At this mid-way point in my PhD, I had some very clear objectives in mind for the residency at the very wonderful Sidney Nolan Trust in Powys. Following the PhD Transfer from probationary to confirmed last October, the intensive studio, workshop and exhibition-based research of Merzwomen & the Daughters of Dada brought me to the point where I needed to consider anew my research question and approach to the form, content and structure of the thesis. Analysis of the practice work and combing through my notebooks ensured that I had gathered together all the relevant elements.
The opportunity of working through this alongside fellow researchers at Sidney Nolan Trust brought forth the following:
Launching Lines of Enquiry
Planning Performance (2018) was timetabled for 7.40pm on the exhibition night. Having thought through and committed myself to the relevant keywords of my thesis, made brief by the potentially lengthy process of printmaking, I spent the day working on the black elastic Lines of Enquiry. They were wrapped at intervals in coloured vinyl to indicate how the ground of mapped-out research might be covered. Thinking about this whilst making it, the work became an expandable and retractable metaphor. Beginning with taping intersections together if they actually touched, I worked within enclosed areas, stretching as far as I could get to. I then moved to another area and after a while began to realise that the lines were beginning to join up. I decided to keep working until either the time or the materials ran out. I had more than enough material and so the time ran out first. In anticipation of having long stretches of elastic without any visible signs of attention, I quickly made ‘notes’ to come back to, pieces of vinyl wrapped round the elastic with bigger spaces in between.
Whilst negotiating the terrain of the Lines of Enquiry, being bitten by insects, sliding around in all manner of animal droppings and avoiding holes and lumpy ground, I saw the work from different perspectives. This included close up, from various distances, looking down and across and most interestingly, from underneath. This made me think about how intersections which appear close from above can have bigger gaps when viewed whilst squatting down, to the same or below their level. This reinforced what I already am aware of in practice and research – never to assume: look again, pay attention and take note.
The lines had been set out in the paddock in an accessible space adjacent to the gazebo where drinks were served. I stood on a tree stump to announce an invitation to participate in getting in amongst the lines. This was followed by the launch which involved cutting the 16 lines from the barn, fence posts and trees they were wrapped around, with a short, if any, explanation. I did mean to add a couple of sentences to each, but missed some. This was because of circumstances which were only revealed in the doing.
I introduced the work with reference to Ellen Jeffrey, a practice-based dance researcher who I’d recently seen presenting at Artful Research Symposium, MMU. I was interested in developing my approach along the lines of the non-hierarchical cat’s cradle, as a way of structuring research which she had introduced and demonstrated through dance. It seemed a good method to try out with a view to drawing out potential resonances between all elements of my thesis.
By coincidence, my place on the residency came about because Ellen couldn’t make it, so it felt appropriate to include an aspect of her work tangentially in her absence.
I briefly described German artist, Kurt Schwitters in relation to my PhD and showed the intaglio printing plate with my new succinct research question cut out back to front in card:
The Material Thinking Through of Selected Aspects of Kurt Schwitters’ Merz.
I then edged my way around and at times outside the paddock, cutting the elastic lines, which sprung back in the direction of the audience. The non-hierarchical order of the following keywords and themes came about during the preparation of the static piece of work in the barn, dictated by the width of the table-top showing the corresponding mono prints.
- Assume the Schwitters Position: a strategy and acknowledgment of Schwitters in my research opportunity.
- Chance: no comment – distracted by physicality of task.
- Capture the Rupture & Recovery: activated by, for example, cutting the elastic.
- ArtBookObject: the intended form of the thesis.
- Nomadic Thinking: as theoretical underpinning, which elicited a big laugh from the audience as I skidded slightly on horse manure.
- Material Thinking: activated, for instance, in this performance.
- Remainders: brief explanation of materials used such as found objects and left-overs.
- Valence: shouted from farthest corner. No further comment, distracted by physicality of task.
- ‘The Other Kurt Schwitters’: Schwitters talking to himself about himself: critical self-reflection.10. Performance: enacting thoughts as a way of thinking through processes.
- Diffraction: I look diffractively through Schwitters’ work to learn about my work and I look diffractively through my work to learn about Schwitters’ work.
- Curation & Dissemination: getting work out and seen.
- Emplacement: beyond embodiment taking also the significance of place into account.
- Flows and Frictions: activating resistance to fixed ideas.
- Reconfiguration: no comment; distracted by dramatic pinging back of elastic towards audience.
- Shared Struggles: political, art practice as a contribution to shared projects, such as feminism.
The performance was recorded by Gemma as a method of working. By delivering the performance and setting myself up to verbally articulate the process in its first instance in front of an audience, what emerges under duress is what I can draw out and bring to mind on the spot. This is done to be listened back to and developed, such as here in writing, for instance.
Ringboy is the name given to a stone with a metal ring fixed into it which sits squarely on the shoulders of another stone. This stone at the bottom of the drive by the Grain Barn caught my attention on arrival. I learnt of Ringboy from Anthony Plant, who also told me that setting these two stones up together was one of the first things he did as Director at Sidney Nolan Trust. The name alludes to Nolan’s painting, Boy and the Moon (known as Moonboy) c.1940. Anthony kindly brought me this postcard during the exhibition event.
I wrapped the top stone in clingfilm and vinyl for the exhibition and named it Stone & Ring (see image above).
After the exhibition, the clingfilm and vinyl were cut off to be resealed as a new (hollow) object, Stone & Ring (Ringboy).
Many thanks to all at Sidney Nolan Trust, my fellow researcher/campers, MMU and NWDTPC.