This semester I decided to venture outside of the printmaking studio and try my hand at painting again. I took the class Expanded Field Painting, which turned out to be a class about everything but painting. So it was at the same time not what I wanted, and what I was already doing.
For the first assignment we had a group project, and I got to work with Stephanie Jook and Anita Kwong, two incredibly talented artists. For the first time of any group project I have been a part of, the forming of the idea, and the setting in motion of the plan was incredibly simple. Through the crudest of drawings we designed an installation, we would have one team member painting on Perspex on one side of the room, and this would be filmed and projected onto the other side of the room. This projection would hit a paper lined wall, where another team member would draw in response to what was being projected. Initially there was talk of having this be a live performance, but as we tried to detangle our individual schedules, we realized we would only get one chance to practice. This meant we decided instead to record the process through various angles, and then present the documentation as a resolved work.
Below is what I would consider the resolved work, half documentation and half interpretation of process.
and here is some more direct documentation
We first wanted to paint onto perspex, recording this and projecting it onto the other wall. We tried this a few times and it did work well, unfortunately since we were recording from the back of the perspex, so all the paint stacked on top of other paint, and after the first layer nothing new would be seen. Later on in the project we began taping paper to the wall, recording that and projecting it. This changed the dynamic in a few ways, mainly that both sides were equal using the same mediums, and the position and scale of the human drawing changed. This also meant we got to keep some of the drawings after the fact, as we regularly cleaned the perspex.
The two below are my drawings from the session, we didn’t plan what to do when we started, so what we got was very freeform.
The first of these works was me drawing on the projected wall, responding to the movements of the projected light, the work is much more organic and less structured. The second drawing is much more structured and in line with my regular drawings, as there was little outside influence to change how I work.
I then tried to recreate the concepts of the project in a digital space, this can be seen here on my website. To further bring this in line with my current themes of bridging the gap between the digital and real, of course I had to make some QR code stickers!
The image is a combination of the two works I made during the project, and come together to form a pleasing image. It’s satisfying that these images work together even though that was never the intention. On the page itself, scaled on the background is an animated image of the front layer fading in and out. I like that this feels like a YTMND page, and has been something that I’ve been reminded of frequently while making pages on www.lifeshell.online.
That about wraps up the project, but I’ll leave you with some more of the documentation. Lately I’ve felt that documentation of process is more important than the resolved work. While the project is being documented it is still alive, in completing the work we kill and dress it for presentation. This is partly why my work with websites has been so different, the work never dies.
Traditional printmaking techniques require a lot of equipment, and even the more kitchen table friendly approaches require a decent amount of space. During lockdown my bedroom was probably 2.5 x 3 meters, which isn’t the smallest room, but with my queens sized bed, left just enough room for a desk, and a tv unit. So over lockdown, to keep my practice alive, I decided to step back into painting. With the little space remaining in my room I set up me easel, a camera, and started streaming.
There are still some videos up online from that period, you can see one here!
This was something I had wanted to do for a while, to start streaming my practice online. For a while it was fulfilling, eventually though the reality of regularly streaming became stressful. To put yourself on display while creating is incredibly vulnerable, and I am a person who does not do well with being observed. Strange then that I had this desire to be a streamer, I often wonder why I felt that drive, maybe social reasons, or that it felt very cutting edge. I think ultimately the allure of streaming was that it was simple, just set up an easel, a camera, and go. Pretty quickly I came to understand that without connections or a lot of luck, It was going to be a slow grind. Which is fine! But as I wasn’t enjoying the process, and with the crushing nature of the pandemic, I knew it wouldn’t last.
Despite this pessimism, I keep finding myself drawn back into the world of streaming! I tried different setups, methods, and mediums. Creating unique playlists of documentaries to play while I worked on my Halls of Galleria project, playing different styles of music and approaching DJs so I could use their mixes, even recording my lava lamp to make the stream look funkier, and leaning super hard into the viewer interaction side of streaming. After all this I have become pretty comfortable on stream, and my opinions of internet content creation have become a lot less dogmatic.
So this year in my class expanded field painting, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to revisit streaming. The class talked about what defines a painting, and the extent to which we can call something a painting. Initially the answer might seems simple, but there are grey areas, like if you send instructions on how to paint a mural to a gallery, and then someone else paints it on the wall. You could say the painting was made by whoever physically put the paint on the wall, but you could also claim that the idea of the painting is the painting, and the physical presentation is just a representation of the real painting (the instructions). This idea of where is the practice, especially as it pertains to digital representations has been at the center of my research this year, and really since the beginning of lockdown. Many of my works never leave my room, but digital representations of them leave my house and travel all over the world through digital recreations. So what is my practice? the physical artworks or the documentation?
I finished two paintings on stream this semester, both quite different.
This is the first, and I can only really describe it as a slump buster. A lot of what drove this painting was fighting the nerves of facing a blank canvas, of having to plan ahead, and other anxieties that inhibit a practice. The figure was sourced from a game I had been obsessively playing for the last month called Elden Ring, the game has a really nice lighting system, and allows you to create custom models. I thought this idea of using video games screenshots as image references tied into my themes of digital worlds and their effect on art, but also was a great way to bring my hobbies and interests into my art. I really enjoy the muddy yucky green and yellow of the computer, I really wat to revisit this composition but to give the figure more context.
The work was a more literal representation of some of the feelings that festered over lockdown. I found myself abusing gaming as a way to get through it, but this characterization was problematic. Something I worked on through lockdown was not demonizing my actions. As a recovered alcoholic, It’s easy for me to look at all leisure through the lens of an addict. I think over the course of lockdown I managed to create a better relationship with my downtime and my hobbies. I’m not sure if the image speaks to this externally, but this is what I think looking back on it.
The second work I completed was an homage to Botticelli.
This painting was the main focus for my work in this class, and was the starting point for a few derivations. But first I’ll talk about the actual painting.
Visually the work is inspired by a series I completed a few years ago called Reflektor, where I screen printed on rainbow reflective adhesive vinyl. Instead of working directly on the vinyl though, with this project I would work around it. To help the vinyl stick to the surface I decided to work on MDF, I thought this would be a flatter more stable surface to help the adhesive stay put. After plotting out the image in pencil, I used an annoying method of tracing on several pieces of paper to get the shape of the face and hands cut out of the vinyl, then with great care adhered the vinyl. In plotting out the work I left some room to deviate from the original, I didn’t want to add in the rondel of the source image, and instead wanted something that spoke to the digital / cosmic aesthetic that the vinyl brought to the image. I decided to use a great squids eye, though some have said it looks like a portable speaker? This was in an attempt to reference the loosely defined cosmic horror genre. I’ve listened to a lot of discourse around what defines work in this genre, and how to place it. Sometimes I think it gets boiled down to big monster scary, with Cthulhu being somewhat of a poster child for the genre, but this great video by HBomberguy helped me reimagine how I thought about it. Instead of something large and externally threatening a subject, I instead contextualize the themes as a familiar made unfamiliar. I want people to see the work and think “I know this, and I understand the components, but the whole is unfamiliar to me.”
Similar to Reflektor this work was heavily documented, both through Instagram and streaming on Twitch. I also tried several times to illicit interaction with an audience, going back to replacing the rondel, I actually asked people on Instagram to decide what goes there. While I didn’t use any of their suggestions, it was definitely fun, and was sure to acknowledge that i was going to go my own direction with it.
This time I also wanted to incorporate TikTok, mainly because it being a more popular app means more eyes, but the culture is also more cutting edge at the moment. The app and community it holds hasn’t had time to homogenize or stagnate like Instagram or Facebook have in recent years.
This was the first time I had posted something like this, my goals with these TikToks, and what I had come to understand, is what the algorithm rewards are videos that are very immediate and real. I tried to put enough effort into the so they conveyed value, but to also not overthink the execution as there are extreme diminishing returns on effort invested. I wanted to be present with the work, but still alow the work to take the center stage. My approach was to visually only show the painting, but to have y voice present, even if what I’m saying was not important to the content of the painting. To allow the work to engage on it’s own level, and for me to engage on another level, separately but in unison.
That about wraps up the process of painting and documenting, but there’s another portion to this project, and it’s been a theme across my practice this year, and that’s iteration. Specifically through a website built to create HTML based artworks, and through the creation of QR code stickers.
I wanted to work with recreating the piece in an online space. I achieved this through a use of transparency, animation, and images created by AI. The transparency and the animation are obvious I feel, to recreate the reflective vinyl. I wanted to achieve an effect that gave a similar feeling but with a low computing cost, I tried at all points to keep image resolution low to aid this. The last factor though, the AI images, was something that I felt could help bring through the ideas of familiar / unfamiliar. The speed at which AI are progressing is astounding, and in many ways are the real life manifestation of a cosmic horror. Something so familiar to us, but so different. We as humans can conjure images in our minds from any prompt, the more talented among us could even render these as images in the real world. But to see a machine do it in a matter of seconds is equal parts impressive and horrifying. The horror for me comes in the errors in computing when the AI tries to understand what a face is and how it works, as the way things are going some would have us put our lives in their hands, and I sure hope at that point the understand what I am.