Friday, 6 September 2013

Going back to school

I have decided that at this point in my life I need something that I cannot retire from and to commit more fully to the life of an Artist. I have decided to go back to art school, not so much to develop artistic skill as rather to learn how to 'do' being an artist and the professional parts of working as an artist.

Here is my [successful] submission to Winchester School of Art (WSA). It may help others thinking about postgraduate study, the artistic life, how to cheat retirement -- let me know if it does anything for you.

Portfolio Submission

Introduction -- In the beginning was the identity

I began my journey towards this application with an interest in marketing for emerging artists and the creation of brand and identity development.
I created the identity of Aldobranti to start with nothing beyond an obscure literary reference.
This image comes from a series inspired by the title of a 2010 show at the V&A “Shadow Catchers” where I played with the idea of sneaking up and catching my shadow by treading suddenly upon it.
The image is established on the internet as the likeness of Aldobranti who identifies himself as a “performance in the digital social media and very big pieces of film”. Aldobranti is thus a running concern in the internet and is joined in networks with other artists who may or may not know that it is a pseudonym and who may or may not care.
A slightly more informative description is exposed in Aldo’s position statement on the LinkedIn social media platform:

I am a scientist from an artistic background.
I am an artist who cares deeply for the scientific method.
I am polymath.
I am a chemist who cares about the alchemy of light.
I am a physicist who looks into the metaphysics of of our vision.
I am a mathematician who considers the limit, the continuous, the non-linear and the singularity.
I am a writer who weighs words to the microgram.
I am a colourist who works chiefly in monochrome.

In this statement I reveal my colours as a scientist and mathematician [BSc Hons 2:1 (Mathematics), Southampton and MSc (Operations Research), Southampton]. I hope in the next few pages to demonstrate the different threads in my artistic practice: as a performance artist; as a fine art photographer; as a fun person; as a political animal; my conceptual vision and a wealth of ideas. These threads feed one off another and require me to maintain the performance of Aldobranti as an integral part of my practice, an umbrella and a cornerstone.

Footnote: Aldobranti is a character from legend. First in Henry Carey’s play Chrononhotonthologos (1734) Aldiborontiphoscophornio is a bombastic character given to fanciful speaking. In Norman Lindsay’s book The Magic Pudding (1918) a character, struck down by adversity declares that “[his fate] is worse than having an uncle called Aldobrantifoscofornio”. Selecting this name was thus a deliberate act to enable, given some effort, a reader to notice the absurdity and facilitate the detection of the pseudonym. That said, the name seems to be taken at face value.

photography as performance

The nature of photography is changing very rapidly at the present time: the camera on a mobile phone and the trajectory of the image to a social media web page is now part of every moment and 240,000,000,000 images have been uploaded to Facebook to the beginning of 2013. 

The phone camera held above the head spoils the view for people behind. The flash automatically triggered by low light is dissipated in the mass of the auditorium. The deluge of catalogued and tagged images available on Flickr means that the value of a commissioned and paid for image is vanishing. Now we are all photographers.

Seemingly, because people take these photographs as part of ‘being there’ at some newsworthy event some suspicion attaches to the taking of photographs in the absence of news. Jon Nicholson, official ‘behind the scenes’ photographer at the 2012 Olympics spoke of public photography wth an old Polaroid camera 
‘If you go out now with a digital camera, people fear you, whereas with this 1970s camera everyone smiles at you.’

As soon as I began to work in large format and first disappeared from view under a black cloth I began to be part of a larger social process. Passers-by wanted to talk to me or my assistant. While I was working on the project which includes the image to the left, the man on the beach asked my assistant if I was “all right”. He smiled and left, satisfied with the answer “he’s a photographer”.

It may seem that your shadow is a constant feature of your existence in that your shadow needs to form itself in the space delineated by a light source and your periphery. Yet, in Jungian theory the shadow has a part to play as an archetype representing the nature of your unconscious versus whatever presentation you may make of yourself. 
Given some level therefore of honesty about the nature of your shadow it seems responsible to record its behaviour of itself. My work therefore centres around the differences between the performative character of the self and the appearance of the shadow. 
In these images I note with a handheld camera the nature of my shadow as I, photographer, attempt to move suddenly upon the shadow or to leap free of it. I used a timed shot to isolate the definition of shadow from the movement of the performance. As the position of the shadow remains fairly constant relative to the lens I am fascinated to see the emergence of textural themes in the ground on which the shadow plays. Almost a Petzval swirl.

fine art photographer

When I began the Aldobranti project it seemed easiest to present myself as a Fine Art Photographer to rapidly accumulate a back catalogue and to keep up a busy turn over of content on the website. Working in extended series, making edits and re-shooting accorded well with other parts of my life and I can be pleased with a great deal of the imagery I have built up.
Consequently my base of contacts in digital social media are primarily photographers also but I confess myself dismayed by an all too prevalent unwillingness/inability to verbalise about their photography. I need to understand why I am making an image and where I intend to go with it.

a multi-disciplinary approach

Mathematics has been a driving inspiration to me as I have grown up -- I see line and space, continuity and non-linearity, boundaries and turning points, poles and zeroes. I relate these to the physical world through an early love of practical physics and chemistry.

If I open the shutter of my camera as I jump off a small rock I calculate that I shall fall 12 inches in the first quarter of a second.

The tungsten element of this incandescent light bulb was coated in metallic zirconium during manufacture. This removed the last traces of oxygen from the bulb which is otherwise full of argon gas at low pressure. The incandescent light bulb was a great service to 19c artists but has not beeen much recorded in its own right. 

I could point out two significants uses of the bulb. First Picasso’s Guernica (1936) where the light continues to blaze and illuminate the atrocity. And second, in Bacon’s Triptych May June 1973 where the ever present light bulb is overpowered by the black tide of gloom flooding out from the wc and the slumped figure. 

having fun

This junction of the A272 with the B2040, the former A3 in Petersfield is so overloaded with bollards that my first thought was of a penguin colony. I wanted to bring my eye line down closer to theirs.

This junction draws me back again and again as my skill with a large format camera grows. There is something mystical in handling a 10x8 negative: a total expression of the scene, in a world where ‘shopping an image is expected I demand the materiality of a negative.

what is conceptual photography anyway?

To my way of thinking, the conceptual art strand in photography has been overall the saving grace to develop photography from the worthy and the maudlin of the documentary tradition, or the finite craft skill of the black and white art photograph. Since Stieglitz’ 1917 record of the Duchamps urinal, photography has offered its evidential solidity to record and perpetuate the act depicted as being the central artistic offering. Photography makes possible this recovery of the event, the traces are archived; now, while it captures the ephemeral form.

I could not leave this journal cover alone and found the chintzy drinks mat to exactly fill a hemispherical space in the image. I then applied the contrast of the persian rug to sandwich the journal cover. I visited the show of John Hedgecoe’s portrait work at the Sainsbury Centre last winter. 

political animal

This line of enquiry started with the peeling of a fruit in a single slough and to think about the gaps between points that were close together on the spherical surface but are now far apart.

I am no longer certain that this work can be developed through the medium of photography; I want to explore other curatorial paths 

enquiring mind

I was talking with an artist who was drawing on her training as a ballet dancer to guide a project on how we interpret the visual scene around us as we move. Her work entails recording with an open shutter the scene during the time of a single dance step. 
A response on my part was to build a slit camera and to focus on a single stripe of the scene as the film winds though the camera. Here a clock is passing in front of the slit on a pendulum platform.
Below is a work in progress where I hand hold the strip camera as I move through the scene. That is my shadow on the right.

multiple platforms

This image is a still from a short film I made where I was seeking to answer a question I put my self: “Can I make strip photographs in real time and what would they look like”

The video is constructed by digital processing of a film of a radio controlled clock resetting itself after fresh batteries have been inserted. I created the code in a programming environment called Processing.

Why WSA?

There are a number of reasons, I wrote some down for my application to the University. Others are more mundane: the £2000 award to me as a graduate of the University of Southampton where I gained an Upper Second in Mathematics; and, that the integration of WSA as part of a Russell Group university will foster my inter-disciplinary interests.

Artist's statement

I make my work through the persona of Aldobranti Fosco Fornio, a character drawn from comic literature: now Aldobranti is a performance in the digital social media about a photographer working in large formats. This work began as an investigation of the difficulties of brand and identity formation for emerging artists, specifically members of my family: I brought Aldobranti into life as a vehicle for this research. As I have in the past worked in marketing I began to investigate the effectiveness of the Internet. A website was created, populated with my work under Aldo's name to engage with practicing artists and identities were built in the digital social media.
Reflecting myself as a working mathematician, Aldo's images reveal qualities of line, space, continuity, chaos, boundaries and turning points. Aldo supplies the comedy inherent in working in the public space with a large format camera.

I have taken photographs since school days and though I bought one of the first digital cameras more than 15 years ago I now concentrate on working in film, most often in large formats. This work formed the basis for the work shown on the aldobranti website where I began to explore some strands of photography-as-performance-art. Consider the nature of the photograph of my shadow as I jump to trap it under foot. Again, the understanding smile of the passer-by who in asking my assistant if I was “all right” received the answer “he's a photographer”. Here I am trying to illustrate the performance implicit in all photography. The act of being Aldo, perhaps with head under a black cloth, for the purpose of making a photograph, points up, the one to the other, the simultaneous making of the performance artwork and the photograph.

More recent work however has developed within the identity of Aldobranti, taking wholly new directions in a political space and this motivates me to study at postgraduate level. The new work is concerned with issues of the social [in]justice of boundaries and divisions and while based in photography has less obvious readings [to me]. I am interested in the “otherness” of this work emerging from a performed identity and wish to develop these new ideas in a wider critical environment; to understand this work better as it evolves.

Referenced Website
Publications: Life is a Beach – a Kindle e-book

Current Practice – peel projects

This project begins with taking a tangerine, clementine or similar with an easily removed peel and marking it with text or images. I then remove the peel in a single piece and share the segments of the fruit with others. The enduring aspect of the process is the disruption to the text and images caused by the peeling. In particular I have marked the outside with a world map which provides the opportunity to meditate on the nature of maps in projection and the uses to which maps are put.
Once the map of a neighbourhood has been laid out it is often the basis for political divisions and the consequences of the division bear down on ordinary peoples' lives, their supply chains and communications patterns.
In the spirit of working in disrupted supply chains, in low-tech, I may photograph this work in film, developing black and white emulsions in improvised chemistry and printing images in very early processes, perhaps salt-print or cyanotype. I use a large format camera to hang on to the evidential quality of the object; as I shall be contact printing I wish to record a 1:1 image – in this I am inspired by Man Ray's photograms as a definite record of what is.
I am able to print a map of the earth's surface on the fruit before peeling: as of this writing I am undecided as to whether the visibly disrupted geography is a useful comment. I am currently therefore evaluating the effectiveness of inscribing texts e.g. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The fragmented legibility of the text after peeling might stand for the underlying resistance to the violence of the division of the surface.

I believe that WSA and the wider resources of the University of Southampton can best support me in the use of the facilities as I explore renderings of this work as it moves from a photographic origin into a mixed media form. I look to a critical mass resulting from student numbers and backgrounds and the the quality of the research staff and faculty to help further understand and develop my work. The parallel streams of research interests at WSA in marketing will further strengthen the theoretical basis of my practice. I believe too that the University Library extending as it does into all areas of learning will be a fantastic resource e.g. I would wish to explore the work on maps with geographers and political scientists.


Harold Cohen & Aaron and Sol LeWitt
Laurie Anderson, David Bowie, Francesca Woodman
Giorgio Morando

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