Cy Twombly, Untitled sculptures
by Nele Bergmans // December 2022
Nesin, K. (2014) Cy Twombly’s things. New Haven: Yale University Press.
A while ago I started drawing stacked shapes with circles on top. I was really interested in the free flow of the lines, where it would cross with other lines an create space in between. I was interested in the balance, the composition, the play, the simplicity and tension. After making dozens of these kind of drawings, I wanted to see if I could create this kind of free from in three dimensions, give it another materiality. At the time I was already quite interested in stones. I made stone sculptures that were exploring the same themes, and I wanted to see if it was possible to experiment with other material as well.
I started thinking about possible materials that would give me freedom. I thought about cold metal sheets, folded. Or paper. But I decided on clay. When writing the first research proposal, I was thinking quite a lot about materiality and intuition, and I wrote the following:
“The work is about materiality, so I will explore new materials and techniques. The main principle that I will use as a guide, is material honesty. With this I mean that the shape of the work flows from the language of the material, that is not manipulated, and that the techniques used to make the work are those most basic and intuitive. This way, I want to achieve a synthesis of the material itself and the shape that has been made with it. I think once this is achieved, humans project certain universal unconscious feelings onto an artwork. This is maybe where beauty lies. “
Trying to define for myself what that meant, ‘material honesty’, I came across the work Folding Column by David Hamilton. I was drawn to it by its simplicity, its expressiveness, and the way the meaning flows from process by embracing the material. It’s extruded clay. You can see the slabs of clay, you recognize the malleable material. You can almost see him making the work, pulling the slabs, at the point where they would collapse, and then folding them over, letting the weight of the do its thing, defining the shape. And still I find it very poetic, this sculpture. It’s very honest and aesthetically beautiful at the same time.
I thought working with clay slabs would be suitable to translate my drawings, as you could have real edges, like lines, a bit wonky but flowing. I also like that the material was malleable but could still collapse, so that if you place something on top and the clay sags, you could read the weight. In that way I felt it was quite honest, and interesting. I started with terracotta clay, as it’s the cheapest and softest, and easiest to work with. I was quite happy with them when I just made them, unfired, quite rough and raw. They definetely worked in group. But I felt I was missing one element. It didn’t really work to make the final shape that lies on top of the others in clay.
At the same time as trying to explore clay, I started taking interest in these flowers I found in my garden. I thought they could be the final element in this sculpture. A heavy body, building blocks stacked on top of each other, almost falling over due to their own weight, all to hold up the lightest and most delicate of materials: a flower. A heavy processed solid body, to hold an ephemeral object. I thought that could be something interesting, and could create the tension and fragility that I was missing at this point.
Flowers only bloom in summer and spring. If I wanted to preserve them, what material would be ‘honest’, what material would be appropriate to ‘catch’ them? I thought aluminium could work.
After firing the raw terracotta pieces, the material was extremely disapointing. They looked like badly made ceramic objects. I could not imagine anything fragile or beautiful ever growing out of these objects. Maybe a glaze could puch them into another realm of materiality that is not so directly associated with terracotta. But I felt extremely uncomfortable thinking about glazing, because it meant I had to choose a colour. My idea of ‘material honesty’ was that the work should flow from the material, and by adding a glaze, a colour, to it, it felt too much like a personal choice loose from the material. And even more problematic, intuitively I thought about glazing them white.
Why white? The white that makes the art world so abstract and elite. I had all these connotations in my head with white that were very problematic.
I had a conversation with my classmates about this, and they advised me that I shouldn’t worry and that I should just try some different glazes, and see what they would to the sculpture.
So I went into the studio and had a look at the glazes. I found a white one, which it thought I could try just to rule it out probably. I also found a sample of a very nice Japanese ‘Tenroku’ dark red glaze on a reduction fired terracotta sample. I was quite drawn to the reduction fired terracotta. It turns into a very earthy purple, and feels hard. You don’t immediately associate it with pots. Because of a reduced oxygen flow in the kiln, the glazes react differently and quite often turn into a more metallic shade. I used a pouring technique to put the glaze on, and tried to keep some of the clay surface unglazed, as well as having different layers of glaze with drops running down. This in principle to being ‘honest’, accentuating the liquidity of the glaze: running down on longer vertical parts, and creating puddles on the more horizontal planes.
I’m not sure what to think of the result. The glaze is nice, the object is fine, but I don’t really feel the connection to it. In combination with the aluminium flower, it feels quite hard, quite man-made. It’s neither fragile nor poetic.
For now I think I will leave clay for what it is...
Recently I have moved house. Previously we had a lush, deep, green garden with a variety of plants and flowers, and big fig tree that would provide us with figs in autumn. In the new house, we still have a garden, although tiny. There is mainly only one plant growing. It’s a climbing plant, neatly organised around wires in the air, forming a canopy that provides us with privacy from the blocks of flats around us. One morning, having breakfast in the kitchen, my gaze got drawn to this plant. More specifically, to the flowers that had fallen on the floor. They were purple, with a light green top. Steady, very sculptural flowers, that once fallen, stood fiercely upright on the floor. Their shape so particular, it seemed they were waiting to be picked up and used for something else. They grow in the air, when they are still in their fruit, the flowers are heavy and hang down. Once they are ready to bloom, they slowly creep upright, trying to catch the sun, and open up. First greenish, almost colourless, a purple starts to kick in after a while, reaching its peak intensity when the flower is fully unfurled.
Being quite mesmerised by this flower, it’s shape and colours as well as its life, I decided I wanted to catch something of this beauty. A journey into mould making began.
A thing I do quite often when I’m drawn to an object, is to isolate it and take photographs from different angles. For me, this allows me to sense if there is more potential for this object. Looking at it, quite attentively, from different angles and in different compositions, fuels my senses and makes my creative brain jump and imagine possibilities. Basically, this is play. But it’s also a decontextualisation, or recontextualisation, allowing new meanings/connotations in.
I ended up in the foundry, as I was told slipcasting with slip (liquid clay) would lose detail. I thought it would be nice to cast them in aluminium, as I find it a light, etheal material, and it fits the delicateness and fragility of the flower.I used silicone to make the mould. As it’s poured cold, can take a lot of detail, and the drying speed can be controlled with extenders, it seemed appropriate for the delicate flower. My first attempt, I poured the silicone in one go and too quickly, which made the flower collapse under the weight of the silicone. I ended up with crooked flowers. They have something as well, something humble, but they didn’t really contain this sculptural quality and fierceness that I liked so much within the fresh flowers.
My first attempt, I poured the silicone in one go and too quickly, which made the flower collapse under the weight of the silicone. I ended up with crooked flowers. They have something as well, something humble, but they didn’t really contain this sculptural quality and fierceness that I liked so much within the fresh flowers.Second attempt I poured the mould in parts and poured inside as well. This resulted in a very succesful mould. However, since the flower itself is so thin, I couldn’t pour the wax inside of the mould. I could chose between brushing the wax inside the outer part of the mould, which gave me the texture on the outside, or on top of the internal part, which would give me the texture of the inside of the flower.
Finally happy with the result of the wax flowers, there is one final step. You need to make a kind of wax tree, where all the flowers are attached to. They also need to have air channels, each one of them. Then you pour plaster around this tree. Once placed in the kiln (upside down), the wax will melt and drip out, leaving a negative space for the bronze or aluminium.
This method is called 'lost-wax'. It's a very time and energy consuming method, but you have quite a lot of control over the cast, and it can be quite detailed. Other methods are the sand-cast method, where an object is pressed in sand and later the bronze is poured directly into the sand. Or a method which is called 'direct burn', where you place a combustible material with air runners inside a plaster mould. As the materials is combustible, it will burn out in the kiln. Next term I would like to try especially sand casting, as I think it can be faster and maybe more intuitive.
Finally the day arrived. We would cast the bronze and aluminium. As I had so many wax flowers, I decided to make one wax tree for an aluminium cast and one for a bronze cast. I wanted to see what the different materials would feel like, and which one was best to capture the essence of this flower.
I helped preparing the moulds for pouring. They have to have an extra layer of plaster and hessian, because they became very brittle in the kiln. Afterwards we placed them in the sand pit, dug in, so they are stable and if any material is spilled, the sand can absorb the heat.
It was kind of magical. You wait the whole day, preparing the sand pit, heating the material. Then the pour is done is 5 minutes, but requires a lot of focus from the technicians and you can feel their adrenaline. I'm so fascinated by this material. The process is so intense, you almost forget about the finalised object.
I know, unbelievable, but we're not done yet. After the material is poured, there is a whole other stage of craftsmanship that starts. Once you have opened up your plaster mould (a very satisfying moment), you can start cleaning up your artwork. You start with cutting off all the runners and air channels that have been poured as well. This material can be re-used. Then you start a long process of filing and grinding down.
As this is an experiment I didn't go too far with the filing down and kept my figures quite rough. Maybe in the next term I will spend some time taking them to the next level.
During this process, a kind of fondness towards the aesthetics of everything that has to do with this process developed. The knots in the hessian drenched in wet plaster or the finger marks that are still visible after smearing the plaster out in the final mould. Everything is so practical, has such a specific and straightforward meaning. A knot to hold something together. A white mould because plaster is white. The bronze is bronze coloured, as it is bronze.
The idea developed for three plinths, different heights and different diameters. One for each flower. I liked the idea of elevating the cripled one, the most fragile one, as highest. The one that lies down, would be the lowest, close to your belly. The columns would be irregular, and have knots around them, just as you need to do for any plaster casting process. I felt this reference to the process was appropriate and tied everything together into one sculpture, one whole.
I'm quite pleased with the result. The process took a lot longer then I expected, but I learned a lot. And I also enjoyed being in the process and focussing on the skills and specialised knowledge to make things.
To see the final artworks, click on of the two materials below, or have a look at references/context.
Playing around with scraps I found in the workshop, I made a few assemblies by stacking blocks on top of each other. I started taping them together, expressing a feeling of being held. In an attempt to bring more materials together, as in the miniature work, I introduced zinc. I found scraps around the college and learned how to bend and cut them in the metal workshop. The fold of one material on top of another, holding things in place, felt very poetic and right. I introduced steel-etched plates and photographs to bring images to the work.
Once I had the big pieces they needed to dry. And honestly, I was also really scared of starting to cut them down. A way of working through this was to start drawing. I made a few intuitive sketches when I was thinking about the Bargehouse show, and in those sketches, some sculptures appeared that looked quite good. To explore them further, I made big drawings on A1 sheets. It helped me to make decisions on paper, before making them in 3D. It was also fast and could be intuitive, but when it felt like a good drawing, I had the confidence to make a sculpture based on the same principles or proportions.
A second series of big drawings were made, but this time to be kept as drawings. I wanted to have a small archive of drawings and shapes for the etched plates/ anything else that felt like it needed a drawing. To me these drawings feel more imaginative, they are about lines and often there is a switch between the inside and outside/ shapes are hollow instead of heavy and full.
You can read about the process in the etching studio here:
For the Bargehouse show I wanted to scale up. My new timber pieces were quite big, but not so large as to make a life-sized object. I knew they would need some kind of plinth, and wanted to include the plinth from the beginning on. An assembly of separate works, all following similar rules and brought together by a language of plinths, was what I had in mind. Using the plinth as an active tool, and allowing it to take up a lot of space, meant also that I could create a much larger work. I tried a few things in the studio and decided on a very horizontal and low plinth, made of wood, the same material as the sculptures. It felt like this could create a balanced whole, and allowed me to play around with the idea of the plinth: when is it part of the work or when is it just support?
In the following weeks, I worked with the timber blocks, tried out sculptures that looked like the drawings, failed a lot, was doubting a lot, and gained a lot of extra muscles (there is no lift to our studio and it’s in a different building then the woodwork studio!). The coloured glass came into the work as well. Overall I felt what worked was to keep it simple and to do one gesture in one sculpture: perhaps holding, perhaps arranging, perhaps stacking. And of course, they are all related and there is a bit of each gesture in all of them, the ideas flow through all of them.
I’m a studio person, I like to work with the technicians in the workshops and let the machines and processes guide the work. This is very in line with my artist statement where I said I want to use materials in an ‘honest’ way, meaning as straightforward and simple as possible. I also feel a shift away from Land Art, not sure where to exactly, still related to nature, but maybe more focussed on natural materials than nature in itself. I think the work is also becoming more and more installation-like, where it’s not about one big final piece but how they all go together and create an atmosphere.
I practised a final constellation on the Friday before the easter break. Feeling satisfied, I was still quite nervous if the piece would hold together in the allocated Bargehouse space, and in relation to other people’s works.
I had a very good spot with natural light, next to the windows, and was very happy with the blue floor that brought something extra to my work. To accompany the exhibition, I made a small booklet, you can read about it here:Creating a context and community around the work
When reflecting on the art that deeply touches me, or that I’m drawn to, I recognise a group of artists that work with natural materials. More specifically, they use nature itself. Their work is not necessarily about the landscape, but it is quite often related to it. The works that attract me the most are the ones that are just a tiny gesture, a re-arrangement of things, that relate to a very primal experience of bigger forces operating in the natural world. In their small gestures, I often experience the largeness of life.
I will draw a parallel to the works of four artists in this essay. It’s a bit unfortunate that they are all white, male and from Europe. But, we have to start somewhere, and not acknowledging valuable references on the basis of their gender and background is sexist and discriminative in all directions.
When reading about the work of Richard Long, I came across the term ‘Earthworkers’ 1. It’s a term for artists working in the late 1960’s in the ‘Land Art’ movement. This largely American movement stems from conceptualism and minimalism and is sometimes also referred to as ‘Earth Art’. 2 I previously only knew the term Land Art and associated it with large scale installations in the landscape, often abstract and conceptual. The term ‘Earth Art’ relates the movement much more to nature, mother earth, and allows for more human connection. Since I use stone quite often, I was curious if there is also a movement in art called ‘stone art’. But on googling, it basically takes you to restauration pages. I’m not so interested in the large scale conceptual works, but in the smaller, more intimate, more ephemeral works.
Often, with good artists, their first works already contain in very condensed version all the elements they will explore in their future practise. In Richard Long’s case, this is certainly true. The early works England 1968 (Fig 01) and Sticks in Somerset (Fig 02) are very revealing. He works with landscapes he truly knows (the meadow full of daisies, a field of grass on a forest edge) and is able to pick out one element in this landscape that is intrinsically linked to this specific place, which he then reveals by twisting their arrangement just a tiny bit, through very normal gestures (walking, picking up, throwing), arranging them in the most basic shapes (a circle, a line).
Personally, I’m quite drawn to these very simple geometric shapes. I find them very effective in their universality and distinctness. As Charles Harrison writes: “The evident and uncomplicated geometrically of the form asserts its origin in human activity and thus prepares the spectator for consideration of the ‘interaction’ between artist andenvironment.”3 He also says Long works with the feeling of the place “as being the stimulus toa search for the materials which would most effectively embody that sensation of the place in an appropriate configuration”. In a written statement by Long,he refers to his work as ‘A portrait of the artist touching the earth.’ 4
I must admit, on first discovering his work, I was very much drawn to the formal aspects of the work. The photograph of the work in nature. I didn’t really get the whole concept of walking and wrote the following in my notebook:
“What do I think of his ‘conceptual’ link to time and space? For me, I’m very much drawn to the formal qualities of the work. The extra explanation, although I can see it gives the work validation or ‘depth’, is an additional quality and may for some people really make the work. But for me, if the spiral he walks with muddy boots in a gallery is the exact same length of one of his real walks, I don’t care. I also wonder, since the walks are so important, why is Long only engaging with a materiality found on his walks? I miss the feelings of cold air in winter, the blinding of the sun when low to the horizon, the exhaustion, the feeling one gets when one opens their eyes in a tent in the middle of the night. Somehow for me, if the walks are the main principle artwork itself, or source of inspiration, I miss the physical experience of the walk, and the work is very much focussed on the formal experience of nature and the earth. I also think most of his texts are quite unimaginative and not to so poetic, which I find strange when one spends so much time pondering the nature. But I really love the work.”
After spending more time with the work and reading what others have said about it, I giggle when re-reading my first thoughts. I now see that his walks are actually the feeder of his work. Without the walk through the landscape, without taking the time to learn about the landscape, being in it, Long’s senses could’ve never picked up on the intrinsic characteristics of that place, and he would have never created this sculpture. The Connemara sculpture (fig 6) would not have the same effect on us if it was in the high plains of Canada (fig 4). It is because he truly engages with the landscape, looks for previous marks of human beings, that he is able to make his works. The formal sculpture does not exist without the walk, because the walk has generated the context, the intellectual content and the form itself of the work.
As mentioned above, at first I was more attracted to the visual form of Longs’ work, captured in these beautiful black and white photographs. Thank you very much algorithms, as I have been fed with lots of blacks and white photographs of landscapes in the past years. One characteristic that they all have in common is that often, nature is conveyed as the sublime.
One particular movement that is interesting is the early photography of colonisers ‘surveying’ the wide landscapes of the West05. Catching these majestic scenes for the first time, in these photographs you feel the sense of awe, of discovery, of the greatness of nature and the smallness of humans. But pictures like the ones of William H Jackson now lack an awareness of the ephemeral and fragile qualities that are also present in these wide scenes. Nature is conquerable for the mighty human being (fig 07, 08).
In a second wave, around 1960 (around Long’s time) the tone has shifted. These black and white pictures, quite often daunting, very dramatic, give you a sense of the sublime06. In these photographs, there is no trace of a human interaction. As John Szarkowski writes beautifully about the work of Ansel Adams (Fig 09): ‘his photographs stir our memory of what it was like to be alone in an untouched world’.07
These pictures instil in us a sense of beauty, scale, the power of nature. Richard Long also experiences these forces when he goes on walks through landscapes. But he is interested in more. He is interested in the human interactions with these landscape, and in time. Instead of one single photograph of a moment, he wants his art to be part of a long line of human actions in this particular landscape08. By making his walks, spending time in the landscape,or moving stones in them, he adds to the layers of time and place.
I find the human interaction with nature more interesting than just capturing it’s beauty and sublimity. Charles Harrison remarks: “There is a particularly English kind of nostalgia which we associate with such journeys and the resulting travelogues. It is a mood which can be identified with aspects of certain traditions, most of them insular and most of them literary at best involving a rare blend of original imagination and acute educated observation.”09 This sensation is also very present in the early works of Andy Goldsworthy. Born 10 years after Long, but also English, they share this English, pastoral10 sensibility.
The throwing series (fig 12-14) is an interesting example. So simple, sprung from ‘original imagination’, but making us reflect on the basic forces active in this world. By doing so the works are prone to be read as conceptual, becoming intellectual, a misreading Long has fought many times.11
Another work that I find very strong is 1987’s Snow and mud layers (fig 15). Maybe this ‘Englishness’ lies in the poeticising of murky, grey, everyday evidences.
From what seems a similar starting point to Long and Goldsworthy, Tony Cragg’s work is about other things. Having been a scientist before becoming an artist, he is concerned with materials at a molecular level and is intrigued by how the world is made. He wants to challenge opposites and is concerned with the man-made-natural division of materials in our world12. His work becomes quite intellectual, and he loses me where when he leaves nature and starts working with plastics.
His drawings, however, are relevant for me. These are not presentation drawings, but ‘thinking’ drawings: fast drawings where ideas are explored, where technical aspects are thought through. The early ones often in very straightforward media like pencil, and very recognisable when you’ve seen the completed sculpture (fig 18, 20). But in 1988 Cragg also started exploring two dimensional works in its own right: “Cragg’s work in printmaking and drawing has emerged as an autonomous means of expression, an independent disciple which the artist regards as inexhaustible. In conversations with him, it is always clear that this work is not a stand-in for sculptures and that one cannot use the drawings to explain the sculptures. Rather, the artist used the medium as an instrument for visual thinking. “13
Rein Dufait (born 1990) is a young Belgian artist. He dives into many of the themes the artists above have explored. As he is based in Ostend, by the Belgian seaside, his works often have a relation to sand.
What Andy Goldsworthy did with by throwing things in the air, Rein does here with sand and plastic. It’s a revealing of something, I would say gravity and material properties in this case. These sculptures below14 (Fig 21, 22, 23) are like tiny experiments, where ‘sand tapestry’ is the most purified. Just a single square of see-through plastic on sand. The material is almost nothing on it’s own, and does nothing formally of structurally to the sand. But it does make you see the sand suddenly. The tiny square is a sand tapestry, and the sand around it isn’t. The gesture is similar to Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels15 but the relationship between the two materials used is more poetic.
In 2016 Rein Dufait makes ‘Malkolos’ (Fig 24). A very simple idea: making a kind of endless column, where its shape is defined by the material used (one could say an homage to Brancusi’s ‘Infinite column’16). The material that is supposed to be the mould, is absorbed by the material of the sculpture, and by this becomes as much part of the sculpture as everything else. I like the honesty of this sculpture: the bulging out of the cardboard boxes because they cannot hold the weight nor stand the wetness of the concrete, the expressiveness and messiness of the thick ropes trying to hold everything together, creating the composition and aesthetic. Not a single thing is extra here, there is no afterthought. The material is the sculpture.
"The work is present as a 'cultural form' in the midst of other man-made shapes and the continuously evolving natural environment. Cement (earth, soil) and water (sea, rain) form the mortar. Oxygen(air) engenders an interplay. Even ossified, this ‘form’ remains a natural product. The rain introduces organisms, the wind sows moss, leaves turn to humus. Even after the artist is no longer involved, this sculpture continues to grow.”16
Joris D’hooghe said about Reins work that he makes ‘beelden’,17a word which translates from Dutch into ‘visual’ or ‘image’. It’s interesting that in Dutch ‘stand-beeld’, literally translates to standing-image, which would mean sculpture in English. As I’m exploring the relationship between the sculpture and the image of the sculpture in my practise, this etymological explanation gives comfort. One doesn’t have to treat them as two opposites or two different practises, but can embrace them as intrinsically belonging together.
I started with the same image, of a flower, and experimented with photograms. Working with a digital negative, some objects like tape and tracing paper, I experimented with the enlarger. This process is very fast and gave some interesting results. Especially the overlapping of tape and tracing paper, creating a veil on top of the image, but still holding the sharpness of the image and even the materiality of the paper, is appealing. It has some of the characteristics of a photocopy scan, an aesthetic I like. But most of all, it’s fast and intuitive. You place the image and your objects (directly on top of your image or in the enlarger) and expose them for a couple of seconds, put the developing paper through the machine, wait 45 seconds and voila, the image is there (of course, you need to do some tests first with the exposure time but even that is relatively straightforward).
I ended the last term with cyanotype experiments. Very intrigued by the process of transferring an image to a surface by using light and darkness, I wanted to learn more about the photography process.
I also tried to scratch the photo paper, to make a drawing with a needle before exposing it, but that didn’t bring much. I was expecting something like an etched drawing, but that didn’t come out.
Fuelled with energy to learn more about the developing process and eager to test the limits, I set out to take more images. I’d never taken analogue photographs, so I rented an analogue camera from school (as well as a digital one for backup). Where to go? The mother of all stone assemblies, Stonehenge. I went with a friend who is a photographer so I could observe her and she could guide me. We went to Avebury first, a site in England with a lot of monoliths. Afterwards, we rushed to Stonehenge to catch the sunset and it was gorgeous.
I used a 35mm film and developed it in school. It feels exciting to do that for the first time as there are many steps you can mess up. But all went well and I could start experimenting with the developed film roll.
Photograms are quite accessible. You place the negative on the developing paper and expose, you don't have to use the enlarger. I brought some stones that I laid onto the images. I also mirrored the images next to each other and tried a double exposure with different images.
In the end, I liked working with a direct photogram of my 35mm film. There is just something about the scale of this small negative, so normal, so familiar, that it felt interesting to work with the developed photographs in this format. Another thing that added to this relationship, was the subject. These giant rocks, monoliths, this monument (Stonehenge), are portrayed on this small scale. I found it very poetic. I was interested in using the photograph as an object, together with other materials.
This was the first step in creating work for the miniature show, which you can read about here:
To continue exploring this relationship between the scale of the film and the scale of the photograph, I wanted to test a 120mm film. This time I went to Sutton Hoo, an Anglo-Saxon burial ground. Fewer stones, more grass and woodlands. I also explored taking pictures of sculptural work in progress, or finished works, to then use in other installations. I thought it could be nice to include an image of the work in another work, as they all kind of belong together and I like this idea of referencing. But somehow the pictures didn’t turn out great, they didn’t have the magic of the 35mm film. So I left it there.
I thought to create digital negatives from these images, and then print them again, perhaps in the as a photogram in the darkroom or a lithograph print, again playing with this idea of taking an image through different materialities and media.
But before I went into the darkroom or the printing studios with these ideas, I started looking for arrangements that worked. Using a plywood base in the right dimensions as a guide, I started having fun with arranging, assembling, trying to create depths and layers, and looking for something that felt right to arise. I had been going to the print studio and had been making small etchings on different plates. You can read more about it here.
More intrigued by the plate than the prints of the plate, I started incorporating the plates into the assemblies. When I started treating them as wall-based objects, things started to fall into place. Perhaps because the element of gravity started playing a role, the objects started to feel more relational to their placement: a rock is placed on top, a timber piece is resting on nails, a plate is leaning against the wall, and a wire is holding up a photograph. I think I needed those acts to make the work come alive, instead of just laying them out horizontally. In the end, I was happy with the 3 works below:
I quite liked all of them actually, but had a tendency towards steel as it was cheaper, and less mirror like - so you could see the drawing more clearly in almost every angle of looking at the plate. I took a few prints, but soon realised it was more the plates as objects that interested me, and not so much the paper version.
Playing around with these plates, I started combing them with other materials, to make them into a sculpture and not just a steel plate. I also wanted to try and layer the same expression in different media: stacking expressed in a drawing, that is included in a stacked blocked timber sculpture with a stone on top. Something like that. It doesn’t all have to be so rigid and follow all the rules, but as long there is something interesting, it’s enough. I learned it’s quite the opposite, it’s knowing when to stop, when you have enough, to keep it simple, instead of overcrowding and overlaying and over-complicating.
Through this process, I came to my miniature works, which you can read about here:
As I was moving on from the miniature works, I started making timberworks on a bigger scale. In these works, I wanted to combine bigger plates of steel with blocks of wood. I had ideas about these big sheets of steel containing small etched drawings, almost hidden, but somehow bringing another scale and sensitivity to the work. Comparing the process of making these sculptural works, which was quite intuitive (chopping up timber blocks is relatively fast), the etching process is almost the opposite. The only MA day in school for the print studio is Tuesday. Sometimes a full day is not enough to finish a plate. I made a bunch of steel plates, in varying sizes, and etched small drawings into them, not knowing if they would end up in the sculptures, but at least I had something to play around with.
A big lesson was learned here. I hurried to get the work done in a day, and I probably did every step a bit too fast. The etched plates didn’t come out so clean, there was a lot of spit-bite (areas that also etch because there was maybe not enough etching ground on the plate, or perhaps the plate wasn’t clean enough to start with, or left too long in the acid bath, who knows). On top of this, after a few weeks, the steel started rusting. I still don’t know why this has happened, I assume it’s to do with the cleaning of the plate afterwards and potentially still having some white spirit on it.
Some people like the aesthetic of spit-bite and rusting, but it wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to go for!
Nearer the completion of the timber sculptures, I could get a better idea of the plate I would want to include, its size and material, what it would do and where the drawings would go.
There was one sculpture that was focused on holding and folding, and I wanted a steel plate that was folding over some blocks, having a small drawing in its corner and having the title of the work on exactly the place where the fold was.
In the miniature works, I had photographs alongside etched plates. I wanted to explore if I could get photographs and drawings onto the same plate, both etched. In the workshop, I was recommended to try a hydro-coated zinc plate. It’s a zinc plate coated with a light-sensitive emulsion. It felt nice using the UV-light beds in the print studio, it felt like it brought my work from unit 1 in the darkroom with the cyanotype closer to what I was doing now. We did many many tests to find the right exposure for the plate. I wanted a tiny 35mm photograph in the middle of quite a big plate. Something with scale, as always, was on my mind.
I’m super happy and excited with the result of the process and the plate, but it didn’t feel right to use the plate in the sculptures. I felt the tensions of the small image on the massive plate went lost in the whole, where I was trying to bend and overlap steel, as well as using timber and stone. Too many things at once. So I took a few prints from the plate.
I didn’t feel like using black ink because that would just be an imitation of the plate. I thought about using silver but somehow dived into colour. First, a blue one for the image, leaving the rest of the plate blank. I liked the embossing, but it felt empty. So I tried in a second test a green background as well. I used an inking technique called a la poupée where you very gently rub a thin layer of ink on. I was very pleased with this result! I even liked it more when I was a bit faster and messier, leaving more strikes of ink on the plate instead of going for a very even colour.
Very surprised by how much I liked the print!
I have noticed how photography is a big part of my practice. I think probably of everyone, we live in a visual world where we more than ever before take in information through images. Sometimes I spend longer taking photographs of the work I created, then actually creating it. It is as if the perfect image will give validation to the work. Why? True, the image is very powerful. 95% of all your viewers will probably see your artwork through images, instead of real life. So the image is part of the life of the work. Is this good or bad? I’m not sure. But to not be a slave to the slave to the digital image, I thought it could be interesting to push it into another material, and to try and develop it as if it’s a body of work on its own.
What I’m focussing on when taking pictures, is the angle, the frame, and the atmosphere. To start exploring the materiality I chose to learn how to develop my images as cyanotypes. It’s a very accessible and relatively fast process. You mix two chemicals, coat your paper with them, put them in a UV-light box with your negatives/objects on top, and wait for 20 minutes. Then you wash of the chemicals and let it dry. And there it is, a dark blue, richly textured image that has something appealing to it you can’t quite explain.
When reading up on cyanotype, I found out that it works well as a photogram with vegetation. In 1843, Anna Atkins was documenting British algae this way. She is considered a pioneer of this technique and made a wonderful book of algae with more than 400 prints. When making photograms, one basically places on object on a light sensitive paper, and the object itself creates the image because it doesn’t let light through.
Since I was working with flowers, the medium seemed very appropriate. But I also liked the idea of playing around with objects on top of the page. I was in the process of trying to bring my 2D drawings into 3D objects. At the time I was trying to work with clay, but I was missing something in the sculptures that I did have in the drawings. Maybe a 2D drawing of a sculpture could be combined with actual stones by printing the stone directly onto the page with the cyanotype technique. Or another idea was to try out a photograph negative of a sculpture, and place a flower on top in the lightbox. I liked the possibilities of mixing 2D and 3D, immediate printing from source material, and the changes of scale and perspective.
My first attempts were rather poor. The results didn’t match the joy of the process or the richness of the idea. The negatives were not good which led to prints that were too light, but also the placing of the flowers didn’t catch the detail that I hoped it would, like in Ana’s prints. Same story for the stones, the identity of the stones lies in the outline and in its texture, two things I lost in this process.
One image did come out well. The negative of a very strong photograph of two flowers. I decided to continue to work with negatives only and no photograms.
I tried to learn how to edit my negatives to have the best tonal range of blue. Quite dark without losing detail. I experimented also with time in the UV-light box: brought it down to 10 minutes and left it in for 30 minutes other times. After some experiments, I felt I knew a tiny bit how to get a good print out. I really liked the blue border with the white negative space and blue flowers. But I thought it could be also interesting to try a completely blue image, and have the subject be white in the middle. It took pictures of my stone sculptures against a black backdrop in order to experiment with this idea.
There is a certain softness to these cyanotypes. It really brings to image into a realm of materiality which wasn’t there before I believe. It kind of allows the image to be an object as well. I find it interesting to approach the same subject from different angles and use different materials.
I'm quite pleased with the result. The process gave me extra time to spend with images, but in a more involved way that I really enjoyed. In the next term I hope to explore some other photography techniques as well.
To see the final cyanotypes, click the link below:
In this article I wrote about some of my influences and references for unit 2, where I expand on my thoughts this term. It could be interesting to read this first!Unit 2 Critical Reflection article
The 4 songs that I decided on:
1. Triad God - So Pay La
2. Claire Rousay, More Eaze, Bloodz Boi - Overcast
3. Sampha - Plastic 100°C
4. Organ Tapes - heaven can wait
1. Nic Wilson - What I Saw
2. Olga Tokarczuk - Flights
3. Emily Berry - Unexhausted Time
4. Tacita Dean - A Bag of Air
4 visual artworks
1. Gillies Adamson Semple - Slade Graduate show
2. Karl Blossfelt - Artforms in Nature
3. Kira Freije - Moving towards the calm one, whose arms open, the breath of happiness in measurable form, 2021 (detail)
4. Cornelia Parker -Coffee Pot Hit with a Monkey Wrench (2016)
I’ve missed colour, and paper, as these are two things that were very present in my job as architect. The colours of this website are based on the colours of paper that I used for my first portfolio. I settled on a combination of colours then, paper we had lying around at that time and was somehow a bit of an unusual colour combination.
For this booklet, I went to look for the same colours. I also wanted this booklet to be an object in itself, and quite simple. I thought 3 colours could make it into something that catches your eye, and liked the idea of placing the images inside a sort of envelope, like in Nic Wilson’s book. So potentially a colour for the images, for the song, and the cover.
I wanted to work with the material of paper itself, using cuts and folds to create a structure, but not use glue. After a few initial designs using test paper, I came up with a design I was happy with. Two folded papers (one envelope containing the images, another just a piece containing the titles of the songs and a QR code to a spotify playlist. Folded over the front cover, they indicated something interesting inside. The cover folds over itself, sliding into a little cut on the back of the book, forcing you to actively investigate this object to find out how to open it. I decided to not put text on the outside of the book so that it stays a more abstract object and is not immediately identified as a book with a title and author.
The book comes in a few variations of colours, and I made about 20 booklets. They accompanied my work in the Bargehouse exhibition, and people could take one for free.
You can also download a pdf here:
As a way of community building and also as a way to show my appreciation, I contacted every artist referenced in this booklet and sent a copy to their house/agent/gallery. I’m curious about what responses I will get!
The Easter break came at a great time for me. I had pushed to get my work done before the 3-week break, which meant the closure of all workshops. I felt quite pleased with the results, so I allowed myself to enjoy the holidays and relax. This was a period of reflection. During the term, I was looking at many other artists. How did they solve problems? How did they translate their feelings into a work? How did the work translate feelings onto the viewer? I saw and read a few things this term that made a huge impression on me, and during the break, I had time to properly reflect on these experiences.
An exhibition in a small room on the first floor of a corner house in Soho. When entering, loud organ music was playing, and the room was filled with yellow light. There were empty glass covers with painted fingerprints hanging on the walls. On the floor, a composition of stacked plywood shafts, with dried pressed flowers inside. They balanced on small wedges. And on the first wall that you saw when you entered, a very nice black and white photograph of a cloister in Spain. Before even knowing what the work is about, before reading any introduction text or whatsoever, the work touched on all the senses. It was the atmosphere created by the light (yellow translucent vinyl on the windows), the music (very high-quality sound system), and the composition of these objects and materials. Everything was placed so carefully and handled with care. Even though these works were distinguished works by themselves, they all worked together to create a very layered sensory experience. Gillies used a very limited material palette, creating ‘empty’/hollow spaces, for sound to reside, and by making some of these spaces transparent (in the case of the perspex boxes) or opening some of them up in specific moments, he invited the visitor to not only experience and think about sounds and music, but he also somehow was able to translate this experience into something visual.
Hana Miletic works in textiles. She’s inspired by acts of repair she sees around in the urban environment. What is particularly interesting, is that she’s drawn to those repairs that are the most archaic, the most impulsive, the most immediate. Silver tape to patch up a broken car light. Blue painter’s tape to hold a doorbell into place. This is not about a well-made repair by a craftsperson, this is not about material mastery, this is about our human needs to act in a certain situation, using what is at hand most directly. She records these moments, glimpses of universal creativity, and translates these into woven works.
There is a sensibility to these now translated moments and the fact she chooses textile as a medium, with its vocabulary of stitching and patching up. A simple tape becomes an intricate collection of different types of grey and silvery yarn, creating textures and patterns, which in their turn hold together bigger pieces of fabric and material.
The ability to see banal moments like these in daily life around us, and to translate them into a different medium where the chosen materials can add more meaning to the same intellectual concept, is impressive.
The work of Magdalene Odundo is enthralling. In this publication, the work comes to its right in such a way it’s impossible to lift your eyes off the pages. You just want to go through it again and again and again. This beautiful object, a little smaller than A4 in size, with different types of paper, some thick, high-quality image reproductions, others thin and iridescent, is very simply folded and held together with a band. No stitches or staples. Full pages of colour.
The book is designed by OK-RM design studio. They have designed every detail and it’s impressive. There are a lot of reference images in this book, as well as interviews and essays, on top of 44 beautiful pictures of Magdalene’s vessels. OK RM has been able to structure the book using different types of paper (as already mentioned), and by switching layout principles around. Even the faint ghost of images that comes through on the back of the paper in the thin paper sections, is thought about and used in the composition of images on the next page.
Not only the design of the book is beautiful, but the photography and art direction by Martin Leuvrey is also impressive. Magdalene’s Vessels are placed nonchalantly on table edges, a brightly coloured fabric underneath or below, not even creating a full backdrop but just loosely hanging on top of something in the background. Sometimes a few papers or cardboard are placed on the table. The colours, the composition and the looseness around them are always perfect.
Candy for our eyes, but also nothing but sweetness on an intellectual level. In the essays written by other people, as well as an interview with Ben Okri, Magdalene talks about her upbringing, her education, and how she came to find her voice through the use of studying cultures and crafts.
I’ve been fascinated by the idea of the image of an artwork as artwork on its own (especially sculptural objects), and the play with light, colour, angle and composition can give extra layers to the work, making it more complete somehow. This book does exactly that for me, it created a context for the work to be experienced in which is very rich and conceptually aligned with the work itself.
01 Magdalene Odundo and Andrew Bonacina, The Journey of Things: Magdalene Odundo (London: InOtherWords, 2019).
Having no prior knowledge of the work of Danh Vo, and no explanation in the form of a press release or intro text, I wasn’t sure what to make of his work when I encountered it at Xavier Hufkens in Brussels. It was mysterious and played with the space it was exhibited in on a level that I had never really seen before. Only a couple of works in a room at a time, sometimes placed so high you could not even see them, the opposite of those shows where you feel like they had an amount of work that they somehow needed to fit into the space. Here you had the space first, and then the artist made a judgement about what could fit in and how.
I was very much drawn to an installation on the first floor, which was a grey stone table with large cylindrical glass vases on top of it. In the vases, there was always one beautiful colourful fresh flower, hanging/being supported by a fine metal wire structure and a piece of bone. What does it mean? No idea. It has contradictions in it, death and life, both nature, what is the support and what is being supported? In the middle of the table, there was a wooden box with an old religious sculpture in it. Cut down to fit the box, it felt like a framed frieze. Behind the table, on the wall, two rows of framed photographs of exotic flowers, a large white mount with the Latin name of the flowers written down in beautiful handwriting.
I was touched by the fragility and sensibility in this work, how well-considered it felt, and how devoid of any clear meaning it was. It felt ambiguous and layered. I started reading up on Danh Vo and watching every youtube clip I could find on the internet. His work is very layered and talks about his lived experience as a human being. He sees many contractions in life and finds it interesting to work with these. Although he draws on his own experiences, he says his work is not personal. He also mentions he doesn’t want to interpret his own work. He can talk about how it came about, and what he was thinking about at the time, but the final ‘meaning’ or interpretation of the work should be done by the viewer, he doesn’t want to close this down.
I feel very related to this sentiment in my own practice, where I like to talk about the process of making something and what I was thinking about, but I could not say what the final piece means, how it should be read, and what it symbolises. Someone remarked in the Bargehouse show that although my references are often about the feelings of things, works that deal with emotions, my works lack this emotion. How I see it, is that my work is not an expression of my own emotions at that time. It’s not as straightforward as an expressionist painting for example, where bright colours and big strokes may convey a certain feeling the artist had to the viewer. I see my work more as a space that is created for the viewer to have their own feelings upon seeing the work, have their brain and body make connections to things they have seen and experienced in their own environment, rather than referencing something in my own life. Seeing the work of Danh Vo and hearing him talk about this made me feel more comfortable taking this position ‘against interpretation’.
01 Danh Vo in Conversation with Bartholomew Ryan, 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tud_HSVuuWY.
02 Danh Vo Interview: Art Should Estrange, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KdxUI_aDh6c.
03 Danh Vo: Untitled at the South London Gallery | Artist Interview, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZbDHjFu1d4.
04 Danh Vo’s Use of Found Objects in Art | Brilliant Ideas Ep. 66, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6A-GKr1vRE0.
"Before long I learned that you had spent a lifetime equally devoted to the conviction that words are not good enough. Not only not good enough, but corrosive to all that is good, all that is real, all that is flow. We argued and argued on this account, full of fever, not malice. Once we name something, you said, we can never see it the same way again. All that is unnamable falls away, gets lost, is murdered. You called this the cookie-cutter function of our minds. You said that you knew this not from shunning language but from immersion in it, on the screen, in conversation, onstage, on the page. I argued along the lines of Thomas Jefferson and the churches-for plethora, for kaleidoscopic shifting, for excess. I insisted that words did more than nominate. I read aloud to you the opening of Philosophical Investigations. Slab, I shouted, slab!
For a time, I thought I had won. You conceded there might be an OK human, an OK human animal, even if that human animal used language, even if its use of language were somehow defining of its humanness-even if humanness itself meant trashing and torching the whole motley, precious planet, along with its, our, future.
But I changed too. I looked anew at unnamable things, or at least things whose essence is flicker, flow. I readmitted the sadness of our eventual extinction, and the injustice of our extinction of others. I stopped smugly repeating Everything that can be thought at all can be thought clearly and wondered anew, can everything be thought.’’01
It shouldn’t be a surprise, really, after this quote, that it’s hard to say what this book is about. It’s a personal record of Maggie’s relationship with her partner. It’s also about changing, becoming, changing again, and being in constant flux, as they traverse daily life as women, transgender, mother, daughter, son, author, artist, family member, friend.
"These narratives are interesting in and of themselves, but Nelson isn’t just airing her feelings; she’s bent on using these experiences as ways of prying the culture open, of investigating what it is that’s being so avidly defended and policed. Binaries, mostly: the overwhelming need, to which the left is no more immune than the right, for categories to remain pure and unpolluted. Gay people marrying or becoming pregnant, individuals migrating from one gender to another, let alone refusing to commit to either, occasion immense turbulence in thought systems that depend on orderly separation and partition, which is part of the reason that the trans rights movement has proved so depressingly threatening to certain quarters of feminist thought." 02
What I liked so much about this book, is that it gives you a very clear feeling about certain concepts, but it’s hard to put these in words. And they are also not fixed. You sort of feel like you get ‘it’, but cannot explain ‘it’, as it’s endlessly fluid and complex and depending on the angle you approach it from and what context you encounter it in. This not-putting-in-words, refusing to pin something down into a binary category is something I relate to in my work a lot. Between sculpture and image, architecture and art, emotional and formal.
In unit 1 read a book by Kate Nessin about the sculptures of Cy Twombly 03. She did not want to pin them down with a word and definitely not the word ‘sculptures’, a word with so much history, context and rules. She argues in the book to approach them as ‘things’ and brings in the concept of ‘thingness’. I think her effort to evade certain categories links up with Maggie Nelson’s book, and I have similar feelings when looking at these sculptures, or rather, things, by Cy Twombly.
01 Nelson, Maggie. The Argonauts. First Graywolf paperback. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Graywolf Press, 2016.
02 Laing, Olivia. ‘The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson Review – “One of the Sharpest Thinkers of Her Generation”’. The Guardian, 23 April 2015, sec. Books. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/apr/23/the-argonauts-maggie-nelson-review-harry-dodge-transgender.
03 Nesin, Kate. Cy Twombly’s Things. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014.
Danish artist Amalie Smith is a writer and a visual artist. In these two books, she weaves two stories together. In thread Ripper, on the left pages, we follow the story of a woman preparing for a large commissioned tapestry. She’s using AI technology to create the image. On the right pages, we follow the story of a woman not given enough attention in the history books, Ada Lovelace. She was the first to realise the full potential of the first computer further than just calculations. She’s regarded as the first computer programmer, and she also compared the computer to a weaving loom.
Amalie brings those two stories together beautifully. Your brain is constantly jumping back and forwards between the two stories due to the page layout. It creates a very interesting reading experience, a non-linear one. A non-narrative one, as the characters in the books are also not necessarily going somewhere, and often they’re talking about their doubts and internal thoughts. As well as highlighting overlooked women in history, the books expand and ponder on the materiality of things around us. Computers and weaving looms in thread ripper, colour and stone in Marble.
01 Smith, Amalie. Thread Ripper. Translated by Jennifer Russell. London: Lolli Editions, 2022.
02 Smith, Amalie. Marble. Translated by Jennifer Russell. London: Lolli Editions, 2020.
This small book, published by Gravitron, is one to cherish. It fits in your inner pocket and contains a collection of very short texts. They are all very loosely related, centred on the eye, or seeing. Folded in the front cover is an envelope with a few images that relate to the text.
I indulged in this book on a Saturday morning, in the sunshine on the sofa, with a cup of coffee. It is just beautifully written, and all the parts fall together perfectly. It’s hard to say what it’s about exactly, but it gives you a feeling.
This book made me ponder on the relationship between all art forms. For text and books, we grasp something on an intellectual level first. When we listen to music, it’s very sensory. A visual experience is very immediate, connotations in your brain are formed at high speed, it’s hard to say whether it would qualify as a sensory experience or an intellectual one in the first instance. But does it matter? I am astonished by how much all these forms of art can make one feel. And even though they might be different at first, the feelings they give us are very similar, perhaps the same.
I wanted to celebrate this boundary-devoid moment of artistic references, and created a little booklet gathering 4 songs, 4 texts and 4 images by other artists that are not necessarily related, but that all bring me a similar feeling. You can read more about the booklet here.
01 Wilson, Nic. What I Saw. Gravitron, 2020.
Everyone who walks past the staircase in C-block at UAL Camberwell on a fairly regular basis will have a picture similar to these on their phone:
Why? It’s beautiful, yes, for sure. Very ephemeral. We all seem to be drawn to it. There is just something there. It’s quite similar to collecting stones. Everyone has at least at a few moments in their lives picked up a few stones from the ground because they somehow grabbed their attention and there is just something about picking up a beautiful object and putting it in your pocket, thinking you might keep it and take it home with you.
What will you do with them? No idea.
What do they mean? Does it matter?
There is something very universal at the core of these actions, and that is what is endlessly interesting.
As part of the lecture series of the MA Fine Art Pathway Drawing, we have a few lectures that focus specifically on drawing. In this text I’ll point towards certain methods of drawing that were highlighted in a lecture by professor Paul Coldwell in the lecture theatre at UAL Camberwell autumn 2022, and I’ll critically reflect on these methods in relation the artist’s practise.In Paul’s lecture he brought forward various artists who use drawing extensively in their practise.
He talked about Marlene Dumas, whose drawings are almost just the moving around of material on the page. There is a very loose association between looseness and control. Her work is not about a meticulous detail but about a highlighted human expression. The looseness and the pace which her media and her method allow her to work, create an opportunity for ‘chance’ to happen. When the exact feeling she is after appears through this chance, it is even more powerful.
Another artist he talked about it Kiki Smith. She is a sculptor and approaches the sheet of paper as a material to build with, with texture that is as important as the drawing itself. She makes enormous drawings of stories with human bodies and animals. Usually there is something furry or hairy in her drawings. She likes spending time with a drawing and works with print regularly. Printmaking, she says, (talking about etching) allows her to keep her line very hard, very precise: 'it's a cut, not a bumpy line'.01 This helps her to achieve a visceral response when you come close to one of her drawings, and almost feel the fur through the dense marks. She is very aware of the paper she chooses, never one big smooth sheet but many glued together and full of ripples and when you get close, again, she is able to convey a sense of real human skin colliding with her image of the naked body, through this creaked, soft, yellow, flawed paper. The techniques and materials chosen help her to create work that is not just a flat drawing, but a sculptural object.
Both artists have found a medium and method that suits perfectly to their subject, and even elevates it to a higher level.
Rosalind Davis is an artist, curator, writer and gallerist who came to UAL Camberwell in autumns 2022 to talk about her book ‘What they didn’t teach you in art school’01. This book sits within a field of books that talk about the more practical side of being an artist. I’ll discuss the rise of this type of books in the art world, their message, relevance and relevance to young practitioners.
Recently I read two other books that sit within this ‘self-help’ category (according to amazon): How to navigate the art world, by Delphian gallery 02, and ‘How to become a successful artist’, by Marcus Resh03, published by Phaidon. First of all I have to say, it’s refreshing to read about the ‘business’ side of art as it’s not often talked about in school or even amongst artists. However, the first eagerness quickly turned into a murky moodiness, a total disappearing of the much needed naivety that is necessary to keep going in this quite complicated professional field.
It is quite revealing, and a bit painful, that many of the issues04 discussed in these books, are symptoms of a more global system/(art?)market, that is obviously flawed and being controlled by a very small percentage of people active in the field. I find it ironic to call it upon artists individually, to put in the extra mile and read these books to ‘help themselves’. 05 Nevertheless, I do want to be a professional (and successful?) artist, and I do understand the capitalist mechanics of this society in general, so I would rather be prepared for this profession and have all the extra tips and knowledge I possibly can get. Apart from some depressing figures about the amount of artists that can actually live of their art, I mostly remember that networking is extremely important, as is being on top of your admin. I also have a clearer view now of the art world in its entirety, as an eco-system with artists, gallerists, collectors, curators, writers and critics.
These books, as well as Rosalind’s talk, definitely help create a more realistic image of what it is like to be an artist and your own role in your career. I believe through media and films, the artist has been portrayed as a creative genius who is discovered by curators and gallerists. Artists never really benefit from this type of romanticized and outdated image. You need to be extremely proactive and make your own career happen. Especially as a woman! Rosalind closed of her lecture by saying: Always smile, and just be kind to people. And be true to yourself and your art. That’s a very positive and soft message, that I’ll gladly take on as advice!
01 Davis, R. and Tilley, A. (2016) What they didn’t teach you in art school: what you need to know to survive as an artist. London: Ilex.
02 Murphy, B., Thompson, N.J. and Delphian Gallery (eds) (2020) Navigating The Art World: Professional Practice for the Early Career Artist. 2nd Edition. London: Foolscap Editions.
03 Resch, M. (2021) How to become a successful artist. London ; New York: Phaidon Press.
04 Issuesthat made me moody: the power structures, the gatekeepers, the percentage of women exhibiting works, the different types of collectors (and mostly the ones that participate in flipping), and most of all the graphic with data that showed that if you don’t make it to a bigger gallery by a certain stage in your career, you’re very unlikely to make that jump later. Realising that only the top artists who are represented by the big galleries make enough money to live a sustainable life, this puts an enormous pressure on the now, on the beginnings of ones career, which is already difficult enough to make sense of!
05 I notice a tendency around me in creative fields, where individuals are encouraged to take matters in their own hands, as ‘you can do it yourself’, and it's very 'empowering'. This is probably fuelled by the power and accessibility of social media, which makes it possible for anyone to build up a media presence that can eventually lead to getting jobs, or a foot in the field one would like to build a career in. Although I totally agree that media presence and perception is very important, there are still ceilings one hits, doors that are closed and guarded by people with power. I feel that by using this strategy to make young people believe they can do it all themselves(often leading to very high levels of stress, hard work and loss of energy,burn-outs eventually), the responsibility of the ‘gatekeepers’ and people in power to include more young emerging artists, POC, women in their circles gets completely put down to the individual.
Kira graduated in 2016 from the RA schools. She has exhibited around London and in Europe, and works mostly in sculpture. She came to UAL Camberwell to talk abou ther work in autumn 2022. I will reflect on her career path so far in the London arts-scene.
Kira is what one would call an emerging artist: she went to a highly ranked school for her MA in sculpture, and has since then been able to sustain a studio practise, participate in group shows at interesting artist-led gallery spaces, and is now also represented by the approach, a taste-making gallery within the London scene. She works in metal, which she welds, and with which she is able to create three dimensional sculptures in a relative fast and affordable way. Her titles are extremely poetic, and elevate her work to another level. Sometimes she would collaborate with writers, to get inspiration, or she would read poetry. This all contributes to a body of work that feels very authentic, very genuine, and very original. True to herself! 01
This all seems to be in place for promising career, so I’m quite curious to see what her next steps will be. If I could do a guess, I would think she could soon appear in a Talk Art podcast, or maybe on Katy Hessel’s Instagram? ;)
01 This was her final advice to all of us!
For the research festival I'm proposing to make an artist book.
I've spent a lot of time thinking about the concept of this website. I find it really interesting to have references next to each other, as well as next to my own work. But also the layout, the fonts, the colours, everything is designed with vision. After this MA, I'm not sure I will continue to host a website on this platform (webflow). It's conceived as a guidebook for me during my studies, and I'm not sure how to position in within the professional world after these studies. But I've done a lot of research as well as design, and I'd like to translate this website into a book. Also, in case the website gets taken down, I would have a physical document of all the thoughts, all the processes, all the work I've done so far.
I think it will be interesting to translate this digital space into a physical book, and also since not everyone is great with technology and internet interaction, having the content printed out will be useful.
I would also like to do more research into the use of images and references, search vs research. I will take another close look at 'The Journey Of Things', a publication of Magdalene Odundo's work. In this book a lot of references are showed, but they are explained and contextualised, not appropriated. The artist Dahn Vo thinks the only quality about the contemporary gallery space is exactly that it has the capacity to take away context and to appropriate, and that he uses this mechanism in every work. These two anecdotes, seemingly opposite, will be the start of this research and will also find its way into the book.
I would also like to include more research into 'Thingness', taking the book Things by Kate Nessin as starting point, a book about Cy Twombly's sculptures. It's quite challenging to write about things that you're actively trying to not put into words. I'd like to contextualise this further and look at more contemporary theory around this topic.
Name: Nele Bergmans
Pathway: MA Drawing
What do you intend to exhibit? I will exhibit 2 sculptural works. One work is a bended sheet of glass resting on a support structure. Dimensions approx 50x80 cm. Preferably freestanding in the middle of a room. The second work will be bended sheets of rubber on a plywood sheet. This will lean against a wall. Approx dimensions 120 x 240 cm
Do you have any other specific requests? I would like a floor and wall space, preferably close to each other and in a room with lots of natural daylight.
The work will lean against the wall, and the other one is self-supporting standing in the middle of the room. The glass sheet is delicate and can break, so transport should happen carefully. All elements are loose and can be transported separately. The plywood sheet is heavy and large so I will need help to carry it up staircases.
My work is focussed on the act of catching something, a way of learning to see: what is this object present here; what is this beauty I experience through it?
It is the discovery that this wonderful world has beauty in it, and that it is right there, in front of our eyes. It is in all the small relationships we come across in daily life; it is the sensation you get when the light hits at 16:10 and then at 16:15. It is the sharp one and the blurry one. It’s the visual and the visceral experience. They all matter; it’s all of them. They are all objects. They are all feelings.
It is a deeply humane response to seeing something, an unconscious universal memory that can’t manifest itself in words.
In my work, I use the acts of building and stacking. These very primitive and instinctive actions allow me to draw from a world of notions that deal with materiality: balance, scale, composition, and fragility. But eventually, they can only transcend the practicalities of daily life when the way they are positioned or arranged somehow opens a door; to ancient connotations or our experiences and memories. A poeticness established by how things meet.
I work with drawings and prints to explore these subjects. Once matured, these drawings find their way into sculptures.
I use natural materials like stone, plaster, and bronze, working with them in an ‘honest’ way. By this, I mean that the shape of the works flows from the language of the material, its form is not manipulated, and the techniques used to make the work are the most basic and intuitive.
I would be very happy to hear your thoughts on my work. Send me an e-mail on firstname.lastname@example.org, or get in touch through instagram which is @nelebergmans.
Sometimes social media is a bit too much. If you'd prefer to keep updated through emails you can join my mailing list. Now and then I will send updates on my practise, exhibitions and works for sale.
Hope to hear from you soon!