Dubious working methods - Text by Connie Butler

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This text will discuss the idiosyncrasies of an individual working method, adjusting to and renegotiating itself in a new setting with new priorities. I’d like to use the text to understand if and how praxis and practice and integrating, to explain how I make a work and the stages I go through. To help with this I’ll also demonstrate ‘places’ where practice and/or discourse happens for me.

Ill probably ask more questions than ill answer, there are endless sways of telling the story of what you do. 

A method is defined as a particular procedure for accomplishing or approaching something, especially a systematic or established one. Synonyms include technique, system, practice, routine, formula, approach, tactic, plan or recipe. Maybe one way to do this text would be to use each of these synonyms as a subtitle.

Within science, method is defined as a procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.

I’m not sure that either of these definitions fit the patterns by which I arrive at a finished work. There isn’t an identifiable order by which actions like thinking, reading making or writing coalesce into an artwork that can stand on its own - but maybe there are routines, habits and approaches which when practiced, worked and attended to can offer up outcomes that excite me. Its hard to distinguish the learned methods from the instinctive ones, as both have become habitual. Thinking patterns and systems for producing work need to challenged, which can be destabilizing before it becomes freeing. What does it mean to work by instinct?

When does working become work?

Really practicing, what am I practicing? What does it mean to really attend a practice? Artist’s with long standing practices have told me the work make senses of itself restropectively, through perseverance, and that sense reveals itself at a lag and against fresh work.

A working method can be used to dictate the conditions an artist needs to make work from an institution or working situation, or alternatively, a working method could be constantly re-formed according to the situation at hand. Which of these creates long term sustainability in a practice?

Pre-Piet for my phone interview I prepared an A2 sheet of notes, with highlighted sections to look at and read throughout. Some of the categories for my practice on this sheet include print, sculpture, painting, performance, publishing, writing, collage, long standing collaborations, collaborative projects and The Nomadic Reading Room.

In my first presentation to the school, Angharrad asked ‘This is great, but what is the studio for?’

My sister,taught me the ‘urgent/important matrix’, a diagram by which you can work out how urgent and or important your tasks are. By placing them in different groups, you prioritize the important but not urgent. As important tasks are what you actually need to do, and urgent are ones that other people ask you to do and that pile up.

Work made this academic year.

Edith Wharton, Interiority, Ken Dodd, Nostalgia radio and Fire-starting. Digital film. 4.08 mins Sound includes a reading from On the Decoration of Houses by Edith Wharton from the chapter on Windows, Angel.fm a UK nostalgia radio run by and for the over 65’s, Ken Dodd’s Happiness and diegetic sound.

This is a film made as a collage of footage from botanical gardens, a trip to Norfolk with close friends and found sound. I wanted to see if I could create a feeling from an assemblage of found and created material which in some way re-articulated the experience of reading Edith Wharton’s short story Mrs Manstey. Wharton’s first published short story about an elderly lady whose only joy in life, the view from her window, is threatened by a redevelopment. She resorts to arson which in turn kills her due to smoke inhalation. I was struck by Wharton’s first interest in interior decoration, and the poetry in her description of windows. I think I was also struck by the windows in my studio. I was trying to integrate my relationship with reading into work, I was also trying to make sense of having varied and seemingly disconnected influences. Katherine articulated it perfectly in my group crit when she said “Things you want to know, or book that you should have been taught in school, lifelong learning and always feeling left behind.” Its not trying to teach me anything, its using information as quotation to create an atmosphere. The names in the title are as much material in the work, this is how it functions as collage. They are not there as facts or a problem to solve or consume but as little flags.”

Yellow Wallpaper. Oil on canvas, handmade book in English and Dutch. The book is a composite of two second hand copies, one in dutch one in English with the pages arranged to be read in each language when flipped; merging the two. The paintings can be seen as wallpaper variations grasped from Perkins Gilman’s descriptive prose.

The work responds to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1892 short story The Yellow Wallpaper plots a woman’s mental breakdown through her deteriorating understanding of the wallpaper in the room she is confined to. The wallpaper becomes atrocious and in turn all old foul, bad yellow things. Not being allowed to write or read, the narrator instead obsessively reads the wallpaper’s repeated markings. Despite so much description of pattern, we are left without a clear image. Surface pattern design has historically been dominated by women within the applied arts and has as such often been denigrated as an art form.  I enjoyed this premise as a way into making a painting, as I had been struggling with giving myself ‘permission’ to paint without a ‘plan’, and would ultimately like to paint without direct subject matter, but around a body of ideas.


An existing collaboration with Lauren Godfrey since 2012 under the name Vanessa Visual and Virginia Verbal. We have now started work on the fourth issue. I feel excited about the direction the publication is taking, we are more confident in it, and less concerned with what an audience might expect, but creating one by controlling the content closely, and being excited by the content. The interview issue brings together artists and writers to respond to the interview as a form. I enjoy working collaboratively, I have maintained working relationships whist being at PZI, mainly through writing projects, and other forms of ‘back and forth.’ The finished publication will be launched in both London and Rotterdam.


Sarah Tripp spoke to me about routine and discipline. Methods for writing she suggested were to organize projects into physical files with copies of every re-edit in chronological order. She suggested working for a set amount of time on one project and then alternating, and never working on the same piece of writing on consecutive days. Identifying what times of the day you work best and in what way.

I started a blog, which is a mix of essay form writing, poetry and other experiments. This was very important last term. Before I moved an encouraging friend asked me to write something for her website. I wrote about Jarvis cocker, Chloe Sevigny, style and cavemen. I am now trying to integrate writing into my work, practicing writing, practicing editing and trying to find and/or create ‘appropriate’ spaces for it.

An example of this, is a piece I wrote called ‘Ok, Bathrooms!’ about a woman’s description of how she wants her house cleaned to her new cleaner. I enjoyed writing this, and then designing it as a distributable object, riso printed and illustrated by Alex Brenchley. This was exhibited at the open studios, but for me it began to make sense when I read it out for Ash and Tor’s live radio show, ‘Two Yeahs.’ I really enjoyed their format as broadcast distribution and would like to work in that way again, as I can’t work out how to use sound and my voice in my work without collaborating at the moment.

New work

I am currently making work revolving loosely around the idea of grapefruit juice interacting with prescription medication, negation and language. There will be ceramic brooches with words spelling out a poem written in collaboration with Tom Clark, a film, and display of paintings and possibly a riso printed zine.

What Email Collages and Katherine Scarf is an installation of three A1 prints displayed on a wall with eight composite colour photocopies of a square printed scarf given me by Katherine, as it reminded her of my paintings. Two ceramic lamps are hanging or resting on shelves, and the curtains are held back with plywood ‘buckles.’

How - The prints are made as collages, scans of paintings, photos, ephemera from the studio, and ceramic brooches of words, originally made to construct a poem co-written by myself and Tom Clark - each word individually pinned to the curtain. One lamp is constructed as a shade of around 30cm in diameter to be suspended from the ceiling, and the other as a desk lamp. The desk lamp is glazed ceramic in the shape of an ear 35cmx25x20cm with the lamp attachment clipped onto the ‘lobe’ to resemble a pendant earing.

Why - This work celebrates correspondence. Working relationships operate through forms of correspondence from email, live editing of documents and sharing of imagery, refences to past experiences and various minute forms of exchange. The rich layouts and formations of text and image exchanged over time, that become invisible in the labour of presented artworks. In the posters, the correspondence becomes fragmented and re-imagined. Nothing is solid, the materials used are somehow evocative of themes within long running conversations, the simultaneity of specificity and slipperiness in language used in collaborations becomes the content. The work also reflects on studio practice, about what the studio ‘makes’ or ‘produces.’ How far the maker leads and controls the outcome, and how far the work leads the maker - another dialogue or correspondence. There is also a discomfort in this dialogue, the studio starts to feel like a cul-de-sac or the lowest point of a puddle where the ephemera of a working process settles and languishes, but where small gestures can also gain strength through reuse and insistence. The ceramics, being employed as lamps, reference the domestic or designed interior, as well as the curtain ‘buckle.’ These pieces work to create an environment for conversation, that play with the dual identity of the studio as presentation space, work space and social space - in an attempt to negotiate how the studio can ‘work’ for me, as much as I work for it.


(In Progress) Sites of practice computer, bed, travel, email, workshops

and what they are for? These could be mini essays in and of themselves?

spaces that exist for your work and the spaces you produce for your work [steve says: I like the idea of making agents out of your research tools and objects BUT where are you gonna take it and what are the possibilities of this form?>>]

Discourse is not only produced on the page, but in space and bookshelves, furniture, devices etc - Foucault ‘Discourse is a material practice’ -

Discourse is defined as written or spoken communication or debate. Synonyms include discussion, conversation, talk, dialogue, parley, powwow, chat, adda, confab

Katarina posed some important questions to me in a studio visit about how I might talk about discourse in this text on method.

Is your work pre-discursive? Do you situate your work in a family, company or set of ideas, from which position do you then look outwards? Do you want to divorce yourself from a set idea of discourse? If a work is ‘in conversation’ or ‘in discourse’ what does this mean to you?H How can you proactively negotiate criterias for conversation around your work? CREATING appropriate places tailored for individual works or interests

So are these sites non human agents?


The studio is a workspace and a storage space. It’s where I work. Work means making things. Things I might make in the studio are sculptures, paintings and writing. The studio is also storage for materials and files of past and present reading and writing re-drafts. The studio can also be emptied and rearranged in order to hang work to look at it, be with it, or talk about it in a visit. The studio is not a domestic space, an office, a kitchen or a storage endless for old works. But it also is. [<how do you occupy the studio?]


A place for taking notes from lectures, seminars and crits and for jotting down notes. In the past I would have drawn and planned out works in notebooks, now I seems to just write endless to do lists in them, and lists of worries and future plans. This may be because I haven’t worked out how to use a smartphone in a useful way alongside a notebook. So projects stretch across notebooks into memo files, and phone camera photos in files that mix personal and private. In Steve’s class we discussed note taking, and the process of writing up notes into organized computer files with citations. I realized I have never done this, and I have tried now to begin the process of retyping notes into my own words.


I have a collection of books that have been brought with me, borrowed from the PZI library, taken from the Lees Zaal free library or given to me by people here. I also have a small collection of writing by students here, collected after crits. At home I have my personal book collection and my reading list for my self directed study ‘Places Where Books Are’ There are some overlaps between these three collections, and they could overlap or be subsumed into each other. There are books I read for pleasure that I wouldn’t consider making work directly informed by, mainly books on music, sub-culture and biography. If I was cleverer I’d work out how to draw all my interests together and make work that excites me more. Maybe I should make this a method


Fabrication space. The workshops being offsite from the studio means you inevitably spend less time there, and build less of a relationship with the staff. You feel like you need to have a project in mind before you start. I would really like to spend more time in the workshops learning new skills and making work I otherwise would have to outsource the production of, and have a budget for. My ideal working method would be to use the workshops in an integrated way, where conceptual works are generated through an understanding of process, and a stretching of a materials properties through close interaction over time.


Quiet reading space to read and make notes in peace and research.


When taking a project form, these have pushed the idea of a practice into different contexts, such as the writing, direction and production of a comedy sketch to an offsite pedagogical workshop in Antwerp. Both these instances caused me anxiety, It felt like the wrong moment for me to appropriate my practice in this way, or I couldn’t see how this approach fitted with a studio based practice. This was an unexpected reaction, which I still don’t fully understand. Group Crit presentation

In other peoples crits, I am trying to use my knowledge from my own practice and experience and apply it to the critique of another’s work. Although it can be difficult and intimidating to find your words, especially when many are using this opportunity to practice the application of the theory they are reading. In my own crits I am torn between wanting to use it as an exhibition or ‘crescendo’ to use the phrase from Mel Councell, and how I am now coming to understand my practice as not in fact being exhibition focused or led.

List of references to follow