Sunday, 24 October 2010

'Inflatable Plastic Bag' Subway Art by Joshua Allen Harris

  Joshua Allen Harris' animated aesthetics using animals and mythical creatures made out of plastic bags, commenting on global warming by manipulating the materials and strategies used.  The plastic bag has already become a ubiquitous object in relation to global warming, consumerism and recycling initiatives as well as being an everyday object that is far from out of context on the streets of a busy city. It is likely that the sculptures pass as unnoticed litter when deflated, but with the passing of  New York's subterranean subway trains they momentarily come to life.
  Going back to Kant's definition of beauty as something that has 'purposiveness without a purpose', Joshua Allen Harris has accordingly created beautiful artworks with the simplest, cheaply produced aesthetics of ephemera designed totally for the purpose of functionality.  Originating as an object in its own right, the plastic bag is transformed from its intended state and purpose, now serving a new purpose playfully communicating the artists intended visual language through movement, context and material.  As implied by Kant in discussions of the receipt of aesthetic beauty, 'Inflatable Plastic Bag' successfully stimulates the viewer through the form and design achieving a disinterested neutrality.
  The tea cup is a fairly simple form, and i am more interested in the social ritual of drinking tea in relation to communication than the functioning object itself.  I think that subjecting the tea cup in order to define its social meaning, will follow Joshua Allen Harris' strategy of redefining the objects functionality to retain and build upon the existing visual language and subsequent connotations. 

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

'A Little Death' by Sam Taylor Wood 2002

In this still life Sam Taylor Wood manipulates the combination of creative strategies to direct her viewers attention and receipt of the piece.  Using composition and lighting typical of fine art painting or photography, the disturbing subject matter becomes somewhat acceptable as art.  Does this mean that we can literally put anything on a plinth and call it art?...and does the fact that I'm even asking that question begin to reference Marcel Duchamp and Dadaism?  Subverting the meaning by altering context is a powerful strategy driving the viewer to reconsider what they are observing and what it means.
The peach acts as a static object creating contrast by continuously referencing the idealised, traditional still life subject matter, whilst leading focus to the movement and transformation of the decaying hare.  As an identifiable object the hare mirrors back the contrast to the seemingly non-perishable fruit, raising questions about what resides in the body.  The transformation of the decomposition not only alters the physical form of the object, but also its meaning and connection to the static.  

'Dear Phone' by Peter Greenaway 1977

'Dear Phone'toys with the concept of communication through narrative, visual language and idiosyncratic preoccupations of the red telephone box as an object.  Fourteen phone calls made by fourteen different men, each with the initials H.C. and each to a woman named Zelda, juxtaposes the repetitive lines of communication using multiples of the standardised object in its fourteen different locations.  The audio of the ringing telephone in the opening sequence and throughout the film is cleverly used to build suspense, to the point where you almost want to answer the call yourself regardless of the anonymous caller and the unfamiliar location.  Certain objects/ visual triggers and sounds initiate uncontrollable urges and responses in us that are inbuilt learned behaviour.  If a phone rings, we answer it.  However i find the functionality of the phone box as an object is merely the echo of the mass produced consumerist culture that stemmed from the industrial revolution, which as we all know, had its dark undercurrent of unemployment and a loss of the value placed on skill and trade on the production line of every-day objects.  The red telephone box is undeniably an iconic thing of beauty, but i think that seeing past the functionality is vital to understanding it as an object.  For example, in the film Henry uses the phone to retain the communication connection with his ex-wife Zelda as an alternate method of communication during a postal strike.  In this instance, the phone is not a phone it is a line for hope, emotional attachment and reassurance.  It is this reality that connects the tea cup with the telephone box. 
 The narrative of the film describes the idea that we could in fact live our lives through a phone without any true human interaction if we so wished.  Yet later describes Zelda's instance that Henry revert back to corresponding via the outdated but tried and tested methods of letter writing. Using illegibly written text as narrative throughout the film has a disconnected personal connection to documenting the telephone correspondences almost as letters as would have been the protocol prior to the invention of the telephone (or prior to the postal strike).  The narrative describes the scarcity of phones commenting on the advances in technology which set out to connect the world, but actually create barriers potentially discouraging people to communicate because of money or circumstance, and also via the written word which is now often seen as a far too time consuming task.  The ironic humour and emotion expressed through words be they written or spoken, uses the iconography of the phone box as a 'signifier' of communication and connection rather than the phone box itself being the 'signified'.

The designer of the red telephone box is Giles Gilbert Scott, who also designed Battersea Power Station and Bankside Power Station (which has now been converted into the Tate Modern art gallery) but more importantly, known in Liverpool as 'Scotty the Bricky' Giles Gilbert Scott designed the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. It is this fact that gives me sense of nostalgia when i see a red telephone box which is quite a relevant connection drawing on my own experience of telephone relationships with my friends and family i have left behind in my home city.  Conversations which would have once been had over a cup of tea now travel down a telephone wire.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

'The Tale of the Kettle: Odyssey of an Intercultural Object' by Laurier Turgeon, Laval University

'The uses to which the object was put in the culture of origin are reviewed; its transcultural pathway is retracted; and, finally, its new functions in the culture of reception are identified.  The approach is modelled on the so-called historical geographic method developed in the study of folktales. It is assumed that the material object, no less than the orally transmitted tale, bears the mark of the use made of it, and situating a single object in the context of its production and reception seems to be the most reliable way to understand the role of objects in the construction of cultural identity.'

'Objects, no less than people possess a cultural life.  Instead of dwelling on the techniques of their production or on their exchange value, i prefer to reconstruct trajectories of object to find out how they are used in the shaping of group identities.  The study of objects avoids, to some degree, the confines of the classical monograph which tends to limit the field of observation to a single group, obscuring its competitive relations with other groups.'

'Following the pathways of objects through time and space, from one group to another, permits us to demarcate the space within which contact has occurred and to better understand gradations of meaning as we resituate things in their cultural contexts.  The study of objects allows us access to the nonverbal expression of intercultural relations, to the concrete actions of daily life that at times remain unencumbered by words.  Words, as we know, do not say everything; they frequently deceive, or conceal more than they show, or even deflect or alter meaning.'

'Heidegger on the Connection between Nihilism, Art, Technology and Politics' by Hubert L. Dreyfus

'Our everyday know-how involves an understanding of what it is to be a person, a thing, a natural object, a plant, an animal, and so on. Our understanding of animals these days, for example, is in part embodied in our skill in buying pieces of them, taking off their plastic wrapping, and cooking them in microwave ovens. In general, we deal with things as resources to be used and then disposed of when no longer needed. A styrofoam cup is a perfect example. When we want a hot or cold drink it does its job, and when we are through with it we throw it away. How different this understanding of an object is from what we can suppose to be the Japanese understanding of a delicate, painted tea cup, which does not do as good a job of maintaining temperature and which has to be washed and protected, but which is preserved from generation to generation for its beauty and its social meaning. Or, at the other extreme, an old earthenware mug, admired for its simplicity and its ability to evoke memories of ancient crafts, such as is used in a Japanese tea ceremony. It is hard to picture a tea ceremony around a styrofoam cup.
Note that an aspect of the Japanese understanding of what it is to be human (passive, contented, gentle, social, etc.) fits with an understanding of what it is to be a thing (evocative of simpler times, pure, natural, simple, beautiful, traditional, etc.). It would make no sense for us, who are active, independent, and aggressive -- constantly striving to cultivate and satisfy our desires -- to relate to things the way the Japanese do; or for the Japanese (before their understanding of being was interfered with by ours) to invent and prefer styrofoam teacups. In the same vein we tend to think of politics as the negotiation of individual desires while the Japanese
seek consensus. In sum, the practices containing an understanding of what it is to be a human being, those containing an interpretation of what it is to be a thing, and those defining society fit together. Social practices thus not only transmit an implicit understanding of what it is to be a human being, an animal, or an object, but finally, an understanding of what it is for anything to be at all.'

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

"Damaged Goods" by Barnaby Barford 2008

  "Damaged Goods" is a tragic love story using stop frame and 2D animation to narrate the life of objects as characters on the back shelves of a bric-a-brac shop.  The porcelain figurines play out a commentary on the hierarchy of material wealth, as a boy from amongst the 'damaged goods' on the bottom shelf  tries to rescue the beautiful, sad woman from her life amongst the crystal, gold and silver objects on the top shelf.  Barford uses the narrative and fragility of porcelain as a material to describe the class devisions through the value of ceramics.  Conveying a powerful message about the inevitability of tragedy when high culture falls for low in a shakespearian tale of forbidden love, the beautiful woman is shattered and pieced back together as she falls down the class devisions; and yet having lost her material value she is illuminated with a new radiant glow.  Colour and light are significant elements of the film defining the atmosphere and focus with a tense, dark glow and strategically placed spot light.  The use of blue and white figurines across the middle shelf represents the middle classes, and the colourful circus freak characters represent the cheap, mass produced kitsch of the lower class divide.
  The accompanying soundtrack to the film was written as a score which in my opinion could stand alone as a narrative piece.  The audio completes the visual sequence, toying with the viewers emotional reaction to sound by building suspense and an emphatic involvement in the storyline.  
  I am interested in the relationship between the way in which people and objects are categorised according to their perceived value or importance.  The hierarchy of our bookshelves is not dissimilar to the hierarchy of our society, de-emphasizing the importance of the old and materialistically invaluable in order to idealise wealth and all that is modern. I have no interest in exploring valuable objects for the connotations of symbolic status that is attached to them, for the mass produced everyday objects to be overlooked.  The objects that we use, observe and touch on a daily basis hold relevance to our lives in that their symbolism and narrative is understood as part of a universal language.