GRADUATE PAPER 1994/95- FROM
This show is an attempt to reflect how differing social structures and settlements relate to each other. The bulk of the work forms an analogy, between how their inhabitants, and myself identify such structures, with the physical groupings of buildings, with the symbolic markings of the map; and photographic media imagery that (not always accurately) typifies, and creates, our perceptions of place. By working across both 2 and 3 dimensions, with a combination of Ceramic, photography, drawing and other media, 1 attempt to create a disorientation for the viewer (e;g birds-eye topography next to street level image) that further manipulate such perceptions.
My interest in the urban environment and its physical characteristics has been a catalyst for creativity since my early teens. My identification with the inner- cityscape of London was borne out of the lack of a tangible culture to identify with. I seemed to fall between the poles of environment (neither inner city nor 'fabled suburbia'), status (middle class; without material trappings), and education (academic, but attended large London Comprehensive school). This experience of an absent culture created the 'wannabe streetwise' attitude that is felt by many of my generation experiencing the void created by the fall out from sixties idealism (and in a country that was reluctant to face up to it's 'lost role' in the world). This would find its niche in the Punk/New wave music explosion of 1976-77.
As an artist, I have looked at ways of expressing the urban, influenced initially by; the colorful urban expressionism of Red Grooms, and the juxtaposition of 2 dimensional imagery with 3 dimensional form used in the vernacular scanning of Robert Rauschenberg and his celebration of beauty in the commonplace. This formative period of my work has focused on architecture, in particular the grid-like structures of high rises, with dilapidated elements in the environment that challenged the accepted notion (in general society) of aesthetic beauty, e:g rusted corrugated fences or worn brick work), by expressing the excitation of the car and highway as a collective force. Primarily I have used the medium of clay; as the means to create the form of landscape easily -and this is a priority I place ahead of tactileness-,whilst discarding ceramic colorants and glaze: when my needs are the more instant results in the evolutionary painterly process, rather than the step by step chemical processes in ceramics.
In the summer of 1993 I focused in on experimenting with the luminary qualities of tail reflector lights on cars. It became clear to me that rather than just being a physical attachment to a vehicle, the light as an abstract form became an indication of a presence on the landscape, as well as a link between place (the journey between places) or a record of having left place A for place B. Simultaneously I began to appropriate by way of Xerox on acetate- street maps of places that were reference to my own dwelling or transit or had significance via fable, notoriety or infamy, and thus, my presuppositions had been created from other's opinions and from the everyday media. 'Perceptions: a home from home' is displayed as a group of twenty four, interacting relief wall tiles; using clay to echo the graphic abstract lines of the maps as physical marks.
I have developed my use of reflectors and maps in the more recent work, which creates a dialogue between urban/suburban relationship of visual landscape, by augmenting from the general to the specific (the whole region, the Street junction and individual architectural elements. In both 'Mapscape of habitation -N.5I:30/W0:5' and 'Mapscape of habitation-N33:45/W118:I5' a birds-eye view has simulated an archetype metropolitan landscape. The grid structures of Richard Diebenkorn's 'Ocean Park' series has long been a source of fascination to me in this way, with their use of the spatial relationships going on in the streets of the community where Diebenkorn lived, although, the artist, by transforming these to nonobjective geometric configuration was concerned with Modernist formal issues like the push and pull of the picture plane, rather than the environment itself. In the Mapscape pieces I am keen to articulate how groups of architectural form and street patterns, that lie within the confines of the respective UrbanlSuburban regions, become symbolic as they spread spatially before our eyes. For instance built up areas of sequential blocks and marks that visually coalesce along interlocking arteries (formal grid like in LA, unrestrained Sprawling web pattern in London) equate us with the city, whilst the staggered clusters and repeated patterns, that react in their own space, are synonymous with the tranquil flow of suburbia. These tell us something about the kind of community that exists. In my urban pieces I consistently relate to subterranean space, such as subways and the areas around highway pillars, where I am drawn to the animated vistas created when scanning between the abutment of supports. When homing in from the general perspective of the settlement in both 'Urbscape -N40:4I/1V73:56' and 'Suburbscape N40 :511W74:14' individual characteristics of architecture act as potent symbols of environment, in which 1"the eyes explore the visual field and abstract from it certain objects, points of focus, perspectives" that certain 2"repositories of place meaning formed and interpreted in the mind". For example -:subway and highway pillars, are urban, and radiate more psychological danger in the public's mind, than the facades of suburban colonial housing and picket fencing which depict security and stability.
It is from our cognition of architectural and social configurations that we relate to the map, although frequently this process is reversed. For instance, my knowledge of my native city derives from studying the map and then identifying this with the topographic reality of local settlements, and often our initial - and in some cases our knowledge of place and it's location, or where we are and what's around us comes via the map. On the face of it, this creation by the cartographer, is a collection of both abstract lines and shapes and an exaction of representation that wields tremendous power as a tool of authority, communication and narrative. It is the latter of these that interests me. All of the maps appropriated in the more recent works; are of areas of infamy through their association with varying degrees of urban tension , or are respective counterparts as symbols of the definitive suburb within the same metropolis.
Our social structure, and the news media feed us a set of opinions and beliefs which we view as either negatively or positive, the inner city = racial problems, urban tension, crime and cramped housing. In contrast the suburban grail of consumerism, privacy and the 'nice' family unit, are associated with good, and therefore the concept of affluence is the move from the urban to the suburban. As a result this demographic trend has become a major reflection on twentieth century social habits. As already stated, my own roots lie between these polarity's. In 'Mapscape of habitation -N5I:30/W0:5' , the urban communities represented by the maps in my work have an association with the negative. Through personal experience I have generally found them the n tolerant multicultural, and vibrant environments. Alternatively, for the past two years, I have been living in archetype 'nice' suburban neighborhood, where I am aware of suspicion, non-acceptance ,and the kind of narrow -mindedness towards outsiders and those that don't fit within the framework I consider this to be equally as dangerous (mentally rather then physically).
Through the creation of settlement forms and the use of maps (and-as we shall see later- photography,) in my work there exists a dichotomy of attitude between opposing social structures urban tension Vs suburban safety, and indicates the presence of the communities that reside within them. The aspect of settlements in my work manifests an analogy, I feel, with the work of Charles Simonds, who; from the early seventies onwards; has created numerous settlements from unfired clay and mixed media based upon the evolution of his own fantasy community called 'The Little People' that 3 "elucidate the social structure, work habits and beliefs of this civilization". These exquisitely detailed landscapes; indicate with dwellings, track marks and trails the presence of 'The Little People' on the land. In my case my use of reflector lights creates a modem day equivalent of human presence and transit. Simonds's work obviously refer to the American Indian as well as to Pueblo and Mayan culture. They clearly show further contemporary relevance in 4"how social structures evolve in response to economic pressures and geographical situations, and how elements of culture, particularly architecture and urban planning, reflect these structures". As I have shown in my work, this certainly rings true in the metropolitan social realism of contemporary society, where we are still very tribal about where we live, what; and whom is acceptable and our relationship with other environments, both within our locale and further afield.
Our perceptions are further enforced by twentieth century media images. which contribute to such polarization on a global scale. The photographic imagery in these works concern themselves with this dichotomy and perceptual notion of negative Vs positive, illustrating the conflicting perceptions these familiar images create, and focusing on the generic context of the images and not their own characteristics. With the use of borrowed representation ( several of the images are appropriated from newspaper articles) we are made much more aware of these assumed viewpoints. Major influences on me, for this mode of thought are the ground breaking, silk screen paintings by Robert Rauschenberg (1962-64).These canvases of eclectic images, whose 5"content ranged from artistic. political and social commentary", present 6 "the way information is received and processed by playing images against each other". Their reference to a remote control TV scan, would not become relevant until the 1980's, but they were one of the pioneers in reflecting the power of the mass-media image used in art. With my stance in social realism the crux of my work veers away from Rauschenberg's mainly existential pondering. Also I seek ambiguity, in part, through juxtapositions with other medium in the works, rather than the multiple connotations Rauschenberg employs through repetition of the same image in different formats and works.
With 'Map.scape of habitation-N33:45/Wl18:15', 1 have chosen to represent what lies outside of my direct experience. This metropolis (Los Angeles, CA) contains the ultimate definitions in the social chasm of quintessential 'bad' inner city, and the epitome of the suburban 'American dream'. An interesting paradox was created for me by the images of the 1992 civil unrest. My strictly armchair view of LA was counter balanced by many years of Hollywood and media priming. The fact that we already knew the script further blurred the hazy line between celluloid entertainment and reality. Typically the spark for the trouble was created by the two culturally and economically opposed social structures, with the insular suburban fears and prejudices prevalent I have appropriated images here -and in other works- that relate to different levels of our psyche. For instance riot police and burning buildings portray the potency of the newsroom, a desolate and rubble -strewn street corner can radiate expectant danger and, the harmoniously arranged cutlery set are synonymous with domestic bliss. By associating some of the images in 'Mapscape of habitation-N33:45/Wl18:15' with a billboard or a Television screen we emphasize their communication as visual icons.
Cognitive responses to; the relationship between spatial arrangements of buildings, mapping, and visual images are, I believe, integrally related in defining our perceptions of social structures. In my art I have attempted to engage the viewer, through narrative and encounter, on the environmental relationship between us and our neighbours. The simulation of mapping (in addition to forming an analogy with the appropriated cartography) is the drawings outside of the ceramic, has allowed this encounter a sense of scale and of place. Naturally our perception of an environment is flexible and slanted, depending on our relationship to it. It is undoubtedly this point, of having placed myself (due to my commitments at MSU) within a living environment that is the antipathy of my preferred habitat, which has driven the correlation of the urban/suburban discourse evident in this body of work. The relationship and orientation to place is a cornerstone actuation of making art, and in my case it is the inner-direction for the goals in both my life and work.