Thursday, 9 December 2010

'In Praise Of Shadows'

Jun'ichiro Tanizaki.(1977) In Praise Of Shadows, USA: Leete's Island Books

'...No stove worth of the name will ever look right in a Japanese room.  Gas stoves burn with a terrific roar, and unless provided with a chimney, quickly bring headaches.  Electric stoves, though at least free from these defects, are every bit as ugly as the rest.  One solution would be to outfit the cupboards with heaters of the sort used in streetcars.  Yet without the red glow of the coals, the whole mood of winter is lost and with it the pleasure of family gatherings round the fire.'

Tanizaki quite rightly questions the connections between objects in their social, functional and aesthetic contexts.  The very existence of an object as a possession demonstrates the compromises between practicality and context to define meaning and ownership.  The receipt of beauty is subjective just as taste varies between cultures, social class and the projection of the institute.

'But as the poet Saito Ryoku has said, "Elegance is frigid."  Better that the place be chilly as the out-of-doors; the steamy heat of a Western-style toilet in a hotel is most unpleasant.'

In its context of functionality, is the compromise of Eastern-style definitions of 'elegance' for the Western style consumer expectations of comfort...logic?  Or do our cultural perspectives of the object and its use completely re-define what the object is?  Both cultures are correct in their identifications of what is 'better'.

'And indeed for even the sternest ascetic the fact remains that a snowy day is cold, and there is no denying the impulse to accept the services of a heater if it happens to be there in front of one, no matter how cruelly its inelegance may shatter the spell of the day.'

The ideology of a standardised expectation of 'elegance' within all owned and used objects lacks a connection with any feasible reality.  The advances of technology and intelligence have made the minimalistic ideals of the Japanese receipt of beauty almost impossible.  The Western influence will not allow for the Eastern world to dominate their own culture.

'Japanese music is above all a music of reticence, of atmosphere.  When recorded, or amplified by a loud speaker, the greater part of its charm is lost.  In conversation, too, we prefer the soft voice, the understatement.  Most important of ass are the pauses.  Yet the phonograph and radio render these moments of silence utterly lifeless.  And so we distort the arts themselves to curry favor for them with the machines.'

John Cage 4'33" for Piano (1952)
1.Tacet 2.Tacet 3.Tacet

There is no such thing as silence.  By removing the idea of the origin or definition of sound, the sound becomes autonomous and self defining.  The dissociation of seeing and hearing allow the variation of listening to the new aspects of the sonorous object.  John cage represents the acoustic experience through the aspect of recording.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Wax Experiment

The wax cup is a fragile form delicately shadowing light and preserving the visual understanding of the tea cup whilst removing functionality.  However I feel that the visual language is lacking the encapsulation of the value and warmth of the tea drinking experience.

Monday, 6 December 2010

'Beautiful objects do not serve ordinary human purposes, as plates and spoons do.'

'Paper, I understand, was invented by the Chinese; but Western paper is to us no more than something to be used, while the texture of Chinese and Japanese paper gives us a certain feeling of warmth, of calm and repose.  Even the same white could as well be one colour for Western paper and another for our own.  Western paper turns away light, while our paper seems to take it in, to envelope it gently, like the soft surface of a first snowfall.  It gives off no sound when it is crumpled or folded, it is quiet and pleasant to the touch as the leaf of a tree.'
(Jun'ichiro Tanizaki)

In contemplating the potential of subverting the meaning of objects by removing its functionality, I had thought of paper as a contrasting material to ceramics.  The idea of replicating the same tea cup that I have over analysed and explored, with a material that alters it completely somehow seems like the next logical step.  A paper tea cup is non functional or at least (if tea were poured into it) capable of only single use as a different type of container or vessel.  I'm not sure if all of my research into the individuals projection of meaning onto the object has been about the explorations of the projections themselves, or perhaps routed in the basic idea of the unique relationships that the individual has with the same one object.  In other words without any alteration of form, the object carries a number of identities.  In this sense the object becomes almost human without consciousness.  I am interested in the expression of this unique, multiple identity using colour perhaps taken from the unique brew of every cup of tea.  In a paper cup the tea could be absorbed and captured, or the tea itself bottled and catalogued like a series of fingerprints.

Pantone Colour Chart Mugs Series (The shades of tea and coffee)

As an artist/maker I feel that a more informed perspective of consumption is available to me.  The act of making paper by hand adds a value and quality to an end product which I think carries the authentic qualities of Japanese paper described by Jun'ichiro Tanizaki.

'While we do sometimes indeed use silver for teakettles, decanters, or sake cups, we prefer not to polish it.  On the contrary we begin to enjoy it only when the luster has worn off, when it has begun to take on a dark, smokey patina.  Almost every householder has had to scold an insensitive maid who has polished away the tarnish so patiently waited for.'

As well as identity of the object, my focus of exploration has become routed in ideas of communication, interaction and social ritual.  The particular tea cup that I have used in my short film and experimentation carries a narrative: given to me as a gift from a friend who I have shared many tea drinking moments with.  The distance between me and my friend has now limited our methods of communication, talking over the phone rather than over a pot of tea drank from ridiculously large mugs.  Thinking about the desirability of such objects as colourful mugs and the technological advances of new models of telephone.  I thought of my friend and her particularly old fashioned telephone in contrast to the tea cup she had chosen for me.  The tea cup and telephone define our relationship and the effects of time, distance and circumstances upon our communication.  To further explore these connections between the two objects i have borrowed my friends telephone.

I always desired the telephone as much as I love the old farm house where she lives.  As much history and nostalgia is attached to the object as is attached to the house.  The phone has always reminded me of my grandparents and the objects around their house when I was growing up.  There was always a ceramic, old fashioned style telephone money box filled with pound coins that my Grandad would give us as pocket money.  Furthermore when my mum was a child her grandparents were the only people on our estate who had a telephone, and neighbours would put money in the money box to use the phone.  When my friend lent me her telephone she apologised that she hadn't had time to clean it but i was glad.  As Jun'ichiri Tanizaki wrote: 'We do not dislike everything that shines, but we do prefer a pensive luster to a shallow brilliance, a murky light that, whether in a stone or an artifact, bespeaks a "sheen of antiquity" of which we hear so much is in fact the glow of grime.  In both Chinese and Japanese the words denoting this glow describe a polish that comes of being touched over and over again, a sheen produced by the oils that naturally permeate an object over long years of handling-which is to say grime.'

The tarnished surface of the phone is a record of the generations of communication, and the yellowy discolouration and intense tobacco smell describe its position and functionality as a part of the identity of the house.

Porcelain Cups

Porcelain Slip Casting

Under the watchful eye of a technician I repeated the process in porcelain attempting to make a very thin, delicate cup.  I was advised on the timings for allowing the porcelain to skin and when to take it out of the cast by the technician who had mixed and used this particular batch of porcelain.

I used a small drill bit to make a hole in the centre of the base for the string to later be attached post firing.

Unfortunately we underestimated it a little...oops.  The piece wasn't quite ready to come out of the mould which made the handle stick, as a result of which it detached.

If at first you don't succeed...Try Try Again!

Earthenware Slip Casting

To explore the visual language of so called 'valuable' materials I want to make porcelain tea cups with the intention of combining the sense of value applied to the tea cup as an object, with the value of communication attached to the ritual of drinking tea in relation to the telephone as the sister object that has become part of my experimentation.  Ironically, the value of porcelain as a material has served itself as a small complication because of its so called precious and expensive qualities.  I am having to make a 'practice' tea cup with earthenware (a not so highly valued material) before the porcelain will be available to me.  This is frustrating given the delicacy of my mould and the likelihood of it breaking after the first cast, but the reasoning behind this complication is quite humorous given the nature of my intentions so I guess every cloud has a silver lining.

A sufficient demonstration that I am worthy of porcelain?

Mould Making

In order to further explore my object and the language of materials I have made a three part mould enabling me to make multiples in a variety of materials.

The first half of the mould was made using a clay wall built around and up to the central line of the cup with particular care around the intricate handle area.  As I poured the plaster into the clay construction, the wall buckled and the plaster escaped.

if at first you don't succeed...try try again.

I rebuilt thicker clay walls and attempted the plaster pouring again on top of the original thin layer which had stuck to the surface of the cup.  I used the same technique to make the mould for the second half of the cup as well as the base.  Where the thin layer of plaster had made the inner part of the handle mould on the first failed attempt at pouring the plaster, it had become weak and the hole through the handle broke off on both sides of the mould.

Using PVA glue I mended the mould and hoped for the best. 

Object Vs Functionality

Exploring the connections between the object and its functionality, I wanted to make a non-functional replica of the tea cup using tea bags. The tea bags have all been used, dried out and emptied so that like every cup of tea, they are unique.  I initially thought that I would be able to use the tea bags like mod rock, and so I attempted to dip them into plaster and form a cast around the original cup.  Although this method was successful in capturing the form, the delicacy and weight of the tea bags was begging for a large amount of plaster to solidify the form enough to be self containing.  With the symbolism of the model relying upon the tea bags as a material, the progressively increasing amount of plaster being used was detracting from my intentions.  To overcome these issues I have used the base layer of plaster covered tea bags to form the structure, then opted for an alternative approach using PVA glue to control  the tea bags as the dominant construction material.

The object now exists with room for new projections of meaning to add to its existing coding.  The functionality as we know it has been replaced with a question mark and a label of 'art'. 

  I am pleased with the outcome of this piece because I feel that it visualises the ideas of the objects existence without the interaction of an owner in both projection of meaning and functional use.

Language of Materials

Susan Collis Installation (Sheffield Millenium Gallery 2009)

'The oyster’s our world'
81.3 x 38 x 58 cm
Wooden stepladder, mother of pearl, shell, coral, fresh water pearl, cultured pearls, white opal, diamond

(Platinum & Diamond Screw)

I saw this Installation at Sheffield Millennium Gallery last year and I initially questioned whether or not I had stumbled into a non-gallery space.  The installation of an old paint splashed ladder and dust sheet in the corner of a space that appeared to be under construction questions our pre-programmed response and understanding of objects.  On closer inspection the screws in the walls and the objects in the room were encrusted with valuable precious stones which further questioned our perception of value.  Without the sparkle of a jewel we do not apply the same appreciation of a ladder as a functioning object or tool.


Although I intend to suspend these objects from beneath a table, I do not mean to say that I am de-valuing the projections of meaning that people place onto things by concealing them.  In fact it is precisely the preservation and value of these projections that I am trying to protect by keeping them as a hidden undertone to the easily accessible ritual.  Going back to the hierarchy of objects on the bookshelf in Barnaby Barford's 'Damaged Goods', I have considered the perceived value of certain materials as a method that I could use to apply so called 'value' to my objects.
'The Girl With The Pearl Earring'
by JohannesVameer (around 1665)

Known as the 'Mona Lisa of the north', 'The Girl With The Pearl Earring' is an iconic image not thought to be a commissioned portrait but rather a 'tronie', the Dutch 17th-century description of a ’head’.  The focal point of the piece is obviously the 'pearl earring' acting as a status symbol carrying the weight of wealth and importance.  I decided that the addition of a single pearl to the string of each wax filled tea bag could visually enrich the connotations of value and significance.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Object Preserving The Projections Of Its Receipt

Tea Bag Experimentation

After drying out used tea bags and emptying their leaves I experimented with ways in which to preserve their unique identity.
For the first test piece I poured latex directly into the tea bag in an attempt to replace the leaves with a foreign material that would protect and preserve the delicate object.  From this experiment I realised that I was overlooking the functional qualities of the material as the liquid latex almost immediately seeped through the porous bag. 

I then developed the method for a second trial using by painting a sealant layer of paraffin wax onto the inside of the tea bag before pouring the latex.  The problem with this trial was that I had chosen latex as a preservation material which would retain flexibility to retain the quality of the original object, and so the thickness of the sealant wax layer was compromised by my efforts to stay true to my material.  The wax sealant was partially successful in areas where it had been generously applied, however its functionality depended upon factors which in turn made the latex obsolete.  By which I mean that the wax became the dominant material transforming the tea bag into a rigid form and so the act of pouring latex in the middle of that form did not add any new/useful quality.

I found the wax filled tea bag aesthetic appealing as it  succeeded in retaining the original form and unique colours of the object.  The concept of a wax preserve is a widely understood process and technique that I decided was most appropriate to my intentions.  As well as proving itself as a controllable, suitable material; the paraffin wax transforms the object into a weighty solid which has the potential to further describe the weight of the individuals projections of meaning upon the reality of the object in its original form.  I had thought of the placing of my preserved projections objects in identifying them as the ever-present, concealed entities of the tea drinking ritual.  The obvious response that came to me was to describe this identification by hanging the tea bags from beneath the table which the tea sat upon.  I thought that this idea based itself around the continuation of the stitched words (representing the individuals projections), organising the preservation's in such a way that has a literal string between the 'original' (tea bag, cup and ritual), and the documented (wax tea bags).  After researching Clare Twomey, ideas about the hanging of my objects developed with Rena's critique on Twomey's strategy suspending works in space.  Although the weight of the wax as a material asserts the significance of the projections, the weightlessness of the suspended object somehow retains the privacy and the individualism of any one persons experience of the same object.

I sewed the words identifying individuals projections of meaning (taken from the mind map) onto the tea bag before the wax preservation.  The wax was absorbed by the thread and therefore captured the letters as part of the form.

To make the preserved word stand out more, i gently scratched away the top layer of absorbed wax to revive the original contrasting colour of the white thread.

To overcome the complications of the porousness of the tea bag, I prepared the tea bags by painting a few layers of wax on the inside allowing each layer to cool before the next was applied.  I then allowed the wax to cool slightly, and used a syringe to fill the tea bag fixing the suspending string into the wax at the last stage of cooling.