Pinch Punch…

March is shaping up to be a very busy month for me so in the spirit of shameless self promotion here are the events I am part of this month…

In the Absence of…

Thursday 8th, 6.30pm, Hannah Maclure Centre, Dundee

An evening of performance kicked off by Richard Layzell, followed by various performances from artists working in Scotland.

Crawl Inclusive

Saturday 10th, various venues, Dundee

An art crawl around Dundee, visiting several venues for exhibitions and live works. I will be part of For Sale which is taking place at 5 Bellefield Avenue at around 7.30pm.

Water Cafe (W.C.)

Friday 22nd, time and place tbc

As part of World Water Day there will be various live events in Dundee including walks, talks, film screenings and a pop up cafe.

Engendering Dialogue

Friday 30th – Saturday 31st, DJCAD, Dundee

A two day symposium examining Feminism in art today. I will be performing on the Friday morning and then taking part in a panel discussion with Hannah Champion, Mary Modeen and Eleanor Morgan.

 

Most of these events are free and open to the public, but may require a booking. Please follow the links for more info.

Gallery Cat

GENERATORprojects members show 2012 is currently open and will be until the 26th of February.  It’s a great show this year; lots of high quality work which the GENERATOR team have curated very well into a nicely balanced and interesting exhibition.

My piece, Gallery Cat, is a response to my recent research into animals in art and especially their presence in a gallery. This years members show reflects the boom of the animal as art medium of recent years; including a photo of a dead robin and a taxidermied rooster. The presence of the animal body in a gallery can have a very powerful effect.

My piece however presents the absence of the animal. In the corner of the gallery a cat bed is placed accompanied by a food/water bowl, some toy mice and a used litter tray. White fur clings to the bed and toy mice scattered through the gallery hint at the presence of a cat but there is no cat to be seen.

There were several reasons and considerations behind me exhibitiong this piece as I did (including jokey nods to Tracey Emin and Marcel Duchamp) and I want to leave these open to interpretation, however I have one particular aspect which has been on my mind that I would like to share with you.

In recent years there have been many ethical concerns over artworks which have used live animals in the white cube, including the infamous Exposicion No1 by Guillermo Vargas which an internet petittion gave global coverage and debate to. As the details of the exact treatment of the dog were never confirmed it still remains a mystery as to whether the dog died or escaped, however the legacy of this piece was to open up the discussion of the ethical considerations of using other living beings in art. Since then, to some, it has become abhorrent to have a live animal in a gallery as artwork.I am interested to see what (if any) reaction the mere suggestion of a live animal may cause.

In this case the animal is a cat; often imbued with human qualities of aloofness and independence, would our feelings change if the presence was that of a different animal; say a tiger, or a cow, or a rat?

While at the opening for the show a woman was walking about carrying a small dog. That night the gallery held the presence of a live dog, a dead rooster and an absent cat.

Pets and Pests

We have shared our homes with animals for thousands of years and although it is easy to think of the city as a purely human domain this is not the case; other species are cohabiting with us in this crowded habitat just as they always have.

Some, like cats, dogs and hamsters etc, we actively chose as our companions, others, such as robins, butterflies etc, we openly invite into parks and gardens for our pleasure, while still others, rats, pigeons and bugs, are unwelcome guests in our homes and streets.

So what determines our relationships with different species of animals and why are some considered ‘pets’ while others are labelled ‘pests’? Why do we engage with some species more than with others and how does this affect our relationship with them? What happens when a species crosses the boundary and is re-categorised?

With these questions in mind I have begun to investigate Dundee’s animal populations. I have been lucky enough to speak to people from the Countryside Ranger service and from Dundee City Councils pest control team, all of whom have been extremely helpful in providing starting points for my explorations.

In the coming weeks I intend to continue these dialogues with a view to creating artworks which open up discussion and create awareness of the diversity of life in Dundee and how we may be able to create and maintain a balance.

Cat among the pigeons

London is full of pigeons. It is their perfect environment and they occupy the city in unnatural numbers. Like many other urban animals, pigeons exploit the protection and sustenance the city offers. There is always food to be found, in bins, on the street after bars close or directly from the human hand (sometimes shared, sometimes stolen).

Natural cliff dwellers, city buildings provide the perfect nest sites for pigeons. There is plenty of space so there is little competition for the best nest sites and very few predators. Add to this the warmth and protection from adverse weather that tall buildings and human activity provides and you have the perfect habitat for pigeons.

Finding myself with some free time one day I began to stalk the pigeons. I chose an individual and followed it for as long as I could. When I lost it I would choose another and follow that pigeon instead. I followed as they bobbed along, pecking at cigarette butts and chewing gum on the pavement, as they flitted from bench to branch and back again. I watched them squabble over discarded chips and limp through a forest of commuters’ legs.

As I stalked the pigeons through London I realised I was moving differently to the other people in the street. They walked with purpose; fluidly and rhythmically at speed while I moved slowly, pausing, considering, stepping lightly. I viewed the city through hunters’ eyes, noticing details invisible to the rush of people around me. Aware of the sounds of birds, the smell of spices from an open window nearby and the feel of cobbles beneath my feet, my senses heightened, I moved like a cat across the city with no particular direction. Before long I was lost. It was wonderfully freeing. With no idea where I was I let my instincts lead me until I found the river and was back in familiar territory.

This time meandering through the streets of London allowed me to meditate on city life and our relationships with the animals we share it with (willingly or otherwise). Dundee is of course a lot smaller than London, however its proximity to open countryside as well as the sea allows for a huge diversity of life.

I began to question what exactly our relationships with other animals in the city are; how do we negotiate sharing city space with such diverse creatures? What problems arise from this close proximity? And what does it mean to be an Urban Animal?

Breathing Space

Since graduating I have indulged in a little breathing space to allow thoughts to settle and begin to develop. During this time I have travelled to Australia, visited London where I met and worked with many inspiring artists and thinkers and spent a hectic week working on A Cut A Scratch A Score at the Cooper Gallery in Dundee.

I am now refreshed and raring to go.

Watch this space…

 

 

The Human Animal

“Man is the only creature that refuses to be what he is.” 

Albert Camus

I have often explored the idea of the “Animal” in my work and the relationship between man and other life has been on my mind recently for one reason or another. As I contemplate the direction my life and my art practice will take in the coming months I feel somewhat compelled to return to this concept to see how I can evolve my thoughts on it and what insights I can gain from exploring it through a freshly developed performative practice.

I find it interesting that such a divide is made between nature and culture and especially between human animals and non human animals. There is often a negative reaction to the notion that man is an animal, as though to acknowledge this is to somehow degrade man. It is seen as an insult by a species which has declared itself privileged among the life on earth.

It seems paradoxical that the same men who will argue adamantly that we evolved from apes will also attest to our apparent elevation from the natural to the cultural. While it seems true that we have “artificially” interfered with our physical evolution through the development of medicine and technology; allowing us to cure diseases and prolong life which may otherwise have altered the human gene pool, these changes merely indicate an alternative direction in our evolution. We are a species of inventive tool users, our tools have just got a bit more complicated over the years.

Culture is natural. The human city is no less natural than a beehive or termite colony. We build ourselves shelters and interact with each other to survive just as all animals do. We are still driven by the same primal instincts that we were millions of years ago; to live and eat and reproduce. It is these drives that are at the heart of all our advances.

Despite this, and to the other extreme, there is often a tendency to villainize man amongst ecological circles; to suggest that we are unworthy compared to other animals as we are “destroying the planet”.  This is untrue. We are in the grand scheme of things a blip on the surface of the world, life has existed for millions of years and will continue to exist when we are gone. That is not to say that we aren’t having a significant effect on the species we share the planet with; neither does this give us the right to abuse the planet, but the arrogance of assuming that we could bring about the destruction of life on earth serves only to perpetuate the myth that we are somehow above nature.

We are the biggest danger to our own existence. We should not be worried about destroying the planet but rather about destroying human life on the planet. We need to reconnect to our animality; to see ourselves as part of nature in order to rebalance our relationship with the planet and our relationships with each other. Once we stop seeing the world and the life on it as commodities for our own convenience and allow ourselves to recognise our place in the ecosystem, we can begin to reach an equilibrium with the world we live in.

What is needed it would seem is a re-evaluation and a re-education and then perhaps there will still be a place for the human animal on Earth.

Life after Beuys

Life is a sensory experience of the world.

Art is a sensory expression of life.

Life is a series of irreversible changes brought about by transient events.

Art is a series of irreversible changes brought about by transient ideas.

 

My final performance for the degree show involved touring the show cradling a raw chicken. I spoke to it of life and art in each space as I considered the work. Though I ignored any attempted communication from the other viewers of the show or the artists who sat in their spaces, there was a huge amount of “audience participation”. Mostly it was through reactions that people became unconscious performers in the piece, either reacting to the fact that I was carrying a chicken or to the fact that I ignored them when they enquired about my actions. Some people actively followed me around, watching me instead of looking at the work on the walls or leaning in closer than you usually would to a stranger in order to hear what I was saying to the chicken. The most interesting part for me was when I was standing by a door waiting for someone to walk through so I could continue, a small crowd began to gather watching me through the glass. I stood patiently until one of the group hesitantly opened the door and held it for me as I walked through. There were also several interesting alignments between my performance and the other work in the show; paintings of eggs and chickens as well as other references to death, the maternal body and raw meat. I wonder if anyone else noticed them.

p.s. “Stranger” is a very interesting word.

 

Irreversible changes

Eggs, Egg Timer, Sawdust, Paper Bag, Pink Shoes, Teapot, Tea Cup, Rabbit Pelts, Lemon Curd, Felt Rabbit Ears, Wool

(Picture to follow soon)

I remember reading (but can’t remember where) about the idea of actions and process that produce irreversible changes. Specifically the example of a man walking in a sand pit filled with white sand in one half and black sand in the other; he walks in a clockwise direction mixing the sand together creating an even grey mix. He then walks in an anti-clockwise direction, reversing the action, but no matter how long he walks he cannot separate the white sand from the black sand and return them to their original halves.

Violence and tenderness, wildness and civilised behaviour, human animal and non-human animal, these were the things I was thinking about as I performed.

Smashing an egg, trying to re-place the contents back into the shell, smearing lemon curd on the wall and my face, walking in circles, scattering sawdust, making a nest, destroying a nest, slipping in egg and lemon curd, burying eggs in sawdust, wrapping a teacup in fur and wool, concealing, revealing, cycles, changes.

Irreversible changes…

to the materials and to myself.

The world didn’t end on Saturday.

The Sun still rose today.

I wonder if it will tomorrow.

Degree Show Previews and Susan Philipsz

It’s been a busy few weeks preparing for the degree show and I am afraid I have been a bit lax in updating this blog however the show is now underway and is going great.

Thursday was the associates preview which was attended by the Turner Prize 2010 winner Susan Philipsz, a former graduate of Duncan of Jordanstone. Susan is the first artist working with sound to have won the turner prize and she gave a lecture to students about her work in the afternoon. Her presentation was followed by a question and answer session with a small panel of students which included myself and two other artists working with sound and performance. Susan was very friendly and extremely complimentary about the work she saw at the show.

Friday was the opening and the atmosphere at the show was buzzing. I had a lot of interest in my artist books (available from blurb.com following the link to the right) and some interesting conversations about both my work and the show as a whole. Of course the booze was flowing so everyone was in high spirits.

For the rest of the week I will be invigilating and performing at various times.  Performances are scheduled for 3pm Tuesday 24th, 1pm Thursday 26th, and 11am Saturday 28th in my space in the Cooper Foyer Gallery, but I will also be doing unscheduled performances throughout the week both in my space and around the university.

The ExcreMENTAL Philosopher

“As children, we have all suspected it: perhaps we are all, moving strangely beneath the sky, victims of a trap, a joke whose secret we will one day know…

Only a few of us, amid the great fabrications of society, hang on to our really childish reactions, still wonder naively what we are doing on the earth and what sort of joke is being played on us. We want to decipher the skies and paintings, go behind these starry backgrounds or these painted canvases and, like little kids trying to find a gap in a fence, try to look through the cracks in the world.”

Georges Bataille, The Cruel Practice of Art  (1949)

Referred to as the excremental philosopher, Georges Bataille writes about stepping outside the social norms and accepted behaviours of society. He celebrates base materialism, the low and the dirty without trying to elevate its status.

This is what I aim to do within my performances. To allow the base and the low to communicate without elevation or idealisation, to step outside the norms of behaviour and explore what can happen when one allows oneself this freedom.

Because of this disregard for accepted modes of behaviour, performance artists often seem slightly unhinged. As I embark on this journey of artistic discovery I am prepared to put my dignity and sanity aside. It’s all in the name of art.

That’s my excuse anyway.