My Field project consisted of a series of ten handmade artist books, each inlaid with a pewter medal into the cover representing a specific personal keepsake of my own, containing a series of illustrations relating to the object in question and the relationships or events it symbolises, Japanese bound with either gold, silver, or pewter thread.
While overall I am happy with the pieces conceptually, although they are all of an acceptable quality, the execution of the pieces is not at the high standard I had hoped them to be. By far the largest factor in this is of time, and there were many points in the process which were highly time consuming and simply could not be done any faster to the best of my knowledge.
The first point in the process was the sculpting of the objects, which in itself is a time consuming and delicate process, as I endeavoured to capture as many small details as accurately as possible, requiring careful craftsmanship.
However in the process of casting this into pewter, despite the mould having captured the detail well in most cases, I often found that the pewter itself did not pick up much of this detail despite me doing everything advised to optimise the mold (coated with talc/charcoal powder, and heated mould).
Even having done this however, the surface of the medals consistently came out rough, and neglecting to pick up many of the painstaking details such as the lettering on the surface of the memory stick, or the links of the chain on the heart keyring, and also leaving the previously smooth background with many marks and imperfections.
Not only this, but after casting many of the medals which were sculpted into unfired clay (due to time constraints meaning I did not have the luxury to wait for the weekly bisque firing of the kilns), they often broke on attempting to remove them from the set mould. While this largely was not a problem as the moulds still picked up the fine detail, it did make the process much more risky and frustrating in the event of air bubbles being made in the mould causing further imperfections that would have to be carefully removed later.
The only way I could find to resolve this lost detail in most cases, was to very carefully draw it back onto the surface using a dremel, which is far from ideal. This is not only more painstaking than the initial sculpting, but also more dangerous as any slip of snag with the vibrating dremel could create an unwanted mark on the surface of the medal which in itself then takes much more time to remove.
As well as drilling the details back into the sculpt of the object itself, I often also used the dremel in an attempt to smooth the background surface also. While I was not able to get the pewter smooth and polished from using the dremel alone, as it often left marks upon the surface, it was useful as a preliminary phase to file down some of the most uneven areas far quicker than by hand using sand paper.
Unfortunately however, polishing the surface with sand paper by hand is (as far as I have been informed) the only option for polishing the pewter to an acceptable standard, and any attempt to use the dremel sand paper heads only seemed to result in more marks being left on the surface. This was arguably the most time consuming part of the process which resulted in the medals not being of the standard of finish I had hoped for. I endeavoured to make sure all of the medals were polished to a passable quality, removing the worst of the marks and kinks made in the casting process and making the surface reasonably smooth contrasting the relief of the object itself, but it is far from a smooth mirrored finish.
In ideal circumstances, with a longer period of time to work with, the medals themselves would be far more polished and flawless, with the reliefs on the surface reflecting the full amount of detail in the original sculptings. This is mostly frustrating as both of these points would be for a large part irrelevant if the pewter had simply cast the surface as it is in the moulds, however if there is a more effective way of casting pewter that does not result in these blemishes (and I assume there must be), I am not privy to it, and the only advice I was offered by the technician ontop of the methods I was already using (heat and talc the mould) was simply trial and error.
The books themselves, again while all containing an acceptable level of content with a series of high quality illustrations, are not finished to the degree I would like them to be in an ideal world.
I would have liked to been able to fill the books with even more illustrations than were featured, but again due to time constraints I was only able to complete so many, and my priority was ensuring that each book had a roughly equal amount of content of an equal standard. Another point I would change if I was to remake the books, is the measuring of the pages, which were perhaps around 5mm narrower than they should have been as when I was measuring and cutting the pages I failed to account for the extra length of the spine. While I do not think this detracts from the books, it is an unnecessary imperfection that I would ideally change.
Another minor imperfection which I did not have the chance to resolve, is the noticeable glue marks on many of the covers. These marks are from glue on the inside of the covers, and expected in the process of book making. However they are most noticeable in the areas around the border of the book which I have embossed, which I originally planned to then gold leaf.
With the gold leaf strips in the embossed areas, these glue marks would no longer be visable and so I was not initially overly concerned by them, However after some consultation with a tutor who has experience in gilding, I was advised that my level of experience with gilding meant that they were “not beautiful enough”, and might detract from the skill of the handmade book. Not only this, but I was advised it may make the covers look too busy and clash with the pewter medal, and that the delicate gold, silver and bronze thread I was using to bind the books would likely be adequate to illustrate my point of value without being overstated.
While I was content not to do the gold leafing on the covers, as it allowed me to invest my time into illustrating and binding the books, I do wish that I had been given this advice when I was first consulted at my initial stage of doing tests on a spare book cover and I likely would not have then embossed the borders of all the covers in preparation for the gilding. Although I do think the embossed border is an effective, subtle yet impactful way of illustrating the pewter medal on the cover, it does raise the issue of the glue marks becoming visible and again given the time constraints I may have been better leaving them plain.
I had also considered using the metal leaf on the inside covers of the books after it was suggested to me by my tutor, however I found that I could not get the level of detail in the edges of the drawings as I would have liked, and again I was told that my skill was not high enough with gilding to produce an effective standard of work; so I instead left the inside covers plain.
The book covers themselves were fairly straight forward to construct once I was familiar with the process and using appropriate care and precision.
I had to alter this process slightly when making the covers for the Japanese bound books, rather than the traditionally bound ones which I made in my book binding induction. As the Japanese bound books have no hard spine, I had to construct two separate covers.
However, most Japanese bound books are made using a soft paper or card cover, rather than being hard bound like mine. Because of this, I needed to adapt my method to accommodate for the folding cover and pages, and so made a thin spine for each of the covers allowing them to bend.
The process of inlaying the medals into the cover was again, a reasonably straight forward if not delicate process. After having glued down the book cover, I then traced around each of the medals and carefully cut this out with a scalpel. This was difficult at times, as the book cover is quite thick and so takes many cuts, which can result in slips or the line being cut to far in or out from where it should be meaning the medal doesn’t fit perfectly. Perhaps, given more time I could have experimented with having the shape laser cut out of the book cover, however not having much experience using the laser cutter since my induction 3 years ago I felt it would be more reliable for me to do it by hand.
The medal in then pushed into the space, and held in place with super glue, with the inside cover page then being covered with a thick card like paper so as to hide the inlay.
The medals themselves are intentionally non-uniform circles, as I wanted it to be clear that each medal had been individually inlaid into the covers and felt that the asymmetrical nature of the medals’ shape gave them a more personal quality to the books.
The final part of the process was binding the books. After much deliberation, I decided on making the books Japanese bound as this allowed me to illustrate individual images and then experiment with the sequence, as well as use a series of different types of paper, including tracing paper, to strong effect. I had initially planned for the books to be unfolding concertina books for a long time, but eventually decided against this as I would have to be far more precise in planning in advance exactly what images in what sequence I wanted to include, and there is also the issue of joining the different lengths of paper. While it is possible to buy long continuous rolls of paper meaning I would not have to attempt to make joins, these are very expensive especially when looking at more specialist high quality paper, and would again not allow for me to use varying types of paper for each sequential image. Another issue I had in constructing my own concertina book, was I had great difficulty in making the pages uniform. Any slight discrepancy in the height or width of the page, or if it was not folded precisely parallel to the other pages, it became immediately evident and made it look incredibly unprofessional.
I had also constructed a more standard format of book made with page “signatures” – groups of long page strips folded within each other and sewn together at the spine, before being glued into the hard spined book cover. While these books were visually effective, looking possibly the most professional of the various methods, it again had the draw backs of being unable to rearrange the drawings at will, and while different paper types are able to be used, they would need to be in a set sequential and even order.
Although the Japanese bound books do also need to have uniform pages, small discrepancies within a few millimeters do not ruin the aesthetic of the book and are simply evidence of it’s hand crafted nature. As well as these practical reasons, I also found the style of Japanese binding to be the most visually appealing, especially with the specialist thread that I ordered.
For the large part I am very happy with the use of the thread, and think it adds a beautiful quality to the covers of the books, as well as making them distinct from the usual japanese bound books using linen or cotton thread, these threads – the gold thread especially – were incredibly delicate. Unfortunately I was unable to find metal coated threads in the various necessary colours (gold, silver, and bronze) in uniform thicknesses. The silver thread was the easiest to work with, being a slightly thicker silk thread comparable to the thickness of linen thread which is most typical for book binding. The copper thread while much thinner, was still manageable, and involved me tripling up the thread on the needle before sewing, which was slightly troublesome at times but for the most part straight forward. The gold thread however, was especially difficult to work with. Unlike the bronze and the silver threads, which were standard silk threads coated with metal leaf, the gold thread was flat and ribbon like. This meant that it had much less structural integrity than the other two, and was prone to snapping. Without the time to start the binding again from scratch, and not wanting to waste the valuable thread, I could only attempt to very carefully and delicately tie the snapped lengths back together in a way which is not noticeable from the outside of the book, and although they were durable when I had finished binding them I can only hope that they do not fall apart upon being repeatedly handled. Illustrating this, half an hour before the show deadline after rushing to the photography studio in order to take photographs for my professional practice documentation (website, press pack, and business cards etc), one of the gold thread books got knocked to the floor immediately after I had taken photographs of it, the impact of which caused the threads to burst apart.
It being 30 minutes before the deadline, and with the gold thread being notoriously the most difficult to bind, I did not have time to fix this book for the show. This is a disappointing setback, and certainly in future I would aim to find a thread that was closer in description to the more workable silver and bronze threads, rather than the flat type which I have used for these.
Overall, I am pleased with the format of the books and I feel they are both original, interesting and desirable items. Certainly given more time for finishing, they have the potential to be very high quality and beautiful objects of a professional standard, and also something which I believe to be quite saleable. They combine a set of skills and materials which do not often come together, sculpting, pewter casting, book binding and illustration, with the use of specialist threads, to create a set of unique pieces.
I am also pleased with their display, clearly showcasing each individual piece in a setting alongside their original objects in a manner which is formal, yet not intimidatingly so, and still accessible and inviting to handle. Arguably the best of both worlds, and the ideal form of display for this series of artist books.
So far the key theme around all of my work this year has been that of our personal relationships and bonds with the objects in our life. While the object itself may contain little value on it’s own, made perhaps of cheap materials or poor quality, it is what the object comes to represent to us an individual that gives it significance and value to us.
My Field project is a clear development conceptually building upon the research and ideas of my Subject project from Christmas, incorporating my research from my dissertation on the ability for two people to form and maintain a continuing bond through the use of objects. It is a development not only in concept, but also in format, continuing with the use of medals in the tradition of immortalising and memorialising a significant person or event, however with the imagery on the medal depicting the object symbolising this event rather than matter itself. It brings to the foreground the unconscious associations that we make with all objects, and exploits the purpose of medals themselves as objects whose entire purpose is to act as a symbolic talisman, allowing for a trigger or re-engagement with memory. We understand them of being representative of their meaning, rather than evaluating them on their physical qualities, which I aim to show is true of all objects in our lives. These qualities of the medal, combined with the ability of the artist book to express and explore memory through imagery and sequence, makes these books the perfect vehicle for demonstrating these personal object relationships to the viewer.
While the term sentimental value or sentimentality is often one which is used to deride or undermine, suggesting it is something to be humoured or tolerated, I argue that this is not the case. Rather than being a sentimental indulgence, it is in fact a critical part of our ability to form and maintain relationships with one another that allows us to also do this with objects.
In many cases the designed function of the object becomes secondary, whether it be practical or decorative, and the object’s primary function then becomes to act as a symbol representing a person, event or experience. Because of this, not only are we able to surround ourselves with reminders of these relationships, we are then able to use them to actively re engage with and develop them.
In the case of mementos, these may serve a variety of different purposes, depending on the nature of the relationship. For example a gift given by a friend which is kept and used often (practically or as decoration) may serve as a reminder and a maintainer of your friendship bond. Despite perhaps not having seen that friend in some time, through engaging with the objects that are representative of them we are able to feel a sense of security.
However, if the object becomes symbolic of a more traumatic relationship, perhaps a parent, an acrimonious break up, or even a deceased loved one , these objects allow for the vital function of resolution. While the person in question may be absent, leaving you unable to continue a dialogue with them and in a state of emotional turmoil. however by engaging with the objects that are representative of them, it not only allows for the relationship to be continued in their absence but in fact gives the opportunity for growth and development. Rather than our internal image of the person being held fixed in time unchanging, as we each inevitably grow through our own constantly ongoing sets of experiences we may then begin to examine these relationships under a new light with a shifted perspective. The object acts as a grounding point, giving us a tangible focal point onto which we can project our phenomenonological experience of re engaging with personal relationships.
A fundamental part of the object’s nature is the ability to carry many layers of meaning, some of which may be codependent being influenced by one another, and others may run parallel independently. The meanings and?values that objects hold are paradoxically both contained within the object’s form and yet only truly exist within our own mind. Many values are able to be inferred and understood from examining an object in isolation, and so inherently something in the nature of that object must be able to communicate these values non verbally, they exist within the object. However the ability for these values to be read and the way in which they are interpreted depends entirely upon the knowledge , experience and values of the viewer. What to one person may very clearly and indisputably be a drinking vessel, to another from a different culture with a contrasting set of values and experiences may identify it as something else, or find it unidentifiable entirely. It is in this way then that the object’s nature exists only within ourselves.
Because of all this ability to become a focusing point for a multitude of meanings and values, which can be expressed or interpreted wordlessly to an individual, they are fundamental to our formation of self. We define ourselves through the objects we surround ourselves with, and signal to others our values and personalities.
It is then through the examination of a collection of personal objects that we may grow to understand a person in their absence, without words. While we may not necessarily always be able to interpret the precise meanings and symbolisms behind each object, we can as a viewer still understand that it holds some degree of value to the person merely in its presence. While we may come into contact with millions of objects within our lifetime, from gifts to disposables to necessities, it is a select few objects that we choose to keep for extended periods of time. Some objects may be kept for a lifetime, others may be kept for years, months or even weeks. In the case of objects that are kept for long periods of time, this is generally due to a strong sentimental attachment that transcends material value. Even objects that are kept out of necessity or convenience may accrue sentimental value over time, simply for the fact they have played a part in our lives for so long. We fundamentally understand that objects share our experience, and become tangible grounded links to phenomenalogical experience across space and time.
It is this ethos of objects as containers, vehicles and expressors of the self that I explore in my work. The objects I have chosen to immortalise range from the entirely mundane (spoon, memory stick) to the highly sentimental (necklace, pin badges). In the case of the more important items, these are tied to strong bonds between myself and the people they link to, as well as places and experiences. These objects are personally invaluable to me, and are things I often carry with me or interact with frequently. These most important objects are distinguished by the gold thread binding the books, working off the widely associated understanding of gold, silver and bronze as distinguishers for echelons of value.
The silver bound books represent objects which hold a sentimental value to me, but not so much so that the objects themselves are invaluable and could not be discarded or replaced, if not reluctantly. They are triggers for memory and experience, but the relationships they represent have not so wholly and entirely come to have been embodied in the objects as in the case of the gold tier objects.
The bronze range of objects represents items which have no single relationship attached to them, not tied to a significant person or event, but have become significant in my life through their continued presence and use. These objects are linked largely to both routine and place, focused around my university life which understandably has been the focal point of all my routines and actions within the past year. These involve the process of walking, to and around the uni, with my memory stick; an object which I very rarely use in a functional sense but that has become almost like a talisman. A spoon, which has become bent with use attempting to chisel out my solidified instant tea which I rotate between, and often hold the spoon in my mouth absent mindedly. Then finally the origami crane, which was made by a coursemate who had put one on the desk of everyone in our year. These for the most part, remained on everybody’s desk for the next couple of months, and each being displayed and making itself at home in each person’s belongings. To me, these cranes spoke of the place and experience of university, and the community of the course, as well as being reflective of each person’s individual space.
Fundamentally, my work expresses the emotional engagements between the individual and the object, relating to their on personal experience, as well as the object’s ability to then express this and other personal values to others.
Due to what I feel is the success and the strength of my last sketch, it got me thinking that perhaps the strong point of these images is less about the hands, and tied into the set of keys which I am holding. It is after all the keys that show the representation of change in my life, that add the quality of subtlety in imagery to the piece.
Keys are objects which you always carry with you, and yet you never acknowledge. They are considered only upon the entering and leaving of the home, and are otherwise silent and inert objects. Unlike say a mobile phone, which is potentially carried on the person even more commonly than a set of keys, keys themselves have a very physical quality, a sense of permanence and importance about them. If we find an unknown key in the house, we cannot simply throw it away, what if we need that key some day, what if it unlocks something important? and so it is put in a drawer, forgotten about and silent, yet ever present and important. Not only do we always carry keys with us, the set of keys which we carry changes throughout our life, giving us access to new places, new opportunities, and are a physical representation of these changes. In this way, I think there are an excellent analogue for changes throughout life, as well as being something that is understandable and easily identified by the viewer, without being too heavy handed.
Over the past few years the set of keys which I have had has changed several times. I have gone from having simply the set of keys for my family home in the first year of university when I was living at home, to moving out in the second year and having a second set of keys (not represented in these sketches as I no longer have them to draw), and now in the third year having a new set of keys for my current flat. In the second year, although I had moved out of the family home I was still very closely tied to it, having to travel back there most days between trips to the hospital to visit my mother, and to walk the dog who was left alone in the house. Now in the third year, having moved in with two friends on the course I truly feel far more independent, and above all else in a very stable position, rather than the extremely vulnerable and isolated state I was in last year and constricted by my ties to the family home. This sense of independence, and the gradual lack of importance and distancing between myself and the family home is also reflected in the sets of keys I hold, with the family keys now being seen as simply one in a set of many keys, which is used infrequently. I have found it interesting to note by own behaviour when using my keys, in when I reach for my keys I automatically take hold of the flat key, even when I am visiting the family home, as I know I am returning “home” and my mind has classified the flat as where I feel most at home. In these sketches I have also looked at the use of key charms as markers in my lifetime, with charms such as my tesco clubcard representing a transition into a more adult life, and other charms such as the heart on a chain and the lion king having been given to me by men in my life.
After having had a presentation from a woman from the British Art Medal Society (BAMS) primarily to talk to the second year Makers about their BAMS brief for the year, it got me to consider the sense of scale and representation of place in a medal. Unfortunately I did not get any images or names of artists from the talk to reference, and I shall try and find these at a later point. This sense of scale could be very interesting when looking at the interplay between the two sides of the medal, perhaps with one face having an image relating to place, inherently seen at a more distant scale in order to view the place as a whole, and on the reverse then having a very close up image of the keys relating to that place. Scale could even be played with in terms of representing my own feelings in relation to that place, for example the family home being seen much further in the distance, whereas the flat door would be seen much closer.
In the same way that scale can be played with in terms of looking at place, perhaps incorporating place in relation to the keys.
While there are still many questions to answer, in terms of precisely what images I want to use, the relationship between the front and reverse of the medal, as well as between each medal in the set, I am feeling very strongly and positively about the use of keys as a motif. At the very least I now have a clear point from which to work from and to begin to distil the medal’s design.
I have written in my previous post about the very difficult and problematic issue of needing to find a continuing theme or point of reference to use as imagery across my medals. One idea which has come to mind, and which I feel reasonably positive about, is the use of hands. Hands are something I have always been drawn to, and are something which I have spent a lot of my time drawing over the years, my own hands in particular. What I always have enjoyed about drawing my own hands are the fact that they are always an interesting and complex thing to draw, that are always with me, and produce satisfying and attractive imagery. Hands were even in fact the main focus of my medal project last year, looking at the idea of intimacy and touch between two people.
Not only this, but there is the inherent nature of hands that they are very personal and intimate things, which are not just part of our bodies but arguably one of the part we use the most, to interact with the world outside of ourselves. They are renowned for being one of the most expressive parts of the body, ranging from clear exaggerated gestures to very slight and subtle movements and gestures which directly reflect a person’s mood, thoughts and opinions. There is also the matter of relatablility, in that we all have hands and understand the nature of them, our expressions are not unique but hard wired into the nature of being human, and are common to us all. Because of this, I feel there is a strong potential for using hands as an analogue in my medals. The degree of subtlety in expression is something I feel very strongly about in my work.
With this in mind I drew some hands onto a couple of my medal tests in order to see how the scale would work in terms of the imagery
I used a medium sized and a smaller medal, in order to get an idea of how the scale effects the image. While the larger size allows for a more prominent image, the smaller medal lead to a more simplistic line drawing. I was also attracted to the fact that with the smaller medal, the user was encouraged to hold it closer to their face in order to examine the image, which is a level of intimacy between object and person that I appreciate and would like to encourage. Even with this simple open palm image, which was not representational of any topic or idea, simply acting as an example of hand imagery on the medal, is very satisfying in itself.
Thinking about using hands as a motif, and also of the idea of loss, I did some sketches to potentially represent it. A potent recent loss in my life is that of my dog, whom we had to give away to thankfully a loving home due to my mother having a debilitating stroke in the past year and being unable to adequately look after the dog, and I myself being unable to look after her due to not only due to the no pet policy of my flat, but the time and long term practicalities. While it may sound trite to say, I loved my dog very dearly and feel the void left in her absence quite profusely, and found the ordeal of having to re-home her very distressing. She was even the focus of my final major project on my foundation course where I painted a series of portraits of her illustrating the warm and loving relationship between myself and her.
In the sketches above, I am representing the transition between the state of having, and then subsequent loss, which is something which I would then look to repeat across the series of medals. This could be shown in a manner of ways, and would very heavily rely on the interplay between front and obverse sides as I have previously expressed is an important part of the medal design for me. Perhaps rather than having the subject, and loss, on the front and obverse of a single medal, it should instead transfer onto the next medal. This means that the set inherently has a reason to be viewed as part of a whole, as a continuing narrative, rather than simply a series of separate pieces which are made in a set. This is an idea I strongly feel has a lot of potential, and which I will likely look at developing.
Some of the issues I have with these designs however, is the question of subtlety. At the beginning of this post when talking about the initial idea in which to use hands as subject matter, I spoke of their strength in being able to very subtly show emotion and expression. However, when an object is thrown into the design, it forces the hand to become much more a matter of function in holding the object. While it can certainly be argued that the way in which we hold an object can indicate to an outsider your feelings about said object, the degree of care and tenderness you show towards an object it certainly is not coming across here. As it stands, the message currently strikes me as being extremely basic and limited, as “I had a dog and now I don’t and it is sad”. It is precisely what I do not want my work to be about, self indulgent pity which I spoke about in a previous post in relation to my life. This is the main issue with tackling the subject of loss, in doing so in terms of showing self development and change rather than self pity and attention seeking.
Despite this I do still think there is potential for subtlety here, it is simply a matter of working on and refining my ideas and imagery. Here are some designs which I do feel have worked well, of my hand holding my set of keys. You may not notice upon first glance, but the set of keys which I am holding in each hand is slightly different. In the left hand I am holding the key for my family home, and on the reverse I am holding the same set of keys but with the key to the flat where I am living currently in my hand. I think this works very well, representing the change and separation in my life between myself and home, independence and growth.
As mentioned in many previous posts, I have been having a lot of trouble when it comes to what imagery to use on my medals. I have previously thought about using flowers, reflecting the common use of flower print in ceramic blue and white ware. However since deciding that using ceramics in my medal is no longer relevant and deciding to stick purely to using bronze, I have lost the only tangible link to using flowers as imagery in my work. While it would still be feasible and there is a long history of using flowers in art, I still feel that this is not a strong enough link to the message I am trying to express to the viewer, of self development, and that it doesn’t inherently speak of human experience. I worry that when looking at images of flowers upon my medal, the viewer will be drawn more to ideas about nature than of the human. While this is not to say it could not be achieved, it is not a medium that speaks to me personally as I have no particular interest in flowers. Not only this but there still lies the matter of all the questions raised when I first thought about using flowers as a motif, such as which flowers do I use to represent the self, and why? Would it be based on British folklore, or depictions of flowers in classical paintings? These issues certainly seem to be outweighing the positives which consist of “it could potentially be used as an effective analogue”, when arguably almost anything has the potential to be used as an effective metaphor when used in a sensitive and considered manner by the artist, and ideally I would like a stronger starting point than this for the center point of my medals.
Another early idea of imagery that I considered was using rope or thread. While this does have the potential of being a sensitive representation of different states of being, looking at the notion of strength versus fragility, of a winding and changing narrative, there is something about it which doesn’t sit entirely well with me. Although I cannot put my finger on precisely what this is, the fact that I am not looking at this idea and feeling confident or enthusiastic about it, even in the early stages of conception, is a red flag for me that it is not the strongest or most fitting imagery that I could use. Not only that, but the fact that I distinctly have no excitement or enthusiasm for the subject matter means that it is not the correct imagery to be using, as if I am to continue with this project successfully I want to have at least some degree of interest and investment in what I am creating, other than wanting to pass the year. On reflection, without the link into ceramic blue and white ware the idea of using rope or thread is most likely stronger and more fitting than that of using flowers, however at this point I have effectively ruled out both of these as ideas, although I may keep the idea of rope/thread in the back of my mind as a backup plan for lack of having any better ideas.
While I am looking at expressing the notion of the development of self and reflecting upon different stages and experiences throughout life, this has to be ultimately based on my own experience, as I by nature have never experienced the world through the eyes of anyone other than myself. Although I can attempt to extrapolate my own experience in a way that is applicable to the human experience in general, and therefore broadly fit the everyman, I can only do this from the viewpoint of my own life. Because of this, I feel it is important that the medal does also speak of me, and to myself and my experiences in some respect.
With this in mind I tried to think of imagery that not only was relevant to my life, but given that it is going to be the motif used across the set of medals: the constant in the midst of change, it should be something that has remained constant throughout my own changing life. However, there are very few things in my life which have remained unchanged, which was in fact the original basis for the concept behind my medals. There are a few things that have remained “fixed” in some sense, are not areas I wish to explore or make the focus of the medals.
The first of these “fixed” points is the fact that I have always lived in Cardiff. There are many problems with this concept, first and foremost is that I do not want my medals to speak primarily of place. While place may be relevant in specific circumstances, and with certain links in my life, especially the notion of “home”, Cardiff as a whole does not feel particularly relevant to me. Unlike some, I do not feel a strong tie or bond to the city I have grown up with, and while I have a fondness and familiarity, it is also a place I wish to escape from and am beginning to feel trapped by. This in itself could be an interesting topic for an artist to explore, but does not strongly tie (for me personally) in to the topic of growth and self development, and my anxiety about my ties to Cardiff relate largely to my relationship with my mother. Not only do I feel exploration of “Cardiff” is not relevant conceptually to my piece, I feel the imagery does not lend to the piece either. When looking at the notion of the city, I quite naturally begin to think on a broader scale; iconic buildings such as the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff Castle, objects on an architectural scale. This completely contradicts the notion I am looking at which is of the personal, the interpersonal and the phenomenological, and as with many of the other ideas which I have refuted using in my piece, I feel detracts from the strength of the message. Although I could use place on a much smaller scale, perhaps in relating to the home (family home, streets in the village I grew up in, bedroom, where I am living now and have lived in the past year, new streets travelled) if the theme is “Cardiff” there is little to know way of indicating that all of these images are in fact in Cardiff, and could just as easily be anywhere in Britain or elsewhere. Without prior information, the reader would be unable to make any clear reading of these images and their significance or relation to myself. Not only this, but it then is likely to make the medals unrelatable to the viewer as they not only have no context, but these places are clearly unrelated to themselves. Rather than being able to view each, or the set of medals as the experience of another (as discussed previously, I can ultimately only express my own world view) which they can then use as a point of reference to understand, to connect with personally and to reflect on, it is likely that it will be purely identified as “the other” (i.e. “doesn’t relate to me”) and dismissed. And so in terms of both context and imagery, Cardiff is an unsuitable motif.
The second “fixed” part of my life, is my mother. The reason I use the term “fixed”, rather than simply saying fixed, is because while my mother has always been present in my life our relationship has been an erratic and tumultuous one and she is not the pillar in my life that may be expected. Although this has certainly been a driving and determining factor in my life, which has dictated much of my experience and I am sure my outlook on the world, I do not think it is my defining factor of “self”. I would certainly like to think that I am more than simply a product of my negative experiences, and certainly do not take the woe-is-me attitude of the suffering artist; rather that these are simply aspects of my life, along with many others, all of which I have used as a platform to grow and develop. Because of this, I explicitly do not want my piece to be centered around my relationship with my mother, not to mention I have no idea how this would tie into a visual motif that would remain consistent across the medals.
Other than these things, nothing else comes to mind that has been a constant in my life. There is no one object I have carried with me, very few interests that I have kept throughout my life into the present day except perhaps my love of the Pokemon franchise. While part of me does think it would certainly be very amusing and enjoyable at the least to have a professional piece of work featuring Pokemon, in realistic terms it is not suitable to my piece in any sense. While there have been artists who use Pokemon and video games in their work, usually the earlier games produced in the 90s, to talk about culture, nostalgia and childhood, these are not themes that I want to be the focus of my work; although I am not ruling them out as subject matter that may be touched upon in the set. My enjoyment and passion for art is another running theme throughout my life, but I can’t see a way in which that itself becomes the imagery used to represent states of being and experience, rather than being the subject matter itself.
This problem of finding a fixed factor in my life which I can then use as a narrative carrier in the form of continuing imagery is the main problem I am facing with the project currently, and if I do not overcome it soon I could be in real trouble. Without a clear idea of imagery, it is becoming increasingly difficult to work with designs as there are certain limits to working in hypotheticals as I have been doing up until this point. Not only this, but the motif will surely inform the nature of the design, with certain formats and elements perhaps being more suited to particular motifs than others. I aim to dedicate all of my time in the coming week to resolving this issue.
Initially when we were told at the beginning of the term that we will be having a formative assessment before we break up for the Christmas holidays, and that we will be expected to have a finished piece to show, when asked what I would be presenting my response was that I would have one medal finished by Christmas. I had decided from quite an early point in the project that I was aiming to create a set of medals for my final piece, most likely 5 (it is widely held that when creating multiples they work more effectively in groups of odd numbers), which would come together as a group to create the final piece but equally would stand on their merits as individual objects. Because of this, it made sense to aim to have one completed bronze medal out of the set prepared for Christmas.
However, I found that designing the medals took much longer than I had anticipated. Having done bronze casting in both the first and second year, especially last year during the BAMS project, I am very aware of what a long and involved process creating a bronze medal is, from conception to completion. Given that I have barely conceived a clear idea of the design of the final medals themselves, it seems over ambitious to aim to have a bronze medal for the Christmas assessment.
While I could potentially still get a bronze out for the Christmas assessment, it would take an awful lot of time and energy to be invested into the process, and I would need to start now which would mean working with a design that was nowhere near up to the standard I want it to be, and has the potential to change in almost every aspect by the time it gets to the final piece. Although I’m sure that having a bronze medal for Christmas would be of some use, especially in investigating the use of patination, it would be largely the same process I went through last year and so very little new would be learned from it.
In light of this, I feel that a much more achievable goal is to have a pewter cast of a medal for the Christmas assessment, as this only involves having a sculpted version of the medal (in wax or clay), then casting that into silicone and from that pouring in the pewter, which is a much more straight forward process. I will then have a physical and solid representation of the medal, which has more integrity and quiddity than simply a wax or an unglazed clay sculpted version.
I have been very much focused so far on the idea of having a series of medals, which interact or interlock in some way. However, I am beginning to have doubts as to whether this detracts from the over all strength of the piece? Would it not be better to have my message so clear and crystalised that it can be expressed very powerfully in a single medal? Does having it spread over a series give each medal a lesser impact?
Again, while I am not set on the idea of flowers as a motif, it is currently the best form of imagery I have to work with as an example. Here we can see my continued ideas of embedding ceramic into a bronze medal, with the ceramic surface being painted delicately and detailed with blue cobalt glaze in the style of classic ceramic pieces, against the polished surface of the bronze as a background. This difference in material between the bronze and ceramic gives the opportunity for creating a very clear silhouette of the image. In these examples the silhouette is kept either the same, so that when the medal is turned over horizontally it remains the same, or reversed so that it clearly is the back side and lines up with the front image. While these silhouettes would remain the same as the original image (potentially reversed, but otherwise the same) the image painted inside this silhouette would then be different between the front and reverse sides. In this example, on one side the flower is in full bloom, while on the reverse the branch is covered with unopened buds and leaves instead.
This is one of the qualities of the medal which is not available in other mediums, the ability to mirror itself. The two sided quality allows for a very particular dynamic to be made, a parralel or an inherent link being made between the two images rather than them being seen as separate. In my opinion it is often medals which make use of this quality that are the strongest. It allows for a form of pacing, a rhythm, in the handling, the turning over, the obeserving. It is also interesting that it forces the user to remember the previous image. Rather than having two images laid next to one another which can both be observed at the same time, a medal only allows the viewer to experience one side at a time, forcing you to hold the first image in your mind while you observe the reverse face.
It occured to me in my previous sketches that I was making little to no use of the background, other than a backdrop for the main image. Again, the interplay between the two sides of the medal is very important in my opinion, and perhaps this can be achieved through use of the background contrasted against the image in the foreground. Not only this, it gives a good demonstration and contrast between the two sides of the medal, with the smooth painted ceramic and the bronze which can be sculpted in relief and patinated, giving a contrast of texture as well as colour. I feel that this has the potential to be very visually appealing. Not only this, but it allows the development of narrative to be formed between the two sides, with new aspects being unveiled on the reverse side which were not evident initially; a look ‘behind the scenes’ as it were. This is something I touched on in a previous post, looking at artists who use the two sides of the medal in tandem with each other in order to progress a narrative.
While I think in some ways, having a single medal can be a very powerful piece, and is usually the standard format of the medal, I still find myself drawn to the idea of a series or a set of medals. This was something which even came through in my work last year, making a pair of medals, and I think it is linked to my enjoyment of the rhythym of medalsl and wanting to extend this across a series. Not just picking one medal up, turning it over, but then picking up the next, and turning that over, and the next after that. The unfolding of new information in order to form a larger narrative, and this keeps the viewer engaged for longer and gives them a curiousity to find out more. It cannot simply be glanced at and taken in, it needs to be experienced and considered by the user. Not only this, but if I am looking to express the building and development of self, I do not think that this is something I can capture in a set of two (or potentially three, using the side) images. It is an all too complex topic, which encorporates many different stages and experiences in life, rather than reducing it to simply a “before and after” image. While I am sure that it is entirely possibly to represent this level of complexity in a single medal, I certainly feel that the series expresses it more clearly, as well as playing to my own personal interest in a set of medals.
It is looking at the moment that I will indeed progress with making a series of medals, however, as with everything in this project, it is still open to change.