contextual distance in the padlet portfolio

In my crit group on 2/10 I offered my For Cover portfolio for a crit (I had last put some work, a mix of padlets and the instructions materials, to the group in early Spring this year). I had asked alongside two questions: how about archiving and how about engaging? We talk for a bit over an hour and I take notes. I copy these notes here and want to draw out a number of points as to the questions over contextual distance, what constitutes the work and where the work is. 

The discussion quickly moves towards the platform, padlet, and how much everyone hates it: how clunky and intrusive it is, how it stands in the way of the work; but then really, how it mediates (my words) and poses those questions of navigation and access, of ensuring completeness or the worry that something may be missed.

There is the argument that it scaffolds the work too much..

Much after the discussion, where I am still surprised by the force of some of the dislike being put forward, I realise that the notes also tell me something different:

  • that the work is rather beautiful
  • that the distance to the work becomes uncomfortable to endure
  • that the work and the site cannot be touched while the work implies it should, could, perhaps even ought to
  • and then there is the wider sense of how padlet as corporate platform seeks to manage and facilitate that distance: of becoming more and more corporate; of inviting us to add more and more; of presenting every changing interfaces and post modalities to remind us of innovation
  • so the platform is an intrusive mediator: of wanting to be known for itself, not just an invisible interpreter
  • it also points (this image contravened against our policy) to the fact that it can and does remove items it dislikes (without notification, without recourse, without me knowing what the item actually was); so my presence and the works presence remains precarious: it may disappear sooner than even my institutional access disappears.

I come away thinking that padlet may after all be the right platform for this work if the work is interested in that distance (see SYP tutor report 1).

I also come away thinking that the work is effective here to encourage access to the audience’s emotional registers around longing (and its frustration of lack of access)

So, the work is present but somewhat out of reach. There is an institutional frame that governs part of this, it catches some of the frustrations.

Immersiveness and my work (current status)

There are a couple of themes that continue right throughout my work (certainly from DI&C onwards across Level 2 and 3); immersiveness is one of them: the sensorial, an expanded field of drawing, the stepping into work that I make and the relationship it seeks between work and viewer/reader/participant around closeness and distance.

For the production of the BoW this was significant at a number of turns, e.g. when trying to devise what constituted drawing/contact, what the role of lint and the quotidian was, the sites and the reach/resonance of these and how to resolve the BoW.

In the Research (as practice) it was engaged with methodologically: moving-with explored the bodily registers of immersion (or lack thereof); of making mobile artists, viewer and work; the glossary circled around tools, obstacles and sites to explore the relational entanglements at the centre of the work; the Herz/Stein concept explored tactility, bind and release in material close-up.

For SYP I am trying to explore the exhibition checklist as PaR enquiry to get a better handle on (or perhaps a position to the side of) distance as key tool for how this practice moves onwards.

I am collating here the various posts that trace the engagement with immersiveness as concept up to now (at the point of submission for assessment of BoW and Res, and at Part 2 of SYP).

In chronological order the key posts so far are:

Immersiveness (complications) > research folder

A draft post which looked like this has existed for almost a year. It arose around the conversations during BoW tutorials around immersion, the sensorial and audience engagement with site and work.

The discussion linked forward and into BoW 4 and 5 and Research 4 also. How to invite, entice, lure the viewer into the work, inviting them to step forward, and then to get a little lost, not quite knowing where they stepped into.

In conversations that ensued, I wondered if the work needed to be seductive to achieve this: the luring was close enough to entrapment, of overwhelming with the (visual) senses. And I realised that I myself stepped right back at that moment.

Pippilotti Rist’s (2005) Homo Sapiens Sapiens video installation at Garden of Earthly Delights (you lie back onto floor cushions, the projection happens on the ceiling in a round shape), came to my mind and that my work was not like that (and didn’t intend to).

I was surprised by my strong reactions here and further discussions with my Research tutor clarified some of the links about it (immersion = seduction = overwhelm = entrapment). It also clarified for me that HD video on large/multiple screens is not where my intention of the kinds of work I want to make lies (I think it’s been a no for some time, being invited to spend £10k for a digital back for a MF camera) — I am too little photographer for these approaches.

The works I turned to were these three — I have known them for a long time, they are datable, and dated as late 20c British contemporary art. I find myself however returning them at frequent intervals:

Bethan Huws (1991) The Lake Writing or The Lake Piece, 24 works on paper, ink, each 297x210mm.

Georgina Starr (1992) Whistle (Eddy, photography and Whistle, vinyl 7” record); installation, dimensions variable, https://georginastarr.com/eddyforwhistle1992STARR.htm, accessed 20 August 2021.

Gillian Wearing (1994) Dancing in Peckham, video, 25 mins, https://youtu.be/lQqZj7DhRzQ, accessed 20 August 2021.

None of them is immersive in the way immersion is currently understood as a multimedia surround environment where the view steps in. Huws’s photocopied handwritten notes on walking around a lake are in fact anything but: it is formally sparse, daringly challenging the notion of the artist’s hand (or tech) and yet affording a slow stepping into a sensorial and experiential register which affords precisely that transfer, transporting the viewer/reader around that lake with her, if they let themselves be seduced by 80gsm photocopy paper spaced on a white gallery wall (that I was told the visit was animated by a large open window that moved the sheets on the wall on a summer afternoon in London, helped further). Wearing’s silent disco before there was such a thing is of a similar register, here we don’t know what she is dancing too, the noisy VHS recording clipped to youtube dates it further. Starr’s eddies on Kings Cross station translated to her whistle tune recorded on vinyl is similarly introverted, marked by an innocuous act in public space (like Wearing and Huws also).

They are all fairly ordinary approaches towards making and then the act of transferring, translating moves the terrain and makes them extraordinary with simple means compared to the immersion at play today. They also are playful (both in production and in presentation), there is a trickster at play, a playing with the expectations of audience and curators. They are also quite introverted works, I come to realise now: they are solitary activities, contemplative, a couple a bit performative, while the headphones kind of temper the level of exposure.

None seduces, none overwhelms, yet they stay with me as a way of translating, relating environmental experiences of making (with/in) site that are effective and relevant to how I am engaging with site. I hope these will provide further inspiration as I move towards SYP and the concerns over audience engagement.

Oh, yes: the link to the haptic and the erotic in Marks: it lies again in the autonomy and ability to negotiate coming close and pulling away: of diving in and dissolution and then to surface and step out. The choice for one or the other is key here (what that means for the initial idea of letting people peer in and they get a little surprised what they discover remains to be revisited).

William Kentridge: Why I should hesitate at Deichtorhalle Hamburg

My first train travel in over nine months led me through HH and on the return I stopped and saw the first show since Shuvinai Ashoona’s Holding on to Universes at CCA Glasgow a couple of days before Lockdown 1.

I don’t linger too much around the earlier drawings and prints but enjoy the construction of viewing boxes and small rooms along with the studio space, the later hotel reception and the reading room.

I am sure I will have seen More Sweetly Play the Dance (2015), I thought it was a Documenta work but am corrected, so I am uncertain where I saw it. It, the scale of the relief prints that concern the Mediterranean refuge routes of the mid-2010s (Refugees (You Will Find No Other Seas), 2017), the work concerning the death of the African porters enlisted for the British war effort and subsequent silence (Porter Series 2005) are stunning and humbling, yes, I think that is the word.

The work is vast and serious about its sincerity and concern. I think that is what strikes me most with the scale of the print productions. And while I am often put off by large scale ambition, here I feel grateful for him affording the subject matter all that space and visibility (it enters a dialogue with my own questions of scale, encounter and engagement).

The work for the Istanbul Biennial a few years ago of Trotsky’s Hotel reception and the ghosts that would haunt that reception was sweet, funny and playful, I liked it a lot too (O Sentimental Machine 2015). The show almost ends with a large reading room and flower bouquets (Studio Flowers 2013) drawn in ink on found paper, each consisting of around 80 sheets pinned together. They framed a socially distanced reading room and library cabinet. That room worked for me so well and so did these drawings of such a quaint subject matter. Perhaps it was the earlier works that contextualised it and moved the flowers elsewhere?

Here a few images.

The exhibition site has many more videos, I am including a link to a digital symposium from Spring 2021:

touch and intimacy at a distance

close/open comes to my mind, the title I gave this site before it was a site and a body of work.

I am spending time with the small tactile objects of this work, both Herz/Stein and Drei Nuesse, turning them left and right, exploring well-tested processes and some other tangents to see what form of a tactility, touch and thus closeness I can achieve with them. First in my own hand (not so difficult), then possibly in yours (far more difficult).

Considering this an exhibition with audience participation always introduces the distance of a gallery site, however unconventional. Contact restrictions and sites closed add to this. These limitations notwithstanding, my work has also always worked with closeness and intimacy at a distance, often through social media posts, through audio messages and through touch screens. The viewing and listening experiences often one of a single person and their device. The sound and the handheld device the means for such proximity.

Yet, I remain uncertain if this will do as sensory means for the kind of objects that both Herz/Stein and Drei Nuesse are: stones, paper, yarn, shells. Their touch and the sensation of their weight, shape and surface in one’s hand does not work through a device. Can I narrate these?

The padlets are attempts to bridge such gap and to provide a visual narration through the objects. It’s an effort of translation, transfer, and yet the outcome holds in a number of ways.

In any case, in advance of a series of discussion around my tactile objects, touch and handling, here two sets of images by way of collating what objects there are:

First, the experiments for the walnut shells (cyanotype exposure of the inside; bleach+tone with walnut ink; wrapping; staining with ink inside the shell; tracing the opening with ink and graphite).

The objects created with the cyanotype, bleach and tone are delicate strip, the paper almost undone through the iterative working. They are delicate objects, perhaps suited to a light box but also not quite for handling.

Is the handling just a fantasy? Is there just a trace of the touch contained in these?

A similar gallery for the Herz/Stein processes is this one (I left them in Glasgow, had the original stones and yarn and elastic almost sent three times, today I take a new ball of red sock wool to the edge of the wood and begin to wrap stone, stick and cone):

site/event in drawing/contact, January 2020

(this clip is the outcome of 18 months trying to get the video clips in a PPT to transfer as videos in export to .mov in Powerpoint for Mac). I have some notes on the process, which I will use too.

But first: the most recent pecha kucha (no narration) from my materials. This one for a brief introduction to my research/body of work for a first hangout with other L3 people across different disciplines.

holding* / form

A container (!) post to trace the outer edges of this extended BoW.

The notion of excess, abundance is part of this work (and rose most clearly so far in the discussion with my Research tutor). Here, the written dissertation incorporates forms of glossary, appendix, additional materials, see Res report 2. A current phrase is satellite objects of the work.

In BoW this has arisen at points over conclusion and presentation: how does this work sit and enact a publicness. Much of this will be eventually resolved in SYP, yet: for BoW this remains relevant as it concerns site and access of the work and more conceptually: the internal mechanics, the animation, the organising forms of it.

An early concept was that of assemblage (raised in BoW tutorial 1); I hold it for a while, it is right in terms of the looseness, openness it suggests. I hesitate as it pushes the work firmly within Actor-Network-Theory and for my academic self the concept is too heavily laden already.

In this line of thought I remember how I conceived of the dialectics in my PhD work as internal relations and a fragmented and contradictory totality. Settling and explicating the latter was significant. It is too academic for what I am after now, and I also don’t want to get embroiled in quite such an extent in historical/critical materialist debates.

The concept maps from last winter explore much of this and are due an update. I also have a series of posts and notes that address a holding form in practice, some assembled in this earlier post.

I have the sense that the dream construction which led me to the staircase as case study site is a good organising frame. It is complex, open, it moves, it denotes an elsewhere, it allows me to drop various project strands and investigations into it. It is animated.

I use as concept for this set of questions for the body of work the tag of ‘holding’; holding space or creating a container for a work to take place within is a concept I use in my facilitation practice. It may be a gesture, pose and practice that can be utilised for this work (container, in turn, is too rigid, too closed as concept).

— I don’t feel I need to clarify much further yet. There are a series of investigations about to start, and to continue, which will clarify and test this aspect further: investigating excel/GIS as relational practice across analogue/digital; exploring geolocation a bit further as to how it can link and envision various sites on/offline (imaginary, experienced, conceived) and further work in the staircase itself.