Assignment 1- Response and reflection on selected tutor comments.

Comment [H1]: Good for research but not necessarily needed in answer to the brief but never mind better too much than too little.

This was my first assignment and I was keen to think as much as I could around any issues. In my later assignments I became better at keeping to the essay briefs (especially assignment 4). However, as the course progressed I did try to give myself an outlet for thinking and connecting, through my extended responses to note taking of the different texts. These essay length responses grew out of questions I initially had when reading each text.

 

Comment [H9]: Do you think that art should be pleasurable? Is there no place for art which discomforts?

As an initial response it seems to make sense that art be pleasurable- or at least that we get something out of it which is either rewarding or relaxing. In order to get a little further I thought about the same question applied to a film. Should a film be pleasurable? Well, I think I may either like or dislike a film, but the ones I like may not be pleasurable as such. For example I enjoy the film Schindler’s list, a film about the Nazis and a concentration camp- the story, the artistic vision, the acting, the emotions; but many scenes are shocking and dreadful. We must apply the same thinking to enjoying or getting pleasure from paintings, but I’m not used to thinking this way!

Perhaps I can enjoy a painting in many ways- just like the film. The term pleasurable I will take to be analogous to ‘enjoy’ and can be interpreted very broadly (as in so many other situations, this may be a matter of semantics). So I can enjoy a painting even if it shows a terrible scene (eg. Picasso’s Guernica), and I enjoy Schindler’s list likewise. Relevant to this comment is that I frequently ‘dislike’ a painting based on a first impression and think no more about. If I watch a film I have more time to consider it, to go beyond any first impressions. I can still dislike it, but I should consider it carefully and thoroughly before dismissing it. So should it be with paintings.

 

 

 

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Response to tutor feedback on Part One

Feedback

Peter has given a written report this time, but has suggested a video tutorial next time which sounds like a good idea.

My tutor has suggested that in the very full response I have given to assignment one, there were things which were not relevant to the question at hand. This seems a very fair comment.

To explain my approach to these projects, initially I began to summarise the texts through relatively isolated sentences, and a page number indicating the source page. At the end of the project I tried to summarise my knowledge by answering the questions posed in the OCA handbook.

At this stage I had felt very bogged down by the complexity of the average text in the readers (though this did vary). As I continued to work on the projects, I did not necessarily find them easier to understand, but I began to get better at working hard to understand the text. I was pleased to see just how much I was enjoying and understanding the texts, and a few projects in I was developing a slightly more comprehensive response to them, initially satisfied by added written notes or questions (often in italics to show they were my own).

As I read more of the texts I became a little more polished in my text summary, which developed into prose style and Harvard citations (including page number).  Additionally I started incorporating the many ideas that I was having into the text via extended prose. These  included both ideas of my own, contextual references to similar (or dissimilar) ideas by other thinkers, and (to my surprise) many thoughts about how the texts were written- their clarity, their language, their consistency, or the words and phrases used.

An interesting consequence of this collation was that I became a little better at indicating the different voices within my text through signposting. The main body of the text was simply summarising the author’s ideas (signposted by the text citation), my contextualisation was indicated by citations to other authors, and my own ideas were not subject to citations. I hope over part one that the different voices are becoming more  clear. I have not really thought about that technique much before, but began to experiment after reading The Harvard Guide to Using Sources (2016), and making notes and reflecting on them (see my BLOG – ‘An exercise to improve my use of academic sources’).

To return to my tutor’s comment, I think I’ve tried to enjoy the process of writing my texts, and have slightly taken my eye off the ball with respect to keeping strictly on the question. I hope this will become less of a problem if I concentrate on remaining relevant from now on.

My report has highlighted that finding out the ‘why’ of artist’s work is key, and that no one period or idea contains the right answer. Sometimes the former question seems the most difficult; after all we seldom have an artist’s view on exactly why he produced a particular work. More likely we extrapolate our thoughts about his general ideas, which seems a reasonable technique.

In my projects so far I have tended to use ideas from the essential texts I have read for the projects. It would be useful to try and broaden my use of citations to include other sources that I have looked at on the net, or in wider reading.

During my reading I have tried to keep an open and flexible mind on which articles to cite in relation to the ideas in the project texts. I’ve  followed my intuition in using both the ideas of others (and how they relate to the project text), and also my own ideas.  Indeed one of the exciting things for me has been how many ideas of my own (of course no idea is truly original) I’ve had.

I have consciously let these ideas flow and worked against the thought that I should not say them, especially if they look a little tenuous, or if they are critical of a text’s style or inconsistency. Instead I have taken the view that even if my ideas are non-sensical, or opaque to someone else, or that I am in the wrong (and ‘a more learned reader would see that’) , or that the text is not inconsistent, or the style is like that because ‘that’s how great thinkers express themselves’…….even if all these things are true, it’s better to have ideas and risk it (though some fail in the final analysis) than to be struggling to express myself.

I have also enjoyed being a little more creative with my own language and style, and even allowed myself to write slightly longer sentences than is usual for a scientist (which in another life I am), for added effect. This may also have contributed to the wordiness of some of my writings so far.

From a purely practical point of view, I am under a little time pressure on this module, and it will take enough time to effectively analyse the relevant questions for my responses, without addressing those that are less relevant.

My tutor has annotated my assignment, and has indicated that these are questions which It would be good to think about;/write about in my BLOG, which I shall try to do.

Learning Logs

Although my tutor is happy with my BLOG so far, he has correctly pointed out that I need to include some responses to exhibitions, websites and my learning process. This module is so different to my previous painting module that I seem to have forgotten to include these types of writing (with a few exceptions). I’ll try to remedy this by regular reflecting after my projects, and regularly visiting exhibitions and websites in the future. I will also undertake a brief review of my projects so far with a view to some retrospective analysis of my learning.

Suggested reading/viewing

My reading so far has been concentrated on the 3 essential texts,  ways of seeing (John Berger), Art in theory 1900-2000 (Harrison and Wood) and visual culture: a reader (Evans and Hall). I have begun to read and occasionally cite ideas from the visual culture reader (Mirzoeff-the 3rd edition is the one I’ve got). It would also be useful to widen my reading to include regular visits to the OCA website, and the other websites suggested. I have decided to buy Art history-the basics (Pooke and Newell) because it looks like this book may put visual studies into a context of the Art that I am used to looking at, whereas the texts above tend to be more general.

Bibliography

Harvard College Writing Program. (2016). Harvard Guide to Using Sources [online] At : http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k70847&pageid=icb.page350378. (Accessed on 13 November 2016).

 

 

Assignment 1-Formative feedback

 Formative feedback

 

Student name Philip Hepworth Student number 508858
Course/Unit Understanding Visual Culture Assignment number 1

 

Overall Comments

How about next time we set up a video tutorial?  I haven’t suggested it this time as much because of the time factor as anything else. So I have done a written report this time.  Let me know tour thoughts on this.

 

 

Feedback on assignment  

This is a very full response to the brief in many ways.  As I have said in my annotations, too much is generally better than too little but only to an extent!  Sometimes you have included things that, although interesting in themselves and certainly part of the good research results are not strictly relevant to the question at hand.  I am sure that you will get this balance sorted out as you progress through the unit and not something to stress about at this stage.

There are a couple of things to bear in mind, what we are really about is sorting out the ‘why’ of the matters in hand, particularly ‘why’ artists have done what it is they have done and how the ideas and insights of the various  theories under discussion help us to get to grips with the question of ‘why’.  The other thing to remember is that no one theory or period (-ism or whatever) has all the answers and the unit is not trying to convince you that any one theoretical stance is better or worse than any other, rather that certain ideas seem to have relevance and importance at certain times and so tend to influence the work made, or help to explain the work made at that time.  Sometimes later ideas supersede earlier ones and shed even more light on the work and practices…hindsight is not something to be ignored here!

The intention of the brief was really that you should talk about three artists in the first section and then analyse three work in the second but I think that we can say that you have done the underlying work and explored the ideas in question so let’s move on.

When I as questions in my notes, it is that I want you to send answers to me but that you address these questions yourself and perhaps discuss them in your blog…matters to think about as it were.

This is a promising start to the module in my opinion.  I know that some of the key texts might not be the easiest to deal with but you seem to be coping well with that.

I look forward to your next assignment.

 

Learning Logs or Blogs/Critical review/essay

Your blog/learning journal seems to be shaping up well.  It shows that you are engaging with th topics in the unit with enthusiasm and I am pleased to see you applying some of the ideas beyond simply the unit itself.  It is a good idea to reflect on exhibitions and websites that you visit and do include some self-reflection of the “What I learned from….is….” and notes about how the unit is or even is not affecting your practical work.

 

Suggested reading/viewing

A couple of books have come to my attention since compiling the lists for this module in case you are interested in investigating them, they are:

Pooke, Grant and Newall, Diana. (2008), Art History: the basics, London: Routledge.

Sturken, Marita and Cartwright, Lisa. (2009), Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Also The third edition of Mizoeff’s book has appeared, it doesn’t have the readings in it that are referred to in the unit notes but a whole lot of current, shall we say post-postmodern articles…worth remembering for later on:

Mirzoeff, N., ed., 2012. The Visual Culture Reader. 3rd ed. London: Routledge.

I normally include a link to Ways of Seeing  here but you mention it in your response this time so I have left it out but it is a relevant text for the next assignment.

 

Pointers for the next assignment

  • Artists and students often engage in transcription projects and this link is quite interesting in showing how a student from Wimbledon went about it. http://process.arts.ac.uk/content/national-gallery-transcription-project-poussin
  • Think how or if this differs from appropriation art http://arthistory.about.com/od/glossary_a/a/a_appropriation.htm and how both of these differ from the use of works of art in advertising (John Berger has a lot to say about this in Ways of Seeing)
  • All of these things could provide material for this assignment and bear in mind the readings when making you choices and comments.
  • The link in the brief for Looking at Other Artists is changed the new one is in the Getting Started Study Guides (the direct link won’t work here as it is a secure site) You might want to annotate a copy of the work in your notebook and send me a copy of this…but it is up to you how you approach the brief.

 

Tutor name Peter Haveland
Date 14/03/2017
Next assignment due 19/05/2017

 

Assignment 1- The interaction of media.

  1. Richard Hamilton

hamilton

Fig. 1 Kent State (1970)

Richard Hamilton (1922-2011) was a British artist and art commentator. He was a co-founder of the Independent Group in 1956, a collection of people working in various media (including painting and architecture). The group was interested in technology and contemporary culture (Hamilton, 2003: 742), and Hamilton exhibited work which led directly to the term ‘Pop art’ in Britain. Hamilton saw pop art as a way of appropriating the subjects of popular culture and mass media, into the business of fine art, and was necessary if the artist was to avoid becoming redundant (Hamilton, 2003:743).

Other writers such as Lawrence Alloway had similar views.  Alloway fought against the idea of artistic elites, and championed the ideas and art of the masses. He believed that the industrial revolution had increased the importance of the masses (the working class?), and that rapid changes in popular culture and popular art forms were better descriptions of life than the more conservative and academic artistic elite.

He directly criticised Clement Greenberg over his use of the word Kitsch to describe ‘a mass art which was destined for ‘those who are insensible to the values of genuine culture.’ (Alloway. 2003: 715). He thought the ‘rejection of the mass produced arts is not, as critics think, a defence of culture but an attack on it’. (Alloway, 2003: 717).

Within this context of mass culture Hamilton produced art from photographs, paintings, and reproduction techniques such as printing and lithography. His ideas drew upon mass media such as newspapers, magazines, TV and advertisements. Fig. 1 shows a print (one of 5000) based on a photograph that Hamilton took whilst watching TV news. It depicts a shooting of a university student by the national guard, during an anti-war demonstration in the USA.  Hamilton thought it was a powerful image and developed it further (Tate online, n.d).

The artist described the many routes and processes through which the original information had passed in  order to arrive at the final prints. This involved a cine camera (at the scene), taking chaotic and shaky footage, satellite broadcast by the USA, UK TV  station broadcast, electrons in Hamilton’s TV screen/cathode ray tube exciting the pixcels into different amounts and colours of light (ref). Then, once the artist took the picture of the TV screen, it was transformed additionally through a long process of mechanical reproductions into the final prints.  This included the use of a process camera to transfer several different images into different patterns on 13 nylon grids. Each grid was used via the process of print screening, to transfer 15 layers of differently arranged and coloured transparent paint onto each final print paper (2 grids were used twice) (Tate online, n.d).

Fig 1. Shows an image which is both real and abstract to a degree. It is still recognisably a picture of a person who is lying prone, with others around them. The print is in a format which suggests the average TV screen, and the grid of the screen is detectable within the image- echos of the original circumstances when Hamilton first engaged with the scene.  However, the complexity of the information transmission process has caused a loss of some information and a consequent blurring and fuzziness. This has been augmented by the overlapping of different coloured transparencies which, at the edges, have given a feeling of movement-  almost reinstating the life of the original footage. Despite this ghostly appearance, the wounds are powerfully described using a very vivid red to suggest blood.  During the transformation this image has become less like a photograph, and much more artistic, more colourful, subtle, and painterly.

It is interesting to analyse this work in terms of both the artists feelings and those of the thinker Walter Benjamin. The original subject here was a violent act against a student protester. The authentic object from Benjamin’s point of view was probably the original footage on cine camera. This scene, viewed through the camera lens by the photographer alone may have contained characteristics of the immediate shock and chaos felt by all involved. This usefully corresponds to Benjamin’s aura of the original (Benjamin, 1999: 76).  Hamilton described the process of change starting at his camera,

‘In spite of the many transmogrifications, what’s left always has a kind of validity. So every change that I have made, so long as my hand didn’t come into it, and as long as I didn’t tamper with it in a physical way, had its own  authenticity’                                                                                                                                                                           (tate online, n.d)

This is a classic restatement of Benjamin’s discussion that process reproduction (as opposed to manual reproduction) does not destroy authenticity completely (Benjamin, 1999: 73-4). Benjamin also states that the loss of aura involves both things becoming closer physically and humanly, and a loss of uniqueness of an object (Benjamin, 1999:75). This too is applicable to the violent scene which Hamilton saw on his TV screen that night. The loss of aura through transmission to another person, is also accompanied by a reactivation of something else- not tradition, something different (Benjamin, 1999: 74). Hamilton was shocked by the scene- but no doubt it did not make his heart race and his skin crawl, as it might have done to the camera operator ( perhaps the true presence of the aura here).However he was moved to highlight the political aspects via his artistic method. His process transformed the scene for a different audience, an artistic one – one perhaps more ostensibly ‘cultured’, powerful, and political than many TV consumers.

Gerhard Richter

Fig. 2 Grauwald (2008)

ichter

 

Gerhard Richter (b.1932) is an artist who has worked in a whole variety of different styles, but at times has seemed obsessed with both photographs and painting. He, and his thoughts on these disciplines seem a little enigmatic, sometimes inconsistent, and perhaps ‘melodramatic’.

In ‘Notes 1964-65’ he seems to turn the thinking of certain writers on it’s head. For example he believes in the precision of the photograph (Richter, 2003: 757), but in stark contrast to Brik, who believes in the supremacy of the photograph as a record, over the painterly and artistic progress (Brik, 2003: 473), Richter states that the photo is meaningless as a record of reality (Richter, 2003: 759).  And yet, Richter also sees that photos have taken on religious overtones, with people using pictures of family or friends in quasi- religious ways (Richter, 2003: 757). By acknowledging this he acknowledges that photos have a religious or ‘magic’ characteristic which Walter Benjamin believes to be a sign of authenticity (Benjamin, 2003: 76). This seems absurd if the subject is indeed meaningless.

Richter’s work almost universally uses photographs as a source material, but the emphasis is on the painting process and the materials he uses. He seems to be making a firm statement for the supremacy of the painting (the object) over the photograph (the subject). He uses the photograph simply to suggest artistic elements to him, all that interests him are ‘ the grey areas, the passages and the tonal sequences, the pictorial spaces, overlaps and interlockings.’ (Richter, 2003: 759). In fact it seems that if he had  the power simply to imagine such elements, he would simply paint abstracts from his imagination.

Fig 2 shows one of the artists ‘painted over photographs’. This seems to suggest  painting’s supremacy over the photo in several ways. Firstly paint is placed directly on top of the photo, a very physical and painterly sign of dominance. Secondly the photograph, of a wood, has been obscured by the paint till it is almost unrecognisable- as a photo. Furthermore, the grey paint is monochrome and hence less real compared to the colours of the source photo- which emphasises paint- over photography (and Brik’s faithful camera reproduction (Brik, 2003:471)).  Even the title Grauwald (Greywood) puts paint and the monochrome grey rather clumsily and surprisingly before the more familiar call to reality contained in the word Wald (wood).

3.Luciana Haill

This artist works between the borders of science and art. She is a research fellow at Sussex university and investigates the Neurophysiology of Lucid Dreaming, and her own personal sleep consciousness (Haill, 2016 a.). Her installation ‘Sleep cycles’ includes several different objects. Fig.3 and 4 show part of the artwork.

1

Fig. 3 Sleep cycles (2016)  i.

Fig 3 shows a digital representation of the brainwaves (The EEG-electroencephalogram) recorded during a subject’s vivid dream, superimposed on a weighty book. The artist has said that the wave pattern indicated light REM sleep, close to waking. The waves shown include some corresponding to rapid eye movement, and a dream in which the subject recalled riding a unicorn along a beach (Haill, 2016 b.).

I find the artistic impression of fig. 3 to be rather weak however. It does not give me a palpable pleasurable feeling which I get when I like art or music, be it modern or traditional.  This is a strong litmus test for me, although within this test may lurk the problems of personal prejudice and/or laziness in my artistic response.  The juxtaposition of the old and new is certainly striking though.

I do think the new potential for art to be expressed using physical manifestations of our thoughts (both conscious and subconscious- previously little known to us), is massively powerful.  This artist is interested in exactly what scientists are interested in- with a different artistic slant. The revolution in psychology and psychiatry has involved both it’s beginnings in the subconscious and ‘the interpretation of dreams’ by Sigmund Freud, but latterly a drive to connect thoughts with physically identifiable entities- whether EEG waves or the status of anatomical areas of the brain.

 

The use of advanced imaging such as MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is a modern modality of ‘seeing’- not with white light (as in human vision), nor using X-rays (as through X-ray pictures- which the artist Francis Bacon was interested in), but with quite different physical magnetic waves. It is a continuation of the scientist’s urge to visualise with increasing resolution and power, and the use of these modalities for recreation and learning in art is intriguing.   These possibilities of vision are extensions of the idea discussed by Benjamin, that the camera and it’s photograph introduced us to  ‘unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses….’ (Benjamin, 1999: 78).

2

Fig. 4  Sleep cycles  (2016) iiI

Returning to the installation, Fig. 4 shows a second part and includes rolls of pianola paper, several antique-looking books, and a 14 million year old rock fragment in two hemispheres contained within a glass jar, which has an extinguished candle attached, and a trail of hardened melted wax. The rock sections look like a dissected brain to the novice. The candle, the rock, and perhaps also the pianola, are interesting objects from the perspective of physical manifestation of duration and a physical process which is nevertheless ‘nebulous’.   The wax trail illustrates the life of the burnt candle, the different rock areas perhaps the duration of the physical processes which formed them; even the pianola paper translates something physical (marks on the page) into a different form (sound and music). Perhaps these objects reference the idea of capturing the physical trail of a nebulous thought or dream?

Illustrations 

 Fig. 1 Hamilton, R.  Kent State (1970)  [screenprint on paper].  Online at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hamilton-kent-state-p77043 [accessed 16th February 2017]

Fig. 2 Richter, G. Grauwald (2008)  [Lacquer on colour photograph].  Online at: https://www.gerhard-richter.com/en/art/overpainted-photographs/grauwald-79/12108-grauwald-16544/?&categoryid=79&p=1&sp=32 [accessed 16th February 2017]

Fig. 3 and 4.  Haill, L. Sleepcycles  (2016) [installation].  Online at: https://lucianahaill.wordpress.com/sleepcycles/ [accessed 16th February 2017]

 References

Alloway, L. (2003) . ‘The Arts and the Mass Media’ 1958   In  Harrison,C. and Wood,P. (eds). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p. 715-717

Benjamin, W.(1999) ‘The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction’ in In visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.      p. 72-8

Brik, O. (2003) . ‘Photography versus Painting’ 1926  In  Harrison,C. and Wood,P. (eds). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p. 470-473

Haill,  L (2016 a) ‘Sleepcycles’ online at: https://lucianahaill.wordpress.com/digital-artworks/ [accessed 16th February 2017]

Haill, L (2016 b) ‘Technology is not neutral’ online at: http://technologyisnotneutral.com/LucianaHaill [accessed 16th February 2017]

Hamilton, R. (2003) . ‘For the Finest Art, Try Pop’ 1961   In  Harrison,C. and Wood,P. (eds). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p. 742-743.

Richter , G. (2003) . ‘Notes 1964-1965’  In  Harrison,C. and Wood,P. (eds). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p. 757-760

Tate online, (no date). The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, online at : http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hamilton-kent-state-p77043 [accessed 16th February 2017]

The interaction of media

1.Richard Hamilton

hamilton

Fig. 1 Kent State (1970)

Richard Hamilton (1922-2011) was a British artist and art commentator. He was a co-founder of the Independent Group in 1956, a collection of people working in various media (including painting and architecture). The group was interested in technology and contemporary culture (Hamilton, 2003: 742), and Hamilton exhibited work which led directly to the term ‘Pop art’ in Britain. Hamilton saw pop art as a way of appropriating the subjects of popular culture and mass media, into the business of fine art, and was necessary if the artist was to avoid becoming redundant (Hamilton, 2003:743).

Other writers such as Lawrence Alloway had similar views.  Alloway fought against the idea of artistic elites, and championed the ideas and art of the masses. He believed that the industrial revolution had increased the importance of the masses (the working class?), and that rapid changes in popular culture and popular art forms were better descriptions of life than the more conservative and academic artistic elite.

He directly criticised Clement Greenberg over his use of the word Kitsch to describe ‘a mass art which was destined for ‘those who are insensible to the values of genuine culture.’ (Alloway. 2003: 715). He thought the ‘rejection of the mass produced arts is not, as critics think, a defence of culture but an attack on it’. (Alloway, 2003: 717).

Within this context of mass culture Hamilton produced art from photographs, paintings, and reproduction techniques such as printing and lithography. His ideas drew upon mass media such as newspapers, magazines, TV and advertisements. Fig. 1 shows a print (one of 5000) based on a photograph that Hamilton took whilst watching TV news. It depicts a shooting of a university student by the national guard, during an anti-war demonstration in the USA.  Hamilton thought it was a powerful image and developed it further (Tate online, n.d).

The artist described the many routes and processes through which the original information had passed in  order to arrive at the final prints. This involved a cine camera (at the scene), taking chaotic and shaky footage, satellite broadcast by the USA, UK TV  station broadcast, electrons in Hamilton’s TV screen/cathode ray tube exciting the pixcels into different amounts and colours of light (ref). Then, once the artist took the picture of the TV screen, it was transformed additionally through a long process of mechanical reproductions into the final prints.  This included the use of a process camera to transfer several different images into different patterns on 13 nylon grids. Each grid was used via the process of print screening, to transfer 15 layers of differently arranged and coloured transparent paint onto each final print paper (2 grids were used twice) (Tate online, n.d).

Fig 1. Shows an image which is both real and abstract to a degree. It is still recognisably a picture of a person who is lying prone, with others around them. The print is in a format which suggests the average TV screen, and the grid of the screen is detectable within the image- echos of the original circumstances when Hamilton first engaged with the scene.  However, the complexity of the information transmission process has caused a loss of some information and a consequent blurring and fuzziness. This has been augmented by the overlapping of different coloured transparencies which, at the edges, have given a feeling of movement-  almost reinstating the life of the original footage. Despite this ghostly appearance, the wounds are powerfully described using a very vivid red to suggest blood.  During the transformation this image has become less like a photograph, and much more artistic, more colourful, subtle, and painterly.

It is interesting to analyse this work in terms of both the artists feelings and those of the thinker Walter Benjamin. The original subject here was a violent act against a student protester. The authentic object from Benjamin’s point of view was probably the original footage on cine camera. This scene, viewed through the camera lens by the photographer alone may have contained characteristics of the immediate shock and chaos felt by all involved. This usefully corresponds to Benjamin’s aura of the original (Benjamin, 1999: 76).  Hamilton described the process of change starting at his camera,

In spite of the many transmogrifications, what’s left always has a kind of validity. So every change that I have made, so long as my hand didn’t come into it, and as long as I didn’t tamper with it in a physical way, had its own authenticity, too.                                                                                                                                                                                  (Tate online, n.d)

This is a classic restatement of Benjamin’s discussion that process reproduction (as opposed to manual reproduction) does not destroy authenticity completely (Benjamin, 1999: 73-4). Benjamin also states that the loss of aura involves both things becoming closer physically and humanly, and a loss of uniqueness of an object (Benjamin, 1999:75). This too is applicable to the violent scene which Hamilton saw on his TV screen that night. The loss of aura through transmission to another person, is also accompanied by a reactivation of something else- not tradition, something different (Benjamin, 1999: 74). Hamilton was shocked by the scene- but no doubt it did not make his heart race and his skin crawl, as it might have done to the camera operator ( perhaps the true presence of the aura here).However he was moved to highlight the political aspects via his artistic method. His process transformed the scene for a different audience, an artistic one – one perhaps more ostensibly ‘cultured’, powerful, and political than many TV consumers.

2.Gerhard Richter

ichter.jpg

Fig. 2 Grauwald (2008)

Gerhard Richter (b.1932) is an artist who has worked in a whole variety of different styles, but at times has seemed obsessed with both photographs and painting. He, and his thoughts on these disciplines seem a little enigmatic, sometimes inconsistent, and perhaps ‘melodramatic’.

In ‘Notes 1964-65’ he seems to turn the thinking of certain writers on it’s head. For example he believes in the precision of the photograph (Richter, 2003: 757), but in stark contrast to Brik, who believes in the supremacy of the photograph as a record, over the painterly and artistic progress (Brik, 2003: 473), Richter states that the photo is meaningless as a record of reality (Richter, 2003: 759).  And yet, Richter also sees that photos have taken on religious overtones, with people using pictures of family or friends in quasi- religious ways (Richter, 2003: 757). By acknowledging this he acknowledges that photos have a religious or ‘magic’ characteristic which Walter Benjamin believes to be a sign of authenticity (Benjamin, 2003: 76). This seems absurd if the subject is indeed meaningless.

Richter’s work almost universally uses photographs as a source material, but the emphasis is on the painting process and the materials he uses. He seems to be making a firm statement for the supremacy of the painting (the object) over the photograph (the subject). He uses the photograph simply to suggest artistic elements to him, all that interests him are ‘ the grey areas, the passages and the tonal sequences, the pictorial spaces, overlaps and interlockings.’ (Richter, 2003: 759). In fact it seems that if he had  the power simply to imagine such elements, he would simply paint abstracts from his imagination.

Fig 2 shows one of the artists ‘painted over photographs’. This seems to suggest  painting’s supremacy over the photo in several ways. Firstly paint is placed directly on top of the photo, a very physical and painterly sign of dominance. Secondly the photograph, of a wood, has been obscured by the paint till it is almost unrecognisable- as a photo. Furthermore, the grey paint is monochrome and hence less real compared to the colours of the source photo- which emphasises paint- over photography (and Brik’s faithful camera reproduction (Brik, 2003:471)).  Even the title Grauwald (Greywood) puts paint and the monochrome grey rather clumsily and surprisingly before the more familiar call to reality contained in the word Wald (wood).

3.Luciana Haill

This artist works between the borders of science and art. She is a research fellow at Sussex university and investigates the Neurophysiology of Lucid Dreaming, and her own personal sleep consciousness (Haill, 2016 a.). Her installation ‘Sleep cycles’ includes several different objects. Fig.3 and 4 show part of the artwork.

1

Fig. 3 Sleepcycles (2016) I.

2

Fig. 4 Sleepcycles (2016) ii.

Fig 3 shows a digital representation of the brainwaves (The EEG-electroencephalogram) recorded during a subject’s vivid dream, superimposed on a weighty book. The artist has said that the wave pattern indicated light REM sleep, close to waking. The waves shown include some corresponding to rapid eye movement, and a dream in which the subject recalled riding a unicorn along a beach (Haill, 2016 b.).

I find the artistic impression of fig. 3 to be rather weak however. It does not give me a palpable pleasurable feeling which I get when I like art or music, be it modern or traditional.  This is a strong litmus test for me, although within this test may lurk the problems of personal prejudice and/or laziness in my artistic response.  The juxtaposition of the old and new is certainly striking though.

I do think the new potential for art to be expressed using physical manifestations of our thoughts (both conscious and subconscious- previously little known to us), is massively powerful.  This artist is interested in exactly what scientists are interested in- with a different artistic slant. The revolution in psychology and psychiatry has involved both it’s beginnings in the subconscious and ‘the interpretation of dreams’ by Sigmund Freud, but latterly a drive to connect thoughts with physically identifiable entities- whether EEG waves or the status of anatomical areas of the brain.

The use of advanced imaging such as MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is a modern modality of ‘seeing’- not with white light (as in human vision), nor using X-rays (as through X-ray pictures- which the artist Francis Bacon was interested in), but with quite different physical magnetic waves. It is a continuation of the scientist’s urge to visualise with increasing resolution and power, and the use of these modalities for recreation and learning in art is intriguing.   These possibilities of vision are extensions of the idea discussed by Benjamin, that the camera and it’s photograph introduced us to  ‘unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses….’ (Benjamin, 1999: 78).

Returning to the installation, Fig. 4 shows a second part and includes rolls of pianola paper, several antique-looking books, and a 14 million year old rock fragment in two hemispheres contained within a glass jar, which has an extinguished candle attached, and a trail of hardened melted wax. The rock sections look like a dissected brain to the novice. The candle, the rock, and perhaps also the pianola, are interesting objects from the perspective of physical manifestation of duration and a physical process which is nevertheless ‘nebulous’.   The wax trail illustrates the life of the burnt candle, the different rock areas perhaps the duration of the physical processes which formed them; even the pianola paper translates something physical (marks on the page) into a different form (sound and music). Perhaps these objects reference the idea of capturing the physical trail of a nebulous thought or dream?

Illustrations 

 Fig. 1 Hamilton, R.  Kent State (1970)  [screenprint on paper].  Online at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hamilton-kent-state-p77043 [accessed 16th February 2017]

Fig. 2 Richter, G. Grauwald (2008)  [Lacquer on colour photograph].  Online at: https://www.gerhard-richter.com/en/art/overpainted-photographs/grauwald-79/12108-grauwald-16544/?&categoryid=79&p=1&sp=32 [accessed 16th February 2017]

Fig. 3 and 4.  Haill, L. Sleepcycles  (2016) [installation].  Online at: https://lucianahaill.wordpress.com/sleepcycles/ [accessed 16th February 2017]

 References

Alloway, L. (2003) . ‘The Arts and the Mass Media’ 1958   In  Harrison,C. and Wood,P. (eds). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p. 715-717

Benjamin, W.(1999) ‘The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction’ in In visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.      p. 72-8

Brik, O. (2003) . ‘Photography versus Painting’ 1926  In  Harrison,C. and Wood,P. (eds). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p. 470-473

Haill,  L (2016 a) ‘Sleepcycles’ online at: https://lucianahaill.wordpress.com/digital-artworks/ [accessed 16th February 2017]

Haill, L (2016 b) ‘Technology is not neutral’ online at: http://technologyisnotneutral.com/LucianaHaill [accessed 16th February 2017]

Hamilton, R. (2003) . ‘For the Finest Art, Try Pop’ 1961   In  Harrison,C. and Wood,P. (eds). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p. 742-743.

Richter , G. (2003) . ‘Notes 1964-1965’  In  Harrison,C. and Wood,P. (eds). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p. 757-760

Tate online, (no date). The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, online at : http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hamilton-kent-state-p77043 [accessed 16th February 2017