Ash’s draft Text on method
In this text, I will outline current and recent work, in relation to older work and a wider context for all of these. The aim of this text is to help me find a path between materials, processes and interests I have been using, and form them into directions for future work. It should also be useful for a reader and viewer of my work, in setting up relationships that make sense of each individual project when read together.
To begin, I will describe a number of works: a group exhibition that I coordinated in Georgia (September 2015); a series of connected works based on the work of New Zealand artist Pauline Rhodes - a performance, an installation and a text (December 2015-February 2016); and a collaborative live radio project with Tor Jonsson (February 2016). These projects have in common a starting point outside my own studio-world: each has directly involved the contributions of other artists, and at times, forms of collaboration.
I will also describe the beginnings of new work, and how this takes up certain existing threads from older projects. This will allow me to then discuss what is new in the research I have been following over the past months.
I can then attempt to place these in a wider context, and provide an early list of references and research materials for work in development.
4. Current practice:
Notice how long it takes you to get here. What do you carry with you? A blanket worn as a coat, green tea in a bracelet, a bronze face like a potato, kowhai seeds in the crevices of soles, let me show you. The feeling of being a host in a place that's not home. What do you wear to work in a foreign place? (2015) is a text-work and a group show in Rustavi, Georgia. Having been invited to make something for an exhibition in public space, I extended the invitation to 7 artists with whom I had worked previously. I presented their works, according to their instructions, on the former propaganda boards outside a Soviet steel factory.
The work emerged through conversations in person and by email, over shared sources and discussions about national histories and personal and genealogies. Then the works were posted, emailed or carried on planes. With the help of local artists, the pieces were installed, produced or performed.
I invited others because the site was too exciting to keep to myself, and because I felt uncomfortable with a solo presentation in a location formed to serve an authoritarian ideology. The approach also felt appropriate, given curator Tara McDowell’s original invitation to me was based on Lucy Lippard’s ‘numbers exhibitions’, and Tara’s interest in what a legacy of task-based, communication-centred conceptual work could do today.
Light sleeper (2016) is an installation in a vitrine space. Five long white curtains, each a slightly different length and fabric, are pulled across the full breadth of the vitrine. They hang some 80cm below the upper limit of the window, and leave a gap of 30-50 cm above the sill. Below them, on the sill, lies an empty window envelope with a Dutch postage stamp and a printed postmark that reads 'Schrijven zegt meer', writing says more. Every evening when the gallery closes, the staff turn on a reading lamp that illuminates the envelope. The lamp is turned off when the gallery opens in the morning. Outside the vitrine in a poster-holder frame is an A3 page with one sentence in large paragraph text.
The curtains were collected from all the windows in my apartment. These, and the lamp, were 'inherited' from previous tenants, they are cheap and fulfill their function in a cursory, indifferent manner. The envelope also arrived at my apartment, addressed to me. I had these objects posted together, to the gallery, for the staff and audience to live with for the duration of the show.
The curtain installation, letter, text/poster and lighting schedule are all ways of deferring attention or reading; they each suggest that the real object or subject is elsewhere. The work is a way for me to solve a number of problems: getting rid of furnishings that I don't like; producing a work without generating more objects in the world; and indicating my own presence and connection when I am on the other side of the world, in a time zone 12 hours behind.
Preceding Light Sleeper was A duet for Pauline Rhodes (2015), a performance developed from research toward an essay, Relative distance that will be described below. The performance is a text is spoken aloud from memory by me, and my recorded voice in turn, with two brief interludes of a recorded beat (bass and drums) roughly at thirds throughout. I use a small wireless speaker, which plays the recorded voice and beat components and is controlled from an iPhone by an offstage assistant. At times, live and recorded voices intersect and might seem to converse; the interruption of the beat to my flow of speech or movement may read as being either scripted or unexpected.
I speak the text from a sitting position on the studio floor. The speaker is also on the floor, positioned the same distance from the audience as me, the gap between me and speaker being the centre of the ‘stage’ of the performance. When the beat is introduced, 13 seconds each time, I stand up as if to begin choreographed movement, but sit down again as soon as the interlude abruptly finishes. There are no other props and no amplification of my voice, I wear my normal clothes, and the studio is lit by daylight.
The ‘duet’ was developed from my reading and thinking about Pauline Rhodes’ work; specifically, her temporary sculptures that are installed in the landscape (typically around Canterbury, NZ), and are never seen in person by anyone but the artist. These object-assemblages are only seen in photographs, and she does not write about them. Writing in two separate voices was a way for me to think through my position on the politics of her projects, and also what it means to try to know physical objects without having physical experience of them. In performing the text, I could take an embodied and time-based position of my own.
I continued writing in one of the voices from A duet, in response to a commission for an essay about Pauline Rhodes’ work. Relative distance (2016) is a 1,000-word text that follows an unnamed character through a process of movement, specifically, the activity of swimming between islands. It’s not an essay, but does have the spirit of an attempt or a personal working-out of an idea, which can both be considered aspects of a certain type of essay-writing. It will be published in an exhibition catalogue of Rhodes’ work.
The character and the space are unreal and purposefully underdeveloped, as I was more interested in evoking a process or flow, as it occurs in the mind. As much as possible, I used the present tense and tried to focus on what the character would be focussing on at any given moment, rather than allowing an overview outside that consciousness. I used shifts in scale and metaphor to lessen distinction between the character and her landscape, preferring to suggest them as being of the same material but in varying intensities of self-awareness.
By describing a physical endeavour on both a micro and macro scale, I wanted to articulate the way my own thinking patterns occur when I’m making work. Two important questions that Rhodes’ work raised for me were Who is this for, if no one gets to see it? and What is the value system at play, if the work is only for the artist? Perhaps beyond those two questions lies an even more existential one: Why keep doing this, or anything: what is gained by keeping going?
Two Yeahs/Hesitant Radio (2016) was a joint project with Tor Jonsson, a 3-hour radio show, web-broadcast live from his studio during the Piet Zwart open day. The program included live and recorded readings by students, live music and performance, recorded music, a Skype interview, discussion, and some dead air and uncertainty. We took turns hosting guests, Tor did the technical/production roles on the computer, and I organised the order of the programme as contributors became available.
We invited contributions from students, alumni and friends, by email, a week before the event. The studio was set up with our two computers, one mic and an amp, and we had software for live mixing. We set up several bluetooth speakers through the building, to transmit our show, and welcomed audience and contributors into the studio. The schedule was very loose, sometimes chaotic, and we filled exactly the 3 hours we planned to.
We wanted to produce a situation, rather than works, for the open studio. The radio format allowed us to create something that was only to be experienced during the time of its own making; and to make a portrait of the institution by simply catching what was already happening in the building, with no expectation of being professional or polished, rather to be in the process of many thoughts at once.
Taken together, these projects share an emphasis on dispersal, deferral, and incorporation of other practices. Previously, I would be confident saying that my work was responsive to site; but here it is clearer that I have been building ways to redirect energy into co-ordination, conversation, and community. It is a creative network of people, rather than architectural context, that these works respond to.
In the case of the Georgian project, I was motivated to bring a collection of practices together as it as a way to gather up my 'intellectual neighbourhood' as I prepared to move to the Netherlands; it was a defense against losing my important anchors from that life. For the three works centred around Pauline Rhodes, there was no personal connection to work from, but certain material and conceptual affinities identified by a curator, that served as the basis of a comparative ethics of making. The radio project was a temporary gathering of existing energies that could use the strengths of the situation (the collective presence of artists and works in the building in a given time period), valorizing liveness, connection and spontaneity without requiring rehearsal or material traces.
For my group critique in May, I am developing new writing and objects that work together, probably with a live reading or performance. I have chosen to work with a site that happens to be an artwork, Vierkant eiland in de plas (Square island in the lake), 1995, by late Leiden artist Frans de Wit. I am treating de Wit’s artwork as a location for “arranging a meeting” (Katarina’s phrase). The objects will be bronze vessel-like forms that can be handed from person to person, transferring different material energies and making visual reference to the surrounding location (the lowest point of the Netherlands). Sharing this object and location will be ways to amplify the spoken text, in a way that makes clear that the text could not exist in the same form in any other place or time.
5. Relation to previous practice:
I have previously made small bronze objects, with basic mould-making and casting that I taught myself to do (the wax-to-bronze process has always been completed by a specialist art foundry). These objects include replica keys (Kilmartin House Museum, 2012; Casts of the holes left by the two pieces stolen from the last exhibition, 2012) and replica souvenir jewellery (Ellipsis, 2012). These were ways to materially quote existing objects and add in new layers of haptic memory. With the new bronze works, I will be not be working one-to-one scale against existing objects and instead using other visual or textural associations to produce less immediately identifiable objects.
My recent performance work began with experiments with Eliza Dyball. Prior to our work in Georgia, we together made two largely improvised performance events in Melbourne. Untitled drew on its location, a suburban scout hall, to set rules for speech and movement during a one-day exhibition. The duration of each ‘sketch’ was determined by the boiling time of the resident electric urn. We made Echo a more participatory environment, putting to use the objects from the Museum of the Living West’s office and archive to tell stories (true and fictional) about that site with the audience. A duet for Pauline Rhodes was my first solo performance, and was far more precisely scripted and choreographed. I will continue to work on the fine details of readings and performances, because I feel more obligation to control the situation when performing on my own, not having a collaborator to share tasks with.
I don’t feel that I have produced very much work in the past year, but that I have been trying to metabolise long-term questions more consciously, and that this is necessary before and alongside making things. I have been trying, on one hand, to shore up a sustainable and generative solo practice (which has happened most comfortably and excitedly in writing); but on the other hand, I have wanted to explore ways of sharing authorship and enjoying different forms of collaboration. These co-existing desires are questions for my work, because they are bigger questions in the rest of my life. I feel a pressure (mostly useful) to work both tracks in a consciously feminist way, and what that entails in each case.
6. Relation to larger context:
7. Research strands, reference:
Material: lost-wax casting (using found objects, wax, plasticine, silicone and bronze); also fabric work as support/display structures for these.
I enjoy working out small-scale, DIY versions of these processes as I feel less pressured by professional workshop procedures, costs and hours. I learn from the long-time muddling around on my own with youtube tutorials and learn unexpected things this way.
Reading: I have been reading a lot of short fiction, whatever people recommend to me, also returning to Lydia Davis’ works and short stories by New Zealand writers.