UWE Photography Research Takeover

I am not sure where to start. So I just will. The images you will see over the next seven days are first attempts in the exploration of something new. Playful experiments in response to words and concepts found in two papers, ‘Loop-weighted walk’ by Tyler Helmuth and ‘Self-attracting self avoiding walk’ by Alan Hammond and Tyler Helmuth. I could spend a lifetime trying to understand their work (mathematics), and that still wouldn’t be long enough.

Some of the words/concepts I am directly responding to are: Self-interacting, self-attracting, self-avoiding, random walks, loops, repulsion, loop erasure, spin, bubble chain, memory, zigzag, unwieldy, spacelike, non-empty collections, hyperedges, connectedness, flips, heaps of pieces (I especially like heaps of pieces).

The following recurring themes will also be featured in this work: Reveal and conceal, affect, the use of layers and collage, sound, and the otherworldly/make-believe.

What I find appealing about these words/concepts/themes are their ability to penetrate through the membrane of the mundane. I use this affect to attempt to illustrate the exiting of the mundane with the use of photography and digital processes, a retelling of an experience.

Acknowledgements

The papers I am referring to can be found here: ‘Loop-weighted walk’ by Tyler Helmuth: https://arxiv.org/abs/1410.3119

‘Self-attracting self avoiding walk’ by Alan Hammond and Tyler Helmuth: https://arxiv.org/abs/1712.07673

A special thank you to Tyler Helmuth for taking the time to talk to me about some of his research.

Day 1. Concrete Building

What attracted to me to self-interacting/attracting/avoiding and random walks was a simple word association that made me think of the flâneur or in my case the Flâneuse. Wandering with a camera is the starting point of my image making. My approach towards photography in the early stages of a project is traditional in the way I take photographs. It is when I enter the post-production stage when I am most influenced by concepts and ideas, and my desire to leap into another world, this is when I feel that I am making photographs.

For this image I was referencing some of the illustrations of a ‘self-avoiding walk’ used in Alan Hammond and Tyler Helmuth’s paper ‘Self-avoiding self attracting walk’. Their illustrations remind me of pixels and glitched images, and why it is easy for me to take hold of them, to see them as something other than their intended purpose.

Day 2. Water


I was thinking of the words ‘self-attracting self-avoiding walk’ when making this image, and the inevitability of a union. I am also using layers to conceal and erase sections of the image to talk about memory and erased memory. I often use opaque layers like those used in screenprinting to flatten the photograph. To create an artificial landscape through a synthesized photograph. The ‘Self-attracting self avoiding walk’ comes from a mathematics paper with the same title by Alan Hammond and Tyler Helmuth. I will use this concept throughout this takeover, and although I will never truly understand the mathematics, I am attracted to the contradiction and the poetics of the words. The snaky pixel chain up the middle of the image is my interpretation of this idea.

Day 3. Shrubs

This is my version of ‘non-empty collections of hyperedges’, a term found in Tyler Helmuth’s paper ‘Loop-weighted walk’. I think of trees as having ‘hyperedges’, especially when it comes to trying to cut them out digitally. I obviously manipulated these shrubs, trying to make them look like they are consuming themselves, which also relates to the ‘self-attracting’ theme.

Another interesting term in this paper was ‘bubble chain’, but in this case I wanted to think of this idea in an absurd way, more like shrubby bubbles, hence the bulbous crude cutouts. Some of these ‘mathematical’ terms are so curious to me. They almost seem like they were created for self-amusement, and perhaps one of the reasons why I like them so much. Finding these curious terms in an unexpected place speaks to my dis/interest in the mundane.

Day 4. Hedge 

When I found this hedge I was struck by the patterns of life and decay, and how the line between the two seemed like a map of a ‘random walk’. When making the image I was also interested in the ‘flippable’ and ‘flippability’, terms used in Alan Hammond and Tyler Helmuth’s paper ‘Self-attracting self-avoiding walk’. Using a repeat image in this way also made me think about altered memory. Or a memory from a different position.

More recently I started thinking about whether plants can feel, and this simply came from a sound memory that I have from Michelangelo Antonioni’s film ‘Blow Up’. There is a scene at the location where it is thought that a murder took place, and the leaves are rustling creating white noise. It is as if the trees and leaves are asking for help and attention.

When I came across this hedge, I wondered if it was trying to tell me something.

Day 5. Nested Loop

When making this image I was interested in sound loops and the repetition of sound and the term ‘loop erasure’ from Tyler Helmuth’s paper ‘Loop-weighted walk’. I couldn’t help but associate William Basinski’s album ‘The Disintegration of Loops’ when thinking about the term ‘loop erasure’. The combination of these ideas takes me to a sonic place. This idea will definitely need to be explored further in the future, most likely in the form of a book.

For the past year I have been exploring affect and sound, and making photographs in response to sound. Trying to create sonic documents based on experience. What is interesting about responding to text that embodies a sound idea (even if it is imagined in the case of the ‘loop erasure’), is that I am making a photograph about sound without sound, but imagining sound.

When you spend too much time with mathematicians polygons fill the sky.

Day 6. Water Tower

I have used various mathematical words and concepts as an experiment to see how it might bring something new to my photographic image making. For this image, I am using the concept ‘heaps of pieces’, as I really wanted to make a photographic heap. I dissected the image of the water tower and layered the little pieces into a heap. I wanted them to sit next to each other to show a deconstruction. Possibly a comment on the water tower being a ruin. Although, I find the pieces look optimistic, like seeds.

It was thought that it might be interesting to you that when I am not making photographs, I spend half of my time working with mathematicians. I have photographed them, made films about their creative process (not very good ones), and I have noticed that there is a ‘type’ of mathematician depending on what area of maths they do. If I should take anything from them, it should be their focus and stamina to solve problems. I would be further along in my career if I had what they had.

I made a series of images in response to some mathematics in the past, but I was asked to do it as a gift. The past projects have been public engagement efforts, not art. Some might want to label those activities as ‘art and science’ projects, but my opinion is that ‘art and science’ is an empty concept. When scientists suggest that art has impacted their research, then I might come around.

It has only been recently that I came across the papers I have been referring to this week, and that was slightly accidental. It was the titles that intrigued me. They were words without maths that I could attach meaning to. At the start of the week I wrote the sentence, ‘What I find appealing about these words/concepts/themes are their ability to penetrate through the membrane of the mundane’. What I meant by this was that most of life is the mundane, if you are lucky enough to have found a passion then everything else slips into the mundane category. So, when I was in a deep mundane moment, and these interesting words presented themselves, they seemed extraordinary because I found them in a place I wasn’t expecting to find them.

This image shows an exercise that people do when they are interested in ‘found poetry’. I wasn’t interested in poetry in this case, but by stripping away the mathematics (sorry mathematicians), it amplified the words/concepts that captured my curiosity.

Day 7. Overpass

I was thinking about two magnets when making this image, and how in certain positions they fly apart and seem to be repelled by one another, but when flipped around they cannot resist each other. To my simple mind, this seems like ‘self-avoiding self-attracting’ (the concept found in mathematics that I have been referring to throughout the week). This magnetic appeal is also felt when using Photoshop, when images or layers lock to the grid or other layers, a kind of digital magnetism. I used thin layers when making this image. Like the thin layers that make an onion. There is a fragility with each layer of this photograph, which is a bit of an oxymoron when thinking about magnetic strength, and that the subject of this photograph is an engineered concrete structure.

The subjects of the photographs this week were of nature and concrete buildings and infrastructure. Some of them shared the theme of systems or repetition. Such as the high and low tides, the ritualistic cutting of a hedge, the cars flowing on the overpass, etc. The idea of ruin and decay also featured. What once was. A memory, but no longer a collective one. Whether it is sound/music, photography, memory, nature and our hand in it, you and me, I am thinking of the temporality of it all.

The images I am sharing this week are new, not seen by anyone other than you. Works in process. An experiment to see how words and concepts from a different field might influence my work. I am not sure if I will continue exploring the subject of mathematics in this way, but it has stimulated some new ideas.

 

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Work in process

10 October 2017

Photography

It became clear in the research practice module how important photography is to my art practice. And although I typically create digital abstract collages with my photographs, it is still important that the work remains a photograph, rather than a photo etching or a screenprinted photograph. In this way the photographs sit within the photographic historical landscape, even if the traditionalist contest against my process.  I am still traditional in the sense that I use my own photographs and will often photograph with a project in mind. It is in the post-production process where I digitally create my collages with cut-up pieces of my photographs, layering pieces of pixels like they are musical notes.  These scenes can be quite abstract, but I have more recently started incorporating figurative elements. The overall image hints at the digital in how they are constructed photographs, but I am also incorporating parts of the human body or plants to root the viewer into a familiar territory, but in a make-belief world.  I think a tension is formed when the photographic medium is cut up and reinvented, but the output remains as a photographic image, rather than using a printmaking process are usual fictional and illustrative.

Books

I am new to making books, but this is an area that I want to explore in this module. I want to create a small series of books that incorporate my photographic collages and text. Words that I might define as automatic writing. Text that appears in my mind similar to how a visual idea might form.  The photographs and the words have formed separately, but I wish to bring them together in a book to see how a relationship is formed.

At the moment I see these books to be archival pigment printed, with a simple stitched binding, an exposed knot. Probably in a category of photo zines.  I may add a hand printed element, just to remind the viewer and possibly myself that these are gestures of books within the larger category of artist publications.

I do have a preference for quite traditional books. Linen hardbacks, clean design. Simple books. I would like to eventually make my own cloth bound books. Perhaps using letterpress for the text. But I don’t want my books to look too crafty, or to appear DIY. I like those kinds of books, but I don’t want to make them. I am not sure if I can make books to the level of quality that I want them to be.  Therefore, they may need to be printed for me.

I also like the idea of digital books. This is an idea that is a bit odd for me, as one of the wonderful things about books is the tactile and intimate nature of them. The digital book could create experiences that are impossible to print, such as moving image and sound. This would be controversial to the communities committed to print and paper, but could offer some experimental elements that l am curious about. Whether the book is paper or digital, I think of them as a vessel for ideas.

Print

A new project I am thinking about is called ‘Feeling plants’. There is some background research I want to do with nature and affect, but I thought that this might be one project where I could be more representational with my photographs. At the moment I see black and white photographs of pants printed as archival pigment prints or riso prints, and then either screenprinted or lino printing with some minimal shapes to act as barriers and distance between the viewer and nature.  I do want there to remain a photographic element, which is why I was thinking of adding printed elements on top of a pigment print. But I thought that this might also be a project where I could incorporate some field recordings.  I think this speaks to the poetic yearning for the landscape. The sentimental and romantic sense of loss. The desire to feel it, to get close to it, to be it.

Sound

During the research practice module, I focused on sound, photography and affect. I used affect and sound to guide the creation of my photographic montages/collages. It was sound that allowed me to think of print in a fragmented way. Layering sound, like a screenprinter might layer colours on a print, or in my case, layers of photographic images. One of the artists that I focused on was Jez riley French. He is a sound artist, photographer, composer, field recordist, writer, book maker, and educator. He combines all elements harmoniously. He also is a sound geek and makes microphones. I would be keen to take one of his workshops for the professional practice module, so that I could make my own sounds.  Although I am slightly daunted by his experience, and the lack of mine. His work in my mind is perfect and is highly respected in his field.

 

 

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Basim Magdy: The Stars Were Aligned for a Century of New Beginnings

#dearbasim
Basim Magdy’s exhibition titled The Stars Were Aligned for a Century of New Beginnings at the Arnolfini, Bristol, felt like cutting through a stick of room temperature butter with a sharp knife. Strangely pleasing. Easy. Mixes well with sugar. When I left the gallery I wanted to go right back in. Like finishing a novel that you immediately want to start again.

Above are my words in response to Basim Magdy in conversation with curator Lucy Badrocke, you can listen to it here.

More words in response to 5 films by Basim Magdy. These films are not part of this exhibition, so it was a real treat to be taken on Magdy’s artistic journey. The event began with an excellent introduction by critic and programmer Tara Judah. This was the running order:

The Many Colours of the Sky Radiate Forgetfulness (2014)

Crystal Ball (2013)

My Father Looks For an Honest City (2010)

Turtles All the Way Down (2009)

Time Laughs Back at You Like a Sunken Ship (2012)

You can watch these films from his website here, but it is always better in the dark, on a big screen, a velvet seat, and proper audio.

Basim Magdy

The videos are like kaleidoscopic streams of consciousness. The accompanying text in the films reminded me of the absurdity of Miranda July. Quirky. Amusing. Someone you wish was your friend.

Perhaps it is the memory of seeing monkeys in his piece The Everyday Ritual of Solitude Hatching Monkeys, 2014, and the warped colours, chemical stains on emulsions, and light leaked exposures on film, but it all made me think that I was a part of a hallucinogenic version of the Planet of the Apes.  Sci-fi scenes of the past or future or both.

My exhausted eyes from seeing too many images everyday found these sequences to be country air fresh. I haven’t figured out why I found comfort sitting in front of these films or looking at Magdy’s works on paper, but it brought back those feelings of hiding out in childhood forts made from couch cushions and blankets.

Impressive to have a body of work fill a building, but I do wish that all of the pieces could somehow be exhibited in one gallery space, so I wouldn’t have to be forced back to reality when going from one gallery to the next. Maybe that makes the spaces all the more special, bothy like, sheltering us from the mundane.

On my second visit, it felt like the circus elephant was sitting on my chest. I was resuscitated by waves of colour, absurd thoughts and the sheen of metallic paint.

 

 

Experiments with sound

I am interested in experimental music, and in particular, musicians and composers who are using, or have used, synthesizing digital or electronic technologies.  I am especially interested in the idea of building up visual montage through the embodied relation of sound to image.  Digital and electronic music is built up by using layers of sound and metaphor, including such things as samples and loops. Often, experimental composers will create graphic music notations as scores instead of traditional music notation.

The relation between the sound and graphic layers creates a series of affective images. Essentially, I want to integrate printmaking practices with digital technologies to create a print tapestry that mimics sound – a sonic inspired montage.

Photography

While the non-representational photograph has captured my attention, I have focused on the out of focus to abstract a scene. By subtracting the detail to preserve the essence of the framed, I have used the camera as a tool to alter reality and distort vision. I have been interested in using photography in this way since the late 90’s. I am still interested in this approach, but I am looking to add complexity to the images, but trying to retain simplicity. Thinking with sound – printing with sound – may be one way to do this.

Sound

What really gets me excited is experimental music.

Sonic surprises.

The unexpected and non-linear.

Without narrative or conversation.

When I am not sure where a piece of music is going, where it’s taking me, or how it will end, I think of this as a sound adventure.

So far my art practice has felt flat. One image to be read at a time. I want to try to lend it some experimental vigour.

While the non-representational photograph has captured my attention, I have focused on the out of focus to abstract a scene. By subtracting the detail to preserve the essence of the framed, I have used the camera as a tool to alter reality and distort vision. I have been interested in using photography in this way since the late 90’s. I am still interested in this approach, but I am looking to add complexity to the images, but trying to retain simplicity. Thinking with sound – printing with sound – may be one way to do this.

Since starting this project, I have been using music as a direct source of influence in my art practice, by listening to music and creating photomontages at the same time.  Artists using music as their “subject” is not a new idea.

One inspiration for me in this work is John Cage, and his multi-disciplinary approach towards sound, print, and text.  Studying some of Cage’s print work will inform my own experimentation with multiple forms of content (images and text), so adding affective layers to my print tapestry. I will focus on the etchings Cage did over a 15-year period at Crown Point Press in San Francisco, together with his experimental writing, including the lectures and writings found in his book, Silence.

I will be thinking about the following questions when creating my sonic montages:

  1. Do images act as sound agents?
  2. Given that music is an experience of temporality and print temporal in a different way (we can explore this difference in the discussion), how can I create layered prints that unexpectedly delight, as with sonic surprises?
  3. How might we use visual registers to embody the resonance of sound samples?

My motivation with this research project has the following two objectives:

  1. By using experimental music rather than a visual object to work from, I will seek to sample, synthesize, and abstract narratives from the photographs I work from. The final images aim to be abstract yet affective, but which perform, in their visuality, some of the experimental encounters manifest in sound art.
  1. By becoming more attuned to the processes of layering and building experimental music, I want to build and layer images in experimental combinations of, like sound: texture, depth, shimmer, touch, movement, and evolution. These, I hope will add richness and complexity to my work.

By trying to add texture and dimension into a flat, static space, I have the following questions in mind:

Can images act as sound agents, and vice versa?

Can I create prints that unexpectedly delight like sonic surprises?

Can I use visual symbols to represent sound samples? And are these symbols resonant, in similar ways, for others. In other words, do particular sounds and images share an affective force, a felt embodiment that comes from the sound- image, rather than an interpretive representation that is placed on the sound. If we feel sound, literally, which we do, do we similarly feel vision. Can this force be imaged, if not represented?

Since I started this experiment, I have been listening to music differently, and thinking about the following:

What does sound look like?

What shape does a particular sound have, is it small and bright, or fat, soft, and/or translucent?

Do the shapes flow from left to right, or have a gravitational pull from being weighty, or do the sounds float and dance up like bubbles in a carbonated drink?

And how does print’s feeling, texture, and depth, rather than simply the flatness of photography play into the reverberation of this felt process.

We know that we can print sound, as in vinyl; feeling sound is another matter. Perhaps vision, and the textured vision of print, may help us to appreciate how we are literally moved by, and so moved to make things, by the resonance of the sound-images themselves.