"I'm trying to play with objects or elements that destabilise our linear perception of the world" - Anna Parkina
Some new photo-collages, inspired in part by Anna Parkina's recent show at Wilkinson Gallery:
I find Parkina's drawing and collage works mesmerising. There is so much movement in each frame: impossible to grasp, or to describe in words at all adequately, images elude the eye. Picture planes are flattened – foreground and background are woven together in abstract, rhythmic patterns. Photographic details (fragments of narrative) emerge and at once recede again, dancing in and out of the page like an Escher design. Although, or more likely because, my own collage works are tight and precise I am drawn to the rough edges in Parkina's – the slight rips and tears where her blade has slipped, the bumps and creases caused by the paint- and glue-dried paper.
Like Justin Hibbs' architectural studies (another inspiration), Parkina's photo-montages confuse or conflate real and imaginary space; and draw attention to the flatness of the photographic image.
It was interesting to watch David Hall's 1969 film Vertical this week, having recently written about Jessica Warboys' Pageant Roll. The films speak to one another – in their lyrical expression of heritage landscapes (with ancient hill figures and rings of standing stones); in their incongruous placing of modernist objects/sculptures in semi-wild, rural environments.
Hall's piece, however, seems a much more rigorous, structural enquiry, concerned with the mechanics of filmmaking and actions of framing/view-finding. His zooms, pans and rhythmic cuts draw mathematical attention to the lens, the edit; his geometric sculptural interventions serve primarily as props in a series of perspectival tricks and games of foreshortening – exposing the processes of the camera-machine.
It is important to realise that the sculptures only work because they are recorded on film. Their function in the film is to draw attention to the difference between our actual experience of space and the representation of three dimensions on a two dimensional surface. lux.org.uk
Vertical explores the role of the camera/lens in our perception of objects in space; Pageant Roll uses the camera to explore the poetical associations of specific objects in a specific space – Warboys' edit (just as visible as Hall's) a kind of dance of loops and repetitions that propels the viewer’s cognitive processing of these.
My current work is, I think, concerned with all of this at once! – the framing of landscape by/within man-made geometries, relationships between camera (2D) and physical (3D) space; visual and poetical associations between Modernist architectures and their more 'natural' surroundings...
Nobody in Britain had tried this mode of structure on such a scale before. It enabled a light, see-through effect in which the distinction between the inside and the outside is blurred. britishlistedbuildings.co.uk
I've been invited to take part in a group show in my studio building this April and I'm hoping to produce some new works in time – 2-colour screen- or Riso- prints that will form part of my ongoing 1964 Series and possibly a new video piece as well. I returned to the zoo this week on a day of beautiful sunshine and shot two reels of Super 8 film in the aviary. It was tough going, a heavy camera and tripod to carry as well as my 29 week bump, but it was exciting. I hope I've managed to capture something of the changing light on the aluminium, the fluidity of the birds' movements against the rigid geometry of the frame... The reels are currently on their way to Berlin to be processed.
I've also been working on some more collage tests:
Bibliography / Filmography (March)
Owen Hatherley, Keith Coventry: Twentieth Century Estates, 2013
Lynsey Hanley, Estates: An Intimate History, 2012
Andrew Hunt (ed.), Anna Parkina, 2012
David Hall, Vertical, 1969
I recently saw an exhibition of Keith Coventry's Estate Paintings at Modern Collections, a pristine and rather exclusive-feeling West London gallery. The works' apparently precise geometries when viewed from a distance give way, on closer inspection, to (more interesting) imperfect surfaces and deliberately rough, crosshatched brushstrokes. Particles of dust and dirt from the canvases have fallen into and are now preserved within the shiny box frames.
At a talk at the South London Gallery this week, Coventry explained that this isn't just a coincidental analogy to the estates' gradual dilapidation, that he wanted the works to resemble as closely as possible the aged Suprematist paintings that inspired them.
Interestingly, Coventry only chose to replicate plans that were open and outward-facing in their layout. Their configuration seemed to determine how harmoniously people were able to live within them, he said, and those that were inward-facing with their pedestrian pathways blocked by gates or fences were the ones he felt most intimidated by.
For writer Owen Hatherley, Coventry's paintings draw attention to the fact that twentieth century estate plans – or some of them, at least – were based specifically on Malevichian ideals of empty, free-flowing space. And that the sense of openness that contributes to the more successful estates' feeling of communal, pedestrian-friendly living is in fact an element of Modernist social architecture that should be celebrated.
The aviary looks almost weightless – like a bird. Its frame was pioneering in that it made use of aluminium, and in that it was an example of a kind of engineering that uses tension to support its structure. A giant net skin is wrapped around a skeleton of poles – paired diagonal legs at either end, each lined to a three-sided pyramid or tetrahedron – which is held in position only by cables. www.zsl.org
A few photos from my first shoot at the Snowdon Aviary:
While nature is repressed, certain elements are included in the plans of the 'new reality'...
In his book Beyond the Plan, Stephen Willats observes the ways architects and town planners attempt to control the untamed, disorder of nature within the fixed framework of the urban environment; how the 'repression' of nature is achieved in housing estates or office complexes – trees and plants isolated within cement borders for example; and how natural elements are appropriated and encoded into 'symbols of order' through the use of Utopian materials such as aluminium and glass.
But these hints of nature, however separated, controlled or repressed, are welcome in an inner city environment. Tessellating concrete hexagons that are a reminder of the ideal building block; the communal garden in my estate that, despite being fenced off, provides a playground for children in the summer...
In her 2012 film Pageant Roll, Jessica Warboys introduces fixed frameworks and modernist geometries to an 'untamed' Cornish landscape. A bright red wooden block balances on an ancient standing stone, imitating an almost-square opening in the rock; a plastic hula hoop creates an elliptical frame through which to view the branches of a bare winter tree. They are surreal juxtapositions, elegant, poetical. The angles and arcs of the man-made objects contrast with the disorder of nature, configuring the scene like a geographer's quadrat.
Ernst May, German pioneer of modern city planning, designed the Oceanic Hotel in Mombassa, Kenya in the late 1950s. Matthew Houlding's meticulous MDF and Perspex constructions shown recently at Ceri Hand Gallery, describe beautifully the idealism of May's vision: Despite their bright colours, complex layers and playful geometries, Houlding's works are rigid and lifeless. Model swimming pools are empty; draped Hawaiian shirts are completely still. There is no movement in this world from wind, sunlight, water. These blueprint structures remain unpopulated (or have been abandoned): "The dream is forever present, forever promising, forever withholding."
After visiting the show I bought a roll of yellow tracing paper, which I've been using in my collage experiments.
All corners of a hexagon are obtuse as in a honeycomb. Therefore a pattern more natural to human movement is the result. Interiors have more reflex. Therefore more repose.
I keep returning to this Frank Lloyd Wright quote from a text on his 1937 Honeycomb House, as my recent studio practice has been guided by a kind of search, within the architectures of E14, for 120º angles. The church I mentioned in my first post, which I walk past each day on my way home, has six large hexagonal windows. It was built in 1964, eight years after construction began on the Locksley Estate, but I haven’t been able to discover who the architect was. To me, the windows seem carefully oriented (NE-SW) to allow sunlight to travel right through the building – and occasionally, on summer evenings when the light falls at a certain angle, you can catch a glimpse of this happening. But most of the time, high-rise flats, which surround and quite literally overshadow the little church, prevent any sunlight from entering at all.
I have been using two collage techniques to explore this dialogue between architectures past and present: 1, cutting and pasting Risograph and photographic prints and 2, overlaying 35mm slide projections to optically merge aspects of the different buildings.
I have also been exploring ways of using real honeycomb in my projection experiments, pressing slivers of cells between clear 35mm leader to create quasi-scientific projection images. I've been using a craft knife to dissect the combs, which deforms their fragile structure and highlights the clumsiness of my comparatively giant hands. Although this does seem apposite, I would like to find a better way of extracting the wax and revealing its very beautiful forms.
In his current exhibition at White Cube, Kris Martin is showing eighteen lost-wax casts of discarded honeycomb frames. Shrouded in a stone-white residue with glimmers of bronze shining through, the objects are tomb-like; monumental yet understated, delicate, fragile. Each frame is different – those that were cast full give little away, the structure of the cells sealed (concealed) within the bronze but those that were cast empty reveal and perfectly preserve the bees' intricate hexagonal construction.
Thank you Anthony for this opportunity. It's true, my life is about to be turned upside down! I am expecting my first baby in May and while I have every intention of sustaining my art practice during the rest of my pregnancy and after the baby is born, I know I will need to adapt to very different ways of living and making. My hope is that this residency will act as a kind of anchor, a point of focus; a place to collate my thoughts, present seeds of ideas, test out works in progress. A virtual space I can return to over the next six months – even if just for short, stolen moments – to feel a sense of continuity with my practice.
Since my partner and I bought our first home last year, in a 1950s East London estate, I have become very interested in town planning and social housing; the structure and geometries of modernist-inspired blocks; the way glass was utilised in the late twentieth century in the design and sunlighting of domestic and shared social spaces. These ideas have inevitably crept into the artworks I've been making – architectural studies and light-boxes; photomontages and video experiments that explore architectonic patterns and the 'image' of Modernism.
I have something of a plan for my time with Reside in that through February and March, while I'm still relatively mobile, I hope to collect photographic and film footage that I can work with in the months that follow – a kind of stockpile of negatives, rushes, photocopies, prints, references and reading materials. I am interested in comparing architectures of the Locksley Estate where I live (in particular a hexagonal church at the end of my road, built 1964) with other structures built in London in the late 1950s-60s. The Snowden Aviary at London Zoo for example. To explore ideas of the detached/bird's eye town plan and Paper Architectures; fictional or imagined landscapes; ideas of volume versus mass – the use of glass and other Utopian materials (aluminium, steel) to create structures that have a sense of transparency or weightlessness, walls as membranes... Colours and patterns of beehives and the honeycomb also recur in my work – palettes of back, white, yellow and blue; references to Frank Lloyd Wright's 'organic architecture', the hexagonal plan.
By late April and into May I imagine I will be more or less limited to desk-based activities – reading, writing, editing video footage, making small-scale collage works etc. I hope to continue all these things up to my due date and even once the baby comes but... we will see. I may not manage to make or think anything at all! or my practice might be a lifeline for me while everything else is in flux...
Bibliography / Filmography (February)
Stephen Willats, Beyond the Plan, 2001
Juan Antonio Ramírez, The Beehive Metaphor, 2000
Robert Hughes, Trouble in Utopia, 1980
William M C Lam, Sunlighting as formgiver for architecture, 1986
Alex Hartley: Not part of your world, exhibition catalogue, 2007
Frank Lloyd Wright, The Future of Architecture, 1953
Kurt Schwerdtfeger, Reflektorische Farblichtspiele, 1922
John Smith, Leading Light, 1975
Ellard & Johnstone, Machine on Black Ground, 2009
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.