My initial aim for this project was to create a piece of work, through the medium of the medal, that represents personal growth and development of the self, over the changing stages of life; the repeated fracturing and reforming process as we deal with trauma, loss, triumph, happiness, bonds being formed and others being broken, as we slowly define and refine our sense of identity, and how we define ourselves to others. We select significant events and experiences in our lives, and absorb it into part of our personal narrative, and disregard others, through an ever continuing process of refinement.
This is an important topic to me personally, as now that I come to the end of my university experience, I feel that I have reached the end of an era in my life and come out the end a distinctly different and more developed person than at the beginning. Yet I am both paradoxically, entirely different and completely the same. I have become more, myself, then I have ever been; taking the best parts of myself and exemplifying them, and allowing others to fall by the wayside. However, this is not a finished process, and while I feel I am in a strong and secure place currently I am still in (hopefully) a very early stage of my life which I am sure will feature many more points of turmoil and success in the many years to come. Not only have I changed, and will continue to change, but the events and my perception of these events and relationships do not remain fixed, as we continually revisit the past with the lens of our current self.
It was this realisation, that drove me to use this as a theme for this project, as it is one that is both important to me personally, and that is common to all people and the changing development throughout their lives. The term for this, is known as “Sonder” – defined by The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows as “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”
While I originally intended for the work to be representative of this notion as a whole, the different stages and features of people’s lives which change, repeat, fault and interchange; I came to realise through the project that just as the adage often used by writers of books, I can only draw from my own experience. In the end, while having this notion of sonder, and understanding that the lives of all people unfold in just as complex and fundamentally important manners as my own, this is perhaps far too infinite for me to be able to capture and express. I cannot truly know the lives of others, and tasking myself with creating a piece of work which is personally identifiable to all people is something that while I still feel strongly about – is possibly a task taken over a life time, rather than approximately half a year in a final year degree show.
It is because of this, that I decided to make the focus of the medals my own personal life’s narrative, but in a manner that given care, consideration and understanding, is still able to be read and understood by others investigating it’s underlying theme.
The medals are a set of five, using the imagery of keys, which each represent a distinct stage or relationship in my life.
I feel very strongly about the use of keys as a motif, in that they are objects which are inherently understandable, and yet also able to carry and convey a weight of meaning. Keys are objects that every person carries with them, every day of their lives. They are fundamentally linked to place, keeping you tied to that place – and by extension the relationships and experiences tied there – even if you may be thousands of miles away. Keys represent options, and opportunities; a person with only one key only has access to one thing, whereas a person with many keys has access to many more places, people, objects, facilities. Keys can be freeing, and the absence of them can be constricting. Not only do they carry these meanings in their function, but they are also able to be read visually. The key can range from the simplistic and mundane, to the ornate, complex and beautiful, with each carrying it own identifiable value and associations. As both my subject, field, and dissertation work explores, objects act as containers and vehicles for personal meaning, value, and experience, and some of these values can be expressed and understood wordlessly by others through entirely the form, and context of the object. We unconsciously read the meanings and values given to them by their making in in their use.
It is because of this that I believe the keys to be a strong choice in design for the medals. Each key is able to some extent to be read, simply in it’s form and design, and the viewer is therefore able to speculate what that may represent to me personally.
The medals themselves are sequential, moving through different stages of my life, and only when fitted together in the correct sequence is the poem on the edges revealed.
The first key in the set, is a small set of two keys, which comes from a child’s lock box. The keys are small, thin, and flimsy, and functional in the most basic of senses. While they do lock and unlock, they provide no real security, and act as merely a prop to make the child feel more secure.
This is a style of key that is not only understandable as a child’s key in it’s design, but may in fact be familiar to many as it is widely used in children’s products with locks and keys such as money boxes, and I was in fact able to find an identical set on google when looking for children’s money boxes This medal represents the period of childhood, of innocence, a fresh life with no prior experience. Because of this, the reverse side is smooth, polished and clean.
The surface of the second medal, is missing the children’s key from the surface. Instead, there is now a more recognisable, bona fide set of keys, clearly the type used for doors. They are sturdy, and more complex in design, while still being entirely functional, bearing the logo of the key company RST on the front. These are they keys to the front door of my family home, that I was given at a young age around eight or nine. It was around this age that I began to face my first major life conflicts, with my grandmother (whose home we lived in, then inhereted by my mother) passed away, triggering my mother’s first major episode of a psychotic manic episode, leading to her diagnosis of bi-polar disorder, leading to a period of hospitalisation. Shortly following this in the following year, my father was diagnosed with cancer of the kidney which spread to the brain, hospitalising him and having him pass away soon after on my ninth birthday. The again caused my mother to have another psychotic episode, leading me to spend a large part of the next year living with other family members, and visiting my mother in the mental hospital, while coming to terms with my father’s death.
Needless to say, this was a traumatic time for me, and signifies to me a very clear loss of childhood, and a sudden mounting of responsibility, represented by both the new set of house keys, and the painfully absent set of children’s keys. While this back story is clearly not something which will be understood or inferred from these medals, an outsider will not look at these two medals and deduce “this is a representation of the artist’s loss of a father figure as a child and her mother being institutionalised”, they may be able to understand the dialogue; the loss of childhood innocence moving into a different stage of life, and the sense of both loss and new found responsibility and independence.
The third medal in the set, this time shows still the set of house keys from the previous medal, but also a new, more ornate key. This key is in clear contrast to the more practical house keys, looking more decorative than functional, with a complex handle and simplistic locking mechanism. Rather than being held with a sturdy keyring, it is instead held with a set of two small loops, such as you would find on a necklace. We can understand from this key that is perhaps more sentimentally valuable, than for its function as a key, and that this is a new addition in my life.
The key in question, was in fact a gift that was given to me by my boyfriend of five years throughout my teenage years and school. If we understand that the first key is that of a young child, and the second is a first set of house keys, we can then deduce that this third medal is perhaps set in the teenage years of the person’s life, and that they have a new sentimental attachment of some form in their life that they treasure.
This relationship was one that was incredibly valuable to me throughout my teenage years, as my life became increasingly turbulent. Teenage years are often a turbulent time for many, a stage of uncertainty and insecurity, beginning to question, search for and identify your own personal values and your relation to others, while also navigating the needs and troubles of others in your peer group. Not only this, but once again I had to face the various periods of my mother’s mania and depression, and while this was not a constant condition – with her often going many years without an episode – the interludes were often filled with an uncomfortable role reversal of parent and child, attempting to manage her general absent presence and alcoholism. My relationship with my boyfriend of the time, and his family, acted as a much needed anchor and support system to fall back upon in these difficult times, in the face of otherwise isolation.
The house keys, both in a literal sense and the symbolic sense representing my relationship with my mother, are still present in my life, despite being an anchor in the suffocating sense, rather than supportive sense of Martyn (my boyfriend) ‘s family. While time with Martyn and his family (represented by the decorative key necklace) is a welcome relief and separation between myself and the family home, the distance – again, in both a physical and symbolic sense – is only slim, and the looming sense of responsibility from home is never far.
On the reverse side we can see imprints of both the childhood key, and the house keys despite them still being present on the surface. While the childhood key was not present on the surface of the second medal, it is still something that is felt as an absence even into the teenage years. However, the colouring of the childhood keys are less dark than the previous medal, and lighter than the near black tone of the house key imprint, signifying the depth of the loss felt. This is a continuing conflict throughout the medals, the simultaneous presence and sense of absence of the home keys, as it is a continuing theme and conflict throughout my life – of feeling inescapably tied to my home life.
The fouth and penultimate medal in the set, features again the set of home keys, but now instead of the decorative sentimental key, there is another set of sturdy, functional keys. Moving through the timeline of my life, from childhood, through to teenage years, this medal represents early adulthood. This set of keys is in fact the keys to my first flat, which I moved into during my second year of university after spending the first year still living at home, as my family home is in Cardiff. However, after my mother having another manic episode towards the end of my first year at university and the intense stress it was putting me under, thanks to the strong advice and support of the university’s chaplain Paul Fitzpatrick I was enabled to finally move out from the family home after having resigned myself for years that I was to be trapped in that destructive environment.
While I now had more options and avenues of escape in my life, with the new set of functional keys representing my new access to a home other than my family home, in many ways I was more isolated than ever before, and still strongly and crushingly tied to my home life. Shortly after moving out within the first two months of the second year of university, while still recovering from her previous manic episode from the end of the last academic year, only recently having been realised home from the mental hospital, my mother suffered a severe stroke. This left her hospitalised for roughly six months on end, being possibly more dependent on me than ever before. This left me travelling daily on the bus between university, the family home to look after the dog in the empty house, to the hospital to visit and bring support, supplies, and clean clothes, taking away her urine soaked clothes back to the family home to be washed, before finally catching the last bus to my flat. Although it most certainly would have been more practical for me to move back to the family home, I was determined to make full use of my small foothold of independence despite being pulled tighter home than ever before.
Meanwhile, while this is all happening, I am still feeling the loss of childhood – although the child’s keys are now a lighter colour showing my coming to terms with this, and clearly still the conflict of home, but also the loss of my supportive relationship in the form of my 5 year boyfriend and his family, as well as the loss of the family dog whom I loved that I was no longer able to care for.
As we can see from the medal, this was a period of much intense loss, with only the added modicum of independence being gained.
The final medal, while still having the set of house keys, more significantly features an entirely new set of keys, completely separate and overshadowing the house keys. These keys represent my shift fully into adulthood, becoming entirely independent from my home ties. Despite still being present, they are now a far smaller and less significant focus in my life. The new set of keys are they keys to my second flat in which I am living with friends from my course – rather than the previous year in which I was living on my own for the best part of the year. I am both living and functioning happily and autonomously, and although I still face pressures and demands from home I have deliberately put once again both physical and emotional distance between myself and the family home, setting a firm limit on the amount of time that I am willing to spend there. The absence of family life is still felt, although now much paler in colour than the previous medals as I come to terms with this, and there is an loss felt for my time at St Michael’s (my first flat) and the yearning for what my first year of independence could have been, this too is something I have largely come to terms with.
This final medal is far more hopeful, with the gains far outweighing the sense of loss. Not only this, but it marks the completion of the set, allowing all of the medals to come together in order for the poem inscribed on the side to be read.
Each individual medal is a thin and isolated slice on its own, as is any extract taken from a person’s life. Upon meeting a person, we only see and are able to interpret what is presented to us, the current iteration of their self, and perhaps speculate as to what may have come before it. We may, through investigation then reveal different slices and layers of their life, which may seem entirely distinct or perhaps only a very minor change to the version you see in the fully formed person. It is only then by putting these pieces together as a whole, that we can truly appreciate and understand the full breadth of a person and their experience, and understand the sonderous nature of another person’s life in relation to our own.
The lines inscribed down the side of the medal are extracts from Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If”. They read,
” If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you
If you can meet with Triumph & Disaster,
& treat those two imposters as the same
& so hold on when there is nothing in you,
Except the will which says “Hold on!”
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much
Yours is the Earth and everything in it, & what is more
– You’ll be a Man my son! “
This is a poem which fundamentally expresses the process of the development of the self, in the face of both the trials and the successes, and coming out the other side more complete. This poem, and these lines especially are particularly poignant to me personally, while also serving to make the set of medals more easily accessible and understandable to the viewer giving the objects a context in order to decode the imagery and symbolism behind the keys.
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.
Now that we’re within the last week of our course deadline, it is time to set up the show! After having spent the previous week constructing the space, putting up the walls, painting them white and sanding them when needed, it is now ready for the work to go into them.
As I have already decided in a previous post, I will be using a desk and therefore do not need to worry about constructing specialist plinths or shelves, so it is simply a matter of bringing them into my space.
Sticking with the manner of display which aims to capture and recreate a personal environment that is true to life, I have decided to bring my own desk from my bedroom in order to display my work. This desk, while not being a particularly impressive looking desk (a reasonably cheap, shabby, student desk), is ideal for many reasons. While it is true that the desk itself is not particularly impressive, in the same way as perhaps if I had bought a vintage oak desk to display my work upon, a visually appealing item in itself, it is true to life and reflective of my circumstances. It is a practical desk, for somebody who does not have a large budget, and I feel the act of going out and buying a desk specifically for the display would detract from the notion of it being a slice out of my own life and living environment, it would be artificial. Not only this, but I think the fact that the desk is not too impressive or grandiose means that there is no confusion as to whether or not the desk is a piece of the work itself. Again, if I had displayed the work upon a beautiful oak desk there may be confusion as to whether or not I had in fact constructed that desk, especially as it would be in an exhibition next to people who had constructed their own furniture as part of their work. Despite not being an especially appealing desk, I equally do not think that it is so poorly constructed that it detracts from the work. In fact, after having dressed the desk with the various pieces of work and tools, essentially making it a combination of my desk setting at home and my working desk in the university, I do no think the desk itself will take much of the focus, it is simply a setting for the environment I am constructing. Another positive point about this desk is that it is constructed with both drawers and shelves, which I intend to fill with various sketchbooks and objects, a combination of both process work from my project work and collections of items which decorate my room that have not been memorialised in the books. For example the shelves underneath the desk may have a combination of molds made during the project in construction of the medals, and decorative items (figurines, photographs, objects of personal interest) from my room at home as they would be found, in a slightly ramshackle manner. The drawers equally would contain sketchbooks, but also items simply found in my desk drawers in my day to day life, pens, batteries, stray notes and pieces of paper etc. Through investigation, the viewer will be able to examine not only the work and it’s process, but as with Tracy Emin’s “My Bed”, have a view into my own personal life and environment.
With this is mind I began constructing my space, assembling my home desk, and effectively moving the majority of items on my working desk in uni, onto it, recreating my work environment.
Overall I would say I feel positive about this layout, and it certainly gives the impression of being my personal space. While this is very much at odds with the rest of the show which is constructed of largely white shelves and plinths, I think it is a positive contrast and makes my display clearly defined and demonstrates that this is a deliberate curatorial strategy. Both the medals and the books are easily accessed, but are arranged in a way that is not too precise and suggests that somebody before them has just been in the process of handling them. The objects are not so precious as to be intimidating. The drawers contain a mixture of sketchbooks, and process work, slightly ajar so as to encourage the viewer to open and investigate them, and the shelves holding various molds. The chair, taken from the studio, has splatters of paint on it which is again fitting with the idea of the working desk of an art student.
With the desk built and in place, I can now start bringing other small items from home to dress it with such as my teapot, figures, and bags of clay
When looking at the idea of interlocking medals, and in researching the work of M. C. Escher I stumbled on the term “tessellations”. A tessellating image consists of a series of repeating, interlocking tiles which contain no gaps or overlaps. As always, Escher is one of the main artists in the field with his mathematical and geometric based art. Tessellations can range from very simplistic geometric images, or as in the case of Escher become much more complex.
The interesting thing about these shapes is that they can fit together in different ways, each shape can be put together when facing horizontally or vertically, and so with the context of forming an image could have different permutations.
This is another more complex tessellation, where the picture has been rotated around 180 degrees in order to fit with itself. While this is certainly interesting, this does not incorporate the reverse side, which is very important in the format of a medal. This would mean that either all the medals in the set would need to be the same side up in order to fit together, and so doesn’t allow so much for the idea of interchangeability that I was hoping to capture. However, perhaps this would be simpler, as they would still be able to interchange in a sequence, for example 5 medals face up could still be arranged 3, 1, 4, 5, 2, and I would then not have to be trying to make the images fit both sequentially and on the reverse side. But this does mean that there would no longer be a strong interplay between the front and reverse sides, which I have previously discussed is a strong feature of the medal in my opinion.
Here, using some of Escher’s designs as examples, I am trying to resolve some of the questions I have in relation to tessellations. Many of the shapes I have seen, even though complex, fit together only with rotated versions of themselves, as with the previous example. Others, while seemingly reversed versions of themselves, when analysed closely are actually different shapes which are made to look the same by the imagery on the front, which would involve making a set of medals of different shapes, an idea which I do not like. It is important to me that for the cohesion of the set, that all the medals remain the same shape (with potentially some, but not drastic variation between the form). I don’t think that having a set, several of which cast to a distinctly different shape, would add anything to the piece and would likely only cause more confusion. What is it about those pieces that makes them different to the others? This may change if I did in fact have a reason for making them different conceptually, but doing so simply for the mechanic of having them tessellate is not a strong enough reason in my opinion and would only disrupt the message.
This is a much more promising example, where the same pattern has been reversed, and yet still fits together with itself. This allows for both different orders to be made of the medals in the series, and the combination of the front and reverse sides of the medal to be shown and investigated by the user. However, while Escher makes it look deceptively simple, the concept of creating a tessellating pattern, let alone one that can be reversed on itself and still fit, is frankly mind boggling to me and I’m not sure where I would even begin. Another question is, if I were to make a complex pattern as Escher has, what would I make it? Again, this comes back to the issue of imagery and motifs, and this might perhaps become more clear once I settle on this issue, but as of now I am still working in hypotheticals and so can’t think of any shape or form that would inherently strengthen the message of the piece. There is also the fact that it would have to be the same shape across all of the medals, and so therefore would have to transcend the message of each individual piece, of a singular point of change, and express the uniformity and continuation of narrative of the piece as a whole. It would need to be reflective of the fact the medals are a set, which come together to form a whole.
This is another excellent example by Escher, although not using both the front and reverse sides, but of transitioning image while the form of the shape stays constant. This is exactly what I would like to achieve in my medals in terms of transitioning image, where change across the surface is gradual and almost unnoticed, until you compare the beginning and end which are distinctly different from one another.
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.
While discussing the idea of medals with a fellow maker in the year below, who is also doing a project focused around medals, it gave me some alternative ideas in regards to my own medals.
We were discussing the idea of miniature and dolls houses, a subject which she is interested in, and I suggested the idea of a bisected dolls house in which you could see the silhouette or relief of objects and things inside the house. While it is not so clearly demonstrated in this sketch, I was suggesting that perhaps upon turning the medal over, it in fact reveals a different scene, even though it is still using the same silhouettes and positive/negative spaces. Perhaps one side showing a very immaculate and pedestrian household, and on the reverse finding all the rubbish that is hidden behind the tables/chairs/sofa etc. This brings to mind the importance of the relationship between the obverse and reverse of a medal, and the contrast and interplay that can be made between the two. One example that comes to mind is Nichola Moss’s medal, “Cow Pat”
While the two sides may be in completely different scales, and don’t necessarily reflect the use of space of the medal, the relationship between the two sides in regards to each other is evident. The reverse side is a continuation, a new part of the story, from the front; a punchline to the joke. For me I think this connectedness in narrative is a very important part of what I want to encorporate into the medal, the process of viewing one side as a continuation or a reflection of the other, rather than two individual images that happen to be related.
This relation and interplay can also be reflected in the shape of the medal itself, as seen by Bethan Williams in her medal Gwyniad where the two sides of the medal show different versions of the fish, presumably in relation to different portions of the story it is taken from. Taking the same image and mirroring it for the reverse is a simple but effective way of telling a different portion of the same story, and giving a sense of flow between the two sides. In many medals this is also done by having the front and reverse of the medal quite literally be the front and back sides of a subject, such as Rob Kesseler’s “A Book of Leaves”
While this may seem in some ways simplistic, there is a charm and surprise in seeing two sides of an object made into a relief. This also comes back to the original idea that I discussed of having an element of the literal reverse sides of the subject being shown, however perhaps with an element of surprise or something that was not expected to be there.
The use of form in changing imagery can also be used in different ways, where the same form makes a completely different image when looking at the reverse; as seen in Julian Cross’s “Fox and Grapes and Crow” .
While the two sides may be reflections of the same story, shown from the different perspectives of the fox and the crow, the images on the two sides are composed completely differently yet are constricted to the same space. This is also a very interesting and ambitious take on the idea, although possibly more complex in its execution. Another example of this, with less intricate detail but as equally clever in its use of form is Marian Fountain’s “The Muse and Her Mother” looking at the changing states of womanhood using the two sides of the medal.
Not only does the form of the medal reflect the design in contrasting ways on both sides, but what is also interesting to me is the use of metaphor that changes context on the reverse. On the obverse, the woman is holding a golden ribbon which forms the edge of the medal, triumphant and strong. However on the reverse, with the birthing of the child, the ribbon becomes entangled between the woman and child, and she is no longer holding it but simply trapped by it. This intelligent use of metaphor is something I would like to be able to reflect in my own work.
As previously stated, I am looking at expressing the idea of personal growth and change in the form of a non-linear narrative, through imagery depicted in a medal. My main challenge at this point is deciding upon what should be the focus of my imagery depicted on the medals. The imagery on the medal is likely to be a pictorial representation of something which is inherently intangible (states of being, emotions, etc) and so finding something tangible that can suitably represent this is difficult. The imagery used on the medal needs to be in some way of a changeable nature, that can have various different forms or compositions which can be interchanged. Not only this, but I would like it to be something with a reasonable level of detail which brings in my illustrative and sculpting skills, rather than say generic patterns.
Working with this brief in mind, one of the ideas I have had is the representation of rope or thread. These come in many different formats, and have a wide variety of uses from practical to decorative. Thread itself can hold many different shapes and forms, from tense and highly strung to loose and disorganised. Not only this but there is then the question of knots, which also have very many different forms and shapes, and in themselves can be beautiful decorative objects with a high amount of integrity and strength, contrasted against a frayed piece of thread which is fragile and tenuous.
All of these knots and more can be found here
Taking this as inspiration, I sketched out some ideas of thread related designs for a medal.
By using a thread as the imagery for my medals, the design can easily transverse across different surfaces or sides, joining at a particular point making it look like a continuation of the same thread. I feel thread is a good potential symbol for change, as it can be woven/knotted/tangled, and then still unravelled. The thread itself has a entirely changeable form which can hold a fixed or fluid position, yet can always be returned to its original format, and can use the length of the string as a representation of time.