Houses have become increasingly transparent. Windows allow access to natural light and offer a view of the external world but those who are outside can also see into our internal world – our house.
Information technology, retail databases, government information, data mining, mobile technologies and social media offer a similar aspect. Our glass windows have become glass houses. What was once hidden and private is now on display and shared with others. This can suffer the distortions and reflections that can lead to the misinterpretation and manipulation that large quantities of data can expose.
The structure I developed, digitally, became a glass box within a glass box. Objects collected and contained within the structure can be readily identified as items bought and owned – all, I suspect, readily traceable through various retail databases.
Stored together in loose collections, each glass box shares an aspect of my personal interests and responsibilities, but each present to the digital information age a presence that forms a virtual, digital, self-portrait.
The brittle, drawn, doors represent the diminishing security of anonymity. Behind closed doors we may feel a sense of security with the collections of objects with which we have chosen to surround ourselves, however, access to the digital world takes many forms and shapes; some obvious and others more subtle. So ultimately security is represented in my work by little more than faint doors etched on the virtual glass walls.
Security and privacy is a fragile concept and we live in a period in which there is a movement away from any functional control. The security of a house is reduced by the sheer volume of data that flows in and out of the structure.
Recognising basic similarities between us as people with an interior and an exterior, there is a clear physical boundary between us and the external world – our skin. Houses also have an inside and an outside, an up and down. We often refer to the external walls as the skin of house.
I started to explore the metaphors associated with a house, a place in which we feel safe. The simplest structure is four walls and a roof with a controlled access point – a door. A house offers protection from the elements and from others who do not form part of our intimate social group.
However, we belong to part of a social group that behave and respond in similar ways – there are accepted patterns of behaviour. To what degree does the boundary between an individual and the surrounding community maintain the private self?
Doors on houses represent inward and outward communication that is controlled by the occupant of the house. Doors come in many forms, solid oak to curtains are all access control. Security comes from social convention rather than real, physical, security.
Visualise yourself as a house. Initially, you may think of houses you have lived in, the houses you shared with your parents and siblings. All say something about you and your background but not you as a house. What about the houses you have lived in as an adult – these say more about you and your personality but it is still not you as a house.
Houses I have lived in.
What if you could live in any house? Which house would you choose? What would it be like? Think about what your choice says about you. I would probably choose a house with few if any, external windows but there would be a light-filled internal courtyard. But still, I do not think this is me as a house.
What about the house as a metaphor for psychoanalysis? Why choose this route as this approach is a methodology to identify underlying neurosis? It is a way to approach things that you may be subconsciously aware of about yourself but of which you are not consciously aware. This could be a valid tool, but I felt this was not going to assist me in representing `me as a house’.
To describe `me as a house’, what I want to do is use our shared knowledge of houses as a vocabulary to describe me; to create a non-traditional portrait of a person in a digital age.
If We Were Houses is a forthcoming exhibition about the built dwelling as a metaphor for self.
In late 2017, I attended a talk by artist Helen Scalway who put forward the following proposal, open to all attending the meeting.
`A metaphor for self’, resonated with other work I was undertaking and offered an interesting direction in which to take the work. It also provided the opportunity to exhibit with a group who were investigating the representation of self in a non-traditional way. The exhibition title became `If We Were Houses’.
The built dwelling or built structure as a metaphor for the self – Helen Scalway
What is the potential in the idea of the built dwelling or built structure as a metaphor for the self? In western culture, the metaphor of the house to evoke the human psyche has been persistent, ever since the psychologist C. G. Jung suggested it in the early twentieth century. For me as a visual artist, it has meant exploring those aspects of built structure which are complex, overlapping and ambiguous: there may be facades, but behind these are all kinds of different rooms, stairs and corridors, ways around and through, areas revealed and areas concealed. There is always the potential for endlessly more.
I would like to open this up as a means of portraiture which has the potential to go far beyond the literal depiction of a person or group of people, revealing as such depictions can be. Having made work over the last two years on this theme of a built structure as a metaphor for the self, I have come to understand that there could be a means here of understanding more about a self, and further than this, not just oneself in isolation. Because, if we put different people’s visual explorations of the theme into physical proximity, we might see further into the different kinds of baggage – cultural and personal – we are bringing together when we make a new acquaintance, or meet a workmate, or an old friend, a stranger or a spouse. We might see a little further into some of the complexities – both for positive and sometimes difficult outcomes – within such relationships.
We constantly create incidental portraits of ourselves, images left in our environment and in the memories of others. Life is a series of self-presentation, and each presentation helps to develop a 3-dimensional sense of an individual.
Yet individuals are much more than 3-dimensional. They move through time, through different doors to different contexts, to changing expectations, and it is in this that we present the complexity, the multiplicity, of self.
The crenelations of our mind hold memories that present and re-present changing recollections of ourselves. Thoughts flow and doors impose a structure on our access to what is there, to what was there, and to the possibilities of what might lie beyond.
Participant observation is the only option for a self-portrait and the subsequent risk of loss of objectivity has to be considered. Using multiple images and considering multiple perspectives has the potential to address elements of the question of objectivity.
Is a sense of discomfort when considering elements of your presented self indicative of good observation? The process of learning about yourself can often be uncomfortable. In this work, I seek the uncanny valleys, those uncomfortable places, boundaries that question the nature of reality. Ultimately any presentation is a presentation of what you see and any value is in what others see.
Gaps in walls controlled by doors.
Safe place illusions.
Groyne posts, waveworn, and the April sunshine draws me back to the beach and my photographic odyssey for 2018 as I photograph the ever-changing groyne post tops of the groyne field of Bexhill beach.
I am distracted by the rust patterns – I think that I may be developing a new addiction.
Groyne posts expose rusty remnants and the soft worn quality of the metal and the sharp talon-like qualities of shadows. The saltwater oxidises the metal, the oxide stains the wood and slowly bonds the metal object to the wood. The de-laminating ferrule creates a landscape of red rust and yellow lichen.
Waveworn documents weathering and erosion on the Sussex coast through the medium of film and still photography, catalogued by location and date to build up a complete and beautiful archive of change over the decades. Waveworn explores pressing issues of environmental instability, but also timeless human themes of change, impermanence and desire for (the illusion of) control.
An interview with Alex Leith for `Viva Lewes’ (March 2018 edition)
And it is always good to get feedback … please Tweet @Clifffart if you visit the exhibition.
In the Highwoods we dig up and burn the rhododendron. It is an invasive species not welcome in the woodland. The work is carried out by a team of volunteers; the bonfire must be placed under a clearing in the tree canopy and away from any roads. The smoke produced is thick and substantial.
As well as photographically recording this process I want to capture something physical, a track that marks the passing of an ephemeral state. I devise a process with steps, tools and outcomes to capture something of this act of woodland management.
I hang artboards into the smoke of the burning rhododendron, fishing for marks that simultaneously fulfil and challenge my preconceptions. Like chasing smoke in mist, I follow the process not knowing what I will find but knowing I am attracted by the thoughts it triggers and what I see. The smoke is thick. A combination of carbon and an amber, tar-like, substance with enough adhesion to hold the rising ash.
The series of artboards inhabited the studio with their pungent aroma requiring open windows and time to pass. I take digital photographs and interweave the images to emphasise the echoes of the smoke and the tracks of the ash. The amber tar was unexpected and wonderful both in its colour and its ability to hold the ash.
Dancing Trees is a short-term, time restricted artwork.
Within the woodland, there is a coppiced tree where two new tree trunks have grown close together. A branch links them and it looks like they are holding each other. The trees are embracing and dancing together.
By collecting and using the woodland debris from around the tree, I create a `drawn shadow’. This emphasises the illusion of the dancing partners twirling in the woodland.
This artwork and the shadow illusion will only last a short time. Its continued existence will depend on the weather, the wind strength and any human and animal traffic through the area.
We have a tendency to anthropomorphise objects and impose upon them human features and feelings. We seek a connection and I want to use this artwork to emphasise this connection. The fleeting nature of this work is part of the statement about how fragile the natural environment can be and the nature of our imaginative flights of fancy.
The fleeting nature of this work is part of our imaginative flights of fancy.
The nature of visualisation is constantly changing.
When I looked again at my idea for Pond 01 the level of intervention suggested was too great. My next idea is to look at the possibility of creating some tensile structures.
I want to create sculptural forms utilising Sweet Chestnut that is coppiced in the wood. I want to explore the balance required for a healthy bio-diverse environment and this must be a balance between the desire to encourage biodiversity in and around the pond and the dogs that are walked in the woodland. The artwork produced must seek a stable balance.
Tensegrity, tensional integrity or floating compression is a structural principle based on the use of isolated componenets in compression inside a net of continuous tension, in such a way that the compressed members (usually bars or struts) do not touch each other and the prestressed tensioned members (usually cables or tendons) delineate the system spatially (definition for Wikipedia)
Tensile structures allow two opposing forces in balance to create something strong and stable. A balanced system that is largely self-correcting. Tensional integrity is compressive and tensional forces in balance makes the structure strong but it looks fragile. It is often difficult to see how the structure holds together.
I have previously worked with tensile structures to create environmental sculpture, based upon work inspired by Kenneth Snelson a sculptor and photographer and the architectBuckminster Fuller.
I made some maquettes of `trees’ that would overreach the pond (creating reflections in the water). The `tree’ structures will be around the edge of the pond with a low, woven, structure linking the base of the `trees’. The barrier would both link and protect the structures and also restrict direct access to the pond. The structure will not surround the whole pond but will allow area regeneration to take place in controlled sections.
I intend to use materials that are available in the woodland, in a manner that is sympathetic to those materials. Green woodwork will change shape, shrink and expand in response to the weather. The material is dynamic and part of a system of change.
The next step is to carry out some experiments with the green wood to investigate the cutting and drilling techniques most suitable for creating the posts. There is also the issue of how to tie the structures. Will hemp rope provide the required strength and elasticity?