I’ve made a post about some of my visual influences for this work, citing pretty well known media as a way to help people understand my intentions. But there is a load of smaller things that have heavily influenced this project, and my thinking on writing and visuals, and how they interact.
It’s a me… Wario?
So around the time I started working on this project a game called WarioWare: Get it Together! came out. From my count it’s the ninth installment in the series, that features Mario’s arch nemesis Wario, and revolves around completing what the developers call “microgames”, these are tine 3-20 second games that are meant to be ran through at a fast pace.
You can see a sample here of some of the microgames. What I really took from this game though was how the visual styles were mashed together so chaotically, but somehow it still works. Moving at break neck pace between cartoon, to photo realistic, to 3d rendered, but never loosing sense of the visual aesthetic the game aims for.
In the same realm as this is Katamari Damacy which I played recently, this has a more consistent art style, but this strange way of repeating the same objects in tight clusters around the map. It’s a really unique aesthetic, it really understands that even more than a visual experience, its a tactile experience. The soundtrack consists of high energy jazz fusion arcane magic that is chaotic, but oh so catchy.
Todd Dillard is a poet who I know mainly through twitter. I decided a while ago that the only people I would follow on twitter are those I know personally, or people who post at least 80% jokes. Todd is the later, he post mainly witty comments on the state of lit twitter, the poetry industry, and what it’s like to be sad AND funny.
One poem in particular that he posted recently really spoke to what I hope to achieve with my work. Mixing together meta references, bizarre humor and a sense of melancholy.
The way Todd leads the reader in this poem is really interesting to me, I feel like when I read a new line it’s like Todd is waiting for me, and he’s describing my journey to me. He has a fantastic economy of words, saying a lot with just enough.
Mos Def as Ford Prefect was outstanding
On the subject of literature I should talk about The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Recently I read this to my partner, and it was interesting to read out loud at a slower pace. I would actually say this is how the book was meant to be read. You really get an appreciation for the absurdity when you’re sitting on a porch, in full view of passers by, spouting pure nonsense.
After finishing the book, I half remember having a conversation about the point of the book. I explained that I’d heard there were sequels, but that it wasn’t really about that I don’t think. Hitchhikers guide is odd when compared to modern media, finishing the book isn’t the point, reading the chapters in order isn’t the point, it’s a meditation on joy, it’s a meal you don’t want to finish, nor one you should.
The Narcissist’s Guide to Himself
I want my work to feel like the Gobstopers we used to buy at the local milk bar when I was 10. We would collect our change and ride two blocks through the dry Townsville heat, collecting our treats, and heading to the nearby hill. We would spend hours trying to work through these sugary monstrosities, taking breaks to play our favorite game “ride down a really steep hill and try not to die”.
I’ve lost the point I was trying to make here, It’s almost 2am and this is the last piece of writing for my 2nd year of a fine art bachelor. This last six months has been intense, wonderful, sad and just truly heartbreaking. I’m so filled with emotions they seem to have all balanced out, I think I might have worked myself up so much that I’ve come full circle to some sort of Zen state?
In conclusion I rented a domain with my own name, paid for WordPress, and have written around 10000 words almost exclusively about myself.
This project has been an interesting one, you can go back and read the proposal here, and my early development here if you like. But I will be doing a quick summary of my inspiration and initial methods when building this project up here, so if you’re a bit lazy like I am, I got you.
This project was born of necessity in some ways. This semester has been like no other, I deferred school during the 2020 lockdown, so this was my first experience with total online schooling. While later on in the semester we would get some access to the studios back, for the most part I approached this semester and this project assuming I wouldn’t be back in the studios before the submission date. My plan was to create something totally online, an engaging experience, and something that could be built upon for years to come.
During the conceptualizing of this project, I tried to think about how a completely online art practice could uphold similar principles to traditional printmaking . A few principles stand out in particular, in reproduction, accessibility, and versatility.
Reproduction is easy to comprehend, if you frame your original digital work as the matrix, an arrangement of information that describes your image, much like a lino block describes your image. Each your website or hosted spaces becomes your press, for taking your original matrix and multiplying it as many times as it is called upon. Finally the end viewers screen becomes the paper the image is ‘printed’ on, each time a new instance is shown on a unique screen.
Accessibility was one of the aspects that originally drew me to print, while you can obviously create thirteen layer reduction woodcuts and run them through a three thousand dollar press with the finest inks and papers, you could just as easily cut some lino at home with cheap tools and hand print them on printer paper. I remember as a young man running a tumblr page, posting MSPaint drawings of my silly jokes that ended up reaching thousands of people, with work on the internet time invested and quality is not always what brings attention, it’s having a keen sense of the ever changing digital zeitgeist. This accessibility also applies to how prints are accessed, where paintings are usually unique objects, a print can be repeated almost indefinitely, meaning it is an artform for the masses, something the internet does almost too well.
Finally versatility, in the adobe suite alone there are dozens of programs we can use to make work, for this project alone I’ve used several programs, and taking the work online the amount of options can be dizzying. In the before times, I was a big fan of screen-printing and fine art digital prints, but have also enjoyed using lino, wood blocks and copper to create work. I think letting the work dictate the medium is the most enjoyable way to work, rather that tunnel visioning on a single medium, and I don’t think this project could be done any other way.
This all might seem like a stretch, or maybe even a bit trite, but I really think framing my work this way has helped me see the value in online digital work. A common hurdle in making work I think is not so much justifying it to an audience, but justifying the effort and time commitment to yourself.
Originally I was planning for this project to be a lampoon of cooperate art styles, the site even takes its name from the term Alegria, an art style companies often employ to make themselves seem more human and less like dystopian nightmare factories. But as is often the case, anger fades, you see flaws in your approach, and the project shifts. By the time I started working on the project, very little of this original inspiration remained, I no longer wanted to give my time and energy to talking about these obviously shitty companies and their practices. I wanted to make something that would reflect me and the world I live in, I wanted to make all those weird artworks I thought wouldn’t be acceptable in a fine art setting, to create without a sense of ego, or expectation.
So what’s left after you take out this lampooning? Basically an empty world ready to be filled! I started working without any real plan for how I was going to present my work online, except for the vague intent to have it function as a website. I started building each room as a single image, trying to account for the fact that I might want to revisit them. I did this by keeping my layer structure as clean as possible, something I think I only mastered with my latest work. Keeping everything separate and self contained allows me to rearrange items in the room, and even come back to this original linework file and add more items.
After the line work is done, I then move on to coloring. I’ve been using my own photos and free stock images as sources for my textures. It’s a nice throw back to working with collage, but also an art style that I find really appealing, like a kind of digital kitsch. The first way I started doing this was through illustrator itself, there are tools to combine the entire image and use a paint bucket with tilled textures. This is a really convenient way of working, but with my earlier rooms file layout, it became messy and unmanageable. I decided to take the finished linework into photoshop and finish it there, this is an environment more suited for this non-graphic work, but it does have the downside of being rasterized and therefore you really need to be sure on the layout before you commit.
These close ups give a better impression of how the textures interact with the linework, the project essentially becomes a coloring book for me to play around with, creating mask layers for each object and then testing several textures until I’m happy. Sometimes, as with the fern and books, adding straight up photographic images to the scene, creating a weird contrast between graphic and reality.
After having created several rooms, it became time to start putting the whole website together. From the start I had envisioned sort of a monkey island style point and click adventure, though very rudimentary, it was nothing I couldn’t learn. As I began looking into hosting a website and building something from scratch, I realized the time and financial investment would be just far too much. Luckily, I already had this WordPress site!
I decided to transition from a point and click to more of a text based adventure with accompanying images, videos and gifs. After deciding this as the avenue I wanted to go down, creating the layout only took a matter of hours, creating descriptions links and connections between the images, to give the impression of venturing through a strange world. Upon arranging the three main images I had made, I realized there was a lot of room for variations. For some pages I added zoomed in portions so people could get a closer look at certain items that are too small to see, especially on mobile. For the library shelf I used a whole stock image with slight variations to represent my writing, and for the hive I decided to quickly make some gifs as a fun little way to expand the world.
Not only is using WordPress easier, It’s also more accessible and recognizable. It already scales for mobile, works on every browser, is recognizable as a trustworthy site. I’m already trying to direct traffic there (here) to my blog, so win win! All in all it feels like an elegant solution, and allows me to test out this format/medium before committing hundreds of dollars in hosting fees.
Like a lot of people who spend a lot of time online, I have many complaints. I never expected to be a legitimate “back in my day” person, but when it comes to the internet, I was really just at the right age when it’s culture was being formed. In my late teens, thousands of bespoke websites catered too all kinds of weird and wacky things, you spent less time on centralized social media sites, and more time hopping from link to link on recommendations. In some ways, even though there were a lot less people using it, it felt a lot bigger. I know though that this is really just looking back at it with rose tinted glasses, it was also a horrible place that fostered some really terrible ideas, and if not for some good IRL experiences and people, I might have fallen down into some dark corners of the web.
Part of this project for me is bringing back that feeling of stumbling across something unique online, an organic experience not perfected or refined, but something as close to handmade as you can in a digital landscape. Another equally important part is my obsession with that scene in Jurassic park where the girl is hacking the dinosaur mainframe through that bizarre 3d interface.
Streaming has been part of this project from the point I began actually making the rooms, though I did all the busy work of connecting the pages offline. Below I’m going to post a video of my most recent stream, you can skip through and get the vibe, the whole stream is 3 hours with a handful of breaks, some light conversation and a bit of me being flustered when someone called me handsome.
Creating work with an audience is something I’ve talked about in previous posts, but since then I’ve had some more populated streams, and have been able to talk to strangers while working. I’ve found it is not only really comforting, but also increases the amount of time I’m able to stream and the speed at which I make work. It really is like a simulation of the studio environment, albeit one narcissistically revolving around me. I can absolutely see how some people would dislike having people pull apart their work, give advice on how something should look, or talking about unrelated topics as a distraction. For me it’s the perfect environment for my mind to let get into that flow state of creating.
Do blog posts have conclusions?
I’ve said in other posts that I don’t really like to describe a lot of my thoughts behind the imagery in my work, I think once you do you kind of ‘solve’ it for people, and it becomes less interesting. What I will say, is some of the content is very silly, and some of it very serious, but I’m not going to tell you which is which. This project is a reflection of my life, and I hope to build on it for years to come.
In conclusion I did it, I finished a semester during the largest, strictest lockdown in the world, and I didn’t go insane 🥚
I have a love hate relationship with visual art diary’s. I understand completely why they are a useful tool for teachers when trying to grade the work of an art student. It’s kind of like showing the working with a math equation, it helps the teacher understand how the student got there, and what their thinking was.
Above is a photo of my visual diary from the second year of my advanced diploma, it’s filled to the brim with work, trimmings, theory, assignments and it looks pretty impressive. Below are the total 7 pages of visual diary I’ve used this semester.
Firstly it’s easy to point to the pandemic and schooling from home as the most obvious answer for why this has happened. Without the constant walking into class with my visual diary, I don’t have that reminder to document my work, its easy to forget you’re working in a school system and being grade when you’re attending class from your bedroom. Often on my studio desk at RMIT there would be a pile of source images printed off, work scrawled on loose paper, and test works laying all around. Towards the end of a project I would collect all these scraps up and arrange and annotate them in my diary. At home this becomes a bit more difficult, I don’t want piles of documents and scribbles laying around my room, or else my partner might think I’ve finally snapped and gone full Ted Kaczynski.
Reason number two is in front of you right now, this website. I started this blog about 6 months ago, thinking it would be a convenient way to present my work from home, and far more legible than my usual scribbling in the margins. While this is a really convenient way to catalogue thought processes and work progress, it suffers from a dilemma of quality. Putting something out on the internet for everyone to see is quite different from scribbling in your mostly private diary, I find myself being very picky about what I put up on this blog. The further this website project goes on, the more protective I become of how I present myself, and the work. I’ve went from writing and presenting in a style suited more for the school, and teachers who would mark my work, to something more representative of myself. This is a constant balancing act between the writing being informative of my work from an academic perspective, but also interesting for any interested third party to read.
It’s easy to think about a visual diary as something you do for your institution instead of for yourself. Looking back at my old diaries I can pick apart what I put in because it meant something to me, and what I did to fill space or meet a rubric. I’m filled with a weird melancholy going back through them, like that feeling you get thinking about your teenage years, imagining this tiny human not really knowing who they are or what direction they’re heading.
I’m more proud of the writing I’ve done on this site than anything I’ve put in my diaries, maybe because it’s more recent and I’m more confident in what I want to saw, but also this blogging gives a feeling of honesty and transparency that is really freeing. This whole process feels more like I’m taking ownership over my identity and art practice, but also less like I’m making something just for people to browse through and say “that was cute”. Ultimately I would love to continue working with visual diaries, but with more and more of my practice moving online through blogging and streaming, I don’t really see how it fits into the equation.
a thing that is kept as a reminder of a person, place, or event. “the recording provides a souvenir of a great production”
A project this semester revolved around the idea of a souvenir, we were tasked with replicating an object, preferably something we made ourselves. The Project revolved around methods of replication, and reproducing, which as a printmaker is something I consider whenever I’m making work. My main studio class was actually called out of the matrix and saw us consider the way our prints are made, and how we can make that central to our practice.
After considering the topic only briefly, the day to propose our inspiration snuck up on me. I looked around my room and tried to figure out what souvenirs I could find, but I’m not a big collector of ‘things’. One item that was quite abundant though was little sprigs of lavender, during out lockdown walks my partner would snap lavender from a bush to smell on the walk. She would always bring them back to my house, sprinkling them around the room like she was preparing for the most one note potpourri.
My first instinct was to just start creating lavender sprigs from wax, it seemed the simplest place to begin. Because I thought it would be impossible to make an imprint from lavender given how soft it is, I figured trying to carve out a clay mold might be the best option. From a printmaking perspective this process is interesting, as with print there is always the matrix that we create to generate the image. In this process you’re creating a matrix in clay, to create a matrix in wax, to work into the final product through casting.
Each sprig is slightly different, you might notice the runt of the litter from my first attempt at a mold. This random difference in how the objects are treated after the mold gives each a more organic look, from working with print there is a certain forgiveness for irregularity that I’m well accustomed too by now, and even seek out when creating.
To build on this concept I thought about the uses for lavender and expanded to herbs in general, again my partner had just left inspiration lying around. I found a small pipette bottle of hers with rosehip oil inside, after getting permission I transferred the contents to another bottle, cleaned everything out and began trying to replicate it. First I got some two ingredient putty to mold the opening of the bottle, my goal was to make the top and bottom not only separate, but functional. I tried to squeeze in the putty as tight as I could around the opening but it proved quite difficult. Nonetheless as you can see below, the original lid does fit onto the wax bottle.
I finished the rest of the bottle off with pink sheet wax, and it was a fairly straight foreword process. Unfortunately when it came time to mold the lid, I broke the mold before I got a successful wax from it. Thought maybe there’s some kitsch value to a sterling silver bottle with a plastic lid. Either way the tactile fun part of this work would survive, either the satisfying coarseness of metal on metal, or the decadence of draining liquids from a silver bottle.
Some other directions I went can be seen above, one method I tried was to warm up pink sheet wax, and mold it over one of the blue wax lavender sprigs. I did this same motion up and down the wax, finally wrapping it over, trying to imitate the shape of lavender. While this looks less like lavender, there was a really nice frailty to it, and it would be difficult but satisfying to cast, though I suspect a lot of the wax would buckle or burn out. The second idea I followed was similar to the bottle, a tactile object, and related to plants and medicine. I made small mortar and pestle’s, one traditional and attempting to be accurate, and the second playing around with the concept. I enjoyed this, I think it’s really fun to create smaller functional items, and make them really decadent.
My teacher asked me to look into the symbology behind hands, what they mean, and why i might be so interested in recreating them. So I did the logical thing, made a playlist of videos all about hands, sign language, muscle structure, symbology, and body language, then streamed myself making wax hands while i watched it. Such is a modern art practice. You can find the original stream at twitch.tv/greatjobjake the playlist on my YouTube channel. I’ll touch briefly on the first video on the playlist, which unfortunately I cant embed in this blog, It’s on the symbolism of hands in the Del Toro movie Pans Labyrinth.
Small tangent, this type of video essay might be a little foreign to some, but it’s becoming a more and more competitive genre. I became really obsessed with this style of video at the beginning of Melbourne’s first lockdown through creators like Contrapoints and PhilosophyTube. I really enjoyed how people would break down a topic, attempt to cite sources, and it really just made YouTube feel like more of a reliable source of information. They even have their own version of peer review in the form of referencing, debunking and responding to each others videos.
Something I enjoyed about this video was the constant reinforcing of the position hands took in the film, they use a technique of presenting a simpler version of the answer that is slightly incorrect, in order to help guide the viewer to their final observation on the concept. A common theme throughout all these video, or at least my take away from watching them, was that hands are symbolic not so much in a visual sense, but through our understanding of their versatility, functionality and historical context. For example, the video above references cultures that keep one hand for ‘holy’ tasks such as eating and praying, and the other hand for unclean tasks, like wiping and other sanitary issues.
Another interesting tangent the videos took was that of how body language can change how people perceive us. One video gave three demonstrations ways to address a crowd, and in each he changed how he gestured towards the crowd, but kept his verbal message the same. In the first he kept his palms open and facing upward, gestured softly towards the crowd, and used sweeping motions, this gave a softer more open feeling. People felt inclined to do what he said, in essence because his body language was kind and inviting. In the second, he turned his palms downwards, gestures became sharper and more pointed, the crowd resisted him more with this motion, he explained this body language comes across as an order as compared to the previous ‘pleasant request’. The final gesture was a pointed finger and closed fist, this was above an order, this makes us feel not only directed but small and stupid. These subtle ways we hold ourselves can have a huge effect on how we are received.
These are the first cast pieces I made, you can see they’re pretty rough, but I ended up really liking this look, it gives the impression that parts have been warn back from excessive rubbing. An old photography teacher of mine David Van Royen once told me that if you’re unsure about a photograph, to keep it on your fridge at home so you see it everyday, and have to consider it constantly. I like to take this approach now with a lot of work I make, I leave it laying around in my space, so I have to interact with it and confront it. I did this with the hands, I kept them on my work table so that while I was using my computer, in a zoom call or streaming, I could play with them and roll them around in my hands.
I’ve been doing this for about a week now, and I know it’s super corny, but all I think about when I hold them is how nice it is to hold a hand. When collecting my thoughts about this project I was actually reminded of a song from a band I loved in my early twenties that I’ve posted below. Your Hand in Mine is an incredibly sentimental song, Explosions in the Sky really know how to convey a sense of sincerity through their instruments. Before lockdown I was never really a touchy person, I probably would of told you that i would prefer people never touched me. As devastating as these lockdowns have been, they have absolutely opened me up to the idea of human touch being integral to maintaining good mental health and social bonds. I’ve come out the other side of this event a much more sentimental and physical person.
Following on from these casted pieces, and with that sense of sentimentality in mind, I made a small sculpture work from another set of hands. I was thinking a lot about a potential future outside of lockdown, the prospect of starting a family and feeling closer and more supported by my friends. I also thought about how when making a work about hands, it’s interesting to consider how they’re going to interact with your hands and each other. I really wanted to introduce a sense of tactility with this work, I like the idea of stacking and arranging them, feeling heavy metal sitting on top of more heavy metal.
Finally I sent off three items to get cast by professionals at Lenrose Jewelers, thought I haven’t got these back, I’m pretty confident that they’ll be of a very high quality. With these newest works I was trying to practice and perfect the hand ring and the hand pendant. With the pendants I like trying to make them as realistic as possible in their articulation, while keeping the surface more of an impression of skin instead of an accurate representation. I didn’t take any images before I sent them off, but the VOD of me making them can be seen in my last post.
Overall I’ve really enjoyed this process of working with wax and silver, but while the casting process was interesting I think what I enjoyed most was working with three dimensional mediums. Going foreword I think I will explore this aspect of carving, molding, and shaping.
I wrote most of this post before realizing I hadn’t actually explained what twitch is or how it works, and for a lot of people not into gaming or being online, it may be something new. Twitch is a live streaming platform, predominantly known for people streaming video games. More recently the site has also become a popular place for art, political content and IRL streams (which involve the streamer recording from out in the world). The easiest platform to compare twitch to is YouTube, which boasts around 2 billion users, Twitch though only has a modest 140 million average monthly users. Unlike YouTube, which has started to move into live streaming, twitch’s format is reversed, with live streaming being at the forefront, and recorded content being accessible but not the focus.
For people unfamiliar with Twitch it can be daunting to interact with, and maybe hard to see the appeal, it certainly took me a long to understand how I could enjoy the platform as a viewer, let alone a creator. My partner sometimes watches me streams and talks to me from the chat, she has never used twitch before but is super supportive, she’s likened the experience to having a nice low effort podcast on in the background, but one you can interact with in real time. This is really the selling point of twitch, and how people monetize the platform, with each streamer basically being in control of their own schedule and programing. ‘Chatters’ as the audience is commonly referred to on twitch have a direct line to the streamer, and a whole array of options to donate and support them. For some bigger streamers a donation or subscription becomes necessary to interact with the streamer and have your message stand out, though this meta is always evolving as attitudes change, along with the interface of the site itself.
Each streamers goal really is to create a community under themselves, to support their stream, and create an ecosystem of viewers who will create content and reinforce the stream. This is just a basic rundown of how twitch works though, I think to explain deeper we would have to get into the dynamics of para-social relationships, but that’s not really what this post is about. If you want to learn more about these relationships there is a great video by Shannon Strucci that gives a brief introduction to the concept.
At the start of the first lockdown, I decided to give becoming a twitch streamer a go. It was a chaotic time, and a lot of the conversation surrounding lockdown revolved around how best to use this time, and how you could maximize your output with a totally free schedule. I started streaming painting, I had a plan all laid out, I would paint on stream and turn the streams into time lapse videos, creating a pipeline of content I could use to help grow my online presence. It didn’t last long, I remember doing about 5 streams before my mental health rapidly started to deteriorate from the stress of lockdown.
Something was missing in my first foray into twitch and live streaming. While I had thought a lot about how I would use the content and what I would create on stream, I hadn’t thought about how this process could be enjoyable to me. Something that has become clear to me over this last few months of streaming, is that unless the process is fun for me, there isn’t any point in doing it.
My most recent dip into the twitch ecosystem has been more relaxed, and with less pressure for it to be productive. There are a lot of nice thing’s I would like to get out of streaming, but I’m worried speaking them out loud might scare them away. At the moment with each stream I’m reacting to how the last one felt for me. An example, in my first few streams, if there was no one in the chat, I got really bored, so I put music on! But then parts of my audio kept getting muted due to copyright, so then instead I put on some interesting YouTube videos, not only for me, but for everyone watching. Now I’m getting overwhelmed by media when I stream, so things are changing again. The key point is that the streams serve my enjoyment first, the audience second, and my practice third.
Here is a VOD (video on demand) from one of my latest wax streams, I wouldn’t recommend watching the whole thing, from memory it was pretty dull, but it gives an idea of the kind of content I’ve been streaming. It’s not obvious from a cursory glace, but the whole process of creating publicly changes how I make work. This happens in two ways, the first being from the instant feedback of people in chat, usually I will make something and post it, trying to gauge how people are feeling about what I’m making. The second is that I’m constantly consuming content on stream, this wouldn’t usually affect my work, as like most millennials I surround myself with media and screens at all times, but when streaming I feel the need to interact with the media so much more for the audiences sake, and this bleeds more and more into what I’m currently making.
Currently this practice of streaming what I’m working on heavily revolves around projects done for my degree, though after this semester I’ll have to figure out what’s going and what’s staying. In keeping with the ethos I’ve laid out above, it will really come down to what is enjoyable for me to create on stream, but it would by unfair to myself not to consider how the content translate through an online platform. Something I notice when I see other creatives who present work made through traditional methods on digital platforms, is that they have trouble communicating exactly what is interesting about what they are doing. I know as someone who paints the joy of applying paint to canvas, the subtle sounds, and seeing the work emerge, but translating that experience to an audience is a difficult task. In my streams I’m trying to capture wax work, which is quite hard to do without a lot of great equipment and a versatile setup. The odds of wax work being a staple of my streaming moving foreword is low, but sculpture as a medium for stream holds a lot of potential; the immediacy of clay and other malleable mediums means a lot of room for bombastic motions and spontaneous creation.
Looking back on this last month of streaming, I definitely see it as a valuable addition to my practice, not only for the work it’s produced but for the archiving and community aspects. For the moment my main goal with streaming is to be consistent, I think a lot of people drop out of these projects because they don’t see results fast enough. I truly believe the people that are most successful in any industry, besides the lucky few, are just the people who stick around.
This was my last essay written for my 2021 history class, as if the year wasn’t hard enough, this essay was a pain to get through. It was a response to the question “What are the problems and opportunities presented by socially engaged art practices?”, but I added a little wrinkle by talking about identity, and anonymity in social art practices.
I’m usually pretty nervous about posting my essays, and this is no exception. Mostly I’m worried I’m talking about things I really don’t understand, but that’s why I would really appreciate any feedback from people who know more than me about these topics!
A social practice, when in the context of fine art, refers to an art making ethos guided by social justice, community and charity. Moving away from an art practice that revolves around the capitalist notions of product and consumer, a social practice would see the artist engage with community, blurring the lines between activist and artist. In this essay I will be addressing the problems and opportunities that a social art practice contains.
Social practices are largely concerned with human relations, and critiquing or investigating society. There are many ways to engage in this practice, some make ephemeral art, others art that resides in galleries but defies the auction block, and other practices are so steeped in activism that they’re indistinguishable from an activist organisation. A common way artists are framed in a social practice as aiming to aid, educate and improve the conditions in a society through acts of service (Phaidon 2021). Though a social practice by no means has to be generative, but instead could be destructive; artists challenging the status quo through outrageous public stunts and messaging. In this essay I want to focus on three art practices that revolve around questioning and critiquing society, with work carried out in public spaces. In answering this question I want to focus on how identity, or the lack of identity affects a social practice, how it affects the message, and the message of the art.
A social practice provides a framework for artists to create work in public spaces, this presents an opportunity to reach people who most need to see the message, and confront the people whom the message speaks out against. The Guerilla Girls are a group of female artists who perform public acts of fact spreading through posters, stickers and action, all while wearing gorilla masks. Instead of appearing as a collective of named women standing up for their own desire to be represented, through their anonymity they become representative of all women, meaning they cannot be appeased individually, or as a collective. Their work speaks out against injustices towards women, and initiates conversations around feminist issues, particularly in the art world. They began pasting up posters in the mid 1980s, calling out galleries and exhibitions where female artists were underrepresented. De Certeau describes how the powerful create a sense of place in society that is beneficial to them, while the weak and underserved have to take up space within this greater ‘place’ (Matzkin 1997). The Guerilla Girls found that invading this patriarchal ‘place’, spreading their message forcefully and with wit, was a far greater solution than attempting to affect change from the inside. While the guerilla girls rely on statistics as the basis for their message, humor is also another important aspect, both in their work and personal presentation. The Guerilla girls present themselves as gorillas, donning large black hairy masks, some with eye holes cut for their glasses to poke through. Wordplay aside, representing themselves this way separates them from feminine stereotypes that are so often used against women to devalue them. In their work The Advantages of being a Female Artist, one of the tongue in cheek points states that no matter what you create it will be labeled feminine. This use of humor had its drawbacks though, The group worried that their message could come across wrong, not be taken seriously, or be too aggressive, with one proposed poster asking for male artists to surrender their genitalia. Humor is often harder to agree on than sincerity, an earnest message is relatable and something most people can empathise with, whereas humour is a fickle complicated medium, Leng (2020, p. 123) notes “The text’s profanity and injunction to violence caused considerable internal dissent”. It’s difficult to comprehend how The Guerilla Girls are affected by the pros or cons of having a social practice, as utilizing this practice may well have been the only way to force their way into the art sphere. To exactly what degree they opened up the art world to women is hard to determine, but they did help to reframe the reasons why women weren’t in galleries from a function of women being inferior artists, to an issue of entrenched patriarchal systems (Babu Paul 2020).
INDECLINE is an American art collective whose practice involves defacing public property, such as tearing down billboards to make shelters for the homeless, public graffiti questioning policies and politicians, and covert installations in hotel rooms. Their work is highly illegal, and defamatory, and as such they require anonymity to maintain their practice. They first rose to prominence through defacing pubic billboards with the phrase “a clown can get away with murder -Gacy” alongside a naked clay and silicone statue of Donald Trump wearing clown makeup. This project was undertaken during Trump’s presidency, an incredibly volatile time in America, and this work likened the president to John W Gacy, notorious serial killer, after Trump said he could shoot someone in the street and still get elected. Their anonymity acts as a shield to protect their personal lives, and allows them to continue spreading their message. Authorities and lawmakers make the distinction between two types of graffiti, one imitates the aesthetic of traditional art, and is palatable for a general audience, the other being defined by tagging, scrawling, gang signs and a lack of permission (Gomez 1993). This distinction rests on antiquated ideas of what art is, 65 years earlier Duchamp exhibited his readymade piece Fountain, so I find this distinction of what is and isn’t art very narrow minded. It draws a line between two forms of graffiti, painting one side as desirable and the other as undesirable, the question becomes though, undesirable to who? IDECLINE focuses on messages such as housing inequality, class struggles, and political tyranny, which are uncomfortable conversations for those in power, but life defining for those affected. With Make Kids Disappear – I.C.E they have defaced a public billboard overlooking a highway, transforming an advertisement for a junk removal service to indictment of the government’s treatment of immigrants. The illegality and defacement frames the message as a form of protest, that the artists are dissatisfied with the current establishment. While it would be a stretch to say all graffiti is purposeful, when considering how to frame street art done in a social art practice, it’s important to consider the location and the time in when it was created, as the work inherits meaning and context from these two factors (Chackal 2016).
An artist maintaining a social practice, and speaking out against a system, has to decide whether they are going to operate within the legal confines of that system, and to what degree. This can cause a complicated dilemma, if you choose to operate outside the law then you run the risk of the established powers using your law breaking as a way to devalue your message, but it is also sometimes the only outlet for impoverished and downtrodden people (Chackal 2016). We’ve seen this in action these last few years in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement. When George Floyd was murdered, his drug use and criminal record were used to paint him in a negative light. Three days later when protests broke out in Minneapolis, which later led to rioting and looting, the media reported on the protests as filled with ‘thugs’ and violence, undercutting the original purpose for the protests (Brown 2020). Choosing to work within the system, or outside it, both have pros and cons, though a way INDECLINE mitigates this dilemma is to separate their processes. IDECLINE the group is chiefly involved with carrying out the public art interventions, while they commission other artists to create work, such as the piece The Emperor Has No Balls from artist Joshu Monroe. This separates the illegal action taken to display the art, from the actual art being made, giving the message a better chance to not be tainted by its association with a crime.
Ai Wei Wei is a contemporary Chinese artist, and son of poet Ai Qing. He is known for his outspoken political opinions, and harnessing modern communication platforms like blogs and twitter to criticise the Chinese Comunist Party’s policies and practices. Unlike the other two artists I’ve talked about in this essay, he does not hide his identity, which affects how we receive his message. His political criticism poses a problem for Ai, as China is concerned that letting people openly express their political opinions breaks down the hold the CCP has on its position of power (Associated Press 2020). In a way that is almost diametrically opposite to how The Guerilla Girls hide their individuality to represent all women, AI position as an individual is integral to his message being communicated. Historically the concept of individuality in China is different than in western society, in the west the individual is singular and defined by how it exists separate from society, whereas the merit of an individual in China is defined by how they serve the greater systems they inhabit (Brindley). In this way Ai’s identity and the action of speaking out work together to strengthen his message. This power that comes from his identity would not be possible without performing it in a social sphere, It’s through his social practice that the work gains its ability to affect change. A downside to gaining global attention though is that others place upon him their own ideas of democracy and liberal thought, that Ai is a weapon for the west to use against the CCP, instead of an individual critiquing how he thinks the government could serve the people better (Sorace 2014). In a sense this takes away ownership of his identity away, he becomes a tool used by the west to push their own agenda against China’s global position.
After examining this question in relation to the artists above, I feel framing a social practice in the context of it’s merit seems disingenuous to how a social practice comes about. It becomes clear that there is no other way their practices could operate outside the realm of social practice, so debating the efficacy of the approach seems futile. These three artists all have engaged with society at large, and have had to make deliberate decisions about how they want to be perceived. Like all of us though, how you are perceived and how you wish to be perceived are not always the same. This public aspect of a social practice means the artist’s identity is under more of a spotlight than other artforms. Systems within which you operate affect the ability to convey a message, the intersection of your identity and your environment defines what is possible through social practices.
Babu Paul, S 2020, ‘Art Against Art: Looking at Selected Posters of Guerilla Girls in their Resistance Against Sexual Politics’, Navajyoti, International Journal of Multi-Disciplinary Research, Vol. 5, Iss. 1.
Matzkin, J 1997, ‘Masking feminism: A cultural analysis of the Guerilla Girls, a feminist art movement’, Masters thesis, University of Wyoming, Wyoming.
Wolfman museum is an interactive online gallery, it is located in outer space floating just near a red dwarf star. The museum contains a combination of traditional art gallery exhibitions, live streams, archived media, interactive tools and other oddity’s such as a hike to the top of MT Wolfman and MT Jazz.
The architecture is confusing and convoluted, though there are several guides and links to help you navigate your way around the installation. One of the driving principles for the creators Robert and Peter Hopkins was re-creating a traditional website experience, much like the archived content, the very interface is drenched in old internet nostalgia.
Jazz cat serves as a guide during your visit, how exactly a cat manages to relax in zero gravity is beyond me, but Jazz seems to have it all figured out. Walking around the gallery, what impresses and engages me more isn’t the art hanging on the walls, but the gallery space itself. I’m going to post below a few images from my trip that I felt most impressed by, and I really implore anyone reading this to go experience it for yourself.
Searching for good interactive online gallery’s for this project was rough, so many aimed to replicate the constraints of a real life gallery, white walls with images hung up at eye level. Why, with the boundless power of the information age, would you restrain yourself to the conventions of the art world as we know it. I think that’s the real beauty of the Wolfman Museum, it’s ability to challenge what a gallery is, and how we interact with it.
Having just went on a bit of a rant about traditional gallery spaces being translated into the digital world, here is a more traditional gallery space translated into the digital world. You can download the experience through the indie games platform itch.io here, or watch the guided tour down below, you won’t need access to a VR headset for either, but it seems that the video was shot in a VR environment.
One aspect of this showing I really enjoyed was how much care went into recreating the artwork in a digital environment. Jem Wollidge’s work right of the bat has an amazing 3d quality, and a brilliant use of textures to recreate almost a knitted texture. Similary Diedrick Brackens’s work sits off the wall and actually wowed me when I first saw it, something I’ve never had a still image in a digital gallery do before.
Some rooms have stylistic accents which compliment the art being shown, as with Jared Olsever, whose work features mechanical humans. We can see pipes and cables running up the walls and into the ground, the room also has a unique colour pallet on the walls, with a deep, warm orange. Alkarim Jadavji also has themed his room, with pitch black walls accentuating the vibrant colour’s in his animated images. This coupled with the red curtains that appear on both entry and exit as you enter, creates a sense of being hidden or taboo, but also comfort and excitement.
This last gallery is one that commits one hundred percent to it’s theme and aesthetic, the aim of the project was to be a central exhibit for pixel artists all around the world, to bring them together and hopefully to new audiences. Again this project can be accessed through itch.io, where you can also find a list of all the artists involved and their Instagram links.
The opening page is a map of the world with an arcade style cursor, allowing you to mouse over countries, and click through to find what artists have submitted work to the gallery. The actual gallery portion of the show is a very simple slideshow, and a link to find out more about the artist. There is also a quiz section that runs through a series of images from the show and has you guess what country the work is from.
I have to say I was most impressed with Australia’s entrant Michael Blake, his work Doppelganger (2020) and Doppelganger Too (2020) can be seen above. A lot of the other work resembles video game art, or involves small animations. There is a very mixed bag, the quality level varies from artist to artist, but it achieves its goal of being a showcase for artists in a niche artform.
I’m going to talk a bit more about some influences for my latest project Halls of Galeria in this post, I aluded to a few of these artists and concepts in my proposal. Depending on the page layout you might be able to see the first thumbnail, so you might already know things are about to get weird, so consider this your content warning!
@Cool3dworlds / Brian Tessler and Jon Baken
Cool 3d Worlds is a project by Brian Tessler and Jon Baken, both 2d artists and musicians who make in 2015 started making bizarre animations on the platform Vine. Since then they have gained massive popularity with their recognizable style, doing work for MTV, Nike, and Adult Swim.
I can’t remember when I first saw their work, but i remember being obsessed with it! Around the same time I was still obsessed with anything that had a counter cultural spin to it, bizarre content like Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show Great Job, and Aqua teen hunger force. there is definitely an element of “this is so weird and only I can understand it” happening here with young Jake, but the work definitely has merits beyond it’s oddity.
Something that really sticks out in all their videos is the freedom with which the ‘camera’ moves between vastly different scenes, like waking up from a dream only to find that you’re in another dream. The worlds all have a strange sense of structure, while hard to follow, there is usually a diving into a specific element, only to pull back and reveal all these odd creatures inhabiting the same space.
@Flesh_Dozer / Jess Johnson
New Zealand born artist Jess Johnson’s work is highly recognizable, and takes full advantage of modern technologies. Johnson talks about being the master of her own world, and that building these digital realms is a source of control for her. Visually there are obviously similarities between my current work and her style, but I feel with Johnson her images focus on a very visceral experience of pattern and movement, what I am aiming for is a more discordant world with more organic feeling experiences.
Above is a great artist profile on Johnson, and it also features Simon Ward, who has been animating Johnsons work.
Anor Londo / Dark Souls
For anyone from the art world, this is probably where I should bid you farewell, I’m going full nerd right now.
Before the release of Dark Souls 3 I got really into the souls community through lore videos and playthroughs. Content creators like EpicNameBro and VatiVidya made videos that were so earnest and loving towards this game series, attempting to explain a world that gives very little away through narrative means. They relied on item descriptions, cryptic dialogue, and illusions to religion and architecture to understand how the world was formed and persists.
It’s hard to describe the feeling that playing these games gives, but there is a profound sense of emptiness, but also importance. It’s hard to know though, if I hadn’t got caught in the hype of the community would I still feel the same about the games? They’re amazing simply for their gameplay, but the mythology surrounding the digital world you inhabit is really what transforms the games from simple media to an experience.
This lockdown has been the worst of all the lockdowns, and it took me a while to pinpoint why exactly. We headed into lockdown six of the back of the short-lived lockdown 5, imbued with a confidence that it would be a cheeky two, maybe three week lockdown, some time at home away from work and stress, totally manageable! Yet here we are some months later, with protests and a government in turmoil, as we simply try to eek whatever little joy we can from each day. It’s taken a heavy toll on my mental health, impacted my relationship, and drained my will to study, but I’ll have a sick vaccine card in a few days, so that’s something?
Maybe this is where the obsession with creating a digital fantasy world has come from? In these lockdowns I have reverted to my teenage self as have a lot of people. For me this has meant a lot of video games, and immersing myself in gaming culture. I want my own place, a city, a temple, a kingdom that is all mine, disconnected from tech giants and social medias.
I can’t remember exactly what made me want to return to illustrator, my current theory is some part of my brain didn’t want to waste all those years studying design. I made the image above, thinking a lot about how we interface online, in this latest lockdown I’ve been very into twitter and political streamers / content creators. I wanted to go about making a world that represented my image of what the online world would be if it was physical. I wrote a proposal for this project, so if you want to hear me say this with 50x the words you can read that here!
I made these next three images, just really trying to flesh out the world, and the aesthetics. I don’t honestly have much interest in explaining my intent with the imagery, not that it’s personal or complex, just that part of the joy with this kind of work is building the universe in your own mind. There’s more that a few articles talking about how the video game franchise Dark Souls conveys it’s story through more subtle methods, and this is something I want to embrace. The story in the viewers mind is more impressive than anything I could create.
So what actually am I building?
The goal is to create a world, this world will live online at www.hallsofgaleria.com, and will be expanded over time. I want the world to move deeper and deeper with each update, and never really try to be resolved, to be more of an experimental playground. When someone arrives on the site they will be greeted with an entrance to a building, and they can then move through the world through a simple point and click system.
The second half of this project is the real world component, tickets, flyers and posters that serve as entry points to this digital world. Above you’ll see the templates for these posters, which I then transferred onto lino, and printed at home. Thankfully QR technology is forgiving and the codes still read perfectly fine!
To print the lino block I used a machine called a cold press laminator, something @witch_print put me onto. Basically they’re used to adhere things together under pressure, so sticking photos to backing boards, or stickers on flat surfaces, probably even laminating?? But I don’t use it for any of that, a blog post by artist Alexia Wibler describes how it can be used in a similar fashion to a regular printing press, and I have to say it really does do the trick! It’s very forgiving, though can feel a little clunky at times, but I think that’s just part of the charm.
I’ve chosen to print on cheap recyclable printer paper, as these are meant to be pasted up on the street instead of hanging on a wall. I want to print of a hundred of these, and once the website is complete distribute them as a way of entering the Halls of Galeria.
My plan now is to focus on building up the Halls of Galeria over the next month, and to make it worthwhile visiting!