Instead of making a drawing on a piece of paper, what would it be like to make a drawing with a piece of paper? What could be the possible significances of this act?
I cut a piece of paper into strips, join the strips, and make a drawing in the air. I’d like to make people, towns, gardens, houses, shoes, glasses, books, teapots, cats and dogs – but in this test piece my drawing takes the shape of an unravelling ball of wool. There are technical problems to do with supporting paper in air & I will need to think and experiment with this drawing medium.
I like making drawings, feeling time dissolving.
I like print and its processes – repetition, surprise.
I like liquid paint and ink, surface tension and chance.
I like collage, the play of surfaces.
I’ve been inspired in the last few months by research on the early twentieth century artist Hannah Höch. Höch had been one of the Berlin Dada artists who developed ‘photomontage’, a type of collage in which fragments of original material from the mass media (magazines etc) is cut and rearranged. Because she used original materials, her work is using the familiar images and surfaces of the magazines, and at the same quite intimate scale. It makes it all the more shocking – what has seemed familiar and non-threatening turns on the viewer, becomes strange and disturbing. Höch was using the new medium to undermine the complex and contradictory stereotypes of the ‘New Woman’ portrayed in the mass-media of Weimar-era Germany.
Höch’s ‘Das schöne mädchen’ is an extremely unsettling work. A bright light bulb draws attention to an image of violence at the centre of composition. The athletic body of a ‘New Woman’ has been decapitated. She is only a partial woman – a cyborg – light and energy, machinery, company logos, a ticking clock.
What is most unsettling about the piece of work is the contradiction, the way the viewer is left with uncertainties and questions. There is the violence in the cut at the neck, and the dislocation and alienation. The ‘New Woman’ is replacable within the world of systems and machines – she has no face, no eyes and ears, no voice. But there is at the same time an incongruent feeling of celebration. The body is balanced quite contentedly, and seems to be enjoying the new freedoms of the brave new world – for women to work, to be dancers and athletes, to have consumer commodities. How to reconcile these aspects of modern life?
The work keeps its relevance for us now, because the questions that she was asking are live ones. About the representation of women in stereotypes. About violence to women and inequality. About the way our identities are fragmented and spread thin. And about alienation, what capitalism does to us all. What is exciting about Höch’s work is that she has taken control of her source material – the logos and the advertisements – using the same materials, she is saying something different to the standard churning out of the same old stuff. And so, she is offering us through her practice the possibility of alternative interpretations to the stereotypes, alternative identities, alternative futures.
Work is still in progress on my artist’s book (quite slowly and intermittently). I’ve started laying in collage pieces, I made the paste this time from cornflour, so much better than PVA for this job. I’m sewing and glueing (with PVA in this case) pockets for words to hide behind. I bought some really bad notebooks and an invoice book in a local garage, for the terrible quality of paper, just exactly what I need next. I’m trying to keep the pages not too busy, and every other double page is empty, just the burnt through, cut through, sewn through (and accidentally stabbed through) backs of pages. I want this to be a book with breathing space.
The theme is time – history, progress, origins, change, chance – to follow on from an essay I’ve written on art history. The artist I wrote about for the section on ‘modernism’ was Hannah Höch, of course.
artists book front cover
artists book back cover
I’m putting together an artists book, a personal dictionary – I’ve made the structure, now need to add writing & pictures – probably by collaging in elements. I’m a bit undecided, so I’m just leaving it to rest for a while, but I think that I’ll need to avoid it getting too crowded. I may have to resort to collaging in envelopes to put the text into.
artists book change
artists book chance
I’m getting the hang of the blow torch as a writing tool, although I partially melted a few more stencils and also really messed up one of the pages – ‘testimony’ -, and nearly burned through the sewn cotton that binds the book. This comes of deciding to add more writing after binding the book. Apparently windy weather is also a no no for this type of work. I wanted to burn holes right through the covers, but am saving that for my next.
artists book origins
artists book progress
Exhausting day hanging group show. A real pleasure to be working with these thoughtful, calm, tolerant, hard-working and generally lovely people.
The show opens tomorrow evening in Volcano Theatre Swansea, and is on until the 19th of April – Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm. There are a lot of really interesting paintings, drawings & prints to look at, and I strongly recommend a visit.