Research Methodologies - Temperature check, aims and objectives, blog reflection. by Ally McGinn

This is the final post for a few weeks, and I thought it appropriate to reiterate my aims (slightly changed) from the beginning of this blog, 11 weeks ago. We undertook these blogs for a purpose, to gain something and to show the process of that development. I definitely feel I have achieved, or at least made a firm dent in, that purpose.

The first five weeks were a process of near-constant researching and writing. Around week eight I had a breakthrough in the studio, followed quickly by something ‘clicking’ in the work in week ten.
These shifts in studio perception have led to the beginnings of a change in focus. At the moment that change seems subtle, and more of a development than a transfer. For now, this change affects my aims and objectives as follows.

Aims and Objectives

My aim is to explore the ways art is experienced and understood, through a combination of engaged theoretical research and perceptual process, to underpin a research-led practice that aims to question the ways we look at art and our underlying assumptions, specifically in regards to the effects of painterly language and spatial presentation of ‘Art’.

My objectives can be grouped into an interest in the physical and metaphysical experience of art in relation to (1) creation and the artist's process (2) curation and the viewer's experience and (3) the space (or context) that underpins and intersects them both. While this seems like a broad subject I've come to realise that there are specifics found in the studio practice.
I am interested in creation (1) for its influence on the subject matter and materials in my work. Curation (2) is of interest in terms of presentation and understanding experience, and space (3) is, in this case at least, defined as both context and material, which I attempt to combine in the studio.


  • Process (incident)

  • Nomination

  • Perception

  • Presence

  • Subversion

  • Potentiality

I'm not totally confident that this articulation is the best one at the moment, but the next part of this module is an essay exploring this articulation in further detail. So it’s best, to avoid plagiarising myself, to save that articulation for later.

This, final update, has encouraged me to begin re-writing my statement. The re-worked statement can be found in the ‘about’ section of my website and I feel it sits far better within the scope of my work, and the wider context.

Overview of research done in line with objectives

I had plans to list here, under a variety of headings, all of the research contained in this blog. As if this, in some small way, validates the decisions I have made in the subjects I have researched.
I have come to realise that this is a, somewhat, pointless exercise. The validation is not needed, and the list only serves to lower my anxiety.

Here is a simple diagram instead. This covers the research done in the last 11 weeks.


Other avenues of thought (such as the note/thought sections of this blog) and seemingly unrelated research has fed into a wealth of contextual knowledge that I have been workingwith in the studio. The practical application of this research is hard to verbally quantify but the works speak for themselves, that is, after all, what makes art distinct from philosophy.

I have written or at least written first drafts of, a few posts that I haven’t posted online. I plan to finish these while continuing with further research. These include; Deskilling, Dianna Molzan, Sandra Gamarra, Phillyda Barlow, Haim Steinbach, Bruce Nauman, De-aestheticisation, Performance art, and Anti-art.

Annotated Bibliography

We have had to write an annotated bibliography covering this blog, and the research done within it. Choosing elements to annotated was probably the most difficult part of this assignment. The purpose of the bibliography is to show the breadth of sources, engagement with them and the implications of them in our practices. 

This has been hard to quantify. How can we show the impact of research? How can we annotate whole books into a few sentences? and how can we communicate the subjective reality of the impact these sources have had, against an attempt at an objective perspective.

I have chosen my sources, annotated them to the best of my ability at this time, and I hope that it shows what I am researching and why. 

Reflection - Blog

As the assessed time of this module draws to a close, it’s a time for a deeper reflection. The next steps of this process is a written essay exploring my methodology and a presentation outlining future goals and aims. In aid of this ongoing exploration, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the act of keeping this blog.

This has been an entirely new experience. I have recently finished my BA, during which we had to create a context folder, containing evidence and articulation of research done during our practice. My natural inclination has been towards research, and it has been an integral part of my practice for the last four years. BUT this has always been a solo process, only existing as a final form towards the last term of the year as I worked to pull everything together. This, more refined, process has been interesting and has highlighted some of the assumptions about research that I had fallen into.

My referencing skills have improved since starting this module, and I've come to appreciate the value of referencing from the start of research. This is something I will definitely be taking forward, and a useful function of the blog.

Keeping the blog has encouraged a consistency of format throughout my posts, and has encouraged me not to linger too long on a single point. The academic level is higher than I have achieved (over a sustained period) previously and I can honestly say that I have thoroughly engaged in this process.
My skills in referencing, articulation and language have improved in the weeks since I have started this blog. I have resisted the urge to go back and edit too much, to correct for this improvement, as I feel it shows an honest view of research in practice. A constant process of development.

Writing with the knowledge that it is in the public realm has altered the way I write, or maybe it would be more accurate to say that it has altered the way I see my writing.
Writing is a creative practice, and I’ve been thinking about writing as more of a tool for research rather than record (which I plan to discuss more in my essay so shall stop here for now) and the blog has been the primary reasons for that train of thought.

This module has been an eye-opening experience, one that has shown me a new perspective on the things I have researched, and in the way I research.

The layout of this blog, along with the annotated bibliography, essay and presentation, encourage a heightened level of self-reflection. It has been anxious, and tiring, process but an extremely useful one.

I debated, for quite a while, about whether to include a note to the length of this blog, and the frequency of posts. It is reasonable to say that I have been fully engaged in this process, my life has revolved around this research process, studio working and contextual discussions.

There is a lot here, but that does not imply efficiency in a negative sense (rushed, or done without depth) but an engagement with the process in line with the requirements of this module, and with the expectation that the process will change, and research will become deeper into more focused subjects in coming months.

The thing to note here, more for myself than anyone else, is that I have not worked with a sustainable practice this term. I have worked more than I should have, which accounts for how utterly exhausting I have found this process, which is something I plan to work on next year. For now I am content with the solid foundation of theory I have created here, that I know will be useful for years to come.

The first few weeks of this term were a process of taking in information and getting to terms with the terminology and perspective of the module.

The middle portion, the meat of the module, was taken up with an extreme engagement and was where the majority of blog posts were produced. I scheduled many, to allow for some space in the positioning of them, and for myself to come back to them before they were posted.
The result of this is that the final few weeks have a higher frequency of posts. This to do with the posts I had written in the preceding weeks and scheduled for later. A well-organised plan, however, I did not account for the fact that inspiration for context has not stopped because I had reached the point where I had ‘enough’ posts scheduled.
I have found that since that moment (which occurred about two weeks ago) there have been a vast array of things I've wanted to speak about and write about.
I don't want to stop the passion I have for the research, and the work and I am not sure I could stop myself if I wanted to. So instead I have continued to write and research, and  I have then been posting the most recent texts on the day I write them.

So, the final few weeks are a combination of the completion of posts begun earlier and inspired research of the time.
I have come to realise, through this, that I should have posted things as I finished them. Normalising the frequency of my research seems like something done to appear in a certain way.
This will change in future.

My general skills in researching have improved, separately from the blog. As I continue to practice researching, and gain more knowledge that aids in the understanding of the research being done. I’m beginning to realise knowledge has a slight exponential curve, the more you learn, the more you understand.

Small improvements can be seen in practical research skills, like skim reading as a form of scoping out research, being able to quickly evaluate the value of information in relation to my practice. A form of tangential research that comes in line with an understanding of my own place within the wider context of the artworld.

To end this reflection I want to return to Kipling’s “six honest working men “ (a quote from our first lecture) (McGinn, 2017)

What - Art; an exploration of art theory and practice that questions what art is in our society, what it can do for us, and ways of perceiving art and space. A practice that hopes, beyond all else, to raise questions and encourage an active participation, mentally or physically.

Where - University. This is a point worth noting. I am doing these things with the underlying knowledge that it will be judged, marked and assessed in line with institutional guidelines. While the course is definitely self-motivated, there are things we have to do. I would not be writing this blog if not for this course, and these words wouldn't exist. Clear evidence for the value of an MA in Fine Art.

When - 2017. A time of tense politics, strong opinions and a growing concern with the effects of capitalism on society and us as beings. (at least on my part)

How - Through a process of presence and perception. Physically making the work and mentally exploring the ideas of others. A strong reflective stance, with a growing ability to perceive objectively and a growing foundation of contextual knowledge. At the sake of repeating myself, this is one of the main questions in the upcoming essay and presentation, so, for now, this answer will suffice.

Why - This is the hardest of the honest men. Why do I do this? The honest answer, for an honest man, is that this is where my passion lies. I have a creative mind, and I enjoy challenging myself and others. I create art because I believe in it, and the transformative power it can hold, individually and on a wider scale.

Who - Me. An optimistic art student, with a passion for knowledge and a tendency to overdo most things. My biases could be argued to relate to my gender, cultural context, financial status, marital status, class definition, educational history, mental perspective, philosophical outlook, and arguably many more. Those things are too personal to define on a blog but show through the writings and reflections found within it.

Deconstruction of practice undertaken. 

For the purposes of clarity I want to take a moment to apply a deconstruction of my research practice during this module;

  • Voice memos - I use software on my phone to record thoughts made while driving. It’s a technological system, and so is subject to issues. It also requires time to type-up the thoughts (I am currently a few weeks behind, so this is a negative and I need to find a more sustainable solution)
    The thoughts are often insightful, possibly because of the nature of the process, my mind is occupied and i'm totally alone, and would normally be lost in the act of driving.

  • Reflective thoughts - This is the same format as the voice memos (recorded by date) done when not driving. I have a document saved on my phone, so that I can access it anywhere. This note was begun on that document, and most of the ‘Note/Thought’ posts are taken from this document.
    Having this document allows for notation of thoughts in a more inclusive way, which has shown the shear number of connections in thinking; in life, and in art.

  • Research posts - This is the most traditional form of research. Taken from books and other sources. I prefer to take in information (with annotation where possible, so I photocopy or buy books that I can highlight and note in) and then summarise it later with my own thoughts.

  • Research Methodology posts - These are places where I have explored the methodology itself, and it's terminology. Includes many reflections.

  • Notes/Thoughts - From reflective thoughts, voice memos and notebooks

  • Photography - Working with objects, in a perceptual practice, requires a form of documentation. In addition to written documentation I take photographs of my space and connections made in the studio. This is a vital part of my process and beginning to move into the work itself.

An interesting note the duality in my work. Things seem to come in pairs or threes, I think this an important realisation and observation of myself as an artist, and my process.

Whats next.

The frequency of posts is going to change, both as this module is assessed and as the nature of my practice changes in line with the MA and my attempt to balance work and life slightly better.

The research will be ongoing but, over the next few weeks at least, I plan to spend the time writing my essay, and doing any extra research needed for that. My provisional ongoing plan is to go deeper into a few areas uncovered in this, first, stage as well as following a few links I didn't have time to follow.

Reflecting on the blog, and presenting an output from research in this way has been very influential in itself, and I plan to continue, albeit with fewer posts per week (at this time I think I have averaged eight, which I will try to limit to two as I continue forward) as the year goes on.

Research is coming more directly into my work. Referencing the act of research itself is something I want to explore more. Research can be both a definition of art and a vital part of the practice of it. I would like to explore both more inherently in the work I create.

Evaluating the success of research, in artistic practice, is proving to be more difficult the further I get. These are the choices I have made, these are the things I have researched, and this is what I have done with it. 

Thank you for joining me on this journey so far.


McGinn, A. (2017) Research Methodologies - Intro lecture - Knowledge - Useful terms and ideas / October 4, 2017. [Blog Post] Avaliable from: [Accessed 09.12.17].

Research Methodologies - Walking Alone by Ally McGinn


In the reflection of my research on ‘The Sublime’, I described one of the ways I research. After a lecture by PhD student Lydia Harcrow I have realised the importance of articulating this method in itself.

My work revolves around the importance of presence. As subject, medium and practice. The driving force for my work is my presence in the studio. The driving force for my research, as I have discovered, is presence in the metaphysical. In other words; just getting on with it, and working through it. (This is shown and defined by a realisation that writing is a tool for thinking, not simply as a record, a notion repeated throughout this blog) My subject is dependent on and explores the presence of the viewer, and the object, within the work.

Another element of presence in the research is a method I rarely speak about. Every evening, without fail, I go for a walk in the dark around the fields near my home. During this time I either listen to research (through audiobooks and podcasts) or read research I have preloaded on my phone. This is the place where I write most of my thinking and process the research. I spend at least one hour outside and have been known to be out for up to six hours when writing.

This is a time of being present, of embodying a thinking process where the majority of visual stimulus is reduced, external inputs are minimised, and the contextualisation of theories can be the sole focus.

Presence, in artistic practice, can be seen as synonymous with embodiment. This embodiment comes from the objects we see in art, and the experience we have with them, but also from the artist's presence within the work.

The studio practice is reliant on the embodiment of myself, and later the viewer, and this articulation is to show the importance of embodiment in the contextualisation of my practice. My evening walks, which happen even in freezing weather or rain, are a meditative process, that brings in an element of distance, from visual stimuli and other inputs. Time to reflect.


This is a post about the notion presence in a part of my practice I had not associated with it.

While not necessarily a research post, it serves as a note for myself about the recurring theme so far this year, and certainly throughout this module; presence.

Through the writing of this post, and the lecture today, I have come to a new title for my work for this year. (I’ve discussed before that I like to title the year as a whole, as a work)

The title is ‘Through presence and process’.

I believe what a title does is contextualises and places the work, as a whole. Titling in this way (as an extended experience) can be compared to the title of an exhibition, and resonates with my interests in an ongoing practice as art.

These are important elements in my practice. This title has led to the reduction of my practice to two single keywords. I’m not entirely sure if this is positive, or entirely accurate, but it is certainly accurate to my best feelings at the moment.

Bibliography - All of the words in this post are my own, but the desire to articulate this thought was inspired by the following lecture.

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

Ally McGinn (2017) Documentary photograph of walk. Portholland, Cornwall. 01.12.17.

Ally McGinn (2017) Documentary photograph of walk. Portholland, Cornwall. 01.12.17.

Research Methodologies - Methodological Exercise - MA Open Studios by Ally McGinn

We had the MA open studio’s last night and it was the first time we have all shown work together, and for many the first time, we had seen each other's work. There are some extremely talented people on the course, and it was a very interesting evening.

Inspired by the immersion of other practices I realised that it could be an interesting methodological exercise to view my practice through the lens of other artists, whose practice I know in some way.
This exercise could highlight elements of methodology as well as new perspectives for my own work.

Please Note - All interpretations of the work of other artists are subjective. My interpretations are based on conversations with these artists and encounters with their work, but they are all subject to my bias and misunderstanding.

These are not explorations of the work of these brilliant artists. Where possible I have linked to their websites, I would definitely encourage having a look.

This list of artists is primarily the full-time students (whose work I know to a certain extent) and a few others who I have been able to chat to about their work.

Shirley Sharp -

Shirley’s work, for the purpose of this exercise, would make me view my work through the speech act, or act itself. I would think about the figure of the artist, and the relationship between viewer and artist in a more representational way.
* Pile of canvases that are shaped on one side to form the shape of a person. The other side is left as the natural forms of the pile.


Matthew Dibble -

Dibble’s work is involved with the haptic experience of materials. If I were to use his perspective to explore my subject and interests I would certainly create sculptures. I would likely focus on the pure materials of painting formed in new ways.
* A horizontal plane, with a vertical upright in the centre. On one side (or space - created in the intersection between the two) would be chaos, on the other, order. Representing the space of the work.
* A frame cut into pieces and reassembled to create a new form, on which to display the work.


Deborah Westmancoat -

I have only seen Deborah’s work as an almost scientific process of exploring materials and their effects, and so, I feel, that through this perspective I would explore the qualities of paint and other mark-making materials with the aim to create an archival installation that presents this exploration to the viewer.

Note - The archive was something I explored in the second year of my BA and it is something that has since been an element of influence.


James Glover -

Through James’s perspective, I would likely think about the processes of artists and ways to mechanise them. Many of the processes of artists are menial, or monotonous in some way, and these could be explored in many ways. Most likely in the form of a painting machine or drawing machine, but there are other options. (This is interestingly something I considered a few years ago, but I got distracted by another idea.)

Through studying the reality of artistic practice, rather than the assumptions we make, it is clear that there are activities outside the realm of ‘Art’ that artists undertake more than the ‘Art’ itself.


Jana Jonhardsdottir -

The thing taken from Jana’s current work, in this exercise, is the deconstruction and reconstruction of layers within her work.
My interest in accidents and incidents would come to the fore here, and I feel I would like to make a piece that layers incidental elements on top of one another. If I were to stick to the parameters of being inspired by another practice then these layers would be trapped in perspex.
Layering, without perspex, involves something being hidden, which is something my work has dealt with in more detail. The moment we stretch a canvas we are hiding the wall and the stretcher. Those things upon which the painting relies.


Julian Green -

Julian's work would encourage me to create a detailed representation of an overlooked object. Which is a very interesting idea, as it's not something I've ever considered for myself. The interesting thing is the reason why; I have always considered the ‘real’ object more powerful than its representation, but this is a bias.

This has come to being in the studio in the creation of the piece ‘Reflection’ (2017) which was placed a few weeks ago. I am now forced to wonder if the subconscious influence of Julian's detailed representations encouraged this work. It certainly wasn't a conscious link, but it remains an interesting one.


Scott Sandford -

Scott’s close-up abstractions would encourage me to view the individual elements of my work, expanding them where possible. The obvious route would be to take close-up photographs of things like canvas, wood, and paint. (which I began when working with a microscope in 2015) However, I now think the more subtle perspective i could take from Scott’s work would be to explore the close-up detail in a more material way. For example, enlarging the canvas in a sculptural form, reducing details so that a single element becomes the focus.
In a way, this links to my placement test for threads of canvas.


James Thornton -

James’s work is presented in a similar form to mine, and as we share a studio space this is a very exciting development. What I would probably take from his work, if I attempted to use what I know of it to explore my own, would be a focus on representing a single form, or focus, in various ways. Showing the reality of multiple perspectives on the same subject/object.
This comes into my practice in the use of canvas in alternative ways.


What this exercise has shown me is that there are elements of practice that are already linked through us all. Thinking through and articulating this process has led to some new connections or more appropriately the realisation of existing connections.
I can't currently say if this will have an impact on my work in the studio but I believe it will have an impact on my interactions with my fellow artists.

Studio Research - Art is rubbish - Limitations and Imitations by Ally McGinn

The nature of my practice leads to some interesting challenges. One of which i faced this morning. 

This piece.....

Ally McGinn (2017)  Painting  [Working Title]. Paint and studio dust. size varies.

Ally McGinn (2017) Painting [Working Title]. Paint and studio dust. size varies. longer exists. It was swept up and thrown away by a currently unidentified person. 

The question here becomes....can I really be annoyed by this? Is the act a comment on the work? It is certainly an almot humerous observation to it. 

Ally McGinn (2017)  Painting  [Working Title]. Paint and studio dust. size varies.

Ally McGinn (2017) Painting [Working Title]. Paint and studio dust. size varies.

In response, replication and failure, this is the remainder. 

Reflection - The changing effect of perception. by Ally McGinn

I'm expecting this to be a long and convoluted text, and it comes from a discussion with my husband, who is interested in conceptual music and sound.

The moment an artwork is seen or experienced it is changed by that interaction.
This happens in two ways, firstly on the individual level - the individual artwork changes once it is seen, the viewer's interpretation, critical reception, contextual relation and curated exhibition affect the work and the interpretation of it. The second level is slightly more complex, and yet also individual, the level of continued practice for the individual experiencing the process of art (the artist).

Another way of saying this is that our practices change when people view them (or listen to them in my husband's case). This change can even occur when there is the potential for the artwork to be seen. (Although I would argue that much of this factor is reliant on an inhibition)

Whether that change is positive or negative is likely a subjective fact, it will differ in different cases, but it's worth noting that the change exists.

Artists, and by extension musicians and other creators, often describe trying to get ‘in the flow’ or ‘in the zone’. Which is linked to Heidegger's theories about the optimum state for art, which is in the area between the poetic and the enframed. In Heidegger's writings, the artist aims to exist in this state when creating art.

Through the contextualisation of my practice, my overabundant research and my own self-pressured methodology I have been enframing my practice, to the extent that I'm unable to reach the poetic.

Personal note - I need to stop reading, stop writing and start working for a few days at least.

This ideal state of working is not something to be achieved once and then ticked off, it is a state of the moment and often comes and goes (between the enframed and the poetic). Thinking about it in this way I can almost see which works I've made in the studio that have been linked more to enframing and poiesis, and the ‘good’ works are definitely those created in moments of poiesis.

The ‘moment’ relates once more to Heidegger, and his term ‘throwness’ which is about the moment of existence, constantly happening and happened.

Another perspective for the change that occurs upon viewing the work is through the human activities of art and music (and by extension others). In the book ‘Strange Tools,’ the author supposes two levels of human activity. The first is the primal, basic level, it is the things we as ‘beings’ do. This level includes dancing, communicating, creating sound, making art/images, running, and numerous other things. The second level is the organised activity of that act, including, choreography, writing, music, art, sports etc.

When thinking about the creation of art and the change that perception brings it would seem to lead that the level 2 activity of making ‘Art’ impacts the level 1 practice of making art. It's possible that we have achieved a level of ‘Artworld’ that means that the level 1 activity doesn't really exist anymore, but it feels more like, as Heidegger seems to suggest, that artists are tapping into the level 1 activity when they get ‘in-the-flow’.

Artists (and the extension applies once more) work with the level 1 experience, and then process it through a level 2 organisation to stimulate a level 1 experience in another person.

The other implication to the realisation that perception changes the ‘Art’, in both ways, is the link to the observer effect in quantum physics, in which the ‘observer affects the observed reality’. It seems obvious to state that I am not a quantum physicist, and so I won’t attempt to go into more detail here but the link is an interesting one that I would like to come back to.


This line of thought has two influences. One is the contextual knowledge I have gained from writing this blog, I have directly quoted two texts and the understanding of others has led to this exploration. (Please see other blog posts for more details about this)

The other is a frustration at the issues I'm facing with an overabundance of context at the moment, a reflection on my research practice.

I’ve come to realise that I need to step back slightly and attempt to get back into the level 1 activities suggested here. Focussing on a practice of poiesis.

However, this realisation has led to an idea for a piece of work, which is a fact about my practice that I adore. It often inspires itself.

I'm intrigued to bring in ideas of hiding the work of art. If the experiential perception of an artwork changes when seen then we can mitigate that effect by implying the artwork without seeing it.

This is an idea I began to work with last year, by recording and presenting the artist's actions in the studio I invoked this idea of the unseen artwork. It’s also something I've been working back towards this year, however, this articulation of these ideas has led to me wanting to be more literal in the hiding of the artwork.
The context of these plans would be that - It is not in the artwork that we find the ‘Art’ but in the experience of making it, and the experience of viewing it. (both of which are arguably level 1 activities, at least in the moment) The later of which happens regardless, it is the experience of making it that I would like to extend to the viewer, the practice of process.

I believe hidden artworks, or hidden elements of them, would invoke that context. The artwork is implied, just as normally the act of making art is implied.

An additional thought to come back to later - ‘Art’ is a performative thing because it is the practice and process of art. The art object belongs to context?? (Way too assumptive, but maybe an interesting initial thought)

Research Methodologies - Reflection - How much is too much? by Ally McGinn

This is a question I've been obsessed with for the last few weeks.

And I'm going to do my best to keep this concise - I have a prolific practice, it is the way I have worked for the last 5 years and repeated attempts to alter this natural process have met with failure (for various reasons).

That is not to say the proclivity hasn't developed, or is in some way detrimental, in fact I think the opposite is true.

I've learnt to focus myself, and deepen the research, and with a developed knowledge base I am better equipped to choose new areas of research and deepen those that arouse more interest.

In many of the reflective texts, I ramble, but I see these as honest portrayals of thought, and they contain insights that I use to further the practice and formulate new ideas.

This blog is already extensive (in word count if not in content) and the list I have planned (which will shorten by increments) adds a fair amount more. However I'm gripped by the platform, I'm enjoying writing, and the fact that I'm creating a repository of searchable information is a brilliant tool for the future.

Am I concerned about the word count here? Based on the module I'm working on, yes.

Am i going to alter it? No. I'm planning to be aware of the issue, and adjust my ways of working to better suit the process, but I doubt there will be a noticeable change. I get caught up with a subject and before I know it I've written 3000 words. At the moment i'm choosing to see this as a positive.


Less than 300 words, I think I deserve a cookie.

Studio Research - Week 8 by Ally McGinn

This is going to be an image heavy post. A truly seminal week in the studio this week, that will require a great deal of reflection. It appears that my plan to take time off to focus on context so that i could return focussed on studio was a success. 

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio view.  Empty frames with a balanced aesthetic.

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio view.

Empty frames with a balanced aesthetic.

Ally McGinn (2017)  Balanced Unbalanced  [Placement test]. Materials and size vary.  The idea of balance has come up throughout the last few months, or at least I have become aware of it.  It is found in many areas of life and I wouldn't be surprised if I one day believe that it is one of the foundations of reality.  I have been exploring the idea in the studio, which has brought a subtle vulnerability to the work.  It falls over, a lot. Occasionally onto me, or other works. There was one Rube Goldberg-esque moment in the studio of a chain reaction that I wish I had filmed. I'm unsure whether recreating it would be inauthentic. I'm unsure about inauthenticity.

Ally McGinn (2017) Balanced Unbalanced [Placement test]. Materials and size vary.

The idea of balance has come up throughout the last few months, or at least I have become aware of it.

It is found in many areas of life and I wouldn't be surprised if I one day believe that it is one of the foundations of reality.

I have been exploring the idea in the studio, which has brought a subtle vulnerability to the work.

It falls over, a lot. Occasionally onto me, or other works. There was one Rube Goldberg-esque moment in the studio of a chain reaction that I wish I had filmed. I'm unsure whether recreating it would be inauthentic. I'm unsure about inauthenticity.

Ally McGinn (2017) Presence Absence [Studio view].

Ally McGinn (2017) Presence Absence [Studio view].

Ally McGinn (2017) Presentation test [Studio view].  There are individual pieces in my practice, but the second part of their existence involves the exploration of them in relation to other works. This photo is a test of a conversation between the works. 

Ally McGinn (2017) Presentation test [Studio view].

There are individual pieces in my practice, but the second part of their existence involves the exploration of them in relation to other works. This photo is a test of a conversation between the works. 

Ally McGinn (2017)  Potential Process.  Canvas, frame and acorn. Size varies.

Ally McGinn (2017) Potential Process. Canvas, frame and acorn. Size varies.

Ally McGinn (2017)  pAINTing.  Canvas, wooden frame and paint. 25 x 25 cm.

Ally McGinn (2017) pAINTing. Canvas, wooden frame and paint. 25 x 25 cm.

Ally McGinn (2017) A test of balance [Studio view].  Another conversation test. 

Ally McGinn (2017) A test of balance [Studio view].

Another conversation test. 

Ally McGinn (2017) The equalising qualities of grey painting [Studio view].  Objects of various values, purposes and associations, equalised through process and a reduction of their primary qualities. 

Ally McGinn (2017) The equalising qualities of grey painting [Studio view].

Objects of various values, purposes and associations, equalised through process and a reduction of their primary qualities. 

Ally McGinn (2017)  PAINTING . Mixed media. Size varies.

Ally McGinn (2017) PAINTING. Mixed media. Size varies.

Ally McGinn (2017)  PAINTING.  Mixed media. Size varies.

Ally McGinn (2017) PAINTING. Mixed media. Size varies.

Ally McGinn (2017)  Deconstructed PAINTING . Mixed media. Size varies.

Ally McGinn (2017) Deconstructed PAINTING. Mixed media. Size varies.

Ally McGinn (2017) Deconstructed painting continued  [Studio view].

Ally McGinn (2017) Deconstructed painting continued  [Studio view].

Ally McGinn (2017) Detail shot of ' Deconstructed painting continued'

Ally McGinn (2017) Detail shot of 'Deconstructed painting continued'

Ally McGinn (2017) Threads on screws - this was an exploration of unifying the screws left in the wall by myself and other students. 

Ally McGinn (2017) Threads on screws - this was an exploration of unifying the screws left in the wall by myself and other students. 

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio View. 17.11.17

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio View. 17.11.17

Ally McGinn (2017)  Reflection.  Paint, tube and photo. Approximately 20 x 20 cm. 

Ally McGinn (2017) Reflection. Paint, tube and photo. Approximately 20 x 20 cm. 

Ally McGinn (2017) Leaning tests [Studio view].

Ally McGinn (2017) Leaning tests [Studio view].

Ally McGinn (2017)  Guyon.  Oil on canvas and masking tape, with frame. 120 x 50 cm.

Ally McGinn (2017) Guyon. Oil on canvas and masking tape, with frame. 120 x 50 cm.

Ally McGinn (2017)  Plinth painting . Paintings. 40 x 40 x 60 cm.

Ally McGinn (2017) Plinth painting. Paintings. 40 x 40 x 60 cm.

Ally McGinn (2017) Conversation test [Studio view].

Ally McGinn (2017) Conversation test [Studio view].

Ally McGinn (2017)  Stacked Balance.  Paintings on plinth. Size varies.

Ally McGinn (2017) Stacked Balance. Paintings on plinth. Size varies.

Ally McGinn (2017) [Studio view].  Something interesting is happening here, I can't quite define it yet but there is certainly an unintentional conversation that could use some perceptual contextualisation. 

Ally McGinn (2017) [Studio view].

Something interesting is happening here, I can't quite define it yet but there is certainly an unintentional conversation that could use some perceptual contextualisation. 

Ally McGinn (2017)  Commodity  test  [Studio view].

Ally McGinn (2017) Commodity test  [Studio view].

Ally McGinn (2017) [Studio view].  There is an interesting divide between 'studio' and 'gallery' in the space on Friday.

Ally McGinn (2017) [Studio view].

There is an interesting divide between 'studio' and 'gallery' in the space on Friday.

Research Methodologies - Reflection - Temperature Check by Ally McGinn

I'm over a month into the blog, and this seems like a great moment to pause and reflect, a temperature check. 

I write a lot, I work a lot, I create a lot (if I can use that term, which many theorists would disagree with). This is a fact. I find it very hard to dial this level of interaction back. Whether I should or not is a question that occupies much of my anxious thinking.

If I'm honest I feel I've hit a bit of a wall with the research, like I'm going around and around, which I need to remind myself is the point. I need a break for a few days (because for over a month I've been working on context at least once a day, without fail) and regroup.

For now, I'm seeing the research as in the gathering stage. I am working on creating texts that contain factual information with my own thoughts. The subjects of research have come through extensive mind mapping, which covers my interests and inspirations. I've come to realise that these terms, artists and theories are not totally involved with the meaning in my work, while there is certainly an overlap (DRAW VENN DIAGRAM)

This is an important thing to remember in terms of confusion about whether I'm researching the ‘right’ things.

I have regularly paused to reflect on the things I'm researching and I'm noticing the research affecting the ways I think. My reflective journal, voice memos and my writing in the blog itself, all reflect this deepening in knowledge.

By far the most interesting factor for me are observations of the ways I am researching, and the similarities between my research practice and studio practice.

In the studio, I often create work to explore the ways I make work. In this way, the pieces are incidental to my true focus, an observation of activity. Through this module, I have begun to apply this methodology to my research practice.

A few specifics;

The blog has encouraged me to date and better record my thoughts and ideas. The practical implications of this is a fuller practice, with fewer lost thoughts. Contextually this has led to an interest in lost moments, incidental thoughts and the development of ideas.

Thoughts as art. I'm thinking more about individual thoughts, and having them written (which I didn't always do before this) has led to a deepening of those ideas. I can return to them later and develop them further, or be inspired by them.

Using voice memos. I have begun to use voice memo software on my phone to record my thoughts while driving. These are thoughts that would normally be lost. Incidental thoughts. I often don't remember the thought when I listen to it back, there is a chance I wouldn't be able to think them again without the voice memos.

One side effect of my level of focus on this module is that I've spent less time thinking about my work.

I quickly realised that swapping regularly between research ‘mode’ and studio ‘mode’ was tricky and it was hard to get deep enough into either. So I decided to take a week out of the studio to work on context. That's been a very good idea, and it's been extremely productive. I am now on the Friday evening of the context week, and it's hard to picture what effect this week will have on my studio work next week, but I predict I will be a bit more focused.

I have been opening the studio practice up, allowing myself the freedom to experiment (research). I now have a very solid contextual background and have been considering the context of artists whose work is aligned in some way to my own. This can only support the creation of my work in the studio. As Danto suggests, the artwork relies upon the ‘Artworld’ and I am now able to invoke more of the artworld.

I'm currently excited about two ideas for next week. The ways we read painting and the notion of balance, both of which have appeared often in the research.

Note/Thought - It is Art! by Ally McGinn




This document is long! 2470!!



That number is a lie! 2476



I need to sleep 2482






Blog posts as art.



I've been thinking more about formatting, and the visual look of small thoughts. (Like the one above) Is that not art?


Context nominated through aesthetics.











Is it art because I nominate it as such? (And arguably I've spent the last 72 hours focussed on researching and thinking about artistic context so I am most definitely an artist at the moment) or is it not art because I'm bloody tired? Or is it that I simply can't stop thinking?



I think it's the last one.












I have assimilated the knowledge of the definitions of epistemology and ontology. (That's a very long sentence!) I can call on them at will. I remember them.












I should definitely put the phone down now












I've decided it is art































Note - this is a section taken from a document i keep on my phone titled 'reflective throughts'. I try to write in the document at least once a day, but sometimes its more often.

Research Methodologies - Aims and Objectives update by Ally McGinn

We are about halfway through the research methodologies module, and as a temperature check, I’m going to do a quick update on my aims and objectives.

On 16th October I defined my objectives as;

  • Deconstruct canvas, physically and in concept. Comparing the reality of the object with its primary function.

  • Investigate traditional methods, process and materials, to identify areas of interest

    • Sub-question - Investigate the ‘space’ of art (i.e: the gallery or other curated settings) and it's function regarding the reading of art as art. (Because it's only through the gallery that nomination can serve as process)

  • Investigate the role of the viewer/onlooker in art.

    • Sub-question - Explore Derrida’s theory of the ‘parergon’ to better understand the concept and purpose of the frame in art and it's implications on the space and interpretation of art.

Regarding research, I have been making some progress with these, but this task has encouraged me to think about the ways the subjects I have been researching have (or have not) aligned with my objectives.

Figuring this out involved repeated mind-mapping and diagrams.

Updated Objectives

As the final image shows I have come to realise that my objectives can be grouped into an interest in the physical and metaphysical experience of art in relation to (1) creation and the artists process (2) curation and the viewers experience and (3) the space (or context) that underpins and intersects them both.

I plan to achieve these aims through an exploration of artistic theory and the work of artists based on these objectives. (Some of which are shown in the above diagrams and on my mind maps. An updated and comprehensive list is in progress)

I believe, and my research is showing, that the three subheadings are so interlinked that they cannot be accurately or truthfully separated. In fact, the act of art itself is a process of bringing the three together into an experience.

Through the research of these subjects and a more developed sense of the relationship between the three, I hope the enhance my studio practice and the effective communication of my message.

In a blog post on the 31st, i revisited my statement, which fits with this new assessment of my objectives. Statement - “I am an installation artist exploring the nomination of the incidental in art. Working with a subversion of organised activity my work asks questions of temporal perception. What tells us something is a piece of art? The process, the artist, the viewer, the experience or the collaboration of that and more? My practice explores these questions with a combination of found objects and manipulated semiotics.

Creating conversations through relational aesthetics the viewer is invited to step into the real space of the work to explore juxtapositions of incident and chance against an organised reliance on the interior and exterior of the ‘Artworld’.”



My aims have slightly developed, but I wouldn't say they have changed; more I have articulated them in a more focused way. This change was a natural development of a balance between research and reflection.

Going through this process has encouraged me to note what I have researched so far and what I plan to research. The most important factor of this process has been to reduce my planned research. I have been able to highlight a few areas of research that I thought I had to cover and have since realised that I do not need to include; I was being a bit too ambitious, and this reduction is a very positive step.

I believe that my objectives are clearer, and although the potential scope of this subject is very large I have been focussing my research more as time passes.

I will admit that the scope of this research is one of the areas that I am least comfortable with, in that I am unsure if I am correct that the scope is attainable, I believe it is, and that I have made good progress so far, but it is a very hard thing to check with any degree of certainty.

This research is vital to my practice because it is through this research that I am able to develop ideas. The process of my practice is one of concept, and those concepts and ideas often come from art theory, which I then attempt to subvert or challenge through objects and installations in the studio.

Research Methodologies - Narrowing Down by Ally McGinn

So I'm 10 posts into the blog and have been finding my keywords shifting and changing with the ongoing research.

As a place marker i wanted to revisit those keywords and see how they have shifted.

From my perspective, I feel that the keywords have shifted into a more defined realm. Which in itself is extremely useful to my practice.

Through the creation and writing of this blog, I have found the activity itself (including the consideration of research methodologies) to be the most valuable, over the research subjects (which have undoubtedly been interesting).

Anyone reading this blog from the beginning will quickly realise that I have struggled with articulating this immense subject. My initial narrowing down was somewhat forced, I felt pressured to define a focus but the development of the words has become more organic over the space of a few weeks.

We have been encouraged to limit our keywords to 6.

·             Incident (impermanence/temporality)

·             Nomination (Found Objects)

·             Perception (Semiotics)

·             Human Activity (Artist/Audience)

·             Process

·             Subversion (Perception)

The words in brackets are indicators for myself of the area of the keyword that i might be most interesting.

These words can all be related to the ways we explore and experience art.


In order to connect my practice and research, I've spent some time using the keywords developed through practice into a rough artists statement that describes what I am doing in the studio.

This statement will help form questions around these interests and could lead to a further narrowing down of my keywords.

While rough, this statement will serve as a foundation going forward.

As it is based on viewing my studio practice through my keywords it is quite different in focus to previous statements. Which in itself is an interesting point to note. An answer may be found in a combination of the two, or an acknowledgement of their differences.


"I am an installation artist exploring the nomination of the incidental in art. Working with a subversion of organised activity my work asks questions of temporal perception. What tells us something is a piece of art? The process, the artist, the viewer, the experience or the collaboration of that and more? My practice explores these questions with a combination of found objects and manipulated semiotics.

Creating conversations through relational aesthetics the viewer is invited to step into the real space of the work to explore juxtapositions of incident and chance against an organised reliance on the interior and exterior of the ‘Artworld’."

Previous statement

"I am a conceptual painter and installation artist interested in the nomination of the incidental and unwanted as ‘Art’ using a subversion of traditional media and found objects to form new conversations and relationships between materials, viewer and space.
Representing the process of making, and re-presenting that process to the viewer."

Previous Keywords - Art, accident, subversion, found objects, viewer, space, process, authorship, experience, nomination, perspective.


No bibliography this time.

Next post - not sure yet, I've got quite a few on the go at the moment.


Research - Semiotics, Part 1 by Ally McGinn

On semiotics

The first real, intense, interest I have had since starting the MA (and here I distinguish a desire to research to improve my practice from an interest in a subject) has been semiotics.

It comes as a result of a discussion board created by our tutor after a lecture by Robin Marriner on the nature of visual communication and the important relationship with semiotics and context.

The discussion board was placed for us to articulate semiotics in relation to our own practices.

I've had an interest in semiotics since researching for my dissertation - which focussed on the important elements in understanding art, which contains an element of semiotics.

While semiotics is rooted in language when we use it in art it becomes something more. By nature it deals with both the entomology and ontology of a subject.

The sign is made up of two distinct elements, the signifier and signified, which relate to the nature of something and the meaning we attribute to it.

For example: the word apple, and the meaning we take from it (it's fruitness, religion, the computer company, apple pie, New York)

The look of an apple, the sound of its crunch, its feel and it's taste, which might be used more in art, are signifiers, they are the things that tell us it's an apple. So can we explain it as - Signifier (physical reality) and, signified (the language we use around it).

Semiotics is used constantly in our world. Arguably it is what language is. Saussure described language as part of semiotics, while Barthes positioned the opposite.

Given my current knowledge, I am unable to disagree with Saussure. Language is the form semiotics take. This can be shown in the fact that we could take any part of human activity and our explorations and explanations of it would be a form of semiotics.

The only form of activity that has no relation to semiotics would arguably be found in philosophy or metaphysics, a concept without a signifier.  Anything that has a subject is experienced semiotically.

This feels like the perfect moment to stop for now and read more about Barthes argument that semiotics is a part of language.

The next post will explore semiotics a little further but will remain short, following that I will explore some of the signs in my practice.


Semiotics in my practice

In relation to my own practice semiotics is extremely important. One of the concerns i often focus on is - the understanding and interpretation of what art is - which requires a certain reading of art in the first instance.

In order to subvert or distort an idea, we must first understand the idea. Given that art is primarily a visual subject, and a very subjective one, many of the qualifiers are a form of sign - eg: an object's location in an art gallery, it's medium, function and presentation.

Understanding the implications of these signs has been something I have been interested in to form the foundation for experiments in studio practice.

In particular, Derrida’s theories about the frame (‘The Parergon’) and the implications when we understand the internal/external web that surrounds any artwork.

Semiotics is apparent in multiple places in my studio, from the subverted signs that inform something as art, to the overt signs on canvas placed on a worktop to collect the process of making (which often include words, arrows, numbers and diagrams) these signs and their signifiers are an important element of my practice.

I find semiotics to be a fascinating subject with a fractal nature, the more you look the more you will see.

I particularly enjoy the moment when we first perceive a sign, when we realise something we took as tacit is actually implicit or visa versa.


Barthes, Roland (1973) Mythologies. UK: Hill and Wang.

Barthes, Roland ([1964] 1967). Elements of Semiology (trans. Annette Lavers & Colin Smith). London: Jonathan Cape.

Chandler, Daniel (2004) Semiotics: The Basics. London: Routledge.

Marriner, R. (2002) ‘Derrida and the Parergon’. In: Smith, P and Wilde, C. eds. A companion to art theory. Blackwell: 349-359.

Marriner, R. (2015) Making and the Contemporary. Bath Spa University. October-December 2015.

Marriner, R (2017) Meanings in Visual Culture. Research Methodologies module. Bath Spa University. 17th October 2017.

Saussure, Ferdinand de ([1916] 1983): Course in General Linguistics (trans. Roy Harris). London: Duckworth. 


Research Methodologies - Reflective Task - Primary Research by Ally McGinn

The following is a short report (500-word limit) about an element of primary research. I have chosen an exhibition that had a big impact very recently. (More about that in a later post)

'Jasper Johns: Something Resembling Truth’

Exhibition visit - 10th October 2017

This exhibition is currently running at the Royal Academy in London. The show covers the career of Jasper Johns, an American artist whose work has been extremely influential and iconic since the late 1950’s.

The show brings together over 150 works, from over seven decades, curated by Dr Roberta Bernstein and Edith Devaney, who worked closely with the artist.

This short text hopes to articulate one of the important elements of this exhibition and give an overview of the important observations made when experiencing the work, as opposed to seeing it.

Beginning with the iconic image of ‘Target’ the exhibition was arranged chronologically, but each room was a thematic exploration, meaning there were occasionally works shown from different time periods.

Each room contained a short text, examining the theme of the room and marking that perspective in the minds of the audience, or at least those who chose to read it.

Given the brevity of this text and my potential verbosity on the subject, I am going to focus on a single room – ‘Painting as Object’.

The accompanying text explains the artists interest in the objectness of a painting (including stretcher and frame) and the particular interest in pre-existing objects.

Many of the works in this room feature objects used in the creation of art, extending to the creation of the painting they are a part of. This inclusion of materials speaks about the nature of process and the reality of a painting as opposed to its illusory qualities.

Johns features other objects, notably rulers – an object that directly references the space of the painting, again speaking about illusion and the nature of painting vs the reality of it.

Seeing these works in person highlights the importance of this and the mild-hypocrisy of discussing these works without seeing them when their context is in their objecthood.

The inclusion of objects into the paintings and the artists' perception that paintings are objects is hard to experience second-hand. Their size, texture, shape, presence, form and meaning is altered when seen first-hand.

In particular, the piece ‘painting with two balls’ which is composed of three canvases, hung together to form a single piece. The two top canvases are slightly curved, leaving a gap between the two, into which the artist has placed two painted balls.

This piece confronts the viewer directly with the objecthood of the painting. We can see through the canvas to the wall behind, the balls cannot exist without the depth of the frame. It is an extremely successful example of message and aesthetics combining into a pleasing visual narrative.

The text links these material inclusions to Duchamp’s readymades and the chance inclusions of the Dadaists. In the documentary ‘Painters Painting’ Johns is interviewed and states that he was not aware of the work of the Dadaists or Duchamp prior to beginning these works, given the artists involvement with this exhibition the text becomes questionable.

The retrospective nature of the exhibition of a master manifests in the delivery of this exhibition. The audience is guided through the context of the work, often with explanations or accompanying information. This is in direct contrast to more contemporary galleries in London where the information is contained in a document that the viewer needs to find; even names are excluded in contemporary galleries.

These works are already considered masterpieces, and their creator a master. The audience is aware, due to the reputation of the location, the status of the artist and the presentation of context, that these are ‘Artworks’, there is no question of their validity, only how we might perceive it.

The primary experience, especially when considering the context, has been singularly important to understanding the works and the potentiality of including objects. John’s message is balanced with an aesthetic skill that is inspirational as well as impressive.


Examining the impact of this exhibition on my own practice is not something achievable in 500 words, (in fact the document I have begun to write is already over 2000) which was what I originally planned this document to explore.

For me, the important aspect of this task was narrowing down. Which I think I am going to continue to use when forming my future blog posts.

I enjoy research, particularly writing, and while it is important that I continue to do it, I need to remember that these posts have an audience, and therefore the word count is an important factor.  The audience does not need to read all the research and my thoughts on it, just those I want to share at that particular moment.

Jasper Johns: Something Resembling Truth (2017) [Exhibition]. Royal Academy, London. 23 September - 10 December 2017.

Marriner, R. (2015) Making and the Contemporary. Bath Spa University. October-December 2015.

Painters painting: a candid history of the modern art scene. (1973) [DVD] Emille de Antonio. USA: Arthouse films.

Testar, A (2017) Jasper Johns ‘Something Resembling Truth’. [Exhibition catalogue] Royal Academy, London. 23 September - 10 December 2017.

Research - Exhibition trip - RA, and contemporary galleries. by Ally McGinn

Exhibition visits - Friday, October 20th


A group of MA students went to London to explore some exhibitions and get to know one another. We saw a total of 6 exhibitions;

  • Jasper Johns - RA

  • Dali/Duchamp - RA

  • Matisse - RA

  • David Zwirner Gallery

  • Sadie Coles gallery

  • Spruth Magers Gallery

I spent two days in London, and the combination of exhibitions, outlook and walking around London formed a perspective-shifting whole.

This, admittedly long, text combines an overview of each exhibition (with an emphasis on elements that are important to my practice rather than attempting to give an overview of the whole – which I would normally attempt to do) and a critical interpretation of different elements of the trip.

Unless stated the references for the following images are the works themselves and short paragraphs of text in the exhibition.

Jasper Johns : Something resembling truth.

I should start off by saying - what a wonderful title. A subject Johns has explored throughout his prestigious career, truth is a tricky thing to explore effectively. I can honestly say I didn't realise what a master of this Johns is until I saw this exhibition. The careful curation and interesting collection of works form a whole that explores our understanding of truth in painting and visual culture.

An exhibition covering the career, including very recent works, of Jasper Johns. I have researched Johns’s work in previous years, but I can now attest that it was never with the detail I should have. One positive result of that is that many of the works in this exhibition came as a shock, and I spent a great deal of time in the middle section of the exhibition, as it had the most correlation with my work and the works I felt most connection with.

The exhibition was arranged chronologically, but each room was a thematic exploration of his work. Johns’s career can be described to have followed a thematic development, there are clear areas of interest at particular times in his life. In the exhibition, the curators brought works from varying time periods together when the themes aligned.


As I walked around the exhibition I made a few notes of pieces to articulate at a later date. There are far more interesting things about the context of these works, but these are a few that stuck out to me.

‘Numbers’ (2008) This piece was a large re-creation of an older work, cast in metal. The reason i made note of this piece was the footprint in the top right corner, which was made by Merce Cunningham on the original. This directly references the original site of creation.

Jasper Johns (1958) Target. Encaustic on newspaper and cloth on canvas. 66 x 66 c

Jasper Johns (1958) Target. Encaustic on newspaper and cloth on canvas. 66 x 66 c

‘Target’ (1961). This piece is one of the first seen in the exhibition, hung opposite the entrance. It is an iconic piece, a recognisable form repeated often through John’s work.
The most striking thing, for me, when seeing this piece in person is the depth of the collage beneath the encaustic paint. This detail cannot be seen in reproductions of the work, and in reality, the eye is drawn around the work. The image is a target, designed to draw the viewer into the centre, but the way John’s has painted the work draws attention away from the centre point. Hidden reality.

The target and the flag are two of Johns most iconic visual signatures. His choice of subject was a controversial one but the reality of his works make us question the semiotic influence of the icons of our daily lives. Representing and using flags, numbers, symbols, tools, and words he questions our understanding of what these concepts are, and the visual symbols we choose to represent them. Johns use of these unfamiliar familiarities challenges us to re-look at “things the mind already knows.” (Jasper Johns : Something Resembling Truth, 2017)

One of the first rooms was inhabited by work done by Johns based on the number 0-9. He treated these images as symbols, separate from the meaning that we apply to them. (Jasper Johns : Something Resembling Truth, 2017) One drawing overlaid the numbers over each other, creating a semi-recognisable form that balances fiction and nonfiction. Johns reduces and expands the meaning of these symbols and highlights that they are in fact symbols representing something else.

Jasper Johns (1960)  Disappearance 1.  Encaustic and canvas collage on canvas. 101.6 x 101.6 cm.

Jasper Johns (1960) Disappearance 1. Encaustic and canvas collage on canvas. 101.6 x 101.6 cm.

‘Disappearance 1’ - This piece marks a shift in John’s style, with no recognisable elements on the surface. (Jasper Johns : Something Resembling Truth, 2017) I was drawn to it for the collaged canvas placed into the lower section of the work. Paint covers the entire surface, and from a distance the second layer is harder to spot, but close up the corners of the collaged canvas curl and distort, adding literal depth to the illusory surface. The additional canvas alludes to something further hidden, obscured from view by the act of this ‘patching’.

Jasper Johns (2002)  Study for a Painting.  Encaustic on linen and wood with metal and string. 160.7 x 198.8 x 15.2 cm.

Jasper Johns (2002) Study for a Painting. Encaustic on linen and wood with metal and string. 160.7 x 198.8 x 15.2 cm.

Study for a painting’. This piece is one of a series exploring John’s interest in ‘cantenary's’, (Jasper Johns : Something Resembling Truth, 2017) which is a word describing the curve created when a piece of string (or another length) is suspended from either end. A natural curve the strings are hung slightly in front of the canvas, bringing the literal space of the painting into the work in a subtle and effective manner. The strings move slightly as people move around the gallery and the shadow cast on the work constantly moves.

I found both the imagery of the catenary and the execution of this idea beautifully and simplistically complex.

Jasper Johns (1960)  Painting with Two Balls.  Encaustic and collage on canvas with objects. 165.1 x 137.2 cm. 

Jasper Johns (1960) Painting with Two Balls. Encaustic and collage on canvas with objects. 165.1 x 137.2 cm. 

'Painting with two balls'. Three large rectangular canvases are bolted together, a feature that recurs through Johns work form a large, colourful canvas. The top two are shaped to leave an elliptical gap between them, where the artist has placed two painted balls.
This work balances a painterly aesthetic with a direct challenge to the nature of paintings as objects. The viewer can see the walls of the gallery through the work, and the two balls rely upon the objecthood of the stretcher frame to exist in their location.

This piece was one of the first that exemplified John’s talent in merging content and context, into a single piece that both challenges and enthrals.

This piece was accompanied by a series of studies - painted and sketched - which are works of art in their own right. Done in various forms these studies explore the idea, and enhance the form (their almost blocked out colour is a vast difference to the chaotic surface of the final painting)

Jasper Johns (1956)  Canvas.  Encaustic and collage on wood and canvas. 76.3 x 63.5 cm. 

Jasper Johns (1956) Canvas. Encaustic and collage on wood and canvas. 76.3 x 63.5 cm. 

‘Canvas’ - The only feature on this canvas is the addition of a stretcher frame on the surface, which is then covered in an equalising collage - each piece is the same shade, almost the same size and with no recognisable features.
John’s creates a clever visualisation of the hidden reality of a painting. Paintings, traditionally considered, cannot exist without the stretcher that forms them, however this vital element is hidden, and in Modernist theory not part of the painting at all. John’s directly challenges this idea in this piece. With no other forms on the surface this piece articulates its message well.

Jasper Johns (1954)  Star.  Oil, beeswax, and housepaint on newspaper, canvas, and wood with tinted glass, nails. and fabric tape. 572. x 49.5 x 4.8 cm. 

Jasper Johns (1954) Star. Oil, beeswax, and housepaint on newspaper, canvas, and wood with tinted glass, nails. and fabric tape. 572. x 49.5 x 4.8 cm. 

‘Star’ - The subtle connection in this piece is almost impossible to appreciate second-hand. In three of the points of the titular star, Johns has placed glass fronts, echoing a picture frame. The entire object is shown inside its own white frame, without glass.
To me this interaction subverts traditional ideas of framing, and what is and is not part of the frame/work. The glass is polished, when combined with the white frames this has the effect of hiding the glass, until a light reflects off it - which was what drew me in for a closer look at this piece.

‘Painting with ruler and grey’ (Unfortunately all digital images i have found are terrible quality, which somehow seems insulting to the work.)
The ruler, and the colour grey, became a common tool and theme for Johns. (Jasper Johns : Something Resembling Truth, 2017) The inclusion of the ruler into the work speaks to the illusion of depth in painting. In this piece in particular, with the ruler mounted above the surface, hinged in the centre of the painting, the work appears to speak about illusion and depth. The literal size of the painting, which leads towards the illusional depth in traditional painting.

Jasper Johns (1961)  Painting Bitten by a Man.  Encaustic on canvas mounted on type plate. 24.1 x 17.5 cm. 

Jasper Johns (1961) Painting Bitten by a Man. Encaustic on canvas mounted on type plate. 24.1 x 17.5 cm. 

‘Painting bitten by a man’ - Another clever subversion of painting. The surface is made of clay, not paint, and yet the title leaves no doubt in the viewer's mind that they are in fact looking at a painting. The surface is marked by a single form, that we cannot help but recognise as teeth marks. Questioning our ideas of what constitutes a painting as well as ideas of authorship (those were not John’s teeth (Jasper Johns : Something Resembling Truth, 2017)) this piece made me smile in a very honest appreciation of a great work of art.

Jasper Johns (1963-65)  Skin with O'Hara Poem.   Lithograph. 55.9 x 86.4 cm.

Jasper Johns (1963-65) Skin with O'Hara Poem.  Lithograph. 55.9 x 86.4 cm.

'Skin with Ohara poem' - This piece has an inked imprint of the artists face, spread across the surface, forming a distorted representation that is no less real, and arguably more so. Looking at the work I couldn't help but mentally picture the action of the artist, which is an odd form of passive aggression.

Jasper Johns (1967)  Harlem Light.  Oil and collage on canvas (four panels). 198.1 x 436.9 cm.

Jasper Johns (1967) Harlem Light. Oil and collage on canvas (four panels). 198.1 x 436.9 cm.

'Harlem light' - This piece extends the reality of the work by challenging the rectangle. The subtle addition, or redaction depending on your viewpoint, draws attention to the shape of the work, and the regularity of the right angle.

'Field Painting' 1963-64. Oil on canvas with found objects. 182.9 x 93.3 cm.

'Field Painting' 1963-64. Oil on canvas with found objects. 182.9 x 93.3 cm.

'Field painting' - My reason for noting this piece was due to the inclusion of the tools of making in the work. It brings to mind the ‘box with the sound of its own making’ which played the sounds of itself being made. (Jasper Johns : Something Resembling Truth, 2017)

While the fact that these are the tools that were used might not be known without a helpful bit of context placed next to it, the idea has a self-contained autonomy of sorts. (Jasper Johns : Something Resembling Truth, 2017)

The piece is two vertical canvases, which together form a single whole, with metal letters intersecting the two. The metal letters become part of the painting while turning it firmly towards sculpture, and the line between the two (pun probably intended).

The letters spell out the primary colours, which are painted onto the canvas, forming painted ‘shadows’ of the words. The top letter, an ‘R’, is a red neon light, casting its own shadows in opposition to the painting, yet highlighting the illusionistic qualities of painting itself.

The tools of making are attached to the metal lettering, using magnets. The magnets and the neon light echo the dynamic brushwork, a feeling of energy combined with a literal representation of it.

Found objects are used regularly in Johns work. He was fascinated by the notion of the everyday, and it's implications in art. (Jasper Johns : Something Resembling Truth, 2017) The inclusion of the everyday in art highlights the intrinsic link between art and life while referencing the process of making, and nomination.

Johns uses found objects through a painterly lens and attributes the use of found objects as an extension of his interest in paintings as objects. (Jasper Johns : Something Resembling Truth, 2017) The use of objects in a painting draws attention to their “material qualities and formal properties.” (Jasper Johns : Something Resembling Truth, 2017)

Johns interestingly works with an expansion of the two dimensional into three but visa versa in many works. The reality of painting as object is a tool he utilises well.

Jasper Johns (1982)  In the Studio.  Encaustic and collage on canvas with objects. 182.9 x 121.9 x 10.2 cm.

Jasper Johns (1982) In the Studio. Encaustic and collage on canvas with objects. 182.9 x 121.9 x 10.2 cm.

'In the studio' - my personal, and very subjective, opinion of this piece is that it is very effective in terms of message but aesthetically unlikable

A painted plaster arm and a length of thin wood (with connecting string) adorn the surface of this painting. The painting shows the inside of Johns studio, with a representation of another work on the right side of the canvas. The plaster arm hangs in the centre, presented for viewing. A painting of that arm forms the foreground of the work, superimposing the viewer as the artist, as if the viewer is standing exactly where the artist stood, while painting a painting of a plaster arm.

The work is a skillfully executed conversation between viewer and process.

The plaster arm is painted with colourful tessellated diamonds, which directs the viewer not to think of this as something grotesque but as a tool in the artists' world.

Aesthetically I felt that the piece is missing something, the composition doesn't feel balanced in a way some would call ‘right’ and yet the work speaks to the viewer at another level, and the slightly jarring compositional effects enhance the space within the work, and more importantly the viewers' relation to it.

Jasper Johns (1974/75)  Corpse and Mirror II.  Oil on linen (four panels), with painted frame. 146.4 x 191.1 cm.

Jasper Johns (1974/75) Corpse and Mirror II. Oil on linen (four panels), with painted frame. 146.4 x 191.1 cm.

'Corpse with mirror' - Johns became fascinated by the symbolic form of the cross-hatch upon viewing it through a car window. John’s said  “I only saw it for a second, but knew immediately that I was going to use it. It had all the qualities that interest me—literalness, repetitiveness, an obsessive quality, order with dumbness, and the possibility of a complete lack of meaning.” (Painters Painting, 1973) It also shows that brush marks in different paintings and images that have different meanings.  It’s not just the marks but their relationship with their surroundings that makes meaning. The reading is different depending on context.  The marks are arbitrary, what gives them meaning is their relationship to their surroundings.

This piece is a series of dark cross hatches that are interlocked over a white surface. What drew me most to this work is that Johns has continued the painting onto the interior of the frame, directly linking the two in a way the viewer cannot ignore.

I would be tempted to argue that this subtle manipulation of a relatively traditional painting encapsulates two of John's main interests - painterly aesthetics (and the context therein) and the reality of the painting object.

Jasper Johns (1962)  Fools House.  Oil on canvas with objects. 182.9 x 91.4 cm.

Jasper Johns (1962) Fools House. Oil on canvas with objects. 182.9 x 91.4 cm.

‘Fools house’ - This piece has the unique quality of being reproduced larger than life on a banner outside the RA. It adorns all advertising about the exhibition and as such has gained a spike in existence, for a short period. It's not hard to see why this piece was chosen, it fits perfectly with the exhibition's title.

As with the other paintings in this room, Johns combined found objects with painterly process. In this piece, the main focus is a broom, used as a paintbrush. The use of what is basically an oversized paintbrush is a vivid association which Johns combines with the implicit action of the artist in the brushstroke and paint hardened bristles. The colour palette is refined and shows a harmony between object and paint.


This piece, and the others in this space twist the purpose of everyday objects. Using teacups as an artistic tool and then as an element in ‘Art’ itself challenges our understanding of the purpose of these objects. The use of them in painting questions the nature of representation and reality.

Jasper Johns (1960)  Painted Bronze.  Painted Bronze. 34.3 x 20.3 cm.

Jasper Johns (1960) Painted Bronze. Painted Bronze. 34.3 x 20.3 cm.


'Painted Bronze'

This is a sculpture, of a coffee can filled with paintbrushes, reproduced in bronze. This labour intensive task, to create something that already exists and is overlooked in its banality, is a brilliant visualisation of the nature of art; as a way to explore the reality of visual language. This work questions our understanding of what is true and what is false, we are left wondering which one is art, and why.

'Summer' and 'Fall'

Johns interests have shifted through the decades to a more introspective field. (Jasper Johns : Something Resembling Truth, 2017). His early works attempted to disassociate his emotions and feeling from the works. As he got older his rigidity in this stance lowered somewhat. A series of four paintings, ‘summer’, ‘winter’, ‘spring’ and ‘fall’ are allegorical works that explore the artist's life and the human condition. John’s interest in the human form is hardly new in his work, the inclusion of plaster body parts, inspired by a visit to Madame Tussauds, (Jasper Johns : Something Resembling Truth, 2017) speaks to an interest in the human in relation to art.
These works are full of metaphor and allusion and are quite stunning things to explore and understand.

A single important element that I found visually arresting are the painted hands included in ‘Summer’ and ‘Fall’. In both a handprint forms the representation of a hand, the arm is a blocked line that continues from the edges of the print. Neither of these things is a hard or an arm, and yet we read both as such. John’s combines these with an arrow, symbolising movement through the careful application of symbols.

I made a few notes about certain works being next to each other, and have subsequently not been able to find images of the works in question. This exhibition was brilliantly curated, and while the possibilities of curation are almost as far reaching as the possibilities of art, there were some insightful connections between works of disparate times.

I have a single image of the sort of connections I mean (below) in which we see a physical work with a cantanery, next to a sketch of one (done years earlier) with a painting of one. Each of these iterations forms a conversation from a slightly different perspective and the relation between them in this exhibition serves to highlight the artist's intention and the meaning attributed to the works.

Ally McGinn (2017) Installation View  'Something Resembling Truth' 

Ally McGinn (2017) Installation View 'Something Resembling Truth' 

The following is a note I made that I have been unable to place. ‘Screen piece 3’ alludes me. This is one of the problems of not being able to take photographs of works and yet having no catalogue of them without purchasing one.

“No - shown next to - screen piece 3 - Very important”


While this text is formed of a few notes and thoughts it's shear word count and importance to my practice leads me to want to write a conclusion of sorts.

Johns clever use of semiotics is part of what makes his works so complex. The pieces speak of things we already know, making us question our own perceptions.

I cannot currently sufficiently articulate the importance of this exhibition. I can see myself in alignment with Johns (although obviously at very different levels). Johns was concerned with a different subject, albeit a linked one, and his ‘style’ is skillful, unique, and undeniably painterly where I work with installation, yet the way he works, the way he views art and, especially, the brilliantly executed works in the ‘painting as object’ room, are something I can honestly say I aspire too.

The medium and message are balanced brilliantly by an inspirational artist.

Exhibition View. Matisse.

Exhibition View. Matisse.


This exhibition was in a much smaller gallery, with far more sculptural elements, which made the rooms feel far more crowded and moving around a collaborative experience.

The curation of this exhibition was themed towards the objects that inspired Matisse, often from his studio, and the corresponding works. (Matisse in the Studio, 2017)

Each ‘object’ was surrounded by sketches, tests, paintings and collages, creating implicit connections between inspiration/subject and artwork. Being able to see these connections gave the viewing of this exhibition more of a museum-like quality.

Many of the things we would consider artworks were not alone on a wall, waiting to be contemplated. The reading of them was directed towards a comparison between object and representation. The process highlighted through the viewing of the works.

The objects themselves are not only revered by the artist in his creation of work but by the curators in the creation of this exhibition and the collectors who have archived them.

Exhibition poster

Exhibition poster


Duchamp has long been an interest and influence of mine. I have seen his work in various places over the years. I am in the process of pulling together a text about the importance of his works, especially ‘readymades’, and the implications in terms of nomination, deskilling and the everyday, so I won't go into great detail about these things here.

This exhibition explored and presented the friendship, respect and mutual admiration of Salvador Dali and Marcel Duchamp. (Dali / Duchamp, 2017) I found the exhibition extremely interesting, for the relationships between the works of these vastly different men.

The rooms were ‘shared’ between the two artists, with works shown with relational significance to one another. Many of Duchamp’s cubist paintings were in the first few rooms of the exhibition.

Marcel Duchamp (1917, replica 1964)  Fountain.  Porcelain. 36 x 48 x 61 cm.

Marcel Duchamp (1917, replica 1964) Fountain. Porcelain. 36 x 48 x 61 cm.

In the penultimate room was a large cabinet containing a variety of sculptural works and texts, the majority of them by Duchamp. Amongst other readymades, images and objects sat ‘Fountain’ the iconic readymade of 1917. It isn’t the first time I’ve seen this work but once more I am struck by the shine on the surface and the fragility of the material.

A short background - this piece was ‘found’ by Duchamp in a shop window, it was commercially available at the time. He entered it into an open exhibition in 1917, and it was denied. (Dali / Duchamp, 2017) Duchamp argued that it was the choosing and nomination of the object, the additional paint added seems to be almost irrelevant in this argument, by an artist that defined this work as art. (Dali / Duchamp, 2017) The fact that it was an everyday object, that someone could walk to a shop and buy the same thing Duchamp did, was an important fact in its creation and importance.

In all honesty, seeing the work is best described as disappointing, but the interesting thing is the reason why. The work is no less important for the viewing of it but in this case, knowledge causes the viewing to be diluted, and I am sure I'm not alone in that stance. Knowledge allows the understanding that the piece behind this glass is a replica. (Dali / Duchamp, 2017) The original was destroyed and the manufacturer no longer made that model. Due to its status, the ‘artwork’ was reproduced and there are now four in existence.

This quartet of physical reproductions can be compared to an image in a book. That is not to say that there is no difference between seeing the image of this work on a screen/paper and seeing it in person but there is certainly a change when knowing the reality of the object in front of us.

Its original context was reliant on the nature of its creation, manipulation and nomination by the artist. This object represents that idea and that work, but it is not it. I suppose there is an argument that the reproduction of this object, on the grounds of its status as a masterpiece, turns it into something else.

In the same cabinet as ‘Fountain’ and many other works ‘Bicycle Wheel’ stands in a corner. Closer to the viewer (because the viewer can directly access 270 degrees of view.) the piece is slightly more removed than some of the others.

The curation of this room groups readymades together behind glass, which I instinctively dislike, however, the purpose of the exhibition is not a view of Duchamp but a relational conversation between him and Dali, and so the display can be rationalised in this sense.


The single most emotive piece in this exhibition, for me, was not an artwork but a note.

In the final room of the exhibition, the viewers walk in to see the piece ‘The bride laid bare by her grooms’. (Dali / Duchamp, 2017) The piece is a large sheet of glass which Duchamp spent 8 years planning and painting. The viewer can see through the work (and at first sight another doorway is visible) which questions and confronts the viewer with the space of the work and its situation.

Accompanying the work is a book, created by Duchamp, containing pages of notes, drawings and information that forms the contextual foundation of the work. The book was shown in a corner of the room, closed, with a few pages copied in a cabinet, and 6 of the original notes framed on the wall above.(Dali / Duchamp, 2017)

One of these notes contains and objectifies the moment Duchamp had the idea to paint on glass. This small piece of paper, written in blue pen, with a line crossed out in haste or mistake, was more fascinating to me than the work it preceded. There, contained in a small frame, with the translation on the wall beside it, is the moment of the idea. This monumental idea that would occupy 8 years of the artist's life, on a small ripped scrap of paper. (Please note - I have attempted to find an image of this note, but again the internet is not a friend in cases like this.)

There are many who argue that the idea is the important factor in an artist's work, and just as many who argue that it is the process that is important. Whichever is true, this note remains important, and for me was as interesting as seeing some of the works in the exhibition. Seeing the work of someone as famous as Dali or Duchamp is often a game of recognition, we see a work in person and remember where we have seen it in reproduction. One of the pronounced effects of seeing a work in person is the knowledge that it is ‘authentic’ or ‘original’ or somehow more ‘real’ than seeing it reproduced. I would argue that seeing the note by Duchamp has the same ephemeral quality, and given its inclusion in the exhibition it must be a common thought.

Ally McGinn (2017) Exposed wall in the RA staircase

Ally McGinn (2017) Exposed wall in the RA staircase

The Seismographs and other observations about the RA

Two of the most impressive parts of the visit to the RA had nothing to do with the work being shown, and everything to do with space itself.

The building is steeped in history, and everything about it gives visual signs to that effect. Gold and plaster details line the walls and space is preserved and combined with modern elements. Walking up the main staircase there are two large bare sections of wall, one either side of the stairs. There is a small plaque on the left side, up another section of stairs, that explains that some work has been removed during the redevelopment of parts of the building (the assumption being that this is to protect the works) the works are due to return in 2018.

Accompanying text explains that the revealed walls date back to the original Burlington building from the 17th and 18th century. The juxtaposition of unrestored, raw, brick wall against the expertly finished presentational walls of the RA is utterly beautiful.

These hidden walls are artworks in their own right, and I am extremely glad that I visited the RA while they were on show. Walking up the grand staircase to see these beautiful things, made me (and I hope others) question whether it was an intentional ‘artwork’.  Part of me hopes that some people see the small text set up the next stairs and assume that they are.

Of all artworks in the RA there is one that is more prevalent than any other, it is in every exhibition, and remains mostly unseen by visitors.

In each of the rooms, there is a small drawing machine in one corner, mounted just above eye height. The primary function of these machines isn't to draw, but a drawing is produced as a result of their process: Seismographs.

These small, slightly ‘retro’ looking, machines are functional parts of the gallery, but their inclusion in every exhibition held at the RA combined with their placement on a wall, argues for their nomination as ‘Art’.

Photography isn't permitted in the RA, and so I couldn't get a photo of one of these wonderful hidden artworks, and trawling through images on google doesn't seem to yield any results. I endeavour to keep looking.

Ally McGinn (2017) Exposed wall in the RA staircase

Ally McGinn (2017) Exposed wall in the RA staircase

Spruth Magers Gallery

The main exhibition at this gallery was by British artist Gary Hume. The feature I enjoyed most in these works was the realisation of their material. The type and application of the paint combined with unstretched paper forms an almost ceramic appearance. Indeed we had to get the information document to find out whether they were ceramics or not. (Gary Hume : Mum, 2017)

The works therefore become hybrids without leaving their specified medium. This is a wonderful effect, and the misconceptions about material add to the questions that the works invoke. Through the balance of materiality they speak about more than the pictorial illusion that is represented.

One of the pieces balanced the misconception well through a small gap between the fields of colour on the surface, through which the paper, and initial pencil marks, are visible. I particularly enjoyed this feature and it was one that drew more of an interaction; I got closer to the work to explore the small gap.

Gary Hume (2017) ' Mum '. Spruth Magers Gallery, London. 

Gary Hume (2017) 'Mum'. Spruth Magers Gallery, London. 

David Zwirner Gallery

This gallery was showing work by Sherrie Levine (see blog post ‘authorship’ for a bit more about her work). The first piece is ‘from Van Gogh’ a series of modular painted panels. Each panel is painted in a single flat colour, taken from Van Gogh’s original. The resulting twelve panels are hung equidistant horizontally. They are the only piece in this room and demand focus.

Adjoining the first room are two gold sculptures and twelve glass covered pieces. In this room, I was struck by the reflection of the sculptures in the glass on the other works. I couldn't say if this was an intentional effect but it was nonetheless an interesting one, and one I plan to use in my work.

Upstairs showed a series of photographic works by Levine. (Interesting this ensemble of photographs were where most of the other students spent most of their time - there was more to look at - this is an important note for my installations)

Like the RA this gallery had a small, functional, visual quirk. At the base of each wall was a small, but wide, recess. I lacked the guts to bend down in the gallery to see what was inside the recesses, something I now regret, but when talking to tutors about it later we concluded that they are for ventilation. I'll admit I became slightly obsessed with these functional interactions with the space, necessary because it is an art gallery.

Sherrie Levine (2017) Exhibition Shot. David Zwirner Gallery, London.

Sherrie Levine (2017) Exhibition Shot. David Zwirner Gallery, London.

Sadie Coles Gallery

The first thing I have to say about this gallery is an appreciation of the space. Unlike the other galleries, this one is a large open space on the first floor. (along with another smaller room and space downstairs)

The work in this show was an eclectic mix by the same artist, which was a brilliant example of the varied practice an artist can have.

The works were very interesting and thought-provoking and I think this is the exhibition that we appreciated the most, as a group. We certainly all seemed a bit more animated in this gallery. (Although it might be because it was the last one after 6 hours of exhibitions and we knew we were about to sit down)

Through a separate door of the gallery is an installation that reproduces a small shop, complete with working cash register and staff. The artist has gathered real products, and then removed all of the product, before resealing the packaging to place it on the shelves. Thousands of psudeo-products are for sale in the ‘shop’ for the same price as their original. I was, and still am, in awe of this piece. It questions capitalist society, our desire to ‘own’ things and the advertising industry in an experiential way that is accessible if only due to price.

'Zhongguo' (2017) Exhibition Shot. Sadie Coles Gallery, London.

'Zhongguo' (2017) Exhibition Shot. Sadie Coles Gallery, London.

Contemporary Galleries - other points.

These galleries were carefully presented, in addition to curation. This included, in some, the repainting of the gallery walls to produce the most effective experience for viewing the works.

The main thing to strike me about these careful presentations were the empty walls. Emphasis was placed on a few pieces, occasionally a single piece in a large space. I note this most because of my tendency to over-fill. Redaction is an important idea this year.

With the exception of the Sadie Coles gallery the spaces were split between relatively small rooms, with the artworks having no extra information that could compete with the contemplation of the works. This extra information can be obtained through guides and price lists. Which are admittedly helpful for remembering the exhibition.

Entrance to most of the galleries was via buzzer, and the spaces were quiet and still.

Ally McGinn (2017) Installation in progress. London.

Ally McGinn (2017) Installation in progress. London.

I cannot remember which of the galleries this image was taken from, I believe it was Spruth Magers, but I'm not 100% on that. However, I was struck by the process of protecting the base of this work - a foam brick. I'm sure I can make use of that in my studio practice.

Comparison of RA with other galleries

Something that we were encouraged to pay attention to was the differences between the curation and settings in commercial/contemporary galleries and the exhibitions at the RA.

While the more contemporary galleries are more relevant to our own practices, and how we might want to display the work or situate ourselves, I noticed another difference that might work with the subject of my work.

In the RA all works were shown with relevant information, often including contextual information. Each room was accompanied by a short piece of text displayed on the wall. While not all visitors stopped to read these words, many did, and the majority of those did so before looking at the work.

Each thematic text worked to situate the work in the viewer's mind, or at least situate the artist at the time the work was made. The viewers were then contextually primed to look at the work and understand what the artist intended. Whether they agree/disagree/like/hate/understand/misinterpret, or form any other opinion, or simply move past - the information is available and presented with the work.

An obvious reason for this presentation/inclusion of information is that these are retrospective exhibitions. These are artists we already consider masters, and we care about the meaning of the work because it has achieved validation.

However the important point for me was the way this work was shown, and i am going to experiment with this dynamic in my studio work.

The inclusion of notes and preliminary sketches is another marked difference in the RA. We are interested in how these masterpieces were made, and so the evidence of making is carefully curated (especially in the case of Matisse) to reflect that interest.

In the commercial galleries, there were no titles or names. Visitors have to collect information sheets, and press releases, to gather the information they need. This could be argued to be a clearer experience, but I was drawn to the RA more, simply because there is no possibility of buying the works.

The art market is a vital symbiote of the art world, and I note again here that my interest in this contrast is in terms of subject rather than presentation, but there is an element of purity in the rise beyond commercialism in the RA.

( A note should be made of course that this subjective opinion is from the perspective of a poor art student, and there could be those who see the RA from a commercial perspective.)

So I suppose one way to explain my dual interests here is a preference to the RAs curatorial method in the subject in my work, and a study of the curatorial method of other galleries in the presentation of my work.

Ally McGinn (2017) Thames view, London.

Ally McGinn (2017) Thames view, London.

Walking around London - a personal reflection.

London makes me nervous, it always has and I have previously struggled with spending time in London, which has had a massive impact on my ability and experience with exhibition visits.

With this in mind, I attempted to perceive London differently from the outset. I had a few hours before meeting the others at the RA, which I spent walking around, ending up in Hyde Park.

We then walked from the RA around all the other galleries we visited.

I spent the Saturday walking more.

Experiencing London in this way, often walking without a particular destination in mind (inspired by the idea of the flaneur) made me view the city in a very different light.

I cannot currently articulate what that experience means, and part of the perspective shift I have felt leads me to realize that I don’t have to, at least for now, in this document.


This is not an academic observation, but a very personal one.

I have been struggling since starting the MA, which is to be expected to some degree. I am an obsessive, self-driven and passionate person, which often manifests in an overwhelming sense of pressure – which stunts creativity and the work being made. I have found it difficult to break from this sense of pressure (which was comparable to the pressure at the end of the BA) and this trip was the first time I have felt free of it.

The combination of exhibitions (RA and contemporary), observations (of the space and my interactions with it) and freedom to wander worked together to form an experience I couldn’t quantify or separate. This document is an attempt to mark the moment, begin deconstructing the individual elements and examine the experiential whole.



Dali / Duchamp (2017) [Exhibition]. Royal Academy, London. 7 October 2017 - 3 January 2018.

Gary Hume : Mum (2017) [Exhibition]. Spruth Magers Gallery, London. 30 September - 23 December 2017.

Jasper Johns: Something Resembling Truth (2017) [Exhibition]. Royal Academy, London. 23 September - 10 December 2017.

Matisse in the Studio (2017) [Exhibition]. Royal Academy, London. 5 August - 12 November 2017.

Sherrie Levine : Pie Town (2017) [Exhibition]. David Zwirner Gallery, London. 4 October - 18 November 2017.

XUZHEN Supermarket (2007/2017) (2017) [Exhibition]. Sadie Coles Gallery, London. 21 September - 4 November 2017.

Zhongguo 2185 (2017) [Exhibition]. Sadie Coles Gallery, London. 21 September - 4 November 2017.


Duchamp, M (….) ‘The Richard Mutt Case’. In: Harrison, C and Wood, P. eds. Art in Theory:1900-2000 An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Blackwell: 252.

Painters painting: a candid history of the modern art scene. (1973) [DVD] Emille de Antonio. USA: Arthouse films.

Tompkins, C. (2013) Marcel Duchamp: The afternoon interviews. Brooklyn: Badlands Unlimited.


Research methodologies - Reflective Task - Aims and Objectives by Ally McGinn

The following document is part of one of the tasks given to us during this module. It marks an articulation of my aims and objectives.  As discovered through writing the previous few posts – I am an inductive, practice-led researcher and as such the method follows an un-prescribed step-by-step approach. 

I am most fascinated by the incidental nature of process (meaning process in the studio, process in research or even logistical process) which makes this task quite difficult. The best ideas in my work, and life, have come when I have released control (which I try enormously to hold on too) and I am loath to attempt to unpick things too much or go against a process that works.

Simply put – The thread of relevance and focus will be simple to follow retrospectively but is difficult to predict due to the organic nature of the process itself.

Having said that this is the most articulate this document has become at the moment. I may revisit this text in a later post, mid-research.
The objectives align to the diagrams in the previous post, but are not ruled by them.

My interest lies in the incidental process in art and the nomination and understanding of art and the space it occupies.

By investigating traditional ‘rules’, processes and materials I aim to identify elements that can be practically subverted or skewed to encourage new conversations between material, viewer and space.

I plan to adopt a methodical objectivist approach to literary research combined with practical investigations into the ontological reality of artistic practice, forming a inductive, bifurcated method. I am a practice-led researcher and practitioner. With a methodical deconstruction of ideas, I aim to explore our understanding, and perception of art.


  • Deconstruct canvas, physically and in concept. Comparing the reality of the object with it's primary function.
  • Investigate traditional methods, process and materials, to identify areas of interest
    • Sub-question - Investigate the ‘space’ of art (i.e: the gallery or other curated setting) and it's function regarding the reading of art as art. (Because it's only through the gallery that nomination can serve as process)
  • Investigate the role of the viewer/onlooker in art.
    • Sub-question - Explore Derrida’s theory of the ‘parergon’ to better understand the concept and purpose of the frame in art and it's implications on the space and interpretation of art.

Other possibilities/interests;

  • investigate theory surrounding the loss of control (and control in general)
  • Investigate the notion of nomination as process.

No bibliography for this post

Next post - Time to get down to some actual research, rather than just thinking about thinking! Next post is Derrida, and his theories about the frame. 

Research Methodologies - Mind Maps by Ally McGinn

Welcome to the most image heavy blog post I think im going to have.

My mind maps have come through in a few stages.

Through creating these maps, and attempting to identify my aims and objectives, I have realised what my methodology is, in its most practical terms.

To pin down my aims and objectives, i have to first look at my methodology as it has exsisted to date. I am an organised and slightly obsessive personality, i work using a practice-led method with often reactive explorations. This is true of both my studio practice and my research. For example, during my degree, I began research by mind-mapping keywords and known associated artists. This initial deconstruction led the research, which then focussed as the research progressed and a true interest arose.

This approach does not lend itself well to an initial question or much specificity, instead following an organic and intuitive focus to a defined end. I find myself unable to currently define exactly what I am going to bring together, but through doing (as in the studio, with writing, with looking at a thick book, or even getting out of bed in the morning…..) I find the only solution for me is to begin.

An interesting point that I have to note now. The penultimate paragraph in the last post was an exposition of my methodology in technical terms, with the help of a book and a very descriptive table. Whereas the paragraph above is the practical description, based on a discussion with my husband about the ways I work, and time spent staring at this document. Deductive vs inductive exploration of the same thing. It would be an interesting exercise to explore whether the two are actually saying the same things, and if not the differences could be fascinating.

So to begin.

I started with the broadest view of my studio practice, and its contextual links.

The images are very complicated and with far too many associations and links. I split them into primary and secondary (more to do with concerns with space as opposed to other considerations)

Primary research subjects/artists/texts

Primary research subjects/artists/texts

Secondary research subjects/artists/texts

Secondary research subjects/artists/texts

These images are complicated, and far too inclusive and undefined.

I next created a mind map based on the keywords highlighted in our initial weeks of the MA.

Keywords and terms

Keywords and terms

This deconstruction remains too undefined yet somehow restrictive.

I tried a few different ways of categorising the artists, subjects and texts. It's hard to say whether these are useful at the moment but they are a form of data collection.

Category explorations

Category explorations

Final Maps - Level 1

The final iteration of my mind maps, for now at least, removes the majority of the lines. I felt like those connections had become too numerous and convoluted. The images are too hard to read and decipher.
This mind map contains a few lines - where connections needed to be made explicit. The format of this map is based on the location of artists/texts/words to each other.

I feel that this map is far more indicative of my practice, and is something i can use as i continue forward as a foundation for where i am, where i might be soon and where i might find areas of interest.

2nd generation mind map exploring my practice and associated links

2nd generation mind map exploring my practice and associated links

An initial deconstruction of this map found three primary 'areas', although this is only an initial, and almost intuitive, deconstruction. I have tentatively titled these areas 'process', 'context' and 'material'. 


I then challenged myself to choose the most important elements. 


I began redacting this copy, before quite quickly realising that it was redundant. These things are all important in some way, however this drew me to an important realisation - some of these things have moved into the realm of inspiration as opposed to objective. 

Level 2
To further understand this development of research done over time i deconstructed the above information into a chronological catalogue of interests and context over the last three years, and potentially the next. 


This iteration has been the most useful for organising my thoughts and where i might want to begin researching this year. 
While some of the subjects have lasted through the years, the focus has certainly narrowed. 

With the combination of the two i believe i have a far more solid foundation of what i am interested in and where potential areas of research lay. 

While all of the information in level 1 is relevant in some way it is not where my objectives may lie. I found the distinction between what has become an influence (by dint of previous research) and my objectives to be an important one. 

Level 3

Taking the words most associated with my current practice (far right coloumn on the previous image) the next image attempts to locate those words in practical terms - where they intersect with my practice. 

The colours were then added to organise/simplify by 'subject'. The list in the top centre of the image shows the three words for each of the three 'subjects'.


This transitory document was extremely useful in trying to deconstruct what i consider to be the most important elements of my current artistic practice. 

Level 4

Re-presenting the above information led to this iteration, which is a redacted (more workable) version of level 1. The information is not really any different, but the perspective is. 


This final level, categorised for now into three sections, shows a true deconstruction of interests and aims. Ive highlighted a few areas of research interest (in yellow), one or more of these elements will make up the coming research posts. 

The image speaks for itself. The process of deconstruction has been difficult, confusing and generally overwhelming, but, as i think this final image shows, productive. I have a far clearer idea of where i am, and where i might want to be. 

Next post - a short document articulating my aims and objectives in the most definitive terms I can identify now. Far more confident thanks to these mind maps.


Please click here for a full list of texts referred to in mind maps. (PLEASE NOTE - not all of these texts have been referenced, but they are in the plan to be.)

Research Methodology - Questions - Where I am now, or where I think I am. by Ally McGinn

In the previous post I explored a few of the methods that might be used. This post discusses methodology in fuller terms.

A foundation, a marking of where I am, before the full research begins.

We have had a suggestion that the exploration of our tacit understanding is important at this point. Meaning that it is important to use information we already know and have explored, which is logistically harder to condense into a bibliography.

We’ll begin with this diagram again, which i need to be able to answer to get to my sources of research.


Who we are as researchers forms methodology, but this is broken down into the reality we are looking at (ontology) the questions we ask (epistemology, and ontology) the lens we are looking through (theoretical perspective), the worldview (paradigm) and our tools (methods).  

The epistemological and ontological concerns will arise in direct response to the research being done and aren't necessarily questions to be answered now. However, understanding my theoretical perspective is something I can certainly begin to unpick.

One of the first questions I should cover relates to my aims and objectives. Which brings me to the distinction between inductive vs deductive research.

Inductive vs deductive

Research is the gaining of knowledge in some way, and there are many practical applications and areas of research, many that we don't acknowledge as such. Deductive research can be described as research where the question or theory is known and tested, whereas inductive can be described as generating new information from an exploration of subjects, materials or processes.
I see this as the division between knowing the question you are asking and trying to figure it out through process - which is a very big part of many artists studios, including mine.

In terms of placing myself, I would say that I am an inductive worker, although in research I lean more towards deductive at times.

Qualitative vs quantitative

The previous post deals with the definition of these terms, but a moment should be taken to explore them on a personal level.
I am, as are many artists, a qualitative researcher (tacit knowledge, with an emphasis on value) although at times I use quantitative methods (occasionally subconsciously) to help move my practice.

Research to date

In future, if I continue the blog as I expect to, I may come back to explore research i have done to date. If i hope to underpin my practice in its entirelty this seems to be something I will need to do. However, for the purposes of a module of the MA, that backgrounding is not going to be possible now. I know these things, they have shaped my practice to date and i have notebooks filled with information, annotated texts and diagrams, to solidify and support my practice. 

I may refer to this information in this blog, where I do I plan to reference the information as much as possible. The information has been assimilated, to a certain extent, and I may assume in places (I hope to control this).

The urge to quantify the research to date, is strong, but this blog is not a definition of my practice, but instead serves as a record and research tool in my ongoing research. 

Aims and Objectives

In the simplest terms, I aim to develop my contextual knowledge to enrich the work being done in the studio. In addition, I hope to gain an understanding of the balance of research within the practice itself. The haptic nature of explorations in the studio.

I have a broad range of interests, especially when we take into account the depth that can be found in a single material, for example. Any aspect of the practice, materials or context could, with a little research, become a vast exploration.

For now, we have been advised to look at the practice, and it's associations, in broader terms. A focused subject will be chosen quite soon but for now, my objectives centre around expanding the terms around my practice and mapping their connections.

I'm not going to go into this with more detail today. There will be a post in the next week detailing a better-defined series of aims and objectives.


One thing I can say about my methodology since starting this blog is that writing is at the heart of it. At the beginning of each post my knowledge is like the page, rather empty, but through the writing, I have to articulate, and that is impossible without understanding, which leads to research and often an hour writing a single paragraph.

Trying to explain these terms, and ideas helps to understand them, which explains the bulging context folders I was known for producing during my BA.

Through reflection on the practical practice of research, I've come to acknowledge that this is something I have always done when researching. A very practical approach.

As an artist, I have a practice-led perspective, where my interests are led by the work being done in the studio. I research something because it has potential impact or impetus, which is worth stating.

Paul Minot, a senior lecturer at Bath Spa, gave a wonderful lecture this week about the practical realities of a practice-led approach, and the way the outcome of the research might be formed, which is not always as simple as it appears.

“Research – means to search for something in a systematic way. “ Re-search.

The paradox of research is: 1/ if you know what you're looking for, whats the point of looking for it? How will you find anything ‘new’? 2/ If you don’t know what you're looking for how will you know when you’ve found it?

In other words – if a theory exists whats the point in re-stating it? And, how do you know if there is a theory at all?

‘re-search’ = ‘re-collection’

‘Anamnesis’ – a philosophical idea (from Plato) that suggests that we already ‘know’ everything but we just haven’t recalled it yet. Making recollection an approach to research, which can be interpreted to mean, that research is best driven by instinct.

What we should be taking from this is the importance of instinct. We should go with what we know. We are artists and that has an impact on the way we research as well as the subject.

Only later in the process does a ‘method’ emerge, once you become more aware of what's driving the instinct. In Paul’s experience, there are four methods, all determined by identifying patterns in the research. (we are looking for patterns)

  • Sometimes the theory becomes before the content (The instinct can be interest and curiosity.)
  • Sometimes the theory comes after the content.
  • Sometimes the theory is the content
  • Sometimes the content is the theory – there is no theory, just making. (Making something you don’t understand and then researching the thing you have made. Its important to remember that is a form of research. There is a methodology in the process itself. Theory can come afterwards, written by someone else.)

The important thing to remember at this point, and taken from the lecture, is that the form the research takes and the outcome occupies are not as obvious as it would first appear.


Trying to pin down a single paradigm that defines or exemplifies my stance seems an enormous task, and I could well be confusing the issue.

I found this quote really useful “A scientific paradigm, in the most basic sense of the word, is a framework containing all of the commonly accepted views about a subject, a structure of what direction research should take and how it should be performed.”

Reading it made me realise I missed my paradigm by being too involved in it, to me the paradigm is obvious.

My paradigm is the context of art history. I am researching from the perspective of an artist, and my research to date has been in this field. I have a keen interest in the definition of art, and it's potential to impact the appreciation of art outside the gallery. Much of my research to date has revolved around this issue. (Explored in greater depth in the next post - ‘Mind maps’)

However, I still felt that I was being clouded on the issue of what a paradigm is. Thankfully one of the research books has been returned to the library and i have discovered the following table (page 20 in a brilliant book called ‘Visualising Research’ detailed listed at the bottom of the page)


During research it is singularly important to question our assumptions. With an interesting similarity to the development of the art world, the methodology of science remained mostly unchanged for 300 years, following the positivist paradigm, which can be defined as a distance approach, with an emphasis on fact, empirical evidence and a removal of value associations. Following that came the post-positivist paradigm, which challenged traditional notions and expanded the field.

The above table articulates, in a way that i currently cannot, the definition and examples of what a paradigm is, and how we might understand it to better understand our research.

Theoretical perspective (where do I stand as a researcher?)

Defining my theoretical perspective involves discussing my approach, which is firmly in the practice-led column. Through writing this post i have better come to understand what those words mean, in practical terms, and have built my perspective without realising it.


This is something I'm going to be coming back to in the coming months, as the methodology is put into practice.

So to my methodology - how I am going to do this - I'm going to continue using haptic, objectivist and semiotic methods of research to explore the headings that come from the mind mapping. I plan to write short blog posts about each subject (be it a person, artwork, or idea)

I am coming from the perspective of an practice-led artist, meaning i am most likely to use a mixed method approach, as this is remarkably similar to my studio practice - no single medium, theory or visual subject defines the work definitively, there are always overlaps.

This can be described as a ‘bricoleur’ - or a pieced together approach, that combines a “close-knit set of practices that provide solutions to a problem in a concrete situation.” Brewer and Hunter (1989)

The thing i have found most interesting about this term (covered on page 74 of ‘Visualising Research’) is that the form the research takes when presented is often a bricoleur, the method becomes the work.

Based on the table shown above i can extrapolate that i have a ‘relativist’ ontology (i cannot deny that my study and writing to date have had a definitive interpretive slant), a ‘modified-objectivist’ epistemology (given that distance is required to a certain degree when researching art history but the combination with practical, ontological, research in the studio emphasises the relationship between the two) and a ‘hermeneutic, dialectic’ or possibly ‘modified experimental/manipulative’ methodology (given that my methodology is still something i'm studying it might be simpler to say a mixed-method or bifurcated methodology)

Although labels are not always a positive it would appear that the specifics i have identified would have my methodology most closely aligned with the constructivist or post-positivist paradigm (although i fully expect this to change as i come to know the subject of research more)

Next post - mind maps…..


Brewer, J. and Hunter, A. (1989) Multimethod research: A synthesis of styles. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Gray, G. and Malins, J. (2004) Visualising research. Oxon: Routledge.

Martyn Shuttleworth (2008) What is a paradigm [Online] Explorable. Available from: [Accessed - 10th October 2017]

Minot, P. (2017) Research methodologies week 3. Research Methodologies module, MA program 2017/18. Bath Spa. 10th October 2017.

Whiting, M. (2017) Research methodologies week 3. Research Methodologies module, MA program 2017/18. Bath Spa. 10th October 2017.

Research Methodologies - Exploring methods by Ally McGinn

I have a few books on research on hold in the library, the MA cohort at Bath Spa is keen and the wait might be a few weeks. In the interim I've found a few great sources of information online and I'm going to attempt to use some of the methods introduced on Tuesday to explore a few ideas.

Research Methodologies - methods

Before getting into the meat of what I’m going to research, I thought it might be a good idea to have a firmer grasp of the how.

'-ology' means there has been a debate or study. So in Methodology there has been a discussion and study about the methods themselves. Decisions made. Arguments defended. (How you completed the study.) These decisions add up to your approach – the outcome of your methodology or your methodological considerations.

A research methodology is the combination of methods, perspectives, and understandings around the way we research (the study of the methods/research itself). Understanding the variety of methods that form a methodology can help to formulate questions and direct research into new directions. (The other elements of my methodology, including the theoretical perspective, will be explored in the next post)

Different approaches can form different results, especially when the methodology isn’t understood. There are things that can affect the results of research we are doing that are assumed to be true or false. Those assumptions can refute the data/information if not explored and accounted for.  Exploring the methodology can allow an understanding of those assumptions and an incorporation of them into the research.


A research method is a tool or structure used to explore the research. They are usually explainable (to an extent) and I struggled to find an exhaustive list of them, as their inclusion can be as subjective as their processes. Roughly put; it is the way the research happens.

Data gathering, and the forms it takes.


Three methods have struck me as being interesting for my own research at this stage (although I may end up using others later) and I have arguably been using these in some form in my research to date, albeit unknowingly and in an incomplete sense.

  • Haptic (primarily involving touch, and the physical interaction with the subject) in hindsight I can say that this is a common research method in the studio, which is a place for the haptic.
  • Objectivism (Seeing the reality of the object in its component parts, and understanding the object to take it further) this logical approach seems like something I would enjoy and echoes the Derridian theory of deconstruction, which I use as a source of inspiration when none is readily available.
  • and, Semiotic (concerning the relationship between image and meaning. Communication through recognised signs and symbols) which I've always found as interesting as language - both are agreed upon constructs that we use in daily life, often without being consciously aware of it.

As an exercise I’m going to use these three methods to understand how we might explore different elements of research.

In this case;

  • a well known artwork (Duchamp’s Fountain),
  • a piece of my own work,
  • a theory (Derrida’s parergon),

There are far more topics, subjects and ‘things’ that could be explored like this, but this is a short exercise to help me understand the terms and the, potential, practical uses of them.


Before continuing to the exploration, I’m going to solidify my understanding of a few words and terms. Ones that might come up again.

Epistemological vs ontological

Not methods in themselves these words are more concerned with the theoretical perspective and understanding the type of questions being asked.

Epistemology is the way we know things, about the understanding of knowledge and the methods of finding it, primarily useful to understand the biases and perspectives when researching. The –ology of knowledge.

Ontology is about the reality of the thing being studied, relating to the question “what is it?” and personally most often in my life this is a practical research method.

Note – Epistemology comes from the Greek for ‘knowledge’ and ontology from the Greek for ‘being’ or ‘to be’.

Plato saw a difference between ‘episteme’ (knowledge worth knowing) and ‘doxa’ (everyday knowledge).  Interestingly when thinking about the entemology of these words I found myself interested in the balance between the two. If we take the everyday knowledge as implicit knowledge, or knowledge that goes without saying, then an argument can be made that my studio practice is an exploration of the doxa of artistic practice. If those assumptions can be taken as true then it is arguable that once we focus on doxa it becomes episteme. Many artists take this approach in a practical sense, using the everyday to explore deeper ideas.

Qualitative vs quantitative

These terms are associated with the nature of the research being done. In the most simplistic terms the distinction is set upon the balance between tacit (qualitative) and explicit (quantitative) data.

The two overlap in many ways and we can make them overlap in more by directing primary research. The suitability of each is related to the aims and objectives of the research, as well as the availability of data.


A dense subject, and one I cannot profess at this stage to completely understand, but for the purpose of this exploration, semiotics, as used here, can be described in the following way.

Semiotics gained popularity towards the late 1960’s and two key figures are Roland Barthes (particularly his collected essays Mythologies, which I am planning to discuss in a separate post) and Ferdinand de Saussure (generally considered a pioneer of linguistics and semiotics itself). A study of tacit and explicit signs experienced in daily life with other humans. These signs can be the obvious functional signs found in our lives, but are more commonly the subconscious and more subjective interpretation of information found around us. The location of these signs is seemingly only limited to where a researcher might look.

“semiology aims to take in any system of signs, whatever their substance and limits; images, gestures, musical sounds, objects, and the complex associations of all of these, which form the content of ritual, convention or public entertainment: these constitute, if not languages, at least systems of signification” Barthes (1967) pg. 9

The sign can be dissected into two parts, as defined by Saussure, the ‘signifier’ and the ‘signified’.  The signifier is the form of the sign (often the physical form of it), and the signified is the concept we understand it to represent.

The sign is the combination, and relationship between the two. A single signifier can have different meanings, when seen in different locations, which is a simple example of how this complicated subject becomes much more so in practice. By definition semiotics is subjective, an interpretive method.

Umberto Eco has taken it to it’s most basic “semiotics is concerned with everything that can be taken as a sign” which could arguably be anything.


The Exploration

The following exploration is short in places, and longer in others. It is far from complete but instead served as a chance for me to attempt to unpick these ideas and see what they might look like. These are subjective interpretations, based on my knowledge, perspective and research.

I found that the objectivist method, involving treating the subject objectively, listing its details and understanding its parts to know it further, most accurately described the subject, so those are listed first to understand the reality of what we are looking at.

Ally McGinn (2016)  Even babies lie.  Acrylic, oil and ink on canvas, 144 x 99 x 3 cm

Ally McGinn (2016) Even babies lie. Acrylic, oil and ink on canvas, 144 x 99 x 3 cm

A piece of my work - Even Babies Lie (2017)

Objectivist - This piece is part of a larger series of works called the ‘Working Surfaces’ series. Canvases are placed in functional studio or workshop spaces and left to record the evidence of making and process. The resulting paintings are then stretched, functional canvas, nominated as art.  This piece spent nearly three months covering the worktop in the paint workshop at Sion Hill. Other than myself and the paint technician the purpose and eventual use of this canvas as art was unknown.

They are intentionally misleading, pretending to be something they are not, but in the act of pretending they become it anyway; Art.

They can be said to simultaneously reject and celebrate the artists’ ego, and therefore the artist themselves. The division of labor and deskilling question the value of these as artworks.

The titles of these works are taken from an element on the surface on them, a further dissociation from the artist.

They objectify time. A record of a period in an artist’s studio, containing a variety of signatures, they are naturally narrative and unintentionally expressive objects.

As an object this piece is 144 x 99 x 3cm’s in size, the canvas is not totally taught on the stretcher (a result of stretching something used functionally is sometimes a loosening of the weave) and is made of canvas, pen, acrylic and oil paint, primers and other substances used in the creation or experimentation of art.

Haptic - in the first sense the haptic experience of this work is rooted in the texture of the surface. With no change from functional worktop to stretched canvas the surface is covered in dust, paint, glue and pen marks. The piece looks rough and real.

Semiotic - there are a few obvious symbols on the surface of the piece. Including the titular graffiti, a sketch of a design and other numbers and words. The graffiti is obvious as such due to the time taken to write it (which we can see evidence in the depth and width of the pen marks). Fainter notes indicate working through an idea, a rough note taken quickly to visually understand it. Including the diagrams these are marks of explanation, a communication of an idea that is paused for a moment in this surface.
Other visual signs are condensed in the bottom right corner of the piece, paint and other substances that show the edges of other works created on top of them. The marks, the right angles and jagged brushstrokes, are a sign that we can interpret to show where work once sat, because these marks are incidental they are all signs of other activity, and can be read semiotically.

In this case the methods show very different elements of the work.

Marcel Duchamp (1917, replica 1964)  Fountain.  Porcelain. 36 x 48 x 61 cm.

Marcel Duchamp (1917, replica 1964) Fountain. Porcelain. 36 x 48 x 61 cm.

A well known artwork - Marcel Duchamp, Fountain (1917)

Objectivist - looking at this piece objectively is relatively easy. The purpose of this work is to encourage these questions.

Created 100 years ago the piece was Duchamp’s first readymade - A series of everyday objects, transformed into art through nomination, readymades are defined not by their aesthetic qualities but their conceptual ideology. Characterised by their lack of interaction from the artist these objects inspired challenge.  The challenge was implicit, although not necessarily totally intentional.  

This piece was a shop bought urinal, with a single interaction from the artist, the name ‘R Mutt’ and the year roughly drawn on the side.

Objectively the object is mostly, unchanged, but through the nomination of it as art, and the subsequent change in perspective, the perceptions and purpose was forever altered.  

Haptic - I saw this piece at the Tate Modern earlier this year. The haptic experience in this case has similar observations to the objectivist method. When looking at the work I was struck by the reality of it. The curves of the porcelain and the weight of it cannot be conveyed through an image. (although the weight was obviously based on a visual examination and intuitive feeling) Given that the object is arguably the point of Duchamp's readymades this piece shows the importance of the haptic method of examination.

Semiotic - The biggest sign of this piece is the fact that it is a urinal. We read the shape, material and cultural understanding of the object and read it as something we would normally find in a men’s bathroom. Again I find that this method perfectly describes the ideology of the work. It is in reading the ordinary object as art that we understand the work.

The semiotic meaning of the writing is far more debatable. Duchamp was known for misleading information, but is quoted as saying himself that it was a humorous allude to the makers of the urinal, a newspaper cartoon and a play on the idea of poverty.

Each of the approaches in this case yield similar results, possibly due to the simplicity of the object and idea. Each however shows a different element of the whole.

A theory - Derrida’s Parergon

Objectivist - Jacques Derrida was a French philosopher best known for his theories on deconstruction. In his 1978 text, The Truth in Painting he discussed the frame, coining the term parergon, to explain why when looking at the work the frame is part of the wall, and yet when looking at the wall it is part of the work.  Refused by each to be considered as part of themselves the frame exists between the two, as a separate entity.

Derrida said about the parergon, “neither inside nor outside, neither above nor below, it disconcerts any opposition but does not remain indeterminate and it gives rise to the work.” The function of the parergon, then, is to create a framework that contextualises (and re-contextualises) what is being framed. The parergon is both a literal framing or placement and a metaphysical concept that denotes context.

Haptic - this is the main reason I wanted to undertake this exploration. To understand, or at least articulate, how we might explore a theoretical concept, haptically.  Upon reflection, and quite a few deleted paragraphs I can only conclude that the exploration of this concept haptically is what I am exploring in my studio practice. Haptic research as practice.

Semiotic - The semiotic reading of this theory seems to relate to our understanding of the purpose of a frame. We have a way of reading something in a frame, and there are artists who have taken this often subconscious reading to their advantage.
A frame can be seen as an instruction to look through the lens of art.

Exploring a theory certainly seems to be simplest when done with a quantitative method, like the objectivist interpretation here, at least verbally.

This section has taken the longest to write, while being quite short, but has had the most impact on me. My contextual research to date, including my dissertation from last year, has been similar to this, a deductive objective exploration of theories and artists, which has then been combined with an intuitive haptic method of research in my studio practice.


At the end of this post I've solidified my understanding of the purpose and potential uses of three methods, and I can see the benefit of looking through different methods, to get a more solid grounding about the chosen subject. For future research I plan to use the three used here to research in a similar way, or at least to ask myself “How would I describe or explore this objectively, haptically, and semiotically?” noting the different answers from the different methods.

In the next post - I'm planning to attempt to unpick my theoretical perspective, understand the paradigm and answer a few questions about my own research methodology at the beginning of this exploration.


Selected Bibliography

Barthes, Roland (1957) Mythologies

Barthes, Roland ([1964] 1967). Elements of Semiology (trans. Annette Lavers & Colin Smith). London: Jonathan Cape

Camfield, W A. (1987) ‘Marcel Duchamp's Fountain: Its History and Aesthetics in the Context of 1917.’ Dada/Surrealism (16): 64-94.

Chandler, Daniel (2004) Semiotics: The Basics. London: Routledge

David James (2015) David James: How to get clear about method, methodology, epistemology and ontology, once and for all [online video] Avaliable from: [Accessed 6th October 2017]

Derrida, J. (1978) The truth in painting. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Whiting, M (2017) Research Methodologies. MA program. Bath. 3rd October 2017

Saussure, Ferdinand de ([1916] 1983): Course in General Linguistics (trans. Roy Harris). London: Duckworth. Page 67

Tate (January, 2017) Fountain, Marcel Duchamp [Exhibition visit] London: Tate Britain.

Tate (undated) Marcel Duchamp: Fountain, 1917 [Online] Tate. Available from: [Accessed 07.10.17].

Tompkins, C. (2013) Marcel Duchamp: The afternoon interviews. Brooklyn: Badlands Unlimited.