The original images are re-contextualised within a new stratigraphy ... that allude[s] less to a photographed reality and more to a pictorial one. 1000 Words #15
The Reside Residency has provided a conceptual framework within which to review my practice, an opportunity to consider the themes, images and processes that have been important in my work over recent years. Collage in particular, whether with paper or projections, as a process of working out, a process of discovery – and which, of course, relates to montage and my fascination as an animator with layers, with units and their sequencing, with intervals and spaces between. This text from 1000 Words Photography Magazine describes the layers and fissures in Melinda Gibson's works as geological strata – condensed narratives, partially unfolding...
While I haven't been able to make much work since T. was born, I have had plenty of time to daydream. Spending my days at home I've become acutely aware of the impact my immediate (architectural) surroundings have on my thinking, feeling and making. The 1950s council estate – with its post-Festival of Britain optimism, its communality and sense of shared social space, its generous daylighting and use of glass, its hive-like plan and Modern geometry... My blog has provided a repository for these thoughts and occasion to share them.
Importantly, the residency has allowed me to keep hold of my practice and the 'other' (non-domestic) part of my self, to keep these selves joined up and in parallel momentum, to retain a sense of normalcy in what has been probably the most extraordinary six months of my life.
This will be my last post before I pass the baton to the next artist, Bridget Jackson, who is about to embark on a journey of self-reflection, experimentation and play, taking time out to reconsider her artistic practice and imagine possibilities for the future. Rather than being rooted to her home, Bridget is uprooting – her residential space will be transitory, and begins in Berlin...
In many ways my time with Reside has passed in a flash but when I read back over my posts, and remember my Super 8 shoot at London Zoo, or Keith Coventry’s talk on estate plans they feel like a lifetime ago. T. is now 11 weeks old and in wonderful Bachelardian moments I can observe his responses to some of the phenomena I have been writing about – his sensitivity to thresholds for example, when moving from one room or environment to another, particularly from inside to outside; and he is completely spellbound by those flickering shadows...
So thank you again Anthony – and everyone who has read, commented and offered feedback on my blog – for helping me keep things flowing. And welcome Bridget.
The exterior is a remarkable piece of 'pop architecture' that is absolutely of its time. Nine-bay facades to north and south with hexagonal lozenge lights, resembling those found in pavements lighting basements, with full glazing in metal frames to first floor. Clerestorey glazing at sides under the individual roofs. Clerestory glazing on all sides under projecting copper-clad shell. britishlistedbuildings.co.uk
I've tried several times over the past year to visit the church on Salmon Lane but the minister has been reluctant to let me inside - again last Sunday he told me it wasn't possible to look in the chapel, even just to peek at the windows. His resistance adds to the curious, closed and rather dejected feeling of the building and its community which, it seems, will remain something of an enigma to me... So instead I am turning my attention to the hexagonal glass windows in the loading bays at Smithfield Poultry Market.
From the very top of a cupola greater in size than that in St Peter's in Rome right down to the ground, enormous walls of wax, vertical, double and parallel descend; enormous geometrical constructions suspended in the darkness and emptiness...
Re-designed by Thomas Bennet after a fire destroyed the original Victorian building in 1958, the Poultry Market opened in 1963. From the street the walls are imposing, austere, and hive-like in their design: the double-height, tesselating glass and concrete panels topped by 'stacks' of rectangular windows and pitched roofs. Inside, the glass blocks illuminate the bays in stunning geometric pattern - like Modernist, monochrome stained-glass windows. I am reminded of Maeterlinck's description of the beehive-as-cathedral as he imagined how awesome a hive would look to us if we were the size of a worker bee. Also, again, of Ellard and Johnstone's Machine on Black Ground...
Graham Ellard and Stephen Johnstone's Everything Made Bronze is installed this month in the serene, intimate haven of the Estorick Collection in North London. The film is encountered first - the vintage Eiki and silver screen a poised, slightly theatrical presence in the first floor gallery. The artists' steady, watchful lens observes changing (sun)light over, on and through glass display cases at Carlo Scarpa's Museo Canova in Northern Italy. Shadows, reflections and diagonal light beams render abstract, tectonic patterns in the cabinets' panels; the plaster casts within fade ghost-like in and out of view, bathed in and bleached out by the soft (bronze) rays, but also fractioned, striated by the slices of light. The static camera flattens, abstracts the scene into a geometric collage, the graphic effect heightened by the polka-dot patterns of the sculptor's points. The rich, crystalline reverberation of Colleen's Echoes and Coral seems to fill the room with glass - a dreamy, liquid sound.
Then, in an adjacent room, an acrylic and gold-leaf maquette of the Museo presented in front of, and reflected in the squares of, a paneled sash window. The more abstract, architectonic shots in the film are now revealed to be close-ups of the model and a new dialogue is at once proposed between film and object.
... the house is looking out from its windows at the surrounding landscape. Through incorporation, I have the very distinct experience of my home enveloping me as a kind of extended tissue of my own body. The home has been transformed into a region through which courses my life as it courses through my body. Bodily existence pulsates through the home, transforming a sphere of the anonymous in such a way that it becomes part of the self.
from: Richard Lang, The dwelling door: Towards a phenomenology of transition in Seamon & Mugerauer (ed.), Dwelling, Place and Environment: Towards a phenomenology of person and world, 1985
What mirrors once did is now accomplished by computer screens and monitors. Both transform spaces into flat surfaces. Flatness: Cinema after the Internet, Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen
During stolen moments of reading and web browsing I've been thinking through some other artists' glass and prism experiments; ideas of flatness, collage and impossible spaces; and the inside/outside dichotomy:
Pablo Bronstein's Constantinople Kaleidoscope (2012) – a sophisticated, solipsistic performance to camera in which four dancers glide mirrored, prismatic columns through a precisely choreographed ballet, revealing and concealing a distorted reflection of the artist as Ottoman courtier in a makeshift Baroque garden. The scene is at once completely flattened - by the camera and by the screen on which it is intended to be viewed - and multifaceted, concertina'd.
Robert Smithson's non-sites and corner pieces (1968-9), in which mounds of organic matter are brought into the pristine gallery context and displayed (displaced) on kaleidoscopic arrangements of mirrors: 'Literal and allegorical, the non-sites confounded the illusion of materiality and order. The mirrors functioned to order and displace, to add and subtract, while the sediments, displaced from [their] original site, blur distinctions between outdoors and indoors...' robertsmithson.com
Phil Coy's Façade, which combines archival footage of 1920s plate glass manufacture with high-end green screen and CG video to explore the 'transparency' of contemporary (corporate) glass architectures: "The outside is in precise opposition to the inside. Nature is an element to be viewed, appraised and contemplated but never to be physically experienced."
Also Heman Chong and Anthony Marcellini's recent show at Wilkinson, an arrangement of objects on mirrored-glass tables that propose 'conversations' between the two artists, between the various objects and between each object and its reflection (I was drawn in particular to Interview #04, an unfolding net of mirrored hexagonal tiles, creating complex reflections within itself as well as the table surface); Laura Buckley's dizzying 2012 installation Fata Morgana; Dan Graham's Pavilions...
"...we developed an intuition that many modernist sacred spaces were built as giant light modulators or projectors of some kind" lux.org.uk
While I am house- or at least E14-bound, I'd like to revisit the work I was making earlier this year in response to the church on Salmon Lane, the starting point for my 1964 series. To review its relationship to my more recent pieces; to map out (maybe quite literally, in the manner of Stephen Willats?) the images and ideas – hexagons, churches, beehives, glass, Utopian architecture, cellular estate plans – that tie the series together; and, importantly, to experience, and photograph, the church from the inside looking out.
I have enjoyed reading Lucy Reynolds' 2010 interview with Graham Ellard and Stephen Johnstone, whose "discursive" research process really appeals to me, and whose film Machine on Black Ground seems to chime with this body of work. Their magical colour field shots through the stained glass windows of the Meeting House at Sussex University recall the optical effects of Patrick Bokanowski's La Plage; their montage of archive and original film footage is open-ended, evocative, beguiling...
T. was born on 14 May and the past two weeks have been something of a dream... Time is measured according to his age in days and returning now to my blog – to life and thoughts before Day 0 – is quite a jolt.
I'd spent the day before his birth in the studio, experimenting with my pyramid maquettes. Work was difficult, having to sit down to take photographs; slow and clumsy manoeuvring my props. The few images I shot are perhaps more like documents of sculptural / installation pieces than video stills – the projections and surface textures are hard to capture on camera and it seems important to be able to move around the objects to view their different facets. (I think of Sinta Werner's large format slide works Broken bits of pieces.) Or perhaps they are assemblages to be filmed, miniature sets to explore with a roving lens rather than a static camera. (I think of Charlotte Moth's Study for a 16mm Film)...
Expansive landscapes rendered faintly over raw linen are analysed and contemplated by a language of geometric forms that cast a reticle over the painted space, optimistically charting its return to a paradise lost.
Alex Virji's quietly romantic paintings currently on show at Man & Eve describe imagined or remembered landscapes in sketchy, fleeting marks. With graphite and set square the artist-cartographer traces delicate contours over these shadowy places (mountainous, fluvial, forested) – fractioning the frame like viewfinder grids; drawing provisional maps, or scores, for future (fictional?) journeys. The canvases call to mind Peter Greenaway's early works on paper (at once meticulously cartographic and beautifully painterly); the dreamy, improbable vision of René Daumal's Mount Analogue; and of course Ballard's Crystal World...
What is called into question is the nature of the viewer and their intentions on the landscape, as the lines transecting the picture plane measure and attempt to quantify it ... It may be that this tense, but active relationship between found structure and imposed form is simply a reflection of the retinal battle between an individual observer and the world they try to navigate and locate themselves within. Essay by Fin Cullum
Yesterday marked the halfway point of my time with Reside. Three months have passed incredibly quickly and my baby is now due in just over a fortnight. Before then I'm hoping to have tried projecting my 8mm footage through these tetrahedron maquettes – roughly constructed for now in mirror card and acetate – and to have commissioned some real, hinged pyramids in glass...
Meanwhile... group show Discernible continues at Zeitgeist Arts Projects until 11 May. Here are some installation shots:
The relation / continuity between inside and outside – this seems to be becoming more central to the work and links back to my previous projects Echoes and Window Study, to the use of glass in modernist architecture, to Dan Graham's Pavilions, to Alex Hartley's photo-sculptures and light-boxes. Interestingly the Snowdon Aviary was one of the structures Hartley scaled as part of his 2003 project LA Climbs...
As summer finally approaches – as the sun is higher and brighter in the sky, and our estate garden returns to life – the inside and outside of our house begin to merge: In the flickering shadows of foliage that pattern our living room blinds, in the reflections of plants and trees that appear in our mirrors and glass-panelled doors. Our maisonette has large windows on both its NE and SW facing sides so light can travel straight through, throughout the day – this was so important to us when choosing to buy. Perhaps, then, it is not simply the daylighting, but the extent to which inside and outside are allowed to come together (the relationship between architecture and landscape) that determines the feeling of an interior domestic space...
Jeff Wall writes of Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House, in reference to Dan Graham's 1978 Alteration to a Suburban House:
These huge window-walls create a play of reflection and transmission of light according to the daylight's character. Shifts in its direction, quality and intensity create moments when the gaze's play with itself becomes apparent ... From the outside, the tremendous reflectivity of the glass wall can screen the interior from view behind a mirror image of the surrounding landscape ... From within, in daytime, the landscape is intensely introjected while remaining immured behind glass ... Within the house, the occupant engages in a complex game with nature and with day itself.
Discernible opens this week in our studio building – I'll be showing one of my Risograph prints of the aviary and a first, 2-minute edit of the 8mm footage.
Dan Graham, Two-Way Mirror Power, 1999
David Seamon & Robert Mugerauer, Dwelling, Place & Environment: Towards a Phenomenology of Person and World, 1985/2000
Anita Berrizbeitia, Linda Pollak, Inside Outside: Between Architecture and Landscape, 1999
Estates in Europe look intimidating in a way that heightens their allure: they often seem transformed from giant filing cabinets into proud monuments celebrating man's pyrrhic victory against nature.
In her 2007 book Estates: An Intimate History – an impassioned, often vitriolic study of the rise and fall of social housing that made me very appreciative of the peaceful, friendly and well-maintained council estate that I live on – Lynsey Hanley discusses Le Corbusier's almost hypnotic influence on the architects and town planners of the mid-twentieth century. She tells the story of a retired architect for Liverpool Council who remembers looking up to Jeanneret 'as a kind of idol' whose vision of a new way of living would change society for the better. Hanley herself describes the seductive power of his architectural studies: "The pictures were exquisite ... every right angle suggestive of a brave and powerful future."
Her thoughts echo those of Robert Hughes in his infamous Shock of the New, who describes Le Corbusier as a failed sociological architect but a great inventor of shapes:
Corbusier was a great aesthete ... his designs provoke such strong sensations, contain such overmastering rhythms and display such a muscularity of drawing.
As I wait for my 8mm rushes to be transferred to video, I've been imagining a prop through which I could digitally project and re-shoot the film – a glass and mirrored tetrahedron, each side hinged so the pyramid can be folded in and out; a shape that echoes the geometry of the Snowdon Aviary, that reflects and refracts its structure into new configurations, and that further blurs the distinction between its interior and exterior spaces...
Michaela Nettell is an artist and filmmaker based in London.
I work across moving image, photography and installation, creating works that explore the potential of projection and collage techniques to affect relations of space, optics and memory.
Recent and current works explore relationships between man-made and natural forms, particularly in the urban environment. My ongoing 1964 Series documents incidences of non-orthogonal structures in post-war city architectures, making reference to Frank Lloyd Wright's 'organic architecture' and the hexagonal plan. Colours and patterns of beehives and the honeycomb recur in my work and I often limit my palette to black, white, yellow and blue – Austrian ethologist Karl von Frisch's Colours inside an apiary.