. Amongst the artists, usually American, were de Kooning, Gottlieb,
Diebenkorn, Mitchell and Lippold, and the series title used the artist’s name,
followed by ‘paints a picture’ or ‘makes a sculpture’ or some variant.
Interviewers/writers included Fairfield Porter, Frank O’Hara, Thomas B. Hess and
Irving Sandler.
As well as providing an informative survey of contemporary art practice in
New York, the series was innovative in that it provided an insight into the artist’s
work in progress and his/her thoughts about creativity. The format enabled the
artist and commentator to talk about a particular work in terms of its aims,
theme, preoccupations and interpretations, and for the commentator to provide
not only a formal analysis, but also to describe some of the decision-making
processes of the artist – why the artist had made a particular decision and
rejected other alternatives, and to what effect. Furthermore, a certain amount of
detailed technical information about materials and methods was disclosed, as
well as information about the artist’s working environment, such as the size of
the studio, whether the artist worked close-up, and whether the work stood on an
easel or lay on the floor.
The overall result was to create a series that gave a reasonably intimate
insight into the everyday creative processes of artists in the United States in the
early to late 1950s. Rather than romanticizing the creative act, so giving yet
another breathless account of the intuitive, inspired or tortured genius, the making
of art is demystified by an openness about the making process, and a making
explicit of what is usually tacit knowledge.
This article examines one of the ARTnews series – Fairfield Porter’s 1954
article on Larry Rivers’s Portrait of Berdie I, 1953, and evaluates its contribution
in terms of a better understanding of how artists think about works they are
creating.
Any creative practice involves knowledge and experience that develop
through an engagement with the activity. The more one practises the activity,
the more the knowledge becomes ‘second nature’ and, it is generally the
case, the more expert one becomes. This type of embedded knowledge is
often called ‘tacit’ knowledge and it can appear very mysterious and unfath-
omable to someone outside the particular creative practice. Many artists,
215 JVAP 6 (3) pp. 215–228 © Intellect Ltd 2007
Keywords
art history
creative process
visual intelligence
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critics and dealers have been content to keep knowledge tacit, in order to
uphold the notion of ‘creative genius’. The artwork was seldom presented, let
alone understood, as a work that grew out of a frequently fraught decision-
making process involving ideas, materials, physical manipulation, tech-
niques, skills and judgement. Rather it had, supposedly, suddenly
appeared, to recall J.M. Whistler’s phrase, as a ‘…masterpiece…perfect in
its bud as in its bloom – with no reason to explain its presence – no mis-
sion to fulfil – a joy to the artist….’ (Whistler 1890: 116). All we saw is what
the artist did – the outcome. As late as 1948, Matisse was remarking that
he had ‘…always tried to hide my own efforts and wished my works to have
the lightness and joyousness of a springtime which never lets anyone sus-
pect the labours it has cost’ (Matisse 1948: 140). Even when those labours
were captured on film – recordings of artists including Matisse himself and,
later, Jackson Pollock are well-known examples – this did little to help an
understanding of the creative process which still appeared opaque: we saw
what the artist was doing, and how he was doing it, but why particular deci-
sions were made rather than others remained incomprehensible to most.
Seeing Pollock ducking and diving around his floored canvas, jabbing and
lunging with paint-filled brushes and sticks, may have made aspects of the
creative process visible, but it did not necessarily make it understandable.
We had little or no access to why.
Today, it is still rare to see art works as other than the outcome of a hid-
den process. This is, in my view, regrettable because it perpetuates the mys-
tique of art, and keeps an unnecessary distance between creative
practitioners and their audience. Whether you are a member of that audi-
ence, or a critic, historian or, indeed, another artist, witnessing something
of the creative process can make us see a work differently, and give us
insights into the artist’s ways of working, intentions and, even, values and
assumptions. It enriches our understanding not only of particular art works,
but also of creativity in general. The opportunity for insight and under-
standing is significantly increased when we are not just a silent observer,
but an informed one, and this requires a spoken or written commentary by
either the artist or an interviewer, so that seeing what and how is supple-
mented by seeing why.
One of the most impressive examples to date of seeing what, how and
why was provided by an irregular series that ran in the American art maga-
zine ARTnews between 1953 and 1958. There were 28 articles in total, with
three-quarters of them in the three-year period 1953–55. Each article
focused on a particular contemporary artist who was interviewed while
making an art work. Amongst the artists, usually American, were Willem
de Kooning, Adolph Gottlieb, Richard Diebenkorn, Joan Mitchell, Richard
Lippold and Larry Rivers. Non-Americans included Alberto Burri, Georges
Mathieu and Georges Fautrier. The format of the article was the artist’s
name, followed by ‘…paints a picture’, ‘…makes a sculpture’ or some vari-
ant. Among the interviewer-commentators were eminent critics including
Fairfield Porter, Frank O’Hara, Thomas B. Hess and Irving Sandler.
Occasionally an artist was the interviewer: Elaine de Kooning wrote three
articles, and Fairfield Porter, responsible for six of the articles, was himself
a painter and the subject of an article. Photographs of the art work in
progress and the artist at work were taken by photographers attuned to
216
Nigel Whiteley
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studio culture such as Rudolph (Rudy) Burckhardt and, on one occasion,
Hans Namuth, whose photographs and film of Pollock at work became
legendary.
As well as providing an informative survey of contemporary art practice
in New York, the series was innovative in that it provided an insight into the
artist’s work in progress and his/her thoughts about creativity. The format
comprised about 3,500 words text and captions, and about a dozen photos,
including a colour illustration of the finished art work under discussion.
This format enabled the commentator and artist to talk about a particular
work in terms of its aims, theme and interpretations, and for the commen-
tator to provide not just a visual analysis, but also to describe some of the
decision-making processes of the artist – why the artist had made a particular
decision and rejected other alternatives, and to what effect. Furthermore, a
certain amount of detailed technical information about materials and methods
was disclosed, as well as information about the artist’s working environment,
such as the size of the studio, whether the artist worked close-up, and
whether the work stood on an easel or lay on the floor.
One particular set of photos that accompanied an ARTnews article has
been reproduced several times and has become well known in its own right.
That is the illustrations included in the article on Willem de Kooning, the
very first article in the ‘…paints a picture’ series, in March 1953. Most
monographs on de Kooning (for example, Hess 1959: illustrations 111–2,
114–7; and Waldman 1988: 88–89) reproduce the six illustrations of the
stages of the development of Woman 1 between 1950 and 1952 to demon-
strate the notion of spontaneous and unpremeditated creativity as a key
ingredient of Abstract Expressionism. The commentator in the ARTnews
article was Thomas B. Hess, a champion, along with Clement Greenberg, of
de Kooning’s work, and he also included illustrations of four preliminary
works to make the point that the evolution of the art work was neither
sequential nor, apparently, logical. Further photos show the artist at work; a
moody portrait of de Kooning ‘pausing for a smoke’ (Hess 1953: 30); and a
shot of his palette-table and mixing cans in the foreground, beyond which is
a view through the window of his Fourth Avenue studio showing the street
outside.
The de Kooning article has some things to recommend it, but too much
of what Hess writes plays to the image of the romantic, inspired and inspi-
rational bohemian artist, and such a tone obscures the virtues of the series’
approach. Others in the series are limited by either too formalist an analysis
(e.g. Seckler 1953, on Stuart Davis); the parochialism of the art (e.g. Porter
1956, on Jane Freilicher) or the pretentiousness of the writing (e.g. Tapié
1955 on Georges Mathieu). The article I have selected as a case study of the
best of the ARTnews approach features an artist about whom there is no
surrounding mythology about ‘masterpieces’, and for whom subject matter
was important, thus offering the potential for more than a merely formalist
analysis. The artist is Larry Rivers, and his work appeared in ARTnews in
January 1954, discussed by the artist-critic, Fairfield Porter.
In this article, I am going to provide an overview of the scope of the arti-
cle and emphasize some of the main points as representative of the
ARTnews approach. The article on Rivers included fourteen illustrations,
with the main art work in colour.
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218
Nigel Whiteley
Figure 1.
Figure 2.
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219
Seeing what, how and why: the ARTnews series, 1953–58
The title page included three photographs: the first was of Rivers at
work and showed the artist and the painting, so the viewer could gain a
sense of the work’s size and how the artist worked on it; the second showed
Rivers’s work table and the scale of his working environment and, in the
third, according to the caption, ‘a series of studies in different mediums
show constant experiment and close attention to detail a wall of studies by
the artist’ (Porter 1954: 56). What the viewer gained from these photographs
is some sense of the environment in which Rivers worked, from the dimen-
sions of a sketch and painting, to the size of the studio, and something of
the process in terms of the importance of sketches and parallel material –
all, I would argue, relevant contextual information.
On the second page we have one of the innovations and strengths of
the ARTnews approach – the illustration of the art work’s changing appearance.
Here we have six illustrations charting the evolution of Rivers’s painting of his
mother-in-law, Berdie, from a charcoal sketch through to an oil painting. The
caption makes the point that, although the composition and the dark areas
‘…remain steady, the picture appears and disappears through a process in
which erasure plays as positive a role as painting’ (Porter 1954: 57). Nothing
better illustrates the idea that a painting evolves than this set of photographs
although, as the text discusses, that evolution is far from steady and predictable.
The third page is the final page to include multiple photographs. The
four illustrations include the artist at work; a photograph of Berdie; an early
drawing and an intermediate stage of the painting. The caption picks up on
the similarity between the photograph of the model, and the two illustra-
tions of the work in progress to make a point about ‘The directness of the
artist’s vision’ (Porter 1954: 58). The final illustration appears on the next
page and is a colour plate of the finished Portrait of Berdie I, 1953 (Figure 4).
Interestingly, rather than presenting the work uncritically, Porter’s caption
remarks that ‘The finished painting, almost 7 feet high, shows little attempt
to conceal the ‘abundance of dissatisfactions’ from which it grew’ (Porter
1954: 58). Porter’s caption quotes from a remark by Rivers, as we shall see.
If the photographs are useful for certain types of information, the text in the
article opens up a range of possibilities for understanding. The text com-
mences by introducing the reader to the 30-year-old artist: Porter tells us about
Rivers’s ‘restless and nervous’ personality (Porter 1954: 57), his engagement
with music and poetry and the influence in his art of Courbet and de Kooning.
The opening paragraph concludes with Porter’s view that the artist has ‘not
attained his final maturity’ (Porter 1954: 57) – an honest opinion that is unlikely
to be phrased as directly nowadays. The second paragraph continues with bio-
graphical information: that Rivers moved to Southampton, Long Island, in
May 1953 and worked on sculpture, outdoors; and that he rented a garage near
his house and converted it into the makeshift studio, illustrated in the article.
Porter then outlines Rivers’s distinction between painting, sculpture and draw-
ing: for Rivers’s, ‘Sculpture is a slow and substantial kind of drawing and a
statue is more distinct from the space around it than a drawing is’ (in Porter
1954: 58). As Rivers puts it slightly later in the article, ‘Drawing is the ability to
use a line or mark to produce air, space, distinctions, peculiarities, endings,
beginnings. It is like the backfield in a football team; it is the star’ (in Porter
1954: 58). Biography, none of which has unduly mythologized or romanticized
the artist, gives way to an insight into the artist’s thinking.
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Figure 3.
Figure 4.
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Having not worked on painting for six months, Rivers determined to
‘get his hand in again’ (in Porter 1954: 58) by painting his mother-in-law.
This underlines that no one is claiming a masterpiece in the making, but a
more modest approach to creating a painting which is, again, different from
the usual claims made by critics in essays in terms of significant works.
Porter moves on to describing Rivers’s creative process: a pencil sketch
direct from the model is ‘freely transferred’ to a canvas, without the model,
using ‘sign-painter’s charcoal’ (Porter 1954: 58). The process is described in
some detail:
When he draws, Rivers rubs out a great deal; about as much time is spent on
erasing as on making marks. Next he laid in colour in thin washes. On the
work table were several cans of turpentine and one of raw linseed oil, in order
to make sure to get his brushes clean between colours, although he finds
some dirtiness is useful as a way of continuing and unifying colours from one
area to another. He kept pounds of rags under the table to wipe out colours.
This makes for a similarity to pastel: the colour that is wiped out has partly
stained the canvas already, and therefore it remains under succeeding
colours. He used 1-inch to 1
1
/
2
-inch hardware-store brushes,
3
/
4
- to
1
/
2
-inch
flat bristle brushes, and one
3
/
8
-inch round bristle brush.
(Porter 1954: 58)
There is material here that, in normal circumstances, would be unknown,
but which gives a fuller understanding of Rivers’s way of working: the
importance of erasure; the technical effect of using colour and its visual
outcome and information about the brushes that he uses. This is tacit
knowledge made public, and is of interest to other artists and the art audi-
ence who gains an insight into how Rivers’s way of working leads to the
final art work.
Porter tells us that Rivers then started another painting of the same sub-
ject. In contradistinction, this one was loosely stretched, making it ‘softer’
and ‘easier to erase’ (in Porter 1954: 81). We are told the order it was drawn
in, and which parts were erased: ‘…the right half of the figure (on the left
side of the canvas) was related to the chair back, the line of the left hand,
the dark of the sleeve above the right arm, the nose, the left eye; then
almost all rubbed out again. While erasing, Rivers commented, ‘I like a
stubborn canvas – this is like a page’ (in Porter 1954: 81). Porter is convey-
ing a sense of the artist making decisions, tentative decisions and ones that
are sometimes reversed. The decision-making process is embedded in the
creation of a particular work and, with the accompanying photographs of
the stages of the evolution, this allows for careful scrutiny and, again,
understanding of how the artist’s process relates to the visual outcome,
and the aesthetic.
One of the most revealing passages is an utterance by Rivers about the
relationship between newness and familiarity:
There are differences between the points of view of an artist… there is the
pleasure that you get in doing something that is new: you use new colours or
draw in a way that you hadn’t until that time. This is pleasurable. These feelings
sometimes are enough to make the artist feel that he has done something
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that is worth while doing. Another approach comes out of a certain familiarity.
Through familiarity the artist comes to something that he has not previously
expressed, like the difference between a one-night stand with someone, where
the evening is full of new and interesting relationships, or something that
comes out of knowing someone for a long time, that seems to be more sus-
taining…. I think one has greater art who seems to have even more than he
has shown, not who has shown most that he has.
(in Porter 1954: 81)
This sheds light on Rivers’s attitude to subject matter and his general con-
cern with inventiveness. It has a significance beyond the particular artist,
helping the reader understand an artist’s motivation and the possible tension
between a new work looking like a previous one (and thus revealing the
artist’s personal style), and a work being significantly different from others
by the artist.
A shift of focus between the art work being discussed in detail, and
more general statements by Rivers about art, is characteristic of Porter’s
article, with one type of statement informing the other. The second para-
graph on page 81 changes back to the work in progress:
After considering it, Rivers erased the whole charcoal sketch on the second
canvas. He drew two ovals for two faces. ‘I will draw the figure onto the head
on the left, then I will take it away, and it will be on the head on the right, for
the surprise of the relationship as I come to it.’ Then, before erasing every-
thing again, ‘On the first canvas I was more direct; now I know the anatomy
or directional things, and so forth, which makes it slower.’ Faint traces
remained. ‘Sometimes if I can catch the right eye, at the beginning, I know
that I won’t have to change things, but I haven’t got it…. I drew more natu-
ralistically before, but now it has gotten to be something else.
(Porter 1954: 81)
Here we have a description of the process, with a description of what and
how the artist is doing but, more importantly, why he is doing it. Rivers is
able to articulate and explain his decision-making process, and his rationale.
The article continues in this way, with Porter describing Rivers drawing the
head, eye and the ‘V’-shapes of the dark parts of the dress, and Rivers
explaining that
I wanted to find some method that would relieve me from the tension that
comes from trying to decide what the picture is: to give the meanings of specific
things I know, in a way that has nothing to do in a big sense with painting, but
allows me to exercise enjoyment in painting and drawing, yet in a way removed
form the magic of art. Details help me forget that big sense of the painting.
(in Porter 1954: 81)
However, the details could present their own problems. Porter comments
that ‘The scale of the head was getting too big; from the neck to the breasts
it was too long’ (Porter 1954: 81), and Rivers then sought to make corrections,
‘…keeping his hand always on the canvas, like a lawnmower on the lawn’
(Porter 1954: 1981). The combination in the article of what, how and why –
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description, analysis and explanation – using the critic’s commentary and
the artist’s insights into his own aims and methods, is an informative and
insightful one, illuminating why the art work looks as it does.
The next four paragraphs address problems arising in the paintings,
such as the size of the head, and how Rivers dealt with it. In order to move
forward with the paintings, Rivers went back to the model and did some
studies, some of which were detailed, and some others explored different
poses. The colours of the second painting were erased, and the first paint-
ing was repainted. As before, Porter describes what actions Rivers took,
such as working over the model’s shoes, and redrawing the left arm. There
is a focusing down to the colours used by Rivers: ‘…cerulean and Prussian
blue, chromium oxide opaque, green earth, Naples yellow and red medium,
burnt and raw umber, black and zinc white’ (Porter 1954: 81). Porter then
comments on the way Rivers uses colour, applying it in one of the areas
‘…deliberately, larger and shaggier than reality, then [he] goes back to the
drawing….The inaccuracy of the register is a way of hinging parts together
by colour; it serves a different function than the drawing, which separates
the parts’ (Porter 1954: 81). This helps the viewer see what is going on in
the painting, and how Rivers achieves his style.
Two paragraphs later, the focus moves out to Rivers reflecting on his
own values and temperament:
I have the moral idea that nothing easy can be good, at least for myself. I feel
guilty about blankness on the canvas; unable to accept it – I have to force a
thing to go on to something else. That accepting of the first strokes of a
thing is an admission of a certain kind of character trait… there have been
masters who have been able to do portraits in an hour and a half – the idea of
virtuosity. Though I feel that I have some of this myself, it is meaningless.
Why be a virtuoso? For whom and for what reason? It is thrilling to have to
go through many possibilities before I can accept anything…Though all may
be equally good, all places, I have to have tried them before I can say any-
thing is OK.
(in Porter 1954: 81)
This is the tone of an artist thinking and conversing informally with guards
down, rather than issuing a carefully worded statement, that retrospectively
makes sense of his practice. Again, we gain insight into the aesthetic of
Rivers’s paintings with their messiness and even awkwardness. The distrust
of virtuosity, and the balance between newness and familiarity leads Rivers
to the view that ‘I think the history of art grows out of both boredom and
interest. If one hundred people have done something very well, you can’t
make yourself see clearly if you do it too’ (in Porter 1954: 82).
The rationale underpinning his aesthetic is continued in the next para-
graph. Rivers was unhappy with the blankness at the bottom of the first
painting and said, ‘You can have a large blank area especially at the bottom
of a painting, but then I feel that I must introduce something to break it (in
Porter 1954: 82). In order to achieve this, ‘He wanted the cross pieces of the
chair between the feet to remain faint, but to be sensed strongly’ (Porter
1954: 82) – this was Rivers’s way of ‘breaking’ the blank area without
destroying or overemphasizing it. The way he achieved the effect is a good
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example of knowledge from ‘inside’ a practice. Decisions to do with visual
balance could also have psychological implications. According to Rivers,
The features set up a psychological situation which I have to accept or reject
while the other parts don’t have that kind of attraction…emphases come out
in the face beyond drawing and the general colour relation to the rest of the
painting…one is a victim of its look…I can’t express pity, hatred, joy, anxiety;
I have to work on until the expression or the look is something that you can’t
give a name to.
(in Porter 1954: 82)
As a non-driver is amazed at the number of aspects a driver has simultane-
ously to co-ordinate, so too the viewer could only be impressed at the way
an artist has to balance so many diverse matters during the making of an
art work. The balancing act may not always lead to resolution:
These paintings consist of the faint remains of all the things that I did not
want, that the whole canvas wouldn’t give up no matter how much I scrubbed,
scraped or merged; so in a way all of it grows out of an abundance of dissat-
isfactions.
(in Porter 1954: 82).
To an audience used to seeing works publicly displayed, usually because the
artist was satisfied with the end result, the idea that an art work may merely
surface out of an ‘abundance of dissatisfactions’ was, no doubt for many,
an unexpected revelation. Rivers mused on the fact that an artist often
knows little of an audience’s response to his or her work, and that what
may be a normal way of doing something to the artist, may seem odd or
quirky to a viewer.
Returning to the development of the canvases, Porter describes compo-
sitional adjustments made by Rivers. Then,
He started to make a series of sketches of the whole figure, from the paint-
ings, as if to get an understanding of what the painting was or could be. They
were on canvas, mostly about 18 by 12 inches. The idea of wholeness predom-
inated. In two days, he started and went back to about six of these sketches….
To him, each sketch was valuable as a different organizational interpretation.
One could be considered a block before an arc, another a variation on dotted-
ness, another a composition between two vertical parallels, or between angles.
(Porter 1954: 82)
However, Rivers adjudged that none was ‘…of a strong enough nature to
make me destroy what I have done already’ (in Porter 1954: 82). He also
spent a day considering whether to start a third canvas, but eventually
decided against it. The idea of a strongly linear development in the creation
of an art work is undermined in not only Rivers’s words and actions, but
also the uncertainty, sideways moves and apparent back-tracking which
were probably far greater than most spectators would ever have imagined.
Rivers himself addressed the issue of control, admitting, ‘I want to be able
to control…. It is not that I have to know what I am doing every single
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second, but I do not want to be at the mercy of art’ (in Porter 1954: 82).
What Rivers meant by this is that ‘I can get a thrill out of what occurs dur-
ing painting, but surprise does not equal quality. Surprise may not even
indicate quality at all’ (in Porter 1954: 82). In the context of the apparent
casualness, even the seeming arbitrariness of some passages of Rivers’s
paintings, this distinction between surprise and quality could not be readily
predicted, but again underlines the article’s articulation of Rivers’s quest for
a fine balance between opposing, and sometimes contradictory, forces.
The provisionality of Rivers’s works in the article was emphasized by the
artist who admitted that ‘What started out a whole thing was painted as a
drawing, two pastels and eight paintings. I don’t know which is ‘the’ paint-
ing. So although each painting is a statement, I don’t think that I have
made ‘a’ painting. I am not telling anyone that this is a process, a way of
painting, a way to work; it just happened’ (in Porter 1954: 82). How different
is this unresolved, evolutionary process was from the normal viewing con-
dition of a ‘finished’ work in a pristine gallery. A final decision Rivers had to
make was which work would be reproduced in colour for the magazine. He
decided on the first one, not because it was the most resolved, but because
‘…it is a member of the family that looks like no one, the different one – the
best. I don’t know what to do with the others. I don’t know if they are
finished. So I distrust them’ (in Porter 1954: 82). Asked by Porter whether
he liked the first one because it had been around longest, Rivers replied
‘No, it is less on the surface, it has more weight, it is more awkward’ (in
Porter 1954: 82). Most spectators were probably more likely to have
selected the second painting because of its more conventionally unified
surface and higher degree of finish. But, Porter contends, ‘…this finish is
like the virtuosity that he distrusts, because it may be the outward sign of a
lack of that search for distinctions…’ (Porter 1954: 82–83). Thus, Porter
concludes that ‘Rivers’ paintings often have the look of beginnings…. [and]
his style has the merit of lacking those superficial graces that can hide an
inner emptiness’ (Porter 1954: 83).
So, what claims can be made for ‘Rivers paints a picture’ and, indeed,
the series as a whole? Porter’s article on Rivers is certainly a period piece,
and captures the mood of its time for the individualistic, unsatisfied, trou-
bled, bohemian artist struggling and striving for a more authentic work of
art, distrusting ease, charm and virtuosity. Rivers’s attitudes grew out of the
abstract expressionists’ romantic discourse of spontaneity and unfinished-
ness in art. In 1951 de Kooning had stated that ‘…French artists have some
“touch” in making an object. They have a particular something that makes
them [sic] look like a “finished” painting. They have a touch which I am glad
not to have’ (de Kooning 1951: 565). Rivers’s attitudes and values – even the
way he talks about art with the almost existential sense of uncertainty and
an ethical dimension – are clearly shaped by the metanarratives of the time
in art and culture.
Yet I would argue that the approach of the ARTnews series as a whole
has value that is lasting because it is generalizable. When one takes away
the historically specific content and examines the series as an approach,
there is much to recommend it. The range an article covers is impressive.
In Porter’s article we have information about Rivers’s background, influ-
ences and working environment; a description of the evolution of the
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artworks; the recording of his working process and methods, verbal, written
and photographic; information about the materials he uses; commentaries
and interpretations by both the artist himself and Porter about what is hap-
pening; key quotes by the artist about his aims and beliefs; rationales and
explanations by the artist and critic about the artist’s decision-making
process; and evaluations by, again, both the artist and critic about the art
works. The photographs play a key role in illustrating the working environ-
ment, the artist at work and the stages of the decision-making process in
the evolution of the paintings. Description, analysis, interpretation and
evaluation combine to give a rich insight into the evolution of an art work,
revealing what is usually tacit knowledge and, most significantly, adding
the dimension of why, to the usual realm of what, and the occasionally
available how.
This was an innovative approach; it remains so. Normally, even habitu-
ally, we have statements by the artist for a catalogue or book, generally writ-
ten with an eye on positioning the artist in relation to the contemporary
scene and historical longevity. Or we have interviews with the artist,
detached in time and space from the decision-making process. Even further
removed from the material process are the commentaries and essays writ-
ten by critics and historians. These are, of course, all valuable and con-
tribute to cultural knowledge and understanding, but they are different from
the ARTnews approach. What these other approaches almost invariably lack
are specifics about the artist’s working process and thinking, and the docu-
mentation of the creative process with an embedded commentary that
helps to explain why as well as what and how. It is in this sense that the
approach is still valid today. This is not to claim it offers the truth about art,
or returns to some sort of naïve acceptance of intentionality. Of course, any
statement by an artist of what he or she is doing must be treated with cau-
tion. Equally, though, we must exercise caution when we read a more
‘authoritative’ interpretation by a historian. Reviewing David Hockney’s
Secret Knowledge book, Professor Martin Kemp makes the point that it
reminds us that
…works of art are physical products made by executants who face real chal-
lenges, and do not come ready-made from the heads of their makers.
Whether he is right or wrong, in part or whole, it also reminds me that art his-
torians have no monopoly of interpretation, and that many of our concerns
may be driven more by the internal dynamics of our industry than by acts of
hard looking and intellectual adventure.
(Kemp 2003: 37)
No account is neutral or objective, and it is important to get a range of dif-
ferent types of perspective. I would argue that the most neglected perspec-
tive, because it is often inaccessible and apparently mysterious, is the
decision-making process. At its worst, the ARTnews series romanticized the
creative act, so giving yet another breathless account of the intuitive,
inspired or tortured genius. At its best, the producing of art was demysti-
fied by an openness about the creative process, and a making explicit of
what is usually tacit knowledge. Now, at a time when so much art writing is
difficult to distinguish from press releases, the ARTnews approach is
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refreshing because it is less prone to aggrandize or mythologize the artist.
There is still a danger of this, as the de Kooning piece demonstrates, but it
is generally less likely because the creation of an artwork is brought far
more down to earth – the work observed may be mediocre, finished but
unresolved. The artist is seen not as someone creating through ineffable
divine inspiration, but an individual making practical decisions, and making
the best of ‘an abundance of dissatisfactions.’
The tacit knowledge involved in the creative process was once com-
mented on by the painter Alex Katz who remarked in 1997:
Well…I’m pretty sure…you have an idea about what a painting should be, or
an idea of a painting. And then it correlates with something I see and then
I start out empirically and optically. And when I do that I get involved…
there’s an unconscious procedure and it gets into something I wouldn’t have
thought of to start with. It moves around a bit and that’s the part that’s inter-
esting. Because when you go in there you find things; weird things happen
and some are all right and some aren’t all right. But they wouldn’t have hap-
pened if you just took the idea and did it, and that’s part of it. I think with
painting you have the opportunity to go inside yourself and find your uncon-
scious intelligence or your non-verbal intelligence and your non-verbal sensi-
bility and your non-verbal being in a sense. And you alternate between
consciousness and unconsciousness and it can engage much more of you
than if you just merely took an idea and executed it.
(Katz 1997: 238)
Katz uses the terms ‘non-verbal intelligence’ and ‘non-verbal sensibility’ to
describe the decision-making process. Equally, he may have referred to
‘visual’ or ‘creative intelligence’ to describe this tacit knowledge and
process. Whatever the term employed, what he is alluding to is a decision-
making process that ensures the right sort of outcome as opposed to a
mere illustration of an idea that someone without experience, skill, exper-
tise etc., would be more likely to produce.
When it was successful, the ARTnews series was an approach that gave
us some insight into creative intelligence. It is an approach that is both
valid and appropriate today, especially when boundaries between private
and public space are more permeable (the artist’s studio is less off-limits),
and when technology can be minimally invasive, yet almost all-revealing.
The ARTnews approach could and, I would argue, should be revisited, tech-
nologically updated and utilized to help us stand the creative process so we
are less bedazzled by hype and mythologizing.
References
de Kooning, Willem et al. (1968 [1951]), ‘Artists’ Session’, in Herschel B. Chipp (ed.),
Theories of Modern Art, Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 564–8.
Hess, Thomas B. (1953), ‘De Kooning Paints a Picture’, ARTnews, March, pp. 30–32,
64–67.
——(1959), Willem de Kooning, New York, George Braziller.
Katz, Alex (1997), in David Sylvester (ed.), Interviews with American Artists, London:
Pimlico, pp. 235–50.
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Kemp, Martin (2003), ‘Best Books of the Decade’, The Art Book, 10: 2 (March), p. 37.
Matisse, Henri (1968 [1948]), ‘Facility in Painting’, in Herschel B. Chipp (ed.),
Theories of Modern Art, Berkeley, University of California Press, pp.140–1.
Porter, Fairfield (1954), ‘Rivers Paints a Picture’, ARTnews, January, pp. 56–59, 81–83.
——(1956), ‘Jane Freilicher Paints a Picture’, ARTnews, September, pp. 46–49, 65–66.
Seckler, Dorothy Gees (1953), ‘Stuart Davis Paints a Picture’, ARTnews,
June/July/August, pp. 30–33, 73–74.
Tapié, Michel (1955), ‘[Georges] Mathieu Paints a Picture’, ARTnews, February,
pp. 50–53, 74–75.
Waldman, Diane (1988), Willem de Kooning, London: Thames & Hudson.
Whistler, J.M. (1890), The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, London: William
Heinemann.
Suggested citation
Whiteley, N. (2007), ‘Seeing what, how and why: the ARTnews series, 1953–58’,
Journal of Visual Arts Practice, 6: 3, pp. 215–228, doi: 10.1386/jvap.6.3.215/1.
Contributor details
Nigel Whiteley, a cultural historian, is Professor of Visual Arts in the Lancaster
Institute for the Contemporary Arts at Lancaster University. He has been a visiting
professor in India and China, and lectured widely in the USA and Europe. His most
recent book is the critically acclaimed Reyner Banham: Historian of the Immediate
Future (MIT, 2002), and other solo books include Design For Society (Reaktion, 1993,
regularly reprinted), and Pop Design – Modernism to Mod (Design Council, 1987).
Whiteley is editor of De-Traditionalisation and Art: Aesthetic, Authority, Authenticity
(Middlesex University Press, 2000). He has had essays published in journals such
as Visible Language, Art History, The Oxford Art Journal, Artforum, the Journal of
Architectural Education, Design Issues, Architectural History and Cultural Values, and
his work has been translated into Indian, Chinese, French, Italian, Portuguese,
Croatian and Korean. Contact: Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts,
Lancaster University, UK.
E-mail: n.whiteley@lancaster.ac.uk
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Journal of Visual Arts Practice Volume 6 Number 3 © 2007 Intellect Ltd
Article. English Language. doi: 10.1386/jvap.6.3.229/1
Post-production or how pictures come to
life or play dead
Ruth Pelzer-Montada Edinburgh College of Art
Abstract
The article reflects upon the visual practice of the author. The term ‘post-
production’ is used to reflect on a particular quality of documentation, namely
the practice of theory after an exhibition of the author’s work. Hermeneutical
aesthetics is drawn upon to ground this endeavour, as it enables us ‘to see more
of what has yet to be seen’ (Nicholas Davey). The concept of performativity is
deployed to trace the cultural signification of the medium of printmaking in
which the work has been made; the exhibition venue which represented a mix-
ture between a workshop/studio and the ‘white cube’; the particular works in
the exhibition; the role of installation and the place of the viewer. Special con-
sideration is given to the hallucinatory quality of the work and the role of repeti-
tion with regard to the performative constitution of the viewing subject. It is
suggested that the insights gained through such documentary post-production
become the foundation for further practice, both for other artists and the author
herself. This is equally true, whether post-production relates to the practice of
theory or artistic practice, but ideally both.
Post-production or how pictures come to life or play dead
1
The following article is based on a presentation given at the Estudios
Visuales Conference in Madrid, in February 2004, as part of a session with
the title ‘Visual Culture/Artistic Practices’.
The term ‘post-production’ acts as a catalyst for the reflection of a par-
ticular aspect of my artistic practice, namely, the mounting of an exhibition
of prints in the format of an installation. The exhibition took place in April
2003 in an artist-run gallery space, a so-called Produzenten-Galerie (literally
‘producers’ gallery’) in Frankfurt. The term ‘post-production’ has recently
gained popularity through the influential French critic and curator Nicolas
Bourriaud. In his book of the same title, the term serves to designate a par-
ticular, and for him, characteristic trend in contemporary art, which he sees
represented by the work of Rikrit Tiranvanija or Vanessa Beecroft, amongst
others. This art approximates to the service industry whereby artists ‘don’t
create, but reorganize’ existing material or types of communication.
2
As will
be shown later, I have defined the concept of post-production in a different
sense from Bourriaud.
Since minimalism, the modernist gallery space has been problematized
in and through artistic practice as well as in the theoretical and critical
literature. Much of this theorization has filtered through into artistic work-
ing practices and now functions at an almost intuitive level. Post-production
229 JVAP 6 (3) pp. 229–243 © Intellect Ltd 2007
1. The phrase ‘How
pictures come to life
or play dead’ is a
phrase borrowed from
Lane Relyea in an
essay in Frieze, 41
(June/August 1998),
pp. 52–57 on the legacy
of Michael Fried’s art
critical writing.
2. ‘ “Public Relations”,
Nicholas Bourriaud in
an interview with
Bennett Simpson’, Art
Forum, April 2001,
http://www.findarticles.
com/cf_dls/m0268_39/
75830815/print.html
(accessed 28 January
2004); see also
Nicholas Bourriaud
(1998), Post-Production,
English translation,
New York: Lukas &
Sternberg, 2001.
Keywords
documentation
hallucinatory effect
hermeneutical aesthetics
performativity
post-production
printmaking
JVAP_6.3_06_Art_Plezer_.qxd 12/12/07 4:37 PM Page 229
is a post facto reflection on and documentation of this hitherto largely prag-
matic part of my practice. The theoretical thrust of post-production
becomes part of an ongoing practice and will feed into future work. The
interrelationship between theory and practice as once described by Deleuze
in conversation with Foucault seems apt here: ‘a system of relays within a
larger sphere, within a multiplicity of parts that are both theoretical and
practical’.
3
Deleuze’s more complex suggestion notwithstanding, the fact is
that the concepts of ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ are frequently a short cut for theo-
retical practice and artistic practice, respectively. This is how I will, albeit
reluctantly, deploy these words. In an article British philosopher Nicholas
Davey has taken up the challenge of the two, often opposing, camps. Not
suppressing the conflict, he has argued for a ‘fruitful collision’ between theory
and practice. Although he refers less to the process of artistic production
than that of aesthetic experience, his theoretical combination of hermeneu-
tics and aesthetics, or ‘hermeneutical aesthetics’, is relevant to grounding
my concept of post-production. Drawing on Heidegger, Davey asserts that
Hermeneutics and aesthetics are similarly structured by an unstable synthesis
of idea and sense, which is distinctly ‘eventual’ in character. On the one hand,
there is a hermeneutic (interpretive) element in aesthetic experience that
brings meaning and content to what is seen. On the other hand, there is also
an aesthetic element in hermeneutic experience which gives ‘weight’ to inter-
pretation, which lends it sensuously to concrete instances (applications) of its
thematic concerns.
4
The ‘eventual’ character here referred to by Davey, ties in with Deleuze’s
‘relay’ which similarly suggests a motion in time. Of importance to me is
‘the relation of aesthetic experience to language’. As Davey goes on to say,
‘Insofar as individual aesthetic experience is linguistically mediated, aes-
thetics (can) be conceived … as an integral part of a shared historical dis-
course concerning the realization of meaning.’ Hermeneutical aesthetics is
therefore
indicative of an attempt to bring into language that which is held within an
image, not to the end of surpassing the visual but with the aim of enabling us to
see more of what has yet to be seen. [original emphasis]
5
If one considers the encounter of the artist with his/her production as a
proto-aesthetic experience, then post-production can be seen as con-
cerning itself with ‘more of what has yet to be seen’. Further, the ‘post’ in
post-production is to be understood in the sense of Deleuze’s ‘relay’ and
the ‘eventual’ character of the aesthetic experience as mentioned by
Davey. It implies a temporary ‘switching’ motion, not a once-and-for-all
fixed ‘aftermath’.
Performativity
Judith Butler’s concept of ‘performativity’ can also be drawn upon to inquire
into the space and place of the particular aspect of practice under considera-
tion here. Performativity has in recent years emerged ‘at the centre of cul-
tural experience’, as the British philosopher Peter Osborne has put it.
6
230
Ruth Pelzer-Montada
3. Foucault, Michel,
Language, Counter-
Memory, Practice:
Selected Essays and
Interviews, Oxford:
Basil Blackwell, 1977,
p. 206.
4. Nicholas Davey
(2005), ‘Aesthetic
f(r)iction: the conflicts
of visual experience’,
Journal of Visual Arts
Practice, 4: 2[0]+3,
pp. 135–49.
5. ibid.
6. Peter Osborne,
‘Gender as
Performance: An
Interview with Judith
Butler’, in Peter
Osborne (ed.), A
Critical Sense: Interviews
with Intellectuals,
London and New York:
Routledge, 1996, p. 112;
see also ‘Interview with
Judith Butler by Peter
Osborne and Lynne
Segal’, http://www.
theory.org.uk/but-
int1.htm
(accessed 4 December
2003).
JVAP_6.3_06_Art_Plezer_.qxd 12/12/07 4:37 PM Page 230
The ‘eventual’ character of the aesthetic experience, according to Davey, may
be linked to performativity. Performativity is differentiated by Butler from
‘performance’ although both have been sometimes used synonymously – even
by Butler herself. Performativity, unlike performance, does not presume an
anterior subject but rather stresses its constitution in and through what
Butler herself has described as ‘a certain kind of repetition and recitation’
or ‘citationality’ of cultural practices.
7
Butler, while applying citationality to a
politics of gender subversion, has pointed out a major problem. Citationality
or performativity in terms of cultural practice in and of itself is not subver-
sive, as it ‘conceals or dissimulates the conventions of which it is a repetition’.
8
Therefore, there is the necessity to reflect on the specific codes and conven-
tions that a particular practice enacts performatively. In my own example,
this implies both the ‘siting’ and ‘citing’ of printmaking within the context of
visual culture and the way in which my prints occupy the gallery space.
Print practice within visual culture
Trained as a painter, my artistic practice has been for the last nine years
exclusively in the medium of print. Visual culture is the point of reference
for much of artistic print practice today. At the same time, printmaking, as
a technical art form characterized by reproducibility, is closely affiliated with
visual culture in its modes of operation. While one of the oldest of the tech-
nologies of mediatization, it continues to play a cultural role, despite the
fact that newer modes of visualization typified by digital technologies now
complement and even supplant it. Artists in the last forty or more years
have utilized print processes to comment on the explosive mediatization of
the visual after the Second World War, coupled with the spectacle of com-
modity production, as theorized, for example, by Guy Debord. This trend is
well exemplified by the work of Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol in
the late 1950s and early 1960s. While not wishing to suggest an essentialist
notion of a medium, the role, in art, of print practices is vital. It could be
argued that reproducibility or ‘repeatability’/repetition as one major feature
of print makes it a ‘citational’ practice per se.
Technology is, with repeatability, the other category that is relevant to a
discussion on print. In German, the word Technik encompasses both the
English words ‘technique’ and ‘technology’. This notion of Technik can be
applied to print practice. Following on from Marcel Mauss, the art historian
Didi-Huberman has spoken of technique in terms of ‘a tension between its
material and its symbolic efficacy’.
9
The tension between technique as a
mode of artistic skill and technique as ‘technology’ forms the crucial matrix
in print practice. Their respective cultural significations could be said to be
played out in artistic print through a tension between touch and surface.
10
‘Touch’ here refers to traditional modes of artistic expression as in the
artist’s mark or signature style, traditionally the ‘facture’ in painting. In
printmaking, an almost fetishistic concern with the sensuous effect of ‘tech-
niques’ parallels the signifying power of the facture.
11
‘Surface’ applies to
the opposite of individual expression. It refers to the signifiers of techno-
logical mass modes of production, or reproducibility. Individual artistic
expression and its signifiers, such as the facture, have traditionally connoted
authenticity, originality and the real. Emphasis on the surface implies the
superficial, the artificial and the spectacle.
12
231
Post-production or how pictures come to life or play dead
7. ibid. See also Judith
Butler, Gender Trouble,
Feminism and the
Subversion of Identity,
New York and London,
1990; and Judith
Butler, Bodies that
Matter: On the
Discursive Limits of Sex,
New York and London:
Routledge, 1993.
8. Judith Butler, Bodies
that Matter: On the
Discursive Limits of
Sex, p. 12.
9. Georges Didi-
Huberman, Ähnlichkeit
und Berührung,
Archäologie,
Anachronsimus und
Ähnlichkeit des
Abdrucks, Cologne:
Dumont, 1999, p. 16.
10. The particular ‘turn’
this tension has taken
in postmodern
practice, and more
recently, with the
arrival and
incorporation of
digital means, must
due to space
constraints remain
unexplored here.
The Digital Surface
Conference at Tate
Britain, in Summer
2003 aimed to
illuminate some
aspects of this tension
with regard to
printmaking.
11. B. Buchloh, ‘From
Faktura to Factography’,
October, 30 (Fall), 1984,
pp. 82–119.
12. The tendency towards
surface or ‘superficial-
ity’ in postmodern
culture has been
noted by a number
of theorists, most
notably Fredric
Jameson and Jean
Baudrillard.
JVAP_6.3_06_Art_Plezer_.qxd 12/12/07 4:37 PM Page 231
My own work draws on the cultural connotations of repetition as a short
cut to reproducibility in such a way that it conflicts with the ‘facture’, the
expressive hand-drawn mark. The same set of ‘expressive’ marks is
repeated through multiple variations of size, order, placement and colour
(Figures 1 and 2).
In this way, varying codes are generated which in their turn are repro-
duced in numerous (and potentially infinite) configurations (Figure 3).
I would argue that the tensions inherent in print as an artistic and
cultural practice with their powerful cultural connotations between surface
and touch are enacted in my work through the citational modus of the seem-
ingly uniquely expressive and authentic. The hallucinatory and kinaesthetic
effect achieved through repetition can be argued to mirror the function
232
Ruth Pelzer-Montada
Figure 1: Positive-Negative I, Detail, Screenprint 1999.
JVAP_6.3_06_Art_Plezer_.qxd 12/12/07 4:37 PM Page 232
of spectacular commodity fetishism at the same time as it calls into play
the haptic qualities traditionally associated with the facture of conventional
aesthetics.
The performativity of installation
I now turn to a discussion of the installation of my exhibition. How do the
discursive and the factual/material intersect at the level of the work, the
space and the viewer? What cultural modes of signification are cited or per-
formatively enacted?
Gallery
My chosen exhibition space was the Galerie Zement in Frankfurt. A former
industrial print workshop, this space is now used as a studio by a painter
and an animator who also both organize and curate the exhibitions. The
space is on these occasions turned into a gallery. Unlike in their earlier
phase in the 1970s, when artist-run spaces constituted a crucial element in
the institutional critique and commodification of art, they now have to func-
tion in a more competitive, enterprise-oriented environment for artists.
Today – despite their differences – such spaces continue to provide a semi-
institutional framework, especially for younger artists, to establish a ‘posi-
tion’, to gain the necessary experience and to win potential critical notice
for further ‘career opportunities’. As an institutional and architectural for-
mation, some such spaces exist as a hybrid between the studio/workshop
and the conventional modernist gallery, or ‘white cube’, a term which will
233
Post-production or how pictures come to life or play dead
Figure 2: Specimen Nr. 26, screenprint, 2003, 35 x 35 cm.
JVAP_6.3_06_Art_Plezer_.qxd 12/12/07 4:37 PM Page 233
be discussed in more detail later. In light of the ambiguous and temporary
character of such artist-run spaces, the notion of performativity seems
especially apt.
Installation or how pictures come to life or play dead
As already indicated, every work of art can be considered performative –
what Davey, in reference to Heidegger, calls its ‘eventual’ character. But per-
formativity understood in a more narrow sense is an inbuilt feature of my
work. Prints function potentially as conventional ‘pictures’, hung in frames
on the wall. Mine are mainly conceived as multiples or as a series specifically
designed to derive their appearance from the chosen site. Since minimalism,
234
Ruth Pelzer-Montada
Figure 3: Prototypes VI b, detail, screenprint, 2000.
JVAP_6.3_06_Art_Plezer_.qxd 12/12/07 4:37 PM Page 234
installation refers to ‘a four-fold relational dynamic between objects, their
surrounding space, its architectural frame, and the body of the viewer, in
which architectural form [is] a given parameter of the exercise (even when
violated)’.
13
The ‘site specificity’ of installation to which Peter Osborne refers in the
quote above is applicable to the gallery/workshop of the Galerie Zement
with its particular architectural features and discursivity. This is a narrower
reading of the term as is often currently the case. Instead of site specificity
as pertaining to a specific physical location, it now more usually implies
work that occupies a broadly cultural space, such as a shopping mall or
other public location.
14
In the case of the Galerie Zement, site-specificity entailed the successful
negotiation between the workshop aspects and the gallery elements to
‘stage’ a semblance of the codings of the white cube. Brian O’Doherty’s
term for the modernist gallery space, has, especially since the publication of
his essays on ‘The Ideology of the Gallery Space’ in 1986, stood as a critical
shorthand to denote the reactionary exclusivity of art in its pristine con-
fines.
15
While it promises transcendence from the outside world, the white
cube as gallery space ultimately disguises its commercial nature. As indi-
cated previously, other forms of ‘accreditation’ have supplemented and, in
some respects, replaced the gallery space, but the white cube – notwith-
standing its many variations – remains. O’Doherty’s erstwhile critique has
been subsequently revised. Daniel Birnbaum, director of the Staedelschule
and Portikus Gallery in Frankfurt, stated in 2001 that the white cube ‘can be
seen as a structure of inclusion’ rather than exclusion.
16
This seems wholly
apposite, as the assumption of the exclusivity of the gallery space and the
work therein appears to be based on a falsely modernist assumption that
art can ever be ‘exclusive’ of cultural context.
Unlike most galleries, the physical characteristics of the workshop at
Zement collided with the subtlety of the prints themselves. The work, there-
fore, could be said to demand the features and rhetoric of the white cube.
All the elements, such as heavy electronic surface wiring, rough and dirty
stonework, and two rows of striking heating pipes, conspired to create a
form of visual noise. Instead of treating this visual noise merely as a distur-
bance, a performative hitch, the major interruptions were eliminated. Gaps
in the stonework were filled in and/or painted over and so on. The prints
were then displayed in such a way as to articulate certain ‘noise’ factors. For
example, the horizontal line of surface wiring on the upper part of a wall,
ending two-thirds along the wall, was used as the reference point for the
format of the work White on White (Figure 4).
This series of single sheets consisted of a particular set of multiple rep-
etitions of the ‘original’ marks that form the basis of all my work. The par-
ticular pattern of White on White was, as the title suggests, printed in subtle
white and off-white tones, arranged in a vertical, continuous row. The
sheets were hung flush with the wall, following its line to floor level and
then extended in a rectangular angle out onto the floor into the space. The
uppermost horizontal edge of the sheets paralleled the wiring above it. Its
right-hand top corner was aligned with the wiring where the cable disap-
peared into the wall. The disturbance of the wiring was integrated, yet it
also conflicted with the work. Similarly, two rows of strikingly shaped grey
235
Post-production or how pictures come to life or play dead
13. Peter Osborne,
‘Installation,
Performance, or
What?’, Oxford Art
Journal, 24: 2, 2001,
p. 149. It is not possi-
ble to explore here the
historical and concep-
tual genesis and
theoretical problemat-
ics of the term, an
examination of which
has recently been
undertaken by various
writers. Osborne’s
article offers a useful
critical overview of
recent publications.
14. Miwon Kwon, ‘One
Place After Another:
Notes on Site-
Specificity’, October,
80 (Spring), 1997, pp.
85–110.
15. Brian O’Doherty,
Inside the White Cube:
The Ideology of the
Gallery Space, Berkeley
and Los Angeles:
University of California
Press, 2000.
16. Daniel Birnbaum,
‘From the White Cube
to Super Houston,
Five Shows in the
Portikus’, Parkett, 63,
2001, pp. 187–93.
JVAP_6.3_06_Art_Plezer_.qxd 12/12/07 4:37 PM Page 235
heating pipes – in the form of discs around a central pipe – both accentu-
ated and disturbed the display of Grey on Grey. This large wall piece (with a
surface area of 261 cm in width and 304 cm in length) consisted of twelve
repeat sheets and was printed with a similar yet different pattern from
White on White. Aligned at its upper boundary with a pipe running below
the ceiling, the sheets adhered to the wall and then loosely curved around
the back of the pipes to emerge underneath them into the floor space
(Figure 5).
Noise as excess of information – in the more general sense – is com-
mented upon by Mark C. Taylor in his book The Moment of Complexity,
Emerging Network Culture:
Noise, it is instructive to note, derives from the Latin word ‘nausea’, which
originally meant seasickness. When information becomes the noise that
236
Ruth Pelzer-Montada
Figure 4: Installation View White on White, screenprint , 87 x 380 cm, 2003
Galerie Zement, Frankfurt.
JVAP_6.3_06_Art_Plezer_.qxd 12/12/07 4:37 PM Page 236
engenders nausea, differences and oppositions that once seemed to fix the
world and make it secure become unstable. Lines of separation become perme-
able membranes where transgression is not only possible but unavoidable….
As these polarities (between order – disorder, organization – disorganization,
form– chaos) slip and slide, they eventually reverse themselves to disclose the
specter of dynamics that appear to be fluid.
17
In the exhibition space at the Galerie Zement the two architectural and spa-
tial codings – or polarities – ‘slip and slide’. The workspace with its affili-
ated connotations of honesty, reality and workmanship conflicted with the
supposedly neutral white cube with its affinity with the spectacle. One could
argue that the citational articulation of these codings through the work only
re-enacts or performs ‘capitalism’s destabilizing, destructive dynamic of
dispersal and dissolution’.
18
Yet, I would counter this assessment with the
argument that it is precisely the task of art to make such operations visible.
The codings of the white cube which separate the gallery space from ordi-
nary architecture then become key to mark this citation as a citation. Alex
Potts in his study on the historical continuities between sculpture and
installation has said:
[…] if installation is architecture, it is another kind of architecture from the one
we experience on a day-to-day basis … Installation isolates and condenses
particular architectonic shapings of space and then artificially stages these so
237
Post-production or how pictures come to life or play dead
17. Mark C. Taylor, The
Moment of Complexity:
Emerging Network
Culture, Chicago and
London: University of
Chicago Press, 2000,
pp. 100–01.
18. Alex Potts,
‘Installation and
Sculpture’, Oxford Art
Journal, 24: 2, 2001,
p. 16.
Figure 5: Installation View Grey on Grey, multiple screenprints , overall dimen-
sion 261 x 304 cm, 2003, Galerie Zement, Frankfurt.
JVAP_6.3_06_Art_Plezer_.qxd 12/12/07 4:37 PM Page 237
one attends to them in a qualitatively different way from the architectural inte-
riors one normally inhabits …
19
Constituting the viewer
How does the citational quality, the placing and character of the work, affect
the viewer? The citational character of the work holds true to the root of its
Latin origin ‘to cite’ which comes from citare, ‘to set in motion’, ‘to call’ or
‘to summon’. Hence citation and interpellation, the summoning of the sub-
ject, are closely connected.
20
Althusser’s term of ‘interpellation’ drew atten-
tion to the ideological nature of subject formation and the emergence of
identity through language and discourse.
I shall [then] suggest that ideology ‘acts’ or ‘functions’ in such a way that it
‘recruits’ subjects among the individuals …or ‘transforms’ the individuals into
subjects … by that very precise operation which I have called interpellation or
hailing, and which can be imagined along the lines of the most commonplace
everyday police (or other) hailing: ‘Hey, you there!’ [original emphasis]
21
The citational quality of interpellation is obvious in this much-quoted pas-
sage of Althusser’s definition of his concept.
What particular quality did this ‘hailing’ assume in my installation? The
exhibition at Zement had aspects that are already existent in classical sculp-
ture as well as in installation as suggested by Potts. This is to do with the
nature of the encounter staged between the viewer and the work and the
‘resulting interplay … between focused and dispersed apprehension’.
22
Conventionally hung prints, or pictures in frames, tend to invite ‘focused
apprehension’. The emphasis is on the viewer’s gaze, which is attracted by
and to the framed object with the surrounding space functioning as a neu-
tral envelope.
23
Installation interpellates the viewer in a different way. The
viewer could be said to be ‘called’ from all sides and he or she is bodily
positioned in the space as opposed to the emphasis on sight in a conven-
tional display. The boundaries of what constitutes the work and the space
overlap and may even collide. Therefore, Potts can speak of an ‘interplay …
between focused and dispersed apprehension’.
In addition to this general feature of installation, the hailing or constitu-
tion of the viewer was played out in the exhibition at the Zement Gallery in
a specific way. This is because my pieces had a hallucinatory quality. In the
two large wall pieces, White on White and Grey on Grey, this quality was
achieved by printing in duotone colours. The result was that background
and pattern are not visible in one glance. Depending on the viewer’s posi-
tion, a different pattern and a differently coloured background come into
focus (Figures 6 and 7).
In a more sculptural hanging piece, Virtual 9, the ‘interplay … between
focused and dispersed apprehension’ operated in another way. The piece
consists of nine Perspex panels (each measuring 71 cm x 71 cm), which
were hung in a row. The position of the screen-printed pattern that was
repeated on each of the panels shifts from one panel to the next. The
strength and hue of the semi-transparent colour also vary slightly. The
effect of the hung piece was that the swirl of linear marks that appeared to
the viewer seemed, at first, to consist of a chaotic mass (Figure 8).
238
Ruth Pelzer-Montada
19. Potts, p. 17. As already
indicated, this ties in
with Butler’s sugges-
tion that discourses
tend to hide ‘their
citationality and
genealogy, presenting
themselves as timeless
and singular’ (see Alex
Potts, ‘Installation and
Sculpture’ op. cit. and
Sara Salih, Judith
Butler, London and
New York, 2002,
p. 95).
20. Salih notes this in her
introduction to Judith
Butler’s work.
21. Louis Althusser,
‘Ideology interpellates
individuals as
subjects’ (1969), in
Paul du Gay, Jessica
Evans and Peter
Redman (eds), Identity:
A Reader, London,
Thousand Oaks, CA
and New Delhi: Sage
Publications, 2000,
pp. 31–38.
22. Potts, p. 7.
23. For a more complex
analysis of this
viewing situation, see
Jacques Derrida,
Memoirs of the Blind,
Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1993.
JVAP_6.3_06_Art_Plezer_.qxd 12/12/07 4:37 PM Page 238
239
Post-production or how pictures come to life or play dead
Figure 6: Grey on Grey, detail, side view.
Figure 7: Grey on Grey, detail, front view.
JVAP_6.3_06_Art_Plezer_.qxd 12/12/07 4:37 PM Page 239
Only from a certain position, when the viewer positioned himself or her-
self at a particular distance from the work, did a relatively stable image,
extending deep into space, gradually appears (Figure 9).
Apprehension in these works is problematized; its performative
nature becomes obvious due to the difficulties the viewer experiences.
240
Ruth Pelzer-Montada
Figure 8: Virtual 9, detail, screenprint on nine perspex panels, overall dimen-
sion 71 x 71 x 240 cm, 2003.
Figure 9: Virtual 9, installation view, screenprint on nine perspex panels, overall
dimension 71 x 71 x 240 cm, 2003.
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The disorienting, if pleasurable, effect of the work also alludes to the rela-
tive loss of control the viewer or subject experiences through its constitu-
tion within cultural practices.
Fundamental to achieving a hallucinatory effect is the use of serial rep-
etition. Briony Fer in an essay on female artists of the 1960s (Hesse,
Bourgeois and Kusama), notes the connection of serial repetition, as in
Kusama’s work, to the hallucinatory. She also comments on how such art
‘places the subject or spectator, how it might incur the coming-into-being
of the subject – in particular the feminine subject’.
24
Its effect is
described by her as both an intensification of ‘bodily affect’ at the same
time as a ‘blanking or effacing of the subject’.
25
This ‘blanking’ or ‘efface-
ment of the subject’ is connected in Fer’s psychoanalytically informed
interpretation to a particular kind of anthropomorphism. Fer’s comments
can be applied to an explanation of the effect of the prints in the exhibi-
tion. The particular anthropomorphism or ‘mimetic compulsion’ invoked
by her, draws on Surrealist writer Roger Callois’s ‘model of mimicry’.
Mimicry explains the
way an insect which changes colour through camouflage does so in order to
become invisible; as it disappears, it loses irreparably its distinctness. Rather
than a sign for its surroundings, camouflage acts as a negative signifier, a
sign of non-being, which effaces rather than produces connotational value.
This has nothing to do with ‘the art object carrying associations to or con-
noting things in the world’ but refers to ‘the spatial lure of objects’ and ‘the
coming-into-being of the subject in the scopic field’.
26
The two large wall pieces could be said to demonstrate an anthropor-
phism of this kind. Ostensibly a reference to decorative schemes such as
wallpaper and the implied idea of art as wallpaper,
27
the shape and colour
schemes in both works attempt a sort of camouflage: printed on flat
poster paper rather than quality artist’s paper, the sheets form a smooth
surface with the wall. The colour scheme extends the play on the work as
being identical with the wall, being an addition or even an adornment, or
alternatively, an interference, a disturbance. The most basic interference
with a white wall is a mark. Grey could be considered its archetypal colour.
The colour scheme in both White on White and Grey on Grey makes refer-
ence to this. Physical make-up and the siting of the works perform both an
appearance and a non- or dis-appearance; the works oscillate between wall
decoration, interference/noise and camouflage. More specifically, the intri-
cate repetitive pattern of these pieces with its ‘now-you-see-it, now-you-
don’t’ quality, as already described, constitutes the viewer in a way which
Fer has noted as being characteristic of hallucinations, as ‘that swing
between an intensification of vision …to a kind of blanking’ or ‘effacing of
the subject’.
28
It is this swing to which the second part of the title of this article: ‘how
pictures come alive or play dead’ alludes. As Alex Potts has said of installa-
tion art and its relationship to the viewer:
Installation has become part of the general fabric of things in contemporary
culture, and in a way, art feeds on this situation …lulling us into mesmerized
241
Post-production or how pictures come to life or play dead
24. Briony Fer, ‘Objects
beyond Objecthood’,
Oxford Art Journal,
22: 2, 1999, pp. 25–36.
25. ibid., p. 35.
26. ibid.
27. It was only after my
Frankfurt exhibition
that I came across an
article which included
a description of
changeable wallpaper
in the Prada shop in
New York designed by
Rem Koolhaas: ‘This
immense space …is
the site for an installa-
tion in the artistic
sense of the term:
structures and display
units are ‘hung’ like
artworks, while the
immense wallpaper
pasted right along one
wall (the width of the
block) can also be
changed like an
artwork.’ Chantal
Béret, ‘Shed,
Cathedral or
Museum’, in Max
Hollein and Christoph
Grunenberg (eds),
Shopping: A Century of
Art and Consumer
Culture (exhibition
catalogue, Schirn
Kunsthalle, Frankfurt
and Tate Liverpool),
Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje
Cantz Publishers,
2002, p. 78.
28. Fer, ‘Objects beyond
Objecthood’, p. 35.
JVAP_6.3_06_Art_Plezer_.qxd 12/12/07 4:37 PM Page 241
fascination with the spectacle …at the same time stopping us short, inducing
us to reflect on the enticements and disenchantments involved … it engulfs
us at the same time that it can make us aware of the framings and closures
that are also part of the substance of contemporary, consumerist spectacles.
29
In this way, such work – instead of being wholly entrenched in the specta-
cle, or totally resisting it – can be shown to have relevance within a broader
cultural context.
Summary
I have shown how the application of theoretical insights – the ‘post-
production’ of the title – as a form of documentation can assist an artist in
elucidating a process that was initially approached in a mostly pragmatic
fashion. Nicholas Davey’s idea of a hermeneutical aesthetics was drawn
upon to justify the viability of this endeavour. The concept of performativity
has been deployed to trace the cultural significations of the medium, the
exhibition venue, the particular works in the exhibition and the place of
the viewer. Special consideration was given to the hallucinatory quality of
the work and the role of repetition with regard to the performative constitu-
tion of the viewing subject. In this way, the work is deemed to function as
participating in as well as resisting the wider cultural trend of spectacular
commodity production and consumption. It is suggested that the insights
gained through such theoretically inflected documentation or post-produc-
tion become foundational for further practice, both for other artists and
myself. This is equally true, whether post-production relates to the practice
of theory or artistic practice, ideally both. In a future article, I plan to inves-
tigate the particular way in which post-production feeds into production
both theoretically and practically.
References
Althusser, Louis (2000), ‘Ideology Interpellates Individuals as Subjects’ (1969), in
Paul du Gay, Jessica Evans and Peter Redman (eds), Identity: A Reader, London,
Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi: Sage Publications, pp. 31–38.
Béret, Chantal (2002), ‘Shed, Cathedral or Museum’, in Max Hollein and Christoph
Grunenberg (eds), Shopping: A Century of Art and Consumer Culture (exhibition
catalogue, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt and Tate Liverpool), Ostfildern-Ruit:
Hatje Cantz Publishers, p. 78.
Birnbaum, Daniel (2001), ‘From the White Cube to Super Houston, Five Shows in
the Portikus’, Parkett, 63, pp. 187–93.
Buchloh, B. (1984), ‘From Faktura to Factography’, October, 30 (Fall), pp. 82–119.
Butler, Judith (1990), Gender Trouble, Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New
York and London: Routledge.
—— (1993), Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex, New York and
London: Routledge.
Davey, Nicholas (2005), ‘Aesthetic f(r)iction: the conflicts of visual experience’,
Journal of Visual Art Practice, 4: 2 + 3, pp. 135–49
Derrida, Jacques (1993), Memoirs of the Blind, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Didi-Huberman, Georges (1999), Ähnlichkeit und Berührung, Archäologie,
Anachronsimus und Ähnlichkeit des Abdrucks, Cologne: Dumont.
242
Ruth Pelzer-Montada
29. Potts, p. 19.
JVAP_6.3_06_Art_Plezer_.qxd 12/12/07 4:37 PM Page 242
Fer, Briony (1999), ‘Objects beyond Objecthood’, Oxford Art Journal, 22: 2,
pp. 25–36.
—— (2001), ‘The Somnambulist’s Story: Installation and the Tableau’, Oxford Art
Journal, 24: 2, pp. 75–92.
Foucault, Michel (1977), Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and
Interviews, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Kwon, Miwon (1997), ‘One Place After Another: Notes on Site-Specificity’, October,
80 (Spring), pp. 85–110.
Osborne, Peter (1996), ‘Gender as Performance: An Interview with Judith Butler’, in
Peter Osborne (ed.), A Critical Sense: Interviews with Intellectuals, London and
New York: Routledge.
—— (2001), ‘Installation, Performance, or What?’, Oxford Art Journal, 24: 2, pp.
147–54.
Potts, Alex (2001), ‘Installation and Sculpture’, Oxford Art Journal, 24: 2, pp. 5–24.
Salih, Sara (2002), Judith Butler, London and New York: Routledge.
Taylor, Mark C. (2000), The Moment of Complexity: Emerging Network Culture,
Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
Suggested citation
Pelzer-Montada, R. (2007), ‘Post-production or how pictures come to life or play dead’,
Journal of Visual Arts Practice 6: 3, pp. 229–243, doi: 10.1386/jvap.6.3.229/1.
Contributor details
Ruth Pelzer-Montada is lecturer in Art and Visual Culture in the Centre for Visual
and Cultural Studies at Edinburgh College of Art and practising artist with focus on
printmaking/installation. He is completing a practice-led Ph.D. at Duncan of
Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee, on the significance of repetition in relation to
the theory–practice relationship. Contact: Centre for Visual and Cultural Studies,
Edinburgh College of Art, Evolution House, 78 West Port, Edinburgh EH1 2LE.
Tel.: 0131 221 6174
Fax: 0131 221 6163
E-mail: r.pelzer@eca.ac.uk
243
Post-production or how pictures come to life or play dead
JVAP_6.3_06_Art_Plezer_.qxd 12/12/07 4:37 PM Page 243
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JVAP_6.3_06_Art_Plezer_.qxd 12/13/07 11:11 AM Page 244
Journal of Visual Arts Practice Volume 6 Number 3 © 2007 Intellect Ltd
Article. English Language. doi: 10.1386/jvap.6.3.245/1
Andrew Grassie: Document First
Abstract
The following artists pages reproduce five paintings made by Andrew Grassie
between 2003–7. They have been selected by the artist and the editors to demon-
strate how the documenting of a work of art can become the subject of a work itself.
Andrew Grassie was a speaker at Did Hans Namuth kill Jackson Pollock? The
Problem of Documenting the Creative Process symposium, Chelsea College of Art,
2007. He wrote in his abstract, “It is true that the ‘Documentation of Artworks’
whether they be my own or other artists has become a central concern in my prac-
tice. I will attempt to explain how this has come about and what implications there
may be. From my initial awareness of becoming the narrator of my own story, of
standing back and painting myself painting, to the creation of implausible exhibi-
tions that never actually existed. I hope to examine how the actual media and tech-
nique of working closely from a photographic source correlates to this detachment
and comments on the artwork itself. It may touch upon the supposed neutrality of
the ‘slavish copy’ within art photography and the position of authorship, or the
notion of faking your own work. Further more, the gradual documentation of an
artist’s work creates a kind of mausoleum for them and a monument to their life’s
achievement. Aside from the issues of ego and the market’s vested interests, there
seems to be an appetite from a public’s perspective to steal a glimpse behind the art
object as if they might capture some of the magical process that goes into creativity.
It seems to me that there are more and more ‘preserved’ artists studios and archives
around. This ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse has always fascinated me and I may look
a little at whether this actually reveals anything other than a hall of mirrors.”
245
Keywords
Documentation
Painting
Process
JVAP 6 (3) pp. 245–250 © Intellect Ltd 2007
JVAP_6.3_07_art_Grassie 12/12/07 4:38 PM Page 245
246
Rebecca Fortnum and Chris Smith
Figure 1: ‘Abstract Painting ’89’, 12.9 x 19.8cm, Tempera on Paper on Board, 2007.
Courtesy of Maureen Paley.
JVAP_6.3_07_art_Grassie 12/12/07 4:38 PM Page 246
247
The Problem of Documenting Fine Art Practices and Processes
JVAP_6.3_07_art_Grassie 12/12/07 4:38 PM Page 247
248
Rebecca Fortnum and Chris Smith
Figure 3: ‘The Framing of the Painting: Derbyshire Frames’, 12 x 18cm, Tempera
on Paper on Board, 2003.
Courtesy of Maureen Paley.
Figure 2: ‘The Making of the Painting’, 12 x 18cm, Tempera on Paper on Board,
2002.
Courtesy of Maureen Paley.
JVAP_6.3_07_art_Grassie 12/12/07 11:14 PM Page 248
249
The Problem of Documenting Fine Art Practices and Processes
Figure 4: ‘The Photographing of the Painting: FXP Photography’, 12 x 18cm,
Tempera on Paper on Board, 2004.
Courtesy of Maureen Paley.
Figure 5: ‘Private: Office.’ 15.1 x 24.3cm, Tempera on Paper on Board, 2006.
Courtesy of Maureen Paley.
JVAP_6.3_07_art_Grassie 12/12/07 11:14 PM Page 249
Suggested citation
Grassie, A. (2007), ‘Andrew Grassie: Document First’, Journal of Visual Arts Practice,
6: 3, pp. 245–250, doi: 10.1386/jvap.6.3.245/1.
Contributor detail
Andrew Grassie was educated at St. Martin’s School of Art BA Hons (1984–1988)
and the Royal College of Art 1988–1990 (MA Painting). Recent solos shows include
Installation, Maureen Paley, London (2006), Private, Sperone Westwater, New York,
(2006) and New Hang, Art Now, Tate Britain, London in 2005. Group shows since
2004 include Very Abstract Hyper Figurative, Thomas Dane, London; The Studio,
Dublin City Art Gallery; Wrong Galerie Klosterfelde, Berlin; Territory, The Arts
Gallery, University of the Arts, London; News from Nowhere, Lucy Mackintosh,
Lausanne. Switzerland; Edge of the Real, Whitechapel Gallery, London; Galleria
Fabjbasaglia, Rimini, Italy; In Search of the Real George Elliot, The Hatton Gallery.
Newcastle; If You Go Down To The Woods Today, Rockwell, London; John Moores
23, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool and Size Matters, Arts Council Touring Show, UK.
250
Rebecca Fortnum and Chris Smith
JVAP_6.3_07_art_Grassie 12/12/07 4:38 PM Page 250
Journal of Visual Arts Practice Volume 6 Number 3 © 2007 Intellect Ltd
Article. English Language. doi: 10.1386/jvap.6.3.251/1
Apocotropes
Dutton and Peacock
The Dog and Duck
Dutton and Swindells
Steve Dutton Coventry School of Art and Design,
Coventry University
Abstract
The article focuses on the relationship between the documentation of an art
work and the art work itself by citing two projects by the artists Steve Dutton
and Steve Swindells. The article suggests that the artists were attempting to blur
the relationships between the work of art and its documentation by creating
both simultaneously.
These photos (Apocotropes) were made by the then collaborative duo of
Dutton and Peacock (Steve Dutton and Percy Peacock) back in or around
1999/2000. Many of the concerns we were working with then ring true for
me still, particularly the question, ‘where is the work?’
Being at a loss to know what to do and how to proceed in our new stu-
dio after a period when we had been teaching a lot and not having any time
to work, we set about creating a ‘fake’ site of production. If we could not
‘actually’ work then maybe we could just pretend. We imagined what the
space would look like in the production of some as yet unidentifiable art
work which we would have liked to have been making. Of course by creating
what was effectively a stage set we began to occupy the space in a slightly
different way, ‘acting’ as artists allowed us to start to feel like artists again.
Inevitably as we began to think that something interesting might be
happening we realized that we needed to document the process (as artists
‘proper’ documenting ourselves as artists ‘acting’).This was not straightfor-
ward though. We were aware that by documenting the process we were
putting it somewhere which might stop us from being able to consider it
still as acting. By framing it, we were of course freezing it, and making it
into art. In the process of documenting this work we found that certain
‘sets’ and certain photographs of the sets were more engaging than others.
The act of documenting, by its act of framing (actually staging the stage)
was starting to generate the work without there actually being any ‘work’ to
document in the first place.
Although we took the usual huge amount of photos of the process the
only photos that meant anything to us were the ones we were tightly framing.
So, after initially just taking snaps of the process we decided to get more
251 JVAP 6 (3) pp. 251–256 © Intellect Ltd 2007
Keywords
art/documentation
installation/
performance
text/image
JVAP_6.3_08_Art_Dutton.qxd 12/12/07 4:39 PM Page 251
formal about it and set up a large format camera at the end of the studio
space in a fixed position. We made a number of sets in this way and found
the three shown here to be the most interesting for us.
A piece of work made six years later by myself and Steve Swindells goes
into the matter further. The text piece ‘Tales from the Dog and Duck’, with
slight variations was exhibited twice, firstly as part of our show ‘Text + Work =
Work’ at Text + Work, The Arts Institute at Bournemouth in early 2006, fol-
lowed by the version shown here, which was shown as part of our installa-
tion ‘Tales from the Dog and Duck’, shown at Kookmin Gallery in Seoul
later in that same year. The Text was installed as a large solid block of text
on both occasions, making it awkward to read. The text attempted to
address itself as a work in its own right, refusing to be demoted either to
the status of reflection or document, or promoted to the status of art.
It could be said that the aim of both the photographs and the text was to
disrupt the relationships between what is supposedly a document, a work,
a critical reading, a story or a performance and to address the question of
whether any of these classifications are of any use to us whatsoever. If any-
thing, the approach to documentation, be it through a text or an image, was
to make another set of relations, which would themselves be in need of
documentation at some point further down the line.
Steve Dutton
July 2007
252
Steve Dutton
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253
Apocotropes, Dutton and Peacock, The Dog and Duck, Dutton and Swindells
JVAP_6.3_08_Art_Dutton.qxd 12/12/07 11:16 PM Page 253
We write, in the presence of a potential, as it were, of objects of art placed
in a gallery, with an over-arching remit which concerns the production of
form with uncertain intent; or to be more precise the production of form
that is unable to set its sights on anything other than the site of its own
production. This potential vagrancy creates ‘hungry’ circumstances; any form
is under pressure by being traded, collected and ultimately tested as to its
performance as a piece of work. Its very performance is under scrutiny from
the critically reflective demand of the space and its curator. This compels us
to ask something of this division, between the production of form and the
production of meaning in respect of what makes art work. We imagine, ini-
tially, that the divisions are propositional, for the sake of a moniker per-
haps, or to suggest the presence of a critically engaged practice or
institution, the assumption being that an exhibition suggests a resolution
towards meaning, whereas rejections in the studio intimates practice as
something other to meaning. This would make sense considering the loca-
tion of the gallery within an academic institution and an aura it might seek
to create. In terms of production, which is the work and where is meaning
really situated? The issue within these ‘tales’ then, is not only the content
and visual style in which they may be publicly presented, but rather the sug-
gestion that they might collapse into academic observance, protocol and
potential closure and if they do, the proposition that this closure may elimi-
nate their potential as art. After all, is not an exhibition, in terms of artistic
practice at least, all about the openness of the work itself and, the work, the
labour, of the reader or viewer in interpretation? In order to stimulate a
presence of work within the ‘Dog and Duck’, our approach to the exhibition
254
Steve Dutton
JVAP_6.3_08_Art_Dutton.qxd 12/12/07 11:16 PM Page 254
is one of (mild) resistance. This resistance is itself made visible with the
aid of strategic refusals, one of which is, most crucially, the refusal to exile a
profound sense of doubt from the idea of work – so a subtle system of
feints hazards a form of existence as work. We propose then that these
‘tales’ are to be conceived as ‘work’ in a reciprocal relationship to whatever
is not in the ‘Dog and Duck’. We liken this process to collage, where we
might meld documentary significance adjacent to the uninformative, deco-
rative or fictive. In short, the ‘Dog and Duck’ is rendered into the context of
the processes of work by being placed within the space of ‘work’, attaching
itself to the not so unique aura of the art work, that is, on this occasion, the
gallery itself. We are interested in the fact that a series of tales and work
both may operate in the interstices between reading, looking and listening,
which involves not just the production of writing, but also graphic or archi-
tectural design and a horizon of modalities that may be quite different to a
world of cultural theorizing. We are already prone to producing unstable
inscriptions on the image/text boundary; the incentive being these uncer-
tainties may lead to quasi-theoretical or quasi-poetic eruptions within the
conventions of contemporary cultural production. The destination of ‘Tales
from the Dog and Duck’ is not only unknown at the point of production
but, in a get out clause familiar to many frustrated arts administrators, con-
tinuously evolving. In its defence, against accusations of clear intent, the
resistance to protocol and closure in the production of tales reveals strange
distances, borne out of the process of collage itself. These distances lie in
the wake of a resistance to another aspect of work, of forced labour (which
is often pushed to the exhaustion of the vital force of the individual and
his/her progeny) sidling toward a furious passion for the idea of work as a
fundamental aspect of being alive. Relief to forced labour is often found in
the ‘Dog and Duck’. Instead of opposing this mental aberration, this
impossible tension between work as one thing and work as another, we are
caught in its cast as it becomes a sacred halo under which we are transfixed.
We will never know if we are truly emancipated from the thing to which we
are indebted for setting us free. The obligation to work never ceases its
interrogation, its registration of demand: it institutionalizes, professionalizes
and rewards its own pursuit with more work. Work works. Likewise, for the
professional artist, work can only ever be traded as a value if it ‘works’; that
is, if it ‘does’ something. In contemporary art terms, successful work can
range from appearing to disturb or disrupt the norm, shake the masses out
of their semi-hypnotized states, critically affect, stir the emotions, send us
to sleep, affect social change, affect magic, make money or maintain a
cultural hierarchy, amongst a host of other hierarchies. In seeming opposition
to this, the amateur artist does not think of his/her creations as work, but
as something silhouetted against work. It is precisely the sensibility of a
hobby or interest in relation to work which makes it pleasurable and gives a
sense of value to the process. Does the amateur consider if their creations are
‘working’? Does the amateur even consider the idea of ‘work’ at all? The
affectation of art as work serves to delineate that which is professional
against that which is not, that which is serious against that which is flippant
and this delineation is understood through the presence of text, or critical
debate. It is a depressing thought that the professional makes ‘work’ and
‘texts’, the amateur makes ‘pictures’ and ‘stories’, and the ‘Dog and Duck’
255
Apocotropes, Dutton and Peacock, The Dog and Duck, Dutton and Swindells
JVAP_6.3_08_Art_Dutton.qxd 12/12/07 4:40 PM Page 255
is a site of convergence that serves both. A similar division was made in the
excellent, but sadly now defunct, American/Australian art magazine Art/
Text through the 1990s. In this case, the signal of the word text tells us that
the art is there to be read, like any other sign in the complex web of signs
that make up our worlds. The effect is to legitimatize the untethered effects
of the work by framing it within the cupped hands of theoretical critique
and thus integrity. This cupping never really allows theory to touch the
work but carefully frames it within its protective enclosure, indeed, often in
order to protect it from the critical aspects of the very theory by which it
seeks to be framed. Victor Burgin amongst others has always maintained
this theoretical cupping was subordinate to the demands of the art market.
In short, the presence of text does what countless thousands of art stu-
dents (and numerous artists) have felt it necessary to do over the years;
that is, to justify and legitimize the idea of the work as ‘work’, which once
done, allows the work (or indeed the market and the pub) to proceed as
normal, as pictures and stories. What is at stake in the ‘Dog and Duck’ is
the complex delineation of a profession.
Dutton and Swindells 2006
Suggested citation
Dutton, S. (2007), ‘Apocotropes, Dutton and Peacock, The Dog and Duck,
Dutton and Swindells’, Journal of Visual Arts Practice 6: 3, pp. 251–256,
doi: 10.1386/jvap.6.3.251/1
Contributor details
Steve Dutton works as an artist both collaboratively with Swindells and individually.
His projects have been exhibited throughout the United Kingdom and internation-
ally, in Txtrapolis at NAFA in Singapore, Kookmin Gallery in Seoul, Text + Work in
Poole UK, CAFKA, in Kitchener, Ontario; Mercer Union Centre for Contemporary Art
in Toronto and Sheppard Fine Arts, Reno. Artwords press has recently published
‘Misleading Epiphenomena’, a collaboration between Dutton, Swindells and archi-
tectural theorist, Barbara Penner. He is Professor in Creative Practice at Coventry
School of Art and Design. Contact: Professor in Creative Practice, Coventry
University, Priory Street, Coventry, CV1 5FB, UK.
Tel: 024 768 88623
E-mail: S.Dutton@coventry.ac.uk
256
Steve Dutton
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Journal of Visual Arts Practice Volume 6 Number 3 © 2007 Intellect Ltd
Article. English Language. doi: 10.1386/jvap.6.3.257/1
Considering If…Then…Else…
Mary Maclean University of Reading
Abstract
Artists engage in the production of their work through a number of strategies.
This written reflection investigates the methodologies of my practice as an artist,
focusing on the development of an individual work, a single photograph. It
explores a discussion of three fundamental elements of the photographic image:
time, space and light. Reference is made to the critical writing of Marc Augé.
Literary and visual influences are explored in the effort to locate the intentions
for the work. The work’s material form takes its cue from the underlying conceptual
aspiration.
This work was made in collaboration with the Visual Intelligences Research
Project at The Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts, Lancaster
University and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. It was
published as part of the exhibition Inspiration to Order first shown at California
State University Stanislas’ Gallery in October 2006.
257 JVAP 6 (3) pp. 257–267 © Intellect Ltd 2007
Keywords
art
Augé
documentation
photography
process
JVAP_6.3_09_art_Mclean 12/14/07 6:11 PM Page 257
258
Mary Maclean
JVAP_6.3_09_art_Mclean 12/14/07 6:11 PM Page 258
259
Considering If…Then…Else…
Figure 1:
If…Then…Else, silver
gelatin photograph,
96cm x 109cm, 2006.
JVAP_6.3_09_art_Mclean 12/14/07 6:11 PM Page 259
We …are animated by a constant fragile calculus of remembering and forget-
ting, a constant tug and pull between memory and oblivion, each an inverted
trace of the other.
(Young 2004)
Eccentric Spaces is on at Frith Street gallery. I make a connection between
the ‘eccentric’ of the title and the slant the term is given in an essay Chris
Horrocks (2001) wrote for I’m Wary at Five Years gallery, linking it to an
unstable, precarious, away-from-the-centre mode of viewing. My mind was
not really on exhibitions. There was no focus beforehand on what I was going
to see. When I enter the gallery space a film is running, its images
engulfed by the soundtrack. It projects in an indeterminate bluish hue. A
figure flees through the enclosed spaces, its movement the result of
startling agility. Images of baroque fountained opulence flood the narra-
tive, offering a space of uncertain fantasy. The film’s architecture is expe-
rienced uneasily – it is neither completely the fictions of a scaled-down
model nor the realities of an existing space. The projection unfolds in a
rhapsody of scenes that are furtive, archetypical, unreal, urgent. I am
reminded of relationships to other places which are not experienced: a
postcard I have in a drawer – Potsdam, Schloss Sanssouci, Musikzimmer –
shows a view of an interior I have never visited, the narratives attaching to
its existence expanding endlessly. Downstairs in the gallery a strange
alliance of improbable romance and familiar mundanity takes place. The
film shows in a succession of lingering moments a sequence of follies
and grottoes. The camera is static as a matter of fact. These obdurate
pieces of architecture are tied to the present moment through the incident
of ongoing sound and movement captured in the film. The follies might
have been built with reference to the artifice of ruin; in the contemporary
world they become that very thing. More than engaging with the erosions
of the past, they seem to point to a fascination with the incomplete, the
yet-to-transpire.
I am in the library. There is the usual flat winter light coming in from the
window and some library users more or less absorbed at the desks. The
space is on the third floor so the scene outside is sliced off, the top of trees,
the top of buildings, a partial segment of a network of roads. The space out-
side seems infinite, the space inside sticks to itself.
Next time I visit I bring a 35mm camera and use about half a film. Later
I make a planned visit with a medium format camera and tripod. So much
of the sense of the finished work spins out from this first moment with the
camera. I am aware of the imperative to make optimum use of the time.
Each decision attaching to the how of photography seems crucial. I tend to
use more film than I need in an effort to ensure that I achieve the presence
of the initial concept. I make choices which go against what I want, that
seem unlikely, just to split open the chance of locating what I think is there.
I am conscious of the variations in the light. These subtleties affect what I
have considered I may be able to achieve, the sense of re-imagining that
first slate grey encounter with the space.
You know, that was the first story I wrote. But it’s not wholly a story … it’s a
kind of essay, and then I think that in that story you get a feeling of tiredness
260
Mary Maclean
JVAP_6.3_09_art_Mclean 12/14/07 6:11 PM Page 260
and scepticism, no? Because you think of Menard as coming at the end of a very
long literary period, and he comes at the moment when he finds he doesn’t want
to encumber the world with any more books. And that, although his fate is to be
a literary man, he’s not out for fame. He’s writing for himself and he decides to
do something very, very unobtrusive, he’ll rewrite a book that is already there, and
very much there, Don Quixote. And then, of course, that story has the idea …
that every time a book is read or reread, then something happens to the book.
(Borges 1967)
Some years ago I visited an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery which
was a collection of August Sander’s photographs. I retain a dutiful recollec-
tion of Sander’s highly skilled vision but also a more explicit memory of a
photograph of two women, the arms resting beside the stomach, the way
the fabric of the dress hung across this stomach, the solidity of the stance
which seemed to offer an exact correspondence to unvisited memories of
various relations in Germany from my mother’s side. I could not reconcile
the detachment of Sander’s approaches with the power of this one image to
elicit such a sensate, unbidden response.
Within the unpeopled architectural space that I photograph, the nature
of the space is highlighted, encouraging a focus on the qualities adhering to
its structure. The chosen spaces are anonymous, off to the side, unremark-
able. But they act as powerful witnesses to a mode of existence and carry
the traces of that existence.
We are always searching for something hidden or merely potential or hypo-
thetical, following its traces wherever they appear on the surface…. The word
connects the visible trace with the invisible thing, the absent thing, the thing
that is desired or feared, like a frail emergency bridge flung over an abyss.
(Calvino 1996)
Near the end of a study trip to New York a friend recommends a visit to the
Swiss Institute where ‘Five Billion Years’ is showing. A slide projector runs
in the gallery space, throwing a light square onto the wall. Within the mech-
anism is a gathering of dust, projecting a just discernable opacity on the
wall. The projection alternates between sharpness and blur as the lens
works to establish focal distance, the ongoing rhythm tracks a movement of
inflation and deflation, paralleling the act of breathing.
Sometimes a suspicion is in my mind that to photograph a space is not
to interpret, make new or disturb but simply to avail yourself of a copying
device which links itself uncritically to the perception of reality.
I decide to introduce the device of drawing into the photographic space.
The act of cutting into the surface of the photograph seems exciting, momen-
tarily transgressive, breaking its apparently unbreakable connection to reality.
The pared-down language of an intricate arrangement of lines allows me to
impose a mesh of fantasy across the cool, untouchable surface. I work with a
selection of ready-made vistas, mountain backdrops, lakeside scenes taken
from slides of anonymous holiday scenes that I collected. I trace elements of
these back onto the photographs. The two languages remain irreconcilable.
These efforts do not resolve themselves into completed pieces of work. They
do, however, allow me to move towards a new position of thought.
261
Considering If…Then…Else…
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A complex relation to the functions of time seems possible within the
individual photograph. Instead of a succession of filmed fractions of a sec-
ond as experienced in film, the photograph makes only an abrupt, single
insertion into the world yet succeeds in filling that insertion with a mass of
unstated relations to time. The single frame seems to imply events prior to
and succeeding the moment of the image, working uncannily on an incon-
clusiveness that we might experience in the perception of time.
We are all sensitive to the splendours of beginnings, to the rare quality of
those moments when the present is freed from the past without as yet letting
anything shine through of the future that sets it into motion. Beyond their
sadness and desolation, what is fascinating about the shapeless scenery of
the most developed urban life (airports, parking lots, cement covered squares
where anonymous silhouettes pass each other without stopping) is their
unconscious resemblance to the almost abstract, barely outlined spaces of
courtly romances…. If one day we should lose this dark desire for encounter
and renewal that moves us now and then, would we not be dead without real-
izing it, before our time, thereby taking away from death the poetic power that
is attached to everything we can ‘see coming’ from afar?
(Augé 2004)
After I have processed the negatives I start to imagine how I can achieve a
deadpan quality to the image. There should be an absence of weight, each
element level with itself.
When I look at the negatives, I am surprised at the way the light has
emphasized and de-emphasized certain details. One frame includes some
institutional furniture that seems to make the image too heavy. The posi-
tion of the camera in another gives a dramatic perspective to the edge of
the table so this has to go too. I set the camera at close range, focusing on
elements that seemed peripheral to the purpose of the space, part of a
table, a section of thickly painted wall, the view from the window. This selec-
tion, which looks at a small part only of the overall space, is intended to
propose to the viewer a recognition of further moments and spaces,
tracked through a sensory response to the image. The metallic hue gives a
dull reflectivity, implicating the viewer back into the space of the image.
Depth is hidden. Where? On the surface.
(Hofmannsthal 1996)
I decide to attend a symposium ‘Lost Horizons’ at Camberwell College of
Art. The symposium is an element of a project circling the questions of
cultural eclecticism, global structures and the representations of geo-
graphical site. As part of the proceedings Juan Cruz is introduced. As he is
about to move to the front, there is a fumbled exchange – will he describe
his contribution? Shaking his head, he is already in the mode of perform-
ing his work. Over a sequence of 80 slides, which show a Spanish town’s
buildings, roads and adjacent views, the artist delivers an inventory of the
town’s physical layout, almost in the language of a surveyor’s report with
occasional hints at the urban site’s historical links to industry. It is voiced
in a series of abrupt cuts across English and Spanish, each language
262
Mary Maclean
JVAP_6.3_09_art_Mclean 12/14/07 6:11 PM Page 262
segment isolated in self-containment but lodged in a continuity through
the flat line of the artist’s voice. This flatness, forming an archive of
reduced statements transmitted through a web of aural and visual threads,
seems to imbue the work inversely with a far greater resonance than stated
on its surface.
Julia Kristeva is in a discussion on her new work of fiction at the French
Institute. The conversation suggests it will have as its focus the divergence
and convergence of the paths of theoretical writing and writing which forms
itself around the structures of the novel.
In part it is a defence of the attractions of writing through the device of
fiction, working through a sensorial language that becomes possible in the
novel. This intimate endeavour is new; she discusses ‘risk’ as the creative
act’s precise word. She describes the form of the novel is ‘a narrative of
metaphysical inquiry’. This seems to centre fiction back amongst the great-
est critical undertakings. I am fascinated by this discussion of the inter-
twined positions of the essay and the novel. The oscillation across fact,
flight and fantasy seems to be the very point to which we continually return.
Driving home I hear an interview with her on Radio 3’s ‘Night Waves’.
Elliptically she circles the same points, offering responses to the same
questions, structuring the reply with the same vocal intonation so that I
find myself wrapped in a curious reception process, unable to distinguish
between precedent and hindsight.
I decide to revisit the paradox of density and emptiness. As a student I
saw Constable’s cloud studies in one of the galleries at the Victoria & Albert
Museum. These studies were so empty, seemingly void of a subject, yet
were weighty, showing the speed and drag of the paint. They had an
assertive completion about them, very much physically present, but tied to
a description of semi-translucent ephemera.
When I first got in the building I did not want to ask anybody where
these paintings were – I just wanted to stumble across them with the help
of a map. There were two floors with British art and I wandered through
both sections. I did not see them. I asked one of the guards who gave me a
long explanation of how they used to hang in the Henry Cole wing but she
really was not sure where they were now and that I should go to the Prints
and Drawing Study area and they would be able to help me. Through a
heavy glass door, I entered another environment. Sign your name and
address and the woman over there will be able to help you. Yes, she knew
the studies I was referring to and they were on second floor – about ten of
them, she said. Would I like to look at the catalogue of all the works by
Constable held by the Victoria & Albert Museum? After apologizing for not
being able to find it as it was only her second day at work since everything
had moved there, the catalogues did turn up and she brought them over
and said I was very welcome to look at them and I could come back another
day and ask to have works brought out as it was too late today. I leafed
through the catalogues, extremely similar versions of each other, and saw a
whole lot of reference numbers at the back in the category ‘cloud studies’
but they did not match up to the images or the descriptions. I eventually
found the paintings and they did form quite a large group. But there were
only two images which were totally clouds, the others, although the main
point was the sky, had scenes of activity, suggestions of landscape.
263
Considering If…Then…Else…
JVAP_6.3_09_art_Mclean 12/14/07 6:11 PM Page 263
264
Mary Maclean
In choosing an interior viewpoint when encountering a space, it is the
physically contained entity I want to emphasize; the space into which the
visitor is absorbed so that a mutuality transpires between the individual
and the physicality of the surrounding space. These spaces are available
and encountered countless times in everyday life. They are places in which
the individual might not want to linger.
The photographs are large scale. There is a physicality to the work that
runs counter to the habitual thin membrane of the photographic surface.
I prepare an aluminium sheet, brushing layers of silver gelatin onto the
surface, so that the image has an embedded quality, seeming to exist
inside the metal. There is a specific tactility to the work not normally
associated with the photographic; each image bearing the autography of
its making. Small irregularities and the drag of the brush slightly disturb
the perfection of the photographic finish, creating the sense of an image
that is not quite pinned down. The uncertainty is worked into the sensu-
ousness of the surface. The medium of the silver gelatin captures an
unexpected depth and in this sense the encounter for the viewer with the
image is slowed.
I am reminded of a hallucinatory moment in Borges’ Funes the
Memorious (1971):
We, at one glance, can perceive three glasses on a table; Funes, all the leaves
and tendrils and fruit that make up a grapevine. He knew by heart the forms
of the southern clouds at dawn on 30 April 1882, and could compare them in
his memory with the mottled streaks on a book in Spanish binding he had
only seen once and with the outlines of the foam raised by an oar in the Río
Negro the night before the Quebracho uprising. These memories were not
simple ones; each visual image was linked to muscular sensations, thermal
sensations, etc. He could reconstruct all his dreams, all his half-dreams. Two
or three times he had reconstructed a whole day; he never hesitated, but each
reconstruction had required a whole day.
I am curious about the qualities of emptiness – faceless, withdrawn,
absent, offering through this facelessness a screen that fascinates, inversely
shot through with the potential to signify.
I make some last decisions about what I will include in the frame of
If…Then…Else…
I want the work to achieve a restlessness between its elements, giving it
a perplexing evenness in priority so that the location of the ‘subject’
becomes hard to track. The distinguishing features of the interior space
unhinge themselves: they are made to exist in relation to another, more
abstracted space of reverie and escape. The work ties itself to a single place,
a library, meshed into the particularities of that site. At the same time it
resists devotion to this specificity, opening up the image to a wider space
that is recognized as culturally systematized.
JVAP_6.3_09_art_Mclean 12/14/07 6:11 PM Page 264
265
Considering If…Then…Else…
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JVAP_6.3_09_art_Mclean 12/17/07 4:36 PM Page 265
References
Anger, Kenneth (1953), Eaux d’Artifice, running time: 12 minutes, starring: Camilla
Salvatorelli, directed by: Kenneth Anger, Italy/USA.
Augé, Marc (2004), ‘The Three Figures of Oblivion’, in Oblivion, Minneapolis, MN:
University of Minnesota Press, p. 81.
Borges, Jorge Luis (1971), Funes the Memorious, Labyrinths, Penguin Modern
Classics, p. 91.
—— (1998), interview with Richard Burgin 1967, ‘The Living Labarynth of Literature;
Some Major Work; Nazis; Detective Stories; Ethics, Violence, and the Problem
of Time…’, in Richard Burgin (ed.), Conversations, Minneapolis, University Press
of Mississipi.
Calvino, Italo (1996), ‘Exactitude’, in Six Memos for the Next Millennium, New York:
Vintage, p. 77.
Constable, John (1776–1837), Study of cirrus clouds about 1822, Study of clouds dated
Sept. 5, 1822, visit to the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, January 2005.
Cruz, Juan (1997), Sancti Petri.
Eccentric Spaces (April 2005), group exhibition of Kenneth Anger, Edwina Ashton,
Volker Eichelmann, John Riddy, Thomas Schutte and Bridget Smith at Frith
Street Gallery London.
Eichelmann, Volker (2004), Folllies and Grottoes, ongoing project.
Five Billion Years (April 2004), group exhibition including François Curlet,
Philippe Decrauzat, Ceal Floyer, Tony Matelli, Jonathan Monks and Hiroshi
Sugimoto, curated by Marc-Olivier Wahler, Swiss Institute, 495 Broadway,
New York.
Floyer, Ceal (2002), Autofocus Light projection with Leica Pradovit P-150 projector and
Unicol telescopic tilting stand, Dimensions variable.
Hofmannsthal, Hugo von (1996), quoted in Six Memos for the Next Millennium, Italo
Calvino, Vintage, Exactitude, p. 77.
Horrocks, Christopher (September 2001), Anamorphosis Now, unpublished essay on
I’m Wary, a collaboration between Mary Maclean and Sally Morfill at Five Years
Gallery London.
Kristeva, Julia (March 2006), the theorist, the novelist with Professor Marian
Hobson and Professor Stephen Frosh, on the occasion of the publication of
Murder in Byzantium, French Institute.
Lost Horizons (May 2000), a project by Melanie Jackson, Camberwell College of
Arts.
Sander, August (June 1997), ‘In Photography There Are no Unexplained Shadows!’,
National Portrait Gallery London.
Young, James E. (2004), foreword to Oblivion by Marc Augé, Minneapolis, MN:
University of Minnesota Press.
Suggested citation
Maclean, M. (2007), ‘Considering If...Then...Else...’, Journal of Visual Arts Practice 6: 3,
pp. 257–267, doi: 10.1386/jvap.6.3.257/1.
Contributor details
Mary Mclean is currently Lecturer in the Fine Art Department at the University of
Reading. Mary Maclean studied at the Royal College of Art, the Rijk Academy
Amsterdam and Glasgow School of Art. She was Visiting Fellow in Painting at
266
Mary Maclean
JVAP_6.3_09_art_Mclean 12/14/07 6:11 PM Page 266
Winchester School of Art. Awards include a Pollock Krasner Foundation Award and
the Abbey Award in Painting at the British School at Rome.
Solo shows include: Before, The Room, London (2007); Almost Nothing, Neutral
Space, Brighton (2006); Somewhere ... fast, Belfast Exposed, Belfast (2004); and Still
Moves, East 73
rd
gallery, London (2002). She has participated in group shows includ-
ing Trace ... between record and recall, The University of Greenwich (2006), No par-
ticular place to go, Apt gallery, London (2004), Fiona Crisp, Mary Maclean, Ozhang,
Seven Worcester Terrace, Bath (2003) and Residual Property, Portfolio gallery,
Edinburgh (2000). Contact:
E-mail: m.c.maclean@reading.ac.uk
267
Considering If…Then…Else…
JVAP_6.3_09_art_Mclean 12/17/07 4:37 PM Page 267
Index – Volume 6
Baldwin, M., Ramsden, M., and Harrison, C., Now They Are Surrounded, pp. 13–31.
Barrett, E., Experiential learning in practice as research: context, method, knowledge,
pp. 115–124.
Beech, A., Don’t fight it: the embodiment of critique, pp. 61–71.
Breakell, S., and Worsley, V., Collecting the traces: an archivist’s perspective,
pp. 175–189.
Crouch, C., Praxis and the reflexive creative practitioner, pp. 105–114.
Dutton, S., Apocotropes, Dutton and Peacock, The Dog and Duck, Dutton and
Swindells, pp. 249–253.
Fortnum, R., and Smith, C., The Problem of Documenting Fine Art Practices and
Processes, pp. 167–174.
Francis, M.A., Dirty work: art beyond ‘autonomy’, pp. 33–44.
Grassie, A., Andrew Grassie: Document First, pp. 245–248.
Halsall, F., No medium just a shell: how works of art configure their medium,
pp. 45–59.
Imani, Y., Knowledge creation, business and art: exploring the contradictions and
commonalities, pp. 141–153.
Jarvis, M., Articulating the tacit dimension in artmaking, pp. 201–213.
Johnson, M., ‘The stone that was cast out shall become the cornerstone’: the bodily
aesthetics of human meaning, pp. 89–103.
Maclean, M., Considering If...Then...Else..., pp. 257–267.
McVittie, F., Top-down and bottom-up approaches to actor training, pp. 155–163.
Niedderer, K., and Reilly, L., New knowledge in the creative disciplines – proceed-
ings of the first, Experiential Knowledge Conference 2007, pp. 81–87.
Pelzer-Montada, R., Post-production or how pictures come to life or play dead,
pp. 229–243.
Riley, H., Beyond the horizon: future directions for the teaching of visual arts prac-
tice, pp. 73–80.
Sandino, L., Relating process: accounts of influence in the life history interview,
pp. 191–199.
Smith, C., and Reilly, L., What work does the artwork do? A question for art,
pp. 5–12.
Sutherland, I., and Krzys, S., Thinking with art: from situated knowledge to experi-
ential knowing, pp. 125–140.
Whiteley, N., Seeing what, how and why: the ARTnews series, 1953–58, pp. 215–228.
268
JVAP 6 (3) Index © Intellect Ltd 2007
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Journal of
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Journal of
Visual Arts Practice
Volume 6 Number 3 – 2007
167–174 Special Edition Editorial
The Problem of Documenting Fine Art Practices and Processes
Rebecca Fortnum and Chris Smith
Articles
175–189 Collecting the traces: an archivist’s perspective
Sue Breakell and Victoria Worsley
191–199 Relating process: accounts of influence in the life history interview
Linda Sandino
201–213 Articulating the tacit dimension in artmaking
Michael Jarvis
215–228 Seeing what, how and why: the ARTnews series, 1953–58
Nigel Whiteley
229–243 Post-production or how pictures come to life or play dead
Ruth Pelzer-Montada
245–250 Andrew Grassie: Document First
Andrew Grassie
251–256 Apocotropes, Dutton and Peacock, The Dog and Duck, Dutton and
Swindells
Steve Dutton
257–267 Considering If...Then...Else...
Mary Maclean
268 Index
9 771470 202003
ISSN 1470-2029
6 3
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