Jenny George

profile: MA Project Report

MA Project Report

Making the Unspeakable

 

“An investigation into the conveyance of a seemingly unspeakable truth.” 

 

1.         INTRODUCTION: Overview of project aspirations

 

2.         FRAMEWORKS:

            (Connections between, relevance, usefulness)

Feminisms

Autoethnography

Pragmatism

 

3.         THE WORK:

            ( Visual language, authority, communication)

Book works:

Porcelain Duplo:

Wall Stickers:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

4.         EVALUATIONS:

            (Observations, critique, conclusion of work)

 

5.         CONCLUSIONS:

A brief bringing together of the main conclusions

of each of the sections.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS:

ASSOCIATED READING:

 

 

Introduction:

An overview of this projects aspirations; aims and objectives.

 

When I began the MA course, my creative practice had stagnated and I had no idea where two years of study might lead, other than it would undoubtedly be 'somewhere else'. I certainly did not intend to use my son Sam and his disability as a locus; on the contrary, in some ways I saw this indulgent return to academic study as an attempt to step away from the powerful influence he exerts over my world. This was to be a chance to explore, understand and expand my own creative practice. Sam is now twenty–six years old; he was catastrophically brain damaged by the whooping cough inoculation at the age of nine weeks. He turned blue and stopped breathing.

This report documents my struggle to incorporate what was a life-changing event into life and ultimately my creative practice. The exhibition for my MA will finally acknowledge, through my practice, the inevitability of acceptance.

 

I firmly believe that a work of art should stand by its own merits. That is not to say that every aspect of intention encompassed in a piece should be immediately obvious or indeed that there is no ultimate residual mystery. I do believe that all viewers will have a response to a work, exact some meaning for themselves. Meaning, however, is a matter of multiple interpretations, as Umberto Eco says:

 

'A narrator should not supply interpretations of his work; otherwise he would have not written a novel, which is a machine for generating interpretations.'
Eco, U. (1984) p505

 

I agree with Eco, as my artwork is, by way of communication, explanation in itself. Furthermore, I feel that the business of art as Denzin asserts is to have an enhancing or positive effect. He says that:

 

'We are searching for representational practices that aspire to higher, sacred goals. We have left the world of epistemology behind. In this new moral space, we seek to change the world, to make it a better place to be, a place where democracy and democratic values thrive.'

Denzin, N. (2000) p262

 

My aim was to situate a personal narrative 'maternal response to disability' in artwork using an auto-ethnographic method. Through my practice, I hoped to establish whether it was possible to reflect such subject matter visually and to explore the possibilities of conveying the dichotomous nature of the mother/disabled child relationship. My objectives were to find ways of achieving my aims in such a way as to highlight the generality of the issue to a wider audience thus increasing public awareness and social understanding. These objectives included better knowledge and understanding of the wider issue e.g. social perception. I hoped to discover other artists engaged with the same or similar subject matter and I aspired to evolve a 'voice' that personalised and strengthened the credibility of my work without compromising the honesty.

 

This project report documents my efforts to fulfill my aims and honor my objectives.

 

Frameworks:

Connections between, relevance and usefulness.

 

Auto-ethnography provides a method; feminisms linked with my own political beliefs and pragmatism appealed to my logical mindset. These three frameworks are inter-related. All three share common aspirational elements, championing equality, valuing the individual experience and challenging socially accepted rules.

 

Feminism in all its varieties has the critique of patriarchal power structures at its core.  Personal experience makes this framework relevant to this work. Spoken and written word has evolved primarily by men for their own use, a residue of historical patriarchal dominance. This has had a disabling impact on my ability to communicate equally and therefore successfully. As Tessa Muncey writes:

 

'Feminist theory emerges from and responds to the lives of women, and because it is grounded in women's lives and seeks to discover the role and meaning of gender in those lives and within society, the personal narratives of women are essentially primary sources for feminist research.'

           Muncey, T. (2010) p44

 

In her book, 'Creating Autoethnographies' Ms. Muncey builds on feminist discourse of the last century, drawing from Michel Foucault's narrative on subjugated knowledge and quoting Dale Spender's ideas with reference to the production of knowledge. Spender argues that 'since language is fundamental to human-ness, it is through the patriarchal language that much of woman's continued subordination is structured' (Spender, D.1980 p44).

 

Communication via my artwork is my recourse to balance this situation, as are my chosen media and imagery. Feminism has privileged artwork created out of what has traditionally been seen as women's work and has validated domesticity as literal and metaphorical subject matter. In doing so, the situated experience of women has gained a higher profile across the art world. I follow in esteemed footsteps, Judy Chicago, Louise bourgeois, Mary Kelly, Barbara Kruger and Nancy Spero to name but a few fine artists who broke the mold in the sixties. Authors such as Jane Austin, Virginia Woolf have interwoven autobiography and fiction in their novels. Martha Rosler, Yoko Ono and Cindy Sherman have utilised photography and film to challenge accepted norms of style and content. These examples are but a very few of a large body of work that now exists reflecting a female perspective on experience.

 

Autoethnography is a system of self-reflective writing that explores the researcher's personal experience and connects his or her autobiographical narrative to wider cultural, political, and social meanings and understandings. This framework has provided an opportunity to challenge my confidence in, and the power of, my visual narrative. I was motivated to try this method when I read the following paragraph by Carolyn Ellis:

           

'Auto-ethnography shows struggle, passion, embodied life and the collaborative creation of sense-making in situations in which people have to cope with dire circumstances and loss of meaning … it needs the researcher to be vulnerable and intimate … it shouldn't be used as a vehicle to produce distanced theorising.'

           Ellis, C. (2006) p433

 

'Auto-ethnography' as a term generally refers to written work although a performative or spoken version references the same techniques. I wrote in my proposal with regard to generating:

 

'… a visual or what may be termed pictorial or ideographic version of the recognised auto-ethnographic approach to writing in order to situate my experience at the center of this studio based research program.'

 

Initially I had intended to make words adjuncts to sculptural form. The use of words has stemmed from my reading about auto-ethnography in combination with the book making process I have been developing over the preceding terms of this course and an interest in artists' books.

 

Auto-ethnography is a relatively new methodological structure within academia and as such has a variety of critics that claim it to be lacking in quantitative evaluation and therefore validity. In her article on the subject Tina Koch writes:

 

            ' …biased … personal …  ungeneralisable [sic] and unscientific …'

                        Koch, T (1998) p1187

 

Her criticism is understandable since academic research has historically required empirical results that categorically prove or disprove the assertion in any given proposal. The notion of self or researcher as a contaminant to the process underpins this system, a bias that Hanyano (Hanyano, D. (1979) p102) calls 'the hazard(s) of intimate familiarity", and described by Ellis as:

 

' … the commitment of sociology to scientific method and objectivity, the assumption was that you would keep who you were-your subjectivity and values-from biasing your observations.'

            Ellis, C. (2004) p15

 

The search for a credible objective, i.e. provable, truth assumes the world can be isolated from the research; clearly, this is not the case. In order to account for this contradiction Sandra Harding proposes "successor science," a form of situated knowledge. At its most basic level situated knowledge is defined as knowledge embedded in a physical site i.e. a person, or location, and successor science a feminist perspective that transforms science into a narrative. Harding proposes this type of science as offering:

 

'a more adequate, richer, better account of a world, in order to live in it well and in critical, reflexive relation to our own as well as others’ practices of domination and the unequal parts of privilege and oppression that makes up all positions.'

            Harding, S (1986) p187

 

The description implies an affirmation of the auto-ethnographic claim to legitimacy with regard to research.

It is suggested by Tessa Muncey (Muncey, T. 2010) that traditional research methods can obscure as well as illuminate. I challenge the accuracy of academic research based on the omission of so many women's work in the preceding centuries history. All histories are the recollection of one or more experiences; 'history' from a feminist perspective is 'his –story', primarily the recording of men's experience by men. Charlene Haddock Siegfried writes of the reciprocity between fact and value within the context of our human experience both cognitively and historically as the following quote demonstrates:

 

'Knowledge (guided by value) is instrumental … in the sense of a tool used, along with other tools, for organising experiences satisfactorily. Concepts are habits of belief or rules of action. Truth cannot be determined solely by epistemological criteria because the adequacy of these criteria cannot be determined apart from the goals sought and the values [sic] instantiated. … truths are beliefs confirmed in the course of experience and are therefore fallible, subject to further revision.'

Haddock Seigfried, C. (1996) p7

 

If truth is belief confirmed by experience as she claims, my experience will contribute a 'truth' as valid and therefore valuable as any other.

All research by the definition of 'experience' is, therefore, different, 'biased' and perhaps ultimately unfixed. In his book 'Against method' Paul Feyerabend (Feyerabend, P 1975) advocates methodological abundance. He proposes the methodology of 'theoretical anarchism', objecting to any single prescriptive scientific method because such a method would limit the activities of scientists, and so restrict scientific progress.  He likely to be best remembered by the aphorism, 'anything goes'. Indeed, if 'anything goes' then the pluralist, experiential, reflexive and inclusive nature of the auto-ethnographic method surely affords the greatest opportunity for new research, vindicating charges made against its methodological value.

 

Men and women are different, our experience may therefore be presumed to be different and our resultant communications likewise. It would seem unlikely; therefore, that such subjectivity is entirely absent from scientific research. As a feminist Donna Haraway focused on highlighting the masculine bias in scientific culture and questioned the objectivity that informs it, according to her:

 

'Objectivity is not about disengagement but about mutual and usually unequal structuring, about taking risks in a world where "we" are permanently mortal, that is, not in "final" control.'

            Haraway, D. (1988) p201

 

Her approach forms an alternative viewpoint to the hegemonic structure of formal research that is recognised today.

 

Another defining negative leveled against auto-ethnography is that of self-indulgent navel gazing and cathartic self-therapy on the part of the author or artist. Many authorities on the subject support this accusation. Robert Krizek (2003) raises concerns about the possibilities of narcissism whilst Thomas Schwandt (1996) claims that it confuses the rational with the procedural and the criteriological and James Smith (1984) questions the compatibility of qualitative and quantitive criteria. On the other side of the argument Andrew Sparks (Sparks, A. 2002 p15) claims that the attitude exhibited by scientists demonstrate 'a deep mistrust of the worth of the self' and goes on to defend the value of auto-ethnography as:

 

' … acts of witnessing, empathy and connection that extend beyond the self of the author and contribute to sociological understanding in ways that among others are self-knowing, self respectful, self sacrificing and self luminous.'        

Sparks, A. (2002) P222

 

Whilst Mykhaloskiy (Mykhalovskiy, E.1996 p147) declares that far from being self-indulgent, auto-ethnography is a social process 'dialogic and collaborative' where the author or artist is engaged with his or her critical audience as an essential part of the process. Mikhail Bakhtin (Holquist, M 1990, p37) goes further to suggests that stories are the means by which 'values are made coherent in particular situations'. However, it is Norman Denzin who would seem to have the issue in context as far as its importance in my work is concerned, he says:

 

' … the important criterion is whether the work has the possibility to change the world and make it a better place.'                  

Denzin, N.K. (2002) p256

It was clear to me that the auto-ethnographic methodology would substantiate my practice and that its values are clearly apposite to my task. This led me to ask questions about the definition of truth and the onus of proof, i.e. legitimacy from the perspective of content as opposed to method. In this work the perspective i.e. the truth is my experience and is acknowledged by me as one of many that are equally valid. My omissions and additions (as in a novel) are purposeful points upon which the viewer may ponder. I enjoyed this poetic description by Arturo Escobar:

 

'historical textures woven of fact and fiction … '

           Escobar, A. (2012) p19

 

I accept my fallibility and trust to my audience to feel the resonances within the work which aim for coherence and Lacan is quoted (by Chaitin) as saying:

 

            ' … surprise the unconscious … '

            Chaitin, G.D. (2008.) p234

 

In 1934, John Dewey published his book 'Art as Experience' a seminal volume on the nature and practice of art. Dewey believed in conscious experience as the fundamental basis of man's existence having greater value to mankind than learning or knowing (in the empirical academic sense). This quote attributed to Dewey goes some way to explain his complex and extensive views on the subject:

 

'distinction worth drawing is not between practice and theory, but between those modes of practice that are not intelligent, not inherently and immediately enjoyable, and those which are full of enjoyed meanings.'
Boydston, J.A. (Ed.) (2008) pp. 268–269

 

From Dewey's assertion and according to Richard Shusterman (Shusterman, R.1992 p17) it follows that Science, becomes 'subordinate to art'. Dewey claims that art is created from experience and that it proves our existence and explains the endurance of civilization and culture of man. Dewey implies that an artwork intelligently conceived, intuitively executed and meaningful in its presentation has the potential for great influence. The possibility for change has been a principal objective in this project.

 

'Sense' is the meaning of things present in our immediate experience. Experience may be defined as qualities made actual via the mind and sense as meaning embodied in experience. We are destined to carry our experiences with us and use them 'as a starting point for reflection' (Haddock Seigfried, C. 1996 p11). The artist makes form(s) from experience with intent, organising them in time and space thereby signifying and illuminating meaning. A unique procedure as described by Dewey:

 

' … art celebrates with particular intensity the moments in which the past references the present and in which the future is a quickening of what now is.'

            Dewey, J. (2005) p17

 

Dewey believed in cultural credibility, he values the art object as a mechanism that marks a moment in time, moments that collectively represent our history of humanness. Charlene Haddock Seigfried is a pragmatic feminist and identifies the lack of or omission of or reference to, feminist writings within the pragmatist canon Her thoughts on the subject are as follows:

 

'It seems that from the beginning feminism and pragmatism have been mutually transformative, though this relationship has not yet been adequately recovered.'

            Haddock Seigfried, C. (1996) p13

 

It is apposite to bear her observations in mind and remember that Dewey was probably referencing historical works of art fundamentally created by men. Nevertheless, the high value placed on the experiential by theoretical philosophical pragmatism reinforces the auto-ethnographic methodology I am using and its egalitarian values are in line with feminist manifestos.

 

Since it is my assertion that communication is a primary objective within my practice, the frameworks I have chosen vindicate my methodology, support my proposed evaluation process and give philosophical credence to the project's subject matter. They uphold my choice of communication by accepting and supporting my difference and my right to my own experiences.

 

 

The Work:

Development of visual language, authority and communication encompassing methodology: effectiveness, exploration, evolution and experimentation.

 

There are repeating forms that have featured in my sketchbooks over the years; they relate my feelings about motherhood.

 

I was excited about the project's potential. I revisited archived work going back as far as 1988, wrote automatically, drew and 'played' with the clay I occupied my interfering conscious mind and tried to allow my hands to take over the making procedure. Ceramics is dominantly process led; one tends to commence with intention. Whilst the clay itself is a very flexible medium, its utility is a linear process.

 

My work up to this point has been very detailed, taking many hours of precise and carefully handling to create intimate detail. The adjustment was a challenge.

 

Despite my efforts the 'voice' I sought (page 5) continued to elude me, the work seemed overly trite, simplistic or plain heavy handed.

My daily routine includes an initial period of quiet reflection; during this period of critical self-examination, I often experience abstract lateral thoughts. It was during one such interlude that I realised that I had already tentatively established a 'voice' over the previous modules of the course; however, acknowledgment, definition and expansion were necessary. This was the turning point and gave me the impetus I needed to move forward.

 

I returned to the work of the previous modules, the books and photographs, the moments where Sam had crept insistently into the work:

 

Here were books text, narrative, automatic writing printing, and photography (most of the practical methodology in my proposal.

 

I revised the proposal to order to investigate bookmaking further and explore sculptural ceramics made from porcelain that could demonstrate the fragile fixity of our situation. I had an idea that scale could prove a useful channel to take the viewer subconsciously back to their childhood, i.e. the current level of Sam's ability.

In order to achieve this the scale of the work needs to be proportionate to an average five year old i.e. roughly double in all dimensions.

 

Intrigued by the possibilities inherent in multiples an oft-used phrase, attributed to Aristotle, the Greek philosopher and polymath, sums up my thoughts…

 

            'The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.' 

Attributed: Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC)

Sam has been playing with Duplo™ his entire life and has come to be a visual symbol of our stasis. It seemed appropriate therefore to use this symbol as a literal building block, for the sculptural porcelain pieces. The inherent qualities of the clay and the theory behind the shape and the scale came together as a suitable vehicle, a simple idea but a technical challenge.

In order to achieve a repeatable form I enlarged a standard eight peg Duplo block by a factor of two and then increased that by an overall 20% to account for shrinkage. I made a four-piece mold from plaster and began a series of casts.

 

Porcelain distorts during firing to some degree and sharp corners within a ceramic work are the most difficult to preserve, the material is not naturally inclined to straight lines. Like any reproduction, the resultant blocks are not exact replicas of the original shape – they have some warping but overall retain enough of the symbolism as intended. Sam continues to make towers and so I too made towers, emulating the repetitive nature of his 'play', endeavoring to capture one moment as a monumental reference point to the many.

 

Automatic writing with regard to my feelings about being the mother of a severely disabled child took place in September. I wrote a list of words related to each letter of the alphabet; the following represents the initial list for the letter S:

                       

S:        

Son     

Sam

Safety 

Society

Sugar

Sad

Stupid

Sanity

Security

Surprise

Special

Solitary

Sensitive

Smoke

Smart

Silence

Sacrifice

Suffer

Split

Shake

Stuck

Separate

 

 

 

 

 

I subsequently made up sentences using the automatic writing method that related to our situation connecting all the words on the list:

 

                                                                                                                                      

S is undoubtedly for son – my Son, this could be daughter but it is not. His safety is questionable in our society. Does he take sugar? Stupid question. We have silly days and sad days; we eat supper like anyone else. Milk shake no thank you. He is smart in his own way, he will speak to you, say "good morning, how are you". I often feel split in two – perhaps it is why I smoke. Poor sod, solitary and sensitive a scary combination. "Sausages" he said – always top of the shopping list. I am told that I spoil him; I steal kisses and suffer in silence. As I speak I shrink back into my shell, time stretches away. Not so silent in my sacrifice anymore.  A 'synthetic saint' is a curious analogy since I am nothing special. We are solid. Together. I am suspicious that I ought to feel shame at my desire to separate myself from him but in reality, I am stuck. It is a life sentence. Sorry is that a surprise? Do you question my sanity? Oh, what sweet security is ignorance?

 

 

Whilst honest, the resultant text contained little poetic charm, was difficult to read and lacked what I can only describe as 'space' for the viewer – the words shouted from the page and I knew that it had all been said in the same way before.

 

I took stock and accepted that since my specific objective was to communicate with others I needed to compromise, to leave room in the work for the viewer to engage with it. I spent the next six weeks editing the text in order to keep the meaning but lose the predictability and open hostility. I aimed to keep in mind the dichotomy that is an essential part of this project and preserve a balance between the positive and negative aspects of my responses.  

 

Imagery is constructed as another layer of meaning. I revisited my photographic archive. The imagery I sought was of a closely observed domesticity, generic in subject but personal in its specifics, so for example the image for page16 (letter M) features a standard bathroom sink (Fig. 10), made personal by the epilepsy medication sitting alongside the hand soap. The text on this page reads:

 

                        'The opinion of others seems to matter too much.'

.

The words 'matter' and 'much' reinforce the connection to the letter 'M' as does the visual implication of 'medication' or 'medicine'. The text, however, carries my personal narrative, which over the pages of the book builds to subtly generate the resonance of the title's 'unspoken truth' and its inherent difficulties.

Visually I was aiming for a retro feel aiming to take the viewer back in time to the 1980's. Photoshop editing achieved this effect.

 

Eventually, all that remained to resolve were questions of scale and layout. I was keen to keep the scale 1:2 to unify the work with the sculptures and also to keep the format very much in line with most children's books of this era i.e. the images filled the entire page and each page a unique entity. The point at which the images met at the spine was an aesthetic conundrum. The images clashed uncomfortably but this had nothing to do with the subject matter. The solution at this point was to print the photographic images in black and white but keep the letters and text brightly coloured. Surprisingly the effect enhanced my critical aspirations by lending the pages a slightly ominous, dull appearance, which seemed to suggest further personal separation and 'otherness' from the viewer.

 

The second book I made for this project is called 'Once Upon A Time". The text documents Sam's life so far in a very matter of fact way and resulted from a brief imaginary dialogue that I wrote in the autumn. There are no images but I included three transparent pages with enclosed items, a button, a feather and some porcelain residue. These items denoted the different phases of the story, before, now and after. The text was hand printed without ink to achieve an embossed textural surface that is readable but subtle. The book measures 30cm x 15cm and is bound in white calf leather. Here is unemotional fact, constructed as beautifully and simply as possible. The lack of ambiguity lends it a strange icon like quality that brooks no challenge. This piece of work is currently the most successful from a personal critical perspective.

 

I made two further books post the interim assessment. A cloth book '& counting', covers ten common events in life that Sam will never experience. It connects with the other work through its use of Duplo™ imagery. Other images in this book reflect the wording; for example, the text quoted below related to drug abuse is paired with the Duplo placed adjacent to scattered pills suggestive of the Ecstasy drug.

 

                        'RISK:  My son will never be attracted to illegal drugs, although

someone might think it amusing to give him some.'

 

 

The book is soft and padded as one might expect .The tactile nature of this book invites handling and active participation by the viewer is very much a part of this works intended functionality. The content is calculated to contrast sharply with its materiality.

 

It was a challenge to master fabric and printing in such a way as to maintain the formality of the format but the combination of the textural sewing and Duplo imagery refers to the domestic feminist ideology well. The brief wording and use of font both serve as an appropriate contrast that mitigates between attraction and repulsion.

 

A fourth book is in the process of production: 'He Likes'. In a classic board book style, it serves as an antidote to the cloth book. Its illustrative, softly painted pen and ink sketches and simple text suggest tolerance, love and humor. Once it is complete, I will be able to appraise its critical relationship to the rest of the work and on that basis decide whether it will form part of the final exhibition.

 

Children's books come in many shapes, sizes and formats. The books I have created aim to challenge expectations but maintain interest. I do not wish to alienate my viewers but neither do I want them to be lulled into a convenient sense of comfort.

 

Some of the images I found whist making Mhe were Sam's old drawings, 'scribbles' since they are missing intentional from:

 

Sam created the above image when he was about six years old. I encouraged him to do me a drawing, ostensibly for a page in the Mhe book. I gave him a heavy gauge marker pen and a blank sheet of card. The resultant image was interesting in a number of ways.

 

There is a sense of obliteration about these images, a lack of concern for what may have been obscured. If you consider this action on a steamed up window a revealing occurs that is constrained by the shape created by the scribbling action. In playful mode, I used the scribble to both reveal and obscure a well-known image of mother and child by Mary Cassatt:

 

Mary Cassatt was a woman artist, a painter who worked and exhibited in Paris with the early impressionists in the late 1800's. Her work addresses the domestic, women and their children and highlights the central social role of the mother in family dynamics. Few men feature in her painting. The images are not heroic but full of small intimacies and informed a new oeuvre - subject matter previously thought lacking in credibility or interest. Cassatt unknowingly paved the way for later feminist artists to follow. It is in this arena that Mary Cassatt forms part of feminist history, as a woman who insisted on her right to paint what she chose and to have those paintings considered equally.

 

For the interim examination, I experimented with these images as a constructed part of the work exhibited. My feeling was that the scribble idea had merit but was not entirely consistent with or cohesive to the rest of my submission. I also felt that the 'scribble' images needed further development as a piece of work and have therefore placed the idea alongside the audio visual element for future consideration.

 

During the exploration for suitable images for the book 'Mhe' and over the period of research, I have been looking for and at artists and art works that would seem to address similar subject matter and concerns. I have also explored imagery that features mother and child; religious iconography and its contemporary equivalent. To date I have found no other individual visual artist /mother engaged with the subject of their child's disability. I am aware of the multitude of writers involved in equivalent enterprises many of whom do not put their work in the commercial public domain. Writing is a creative pastime and an art, but for the purposes of this study and with the exception of concrete poetry, it is the lack of form and visual representation, that is the relevant distinguishing factor as far as this research is concerned.

 

I have searched the Internet, joined social networking sites, placed invitations and contacted friends of friends. I acknowledge that my position is not unique but it would seem that if others do exist we are an invisible and silent minority that achieves very little or no exposure.

 

Clearly, art and artists have influenced this project. As mentioned in a previous paragraph I have been drawn to first wave feminist artists, for example Mary Kelly and Barbara Kruger, drawing inspiration from their use of material, subject matter and self-belief. Louise Bourgeoise's biographical works showed how powerful the domestic metaphor can be. Edmund de Waal explores the possibilities of multiples within a ceramic context whilst 'the Humament' by Tom Philips provided insight into the pictorial possibilities of random word choice. Artists' books come in as many variations as it is possible to imagine. No one volume proved more pertinent than any other but the format did as a whole proved seductive. The exhibition catalogue (online: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/Art-of-the-Book/) for Blood on Paper: The Art of the Book (V&A Museum 2008) provided insight into how internationally renowned artists would approach the medium, I was particularly drawn to Anish Kapoor's work for its monumental scale, purity of form and simplicity of execution

I see the book as a container of the visual and a form that is universally familiar as the location of information both pictorial and scripted. For me the words make patterns and connect with the imagery to make a common impact on the senses.

 

Evaluation:

Personal understanding, legitimacy and knowledge.

 

I identified the following criteria (in my proposal) upon which I would base my self-evaluation at this point in the course:

 

1.         Substantive contribution

            2.         Aesthetic merit

            3.         Reflexivity

4.         Impact

            5.         Lived experience

 

These criteria are a distillation, primarily from Ellis (Ellis C. 2004) but re-enforced by Denzin (The Sage handbook of qualitative research, 2005). The success or failure of this project will reside in the degree to which achievement is demonstrated.

 

An evaluation by definition would seem to be a judgment made by weighing the proposed outcomes against the actual outcomes using pre-defined criteria.

 

The expected outcomes as per my proposal were as follows:

 

1.         Ongoing critical appraisals

2.         A body of practice presented in an exhibition

3.         Documentation of progress and process.

4.         This project report

 

Critical appraisal consisted of a presentation of the proposal and two group critiques with other course members. Informal meetings with my peers inevitably engendered conversations about work in progress. Tutorials occurred at regular intervals with two designated members of staff. I met with Pip Laurence as a visiting tutor and received valuable feedback after the interim exam by a number of guest artists, curators and art professionals. On balance, I feel that this last source was the most beneficial with regard to judging the impact of the work. My colleagues and tutors provided useful insights, suggestions and references with regard to process and form but had been aware since the beginning of the project of my intentions and as such were unable to view the work from anything other than an informed standpoint. The individuals I met at the post interim assessment private view had no such prior knowledge and I feel that it is apposite to reflect on items one and four of my evaluation criteria by using their comments alongside my own assessment.


 

The interim assessment was held at Karst, an exhibition space in the Stonehouse area of Plymouth.

 

I decided that the presentation of the work should fall into two distinct parts, for the purposes of description here the 'past' and the 'present'. The 'past' consisting of the outsized loose porcelain blocks placed on the floor alongside the outsized Mhe book: suggestive of a domestic setting. At ground level and placed on soft flooring the viewer had to make the decision to engage with the 'past', to read the book and feel the cool fragility of the blocks. The 'present' being a reflection on 'the past', whereby two monumental and fixed sculptures rested alongside the leather bound book ('Once Upon a Time') in a gallery style setting i.e. on plinths. The idea being that the two parts were in dynamically opposed, the 'past' encouraging interaction and play with the work whist the 'future' stood as a fixed entity, solid and immutable.

 

The arrangement of the work did convey most of what I intended, however, it was apparent to me before the assessment that other options existed. Part of my self-critique was to allocate more time to this issue before the final show. The critique of my peers, tutors and other visitors was extremely interesting and most useful. The work was perceived as sensitive to the subject matter and highly emotionally charged. Overall, the work succeeded in conveying my aspirations. I had made the 'unspeakable'. The presentation had let the work down and needed more thought.

 

My objectives covered five points, point one read as follows:

 

'1. Substantive contribution:

To what extent does the work produced for the exhibition hold the possibility to motivate cultural criticism and contribute to the possibility of social change?

Does it "articulate a politics of hope"? Denzin (2000)'

 

If by 'cultural criticism' (above) one includes the potential for generating debate, the work succeeded. The individual blocks and outsized book on a small carpet encouraged the viewer to interact with the pieces. When established that this was expected or allowed many people did get down on their hands and knees to investigate the work on show. Once there, it seemed quite natural to engage in discussions with whomever else was also on the carpet – a microenvironment created by proximity. The edge of the material delineated this area as being between those sitting on and those standing to the side, interestingly, few people stood on the carpet whilst no one sat on the concrete floor of the space. I observed the viewers and joined in with some of the discussions. It became apparent that the work was able to carry the context although opinion varied as to further changes and inclusion verses exclusions for the final submission. It was not necessary to provide detailed verbal explanation for the most part. Suggestions on how to improve the curation of the work with regard to the juxtaposition of objects and books were assimilated for later use. On this basis, I would say that 'the extent to which the exhibited work cognitively and emotionally engaged the viewer' (point 4.) was satisfyingly large.

 

The 'extent to which the work holds the possibility of social change' (point 1.) is a question that is difficult to answer. The possibility is undoubtedly present in the work. A definitive judgment would more accurate if the work were to be exposed to a larger, less objective subject group over a longer period, observations of the exhibition in July will provide this information to some degree.

 

Point 2 considered the 'aesthetic merit' of the work made and asked the extent to which it demonstrated 'tension, coherence'. Tension is provided by the story itself, it is simple and compelling by definition. The theme has been developing for twenty-six years so in some respects the content is pre-defined and fixed, coherence by virtue of chronology and repeated iconography. I believe I have demonstrated that my objectives have been explored in both the studio and research. This project has the potential to be a lifetime's work I therefore view ongoing progress as positive since it is my intention to continue with it in the future.

 

Have I responded reflexively (point 3), engaged with my objectives and carried out my proposed researches? The short answer is yes but it is a question of degree and evolution. It was very interesting how my responses to this project changed over the period. On reflection my initial responses were not reflexive, there was an arrogance of self knowing that suggested exploration of the subject was unnecessary – I knew how it felt - and that remains true but I did not know how to extrapolate or distill the essential elements that would clarify and illustrate the point to others. The length of time that editing the text for Mhe took is illustration enough that process was both painful and thought provoking. I have acknowledged and met the need to bridge the void between my experience and others unwitting ignorance. The processes involved have given me a much clearer understanding (point 3.) and I believe that the simplicity of form and brevity of text in the finished pieces demonstrates this distillation.

 

Point 5 addresses the question of verisimilitude – 'have I been open honest and true?' There is a possibility that there is too much truth for comfort in some aspects of the work although it comes from the heart. Throughout this project I have felt a curious sense of absolute inexorableness that errs on the side of being outside conscious control. This is a positive sensation albeit unfamiliar. I have found a uniting harmony that has provided a purposeful strength and confidence that surprises me. I know with great clarity and certainty that with greater familiarity this newfound tool will become an integral part of my working process and critical skill base.

 

I have found that I am no longer the same person, or perhaps that I never was the person I thought I was, maybe I have simply discovered the real me.

 

Consideration of this subject in such a creative and therefore unrestricted format has apparently purged feelings of sadness, anger and guilt – sensations that I had held on to for too long, and in such forms as to have never been the absolute truth in the first place. This project has allowed me to challenge self-held beliefs and see myself from others perspective. I have assimilated and come to terms with the essentially inevitable. Only by being honest and truthful have these things been possible.

 

 

 

 

Conclusions:

 

Evaluation of my work was a qualitative judgment based on 'extent':

 

                        ' the particular degree to which something is or is believed to be the case'

                        Oxford Dictionary of English p619

 

Under scrutiny is the question of 'extent' or 'degree of success' and significance to interested parties. I have subjectively measured my achievements against my aspirations of learning and progress. I find myself to have made significant progress but acknowledge somewhat inevitably that more is possible. The defining parameter for this project was time. I set myself an enormous task, on balance one that was not fully achievable in the time available. I know that I have worked towards the culmination of this project diligently. I could have read deeper into philosophical theory but on a personal level this aspect of critique needs to remain a guiding hand not a 'raison d'être'. My choice of frameworks has supported academic methodology and given credibility to my evaluation, whilst situation my work within the wider context of the feminist canon

 

The practical methodology I chose to work with during the project has been shown to have been appropriate and effective, my explorations and experimentations diverse. The work evolved dramatically away from my initial ideas and has lifted me out of my initial creative stagnation. I will continue in my private practice to explore this arena.

 

My personal response to the aesthetic of the work is that I am ambivalent about some aspects, e.g. the ceramic sculptures, because (at the point of writing) the technical issues are not fully resolved. The Mhe book has production issues (it is unwieldy and too fragile to be handled) and the overall presentation for the final exhibition requires thinking through carefully.

 

Although I have achieved the aims and objectives set out in my project proposal and satisfied my own evaluation criteria I do not feel that this project is complete. My dissatisfaction would seem to arise from a theoretical fulfillment. My own criterion for success remains with the completion of the work, and its placement in the public arena whereby the viewer is engaged, potentially changed by the encounter and Denzin's prerequisite for beneficial social change my be evaluated. Communication is what is in question here, my voice (through my work) seeking to converse with others. Tessa Muncey (Muncey, T. 2010) ends her book with a postscript and I presume to quote her quoting Zeldin for the end of this report:

 

'Conversation is a meeting of minds with different memories and habits. When minds meet, they don't just exchange facts; they transform them, reshape them, draw different implications from them, engage in new trains of thought.'

            Zeldin, T. (1998) p14

 

I too look forward to these conversations.

 

 

 

Bibliography:

Auto/Ethnography: rewriting the self and the social. (1997) ed. Reed-Danahay, D., Oxford: Oxford: Berg.

Boydston J, A (Ed.) (2008) The Collected Works of John Dewey, 1882–1953 - The Later Works, 1925–1953 - Volume 1: 1925 . Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Carolyn, E. (2004) The Ethnographic I: a methodological novel about autoethnography. Walnut Creek, CA: Walnut Creek, CA : AltaMira Press.

Chaitin, G. D. Rhetoric and culture in Lacan / Gilbert D. Chaitin. Cambridge: Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Coffey, A. The ethnographic self : fieldwork and the representation of identity / Amanda Coffey. London: London : SAGE, 1999.

Dewey, J. (1934) Art as Experience. [With plates.]. London: George Allen & Unwin.

Eco, U. Postscript to The Name of the Rose / Umberto Eco ; translated from the Italian by William Weaver. San Diego: San Diego : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, c1984.

 

Ellis, C. S. & Bochner, A. P. (2006) 'Analyzing Analytic Autoethnography: An Autopsy'. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 35 (4). pp 429-449.

Escobar, A. (2012) Encountering development the making and unmaking of the third world. Making and unmaking of the third world. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press.

Ethnographically speaking : autoethnography, literature, and aesthetics.  (2002) eds. Bochner, A.P. and Ellis, C., Walnut Creek, Calif. ; Oxford: Walnut Creek, Calif. ; Oxford : AltaMira.

Feyerabend, P. (1975) Against Method: outline of an anarchistic theory of knowledge. London: NLB.

Gray, C. & Malins, J. (2004) Visualizing Research: a guide to the research process in art and design. Aldershot: Ashgate.

 

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Harding, S. G. The science question in feminism / Sandra Harding. Ithaca: Ithaca : Cornell University Press, 1986.

 

Hayano, D (1979) Auto-ethnography: Paradigms, problems and prospects Human Organisation, 38(1) 99-104

 

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(onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1365-2648.1998.00853.x/abstract)

 

Mengham, R. Marc Quinn : recent werk = recent sculpture / Rod Mengham, Marc Quinn, Sue-an van der Zijpp. eds. Quinn, M. and Zijpp, S.-A.v.d., Rotterdam: Rotterdam : NAI, 2006.

 

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Muncey, T. (2010) Creating autoethnographies. London ; Thousand Oaks, CA: London ; Thousand Oaks, CA : SAGE.

 

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The Sage handbook of qualitative research.  (2005) eds. Denzin, N.K. and Lincoln, Y.S., Handbook of qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, Calif. ; London: Thousand Oaks, Calif. ; London : Sage.

Schwandt, T. A. (1996). Farewell to criteriology. Qualitative Inquiry 2(1)

 

 

Shusterman, R. (1992) Pragmatist Aesthetics: living beauty, rethinking art. Oxford: Blackwell.

 

Smith, J. K. (1984). The problem of criteria for judging interpretive inquiry. Educational Evaluation and Policy Practice 6 (4)

Spender, D. (1980) Man made language. Hammersmith: London : Pandora

Zeldin, T. (2000) Conversation: How Talk Can Change Our Lives. Harvill Press, London.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Image

Description

Artist

Date

Fig. (1)

Sketchbook images

George J

various

Fig. (2)

Porcelain maquettes

George J

2012

Fig. (3)

PowerPoint presentation page

George J

2012

Fig. (4)

Diary page

George J

2012

Fig. (5)

Images from Book

George J

2011

Fig. (6)

Duplo photograph

George J

2013

Fig. (7)

Diagram of relative human growth

unknown

unknown

Fig. (8)

"Tower of Babel'

George J

2013

Fig. (9)

'Built"

George J

2013

Fig. (10)

Colour pages from 'Mhe' book

George J

2013

Fig. (11)

Black & white pages from 'Mhe' book

George J

2013

Fig. (12)

Image of 'Once Upon A Time' book

George J

2013

Fig. (13)

'& counting' cloth book

George J

2013

Fig. (14)

Image page 7 from 'Sam Likes' book

George J

2013

Fig. (15)

School drawing

Collins S T

1989

Fig. (16)

Scribble drawing

Collins S T

2012

Fig. (17)

Louise Nursing her child

Mary Cassatt

1898

Fig. (18)

Wound

Anish Kapoor

2005

 

 

 

 

             

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Associated Research Reading :

Adams, L. (1996) The methodologies of Art: an introduction. Boulder: Westview Press.

[i]Belsey, C. (2002) Critical practice. Routledge. pp. 1 online resource (xiii, 161 p.) [Online]. Available at: http://lib.myilibrary.com?id=17739.

Burke, E. & Phillips, A. (1990) A philosophical enquiry into the origin of our ideas of the sublime and beautiful. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gilbert, J. (1998) 'Legitimising sketchbooks as a research tool in an academic setting'. Journal of Art and Design Education, 17 (3, Oct. 1998). pp 255-266.

Liss, A. (2009) Feminist art and the maternal. Minneapolis, Minn. ; London: University of Minnesota Press.

Macleod, K. & Holdridge, L. (2005) Thinking through Art: reflections on art as research. Innovations in art and design. New York: Routledge.

Meyer, R. (2003) Representing The Passions: histories, bodies, visions. Issues & debates. Los Angeles, CA: Getty Research Institute.