Sunday, 23 January 2011


  My aim has been to explore 'The Secret Life Of Objects' with a fresh outlook on the potential of new creative strategies, and the utilization of existing understandings of visual language and coding.  As a novice blogger I have used this space as an accessible record of ideas, processes and development allowing me to easily navigate through the links and connections between theory, practice and everyday life that accumulate to create the framework of my working methodologies.  In previous projects I have bent the spines of overfilled sketchbooks cutting and sticking to log my progression and to contain the many tangents that lead off from the main focus.  In an attempt to gain a little more control over this direction of progression, blogging has provided me with a clear, chronological record for reference meaning that early research and realisations of ideas have acted as the tools to inform the later development.  I have found this to be a useful and efficient strategy, however the beauty of a sketchbook as an art object in itself has been lost.  The accessibility of the blog has definately enriched my practice by allowing my fellow students to follow my project at their own leisure which has provided me with specified criticism and comments that I have never gotten from group tutorials etc.  The web presence has also served as a useful tool as one of my contacts for the coming collaborative project learned about my work after being directed to my blog via a google search.
  After researching the ritual of tea drinking and the connotations of culture and wealth, I quickly came to the conclusion that the exploration of my tea cup as an art object could not carry the weight of a global understanding of its meaning.  My cup would not be found in a Japanese tea ceremony and therefore it cannot be defined by this ritualised appreciation and value added.  The history of tea, tea cups and the surrounding rituals is vast; and so, I directed emphasis to a personal exploration of ownership and function within my Western working class world.  The strategy remained as an exploration of 'my tea cup' rather than the generalised object, but 'my tea cup' is simply a vessel for communication and interaction so 'my tea cup' became a metaphor for personal relationships between the owner, object and ritual.
  I used other people from within my culture to inform me of the projections of meaning applied to tea, and later to enhance the individual personal relationships between object and function in recording conversations.  Supporting these findings with my own ideas an creative application of these ideas, the scope of understanding around the object reflected our shared belief system and social and emotional attachments.
  The understanding of meaning was strongly founded in the links between functionality and communication in that the value of the interaction outweighed that of the object or experience.  Subverting the function in order to emphasise the true meaning then became prominent as I explored the use of materials, exhibition and context.
  Throughout the brief my ideas have been underpinned by theory first and practical creativity second.  Although I can see that the overlap between my theory and practice strengthens the body of work, authentic, uninformed expression and visual communication has become an increasingly important point of interest.  The format of my existing creative strategies has been research and theory leading to creative practices but I feel that this has to change.  I want to critically underpin my practice with the knowledge and understanding that essentially informs it, however I fear that my practice is becoming a strongly institutionalised commentary on the spoon fed conceptual thinking that I am being introduced to. Working in collaboration from this point, I plan to gain a better understanding of the pleasures of artistic expression as therapy without applying art theory from the offset.


Defining My Object

After much consideration, the only conclusion that I can come to is that the tea cup can only be defined by the physical, social and emotional interaction of its use.  To further explore the individual interactions between people and the object, I used a dictophone to record tea drinkers conversations in coffee shops and other locations around the city.  Obviously I had to do this discreatly in order to achieve an authentic recording, however the dictophone was drawing a lot of unwanted attention even when hidden.  The recordings that I took were also muffled by uncontrollable background noise so the strategy was simply ineffective.  As a much more pheasable alternative, I made a small log of snippets of conversations which I carried with me for a week so that I could to add to it whenever an appropriate oppertunity arose.  

What I was doing seemed like a massive invasion of privacy, but I'm not going to lie... I was a little bit excited by the idea of these strangers conversations as eaves dropped secrets and records of information that was never meant to be written down.  In the same way that I attempted to preserve the projections of the tea drinkers with the wax filled tea bags, I wanted to preserve these conversations without totally revealing the private natterings of people joined together in social ritual.

With wax in mind as a previously successful preservation material, I explored secret messages using wax as a resist between layers of paper, and tea as the revealing pigment.  I sandwiched the wax between the layers because I didn't want the messages to be visible before the tea was poured over them, however this method also allowed for a subtle reveal that only partially exposed the eaves dropped conversations.   The two images above test generosity of the application of wax and the number of layers of paper used to conceal.

Learning from the process I have re-visited my paper cup.  With subverted meaning through compromised functionality, I have combined the cup with the conversation pieces as the rout of this whole project still lies with the original object.  Whichever  angle I choose to approach the visual language and coding of the object, the one consistent undercurrent is the value of communication and mutual understandings of a shared belief system.  At least, in the Western world amongst the working classes, we know what it means to have a cup of tea and our understandings of this shared ritual are informed by the same one culture.  A cup of tea is a safe encounter.

Using some excess paper I attached the paper cup to the concealed conversation pieces.  I gradually added tea to the cup allowing it to absorb through the whole piece revealing its secrets.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Cork the limited line it's over...Fancy a brew?

To exhibit/display the ceramic pieces that I have made for assessment, I questioned whether or not I needed to replace or repair the broken string between the two cups.  The A4 length of tea soaked string has become irrelevant at this point, and the idea of a limited line of communication, disregarded.  The social ritual and experience of drinking a cup of tea is evidentially an essentially physical interaction, therefore the physical line of communication does not exist.

The holes that subverted the meaning of the object have now been corked, and the object in its intended original form still stands.  Although I probably wouldn't advise the use of these 'tea cups' as tea cups due to my make shift corking skills, they could be water tight and functional once again.  The objects are valuable, delicate porcelain, and their journey of transformation has almost come full circle touching upon the 'functional' in their present form whilst retaining the trace of their life as art objects.

In terms of creative strategy, the altering use of the same objects initially existing as adapted multiples of the original object has been unintentional but successful.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Post A4

I am institutionalised.  I wanted to break the mould but they did it for me.

I took part in an "art exhibition" within the institution, where the rule of A4 was dictated and a show was "curated" by other institutionalised people to whom site, space and layout was dictated.  I could not conform to the rule of A4 without an overwhelming desire to fight back, however the nature of my work exploring communication limitations seemed only fitting for a humorous commentary on the paint by numbers exhibition that was being pieced together in front of me.  The distance limitation of the "A4" line of communication set out to meet the limitations set by the exhibition criteria, but my lack of an A4 sized/shaped artwork pushed to break the mould.  The value of works created for the exhibition is a questionable  response to one persons "brief", so who can be named 'author' of any of the works either individually or as a collection?  My piece was deemed acceptable as a part of the collection, and quite fittingly, but accidentally broken as the exhibition was dismantled.   The limited line of communication was broken questioning the limitations of the institution, but how long is a piece of string anyway?

Social Distanciation and Disembedding

Henning.C(2007)'Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology', 'Distanciation and Disembedding'

04/01/2011 22:05

'Modern society is based on a functional differentiation of different social systems. Therefore, face-to-face interactions lose their significance in everyday life, as modern media such as money or more recently the Internet step in between. The consequence for individuals is the process of distanciation. It has both a spatial and an emotional side: people who feel a sense of belonging can live far away from each other, and people sharing the same neighborhood may not even talk to one another. Social interdependence is ever more mediated and behavioral patterns often adapt towards a mutual ignorance. The consequence for societal subsystems is that they are increasingly disembedded. They follow their own logic only, without reflecting upon social concerns or society as a whole. Though these two related processes are but two sides of the same coin of modernization, they have been described in rather different theoretical schools. The term distanciation comes from Nietzsche. It was taken up by authors like Georg Simmel, Helmuth Plessner, and Norbert Elias. The term disembedding was first used by Karl Polanyi, though the idea was already elaborated a hundred years earlier by Marx. It was taken up by anthropologists and later on by economic sociology (Granoveter & Swedberg 2001) and also by Giddens.'

Continuous Line.

I do not wish to define the meaning of a tea cup because the meaning is fluid.The Western working class ritual of drinking tea is a valuable continuous line of communication looked upon in a casual manner, but relied upon immensely.  In Eastern cultures the value and history of tea, the ritual surrounding it and the objects surrounding the ritual dominates the experience.  I want to focus on the value of the experience of shared time, conversation and real face to face communication.  Without rules or limitations, the cup of tea in my culture is intimate.  Although there are the influences of other cultures and classes, we take our tea according to personal preference from the location through to the cup and the company.  From one porcelain cup to the next, I had thought of my string drawing out the pattern of a telephone along the literal line of communication.  The piece breaks the standardised perceived meanings of the teacups as objects by altering their functionality, but the understanding of the image of a telephone representing communication contradicts the attempted step away from the standardised.  Distance and area dictates the altered methods of communication between me and my friend who originally bought me the teacup, and so the length of the piece of string between the two cups will comment on the limitations of space and the standardised.  I think that the element of contradiction works to express the conclusions that I have come to through the exploration of my object in implying superiority of a cup of tea as a tool for communication.

I have submitted the piece as part of the 'A4' exhibition at Leeds College of Art, and the string measures the  length of the area of the standard A4 that it fills.

I realise that my exploration of the object has become specifically focused upon my personal experience of it, and the expression of my ideas through the visual language that I am choosing to use is just as personal.  By which I mean to say that the invalidity of my research based around 'my' tea cup and object which other people may identify as a cappuccino cup is irrelevant and misunderstood.  The misunderstanding is as a result of my expression of the meaning of 'my' tea cup and not of the tea cup as an object in general.  When I was questioned about weather or not I knew that my cup was actually a cappuccino cup during a group tutorial, I realised that the standardised understanding of things runs deeper than I had originally expected.  The receipt of any works that I create using 'my' tea cup, will be pre-criticized by the power of inbuilt understandings that do not wish to be questioned.  If I pour tea into an empty fish bowl and drink from is a tea cup.  Standardised definitions that we are taught do not always correlate with the reality of functionality and the relationship an individual has with an object, and nor should they.

Mutual Understandings And Standardisations Are Limiting!

I prefer the informality and relaxed approach to Western tea drinking rituals probably because it is the culture that I know, but more importantly because it allows for the projections of meaning that I personally understand and value.  As a proposal for the Interdisciplinary Art & Design third year's 'A4' exhibition, I was asked to write an explanation to outline the relevance of the piece that I was intending to submit:

The porcelain cups and string that I have made visualise the progression of my research into subverting objects in relation to their functionality with a particular focus on materials.

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

I have also been researching the receipt of beauty and perceptions of ‘good taste’ and value, contrasting the differentiation between Eastern and Western cultural differences of opinion.  This is why the cups are cast from porcelain adding a perceived value to them that I was attempting to mirror in the value of communication, interaction and the social ritual of drinking tea.  The connection between the teacup and the phone is also in reference to my friendship with the person who gave me the cup as a gift, and the phone represents our new method of communication now that distance dictates that we can’t have a chat over a brew etc.  The phone also directly links back to my research into Japanese culture as an object that I have always desired, aged with use and time.

'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.'
(Jun'ichiro Tanizaki)

The tea soaked string between the two cups also represents the adaptation of communication rituals depending on circumstance, location and social/cultural class.  With my other teacup models that I have made and am progresively making I am exploring the idea of subverting their functionality through the use of materials, paper in particular.

'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)

Here lies the rout of my interest in the standardized A4 white paper of the Western world.  Marcel Duchamp broke the standardized rules of art for the gallery space (or the white cube), and my piece comments on the impracticality of a strictly understood set of standardised meanings surrounding the teacup as an object.  The line of communication within any culture cannot be confined to set dimensions without limitation.  The cups and string with the string spanning the length of the area of a piece of A4 paper aims to describe this limitation as a result of standardisation.

(Images by Brad Hodgson)