In February I initiated the process of cataloguing my late Uncle Chris Holme's many artworks, most of which are currently stored at my aunty and uncle - his brother and sister's - house in Preston, my hometown. He had been a prolific painter, but never exhibited the vast majority of his work, and suffered from health problems which meant he was never able to complete an art degree. Luckily my mother, Bernie Velvick and my step-father Dave Curry have volunteered to help, and we have been photographing, documenting, numbering, wrapping and labelling the works whenever I can make it to Preston for a day. Dave takes responsibility for cleaning; wiping each painting with a soft brush, and hoovering the back, whilst Bernie and I wrap, measure and label the works.
For the first couple of days in February I had been photographing the works, and uploading them to a Tumblr straight away; it seemed imperative to have them seen as soon as possible, when they had been hidden away for so long. The pictures were uploaded in a completely arbitrary order, which was perhaps foolish, but hopefully worth the trouble it caused later for them to have been accessible on line. Now we have begun to number and document each painting and drawing in a spreadsheet, with details of size, material and a thumbnail image, it makes sense for the tumblr to correspond. Thus, where once there were 90 images, there are now only 48, because that's how many we've managed to wrap and label so far, but with more detailed descriptions - the project is slowly starting to take shape and make sense.
At an Islington Mill Art Academy 'crit' on the 5th of April I presented the project, via the Tumblr blog, and three works brought from Preston, receiving some good feedback and inspiration for how to progress. It was really helpful to get perspectives and opinions from people outside of my family, and who didn't know Chris personally - I think it would be disingenuous to pretend that my opinions of, and interactions with the works aren't affected by, and interlinked with my particular relationship with the artist. It has been an incredible experience to spend time sorting through and interacting with such a huge body of work, and it can't help but feel like an investigation; examining each work from every angle to find signatures and dates, discovering pictures on the back of other pictures, and what appear to be acrylic paintings over older oil ones. Fellow I.M.A.A member, Rachel Newsome, who's writing evokes contemporary mythologies and fables, expressed an interest in writing an essay about Chris's work, particularly his many and varied self portraits.
In-keeping with the spirit of investigation, I'm hoping to compile a biography of Chris J Holme through interviews conducted with his Mother - my Grandmother - along with his brothers and sisters, and any friends that we can contact. I had been debating how to go about producing a biography, which I feel is necessary if the works are to be exhibited, and would make an on-line archive comprehensible, but which could easily be misinterpreted. I am hoping that by conducting interviews, and perhaps presenting them as interviews, rather than prose, I can avoid fictionalising Chris's life, whilst still providing a context for the works. Some information about the artists' life will, I think, be necessary to understand why the paint has a dark patina of dust - although we have attempted cleaning - and why so many works are painted on corrugated cardboard, and the boards that back sketchbooks.
Friday, 24 May 2013
Monday, 6 May 2013
Objects for a Studio is an on-going project by Manchester based artist Jessica Longmore, the traces of which are documented and displayed in a series of intriguing pictures. As part of her process, Longmore constructs temporary and often precarious sculptures, capturing each of them with a single photograph. As with so many aspects of this project, the sculptures exhibit a contradiction in that they appear to be almost homogenous with their environment, formed and built as they are from found objects and materials mined by Longmore from the active studios within which she works. Yet whilst these sculptures have been assembled from the ephemera of one artist's practice, they are the work of another artist altogether; it is for this unstable intermingling of artistic identity that they verge on the uncanny. Appearing out of place only for a brief moment, their precarious nature signals that these leant and balanced assemblages could at any point be absorbed into the debris from which they have been wrought.
In the course of Objects for a Studio Longmore spends an entire single day within an Other Artist's studio, producing one piece of work as a stranger within the space. Describing the time she spends in these studios as residencies, Longmore keeps within a rigid timeframe and structure - one day, one photograph, purposefully fabricating a specialized situation within which she can react to her surroundings and create work with a necessary intensity. The studio itself is defined as a dedicated space, thereby sidestepping historical and canonically ingrained stereotypes about what it should look like, and what it contains. For Longmore, a studio is simply a space that has been purposed for making art, and as such they can take many forms, existing as legitimately in large airy warehouses as in the corners of rooms within homes.
As Longmore states unequivocally, "The project is not intended to survey the hidden studio practice of artists, but rather to stimulate the production of [her] own work within an unfamiliar environment" 1, and it is vital to recognise the intention here, even whilst the figure of the Other Artist and the mystifying space of the studio loom large. She is not inviting the audience in to a studio in order to make artistic practice transparent and accessible, or to glorify the eccentric practices of artists at work. It is inevitable, however, that the studios which she works within are in some way shown and represented, whether simply through her pictures (which can’t help but reveal a fragment of the site) or in the imagination of the viewer, who is aware of the existence of an unknowable ‘other’ studio via knowledge of the process.
The work that Longmore has produced and documented as part of Objects for a Studio is necessarily site specific, and verges on the collaborative, albeit without acknowledgement. Residencies, site specific artworks, and any project where some form of contact, or negotiation is prerequisite, are bound to be cooperative to some extent, but not necessarily collaborative. Here, due to the intimate and personal nature of Longmore's particular form of residency, it can be argued that a strange type of collaboration is present. These collaborative traces are compelling and enigmatic; simultaneously subverting and enacting traditional notions, whilst exemplifying the ponderous ubiquity of collaboration within contemporary art practice.
Intentional constraints as a catalyst
Whilst Objects for a Studio is a self-contained project, Longmore utilises techniques that not only allude to her wider practice, but can also be seen to communicate a working ideology, referring to particular movements in art history, as well as commenting on conventions in contemporary art. At base, the project is a generative technique formulated by Longmore to act as a catalyst within her practice, by way of devising a set of constraints and rules to work within and against. This is referred to by the artist in her statement of intent, describing the project as a way "to stimulate the production of [her] own work within an unfamiliar environment"2. It may seem counter intuitive, to try and inspire new work by developing boundaries, instead of aiming for complete freedom, However, rules and constraints are an inevitable part of art-making. The idea that admitting, probing and exploring boundaries can generate ideas and new works is not a new one, and one can trace this methodology to specific groups and movements in art history, such as Fluxus (specifically in terms of event scores produced during the 1960's) and Oulipo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, or Workshop of Potential Literature), a still-in-existence group founded in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais, who produce works of literature using constrained writing techniques.
Within the aforementioned historical groups, such procedures were usually specified in directives and manifestos, with written rules being a requirement of generative techniques. Similarly, in Objects for a Studio, the rules are outlined as part of Longmore's publicly available statement, paying particular attention to the emotional impact of the studio as a site of production. The rules and constraints that Longmore has chosen are not arbitrary, and Objects for a Studio is not an exercise in automatic creation, or mechanical production. These rules have been carefully chosen and developed, in order to amplify the intimacy and intensity of the Artists’ chosen site, and to necessitate the production of work, expounding a belief that by following pre-determined maxims, we can unlock new and experimental forms of creativity.
As well as the constraints of time, space and material, which Longmore has chosen, Objects for a Studio is also subject to obligatory practical constraints, which can be seen to refer to the generality of making. There is a slippage here between artistic intention and the influence of physical and temporal context, in that, to some extent, all artists are working within constraints that will have an effect on how their work develops. However, Longmore takes this inevitability and deliberately utilises it, rendering recognisable contemporary logistical pressures, such as the necessity for forward planning and careful organisation of time, fruitful rather than frustrating, whilst simultaneously operating within the same systems that make this way of working unavoidable.
Objects for a Studio is not the first of Longmore's projects to incorporate intentional generative constraints. Her interest is initially apparent in the 2009 group show IV, whereby Longmore and three other artists; Tom Baskeyfield, Julie Del’Hopital, and Sarah Sanders wrote and adhered to four maxims, in order to produce four works - one each - which would be shown at Manchester's Rogue Project Space, in an exhibition with the tagline “4 maxims, 4 artists, 4 works” . Each maxim, referred to one of four "basic elements in the production of work"3, defined by the artists as time, material, scale and thought or systems of belief. Longmore describes how such constraints provided the work with a context, and aided her ability to focus during the making process, indicating that, for Longmore, the use of generative techniques and the methods described above is definitively practical, as well as ideological.
Returning to the discussion of Objects for a Studio specifically, Longmore carefully manages her working environment, which in turn becomes an intrinsic part of the temporary sculptures which she produces and photographs. Within these parameters, the artist also leaves room to manoeuvre creatively, and it is clear that her intention is not to invite other artists to follow her rules, and to produce their own Objects for a Studio. Longmore describes herself as having been inspired by Sol Lewitt's 'sentences on conceptual art'4 in her use of rules and structures, however she does not go so far as to fabricate systems whereby the actual work can be created by anybody other than the herself. In his 'Paragraphs on Conceptual Art', which was published simultaneously with 'Sentences...' Lewitt declares that in the case of conceptual art "the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art"5. To some extent Objects for a Studio conforms to Lewitt's definition of conceptual art, the process and technique of seeking out willing artists, travelling to studios and spending exactly one day working within them can be seen as the machine which makes the art. Yet, there is a remaining contingency and subjectivity inherent in this project, ensuring that each expression of the process cannot be repeated, and this is a symptom of Longmore's chosen site.
Access to Other Artists' Studios
Referring once again Longmore's own statement of intent, the artist describes the studio as a site of intensity and feeling, declaring she "[hopes] to provoke the extremes of emotion that the studio creates" 6. By remarking upon the abstract and subjectively experienced properties of the site, Longmore insinuates that by conducting these residencies within studios, she will be able to produce spontaneity and unknown outcomes, regardless of the predictability of repeated actions generated by constraints. Thus, although Longmore uses a wide definition of the studio, she still indicates that there is something peculiar to these spaces, a quality which enables and inspires the production of artwork. As well as defining the studio as a dedicated space, Longmore also refers to studios as containers, playing a part in forming the work which is produced within them, further emphasizing the way that these sites have been selected, according to a belief in their power to influence the formation of objects.
For the non-artist viewer, there is also a level of mystery associated with the studio, a place of privacy and genesis, which is only to be viewed by invite or at well organised open studio events, and only then when the artist chooses to take part. Paraphrased by Brian O'Doherty, in his preface to the Salon of 1846, Baudelaire explains how the bourgeoisie might "[consign] it's alienated imagination not only to the artist, but to the magical space where art is pondered and brought into being", expressing the concept of an arcane, and necessarily confounded voyeurism around the public desire to see inside artists' studios. The treatment of the studio in the process, and documentation of Objects for a Studio, admits this mystical voyeurism, whilst also managing to approach the site with sensitivity and understanding, somewhat maintaining its' concealment from public view. Thus, whilst expounding that studios are not public spaces, Objects for a Studio offers a tantalising glimpse of the many studios within which Longmore has worked, but makes no pretence to be showing them in completeness. Instead, these other studios are presented through a lens of artistic production, as a piece of Longmore's own work in the form of a photograph.
The photograph as a mode of representation presents only a snapshot, one angle of a wider, and more nuanced situation. Therefore, the photograph is an appropriate form for Objects for a Studio, as the audience is aware of unknowns lurking beyond the frame. In this way, within Longmore's photographs, studios are pictured as honestly as they can be, and are represented as changing spaces of fluidity and temporality, by virtue of the medium through which they are shown, and the nature of the sculptures which have been photographed. This shifting form of representation, which attempts to confound voyeurism through gestures appropriate to the space, belies a deep and firsthand understanding of the nature of studios, and is in clear contrast to other contemporary methods of studio display. For instance, at The Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, artist Francis Bacon's studio has been catalogued and relocated from London, to be displayed in what appears to be its' original state, but is in fact "a carefully constructed artifice"7.
Bacon's Studio in Dublin is not the only example of the studio being recreated in the gallery, whether by curator or artist. In 1964 Lucas Samaris installed Room, a recreation of his studio/bedroom at The Green Gallery in New York, presented for public consumption as an artwork in itself. His reconstruction of a studio, his treating every splatter and mote of dust as a vital part of an artists' oeuvre, wilfully overlooks the fundamental privacy and mutability of the studio that Longmore consciously attempts to preserve in her representations: Brian O'Doherty refers to the nature of artworks, whilst they remain within the studio, as aesthetically unstable, a description which is applicable to Longmore's temporary sculptures in a literal sense. Her works illustrate the instability of time within the studio, with their very obvious physical frailty and precarity.
Longmore's determined preservation of the Other Artists' privacy emphasises the importance of studios as confidential spaces, where artists' can experiment away from the critical gaze. Given that Longmore is clearly interested in respecting this requirement, it is interesting to consider her process in gaining access to so many of these non-public spaces. In practical terms, Longmore has found that gaining access to multiple studios is much easier with the help and backing of an institution. For instance, at present she is working as resident artist at Salford University, which has allowed her to utilise the institution's influence and networks in order to make contact with groups of studios, and therefore to gain access to individual studios. This detail once again raises the issue of how a high level of administration and vigilant planning are often necessary for contemporary artists: in this way, the structures which Longmore must work within in order to accomplish her objectives affect in macro the structures which she has consciously designed.
As discussed above, when Longmore arranges to work for a day in an Other Artists' studio, she is not proposing to present that studio to the public, or to invite the audience inside. Instead she could be said to be proposing a collaboration of sorts, whereby she treats the studio as she would her own, using the space only as it has already been dedicated; as a space in which to make work. Then, working within the knowledge that this dedicated space, this studio, actually belongs to somebody else, Longmore utilises paraphernalia of the Other Artists' practice both as a point of inspiration, and as her medium. By her treatment of studios within Objects for a Studio, Longmore is enacting a complex form of cooperation and portrayal with the Other Artist and their workspace which, as previously outlined, utilises a form of representation which is appropriate to subject, thereby avoiding a problematic fictionalisation of the site.
When Longmore goes to work for a day in the Other Artist's studio, they are only sometimes there during the process, and as such, it is not necessary for Objects for a Studio that the two artists must work together in a literal, tangible way. However, regardless of whether they are physically present or not, the work which Longmore has produced and documented during Objects for a Studio, could not have existed without the Other Artist's practice. In this way, Longmore's practice in Objects for a Studio is dependent on the Other Artists', and therefore a somewhat skewed form of collaboration is implicit in the project. This peculiar collaborative aspect is not directly addressed by Longmore, which could be taken to indicate that it is not - at least not intentionally - an integral part of the project. Yet, the spectral figure of the Other Artist haunts Objects for a Studio, their semi-anonymity in the process, confounding traditional conceptions of collaboration.
In his discussion of contemporary collaboration, The Third Hand, Charles Green posits the groupings of the late 1960's as the beginnings of the sorts of self-consciously, ideologically complex collaborations that we are familiar with today. He also traces a trajectory for these practices, whereby collaborations, and the collaborative theories which were abandoned in favour of postmodernism in the 1980's, enjoyed a resurgence in the late 1990's, indicating a belief that the current ubiquity of collaborative practices, is part of a sweeping historical trend. Green frames collaboration as an attempt to rethink artistic identity, to either erase, or to somehow fundamentally alter the signature of the artist. The process and results of Objects for a Studio certainly approach the concept artistic identity in usual ways, but there does not seem to be any ideologically inspired erasure of the artists's signature. Instead of substituting the identity of two or more artists for a separate, purely collaborative 'third hand' identity, Objects for a Studio is presented as a part of Longmore's practice alone. Yet, the Other Artist is sometimes named, or remains anonymous only by choice, and their existence is always presented as being of central importance to the project. In this way, the identities of two artists, Longmore and the Other Artist, are simultaneously, but distinctly represented, and combined only partially, and momentarily. This temporary synthesis being what Longmore documents in her photographs.
Whilst both Longmore and the Other Artists' actuality and identity are unquestionably represented here, by working exclusively with the ephemera of the Other Artist's practice, Longmore is generating an unequal relationship. It seems that only one member of the team, Longmore, is conscious in the production of work, and the other artist is acting as a found-archive, opening up their practice to be used as the raw material for somebody else's. Longmore's Objects for a Studio effectively raises questions of artistic authorship, in how far the Other Artist, the archive, is acknowledged, bringing to mind the artistic use of found objects, where the original maker, or designer will often go uncredited. Although, despite the apparently unequal relationship between artist and archive, within Objects for a Studio, consent is sought from participants, who can be assumed to understand what it is that they're involving themselves with. This issue of consent is crucial in seeking to understand the relationships which are formed in the course of Objects for a Studio, indicating that rather than exploitative and one-sided, they are multi-faceted and consensual, which de-problematises the issue of attribution.
Objects for a Studio can be seen to exist in two experientially distinct parts. For the Other Artist, and anybody else involved with administration of the project, it would happen as a kind of participatory performance, whereas, for the viewer, Objects for a Studio exists as a series of documentary photographs, and some copy explaining the process. This dual ontology is typical of temporary and performative artworks, especially those that cannot be repeated. Considering this experiential rupture, it becomes clear that when we take the experience of the Other Artists and other actors into account, Objects for a Studio can be perceived as a form of temporal, interventionist, performance art. By presenting the project via a website, a standing document of copy and pictures, Longmore is communicating the importance of the process, of what happens outside of and around the pictures, that capture just a moment of the entire performance which goes to make up the work. The extent to which Longmore explains Objects for a Studio to the audience can be taken as intentional, and as an example of how much we are supposed to know about the project. Longmore gives us a general sense, and a broad description of the process, but few details. Details and interest are saved to be expressed in the photographs, the only opportunity for the viewer's curiosity to be visually sated, which infuses the pictures with possibilities and projected meanings, appropriately expressing the aforementioned intensity of the site.
It has already been established that the collaborative aspects of Objects for a Studio are not calculated, they appear intrusive, or to have been unavoidable, and this apparently inadvertent form of collaboration raises the issue of whether collaboration has become somehow embedded within contemporary art practice. The structures and habits which are now noticeably pervasive within contemporary art making - residencies, networking, collectives, and a striving for diversity of voices - are clearly appropriate to the practice of collaboration. Perhaps collaboration is now synonymous with so many of the common practices within contemporary art that its manifestation within Objects for a Studio is inevitable. Administration necessitates communication and cooperation with others as an integral part of the artwork, which can perhaps be considered as a form of collaboration, within which these other helpers and performers have become part of a transient collective with Longmore.
As Andrea Thal explains, when two or more artists work together there is a level of discussion and planning that takes place prior to the actual production of any art work, which can be seen as a work in itself, and is in fact typical of collectives, which are then typical within contemporary art practice; "this communication, the exchange leading to the production of something, is a collective's very first, and probably most typical work"8. In the case of Objects for a Studio the communication, discussion, planning and admin that takes place prior to the actual studio day is of a particular pre-determined type, wrought out through trial and error over the four years that the project has run. Longmore has taken Objects for a Studio to a number of different geographical locations, working in over sixty studios, inferring a significant amount of discussion, planning, and indeed work, before anything recognisable as art-work can take place. However, in terms of Thal's analysis of collaborative practice, this arrangement, which has become typical of the project, could be taken as a form of art work.
The temporality that is inherent in Objects for a Studio resists straightforward analysis, and the ways in which Longmore attempts to play with the conventions of contemporary art from within art-world structures, creates a fluid and shifting aesthetic, which hints, but does not pronounce. The photographs form a coherent body of work, communicating the particular qualities of the studio as a site in which time and space behave unusually, by virtue of the kind of work that is conducted within. These photographs form a document of the project, and refer to it in the same way as a sign, signifying the amorphous and fluctuating whole, which exemplifies and enacts common practices, and necessities associated with working as an artist.
Longmore does not seem to be offering an argument or manifesto, or even a judgement on the structures which this work traverses, and yet the project raises a plethora of questions including but not limited to; what constitutes artistic collaboration in a situation where working together is often essential, although not necessarily an intentional device? In the context of Objects for a Studio this gentle, non-judgemental exposure is sufficient. Were aspects of the project, such as behind-the-scenes administration, to be documented along with Longmore's assemblages, their ontology would be altered, losing their status as real and turning the whole process into pure performance.
Longmore avoids this, explaining only what she considers to be necessary for the audience to appreciate the work, and refusing to offer an analysis of the situation. There is a sense of rightful privacy expounded by Longmore - whilst her photographs depict beautiful but unsettling moments in which objects bristle with the energy of things being other than they should, of rearrangement, of experimentation. The studio is, perhaps, the only dedicated space where such incidental experimentation is allowed, but any site could be a studio, and it only takes a dedication. Thereby the assignation of function to spaces becomes like a mystical spell, just as ground can be consecrated, so a space can be dedicated. It is with these hints pertaining to abstract concepts and magic that Longmore counteracts what could be an otherwise unequivocal experience for the viewer, of repeated actions resulting in pictures.
Crawford, Holly. Artistic Bedfellows: Histories, Theories and Conversations in Collaborative Art Practices. University Press of America (2008)
Grabner, Michelle & Jacob, Mary Jane Eds. The Studio Reader: On the space of artist. University of chicago Press (2010)
Green, Charles. The Third Hand: Collaboration in Art from Conceptualism to Postmodernism. UNSW Press (2001)
LeWitt, Sol, "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art," in: Artforum (1967), 79–83; A. Legg (ed.)
Longmore, Jessica. Jessica Longmore: artist. URL: http://seabrookhost.com/jessica/?page_id=83 [2012 - 2013]
O'Doherty, Brian. Studio and Cube. A FORuM Project Publication (2007)
4Lewitt, Sol 'Sentences on Conceptual Art', Art Forum 1967
5Lewitt, Sol 'Paragraphs on Conceptual Art', Art Forum 1967
7David J. Getsy, “The Reconstruction of the Francis Bacon Studio in Dublin”, The Studio Reader: On the space of artists p.102
8Thal, Andrea, "Complicity", Artistic Bedfellows: Histories, Theories and Conversations in Collaborative Art Practices, ed: Crawford, Holly (2008)