Monthly Archives: December 2014

Realisms and Object Orientations: Art, Politics and the Philosophy of Tristan Garcia

CCW academic staff member, Maria Walsh, was invited to present a paper at the ICA symposium Realisms and Object Orientations: Art, Politics and the philosophy of Tristan Garcia on 5 December 2014. The event was co-organised by the ICA and the Politics and Fine Art departments of The University of Kent, specifically the two research centres Sound Image Space, which is located within the School of Music, and Fine Art and Critical Thought, which is an interdisciplinary forum that traverses faculties.

According to the symposium publicity, the aim of the symposium was ultimately to contribute to the debate concerning the aesthetic and political repercussions of speculative and object oriented philosophies with regard to their implications for politics and art. As the philosopher and novelist Tristan Garcia, part of this new “realist” tendency within philosophy, was presenting his fiction at the ICA on 5 Dec, it seemed apropos that some of the symposium participants would focus on his work. ‘I was interested to participate to learn more about Garcia’s work, which unlike many of the “speculative” philosophers, seems to tackle more resolutely human problematics, such as class, gender, adolescence, and death,’ said Walsh.

‘I was invited to present a more general presentation on object-oriented philosophies and art based on my feature in Art Monthly published in Nov 2013 “I Object“, which addressed this topic. My symposium presentation built on the Art Monthly feature in which I “gathered” artists such as Hito Steyerl, Ed Atkins, Andy Holden and George Barber into an “assemblage” with one another, as well as philosopher Graham Harman and sociologist Bruno Latour. The purpose of this was to question the ethics of object-oriented approaches in art and philosophy by “assembling” them with lethal objects, i.e. drone technology, which appears in both Steyerl’s and Barber’s videos albeit to different effect and intent. My symposium paper, “Anthropomorphic Relations”, extended the feminist approach of this “assemblage” by bookending the argument with philosopher Rosi Braidotti’s critique of the subject at one end and her critique of anthropocentrism and object-oriented philosophy at the other. My ultimate conclusion was that we cannot forego the politics of location and that making distinctions between flesh and rocks is necessary and is not necessarily anthropocentric.

My presentation came near the end of an intense day that began with Tristan Garcia presenting his flat ontology from his book Form and Object: A Treatise on Things. The aim of his ontology is how to think of something without first thinking of the condition of its existence. His claim was that this radical ontology, rather than producing an effect of universal equivalence, attempts to find an end to the endless liberal ontology of modernity. This was followed by a performative text scripted by artist Annie Davey, but read by an actress, which was based on an adapted excerpt of Edwin Abbott’s 1884 satirical novella Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. Davey’s text explored how a fictional, “flattened”, society is narrated as a means to teach geometry and the principles of spatial and temporal dimensions.

After a short lunch break, there were two panels of two papers each. In the first, Dr. Steve Klee (artist, academic) considered the implications of Garcia’s concept of representation for art, and Dr Iain MacKenzie (Politics and International Relations department, The University of Kent) evaluated the concept of possession in relation to private property and neo-liberalism. The second panel comprised of Ben Turner (PhD candidate in Political & Social Thought) and myself. Turner presented an overview of Garcia’s philosophy and contrasted it to the uncomfortable alliance with neoliberal ideology that emerges in Graham Harman’s object-oriented philosophy. In the final presentation of the day, artist Matthew de Kersaint Giraudeau presented a performative lecture based on his experience of 9 hours of seminars with Garcia in New York this summer at PS1. His lecture examined the affective states implied by a flattened plane of being, using adolescence and musical taste as the site through which to explore this.

At the end of this intellectually stimulating day, Tristan Garcia’s maxim that “Solitude is by definition the only relation to the world” (Form and Object, 2014), accompanied the audience as it left the building.’

Programme Director Research Profile: Lois Rowe

Beginning a series of profiles of the Programme Directors at each of the three CCW colleges, the Graduate School would like to introduce Dr Lois Rowe. Rowe is Programme Director for Fine Art at Wimbledon College of Arts. ‘I oversee the undergraduate Fine Art pathways as well as the MFA, MA Drawing courses and MA Painting, which is pending validation. Following a course review within the Fine Art programme earlier this year we are currently exploring new methodologies for teaching and finding ways through which staff research can more effectively enrich the student experience.

At Wimbledon we are interested in cultivating research around several key areas, which include performativity, collaboration, the materiality of painting and site-specific engagement. We organise an annual off-site exhibition called PARK within Wimbledon’s Cannizaro Park, which has been ongoing for over three decades. This long-standing, prestigious and unique exhibition invites a broad range of diverse responses to the park environment, playing a significant part in the development of contemporary public art practice. Student works include subtle, monumental, and interactive sculpture, performance, photography and video, and interventions with the fabric of the park and daily park life. The exhibition is accompanied by an education programme, which invites local school groups to collaborate with our students in workshops and art tours.  We also host an annual festival of performance each year, which is called Acts/Re-Acts. We are delighted to be working with our Practitioner in Residence Marvin Gaye Chetwynd again this year as we continue to extend and develop our projects with current students, alumni and staff.

I have exhibited my own work internationally since the late 90s. My research is concerned with the relationship between contemporary art and formulations of the sacred. I make narrative films and videos that explore sculpture, narrative voice and costume. The main focus of my ongoing research is on art that can be considered in relation to “numinosity”, a term that German theologian Rudolph Otto popularized in the early 20th century, describing the characteristics that are common to all religious experiences. The numinous was for Otto an “unnamed Something”, or an “X”. My PhD thesis, which I completed in 2012, argued that contemporary art that can be considered as numinous today similarly alludes to an X: a nebulous form of power that was, prior to our secular, current day, linked to deity. My thesis attempted to define the nature of such numinous power, particularly how it can typically neither be identified nor claimed by the viewer. Examples cited within the text to illustrate this dynamic were works by well-known “spiritual artists”, such as Bill Viola and James Turrell- artists whose work reinforces the idea that there is an inherent mystery present within the experience of their work, presenting a figuration of power that can never truly be accessed by the viewer.

My research draws upon Carl Schmitt’s definition of the sovereign as being the individual who decides upon the exception. I am interested in a particular claim to power through art that responds to a decision to turn away from established forms of legitimacy and instead develop one’s own legitimacy. Moreover, Richard Rorty’s concept of “ironism”— his term for putting things into one’s own vocabulary through an acknowledgement of oneself and language as contingent—is an ongoing theme in my research. I also respond to current issues and events for the online journal The Conversation.’

Image: Still from the film Argument from Design, Rowe, 2006

MPhil/PhD Intensive Week

In mid-November CCW Graduate School held its second annual MPhil/PhD Intensive Week, a programme of research workshops. The week focuses on practice and aims to introduce students to the particular expertise and experience of members of CCW’s research staff. The week includes four workshops, each looking at the spaces and domains of research in art and design under the headings of Studio (Mark Fairnington), Viva (Paul Coldwell), Social Space (Marsha Bradfield) and Text and Practice (Jo Melvin).

‘The viva represents the culmination of the years of study towards a research degree and the student’s “appointment with destiny”, whereby the claims and arguments posited in the thesis can be tested,’ said Coldwell. ‘In many ways the viva is such a unique event that no amount of preparation can cover every eventuality, but a clear understanding of the process and the roles of everyone involved certainly helps. By understanding what purpose the viva serves, the student can hopefully enter into the process and enjoy the experience. After all, the whole focus of the viva is on the student’s research, and the opportunity to discuss or even “lock horns” with senior academics in the field should be an experience to savour. The idea of giving a robust defence of the thesis was explored and the manner in which the student should be seen to be taking ownership of the research territory as laid out in their thesis.

While each examination team is different, and of course, that each thesis demands its own particular scrutiny, the appointment of an independent chair, drawn from a pool of experienced examiners within UAL ensures that each viva is conducted within the guidelines and that our university regulations are strictly adhered to.   My workshop set out to explain the preparation for the event, what happens on the day itself and what follows. It also explored various ways in which the visual material could be presented and the importance throughout of seeing the thesis as all the work to be examined- practical and written. I hope the session served to de-mysterfy the viva and answer some of the concerns and fears that students invariably harbour. From my perspective, it was a very engaging and enjoyable session with everyone participating.’

CCW PhD student Elizabeth Manchester discussed her experience in Coldwell’s workshop. ‘In his extremely useful seminar, Paul presented lots of eminently sensible and practical advice about how to approach your viva. He recommended things that should be completely obvious but sadly aren’t – like reading your thesis through several times so that you take ownership of it and can refer back to it in those high pressure moments (instead of kicking yourself afterwards when you realise that you had actually answered the question in depth several pages in, something I can imagine myself doing only too easily). He took us through all the nitty-gritty basics, such as who will be there, what the main aim of the process is, and then showed us pictures of viva set-ups, giving us a range of examples of how previous PhD candidates had dealt with that difficult issue of how to present the practice element of the research. Above all, he emphasised the positive aspects of this event: the fact that it is an opportunity not only for a real encounter with your research, but also for a really in-depth discussion of it, involving an exchange of ideas with academics in your field. Putting your work and ideas centre-stage – what could be more stimulating and exciting?!’

Recordings of the workshops by Bradfield and Coldwell are available on Soundcloud.

Becky Earley and Textile Environment Design (TED)

CCW Professor Becky Earley and the Textile Environment Design (TED) team have had a busy autumn term. As well as her work with TED, Earley is Director of the Textile Futures Research Centre based at Central Saint Martins. ‘It’s been a work whirlwind autumn for the TED team at Chelsea, as we launched our Mistra Future Fashion online exhibition with a 24-hour pop up show in the Banqueting Hall at Chelsea on 13th November,’ said Earley (to view the Textile Toolbox work and take part in a survey, visit www.textiletoolbox.com). ‘The 10 new “provotypes” (prototypes that provoke debate) suggest new materials, processes, services, systems and business models for the future sustainability of the Swedish fashion industry.

Guests at the Pop Up exhibition for www.textiletoolbox.com playing with Melanie Bowles  and Kathy Round’s Smorgasbord print design tool (photo: Mischa Haller)

Guests at the Pop Up exhibition for www.textiletoolbox.com playing with Melanie Bowles
and Kathy Round’s Smorgasbord print design tool (photo: Mischa Haller)

The day after the show came down I flew to Stockholm to continue with the Mistra research. Studying ancient making and repair tools in the Vasa Museum (which houses the incredible warship ship that sank on its inaugural voyage in 1628), I noted ways in which garments and accessories were made and repaired. The next task in Stockholm was to deliver a workshop for 17 fashion companies, showing them how to use the Higg Index and TED’s The TEN to redesign best-selling products in their range. The best result this year was a 41% improvement in environmental impact – not bad for a one-day workshop!

MISTRA workshop

Participants at the SFA Mistra workshop, November 18th 2014

The next morning it was off to Nottingham Trent University to be a panellist for a debate titled “Is Technology Killing Hand-made Crafts?”; part of a series of events marking 170 years of the art school. Grant Gibson, editor of the Crafts Council’s magazine, chaired the debate in the Newton building. Panelists, including Tavs Jørgensen, ceramic potter and research fellow at the Autonomatic Research Group, University College Falmouth, and Christopher Breward, Professor of Cultural History at the University of Edinburgh, Principal of Edinburgh College of Art and Vice Principal of the University (Creative Arts), questioned whether there is still a place for teaching traditional craft in art and design higher education as preparation for work in today and tomorrow’s creative industries.

Early the following morning I was Glasgow bound to present the Mistra Future Fashion work at a Zero Waste Scotland event, working with the Design in Action team from Dundee University and recent CCW PhD graduate Dr Jen Ballie. I showcased the physical textile samples and garments from the exhibition and talked the audience through the online exhibition. The audience was particularly interested in the work of CCW BA Textiles graduate and TED Junior Researcher Josefin Landalv. The proposed network of 10,000 Swedish cabin weavers using discarded clothing to save it from incineration resonated with the Scottish industry stakeholders and their wool industry.

zero waste scotland

Delegates at Zero Waste Scotland examining the Mistra Future Fashion work

Finally, it was on to Huddersfield University and a keynote talk at the Transition Textiles conference, where I once again showed the Mistra work, but this time focussing on the journey the TED team went on from material innovation, to systems and social considerations, to the sense of the self. Titled “The ‘i’ in the Textile Toolbox Team” I presented my own work and that of CCW PhD researcher Clara Vuletich. We have both been considering insights from the field of neuroscience and the effect that meditation has on the brain, and on the textile designer working in the field of sustainability. Ehrenfeld (2008)* suggests that in order to move towards sustainability we have to become our “whole selves”, and it seemed fitting to end this busy research dissemination period with a chance to pause and reflect on the values we are instilling in our students and the real benefits of our research on our colleagues and ultimately ourselves.

The final presentation of the term is at the House of Lords on the evening of Wednesday 10 December, where I will be showing the Mistra project to the All Parliamentary Working Group for Design and Innovation.’

*Ehrenfeld, J. (2008) Sustainability by Design: A Subversive Strategy for Transforming our Consumer Culture, Yale University Press: UK

More Than Double Glazing

David Buckland, Director of Cape Farewell (CCW Graduate School partner), will be speaking at More Than Double Glazing, an inspiring international symposium about the innovative opportunities and chances that come with sustainable conduct in the arts at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam, 11 December.

In 2001 Buckland founded Cape Farewell, focusing on the notion that art can interrogate the future with some semblance of rigour. This has been analysed and researched and become instrumental in facing the challenge of climate change. He has co-curated a number of major climate art exhibitions: Art and Climate Change for the National History Museum, London 2006; Earth for the Royal Society of Arts; U-n-f-o-l-d which has toured worldwide; Carbon 12 for the EDF Foundation Gallery, Paris 2012; Carbon 13 for the Ballroom, Texas 2013; the Carbon 14 exhibition and festival, Toronto 2013/14. Buckland is a designer, artist and film-maker whose lens-based works have been exhibited in numerous galleries in London, Paris and New York and collected by the National Portrait Gallery in London, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Getty Collection in Los Angeles and the Michael Wilson Collection amongst others. Five books of his photographs have been published, including works on the Trojan Wars and The Last Judgment featuring the sculptures of Sir Anthony Caro, and two monographs of his own work. He has designed over 20 stage sets, as well as costumes, for Siobhan Davies Dance, the Royal Ballet, Rambert Dance Company, Second Stride and Compagnie Cré-Ange.

At the symposium speakers and founders of renowned institutes such as Julie’s Bicycle (Alison Tickell) and Cape Farewell will deal with the issue of how the art world can contribute in its own way to a more ecological world. The remarkable projects that these institutes have set up, their policies and the examples they have set across the globe will be discussed in great detail. Ian Rimington of Arts Council England will show how a sustainable attitude has led the institute to apply stimuli and encourage applicants to endorse the policy of sustainability. Artists Arne Hendriks, Yeb Wiersma and Miek Zwamborn will talk about their practices and the role that sustainability plays in them. Guy Gypens of the Kaaitheater in Brussels and coordinator of Imagine 2020 will explain the innovative power of durability in the theatre and its productions. Harmen van der Hoek will expound on the prominence of durability in the programme of Leeuwarden Cultural Capital 2018. The moderator is Tracy Metz.

The full programme can be here and attendees can reserve a place by emailing [email protected].

The symposium is organised by the Jan van Eyck Academie Maastricht and takes place as part of The New Material Award exhibition and prize at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam.

What Work Does the Artwork Do?: Criticality and Context

On Thursday 4 December the symposium What Work Does the Artwork Do?: Criticality & Context brings together researchers, members of activist art groups and the general public interested in the place and role of art’s criticality. Instead of asking the definitional question ‘What is Art?’, the symposium provides a space to explore and debate the roles and purposes of artworks –  the work artworks do. Conceived by Reader Jo Melvin and Visiting Professor Chris Smith, the general public was invited to join the debate by contributing to Melvin’s and Smith’s open call for responses on the website, www.artandcriticality.org.

A few days in advance of the symposium, Melvin considers the website responses. ‘A call to contribute to the discussion about the role of art and the work we expect artwork to do would, one might imagine, in this University of the Arts context, create a deluge of respondents. Especially when we think of how frequently we “tweet”, “like”, “blog”, all the time, day in, day out, to our “friends”. Perhaps this is a knee jerk comment, on the hoof, off the cuff, a reaction, like itching a scratch that requires little or no critical reflection. And it is effected by a simple press of the button. Nonetheless, I find it surprising that at the time of writing, only one response has been made and there have been a few tentative questions asking whether, and how, it is possible to contribute.

This situation is worth unpacking. In order to do so I’m going to begin by relating the occasion when I first encountered paintings by Art & Language, at an exhibition at the ICA in the 1980s with a series of works entitled Incidents in a Museum. To see paintings was, for me, a surprise. I had expected to see text and maybe image and text, rather than text obscured by paint on canvases hanging on the wall, in a manner that appeared to me to be somewhat bereft. I was ill at ease and uncertain as to how to respond, disturbed and a little perplexed. Being perplexed, and holding on to the feeling of being perplexed, is in itself a slightly mysterious state of mind, because it is unquantifiable. Over the years, I have frequently come back to this space of uncertainty, of doubt and perplexedness in relation to the art encounter, the art “experience” in the studio and in the gallery, or wherever. Silence is hard to bear, generally in conversations, silences are perceived to be awkward. How we find a way to talk about being perplexed by art, being moved, astonished, enriched and enlivened is the beginning of our exchange with the work itself and by so doing we enter the space of uncertainty where we might end up somewhere different from where we started. This is of course a risky business and it draws out our responsibility, my responsibility, to the work itself and to the people with whom I am in discussion. Consider then, the work of art as an essay that gives voice surely gives rise to an urge to join and contribute and by so doing, stick your heads over the parapet.’

The link to contribute is live, and can be accessed here.