(I use they/them, my full first name is Racheal but I prefer Rach)
PHOTOGRAPHY – ALL SEMESTER
Week One – BOOK STACKING
This small project made me think about books in a different way than ever before. It had me wondering about the course or context that lead the University of Guelph Library to purchase these books. While working I saw some fellow students thinking out of the box and it sparked creativity within the little work bubble some of us created. I enjoyed this project because it lead to out-of-the-box thinking within titles or colours and so much more. At first, I was going to limit myself to one floor, but I am glad I didn’t; it opened me up too much more. I then carried a few books throughout the library and tried to carry over the different floors that I used most in my pieces of work.
The final three I chose to share are a mixture of levels 2,3,4 of the university library.
The first photo is of three books that look like they are falling and the covers are open, the book spines read; mind in nature, interpreting the universe, nothing so absurd.
The second photo is of a digital painting that could represent feuds. Below the digital painting, there is a photo of 2 books with titles aligned that say; the sun placed in the abyss, the feuds of the clans.
The final photo is a black and grey photo of 2 books with titles aligned. The books are authored by one person, Annie S Swan. The titles read; The Better part, Between the tides.
Week THREE – ENVIRONMENTAL ARTIST PRESENTATION
Jason Logan — Make Ink
He is a Toronto-based artist, or as his website states a creative director and strategic graphic designer. He is known for several projects and companies. He has several books and is the founder of the Toronto Ink Company.
“I am convinced that creativity is a fierce weapon”
Jason’s approach to design is summed up in two sentences that are stated on his website, “Good design thrives in the space between function and beauty. It completes, awakens, and engages the senses while helping to make sense of information.” He is a big believer that good design requires doing; that means making, doodling, imagining, and prototyping until things work out. And he is all about teamwork, he believes that good design cannot happen alone.
Because Jason has covered so many different artworks and other projects, I wanted to share some of the works before going into the big project that Jason has been working on for a while.
The big project that will be discussed is one of the books that Jason has published. The book is called Make Ink: A Forager’s Guide to Natural Inkmaking; it is 192 pages that are bound by a hardcover, and was printed in 2018. This book was used as a citizen science experiment to see and make eco-friendly, urban ink from street-harvested pigments.
In the book, Jason dives deep into the history of ink making and how to distill pigments from the natural world. We are able to learn to forage from materials such as ash/soot, rush, food, and even cigarette butts! After we are taught how to forage for the supplies to make the pigments, we then are taught how to mix, text, and transform all of the items you foraged into rich, vibrant inks; these inks are sensitive to both place and environment.
(I did not buy the full book, but I am tempted! I have found 2 articles on the library website that Jason has written to talk about natural pigment making!)
For this project, I started with the concepts of illustrated child books that built into the theme of weather. Slowly, I then went away from that idea and just thought of various ways to stack piles of books just so it would be pleasant to see, although forgetting the theme of weather in doing so. Afterward, I decided to incorporate the body with books themselves as we forget a structured material, such as a book, holds a humanized materialistic sensation even though a book is so mechanically made. I also thought about how a person’s body can depict the illustrations of the book through the weather itself, showing different seasons or adventures that reveal a consistent theme of weather. My whole process was a bit rethought after our library trip. My ideas changed drastically and I leaned towards more minimalistic ideas, while still keeping a consistent theme that versus material and weather, which results in decay. Weather corrodes man-made material over time, such as a book, so the idea of corrosion “popped” in my head with the help of the artist Alexis Arnold who took basically “ruined” them by crystalizing their beauty with Borax. I decided to, overall, photoshoot playful pictures of books that are struggling to hold together to represent what weather can do to man-made material.
Alexis Arnold – Inspiration
Library PhotoShoot: Concept on Weather and Corrosion
Nature Walk: Circles, The Sky & Weeds
Environmental Artist: Tim Knowles
Tim Knowles – Tree Drawings
Tim Knowles is an artist based from UK, London. He started a project series that he called “tree drawings” from 2007 – 2008 where he presented tree drawings on paper with ink. He said to have utilized “apparatuses, mechanisms, or systems beyond [his] control to introduce chance into the production of [his] art”. Below, are a few pictures, from the website:
which shows a series produced by trees, located in the Borrowdale and Buttermere areas of England’s Lake District. How Knowles created the project was by attaching sketching pens to the tree’s branches and then placing sheets of paper in the trees’ natural positions to capture the motions, in addition to the motion of stillness. I think wind had a huge aspect to his pieces and Tim probably selected a day of which the weather wasn’t as windy, but more steady, because of how clean and crisp the strokes were, that being always centered on his paper and not exceeding the boundaries, almost as if he still had intention into letting nature take its course where he was “the guiding hand”. His drawings depicted, somewhat, signatures with each drawing having different qualities and characteristics through various sways in the breeze, that including: “the relaxed, fluid line of an oak; the delicate, tentative touch of a larch; a hawthorn’s stiff, slightly neurotic scratches”. Knowles also explains how “process” is important in his work, like how I’ve said before, where his canvases almost look purposely placed to get a centered penmanship. In the end, each of Knowles’ “Tree Drawings” are photographed or videoed, documenting the location as well as the manner of its creation.
Tim Knowles – The dynamics of drifting
Tim Knowles’ independent solo exhibit on “The dynamics of drifting” is ongoing. Knowles described this project as a journey or motion of drifting that includes inspirations through concepts of gravity and external forces that could also be influenced by people. The purpose of Knowles’ sailor boat project is to truly have no destination, where the wind takes the passenger on a journey of fate, through nature’s course. Below is just a prototype of his industrialized invention having “WTWB4” being an abbreviation for “where the wind blows”.
Knowles’ sailor boat reminds me of people who give in to fate and let mother nature or even destiny take her course, realizing we never had a choice for free will just the illusion that society gives us. The bare elements are what choose our fate, such as gravity, people, and other external forces. Although, Knowles somehow manages to create soothing works that seem to be very mellow and relaxing as his journey seems to be depicted as a slow steady stream, just like in his “Tree Drawings” series, having very manageable and “hand-guided” plans.
“‘Dynamics of Drifting’ presents a series of works that forge and record passages through land and water. Light, ink, water, and wind all travel and pivot on the meeting of human will and forces beyond our control: the direction and force of the wind, the flow of the water, and the pull of gravity.”
Futurefarmers is an art collective based in San-Francisco founded in 1995 by Amy Franceschini. They work on collaborative and diverse pieces that range from zines to public performances, which cultivate an “ethos of play”, as Franceschini describes. The Futurefarmers design studio both supports artists in residence and community based art projects, which in some cases span internationally. The members of this collective describe themselves as “artists, designers, architects, anthropologists, writers, computer programmers and farmers with a common interest in creating frameworks for exchange that catalyze moments of “not knowing“”. With their projects, they aim to deconstruct infrastructure systems as well as the concept of “certainty” by challenging their effectiveness in a playful, but almost scientific way. In doing this, much of the work that the Futurefarmers and Franceschini create bring attention to the conflict between humans and nature.
Founded in 2012 in Oslo, Norway, the Flatbread Society is a long-term project created by the Futurefarmers collective which grew internationally with a specific focus on the human relationship to the “grain”.
“Soil Procession” was a Flatbread Society project in 2015 where members worked together to bring soil from over 50 Norwegian farms to the Oslo fiord for a “ground building” ceremony. The procession included a walking parade of soil transportation, taking over an hour to complete, in order to create a foundation for the society to build and grow off of. This transported land later became home to the Bakehouse as well as the Grain Field, where they grew their own crops using farming techniques passed through generations. One procession member described the journey as: “It is not a demonstration against anything, but rather for! We are bringing forth soil from Norwegian farms to Bjørvika.”
After multiple meetings, interventions, and workshops, members of the Futurefarmers created and installed a permanent, wind-powered printing press. The piece includes the installation, the creation of a unique font, a film about the work, a publication, and an exhibition. The work alone spans multiple practices and encourages the collaboration between disciplines, as well as the exploration of more sustainable printing techniques.
When this project was first announced, my immediate thought of what to base my stacks off of was a foggy night. I wanted to base my first stack after the dark gradation of what a dreary and foggy day looks like. The second idea I had was to create a stack off of a purple and orange sunset. I really just wanted to create a stack like this sunset is just so beautiful to look at.
The Process of Book Stacking and the Images
Here are a few of the images I took with the camera. I am no photographer, so getting used to using the camera was a learning curve for me! As you can see in the photos I was playing around with the lighting, the first few use the normal lighting in the library, and the second lighting was used under the “natural” lighting setting. The natural light setting gave the image a more yellow tone to it. It was a lot of fun to play around with the lighting, but I still have lots to learn about using a camera and all of its settings.
Also when stacking the books I decided to make poetry out of them and I really enjoyed doing that! Having such a broad topic allowed me to create interesting poems, but still sticking within the theme.
These images were taken with my phone. I personally think that these ones turned out better than the ones with the camera, but I think that is just because I am more comfortable and familiar with using my phones. I know what settings look good and how to properly use it. On my phone I was playing around with the regular camera mode, and also portrait mode which gave the blurry background.
This was an extremely fun assignment and has really allowed me to look at books differently. From now on when I am going to a place with books, whether it be a library or book store, I am going to start stacking them. It was a nice way to not only create art, but practice my photography skills!
Images from the Nature Walk.
Round Things, A Piece of Sky and Weed Noticing.
Also included a few that I just thought turned out well!
Ron Benner is a Canadian artist who was born, and still resides, in London, Ontario. He studied at the University of Guelph in Agricultural Engineering, but then switched to Art. After switching his path in life, he went to develop a practice that combines photography, installation and gardening. Benner is a strong environmental activist whose work investigates the history and political economics of food.
This piece by Benner has Three components to it, (only two are shown). The first is a wall of red pepper boxes which leads to a wall. it is described as, “Entering the installation, viewers move past a 17th-century map representing Florida and Mexico (aspect that is not shown), and stacks of brightly coloured produce boxes, through a vertically spliced photographic curtain into the simulated shell of a transport truck,” Through that wall leads to a room which is described as, “Inside, viewers find tire shards, galvanized sheet metal, and more than 200 photographs that contrast contemporary transportation systems with the ancient trade routes of the Americas.” This piece is showing the trek of bell peppers sold at London Ontario’s Covent Garden Market and tracing the root of peppers to its origin.
I think this is a very interesting piece because most of the time when buying food we don’t think about where it came from, we just accept that it is now in a store. This piece is very important as it is showing where specific peppers history originated from. It allows viewers to think about where their food comes from, and how it gets to the shelves of the grocery store, or stall at a market.
This piece by Benner is a very important site specific piece. It resides in the Visual Arts Centre of Clarington (VAC) which was once known as The Cream of Barley Mill. This piece is a mixed media piece where the main subject matter includes black beans, sunflower seeds, wild rice, potatoes, maize, amaranth, chili peppers, quinoa, pinto beans, lentils, chickpeas, fava beans, wheat, barleycorn, soya beans, sorghum, flax, and rice. The meaning of the piece, VAC curator, Sandy Saad writes is, “An exploration of the entangled relationships between place and history vis-à-vis food. It employs food to map history, bringing many new places into the site and offering a more complex and intertwined narrative… At the centre of the room lies a collection of various seeds, grains, and cultural deposits: objects from Iraq, Mexico, and Curve Lake First Nation, and London, Ontario. They are a combination of unlikely objects in juxtaposition, reflecting the vast displacement of food crops and culture through various imperial, colonial, and industrial efforts. Benner’s installation creates a room that is both united and divided. Benner suggests the dual nature of the power of food: to bring people together through social and communal gathering, and to separate communities through imperial and commercial enterprises”.
I really enjoy this piece because it is so well thought out and planned, and there is such a depth to it. To understand the full meaning of the piece you truly have to know the history behind it to understand what Benner really made. The grains, the location, everything is just so articulately weaved together that gives this piece many added layers to it.
This piece by Benner is an installation piece. This piece includes a small garden with a variety of flowers. The front of the box the garden sits in reads, All That Has Value. Sticking out from the garden is another plank of wood which reads, Was Then Counted As Nothing. I could not find much information on this piece (only its predecessor titled, All That Has Value, which looks very different). I think that this piece means that plants are one of the most important things we have on this planet, but we do not treat them as important as they are. Without plants we would not be able to survive, but we do not take care of them, or the planet to allow them to flourish.
Week 3-Artist discussion: Terrance Houle and Trevor Freeman
Terrance Houle is an Indigenous interdisciplinary media (film/video/photography/performance/music) artist and a member of the Kainai Nation and Blood Tribe. He studied art at the Alberta College of Art. He lives and works in Calgary and has exhibited globally, winning awards for his films and as an emerging artist. His work often focuses on colonialism and Indigenous history. A powwow dancer, he also works as a youth mentor teaching video production and art at Métis Calgary Family Services in Calgary, Alberta. More recently, than the joint artwork with Trevor Freeman I will discuss below, Terrance presented an exhibition called Ghost Days. This work presents an experimental art adventure, bringing together film, video, performance, photography, and music. Initiated in 2015 this project conjures the spirits and ghosts of colonial and non-colonial history that exist in the light of night, as well as in the darkness of the day. In one piece of work called “Remains” He photographs a chair over a series of time and watches it be reclaimed by the earth as it disintegrates. He is also well known for a series called “Urban Indian” depicting himself in traditional clothing performing everyday urban tasks.
Trevor Freeman is an environmental sculptor from Calgary and is a member of the Métis Nation. He studied art at the University of Lethbridge. He is friends with Terrance Houle and was brought back into the art scene with the performance of Portage ‘007.
Together they are known for a performance piece they did called Portage ‘007. Originally performed in Vancouver, they have reperformed the piece in different cities across Canada. The objective around the performance was to stage and subvert the typical illustration of portaging one finds in a vintage grade school classroom textbook. In interviews, Houle explains “it’s usually a staged photograph with the stern-faced native hoisting the canoe with his friend the Métis voyageur.” In the performance, the two dress up in stereotypical “traditional” Aboriginal and Métis garb and traverse the populated urban terrain of Vancouver’s metropolitan centre. Terrance is dressed up in a loincloth and moccasins and Trevor wears early fur-trapping attire and a Metis sash tied around his waist. They pose with a canoe in front of the Hudson’s Bay Company store on Granville. They pick up the canoe and place it on their heads, one man in the front and one man in the back. They begin their ‘Portage’ through the downtown core of Vancouver. Along the way, they interact with people and occasionally stop to talk, or eat, or rest. The ‘Portage’ endurance performance takes approximately 2-3 hours and they need to deal with weather elements.
As they carried a canoe through urban settings, we are reminded of pre-contact trade routes and also the early settlement of Canada during which time non-Native and Native porters would map new routes or take old routes to get to where they were going. These were modern day reenactments of old portage routes to celebrate social relations amongst different cultural groups and to acknowledge this unique history in Canadian fareways. The re-imagined Indian and Métis portaging our urban streets offers a sense of the past, and the fiberglass canoe suggests the present, while we ponder the future of trade, commerce and potential for further cultural understanding via historical narratives and practices.
Houle’s favorite comment: “Hey dude, this is like my grade 10 social class.” A shore patrol officer also asked if they had a permit to put the canoe in the water and asked if they had the required lifejackets, paddles, and bailing bucket. They assured him they were dry landers here to portage across the beautiful city of Vancouver. He said that after a while the city just becomes another landscape and the people are like trees. Most people, when they saw the canoe coming, keep their eyes averted and pretended they didn’t see that particular part of the urban landscape. There was a difference between the way people reacted based on where they were from. Tourists were puzzled. Canadians laughed because they “got” it. Once they changed back to contemporary clothing, people on the streets gave them little notice as they were just two guys transporting a canoe somewhere.
Week 2-Arboretum and outside (Circles, weeds and sky)
Weeds: A weed is a plant growing anywhere you don’t want it to.
Week 1 revisited: book stacks take 2
I re-shot some of the book stacks with significantly less books and like the simplicity of the images and messages. I also added one new concept stack. During my business career, the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, was an incredibly successful book and was forced upon us as must-read material. I decided to have a bit of an intervention and create my own stack of habits, including some referring to weather.
Week 1: Kathryn’s book stacks.
I took a hybrid approach to creating my book stacks. I walked around the University Library and pulled a few books that caught my eye either for the originality of the title, colour or reference to a “weather” event. I also did targeted word searches at both the University Library and the Guelph Public Library to fill in some concept gaps. I found the Children’s section of the Guelph Public library especially good for a few concepts. I first started taking photos on bookshelves or with a black background, similar to Nina Katchadourian, but started playing with accessories or shooting outside to add information or ambience to the story the photo told. I liked these better and found the colours and lighting of the books more engaging. The originals I have are higher resolution and the focus sharper. For some reason, once uploaded to WordPress they become a bit fuzzy.
For the first photo, I followed, somewhat, the style of Nina Katchadourian and approached the word choice as a poem or statement. The resulting stack is quite focused on environment and climate change. I photographed this one with blurred fire in the background, one indoors in daylight and one outdoors at night. My preference is the second one as it has a more violent and catastrophic feel.
Titles that caught my eye were often ones with questions in the title. When seen all together they created some anxiety and tension: Was I supposed to know all the answers to these questions? This led me to thoughts about the popularity of self-help books and how their messages were most often obvious and pithy but explained in a long-drawn-out way how to solve a problem. I had some fun and created a self-help stack with a nature background (a tree stump in my backyard) as an anxiety-calming trope. The questions that start the stack descend (in my opinion) into more and more ridiculous questions. For the weather-related book, I was a bit disappointed that the book I wanted “I wonder why the Sahara is cold at night” was unavailable. The alternative “I wonder why leaves change color” is very thin and a little hard to read (the original is higher resolution and has more clarity).
For the final photograph, I wanted to use the children’s book “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” as it had the weather reference and a whimsical title. I thought about how fun it would be to create a series of posters that had book stacks that could logically lead to a whimsical or unusual saying (almost like a mathematical equation or a riddle) and I came up with this. Aesthetically I thought it would be effective to have some traditional Italian colours and ingredients in the photo to add to the theme.
This past week we were able to begin our school semester in person. Unfortunately, during my first week back, I was exposed to COVID-19 and needed to miss our first meeting. After looking over the blog, I was able to attend our second meeting where we ventured to the library to look at book stack collections and to create our own compositions. I met a friend in the class and as a partnership, we decided to go to the third floor of the library where the Scottish literature is held as we both share this heritage and the knowledge that the Scotts often discuss weather. After looking through the stacks for quite a while, I began picking some books that caught my eye. I noticed a large variety of books pertaining to religion but tried to focus on the areas of geography and travel. I am also quite the fan of romance and any books with poetic language tend to catch my eye too. After some time, I began trying to arrange my books into compositions. As I put an emphasis on travel and travelling climate, I wanted to set that scene and decided to use some geographical photography to assist. When I think of weather and climate, i usually think about the ways in which individuals experience it, how we feel about it and the way that one person could experience something entirely different from another at the exact same time. I also noticed some maps on my search which i felt could also assist in creating imagery to go along with my compositions.
Week 2: September 19-21
This week I unfortunately came down with Covid-19. This illness really took me by surprise the level to which I would struggle to recover. Due to this, I was not able to attend this week’s critique or the mute arboretum walk. I hope to be back in class as soon as possible and getting back into the world of experimental studio!
First working on this assignment i felt overwhelmed with all of the options in the library at Guelph for potential combinations of words and phrases. So instead at the beginning of my process I decided to gather books simply based on interesting titles, combined with visually pleasing spines in order to create myself a micro selection of books. From the titles I liked and gathered, I then worked in my “mini library.”
STACK ONE | ART THROUGH THE AGES
My first collection of books were found all together in the Art History section of the library. I firstly noticed they provided all the colours of the rainbow before noting that they actually also were written by the same author, Gardener. This piece felt more like a natural start to the rest of the assignment, and encouraged me to not just rely on the title of the books, but what books physically stood out to me. What I would naturally lean towards visually felt as if the selection of books did not just speak about the library’s collection, but also my own preferences as an artist.
STACK TWO | EDEN
My second collection, is quite possibly my favourite. I leaned towards more word play, but still wanted to keep visual aesthetics in mind. This was the resulted in the more blunt appearance with shorter titles, and a more muted colour palette. I loved how these titles reminded me of the creation story in the bible of Adam and Eve, and relates to themes I want to explore in my practice as an artist this semester.
STACK THREE | WAR
My final stack felt the most natural to the original assignment. I had originally gathered this series of books based on the worn look of their covers thinking it provided a lot of visual interest. Nearing the end of my time at the library I was stacking books to put away when I finally noticed the titles of each book. I decided to rearrange them to read the most like poetry, to tell the story of the transitions of peace and war and then hopeful rediscovery.
Performance by Jordan Bennett 2012 Materials: Tattooing, Technical equipment, film screening of Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance and Is the Crown at War with us? by Alanis Obomsawin Performed/Presented at: Eastern Edge Art Gallery, St. John’s NL Photo: Eastern Edge Art Gallery
80064. Its title is the camp number of a 92 years old Auschwitz survivor, Jozef Tarnawa. The tattoo has faded with the years and Zmijewski meets the old man in a tattoo parlor and tries to persuade him to have it ‘refreshed’.
The old man is not to be convinced easily. He wants to be left in peace. He is worried that the renewed tattoo will not be ‘original.’ In the end, Zmijweski gets his way and the poor man submits his arm unwillingly to the tattoo artist. In Zmijweski’s own words: ‘When I undertook this film experiment with memory, I expected that under the effect of the tattooing the ‘doors of memory’ would open, that there would be an eruption of remembrance of that time, a stream of images or words describing the painful past. Yet that didn’t happen. But another interesting thing happened. Asked whether, while in the camp, he had felt an impulse to revolt, to protest against the way he was treated, Tarnawa replied: ‘Protest? What do you mean, protest? Adapt – try and survive.’ In the film, suffering, power relationships, and subordination are repeated.
About the controversial work the artist says:
“It’s a renovation of the number, a kind of the respect toward the guy, he is treated as a living monument of the past which needs to be preserved and kept in good condition. And the second meaning of it is re-creation or repetition of the act of violence toward this guy. In both movies, I wanted to open access to the past, really open it, not to commemorate it only, but only open access to it, really jump into the past. The very moment when the tattoo was done or the very moment when people were in the gas chamber […] Deifnitely artists should maintain their position and support curators and institutions which presents this exhibition and fight censorship.”
Michelle Lacombe, Of All the Watery Bodies, I only know my own, documentation, 2013-2014.
Reading a Body
Michelle Lacombe turns her body into a palimpsest for us to decode, mingling constructed and natural signs and generating a complex image of the tensions traversing it. Each of her works comes about in two moments. The first is the work’s production and presentation, focusing on an issue conveyed by the media and art history, which generate an exterior view of the woman. The second is everyday lived experience, in which bodily signs endure, accumulate, recontextualize one another. Lacombe embodies both perspectives simultaneously; her body, a field of struggle, testifies to this.
Revisiting the historical modes of representation of women through the deconstruction of Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus (1510), Lacombe stands in for the main subject of the scene in The Venus Landscape(2010). The work consists of lines tattooed on her body that serve as guides to the prescribed pose of a reclining, wanton Venus offered up to desiring eyes. The artist denies the prescription by fragmenting her posture in everyday actions, the drawn lines never joining up to render a coherent image of their reference. Nor does she shy away from the tropes associated with women or fear falling into stereotypes: in dealing with maternity, the menstrual cycle, and women’s kinship with nature, her project Of all the watery bodies, I only know my own (2013–16) is an occasion to reflect on the body’s erosion through the monthly loss of its reproductive potential. No longer situated in the landscape, her body becomes the landscape, a terrain that wears down over time, with every cycle.
The voice of women, often devalued, lies at the heart of Italics; Underlining for emphasis (2010 and 2015), which indeed underlines Lacombe’s voice with an invisible line etched inside her lower lip, symbolically marking her agency. She strives for the same goal in all her work: to reveal and explode the barriers that restrain her field of action as she confronts the complexities and nuances inherent to her research.
Translated from the French by Ron Ross
Generic Man, 1987-1989, printed of 2002
160 cm Line Tattooed on 4 People … is a video documenting an action that took place at El Gallo Arte Contemporáneo in Salamanca, Spain in December 2000. The artist’s text explains: ‘Four prosititutes addicted to heroin were hired for the price of a shot of heroin to give their consent to be tattooed. Normally they charge 2,000 or 3,000 pesetas, between 15 and 17 dollars, for fellatio, while the price of a shot of heroin is around 12,000 pesetas, about 67 dollars.’ (Quoted from the artist’s text accompanying the video.) The single-channel black and white video constitutes an informal record of the event in which the four participating women allow their backs to be used for the tattoo. It shows the women – two fair haired and two dark haired – arrive in the space and take up positions, naked from the waist up and with their backs towards the camera, straddling black bentwood chairs. During the action they move constantly, chatting, laughing, smoking, turning to look behind them, curiously watching the female tattoo artist and commenting on her processes until, finally, she cleans their wounds and covers them with bandages. During the film, two men in dark clothes pass in and out of the frame, holding a tape measure over the bared backs for the initial measurement and taking photographs of the process as it develops.
I’m thinking about your relationship to lines, in particular. Can you talk about your tattoos?
JM: They’re still there!
KH: [Laughs] Yes, well, in some ways they are only slightly less ephemeral than your paper cups and napkins, in the sense that you yourself are rather ephemeral in reference to geological or cosmic time…
JM: True. I honestly don’t remember how I began working with lines exactly, except that it began soon after I started working at NSCAD. My use of straight lines is probably another reflection of the fact that I was interested in making works in visual art but had no particular skills or training, and I also had no interest in gaining those skills. That compounded with my background literature and my interest in science and mathematics. As for the tattoos, they are artworks that I’ve had for twenty-two years now. Most of my life I’ve worked in some sort of job where I’m dressed with sleeves covering the majority of the work, so the question most people will wonder is how far up my body they go. There is an implication that they continue.
KH: I’m looking at them now – they are on the center of your forearms, beginning at the wrist and ending at the elbow. I remember you saying once that one was black and the other blue, though of course now the black one is blueing, and the blue one is blueing further, which is also interesting in terms of tracking time. Lines are of course related to a human sense of time as a linear concept, and certainly your continued use of the line connects much of your work through time.
John Murchie, “Black and Blue”, 1996. Photos courtesy of Gemey Kelly.
JM: When I got them done in the mid-‘90s, there weren’t that many people around with tattoos. Those from my father’s generation who had been to war certainly had some, but aside from that they weren’t that prevalent, but were starting to be. I’ve always been interested in how a sculpture can be a painting and vice versa. I still see them as my drawings, basically. On the other hand, I’m obviously a three-dimensional thing, so its sculptural, and also I see it as an ongoing performance, until my last breath. It’s the only way I can give my body real value. I have offered this artwork to the National Gallery of Canada. I told them they couldn’t have it until I passed away. And then, they would have to make a decision as to whether they preferred to see it as a drawing, and skin me, or see it as a sculpture.
KH: And embalm you?
JM: [Laughs] Yes. It’s their choice. I see both possibilities as perfectly adequate and true, but obviously you have to make a choice. Curatorially speaking, I think they would make the better choice than I would. From my perspective, it’s one of my most successful works.
KH: I’m led to think of Santiago Sierra’s 160 cm Line Tattooed on 4 People from 2000, which of course was done much later and garnered a lot of negative attention for the obvious problematics – paying prostitutes the price of their choice substance to be tattooed across their backs as some sort of unit. Obviously your work is exceedingly different, but I can’t help but bring Sierra to mind. Both works, regardless of their extreme difference, involve an attempt at geometry against the fleshiness of the human body, and demand that the living body be seen as an art object.
JM: Yes well even in my case not everyone has been empathetic with the work either, like my mother, for example. [Laughs] She thought it was the most stupid thing she’d heard in her life. Conversations around their utility come up most often in hospitals when my sleeves are rolled up to do blood work and the like. I guess they look suspiciously like the surgical marks doctors draw when they’re getting ready to cut you open.
Tattoo (for Reflection)
The work of Douglas Gordon revolves around a constellation of dualities and dialectics. Mistaken identities, doubles, split personalities, and such opposites as good and evil, and self and other are thematized as inseparable. Gordon’s films, video installations, photographs, and texts transform differences into uncanny, nuanced pairs.
Gordon approaches film as ready-made or found object, mining the potential collective memory that exists in cinematic fragments, and in the process, disclosing unseen or overlooked details and associations. His installation through a looking glass (1999) features the well-known scene from Martin Scorsese’s 1976 film Taxi Driver in which Travis Bickle, played by Robert De Niro, asks, “You talkin’ to me?” while gazing into a mirror. In Gordon’s piece, the scene is projected onto dual screens placed on opposite walls of a gallery space. The original episode from the movie, filmed as a reflection in the mirror, is shown on one wall. The other screen displays the same episode with the image reversed, flipped left to right. The two facing images, which begin in sync, progressively fall out of step, echoing the character’s loss of control and his mental breakdown. These discordant projected images seem to respond to one another, thus trapping the viewer in the crossfire. In its almost dizzying play of dualities, through a looking glassperfectly articulates the dialectical inversions, doublings, and repetitions that are the central concerns of Gordon’s work.
Gordon also uses still photography to capture performative acts, as in Tattoo (for Reflection) (1997). In accordance with Gordon’s instructions, the writer Oscar van den Boogaard had the word “guilty” tattooed in reverse on the back of his left shoulder; the tattoo can only be read via its reflection in a mirror. Gordon revels in the mixed messages found in the tattoo’s various cultural associations, from its use as an identifying mark on prisoners to its current incarnation as a subculture status symbol. In true Gordonian, reflexive fashion—with the word legible on van den Boogaard’s back only when reversed—the photograph becomes an index of an index.
As a child, my friends and I used to draw watches on each other’s wrist for fun. Back in the days, a ball point pen is not easy to find for us since everyone uses pencil and only adult and older children can use a pen. To share a ball point pen that was hard to find and draw different watches on each others wrist was a simple mark of friendship. To recreate this childhood memory, I asked my classmates to draw each other a wrist watch with their own design and photographed it then translated it into a printable design. I then printed these “watches” on temporary tattoo paper and shared it with the class.
Human beings have been tattooing themselves for thousands of years. For religious and spiritual reasons, for beautification, remembrance, for rites of passage, for sex, as expressions of identity and belonging; of protest, of love and sometimes – of possession and hate.
Artists have explored many of these ideas in artist-tattoo projects, utilizing self-conscious, and conceptual strategies in designing and applying tattoos. The resulting works are sometimes surprising, provocative or difficult, funny, or emotionally moving.
Students will create a tattoo piece. You can use the transfer paper or other print and drawing techniques to make one, or multiple tattoos. You can also consider ways to present your work – on a body, in a performance, or in a video. Finish your tattoo somehow – to present to the class and on the blog as a finished artwork.
**** While your work may be a proposal and sample of a permanent tattoo, I would recommend you do NOT apply a real permanent tattoo/mark on yourself or others to complete this assignment. After critiques you are free to do what you like with your own body – but for class, you will not make a permanent body alteration, please.
Consider artist tattoos by:
Students will document finished works for addition to the blog. Include a title, a short description and one to two images or video of your work.
Works must be posted on the blog with a title and description to receive a final grade.