Note/Thought - Meaning and intention by Ally McGinn

It's important for me to remember that the things I am interested in can be very distinct from the meaning in the pieces I create.  The things I am interested in can lead to the pieces because the process of making art is also a form of research.

This would be an argument inline with ‘The Intentional Fallacy’ in which the artists meaning becomes irrelevant when the viewer is introduced to the work, because that introduction brings a new set of paradigms and perspectives are introduced, so the meaning becomes something else anyway.

In practical terms, and very relevant to the moment, this shows the importance of being in the studio, working, and not getting too obsessed with what it all means.

Meaning (as imposed by the viewer) and context (as imposed by me) can be two very distinct things.

Research - Fernanda Gomes by Ally McGinn

Gomes is a Brazilian visual artist, born in 1960, she was active in the 1980’s with her first solo show in 1997. (Schwabsky, 2002)

Gomes uses leftover everyday objects, including furniture, glasses, mirrors, string, hair, cigarette ends, small pieces of bone, worn wood, plastic bags, gold leaf, pencils, paper, water, rubber balls, and even crispbread in her assembled objects.

Her works question what art is by encouraging the viewer to ask whether they are paintings. Blurring the line between painting, sculpture and object Gomes calls her works ‘things’. (Whitelegg, 2013)

Often including multiple elements, the works can be considered to be installations.  She carefully complies the objects, altered and unaltered, into arrangements that resemble cartographies.

Many of the elements are covered in white paint, a reference to the studio and the act of preparing to paint. Using the same, balancing, colour on multiple objects equalise them, visually and metaphorically. The objects reference nothing but themselves, and their relational interactions with each other.

Fernanda Gomes (2014)  Untitled.  Canvas, wood, paint. 32 x 58 x 3.3cm

Fernanda Gomes (2014) Untitled. Canvas, wood, paint. 32 x 58 x 3.3cm

The white paint removes references and acts as a form of reduction. In places, her editing makes it almost appear to disappear.

Gomes chooses not to title her works, adding to the ambiguity of each. I find this very interesting and akin to the act of priming a surface, to open it for consideration. (Alison Jacques Gallery, Undated)

Gomes assembles the works in the gallery spaces, turning the gallery into a temporary studio. Her practice entails careful consideration in the space, which she describes as an attempt to “try and enlarge perception, as a stone thrown in the water” (Schwabsky, 2002). This practical intensive interaction with the gallery space intimately relates her work to the space of display, which in the case of artworks is the space in which these things reside, their immediate environment.

This is something I deeply admire, and constantly seek to achieve with my work.

Her visual language can be described as delicate and shows a respect for the objects she claims. Utilising the mundane Gomes aggrandises objects we would normally ignore, making us reconsider the material world. By treating the materials with such reverence they become almost relics, a link to the idea of the museum or archive.

The relationships between the objects chosen bring unexpected dialogues to life. In some pieces, the relationship is nearly imperceptible – like a single piece of transparent thread against a white wall.

On a personal note - I feel I have an element of subtlety but it is something I would like to explore more.

Gomes speaks about the “insufficiency of words”, in art. (Schwabsky, 2002) I’ve often felt this is the case, otherwise, all artists would be writers. This understanding of the nature of language and its interaction with art is evident in her handling of objects and their purpose.

Fernanda Gomes (2017) Installation view of studio.

Fernanda Gomes (2017) Installation view of studio.

Her work is a balance of consideration, addition and reduction; hovering between mundane and significant, while capturing a sensitivity to the visual world. Gomes is an artist who forces us to ask whether we are looking at a painting, or simply a metaphor for one, either way, the questions remain


Alison Jacques Gallery (Undated) Fernanda Gomes [Online] Alison Jacques Gallery. Available from: [Accessed 11.11.17].

Schwabsky, B. (2002) Vitamin P: New Perspectives in Painting. London: Phaidon.

Whitelegg, I. (2013) ‘Fernanda Gomes’. Frieze, [Online] Available from: [Accessed 11.11.17].

Note/Thought - Getting lost by Ally McGinn

My work is progressing into an area that I'm unsure is entirely clarified, but in a tutorial yesterday with Andrea she affirmed that often we inhabit the area around where we want to be, looking for the way in.

In a lovely coincidence, or through the law of large numbers, this visual metaphor was repeated by Tim Davies (paint technician and artist) yesterday afternoon when talking about his own work.

This is a reminder not to worry about the end result or finding a single piece of context that describes the work. That clarity will come with time, for now, I need to work through the ideas, the final idea and context will be defined through the amalgamation and inspiration of ideas coming out now.

This is similar to the way I research. I send out my interest in areas around, what will be, my core interest. Later that core interest can be fully defined and the information gathered can be applied or amalgamated into an essay or other presented findings.

This is how I worked on my dissertation, which ended up being an extremely enjoyable, if not challenging, task.  In retrospect, it seems to be the only way I can work, although it's hard to see sometimes when inside it - it is an anxious place.

Research - 'Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature' by Alva Noe - Chapter 1 by Ally McGinn

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Notes from audio book. I listen to books in the car and I became a bit obsessed with the ideas in this one. I am listening to each chapter twice (once in the car, and then later when able to take a few quotes) so half the writing below is my thoughts after the drive, which are then fleshed out on the second listen.

Listening to the first chapter

The book supposes three ideas

  • ‘that art is not a technological practice but it presupposes the existence of those practices.’
  • Art is a philosophical practice. And the author argues that the opposite is also true. Because art and philosophy work in similar ways to study our organisation and potentially change the way we organise ourselves. This isn't necessarily the subject of an artist's practice (although it is for some) but the author suggests it is their method, or at least part of it.

  • Art and philosophy depend on the existence of language and discourse around it.

    The things that stick out for me from the first chapter are the following;

  • Organised activities (“exhibit structure in time”) - which have 6 features that define them;

    • That they are;

      • Naturally rooted

      • Cognitively demanding

      • temporally/rhythmically structured

      • Emergent from endogenous dynamics

      • Functional

      • Potentially pleasurable

  • Seeing as an activity - it is not something achieved passively, it requires an active involvement. The science of looking involves the processing of data in the brain, but it can only describe what is being seen. Any reading of that information requires an element of active consciousness (although this can be subconscious)

    • Seeing is making contact with what there is and we can fail to see.

    • “It is not brains that perceive but active animals or people.”

      • It's is an activity more akin to driving a car, reading a book or cooking a meal (active) than digesting food or even tasting it (passive).

    • Art is often philosophied as a deified subject/object but that forgets it's basic origins.

    • Art can be a way to exploring the act of seeing.

  • Art is at heart, a human activity. This seems like it should be an obvious point but it's not something i have explored in my practice. There is only art when humans are involved, which I am going to try to bring further into my work. Upon reflection the person in my work has been the participant (either artist or viewer, often both) I am unsure what a more direct reference to the human element would bring to the work but it would be an interesting exercise.

  • Organisations - we are organisms (‘organised wholes’) and we only have to look at the etymology of the words to realise the link. (“To be alive is to be organised”) We are a complex system of interconnected elements, and we understand far less about ourselves than many other subjects. We are obsessed with ourselves, and devote countless lifetimes to the study of humans. Which I have to admit fits the modernist ideology - something studying itself with itself. Art is part of that study, I believe, and many others have argued, explored and exemplified.

    • The chapter begins with an exploration of the act of breastfeeding (and I would highly recommend anyone read it, it is a wonderful text that highlights the broad subject of communication and how far it goes beyond organised language.) it helped cement in me an understanding of the ways we interact with each other. Art is a form of that interaction, we might make work in solitude but the audience is always a presence.

    • Communication is a negotiation.

    • Shared activities help organise us.

    • Organised activities often happen without control.

    • “It is our nature to acquire second natures” Humans naturally turn activities into habitual responses, we have the ability to ‘lose ourselves in the flow.’ Habit is biological, to achieve skill or expertise we need habits.

  • The author argues that art is always concerned with itself, simply because humans create it (physically and conceptually).

    • This implies that art, like seeing, is an active activity, when considered as humans studying themselves and their relationships with the world around them. Again this seems like an obvious statement but it would begin an argument that all art fulfils modernist ideology at a philosophical level.

  • Perception is many things. Perceiving is related to acting.

  • None of this can be explained at a chemical or neurobiological level, it is more than the quantifiable examination of our biology (at least st this time).

    • We are organised at an intermediate level - roboticist Dana Ballard calls - the embodiment level. Not subpersonal, not about what's happening inside us but of the activity and the nature of it.

    • Embodiment level - as we move around the environment it changes with us. We mostly aren't aware of this, the author uses the example of the change in colour of things when seen in different lights, we don't see this as the colour changing.(Perceptual constancy)

    • “Seeing is a temporarily extended dynamic exchange with the world around us.”

    • Seeing is an organised activity, (‘of achieving access to the world around us’)

    • ‘Basic and natural but consciously organised.’

    • These organisations are not of our own making, but neither are we slave to them. They are a function of our being.

“We make art out of organised activities.”

Skills, knowledge, situation and environment - I have often tried to articulate the external factors in reading art. Noe uses these four labels, which seem to cover the meaning well.

Personally interesting - the author discusses the difference between communicating with someone in person and someone remotely (on the phone). They are different activities when speaking to someone in a remote activity we use different elements of our consciousness, which conflicts with other activities we are undertaking (which the author argues is why it is so dangerous to speak on the phone while driving, which use similar activities). Speaking in person with someone creates a collaborative environment, which is not achieved remotely.

I struggle to speak to people remotely and this may begin some research for me to figure out why.

There is a fascinating study here...for someone who understands more about psychology and brain function than I do.


Noe, A (2016) ‘Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature.’ Narrated by Tom Perkins. Avaliable at: (Downloaded: 24/10/17).


Research - Meaning by Ally McGinn

Meaning in art

Dewey posited that art is a way of understanding human culture, primarily the culture in which it was created. Heidegger agrees that the study of art, and the making of it, can be a form of understanding human history and progress.

The reason is a simple one, or at least it can be. To understand a piece of art we need to understand it's context, which includes information about the world at the time of making.

When combined with the artist's intentions, the reality of the work, it's place in the wider art world and it's place in the world ‘outside’ of art, it forms a language of art, in particular that piece.

The language of art is not a literal one. It is complicated and open to interpretation. Understanding the language of art aids in the interpretation of it.

Interpretation is a difficult word, one Derrida didn't use; because, Derrida believed, it presupposes a ‘pure’ or ‘real’ interpretation, where one doesn't exist.

Interpretation is dependent on perspective, and therefore is subjective. Meaning is subjective.

This can be seen in the study of semiotics, the meaning attributed to something often reaches a consensus at the basic level but each sign can contain potentially infinite signifiers, it simply depends on who is processing the sign - and more importantly who they are, how they think, what they know, and what they have experienced.

It is the combination of these factors that determines the interpretation of a sign. There are of course limits to each, but when considered as a whole the possibilities are numerous.

Semiology is the study of signs, and anything can be a sign, if seen in the ‘right’ ways.

Therefore meaning is, while limited in specifics, open in its possibilities.


If we take it to be true that art is a form of language, then it must be true that it communicates.

The language through which art communicates is specialised, there is an ‘Artworld’, as defined by Arthur Danto, in which this art language is the native tongue.

It is a skill. One that, like many others, can be improved upon over time. At first we may need explanations to help us open our eyes to the possible meanings of an artwork, but as we learn more about the artworks and when we actively ‘look’ for the signs (or possibly ‘words’ in this analogy) the language becomes easier to see.

Semiology is a useful lens through which we can explore the language of art.


The artist and the interpreter don't have to agree on the meaning, and often don't.

The important thing here to remember is that there is no pure meaning, we are fallible creatures and meaning is applied by humans to the reality we find, or the ideas we explore. Meaning is fallible.

In ‘The Intentional Fallacy’ by Wimsatt and Beardsley, the authors argue that the artist's meaning is irrelevant. Once the artwork is seen it the meaning given to it during it's creation no longer matters, it is what it is, and what it is will be interpreted by others.

I feel that there is a lot of evidence, at least anecdotal, that suggests that the artists cannot be seen as totally irrelevant after creation. For the very reasons seen above, to study art we need to know it's context, which includes the artists intentions. Whether or not the audience agrees is far more open. Artists also guide meaning, both during creation and after. (although in the case of after it can feel a defensive task - until a consensus is reached on the artist's status of course. Few would disagree with the artist's intentions when written on the wall of the RA for example)


When the artist and the interpreter do disagree, it is worth remembering that interpretation is a lens. It explores at least one facet of an artwork, and rarely sees them all.

A ‘good’ interpretation could be argued to be one that explores many facets, including some of itself.

Christine Freeland describes it in this way - “A good interpretation must be grounded in reasons and evidence, and should provide a rich, complex, and illuminating way to comprehend a work of art. Sometimes an interpretation can even transform an experience of art from repugnance to appreciation and understanding.”

And so we come to the importance of meaning, or the benefits of it.

Art is an immensely broad subject, given a three letter word to describe it. No two artworks are the same, and when they appear to be they are only highlighting that very issue. The interpretation of art aids in our understanding of what it does.

These ‘things’ (artworks) do something. They exist and they have a function. That function is physical and  cerebral, and meaning is central to the cerebral process.

Whether we ‘like’ and artwork or not, ignoring the meaning in favour of our initial personal opinion misses something important about the artwork and the role of art in human society; to make us think.

Note - here the word ‘think’ is defined to include the act of actively seeing, reacting or otherwise interacting with the artwork. After all there is always an element of thinking involved.


Writing this post has highlighted for me that we each have a methodology when we look at art. We can be said to be trying to understand that methodology, and potentially broaden it, when we open our minds to art and explore works for more than their initial ‘like’ or ‘dislike’.

As a practicing artist it is also interesting to note that meaning can become clear to an artist as well as the viewer. I've known many artists who have ‘suddenly realised’ their work is about an interest they had years previously or a personal issue they didn't realise they were working through in the studio.

Meaning isn't always intended, at least consciously.

Meaning is, to quote a phrase coined by popular culture but no less appropriate, bigger on the inside.

Next post - I'd like to explore more about why we create art, and the purposes of the activity itself.


Danto, A C. (1964) ‘The Artworld’. The Journal of Philosophy, Volume (61): Pages 571-584.

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

Dewey, J. (2005) Art as Experience. New York: Berkley publishing group.

Freeland, C. (2002) But is it Art?. New York: Oxford University Press.

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

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

Marriner, R (2012) ‘Reframing the picture, recasting the object’. In: Heywood, I and Sandywell, B. eds. (2012) The handbook of visual culture. London: Berg.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2010) ‘Heidegger’s Aesthetics’ [Online] Stanford University. Avaliable from: [Accessed - 13/10/17].

Wimsatt, W K and Beardsley M C. (1946) ‘The Intentional Fallacy’. The Sewanee Review, Volume, (54): Page 468-488. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 17.09.2016].

Research - Semiotics part 2 by Ally McGinn

When last posting i was exploring Barthes and Semiotics. This is a subject i'm continuing to find fascinating, and have made copious notes on.

For the sake of some self-imposed limitations i'm going to keep this as a short text with some of the most interesting things i have found.


Barthes makes an important distinction when considering the word ‘natural’ (which could be swapped for ‘normal’) that it is a reflection of those making the rules as opposed to a true reflection of a quantitative average.

To Barthes the fact that we do certain things (including, but not limited to: eating, sleeping, reproduction, language, etc) is natural, but the way we do them, and the ways we are taught (either consciously or subconsciously) to do them is a form of semiotics. In that, they have meaning to our society, and with the correct signs and information those meanings can be deciphered BUT those nuances differ from place to place.

Could it then be said that the natural parts of human nature are those that are universal?  Or is it closer to the truth to say that the natural parts are the activities, and the study of meaning is something slightly different?


Barthes and Saussure agree that the words we use (as in the sounds made when we say them or the shapes formed when we write them) are relatively arbitrary. Their only meaning comes from a collaborative agreement, made long before most of us were born.

Changing the word or sound doesn't change the meaning, or the thing itself.

Interestingly a case in response to this would seem to be art itself. The artist can claim an object as ‘Art’ and change what it is, or at least our understanding of it. The object doesn't change through the nomination, our perception of it does. (But that shift in perception is reliant on an element of trust from the viewer for the artist, and a belief in historical canon and the value of Art. - as it always is, it is not as simple as changing the name, the perspective shift requires a far more complex negotiation than that)

If the words we use are largely arbitrary then they become once more a tool in our understanding and experience of our world. We use the structure of language to apply structure to a world that we are only beginning to understand.

These structures can be seen in every element of our lives as humans. Even time.

The addition of leap seconds are an interesting example. Days are getting minutely longer all the time, but the increase is subject to various physical factors and is hard to predict, so a consensus is reached by academic leaders in the field and we occasionally have an extra second added to our calendars - often causing chaos in our computer systems.

The structure we have applied to time on Earth is utterly ignored by the physical reality of the planet.


There can be no definitive meaning attached to an object or sign, because those meanings are changeable.


Barthes wrote and theorised about far more than the subject of semiotics. In ‘The Death of the Author’ a text exploring ideas around originality (among a few others) Barthes posits that originality is a clouded subject because of the interrelation between the internal and the external (to use Derrida’s dual explanation - which certainly fits here) meaning, that it is difficult to create something when there is so much already out there. We are not isolated beings living with no contextual, cultural, social or other intellectual input. We are sponges, from the moment we begin to process information, we store that information.

The other important point in this text is that meaning doesn't so much originate in the author but in the audience. Again, similar in ways to Derrida's theories.

Barthes stresses that meaning is generated in a form that he talks about as intertextuality.  When you read or watch something the meaning taken from it are to do with things we perceives to exist between the thing you are experiencing and other things you have experienced in the past.


This is a shorter post than i am used to writing, but i believe it shows a few examples of the areas of interest that i’ve found while reading Barthes writings, and writings about him.The subject of semiotics is far deeper than i have even began to cover here, and a primarily linguistic exploration, however the importance of semiotics in visual culture (of which art is firmly entrenched) cannot be denied.
Semiotics might have been conceived in a literary form but it has impact in any and all areas we want it to, it is after all the study of meaning and humans are very good at applying meaning to anything.

Semiotics could be expanded to be - the study of anything that has a ‘subject’, because once we have labelled that ‘subject’ it has a form of a sign. The label itself is a sign.

Coming soon - Writing these short summaries is encouraging more research on the idea of art as an organising structure and its function in the role of human existence. Research, at least in the very near future, will move towards this arena.


Barthes, R. (1977) Image, Music, Text. St Ives: Fontana Press.

Barthes, R. ‘Death of the Author’, in Leitch, V.B. et al. (ed.) The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism: (2010) USA: Norton, pp. 1322-1326.

Barthes, Roland (1957) Mythologies.

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

Culler, J (2001) Barthes: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

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 - Deconstructing canvas - Post 1 by Ally McGinn

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

A material found commonly in painting studios, and a few others. Traditionally associated with painting this material is more than its function. A post concerning the conceptual meaning and ideology of canvas is planned for in the coming weeks, for now....

.....a physical deconstruction of canvas.

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

These stages of exploration were undertaken in the paint workshop.

Beginning with a pair of scissors, i had to cut across the weave of the fabric, in small sections, to best ensure the chances of the material separating. 

The resulting pile was run through a blender, a tiny section at a time worked best in this case. 
The blender had to be manipulated and turned on sporadically to allow the material to spread and not gather at the bottom. 

The resulting deconstruction is surprisingly fluffy. I could not remove all threads, so initial tests were done with these still inside. I am currently searching for more effective methods of reducing the fabric. 

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

Some of the deconstructed canvas was placed into the milling machine overnight to see whether the ceramic crushing would help reduce the material further. It was predicted that it would begin to felt the material back together. The above image shows the result. On the far right is the 'lump' that came out of the milling machine in the morning. 

Upon consideration there is a chance that adding less into the milling machine might yield different results. which is something to come back to later as it is unlikely. 

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

The next stage was one of my primary interests, attempting to turn canvas into something that can be either painted or sculpted with. 
Initially it was mixed with Alkyd Resin and a small amount of turps, in a pestle and mortar. 

When mixing paint in this way we are looking for the dry element to absorb all the moisture of the medium and then become suspended within it. In this case we achieved a small degree of success but not particularly encouraging that we would make a successful paint. 

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

We tried a small section of that mixture with a beeswax/damar resin mix (50:50). 
Using a mulling plate (with a small amount of blue pigment residue on the surface, which is where the colour has come from. Something i personally love) i mixed the paint with a palette knife and time. 
The mix of beeswax/damar to alkyd/canvas did not appear to make a difference at this point, it might when drying. I would predict that it will take longer for the 70/30 mix to dry, given the slow drying qualities of beeswax. 

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

Ally McGinn (2017) Studio documentation.

The final mix in this first round of testing was the fibre mixed with stand oil (which is given its name due to the process of leaving it to stand in large trays during production) and a small amount of siccative (for its drying qualities).

This mix is the most promising, in terms of sculpting. I made two batches, one formed into a ball and the other into a cube shaped 'mould' made from greaseproof paper. 

Drying time.....

Im going to be testing a few other ways to reduce the canvas fibres. Putting them in the milling machine was promising, a small amount of dust was produced - which is what we would ideally be looking for. 
The difficulty of this process is its authenticity. Once we get to a certain point with mediums then the material created may be a vehicle that contains canvas, as opposed to the preferred, canvas made into something else. 

I will be continuing my experiments making paint from unwanted 'things'. Begun last year with paint made from studio dust.  Initially i plan to collect dust from the three studio bays at Dartmouth Avenue to examine the differences in colour once processed into paint. 


Nothing this time, other than the research goldmine that is the paint workshop at Bath Spa and its technician, Tim Davies.

Research - Derrida and the frame. by Ally McGinn

Ally McGinn (2016-17)  Painting Installation.  Mixed media. Size varies.

Ally McGinn (2016-17) Painting Installation. Mixed media. Size varies.

This blog has been primarily involved with the theory of research and defining my place in the wider context.

Now we get some actual content.

Choosing an order automatically adds a hierarchy, so I will disclose now - this subject was chosen to discuss first because we were given a lecture today by the amazing Robin Marriner, who features heavily in the bibliography for this post, about visual culture and the way we read images.
Robin's work in the realm of visual culture has been extremely influential to me over the last three years, and it was through him that I discovered the theories of Derrida, and their relation to the way we see artwork.

With no further ado, a brief overview of Derrida’s ‘parergon’ and it's implications for the reading and understanding of art, and how that information might be explored in the studio.


Jacques Derrida was a philosopher commonly known for coining and developing our current understanding of the word ‘deconstruction’. An extremely prolific theorist Derrida wrote about many topics; however, the focus here is on a term coined by Derrida to explore the frame in art.

Drawing from Immanuel Kant’s theories Derrida wrote ‘The Truth in Painting’, in which he coined 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 work (ergon) nor outside the work (hors d’oeuvre), 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, both of which can be understood and used by the artist and the viewer.

Our metaphysical understanding of the frame can be taken as our understanding (or exploration) of meaning. We all interpret visual culture (any aspect of our culture perceived visually), based on our own knowledge or understanding. In Derridian theory, the meaning of the work is not intrinsic to the work, at least not completely.  

There are certain signs that exist in any work of art. However those signs are subjective, they can be interpreted.

Interpretation is a word that Derrida never used because it implies that there is a pure, or real, meaning to be found in each artwork.  There is no right answer in art, and there can be no single ‘real’ meaning, only varying readings, what we see and say to be there doesn’t exist without what we bring to it – a framework. That framework comes from things that are both external and internal to the work, and more importantly, the links between the two.

External to the work, in terms of the wider context, we find any other information that is not contained within the edges of the artwork. Because the existence of the artwork is so dependent on this information it follows that what we believe or define as external is, in fact, an integral part of the artwork.  Following this, we can see that no art can ever be autonomous.  The internal involves the invocation of the external and the external involves the reading of the internal.  Both exist, and it is only without either that true autonomous art could exist.

The moment you take something as ‘Art’ it is contained within the metaphysical frame of art context, connecting it to things outside of itself. The interior meaning (placed by the artist, object or material) and the exterior meaning (eg; wider context, the nature of art and the viewers perspective) are vital to the reading of artworks as ‘Art’. To see ‘Art’ we need the theory and the knowledge. It is only in the acknowledgement of the exterior that an artwork can be seen as more than a physical object, but as ‘Art’.


From this overview of the ‘parergon’ we can see some of the initial implications of this theory, and how it might impact the studio work.

Firstly, the exteriority of meaning is part of the foundation for the nomination of found objects as art. It is only through the frame of ‘Art’ can anything be ‘Art’.

Physically the frame is something involved heavily in painting, especially if the stretcher is considered a sort of proto-frame. In sculpture, the plinth can be seen as the primary frame, although only for certain sized works. With digital artworks, the edge of the screen visibly replicates the frame of the painting……..In all forms of art a frame is seen, even if (for example, with installation art) the frame is the gallery itself.

Conceptually this theory shows the importance of the viewer and their subjective view of the work. Once the artwork has been nominated and experienced the artist's intentions become balanced with the viewer's subjective understanding of it (where the argument of the most important is hotly contested - further reading - ‘The Intentional Fallacy’ Wimsatt and Beardsley)

Simply put - All artworks are surrounded by frames, both physical and conceptual, and those frames direct the meaning and understanding of the work.

Next post - more research! 



De Duve, T. (1998) Kant after Duchamp. Massachusetts: MIT Press.

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

Heywood, I and Sandywell, B. eds. (2012) The handbook of visual culture. London: Berg.

Kant, I. (2007) Critique of Judgement. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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.

Wimsatt, W K and Beardsley M C. (1946) ‘The Intentional Fallacy’. The Sewanee Review, Volume, (54): Page 468-488. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 17.09.2016].

Note/Thought - 're' by Ally McGinn

The word, ‘re’, when placed at the front of a word is tantamount to ‘process’

‘Re’ implies doing something to a thing that already exists - it is a process.


This brilliant website - gives a long list of suffixes, leading to some new possible titles for works. 

"-ade  act, action or process, product"

"-age action or process"

"-al relating to"

"-an (-ian)relating to, belonging to"

"-ance state or quality of"

"-ar of or relating to, being"

"-ese relating to a place"

"-esque in the style of"

The list could go on. Something to come back to.