Friday, 27 June 2008


When considering socially engaged and participatory artforms art critic Claire Bishop draws on the notion of the aesthetic as defined by philosopher Jacques Rancière, who said that the aesthetic is the "ability to think contradiction".
I find this useful. In my last residency at North Edinburgh Arts Centre, I set up and ran the early years Children's Art Studio making work with and for young children and about childhood. While at one level, it was a great success, I began to think of it as pathetic also. Pathetic in the sense of arousing emotions about the lack of truly child 'minded' spaces in our environment. The existence of the Children's Art Studio makes visible the lack, and our incapacity to get it right.
In The Politics of Aesthetics Ranciere explores this contradiction in the context of Americam films from the 70s and 80s on Vietnam. Cimino's The Deer Hunter, where the war scenes are essentially scenes of Russian Roulette. It can be said that the message is the derisory nature of war. It can just as well be said that the message is the derisory nature of the struggle against war

This is not to become melancholy about making work, just to be aware that contradiction is embedded in it.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Visual Methodologies or Methodologies sensitive to Affect?

A few months ago I gave a talk about my work to CRFR. One of the comments was that the talk carried a lot of emotion. I've been mulling over that comment since.
I've been reading Children's Geographies, vol 6, May 2008, and finding lots of similar ideas and references to those which inform my work. I'm looking forward to exploring these further. In True geography [] quickly forgotten, giving way to an adult-imagined universe'. Approaching the otherness of childhood, Owain Jones gives an insight into a collaborative space for artists and social science researchers.
"...the developing linkages between geographical and artistic interests and methods are going on apace in the pursuit of methodologies sensitive to affect. Artists...are often commenting upon, witnessing, 'analysing' the world and their and/or other people's place in it, but through affective/creative narratives rather than the rational/representational registers."
Maybe we should reframe the scope of the residency to Visual Methodologies and Methodologies sensitive to affect.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Philosophical Leanings

Anyone for philosophy? The director of North Edinburgh Arts Centre said of my installation 'Playing Field', "it sits there quite quiet and unassuming. Then children come in and they animate the work and it animates them! My starting point for the installation had been what I had observed as the fluidity of very young children. The corrugated card sculptures offer (soft) structure for the children to flow all over. This piece is a prototype for a collaboration with theatre artist Andy Manley. We are developing a show for toddlers called 'The Floor!'. We wondered what scope a raised floor would give us - access to under the floor or under the ground. We were able to observe toddlers and how they reacted to the structure. They liked walking round it, climbing up, walking round on top, exploring the trap door, going inside, climbing out, climbing down. Moving. Flowing. Professor Colin Trevarthen has likened this fluidity of children to the Dionysian principle in philosophy. Do the structures respond in Apollonian mode? Is it the two together which make the work? This is new territory for me. It would be good to have a guide for a bit of the way. Calling all those with a philosophical leaning to their practice.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Viewing of Pork and Milk with Caroline

This film by Valerie Mrejen creates a space for young people from ultra Orthodox Jewish groups to talk about their struggle with living within the strictures of the religion, their decisions to leave and the subsequent strain that puts on family relationships.
Caroline and I watched it together at the French Institute. This time people are talking about their own experiences rather than the narratives being delivered by actors.
However the static camera, attention to detail in the selecting and framing of the shots and the lighting create a conducive listening and looking space for the viewer and (I deduce)a conducive narrative space for the participants.
I am reminded of the static camera of film makers Jane Campion (Piano 1993) and Chantal Ackerman in the 70's.
Caroline also notes that there has been a lot of crafting of the fragments of what people are saying to build a 'pork and milk narrative'. This is essentially the editing process she is talking about and she compares it to the analysis and presentation stages of the research process.
She references Arthur Frank and says:
"I had read a paper of his prior to him running a seminar in Edinburgh in July. He spoke about a picture: Rene Magritte's La Condition Humaine . He discusses that the longer you look at the picture, you see that it is layers and layers of painting which go as he puts it 'all the way back'. He equates this to qualitative interviewing whereby there can be an assumption that you turn on a recorder and the person being interviewed will tell their story.
But,it's not like that. I found this notion intriguing and thought
provoking in relation to my own work ...."
She talks about the cultural gaps in knowledge and understanding the health visitors have vis a vis the mums. We come up with a spatial idea of nested knowledge.
We resumed our discussion exploring the opportunities to make visual/sound work from Caroline's research findings.
We briefly considered other forms of presentation - for example an installation or large scale projection...
We have a brief discussion about the film/video making process, budgets etc.
We touch on the consideration that the form of the visual/audio work could reference Caroline's own research practice.
It's all a bit tentative but feels quite exciting at the same time!

Playing Field@North Edinburgh Arts Centre

It's been a bit of a time since my last entry. I've been enveloped in putting together an exhibition at North Edinburgh Arts Centre to mark the end of residency there. Called 'Playing Field', it's an installation for toddlers and their big ones at The fluidity of young children is one of the themes in the installation. Because of my conversations with researchers here at crfr about children's spaces, I started to consider the pleasures of municipal paddling pools especially for toddlers. I also started to consider their demise in recent years.
I was taking photos of a neglected looking paddling pool in the Glen in Dunfermline when my cousin said she had video of her children's nursery trip to the paddling pool twelve years ago.
I was able to edit a couple of minutes from the footage which capture the fun that everyone is having splashing about on a sunny afternoon.
This contrasts with the melancholy air of the large scale photographs of the pool now in it's sorry state of disrepair.
On a technical point, the large scale poster/photos were beautifully and economically produced by the university's information services at Kings Buildings.