Monday, 30 April 2012

Photographer/Artist: Oleg Dou

I have seen Oleg's work before but have often felt indifferent to them on a poetic level. I found them beautifully photographed but was unsure of them on any other underlying level. However, I recently visited his site and noticed written phrases accompanying his collections. Immediately, a love developed for his work. The written word is such a powerful tool, that it can completely affect the reaction to an artwork. It's a real struggle for an artist to know how much to reveal to the audience and I have often wondered how much I have sabotaged my work by simply giving it a title. When in group at the 'Strategies' Symposium, a fellow student randomly questioned whether titling a work as 'Untitled' was a cop out? Titling a work certainly gives a piece a different sense of identity than if it was called 'Untitled' but is either method a good vs. bad scenario? The work should speak for itself and perhaps have no real need for a title. Also, a title can give the work a narrative, which may complicate the issue the work is presenting. I've often titled my work because there was always an overwhelming need, I had to express myself through written word in addition to visual art. However, simply from reflecting on the students innocent question, I've become comfortable with the idea of labelling a work 'untitled'. 

In Oleg's collection, 'Toy Story', portraits of children in masks and head-wear are accompanied by the phrase, "WE ALL PLAY THE GOOD GUYS AS KIDS, BUT FAR FROM ALL OF US GROW UP TO BE GOOD, UPSTANDING PEOPLE". With such a powerful message in the form of written word, it immediately made the photos easily understandable. I didn't feel that this made the work "easy" to read, it just made it more identifiable and gave the artist more of a 'face' in the work. It made me want to know what else he's produced, what are his other points of view and why does he choose to work this way. It may have only produced more questions but I don't feel that is a negative point.

Recently engaging in written word incorporation, I enjoyed finding this connection in a successful contemporary artist's work. 

Cheburashka 2. 2011 - Help Japan

180×180cm C-print under Diasec. Edition of 6+2AP

Bambi. 2008

120×120cm/180×180cm C-print under Diasec. Edition of 6+2AP

Batman. 2008

120×120cm/180×180cm C-print under Diasec. Edition of 6+2AP

In the first piece, the youngest child looks like she's been photographed as part of a commission from parents who wish to have photos of their child in certain 'cutsie' type poses. However, as the collection gets older in terms of subjects' ages, the white in the skin looks like porcelain, which is giving them a less humanising image and a more art objectivity.  

After researching more about Oleg Dou and his reason for pursuing these eclectic and bizarre portraits, I found this in his recent artist statement:
"I have been creating different designs for many years. And I started photography in 2005 to mix it with design. 
The “Naked Faces” project is devoted to relationship between human’s inner world with human’s behaviour in society. The society still restricts behaviour and thought of a human being. 

This project is a kind of a protest that is to show that a person should remain who he is and that people should perceive him in the way he is. The persons presented in my works lack individuality: the eyebrows and the eyelashes are removed, the skin is smoothed. " - Oleg Dou

I couldn't believe how similar this concept was to my "Reflection of Self and Societal Image" portraits (Exhibited at Art Of Norwich 21, Church of Art, March 2012) and my other affiliated works. I now feel a bit more comfortable and less scared about what I've produced and decided to display for Degree Show!


Whilst in the Cayman Islands, I photographed Sean Gray posing whilst in his favourite spot in his home (the dining area). These were taken primarily for reference to produce a bust. My initial intentions were to create a bust where Sean's brain would be exposed at the back. However, the bust wasn't progressing very well and the realism and likeness to Sean was not apparent enough. After printing the photos and posting them on the wall in my studio, I'd find myself staring at the photos and feeling a deeper connection to them over the bust. After daily reflection, I began to see that the photos were not just interacting with me but almost with one another. It appeared to me as if Sean was examining himself, reflecting on himself and then reflecting on me, as the onlooker. Comparing this arrangement of photos to the reflection of self and societal image, I edited the photos to be more sharper; put them in black white, in order to avoid the visual interruption of colour. Also, I took the background out and replaced with black which was blended into the subject, in order for a coherent image. This was done, in order to avoid distraction and allow the subject to be clearly reflected on. Later, I would experiment with the original black and whites that had their original background, as there was a more natural presence with Sean in his comfortable setting within the dining room.  

The edited black and white photos were printed and framed them. In order to experiment for the Degree Show, I paid to install the work in the Art of Norwich Exhibition at the Church of Art. After a few days and a few visitor conversations, I began to see that the framing and separation of photos were creating a barrier in my original concept of self reflection and society's interaction and involvement. Negative thoughts on whether I had enough photographic imagery to receive a good grade plagued me. Since I couldn't use Sean as a subject, I began searching for new subjects to use photographically. I found the organisation, Bridges Unlimited for Individuals with Learning Disabilities BUILD, a non-profit community. I got a letter drawn up from Mr. Simon Granger, upon the request of Mr. Roy McGee, in charge of the Wednesday Club. After attending the clubs in my attempt to "find" a new subject or new subjects, I felt comfortable with the people there. However, the connection I have with Sean is a relationship developed over a lifetime and therefore, I felt I could only truly represent Sean in this current artistic pursuit. The other people have so much history that I don't know and understanding who they are, may need years to uncover. Not being a psychologist, sociologist nor archeologist, I felt I couldn't correctly involve myself. Perhaps, if I were more comfortable in my own-self and gained more maturity, I could take this opportunity on again and perhaps grow more as a person and artist from such a commitment and experience. Enjoying Diane Arbus voyeuristic photography, and Sophie Calle's personally narrated photographs, I thought I could approach this project. Being lucky enough to have a personal experience with my brother and presenting him as a person to other people, is a great opportunity for me to develop my sense of artistic courage and I feel pursuing this vulnerability in myself and in my work may be the hurdle to leap first before embarking on voyeuristic or additional pursuits.

Due to conversations with audiences to the work at the 'Art Of Norwich 21' Exhibition, I soon became quite anti-photography and returned to the bust. However, I did not make much improvement with the depiction of realism. However, the concept of reflection and involving the audience in the piece allowed me to experiment with the work and place it in front of a mirror, as if Sean was reflecting on himself. I realised when the audience member would view the work, there would be this need to see the face of the bust. In order to do so, the audience member would need to look into the mirror. This would immediately make the onlooker a member of the piece, creating a version of performance collaboration between subject and audience. Enjoying the idea of involving the audience member physically into the work without the member having to create or do anything too severe or unnatural, forced me to consider other uses for involving mirrors. Mirrors are very interesting objects as they can create both comfortable and uncomfortable elements within the onlooker simultaneously. Mirrors are very common and each person most likely looks into at least one everyday. They are familiar objects in most bedrooms and/or bathrooms. Looking into a mirror, is quite personal and intimate, which can lead to discomfort if sharing one. By having a bust of Sean and the audience looking into the same mirror, it produces the same concept of self-reflection and the effect other persons and an overall society can have on that reflection. 

After having tutorials with Mr. Simon Granger, it came to my attention, that the bust was actually having an adverse affect. Rather than exuding a sense of equality, the bust was directly objectifying the person it was depicting. Having a slab of clay acting as a floating head in front of a mirror was no longer as powerful as I had originally thought but had the opportunity to create other feelings and interpretations from onlookers. I began to think about painting a similar image. However, without an actual mirror, the same incorporation would not occur. Therefore, I thought of painting Sean, looking into a mirror, with the reflection breaking the fourth wall, and looking directly at the onlooker. This, I initially, felt would engage the audience members and produce the same message. After further reflection and conversations over the idea to my tutor and other peers, it became quite evident that this image may produce quite eerie and uncomfortable feelings for the audience. This would lead me to returning to my original photos and consider ways to allow more interaction from the audience. Producing work where the audience was carefully taken into consideration, was one of the main learning outcomes for this term. I knew I needed my work to be non-agressive, reflective, interesting and allow the audience almost complete freedom of thought and interpretation. Mr. Simon Granger explained this was hard for an artist to do but taking the ego out of the work was essential sometimes, in order to produce a greater audience reaction as opposed to a selfish one. 

I began experimenting with sketches, painting, sculpture, photographs and installation work. The first two paintings, I used my photos for reference but used the medium of painting to allow more expressiveness to be exuded. It was my intention to represent Sean's incredible spirit and energy. The black and white painting, I decided to merge features of Sean as an adult and child as a test of merging his past and present identity. Being unsatisfied with the outcome, I moved on to drawing and began sketching, again attempting to present the expressiveness and energy in Sean's personality. 

Going away from portraiture, I attempted using more symbolic imagery, such as the concept of perfection versus imperfection through use of organic materials such as eggs. In traditional art, the shape of the egg has been compared to being a perfect object. Knowing this, I began to transform the perfection of the egg into a new and different object with the use of string and plastic. This method was inspired by Judith Scott's wrapping of found objects and Christo and Jeanne-Claude Wrapping series of works. Judith Scott, is a well known artist who was born with Down Syndrome and later developed blindness. Piggy backing on her fame, this comparison in the work may allow audiences to associate and build up the idea of transforming what is perfect and normalising the different. I felt no clear message was developing from this process and only vague and perhaps misinterpreted intentions would result from varied audience members. In order to allow the work to more easily recognisable, I began to incorporate my photographs of Sean. With my photos and the use of other objects, I was able to explore varied methods of exposing various points of views on disability, and prejudices. By incorporating the written word, I was able to reveal more and create a form of narrative for an audience to identify with. A mannequin entangled in string, a list of positive and negative adjectives, and a photograph of Sean appearing to be looking at the list of words, were all placed into a wooden box. This piece was to explore on the concept of entrapment and the confining nature of categorising and labelling people through simple and vague descriptive words. Also, I would lay the box on its back, resting the mannequin on its back as well, with a photo of Sean where names and labels, such as "different, weird, stupid, misunderstood" etc were written in grey ink across his face. It was intended to resemble that of a coffin or capsule where self-images were laid to die due to the inflections of labels.

I began to incorporate other forms of narrative and written word, revealing more about Sean specifically. This would create more vulnerability and perhaps allow audiences to be exposed to the reality of a specific person with a learning challenge. These memories and reveals inspired incorporations of natural materials such as roses and eggs. I recounted a time in Sean's childhood when he would playfully reply to people with the word "egg". To this day, I am not sure why he used the word egg, but I found it interesting that he used this word, which can be regarded as the perfect form. Sean loved controversy and seeing people get upset would amuse him. Our mother became quite fed up at this method of communication and asked Sean to stop acting retarded but he still only laughed at her anger. I remember thinking Sean was almost immune to harsh words and terminology. It showed a great sense of strength that he could react with laughter not anger. Another recount was more recent. Sean wasn't speaking and I began art therapy sessions with him to encourage a method of expression. To encourage conversation, I asked Sean what he was painting and he replied (speaking to me for the first time in two years) with "roses". It revealed the power art can have on people, on artists. I began researching other ways in which art and disability merged. Finding Arne Svenson's 'About Face' series was most influential where Svenson used his photography as a learning tool and method of awareness. In About Face, at The Andy Warhol Museum, photographer Arne Svenson tries to humanize the disorder, and in the cleverest way possible. Svenson seems to ask: If one symptom of autism is a flat expression and no eye contact, then why not try to connect the subject to an emotion? Svenson's portraits are a one-two punch: Each includes a black-and-white picture of a child with a blank background. Then, behind that photograph, a second picture, this one color, features the same child having an emotional reaction. The neutral visage becomes emotive, responsive. For a moment, the coldness associated with autism thaws.

Inspired by Svenson's work of using two images to gain awareness, I returned to self-reflection concepts and pasted a photo of Sean onto a mirror with either written word or other photos to be viewed from his reflection in the mirror. It allowed 2-dimensional depictions of Sean to react together - a different method to the 'Art of Norwich 21' display. 

I then returned again to my original images experimenting with varied affects, such as colouring, sketching or painting over photographic prints, usually covering over Sean's face or skin. I was unsure for my reasoning in attempting this method but this transformative method, forced me to carefully review my images and consider other methods to incorporate into the photos to clearly present Sean as a person, as a personality with a clear past, much like any audience member has. 

In order to adapt them and to allow the audience to see Sean for what he really is; a person not a condition, I re-visited ideas from Year 2, where I attempted methods of double exposure photos, and digitally manipulated art pieces by using the digital transformative method of varied Photoshop techniques. I began to play with various images being brought into a single one. It was hard figuring out what photos complimented each other, how many photos should be allowed into one image and what effect were these new images having on audiences. With no time to produce another exhibition, like 'Art of Norwich 21' to experiment, I produced digital replications with no background and some with a traditional exhibition space, similar to the allocated space I was given. Placing various images, allowed me to consider placement, scale and specific complimentary works. This aided me in narrowing done on which specific images to use and merge for the Degree Show. 

In attempts to confirm my options, I revisited old exhibitions and looked back at my entry into the NUCA "Position" exhibition, which helped me greatly in my decision making. The photo I entered, was of Sean painting and after speaking with Holly Stubbings (curator), I was informed the work was curated to belong to the social response to the concept of position. Recalling my entry form, I asked the reader to consider being in the position of an artist with a learning challenge or other disability where a potential audience has the opportunity of being lessened in number, due to that condition. 

Realising that this was a social response in the desire for human equality that was accepted into an open exhibition, made me feel as if Sean was being accepted socially and in an artistic stand point. I felt I should exhibit Sean, as a man, as a person in a social scene and other appropriate and communal scenes to exhibit his relevance in his own life and in other peoples lives. However, being away from Sean, meant that I could only use the photos I had taken recently and photos from his past, which my mother or father had taken. Appropriating work where my parents were the original authors, helped concrete the idea that this work was an extension of a family portrait, where Sean was the main star. By re-contextualising the appropriated work and merging the work into new ones, where I am the sole author, introduced a new subject of art for me. Appropriation art is a fundamental aspect I have only explored now and I am quite pleased with the opportunity to journey into new ways of art that I flet uncomfortable about. By doing this, I am placing my ego out of the equation and making my work a completely contrasted extension of myself. After researching the concept of Appropriation Art, in order to morally and lawfully present my artwork, I discovered that appropriation of visual culture, in some form or another, has always been part of human history. Art History and art historical practice has a long tradition of borrowing and using styles and forms from what came before. Students of art and established artists have always learned and progressed by copying and borrowing. Cultural creation began with appropriation; borrowing images, sounds, concepts from the surrounding world and re-interpreting these elements. Appropriation can be understood as a key component of the way in which humans learn, communicate and progress. Originally, I felt since certain versions of appropriation were controversial amongst artists and other specialists, that I would be merging myself into more controversial art than I felt the work deserved. However, I understand appropriation more and am more comfortable using it. 

Two images have been merged into one; one from the past and one of the present. There will be three total pieces exhibited in my space. I have calculated the most appropriate sizes for printing, so the images are curated traditionally. The images will be centered on the wall with equal space between each. They will all be the same scale. Rather than going with my overwhelming desire to print big, I am choosing a more traditional approach because I do not want the audience to feel as if I am shoving an idea down their throats. Rather, they should be able to approach the work without the feeling of uncomfortable emotional penetration. Also, I do not want to overwhelm the space and retract any gaze from the other exhibiting student artists in my vicinity. My traditional concept of curation comes from the basics that were taught to me as an Intern at the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands in 2007/08. When assisting in curation, the Head Curator, Mr David Bridgeman and co-curator Mrs. Natalie Urquhart, taught me that the work shouldn't be placed to high nor too low on the wall, but at eye level and that often the best pieces aren't of large scale but of medium scale. Due to their experience as art historians, artists, and curators, their input was very valuable. Curators are unable to control the scale of an artists work but since I am acting as an artist and curator in the creation and curation of my work, I felt a need to approach the work with this lesson in mind, so the work could be represented as best it possibly could. 

In connection with curation, I contacted Emily Crane, curator of the Avi Gupta's Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts exhibition, Metro Imaging in connection with printing and mounting of photographs and Michael Kerkmann, of Galerie Buchholz, in connection with Wolfgang Tillman's method of installation. Researching these various methods, allowed me to discover the best method for my work to be installed. I realised using minimalist methods would be most appropriate, unframed and mounted to thin card and then mounted to the wall through velcro. This method will deter interruptions from external circumstances, such as heavy or distracting frames, protruding mounts and will allow the work to be more cohesive with its environment.  

I feel confident, rather than producing multiple pieces and cluttering the space or printing overly large pieces to exhaust the space, a series of three images in appropriate scale and equivalent sizes allow a key sense of symmetry to occur. In addition, the use of three images, I have related to the narrative structure that is commonly divided into three sections or acts; set-up, conflict and resolution. Although, the three images are not created to reflect these sections specifically, the unconscious connection of 'three' should be made for audiences that have read or seen narrative structures in books, films or other art forms. This relationship should help to create an immediate and unconscious connection between art work and audience, as well as create a form of narrative through their reflection of the art. The connection of narrative is important as the person being depicted, story is being told in the form of imagery; his past, his present and the possibility of his future. His future cannot be literally translated through imagery but perhaps after audiences reflections taken from the work, new relationships and ideals can be made or old ones altered, creating a specific future for Sean Gray and others labelled 'different'. The more links available for an onlooker to have with the work, the more possibility there is for a deeper connection and realisation of equality between them and the subject, resulting in the success of my intentions through my art.  

To ensure they are completed professionally and to the highest quality, I am entrusting 'Jessops Digital Printing', to print the photos and having them mounted on card by 'Fabulous Frames', because these businesses are local, which means easy access and transport. Also, they are cost-effective. 

Friday, 27 April 2012

Visual Tests, Ideas and Experiments

Disability in the 20th Century

"In the first half of the century, eugenicist ideas, along with charitable initiatives, led to increased institutionalisation or sterilisation of disabled people. In 37 states in the USA, born-deaf women and anyone with an IQ (Intelligence Quotient measured on a biased test) under the age of 70 were sterilised in the 1920s and 1930s. Seventeen states still had these laws on the statute book in the 1980s.
The UK Mental Deficiency Act of 1913 firmly categorised disabled people, as follows:
Idiots - persons in whose case there exists mental defectiveness of such a degree that they are unable to guard themselves against common physical dangers.
Imbeciles - persons in whose case there exists mental defectiveness which, though not amounting to idiocy, is yet so pronounced that they are incapable of managing themselves and their affairs or, in the case of children, of being taught to do so.
Feeble minded - persons in whose case there exists mental defectiveness which, though not amounting to imbecility, is yet so pronounced that they require care, supervision and control for their own protection or for the protection of others. Or, in the case of children, that they appear to be permanently incapable by reason of such defectiveness of receiving proper benefit from the instruction in ordinary school.
Moral defective - persons in whose case there exists mental defectiveness, coupled with strong vicious or criminal propensities and who require care, supervision and control for the protection of others.
50,000 children with communication and physical impairments, and more than 500,000 adults were incarcerated in institutions in the first half of the 20th century (many were released in the 1980s). Children with significant learning difficulties were deemed ineducable and those with less significant learning difficulty went to educationally sub-normal schools until 1973."

The 20th century was a time for idealism to progress in Eugenics, and develop ways of depressing people who were labelled "defective", much like how one might label broken machinery. Not much had changed in creating an inferiority in certain people, it had only developed into how to manage, sterilise and devalue the differences in people. It has been quite startling to discover the past supporters of the British Eugenics Society, Winston Churchill, H.G. Wells and D.H. Lawrence. Churchill was recorded in the Hansard as saying, "The unnatural and increasingly rapid growth of the feebleminded classes, coupled with a steady restriction among all the thrifty, energetic and superior stocks, constitutes a race danger. I feel that the source from which the stream of madness is fed should be cut off and sealed up before another year has passed." Even though Churchill has been documented as having a lisp and suffering from depression. 

Winston Churchill, supporter of the British Eugenics Society. 

Disability and the 19th Century

"The 19th century saw greater segregation of disabled people. The workforce had to be more physically uniform to perform routine factory operations. Disabled people were rejected. They were viewed as 'worthy poor', as opposed to work-shy 'unworthy poor', and given Poor Law Relief (a place in the Workhouse or money from public funds). Disabled people became more and more dependent on the medical profession for cures, treatments and benefits.
In the last part of the 19th century, a growing number of scientists, writers and politicians began to interpret Darwin's theories of evolution and natural selection for their own ends. These 'eugenicists' believed that they could improve the quality of the human race by selective breeding. They argued that people with impairments, particularly those born with one (a congenital condition), would weaken the gene pool of the nation and reduce competitiveness.
Increasingly, disabled people were shut away in single-sex institutions for life, or sterilised. Separate special schools and day-centres were set up that denied disabled and non-disabled people the day-to-day experience of living and growing up together.
Eugenicists campaigned for and won these measures using false science. Mary Dendy, an active eugenicist campaigner in the 1890s, in Feeble Mindedness of Children of School Age, asserted that children classified as mentally handicapped should be:
"detained for the whole of their lives" as the only way to "stem the great evil of feeble-mindedness in our country."
This led to a Royal Commission on Mental Deficiency, which was taken over by eugenicist thinking.
These theories became important at a time when industrialised countries, such as Germany, France, Britain and the USA were competing to create empires. It was important to empire builders to feel superior to other races.
An International Congress in Milan, in 1881, outlawed Sign language, as it was feared that deaf people would outbreed hearing people."

The 19th century produced even greater hurdles for those with disabilities to overcome. Social development was degenerative in a time of industrialisation and growth. Work was heavily based on the physically fit, leaving no use for those with disabilities. As I pointed out in my dissertation, "Breaking the Mould", disability exists because society has yet to completely adhere to the needs of its people. In the 19th century, forward thinking and development of empires complicated a hierarchy in status for people of varied abilities. At this time, adhering to a need for city progression and perfection created anti-progression socially.   

Disability and the Renaissance

"The Renaissance, based on Classical Greek and Roman ideals, resurrected the idea of the body beautiful. Thousands of paintings showed idealised human forms with perfect complexions, even though many people had impairments and most would have been scarred by smallpox.
One example is the Duke of Urbino. There are several well-known paintings of him, all showing the same profile. It is known that the other side of his face was disfigured."

A Profile Portrait of the Duke of Urbino.

Disability in Feudal and Medieval Europe

"In feudal and medieval Europe, most disabled people were accepted as part of the family or group, working on the land or in small workshops. But at times of social upheaval, plague or pestilence, disabled people were often made scapegoats as sinners or evil people who brought the disasters upon society.
One reaction to this was that during times of plague, thousands of people, called flagellants, wandered around Europe beating themselves to try to make themselves more 'holy' so they didn't get the plague. It was believed that if you were penitent you would not become ill or disabled. This horror of becoming disfigured or different was extremely powerful. If you were different you were somehow marked and this strong prejudice continues to the present day.
In the 15th century, black magic and evil forces were felt to be ever-present. Martin Luther, founder of Protestantism, speaking of congenitally impaired children, said:
"Take the changeling child to the river and drown it."
In 16th-century Holland, those who caught leprosy were seen as sinners and had all their worldly goods confiscated by the state so they had to be supported by the alms of those who were not stricken. If these penitent sinners were humble enough, it was believed their reward was heaven after they died."

Thursday, 26 April 2012

ANCIENT GREECE AND ROME: The Human Body and Idealism

“In the West, ideas about the human body have been dominated by Ancient Greek and Roman ideas of the 'body beautiful'. This ideal, represented by the perfect physique of classical sculptures, such as the discus-thrower, was widely admired, particularly amongst the patrician (ruling) classes.
The philosopher, Aristotle, advised getting rid of a child if it was imperfect. Greek law even dictated that a newborn baby was not really a child until seven days after birth, so that an imperfect child could be disposed of with a clear conscience. From these beliefs arose the enduring idea that 'good' looked beautiful and the deformed and disabled were 'bad'.” 

The Townley Discobolus at the British Museum, with incorrectly restored head.

Aristotle, being revered through the ages, as a respected philosopher, it is almost imaginable that such an advisement took place. It is certainly not public knowledge but an aspect of history that involves research on the particular subject. Knowing that the respected norm and law of Greek land, considered ridding a disabled child of his/her life, leads me to understanding why persons with various labelled disabilities, in contemporary society are categorised on the lower level of a cultural hierarchy. Idealism is an historic facet of human culture that has evolved yet still very present in modern society. It shows that people want more than what reality provides them, yet it has affected the "non-perfect" persons of society. But what could be most idealistic, is if people started being grateful what they already have and what already exists in reality.

I recall a conversation with a fellow student at NUCA; she explained that her practice was involved with the genetic programming associated with food. Through her research she found that a genetic link in humans desire for sweet food dated back to the Neanderthals. This desire resulted from the massive availability of savoury things such as meat and fish overbalancing on the amount of honey available, creating a yearning for the less available foods and a human feature that has evolved and yet still exists. 

There is a definitive feature in humans, where the is usually a strong desire for something they don't have, can't have or will never have. However, a Utopia is not so far-fetched. Perhaps if people stopped trying to fix things, perfect things and instead worked on themselves, and appreciated what is rather than fixated on what could be, a Utopia, an idealistic world could be realised. 

Current Written Statement for the Bishops Art Prize 2012

I have a dream, similar to that of Mr. Martin Luther King Jr.; a desire for human equality. Growing up with an older brother born with Downs Syndrome, I became involved in an outer world and a society built up on a hierarchy involving status, not only based on race, religion and wealth, but on the physical and mental condition one possessed. With my photographic entry, I present the opportunity for the onlooker to make eye contact with a person, enabling equalisation between them and creating reflection on the human condition. 

"Portrait of a Man", Anne-Marie Gray
2012 Bishop's, "I have a dream", Art Prize Entry.  

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Personal Reaction to the 'Shifting Perspectives', ongoing, travelling exhibition.

Public exhibitions have created a larger audience following and allowed for wider exposure.
Another approach at achieving wide exposure is continual or permanent exhibition. Through
photography, Shifting Perspectives, an ongoing, traveling exhibition has allowed artists, such
as Richard Bailey and Fiona Yarron-Field, an international platform to present political
awareness of learning disability, specifically people with Downs Syndrome. What is most
interesting is the invitation to photographers with Downs to use the exhibition as an
opportunity to exhibit their own work. The exhibiting team, therefore, creates an
exemplification on equality for disabled and non-disabled artists, through use of the annual
competition for photographers with Downs Syndrome. Having the annual, well-advertised
competition allows the public to be aware of such opportunities presented to people with
disabilities and perhaps affecting their perceptions without even seeing the work. (Down- Other opportunities are well focused to the public, such as Shape Arts'
upcoming Open Exhibition, with the theme being any work related to any definition or
meaning of disability. Initiatives such as these continue to not only support arts for the
disabled but open up peoples minds to further developing opportunities and normalizing the
reality of disability. (

Marc Quinn, Yinka Shonibare and the Trafalgar Square's Fourth Plinth

Upon its reveal, BBC News presented the factual debates over Marc Quinn's statue of Alison
Lapper, providing quotes from the artist, model and critics, detailing specifically that Robert
Simon, editor of the British Art Journal, believed it to be a horrible piece but not for the
obvious subject matter but for the aesthetics. (BBC, 2005) However, it appeared that the
fresh, white marble and impacting girth of the sculpture were amongst the very aspects of
the piece that were forcing audiences opinions of beauty and grace. Elements that are
reminiscent of the Venus De Milo, an intentional comparison created by Marc Quinn. The
aesthetics of the piece, set against a political setting of London's Trafalgar Square, created
an iconographic piece, not just in relating beauty to disability but to the developments of
psychological, social and political attitudes of disability awareness and even heroism in
comparison to the background of Nelson HMS Victory.

Marc Quinn, 'Alison Lapper', The Fourth Plinth, Trafalgar Square, London, 2005-2007

Another exhibitor of the Trafalgar's Square's Fourth Plinth, Yinka Shonibare, unveiled on May
24th, 2010, "Nelson's Ship in a Bottle", which celebrated the creative and economically
dynamic city of London and attempted to capture the globalization of the city. The Mayor of
London, Boris Johnson, thanked Shonibare for the way in which he incapsulated history in
his work of art. (BBC NEWS, 2010) It is evident in the work, his Nigerian background is
integrated into the historic English victory, through the use of African material used for the
sails of the ship. This mergence of culture is a representation of London's multi-cultural
community. Shonibare makes no connection to his disability nor references disability as a
cultural factor in this work. However, having Shonibare, a known disabled artist exhibit at the
Trafalgar Square and with a work making reference to Nelson's ship, it only reprises the
efforts of predecessor, Marc Quinn, in appropriating disability heroism.

Yinka Shonibare,"Ship In a Bottle", The Fourth Plinth, Trafalgar Square, London, 2010- 2012

Monday, 23 April 2012

Jeppe Hein and The Reflective Surface

Using Mirrors immediately transports a work of art into an interactive piece, because of the reflective surface, we commonly interact with on a daily basis. With Hein's “Mirror Wall” this common interaction is distorted, literally. He describes the 'Mirror Wall' and his other sculptures as having a social quality. This immediately creates an inner and/or outer dialogue between the piece and the audience. By seeing our own reflection and other persons reflections, we see repeated human forms that are identical to us, producing a comfortable and familiar relationship but in a different context from that of our bedroom and bathroom.

'Mirror Wall', Jeppe Hein, 2010

“Something similar happens when visitors get close to Mirror Wall (2010). What at first appears to be a large but straightforward mirror begins to move slightly when approached. Viewing one’s vibrating reflection in it and the accompanying distorted backdrop of the gallery space creates a sense of dizziness and a strange feeling of separation from the familiar. It prompts us instinctively to re-calibrate our spatial awareness and our relationship to what we see and where we are.

Hein’s experiential, perceptual magic tricks are his vehicle for raising engagement between art and its audience. He makes work that can only be experienced through participation, expanding our notion of what art is or could be. ‘For me, the concept of sculpture is closely linked with communication… By challenging the physical attention of the viewer, an active dialogue between artwork, surrounding and other visitors is established that lends the sculpture a social quality.’”

Choi Xoo-Ang and his "Islet of Asperger" series

At first look, I find Xoo-Ang's work to be most alien in some forms, to the point of being eerie and almost monstrous. That point of view, isn't one I'd wish audiences to receive from my work but its interesting to see the adverse and strong message Xoo-Ang is clearly depicting in his work. He obviously, intentionally developed “ugly” forms, most likely due to the fact that people with Asperger's are commonly viewed this way due to their capabilities in social interaction. After a while of viewing the work and/or revisiting the work, there's a sense of empathy you feel for the sculptures and the people they are depicting. A deep feeling of comfort and assistance, overwhelms me. It makes me think there is a quality in the human race that feels a need to assist and support. Perhaps, due to their/our own afflictions with negative social interactions and experiences.

"Islet of Asperger" series, Choi Xoo-Ang

"Islet of Asperger" series, Choi Xoo-Ang

"Islet of Asperger" series, Choi Xoo-Ang

"Asperger syndrome is a disorder closely related to autism. While it differs from it in relative preservation of cognitive and linguistic capabilities, it is unmistakably stamped with difficulties in social interaction. Because people with Asperger syndrome cannot recognize and display emotions, they lack the ability to act empathically and are often perceived as “cold”.  Artist Choi Xoo-Ang uses the implications of these pathological symptoms, in his “Islet of Asperger” series, to strongly comment on the individual in a society, whose social persona has suffocated the free thinking and free acting man inside. All that remains of these individuals are over-sized sensory organs, even incomplete in numbers expected in humans, that have evolved to great dimensions to be able to replace what was a mind. These creatures only seem to act and think independently but in fact are guided solely by social conformism, of which they are now totally dependent. They have no courage, no will and are ever growing closer to a vegetative state in terms of social roles.  It’s an ugly reduction of the ideal state of human, and Mr. Xoo-Ang has done a terrifyingly superb job of capturing the pure essence of it. His sculptures are of concrete, colored only in small areas, significant to the message they convey, and bland everywhere else. The message is strong in both it’s visual impact and in reflections it raises in our minds. Some might find content below disturbing."

Damien Hirst's "Virgin Mother"

After viewing Damen Hirst's “Virgin Mother”, I soon developed the concept of producing a Bust where the brain would be exposed. Therefore, I feel this development may have been inspired by this work. Although, not associated with or pertaining to disability concepts, the dissection of the body, in order to reveal the physical nature of the inner body, allowed me to consider the concept that all inner functions of the body were usually physically identical, at least to the untrained eye. The inner body forces a universal link between all ethnicities and various diversities in the human race. Damien Hirst's “Virgin Mother” humanizes a holy symbol, and elevated symbol. I felt, just as Hirst has humanised religious figures, perhaps this is the answer to humanising and normalising people who have disability. Later, I would realise this concept wasn't right and would end up objectifying the subject. It humanised the Virgin Mother, as she was already elevated in status but since people with disability are not commonly elevated but rather de-elevated members of society, my approach would only de-evaluate them as members of a complicated society.

"Virgin Mother" by Damien Hirst 

On further inspection of Hirst's work, “Virgin Mother”, I associated it with medical study and studies of Leonardo Da Vinci. I ended up reverting it back to a more simplified artwork, that non—specialist members of society may do and was happy with this association as I felt, I was trying to relate with audience members. 

Chuck Close

Being interested in portraiture, I felt a need to explore varied techniques and ways to express my views. I researched the work of Chuck Close. His work is very expressive, however does not encompass the mood or energy of the subject but rather the sitter is made rather static. His work ranges from photo realism, black and whites to colourful, almost abstract works. His printed scales are often quite large, which I really enjoy. It is hard to reflect on a deeper meaning over the incredible rendering and attention to detail involved in his work, since there is little emotion or personality exuded from the subject in the portrait. However, due to his technique, there is an immense amount of energy exuding from the works. The subject is no longer important but the concept of showmanship is the key showcase. 

His work helped encourage earlier painting and sketches of mine, in ways to produce energy, in which the subject is exhibiting. By doing this, my technique would be complimenting the subject and allowing both to be harmonious.

Image showing impact of Scale in Gallery


Self Portrait 

Chuck Close is one of the world's leading modern artists. His art focuses on portraits of himself and his family and friends, often produced at a very large scale. Close typically begins with a photograph of a face, creating a painting or print through a complex grid-based reconstruction of the image that he accomplishes by hand through one of many techniques that are unique to Close's work. His paintings are even more impressive, given that Close had to relearn how to use his hands following a 1988 spinal infection that left him a quadriplegic.
Close was born in Monroe, Washington in 1940. He graduated from the University of Washington (BFA, art) in 1962 and from Yale (MFA, art) in 1964. He was the 1997 UW Alumnus Summa Laude Dignatus - the highest university honor for one of its graduates. Close's work is included in the collections of numerous museums, including the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Guggenheim Museum (New York), and the Tate Gallery (London). The New York Museum of Modern Art held a special exhibit of Close's paintings and prints in 1998; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York held an exhibit on Close's prints in 2004.
We are proud to have three examples of Chuck Close's prints in the Gates Commons of the Allen Center. Emma is a remarkable 113-color Japanese-style woodcut that Close produced in collaboration with Japanese woodcut artist Yasu Shibata. Production of the Emma print took over eighteen months to complete. Also in the Gates commons is an etching of Close's daughter, Georgia, made completely from impressions of Close's fingerprint, and an incredibly detailed linoleum-cut self-portrait.”

Ryan Gander, the incorporation of "self" in art.

Although a wheelchair user, his work isn't always associated with the concept of disability but in 2011, his work was exhibited in Venice Biennale, where an action-figure sized sculpture represented him while falling from a wheelchair. He explained it as “a self portrait in the worst possible position”. This work exuded a deep sense of vulnerability. His head on the floor, as if completely fed up with his position as a wheelchair user and his eyes closed, as if reflecting on his position. Perhaps the scale is made small, because that is his state of mind when in such a physical position. Whilst lying there, there are thoughts of “will he bother to get up?”, “what are his reasons for getting up?”. Knowing the association between the self-portrait and the artist, we can surmise his reasons for getting up and getting over falling down as being, his continuation with work as an artist, the love for his family, his wife and daughter. Having a background of the work and the artists life, makes further associations and resolutions in reflection, more accessible.

Since I am not a person with a severe mental or physical disability, I cannot fully emerge myself into the life of someone who does but by growing up with someone who is dear to me, it is much more accessible to understand the complications associated with having a labelled disability. By producing work that is directly associated with my brother, my relationship with his disability would be more clear to those who know my association with him. Leaving the “self” out of the relationship and remaining objective when producing and exhibiting the work, will allow more freedom of thought from the audience. When exhibiting before, I was quite vocal about the subject being my brother and it has been a learning experience and leaded to my dissolution in vocally associating Sean and myself. 

The Artwork Nobody Knows, 2011.
140 x 140 x 15 cm - 55.1 x 55.1 x 5.9 (plinth), 15 x 7 x 5 cm - 5.9 x 2.8 x 2 (figure)