Research Methodologies - Lectures / by Ally McGinn

As part of the Research Methodology module, we have been part of a lecture series. I have made extensive notes from each lecture, which have not, for the most part, formed pages on this blog. However that they have been influential is impossible to deny.

The most influential session was today's, and as a nod to the series as a whole, and this individual session, I'm going to summaries some of the most important points here.

Please note - the following writing comes from notes made in the lecture and my own summation and reflection post-lecture.

Andrew Southall

One of the staff at Bath Spa University, head of the MA in visual culture. Works with a primarily photographic practice, and is interested in the nature of representation in photography. (Southall, 2017)

 Andrew Southall (2016)  Turned Timber.  Bromide Print. 50.17 x 58.42 cm.

Andrew Southall (2016) Turned Timber. Bromide Print. 50.17 x 58.42 cm.

Andrew described his practice through a series of works that have explored the making and creation of pieces of Shaker furniture. The exploration of these works is through a dynamic process of representation and presentation. He describes being driven by a sense of the thing itself and the fleeting nature of that representation.
(Southall, 2017) He enjoys the associations that come through the work, including the dynamic between truth and fiction, aesthetics and commercialism, function and purpose.

Andrew works with a knowledge of traditional conventions, to better understand ways those traditions shape the assumptions that come through adherence to those traditions. (Southall, 2017)

I think that Andrews talk, and particularly his interest in the play of truth and fiction for aesthetic purposes, seem to imply that aesthetics are for consumption. Given my growing interest in the impact of capitalism this is a question that I find very interesting.

Andrew describes his practice in terms of an interest in ‘calibration’. Calibrating our experience through imagery. He began to make works that explored the idea of calibration, and different forms of measuring things in life - often things that don’t need measuring.
(Southall, 2017)

This includes a wonderful piece that measures the weight of a stone (and arbitrary stone, that relates to the English unit of measurement) and defines the weight of that stone as ‘1’. This piece is visually and contextually arresting and reminds me of the subversive language of Amikam Toren.

Andrew finds the history of measurements quite fascinating, and admittedly, he has passed that interest onto me.

Other works have begun to explore the idea of representation in the present, creating artworks that I want to see in person. These works contain small ‘calibrated’ moments, often employing film and traditional photographic methods, with a unique twist.

An interesting point raised through the lecture was the nature of drawing. Andrew presented drawing as a representation of an initial idea (which it often is in the process of artists and makers). Which then shifts drawing as a representation of an original into an interesting dynamic. (Southall, 2017) In Andrew’s case, this is seen in the drawings that he uses as guides to make the pieces of furniture, but this notion has relevance for other uses of drawing. Especially considering my growing inclusion of drawing in my studio practice.

From this process, of recreating a piece of furniture from a drawing, Andrew has noted the prevalence of time, as a factor of the research, but also in the process itself. (Southall, 2017) This can be seen as another link, or response, to capitalism, in which we arguably take very little time in the making of things, and far more in the act of choosing them.

(Note added later - It's worth noting, and interrupting the flow to say, that I listened to the capitalism podcast in the morning and wrote a post on Marxism and capitalism throughout the day, so it's likely that I saw that link above others due to that thought occupying my mind. There are many other readings of this observation. For example, the link to the idea of the art object as unique due to the time taken, by a skilled individual, to make it. OR time as a reference to presence in the studio, which is a far more relevant association to my work.)

Once Andrew had finished building the wooden settee he took it to a forest, and photographed it in the landscape, which included the types of trees the wood in the chair came from. Represented in this way, in a picturesque landscape, shows the work in a new perspective. We are more used to thinking about the means of representation as the ‘thing’ that is contemplated, not the landscape itself. (Southall, 2017) This idea relates profoundly to my investigations of the studio and gallery, and the space of display.

This piece, and the relating series are planned as a form of ‘chain reaction’. Andrew has wonderful plans to take the pieces of furniture into various places, conducting interviews with various people. Documents of those interviews, and subjects of future interviews will form the backbone of the work. Andrew won't plan interviews beyond the first few, allowing suggestions for other interviewees coming from the interview themselves. (Southall, 2017)

With a focus on the lived experience Andrews process relies on a process of reproduction and representation, challenging normalised assumptions. We tell ourselves that something is real, and interact with it in ‘real’ ways, however the study of it, and the ‘truth’ of that reality is something far different.

Lydia Halcrow

Lydia is currently studying her PhD at Bath Spa. She came to speak to us about her practice, which is extremely interesting and i would highly recommend looking into.
Her PhD work is ‘An investigation of abandoned places through contemporary painting and mark making’. With more of a focus on mark making as things have progressed.
(Halcrow, 2017)

 Lydia Halcrow (Unknown)  The Black Ground IV.  Ink, Graphite and Gesso on OS Map 139. Size unspecified.

Lydia Halcrow (Unknown) The Black Ground IV. Ink, Graphite and Gesso on OS Map 139. Size unspecified.

Lydia’s practice is based on the process of walking, through specific landscapes, and recording and responding to that landscape. During the walks she uses various processes to record marks, and map the walks. In the research she is exploring the history of the landscapes,academically and through personal experience, of herself and her grandmother. (Halcrow, 2017)

Dealing with the fleeting nature of memory and the materiality of place, Lydia’s work is creative and conceptually representational.

Lydia describes walking as a method of unpicking the reality of an unreliable, changeable, source. Investigating what's under the surface, in place and in memory.

Using painterly and drawing methods of mapping her work returns to the notion of the grid, in various ways. She makes small ‘things’ (metal scraped against her shoes and the floor, clay pressed against the hull of an abandoned ship) which form larger grids, growing as the work progresses. She also takes maps (of the location) on the walks. She creates rubbings, paintings, and drawings on top of these papers to create paintings that explore the reality of the landscape, and the act of walking, in different ways.(Halcrow, 2017)

She explores the experience of being in the location in line with an exploration of the context of the place. Lydia sometimes includes written records and observations of the walks she takes in layers of the work. Something she mentions wanting to explore in more detail as her PhD continues.
(Halcrow, 2017)

For me this re-iterates an idea i have had recently. To add reflections, and potentially some of these blog posts, into the work itself. Probably in pencil.

Lydia quotes the grids of John Virtue as a source of inspiration. These are amalgamations of small drawings and paintings that give a snapshot of an ongoing narrative.
While walking our attention is in a state of constant shift, this method of presentation works with those ideas. The viewer's eye is drawn around the space in varying ways, and for varying reasons. Like the experience of being in the place, each experience would be slightly different.

She also noted that when you repeat a walk you are then influenced by the previous walk. This is another important idea, the influence of repeated activity, that i would like to come back to in the future. (Halcrow, 2017)

Mapping is an important part of her practice, including notions of scale. Lydia notes that maps are seen as an accurate representation of information, but that information is tailored, and far from total. (Halcrow, 2017) It is also worth noting that the fact that maps are generally created by humans, or by machines made by humans, adds a layer of fallibility to them.

The ‘maps’ made by Lydia are no less important for the difference in information exchanged. Which maps are more accurate? An aerial view, or a more in depth exploration, as we see in her works. Why do we map certain things and not others. Why not map things 1:1.

Lydia mentioned a hidden layer in painting, the ghost layer. Which is something i must look into in more detail (Halcrow, 2017).

Lydia’s work deals with layers, scale, erasure and multiple viewpoints. Echoes of decay and entropy are evident in the output. She renders clear something that was unnavigable.

Her process developed through a walking methodology. Capturing visual motifs that are distinct to that place. It is a phenomenological practice. Exploring image and material. She spoke of the importance materiality is to the practice, the textures she is walking over and observing directly. Letting that point the direction the work takes. (Examples being the use of clay taken from the estuary and salt in Porlock) (Halcrow, 2017)

These are her own series of maps. Time spent in the place develops a familiarity with it. From that familiarity there comes an unfamiliarity, because you look again. In a similar way to the effect of a familiar word over and over again, changing the perceptions of it.

Working In the coast brings the issue of tidal changes, which washes away the immediate history. Bringing a sense of urgency to her practice. (Halcrow, 2017)

Lydia brought up an interesting point and one that fits with my current passions - presence. The more you are present the more you see.

She is certainly a processed led artist. Once you answer one question you find many more. Through presence and process, you find more and more, into a nearly endless process.

She describes not being fixated on the final object or output but instead allowing the process and materials to shape the nature of the work.

Reflection

The reason I have included this lecture over others was the combination of two lectures describing practices that seemed to fit with the methodology of my own experimentation.

While the subject matter is vastly different, and these are not the only lecture we have had, there are the lectures about practice-led-research that have come after my recent shift in the studio and research. Therefore I believe I have found these two speakers particularly inspiring both because they are brilliantly questioning practices, and because I feel more confident in where I am and what I am doing, and so ready to see those practices more in-line with my own rather than something in the far distance that I hope to aspire to. (For my own sake I must clarify - this is not to say that I believe I have reached a similar ‘level’ if such a thing exists, but that I can see the potential for what I'm doing now. Which has altered the way I perceive these practices.)

Bibliography

Whiting, M. Southall, A. Halcrow, L. (2017) Research Methodology Lecture Series. Bath Spa University. 5th December 2017.