Category: MA Practice and research

Reflections on research – with gallery

Mirror test of self awareness

Studying research and practice became easier as I did it; I became more comfortable with the language and terminology of research, and connecting research to learning, through practice and back to research again. The more I enjoyed it, the easier it became easier to focus on a particular part of research.

The reflective cycle

I have struggled with focus. I go through highs and lows with it, unable to focus or sit still followed by periods of deep hyperfocus.
It is helpful to recognise this and the triggers for getting me out of periods of procrastination. Because of this, I crave peer group interaction and I struggle when there is little activity on the forums. I have felt isolated at times; I want to talk about ideas over coffee, hear about other people’s research and ideas and talk with people who relate directly to my (and the group’s) experience. We’re embracing some big topics and pushing ourselves and I would like that sharing, especially with the diversity of disciplines and experiences within the group. I enjoy the process of learning together.

I’ve had that opportunity with my classmate Cathy, via Whatsapp, and I want to encourage others to join a class Whatsapp group.
I’ve had great tutor dialogue but it doesn’t replace the group because we are learning together; it’s a different relationship.

Distance learning is amazing and is the only way for me to study, so I will continue to look for opportunities and people locally for that extra sharing.

I got overwhelmed by research at the start, vital feedback helped me focus my research boundaries but also encouraged me/reminded me to be cautious against reliance on research into cultural issues of representation; I needed to look illustration as a discipline too.

My best moments and possibly one of my strengths was uniting research with practice, either reflectively or looking forward. I enjoyed this but also had problems with momentum when I switched forum one module to another. Despite many plans and planning exercises, I could not anticipate the different levels of progress I made with each activity. Reflection tells me I must find ways to accommodate this.

Moving forward, I see how I am developing the academic language of visual communication and, making and meaning. I am translating that across to my practice-based research and so to my practice. My significant progress has been seeing myself as someone with a voice that is relevant. Without an extensive (any) body of published work, I sometimes feel that my voice doesn’t count but this has taught me what matters is having something to say and earning how to say it – in written and visual ways. I have been seeking validation from being widely published rather from studying a subject indepth.

Also, I have new confidence in my artwork, I have confidence that if I keep drawing and reading and evaluating and drawing and so on, in that reflective cycle, I always do draw something I like, something I can develop. I think anyone reading this will understand how significant that is.

Partly that has come from case studies, partly from broader research and feeling inpsired but also from uninhibited drawing whilst reading about topics that matter to and inpsire me. This drawing stems from reading (and doing) wild swimming, reading about the human-animal binary and a case study research in to the work of author and illustrator Henrik Drescher.

I have found that mixed media is the answer to my indecisions about media and my sometimes-chaotic ways of thinking and working. It feels quite like my thoughts in pictures! I’m going to experiment with collage and explore pencil and charcoal as part of that mixed approach. I’m also excited by research that resulted in using photographs of found objects and what that means to my goals of an environmental message.


Uninhibited drawing, doodling, gave me enjoyment and confidence. For example, I was determined to illustrate as much as I could, including creating Chester Draws for my blog. Sometimes I think I draw better, I’m happier and more relaxed when I don’t try.

I am enthused by my re-ignited love of reading non-fiction and not just in art theory and history. Moving forward this can only inspire more illustration. Ultimately I want to make a book, or two, and say something that will help raise awareness of the intersectionality of rights, how that applies to animals and help end animal suffering. It’s a bold statement but everything that everyone does, if it is done with thought, kindness and warmth will contribute the overall global vegan, and rights, movement.

 

 

The process of idea generation – A Pecha Kucha presentation

Idea generation is vital for progressing an idea, for developing illustrations and illustrative style. Ideas develop through research which inspires practice, and in turn, experimental practice acts as another form of research.

Pecha Kucha is a form of presentation that takes the form of 20 slides, each on screen for 20 seconds with an accompanying narration.

Here, that format presents examples of idea generation and experimental practice for research.

What does becoming animal look like?

Steve Baker contributes to the essays in the book, Representing Animals by Nigel Rothfels (ed) (2001)

What does becoming-animal look like?
By Steve Baker

Baker’s thinking is significant; he is an artist and academic. He is Emeritus Professor at University of Central Lancaster, and he is interested in how animal advocate artists think and make their work. (Baker 2019)

This book is interesting to the illustrator and animal advocate. As an image maker I am part of society that describes our culture’s knowledge of animals. Consequently, I am looking for analysis, academic and conjectural, about how creativity and animal rights are combined. I am particularly interested in Steve Baker’s essay, in part 2 of the book, called, What does becoming-animal look like?

The title of the book, Representing Animals, appears to succinctly encompass all that an animal advocate artist might be seeking guidance from. Certainly there is extensive discussion to consider in this collection of essays that explore creativity about and for animals. The book is divided into three parts that explore the history and growing interest of the place of animals, ‘within and outside human culture’ (Rothfels, 2001 p xi).

Fig. 1.  Representing animals cover design by Lisa Moline

Artist Lisa Moline illustrates the cover and start of each of the three parts. She uses photographs of small, dead animals – a bird, an empty shell, and a mouse. These are not cute images, they are real, but not graphic, and they describe reality. Each bird or animal is cupped in human hands that are open in honest display and say, here is, or was, animal.

Nigel Rothfels’ introduction puts the book’s contents into context. He references the making of Jaws, the movie, and how it played into human fears of unknown ocean depths, fears of what lies out there in the dark. Rothfels explains that the story’s author, Peter Benchly, became an advocate for sharks, after learning about the impact of hunting on population numbers. He has since committed to never portraying negative images of animals again and made numerous films for National Geographic. However, Rothfels comments that these types of films are not always truthful portrayals themselves, driven by needs for good imagery and high ratings.

Part 1 of the book explores the history of animal image making. Here Andrew C. Isenberg gives analysis of North American beliefs around wolves in the early nineteenth century through the work of wilderness writer and illustrator Ernest Thompson Seton.

Part 2 is the heart of the book and begins with Steve Baker’s essay where he explores the obligations of the advocate artist. Baker insists, ‘the artist is ultimately responsible to the animal’ (Baker, 2001 pg. 67) and he explores the question of responsibility through his readings of Gille Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s 1980 book, A Thousand Plateaus. He uses the complexities of their philosophy of identity and creativity, to ask questions about making art from the identity of animal. He describes Delueze and Guattari’s writings as ‘seductive but elusive ideas’ (Baker 2001 p. 68) but delving in to these ideas can help an artist make work differently, and be aware of cultural messages that may be read in their work.

Baker explores his ideas further through critique of contemporary artists such as, Olly and Suzi, Carolee Schneemann, Damien Hirst, and video artist Edwina Ashton. Through these artists Baker explores ideas that attempt to express animal values in art instead of human values.

Baker examples Joseph Beuys’1974 live performance with a coyote, (where Beuys claimed he was describing his love of America through the coyote). Baker proposes an alternative perspective through advocate eyes. He suggests that Beuys’ performance, could be construed as objectification of the coyote. Therefore Beuys’s responsibility to the coyote is brought into question. In Baker’s terminology, what consideration did Beuys give to the coyote, to his responsibility to the coyote?

For contrast, Baker gives us the work of Olly and Suzi, British contemporary artists committed to endangered species. They have travelled the globe, working with conservationists and they paint with the speed and immediacy that Baker  supports. (fig 1).

Moving on, Baker reviews Carolee Schneemann’s art and her relationship with her cats Cluny II and Vesper, in her photographic project Infinity Kisses. Baker acknowledges Schneemann’s view that her cats have their own perspective in the work; they are just being cats, going about their daily lives. Baker comments that this work is at risk of not being taken seriously, yet interestingly, Schneemann’s cats are far less likely to be affected by the manipulation of subjects that Rothfels alludes to in his Jaws introduction.

Like Schneemann, Sue Coe sees herself as another animal amidst animals. Her work is honest, and activist; it makes the viewer uncomfortable. Baker notes the sympathy her work generates and its power of advocacy. He goes on to describe the joy found in the beauty of form that contrasts with the anguish of the artist who is witness to animal suffering.

To help advocate against suffering, Baker makes suggestions. For example, he asks the artist to make with warmth, the warmth of breath such as that in Gabriel Orozco’s Breath on piano, a work not about animals, but Baker highlights it as art about living. He describes other breath work such as the participatory 1999 work of inflatable latex animal hides by Sutee Kunavichayanont. Here the gallery visitor can breathe life through tubes back into the lifeless bodies. Baker also repeats Deleuze and Guattari’s resolution to becoming animal artist, and that is to use speed, to be present, and to make good art. Baker describes this as shifting perspective, to move away from an anthropocentric place, to use fear and excitement to take the artist from creating subjects to creating events.

In this guidance, Baker’s reference to the extensive writings in A Thousand Plateaus slows this essay. Deleuze and Guattari’s theories are complex and can distract with each reiteration about becoming-animal, but this book, at least Baker’s essay, encourages reflection for the artist advocate. As in Lisa Moline’s photographs, the human hand, visible or invisible, is always part of how we present and re-present animals but there are lessons to learn if we don’t wish to make animals wholly human spectacle.


Fig. 2. 5 Dirty Dogs by Olly and Suzi – (n.d)

What does this mean for the animal advocate illustrator?

Baker describes through examples, how the illustrator can commit to positive representation of animals, and he reinforces our obligation to do so. There is truth in representation in the examples, in Olly and Suzy’s life drawings, in Lisa Moline’s destaurated photographs of death and clearly in Sue Coe’s activist art.

So, the advocate illustrator can take these ideas, with Baker’s suggestions to make with warmth, speed and presence, and explore them through experimental practice.

It is common for picture book illustration to be excluded from analysis of representation, and this essay is no different. However, ideas can be extrapolated and, through experiment and commitment the picture book illustrator can find ways for making positive representation.

 

Further Reading

Steve Baker has written several books about animals and art.

Books

Also by Nigel Rothfels,
Savages and Beasts:The Birth of the Modern Zoo
https://jhupbooks.press.jhu.edu/title/savages-and-beasts

Sue Coe
https://www.moma.org/artists/1170
http://www.artnet.com/artists/sue-coe/

Olly and Suzi

Home

Carolee Schneemann
http://www.caroleeschneemann.com/

References

Baker, S., (2019) Steve Baker About [online] Available at:http://steve-baker.com/about [Accessed 19th March 2019]

Baker, S., (n.d.) Representing Animals, What does becoming-animal look like? In: Rothwels, N., (ed) (2001) Representing Animals Theories of contemporary culture, Volume 26. Bloomington, Indiana University Press p.67 [pdf online] Available from: ProQuest Ebook Central. Accessed [20th March 2019]

Rothfels, N. (ed)(2001) Representing Animals. Theories of contemporary culture, Volume 26.Bloomington, Indiana University Press. p xi [pdf online] Available from: ProQuest Ebook Central. Accessed [20th March 2019]

 

Illustrations
Fig.1. Moline, L., (n.d) Representing Animals. Rothfels (ed.) 2002, Bloomington: Indiana University press, front cover

Fig. 2.  Olly and Suzi, n.d.  5 dirty dogs [painting] Available at: https://www.ollysuzi.com/painting [Accessed 20th March 2019]

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