2019 © SERENA CAULFIELD

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HOMAGE TO THE WALL 

MAFA PROJECT

Norwich University of the Arts (2009)

 

Theatrically staging the incidental within the space, I photographed, documented and responded to the representations. Arranging compositions of 2D & 3D objects, they are placed on backdrops of pre-existing surfaces. Their representations are then precisely imposed on an alternative surface that is appropriate to their visible marks. Employing their photographic reproductions in 2D, the work became like a mapping, landscape, or a navigation tool. 

 

 

 

Elements of the work were re-arranged. Displacement through appropriation of 3D objects to the surface worked to alter their reception. Photographs of the surfaces are then specifically placed, redirected, and re-presented to its original form through documentation. To make two components change places, or disrupt their particular order, is an attempt to relocate the work in a context that doesn’t necessarily make sense in ordinary terms. It’s also about reversing signs and playing with perceptions of the ordinary, prompting ‘a moment of perplexity and non recognition’.[1]

 

 

 

‘Relational Aesthetics’, a term defined by Nicholas Bourriaud in a publication of the same title in the 90’s, is the ‘aesthetic theory consisting in judging artworks on the basis of the inter-human relations which they represent, produce or prompt’.[2] There is a confrontation in engaging with the aesthetic production of a piece of work. Bourriaud asks, (2002, p112) in relation to this engagement; 'Does this work permit me to enter into dialogue? Could I exist, and how, in the space it defines?’ A form is more or less democratic, it does not give the viewer a chance to complement it.’ The form allows a certain amount of inspection and observation, and subsequently a form of opinion from an individual standpoint.

 

 

 

I set up deliberate contradictions. The rules of the encounter shift to slow down the reading of the image, and indeed, the space that it occupies. ‘I’m really interested in what conceptual leaps people can make from one bit of information to another and how they can fill that space.’[3]

 

The site for this staging of work, “The Garth” is apparently the oldest art school building still in use in the world today. Therefore I found it hard to resist making a site-specific (and surface specific) installation that would glorify the very fabric of this historical building. The walls are quirky, and the character rich in history and imperfect loveliness. All objects are found incidentally in the space, discarded and useless then, given a purpose in their considered placement and photographic documentation.

My practice responds to objects, spaces and audiences, focusing on the nature of the surface as a place of contact, exchange and subsequent transformation. The surfaces in question are often places that have an apparent history in their visible marks, promoting their histories and alluding to the temporality of the represented objects found within the space as well as the work itself .

 

The surface of the wall co-exists with the work produced on it. ‘Co-existence criterion’ is a term employed by Bourriuad, (2002, p109), implying that ‘all works of art produce a model of sociability, which transposes reality or might be conveyed in it’.

 

This exhibition period lent itself only to a miniscule section of the building’s history. I used found lettering (which was discarded on the floor in preparation of the space after the BA Exhibition) to mark the date in the alcove. This is a short-lived but important exhibition in this space, and has been re-constructed like clockwork every year. Possibly then, audiences may realise their own temporary and ephemeral occupancy and involvement, giving status to the importance of the work as their reason for being there. Staging the discarded and ‘unimportant’ objects locates their significance, aiming to comparatively connect the audience to their own engagement.

 

 The surfaces become interchangeable, and the ephemeral becomes long lasting. It somehow becomes a solid form, even when detached. The surfaces are real, existing. There is a gap between the work and the surface.  Similarly, there is a gap between fiction and reality, truth and lies. Formal characteristics of this gap lie in both the photographic image and the materiality of the space in which it resides. There is a blurring of the boundaries between, leaving a void or gap for observation and transformation of thought.

 

 

Form, Bourriaud states, is ‘Structural unity imitating a world. Artistic practice involves creating a form capable of "lasting", bringing heterogeneous units together on a coherent level, in order to create a relationship to the world.’

 

 

The surfaces I choose to work with bear the scars of their individual histories, marks evidential of the work carried out previously. Paint splashes on the façade of the white wall, marks on the floor of the space after countless days of students dragging their work around their studios, a cup in the sink, rubber bands and bits of tape and paint discarded on the floor when they are no longer useful. All these things are scratches on the surface of an intriguing history that may never be discovered.

 

 

 

Their superficial histories are invented in an attempt to re-create the gaps that are unspoken for. I create a fictional history from a personal stance, which seems more valid when viewed through a lens or closely observed through drawing. I am interested in objects and surfaces, and the way we can encounter them in various contexts. 

 

 

 

In the acknowledgement of factitiousness, we establish a dialogue between the real and the imaginary, disturbing our certainties on any determination of reality. For Italo Cavino, in his essay, ‘Lightness’, ‘Everything can be transformed into something else, and knowledge of the world means dissolving the solidity of the world. There is an essential parity between everything that exists as opposed to any sort of hierarchy of powers or values.’[4]He believes it to be a sort of collage principal, or a putting of ‘wrong things together to the right effect...It accepts things, in all discontinuity, unevenness, unlikeness.’

 

  For Bourriaud, (2002, p110) 

 “Art is not the world of suspended will (Schopenhauer), or of the disappearance of contingency (Sartre), but a space emptied of the factitious. It in no way clashes with authenticity, (an absurd value where art is concerned) but replaces coherences, even phoney ones, with the illusory world of 'truth'. It is the bad lie that betrays the hack, who at best, touching sincerity inevitably ends up as a forked tongue.”

 

Investing spaces with another content, which may be unrecognisable or confrontational, is not an attempt to tell neither lies nor truth, but to captivate the audience with something that is both loaded with content and blatantly superficial. It relates to surface, but is not about glorifying the ‘aesthetic’ in terms of beauty. The text I’ve used in this installation (from above) is a strategic placement of ‘surface on surface’, that should invite the spectator into a dialogue, initiating (but not controlling) the ‘conversation’ between the work, the space, and it’s viewers. 

 

 Bourriaud (2002, p110) also talks about critical materialism, and the idea that ‘The world is made up of random encounters’ (in the tradition of Lucretius, Hobbes, Marx, Althusser). He goes on to say that ‘Art, too, is made of chaotic chance meetings of signs and forms. Nowadays, it even creates spaces within which the encounter can occur. Present-day art does not present the outcome of a labour, it is the labour itself, or the labour-to-be’. Similarly, making a work involves ‘the invention of a process of presentation’. In this kind of process, ‘the image is an act’. (Bourriaud, p.111) I suggest, then, that art is the world that surrounds us.

 

My work conforms to this idea of ‘the invention of a process of presentation’, where the act of making work, is perhaps not the creation. Imagery mediates between idea and outcome. So too, it works between the studio and gallery. Presentation and display in/of the space, and the dialogue between audience and work (encounter), becomes the finished work. 

 

 

This work relies heavily on the site itself, both in the studio, and in a gallery context. I aim to encompass the space in which the work is on view, in exploring its spatial and architectural configuration on a surface level whilst encouraging the spectator to do the same using the work as a navigation tool. I have devised a ‘game’ that operates to play with perceptions. It soon becomes apparent, on inspection, that the work can be viewed (visually and theoretically) from many positions, not fixing the viewer to a particular standpoint. The work and the wall become transposable, coinciding with the interchangeable habitation of the space.

 

  Appropriating existing surfaces in occupied spaces is essentially an investigation into the relatively ordinary things that I work with as well as how they are encountered. I work with objects and surfaces through use of lens-based media, vinyl text, and paint as a metaphorical ‘skin’. The skin is permeable, allowing contact and exchange, and subsequently a shift in matter and meaning. This is investigated further as the process develops e.g. the wall hanging inevitably becomes the same surface in its photographic documentation. 

 

The casual marks on the surface are contextualised by documentary photographic recording as an expressive component. They can also be encountered as drawings, interruptions, interventions or perhaps an incision into the surface and furthermore, the photograph itself. The content and placement and size of the photograph, separates the photograph from that of the familiar snapshot. The images contain both incidental marks, given status by the act of documentation, and documentary photographs, given status by their precise physical placement; drawing on symbiosis and such relationships. My work investigates the re-classification of ‘ordinary’ incidental ephemera, and the intrinsic relationships such objects/spaces have with their audiences. 

 

 

 

The structures within the space (alcove, sink and piping, archway instilled in the wall, etc.) interrupt the fabric of the photograph in a similar way to how the framework of the surface itself disrupts the image. This is a strategy for allowing both to become unified in their existence. Both are ephemeral in the space, though through further documentation, they exist on a more coherent level, with the potential of having a much longer, contemporaneous life.