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.