“Find a place of significance to you to create a site-specific artwork. Responding to features of the site, add a drawn element or select a found drawn element which you’ll extend to express something you find interesting about the site.”
Before beginning this final assignment I spent some time considering what I’d learnt about site-specific artwork and installation (see research posts). I did this because even after all of the exercises in this unit I still felt that I wanted a more in-depth sense of these processes. I think this feeling was further emphasized by the fascinating research requirements of the unit. I found researching artists like Pierrette Bloch and Emily Kame Kngwarreye sent me off into unexpected areas which broadened and extended the concept of installation. I found that each step for this assignment threw up so many questions and consequently the work for this assignment has covered many weeks.
I began with ‘finding a place of significance’. This proved the first stumbling block and I think this was because ‘space’ and ‘place’ had been one of the subjects of my reading during this time (see reading post). This brought up a lot of stuff about home and place which actually delayed me getting down to creating some artwork. Aside from all this, I decided that there were two areas which are significant for me – one is my studio space and the other is a very large planting of bamboo which has been in the garden since we came over 30 years ago.
Creating artwork about my studio space has been an ongoing interest as it is a space which contains so much of my life. I began working on this during the last course in Mixed Media, exploring ideas around creativity, movement and ideas but decided against developing this at this stage because of the practicalities. Creating an installation in the small studio space would have presented too many practical difficulties.
I therefore decided to work with the area of bamboo in the garden. The area is large but contained and is very dense and tightly packed. For some unknown reason my granddaughter is very frightened of it and will not walk anywhere near it. It can have a threatening appearance. I decided to approach the assignment by getting to know the image and spent some time just sitting looking at it and wandering around it. William Kentridge, in his book called ’that which is not drawn’ (page 11) talks about the vital part of ‘play’ in the drawing process. “Performance is one part of drawing, at the end of which there will be an image. But there is another part – vital, in my opinion – which comes from play. Play creates the conditions that help the other part happen, and one can only hope that in the course of the activity…new ideas arise.” I find that the iPad is a good way to start this ‘playing’ process and so I began with light playful ideas, as a way of getting to know the site and starting the dialogue.
But the questions which kept arising were, “What’s it like inside there? Who lives in there because I can hear sounds. What would it be like to stand in the middle of it?” The decision was made to cut a path into the centre of the planting. An entrance was obvious at one side of it and so the path began there. I had to have help with this cutting as it is extremely dense.
Cutting my way through was a wonderful experience. It was very silent in the midst of the planting and I have to admit to some anxiety about actually going in because I had no idea what I would find. But inside was a revelation! The extreme vertical nature of the bamboo poles was beautiful as they reached high into the sky. The foliage at the top caused the poles to gently sway and arch over and so this wonderful canopy of curving lines formed itself above. The silence was magic with only brief rustling noises. The day was fine and cold and the garden was covered in all shades of yellow autumn leaves and so I collected the more intense yellow of the leaves and lay them along the bamboo path. I felt to be still playing at this stage – Kentridge writes further on the same page “With drawing or making an object or playing with an activity, one can allow connections to be made.”
Connections certainly began to happen but not as expected. I found that it was not the way through the planting which captivated me but the experience of being totally enclosed by it. I wanted to have the dialogue with the silent enclosure, the forgotten space, the space where no-one had been for more than 30 years. There was a ‘cathedral-like’ atmosphere there – silent, powerful, vertically extended, mysterious. These thoughts connected me to the wonderful drawings of Dennis Creffield. My responses also have their source in the work of Emily Kame Kngwarreye and I wanted to understand how the artist can become so much part of the space that the artwork captures the very essence of the environment.
With these thoughts I decided to begin to draw. I went into the space and began the dialogue between the bamboo planting and my paper surface. I wasn’t able to actually draw in the space as it is so small and I can just fit through it but it is visible from my studio and I kept returning to it. I also took many photos both in the day and as the light was fading.
The question kept occurring to me, “Is this site-specific and an installation if the drawing is two-dimensional?” To find the answer I kept going back to Kngwarreye’s work. Rightly or wrongly, I had come to see that her work became an installation because of her connection with the space or as Robert Storr wrote: “My assumption was that the whole point of encountering installation work is to enter a space where you don’t know where you are and you have to learn how to imaginatively put it together.” (page 1179 ‘Art in Theory 1900-2000). I wanted the viewer to enter the space through the drawing and to be able to experience the space.
By this stage I had become totally inspired by the space. I began one drawing after another, continually returning to the site. The parallel with the cathedral-like image dominated. I found my drawings were energetic and powerful and I was endeavouring to allow the drawing to become the space. The visual dominated in the first drawings and it was very difficult to eliminate this.
I wanted to express the response through abstraction but it was difficult to get away from the visual. It was at this point that I found that the work for this assignment began to merge into the reading and research I had been doing for my parallel project. The project is still in the elementary stages but it will certainly be focusing on abstraction.
The final two pieces for this assignment are a dialogue with the space in pure abstract forms. I worked with line using charcoal, pencil, masking tape and finally drawing with the bamboo itself. This was exciting and I felt it had an energy of its own. I’m facsinated with exploring abstraction.
I could go on endlessly expressing this extraordinary dialogue I’ve been having with the bamboo.