Thursday, 24 November 2011

Epilogue: The writers view.

Continuing in retrospect:

Prologue to Blog Postings: Thoughts Concerning the 
Epistemology of Space and Visual Culture.

Part 2

This is not a new concept. Irit Rogoff discusses ‘In the same way both feminism and post-colonial theory have insisted on the need for a multi-subjectivity, so does the critical process of geography spatialzation insist on the multi-inhibition of spaces through bodies, social relations and psychic dynamics’[1] So if this rhetoric has been called on before, in the very recent past, can it be called on again and insist on a multi subjectivity into the epistemology of space and visual culture? 

Art has the capacity to create the visual language to communicate concerns of the epistemology of social relations. In his discussions on Social Space, Henri Lefebvre goes into great detail of the early emergence of sub-urban settlements around Venice and Tuscany in precapitalist Italy leading up to the industrial era, namely leading into the renaissance. With the growth of productive forces such as agriculture, craft, early industry, brought forward by new technologies, a new type of social space emerged. Lefebvre describes that these spaces came about from a surplus in production creating a new social class, which led to luxurious spending on palaces and monuments giving artists and architect freedom (and the money) to express. What emerged from this was a new language for describing space, this ‘perspective’ first given form by architects and geometers was then ‘discovered’ [2]by painters. Here changes in spatial perception gave rise to changes in visual culture, not that the two can be distinguished completely as one rotates in motion around the other. One inspiring, then being inspired by the other and here ultimately ‘knowledge emerged from practice’[3]

Philosophical abstract thought has many times been be put under analysis to arrive at a concrete conclusion, can Lefebvre’s cyclonical motion be employed within contemporary visual culture? Can the thought and questioning of the creation of new social spaces be the impetus to change society? Not the invention of a new built object in which to dwell but a rethinking of the epistemology of space and spatialzations. By introducing questioning of critical epistemology, subjectivity and spectatorship into the arena of spatialzation we move away from the central systems of power to the fringes, Rogoff discusses this and adds another element to the argument, she calls on the development of what she calls the ‘curious eye’ [4]to counter the old bourgeois term the good eye to communicate a contemporary way of viewing which is influenced by the subjectivity of the viewer influenced by all aspects of visual culture and culture in general. Within visual media the inventions have occurred, new tools in hand, and ‘curious eye’ employed, what will the artist create?

[1] Irit Rogoff, Terra Infirma, geography’s visual culture, (Routledge, London, USA and Canada) 2000 p23
[2] Henri Lefebvre, The production of Space (Blackwell, Oxford and London) 1993 p79
[3] Henri Lefebvre, The production of Space (Blackwell, Oxford and London) 1993 p79
[4] Irit Rogoff, Terra Infirma, geography’s visual culture, (Routledge, London, USA and Canada) 2000 p30

Continuing in retrospect:

Prologue to Blog Postings: Thoughts Concerning the Epistemology of Space and Visual Culture.

Part 1

What is knowledge, how is knowledge acquired? How do we know what we know? Who decides and normalises that knowledge into common knowledge? And how is Space concerned? These questions call for an exploration into different interpretations of space as a means of analysing and questioning how we draw knowledge from all aspects of contemporary society through social encounter and the effect which that has on social and individual consciousness. Space is integral to this question as this is where we dwell and in which all these social signifiers exist. The nature of space, as discussed in previous blogs, allows for a constant reconfiguring of use and an exploration of the knowledge gained from that process. An epistemological study into contemporary visual culture leads us to reconsider and to remake opinions between Space Place and Public Agency. How people perceive space and how it is ordered into place and therefore think and act accordingly.

These epistemological questions lie at the centre of all fields of study which strive to communicate within social culture. As visual culture and visual media has evolved to encompass vast sways of our lives the need has never been greater to question the epistemology of visual culture and for a critical analysis of the spaces in which it dwells if ‘Space is never void of social relations’[1]. This may give a cultural barometer into social structures, opinions and the extent of hegemonic influences which colour our view. Henri Lefebvre argues spatial analysis negates the illusion of transparency which enables hegemonic manipulation of culture. This idea of ‘transparency’[2] lulls society into believing its social structure is open and inclusive and therefore society does not need to question excepted norms hence exists within its own individual culturally specific realities. Spatial analysis however allows space to become a vessel in which analytical critical discourses can take place on how we perceive. Can this discourse be taken further to influence the art making process? If we relate to a work of art through our relations to others and those relations are shaped by the spaces in which we dwell, could this participation be seen as the actual process of the making of art, if no object or viewer exists in a void and no thought without forethought?

Integral in art is the viewer. The interaction of the viewer with the object enables agency of the viewer (if they so choose) therefore providing the ability to change how the work is perceived through individual subjectivity expressed in future actions. This may take many forms, be they in conversation, the forming of opinions, blogging or the future making of one’s own work (in the case of the artist), even if not in direct reaction to the information assimilated but subconsciously. Therefore under what influences we absorb that knowledge which will shape our future perception, vitally must me questioned on a multi subjective level. Artists generally are aware of this. However can this questioning and theorising of knowledge employed on a more practical level by the artist culminate in the formulation of art practices? Can these art practices then become socially inclusive through the understanding of how social relations are formulated and how we assign Place’s to the Spaces in which we place our work and in which we presume culture as a whole can identify. Or do we want them to identify, this culture which supports us and which we should support? Or should we even try in reality to be inclusive when we are making work which after all is a form of self expression?

[1] Henri Lefebvre, The production of Space (Blackwell, Oxford and London) 1993 p22
[2] Henri Lefebvre, The production of Space (Blackwell, Oxford and London) 1993 p22

Continuing in retrospect:

The Space as an Agent.

Exhibition in the cooper gallery,  22nd Oct - 5th Nov 2011

As one who has been witness participant to the previous actions of A Cut A Scratch A Score the feeling of absence envelops you as you stand and view the artefacts from the actions. However I suspect those that have not held vigil to the performances may guess that they are viewing the aftermath of a happening. You are struck by that absence and notice the space between the images and the objects. You consider not just the beautiful things but the positioning of those things around the space; you see how they relate to each other and the viewer. In that action the viewer becomes one of those objects. As you wander around the space you see the viewer’s reflection against the projection on the gallery wall. The stage dividing the performative space, interesting as the stage is normally the space where performance is done, you can walk right up to it, the distance between performer and audience is shortened. There is a feeling of playfulness, you again have free reign over your experience.

The script is being typed on projection; you wonder where the writer is, whether this is a live element continued in the work and consider that the writer may be watching you. You are being observed observing. Not the case though, it is a video of Savage’s live script writing and she is writing the movements of the artists. Agency of the artist returns. Standing in front of the video projection the viewers shadow appears on the gallery wall and is put back in the action. The silhouetted viewer reoccurring as with previous rehearsals, now giving agency to the viewer.

All these elements feel familiar however unobvious in their new configuration, you try and tick some of the boxes from past experience of the work; sound, movement, live elements, viewer interaction. The fan positioned at the end of the stage is inexplicable. Is it also an artefact from the rehearsal, an object from the making process when the viewer was not present? Does it simulate the outdoors, or is it there to add a live element to the work?  It stands like a person in the room humming its tune like the hum from the heating system in the botanic gardens. I went right up to it, invaded its personal space and then was shocked to discover my invasion was being documented. The process of viewing is in fact subverted. You realise you are being recorded by a camera out of view above the entry door, pointed directly at the fan. Did the artist suspect that you would be intrigued by the humming little figure? Or was it being documented as it hadn’t been documented before?

The whole experience feels disjoined and unusual, like stream of consciousness, but replayed and repeated, however each time slightly different as a new agent steps into the space and plays its part unknowingly. This space between the image the object and they idea comes into play captivating the viewer. The space holds silent vigil, passive jet nevertheless it is still an agent of the work. Holding charge of its little humming machines (projector, fan, camera) performing their actions rhythmically as the sounds from the performance take centre space. The room plays its role well, reflecting back that action on the brass of its doors. The aesthetic fits; the building designed by Architect James Wallace in 1937 reflecting shapes and colours reminiscent of Kandinsky, performing overlaid with a video of McLean and Bourret making movements; A little nod to modernism.

In the entrance space you sit and are absorbed by the song of The Choir, Lixemburg and Belinfante, it washes over you as you are afforded the space to ‘see the music’. Less of a distraction, the discarded shapes and silhouettes, remnants of previous performances, lean against the wall. They feel like ghosts, their energy still vibrant from pervious action. The bench suggesting there is indeed something to sit, view and contemplate. The yellow wall behind and bench below you indicates these objects may seem like an afterthought but on the contrary you are still under the influence of the artists. There’s a melancholia to the discarded cardboard cut-outs, cardboard that most disposable of materials. Outside the main gallery they are ignored initially as you travel straight towards the imposing sound, as the viewer spectator was drawn to the action by its audio in those previous public places.  As with before the audio completes the enveloping experience. With open gallery doors the sound travels and invites, however the passerby can travel by without interruption this time. It’s my turn to be interrupted, two girls chat loudly as they wander passed, jolting me from my experience. 

Museum of Loss and Renewal - Object becomes Subject Updates

The Museum of Loss and Renewal: object Becomes SUBJECT

Exhibition: 14 November – 27 November, Monday - Sunday, 12 - 4.30pm

Tracy Mackenna and Edwin Janssen

In collaboration with The Highland Hospice

Public Studio: Monday - Friday, 12 - 4.30pm

Public Seminar: 22 November, 2pm (booking essential:
With Dr Paul O’Neill (curator, artist and writer) and Prof Arnd Schneider (social anthropologist) exploring notions of duration and context specificity in The Museum of Loss and Renewal project.

Public Seminar: 25 November, 10.30am (booking essential:
With Dr David Reilly (doctor, educator and researcher) focusing on the relationship between art practice, creative change and human healing.

The Museum of Loss and Renewal focuses on the interrelationships between death, memory, material culture and recycling. Through a period of engagement with The Highland Hospice charity shops Tracy Mackenna and Edwin Janssen are investigating issues recurrent in their work; the value and significance of objects, life and death, and artist-led curatorial practice. By re-using and re-presenting material as still-life they invite reflection on the value we place on the ‘things’ with which we surround ourselves.

The project will feature another in Tracy Mackenna and Edwin Janssen’s ongoing series of public studios, enabling the making of artwork in a live situation with direct engagement by a range of publics, arising out of conversation and participation in public discursive events.

Forces of Attraction and Repulsion, The Museum of Loss and Renewal, 2011,
Tracy Mackenna and Edwin Janssen

More info and connections:

Visit the artists' own website...

Review of Loss become Object at HICA...

More about this project...

Tracy and Edwin on Facebook...

Tracy and Edwin on Twitter...

Daily updates from the Public Studio:

Tracy will be updating on the progress of conversations and research happening in their Public Studio (12 - 4.30pm Monday - Friday, Centrespace, VRC). Everyone is welcome to drop in and strike up a conversation and there is an excellent selection of reference books on display as well as the exhibition.


The temporary public studio for the fusion of exhibition, production, education and research is up and running. Conversation raging on the interrelationships between death, memory, material culture and recycling. Sessions with students well under way, prodding and provoking issues including the value of stuff and curatorial positions. Blue-skies thrash with GSA's Dr Ken Neil on the impact on art education, by situating it at the heart of our practice. All welcome to hold discussions on related talks in The Museum of Loss and Renewal at Centrespace.


Day of student sessions, considering 'ephemeral practices' and 'art, science & visual thinking'. Discussed the merging of art, research and education – the need for a radical shift in the function of learning towards a central position for art within collaborative approaches, the fostering of networks, partnerships and play – opening up and daring to fail.


Day of conversation about art's ability to enable us to access grief; by showing publicly how creativity comes out of the chaos of life. Grappling with the materiality of language by making the blanket through translation of conversations into written words.


Different pace to conversations today; people more relaxed as stories slowly unfolded, ideas exchanged, notes made and words cut for blanket. Creative Scotland talking about possible meanings of 'place' for Scotland, referring to DJCAD-PAR+RS 2010 'Mapping the Future: Public Art in Scotland'; picked up and repositioned when the University's Architecture students dropped in, looking to stimulate the rub of disciplines through closer connection with art at DJCAD.


Talking to a wide range of visitors every day emphasises the place of 'dialogical aesthetics', and the central position that listening to others occupies. A reminder by Murdo too, about the artist's role as someone who can highlight a community's issues; as Collingwood wrote in Principles of Art in 1938, 'uttering their secrets'.


Seminar 1 oversubscribed! Fantastic amount of interest before, during and since the event, in Arnd Schneider's propositions on how to 'engage art and anthropology', and Paul O'Neill's question of 'how to produce the unplanned?' within the context of durational approaches to public art. Siting the seminar within the space of 'The Museum of Loss and Renewal: Object becomes Subject' brought together people with wide range of expertise whose comments, questions and conversation feed the project's future – a huge thank you to all for your contributions.


Yesterday's seminar already impacting on the way we're thinking about 'The Museum of Loss and Renewal' – expanding thoughts about the Highlands as the site of 'The Museum of Loss and Renewal', and the Highland Hospice shops as The Museum's rooms - we work with objects from the shops' collections to curate an ongoing set of displays that focus on a range of subjects. And re-thinking artistic processes of investigation in relation to anthropology's critique of fieldwork – possible points of convergence?. This relates strongly to Paul O'Neill's proposition that there is a case to be made for the consideration of 'public time' rather than space – favouring an evolving process and being prepared to embrace the unexpected.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Progressing in retrospect;continual thoughts:

The Gallery Place. 

Culminating performance.

Cooper Gallery

Dimmed lights, panorama of projections illuminates the gallery wall, red carpet stage divides the space. Bruce McLean directs from sideline, Adeline Bourret and Lore Lixenberg react to the action from off stage, on and back off again. Sam Belifonte conducts The Free Voice Choir, Emily Savage writes the script as the action occurs, drums continue to roll from stage right. David Barnett documents and replays the action live through projection.

Choir is brought front of stage.[1]

They confront us. An odd confrontation, considering choirs generally do just that, sing on stage, however at the gallery’s altar their presence is all the more evident. Some appear uncomfortable. We blink up at them, they down at us, from a wholly unfamiliar perspective. We considered them and them us, a group of artist sitting staring up at another group of artists. We consider them artists but what do they consider themselves?

Herein lays the ever churning concern, the creation of an art identifiable to everyone. Consider the agents of the work, the thoughtfully balanced headlining artists and their carefully contrived plans. In their words the work was designed for ‘unintentional intentionality’ and deployed it seems, in the spirit of non-hierarchical inclusiveness. Designer, Curator, Janitor, Sculptor, Musician, Actor, Agent, Viewer; what is the difference anyway? The choir know, but equally they are not sure either. Their enjoyment in the previous rehearsals was evident, as I have mentioned in my previous blog, particularly in the Botanic Gardens event. Their interaction was moving, integral to the beauty of the work, occurring in that place which was belonging to them as Dundonian’s. In the culminating performance they appear uncomfortable, however the lines are blurred between where the discomfort lies. Is it the choir that is feeling uneasy because of their positioning in the gallery space or that they become an art object in the gallery, or even that they are inside that place at all?  Is it the viewer (more so, viewer-spectator in the case of the culminating performance) uneasy at the choir’s presence in the gallery? A feeling of spectacle ensues. Yet another oddity when we consider the communally inclusive nature of a choir and of art ideally, one would expect us all to identify with each other more easily.

Do the choir know who the artists are? Certainly they do, by recognising the innumerable social signifiers we all conduct our social relations upon, but are the similarities between the two as apparent as we would hope them to be? Bruce McLean is a non-hierarchical individual. Artists can identify this. They recognise artist’s hierarchies but do the public? Did the public realise hierarchies were being attempted to be cast aside; you could deduce not only Social hierarchies but within that hierarchies of Place. Do you know if someone is important in a particular world if you do not know that world? Inevitably the creation of a publicly inclusive ‘Live Artwork’ leads to the subjectivity of its participants being given free agency, which is to be commended. However within the context of a predominantly insular art world, which places work in the somewhat enclosed walls of a gallery, the insertion of the public into that world as an integral part of the work, for good or for ill, feels odd. Ultimately this leads the artist to question how, why, and for who are we creating and why is it placed, in a ‘Place’ which is identifiable to a minority if we wish it to be identifiable to the majority?

Irit Rogoff questions ‘Can we actually participate in the pleasure and identity with images produced by culturally specific groups to which we do not belong?’ [2]

Here images are actions.

[1] The structure used here is normally employed in script writing. This is in reference to the live response of Beth Savage in the performance of A Cut A Scratch A Score, Cooper Gallery October 2011. Savage responded to the action of the performance live, which was projected onto the gallery wall, writing the script as the action occurred.
[2] Irit Rogoff, Terra Infirma; Geography’s Visual Culture. (Routledge. 2000) (30)