May You Live in Interesting Times – Venice Biennale 2019

In order to explore the work of contemporary artists, to better understand the current mulitiplicity of visions and voices and to consider my place and development in this context; I visited Venice Biennale.

This was like the ultimate contemporary art experience of current creative thought and processes. I was determined to immerse myself in it in order to consider the works that had an impact on me and held meaning and influence and the threads connecting these .The lens through which I am reflecting is taken from Gilda Wilson’s book How to Write about Contemporary Art.

It is composed of three reflective questions:

“What is it?

What might it mean?

What might this add to your thinking or the world at large?

(section 3:1)

Barca Nostra, 2018-2019 : a collaboration between the Italian government and artist Christoph Buchel . This is a fishing boat that tragically sunk in the Sicilian channel in April, 2015 with hundreds of migrants on board, the wreck of which was raised and exhibited without signage at the Biennale Arsenale in order to provoke thoughts and questions.

In the Biennale Short Guide it was described as “ A collective monument and memorial to contemporary migration, is not only dedicated to the victims and the people involved in its recovery, but also represents the collective policies and politics that create these kinds of disasters.” – (N.M. 2019, p.60)
It’s looming presence and sense of sadness and horror struck me in the stomach. Like the painting at the Louvre: the Wreck of the Medusa ( Shipwreck, Gericault ,T. 1818-1819) it has caused considerable contraversy. Is it Art or sensationalism? Shameful capitalism , a trojan horse or simply a monumant to a tragedy at sea?

However there was no demarcation of what this was and as it was situated on the side of the Arsenale near the sea channel it could have been mistaken as simply a wreck or meant  and if you did not have prior knowledge, you may well walk past it as many did on the way to the cafe. Was it then succesful at provoking thought or questions? Having experienced this in person, I felt prior knowledge or some kind of knowledge of the ship’s aweful history was needed to fully understand and feel the impact of the wreck, the loss of life and the legislation that makes this sadly possible. It made the context or lack of context and it’s narrative an issue or dilemma.

Image result for Jill Mulleady this connection is not private
This Connection Is Not Private, Oil on Linen. Mulleady, J. Venice Biennale:2019.

The Swiss- Uruguayan artist Jill Mulleady exhibited a series of paintings called This Connection is not Private.(2019) in oil on linen.Inspired by historic works of Munch,the paintings were figurative yet shared a landscape, imaginative in the landscape setting and yet the figures were contemporary, everyday folk occupied by a personal moment such as having a smoke.

This could mean a moment of shared intimacy and the darkness of human contact combined with the narcotics contrasted with the landscape. I Imagined it with a wall in the background and then realised the sweeping landscape juxtapostioned with the figures in the foreground gave it a different context: Dark and furtive reality set in an expansive land and seascape where the boundaries meet.

This led me to consider edges, the liminal spaces in air, sea, land and points in time. Liminal could be a point or place of transition or a threshold.

Of all the pavilions in the Giardini the Nordic Countries (Finland – Norway – Sweden) held the most impact for me.Weather Report: Forecasting Future highlighted the interspecies dynamic we share and the threat of mass extinction. In fact the current climate crisis and dystopian view was echoed in other pavilians such as the film ‘Heirloom’ in the Danish pavilion.

Weather Report: Forecasting Future

The States of Inflamation, Installation. Ane Graff. Venice Biennale 2019

Ane Graff states:

I focus on human and non-human relationships; viewing human beings as part of an expansive, material network, stretching inside and outside of our bodies.

I found the connection between the elements chronicling our decline extremely poignant. A pathos to our situation. The beauty and delicacy of the cabinet contrasting with the reality of change we are driving as a species. The connections between human economic growth and the destruction of the environment both internal (microbes) and external. The whole experience was highlighting the interconnectedness of all life . My thoughts were developing along these threads.

Shilpa Gupta

Image result for shilpa gupta venice biennale

Shilpa Gupta’s sound installation in the Arsenale For in your tongue , I cannot fit (2017-2018) appeared to be a half lit poetry garden which on closer inspection was filled with the voices and work of 100 poets spanning 13 centuries who had been imprisoned  for a range of reasons. The poetry was speared on spikes and the hanging microphones were reverse wired to act as speakers so that when I walked amongst them the voices and poems sounded as I passed by. They were in several languages, some in English, so I understood and others in Arabic, Azeri, Hindi and Russian, so I listened to the intonation of the voice.

Of all the works at the biennale this had the greatest impact. It was both magical, strange and at times poignant walking amongst the poetry fragments. The experience of it was greater than the sum of its parts. It managed to be both expansive over time and yet it had deeply personal and almost ephemeral looking sheets of spiked poetry paper.

The elements of time and the delicacy and power of the paper and word were elements that I wanted to develop in my own practice and thought. This whole experience had made me question my concepts, my practice, my direction. It was like an unravelling and at the same time a kind of distilling of ideas.

Wilson , G. (2014). How to Write about Contemporary Art [kindle]. London:  Thames and Hudson. (Section3: 1).

Rugoff, R. (2019). May You Live In Interesting Times. 1st ed. Venice: La Biennale di Venezia 2019. 86d

Graff, A. (2019). Ane Graff goes to Venice – Oslo National Academy of the Arts. [online] Khio.no. Available at: http://www.khio.no/en/about/news/ane-graff-dreg-til-venezia [Accessed 17 Jul. 2019].

http://www.khio.no/en/about/news/ane-graff-dreg-til-venezia

Real World Contexts

What is Real? What contexts are relevant for my work? Who are the lead practitioners and main agencies in these contexts? What strategies and methods can I develop and utilise in contextual research and practice? Where do I perceive the pinnacle to be ?

These are some of the questions we have asked ourselves during our contextual dialogue with our colleagues. In order to go forward I need to assess where I am at present. Responding to critical feedback from my tutor is a valid place to begin and to use this to inform the process of exploration, insight and development.

Areas for development are to consider more contemporary artists and to consider different uses of paint. An exploration of the ‘mystical’ and similarly ‘symbolism and metaphor’. As I develop this blog I aim to explore these questions, possibilities and contexts by employing different methods; some tried and tested and some new and burgeoning.

Reflection

This body of work has taken me to unexpected places. Through it I have explored themes of time, perception and the human experience through personal narrative. Poetical texts , journals , talks and exhibitions have fed into this process as have links with industry and specialist practitioners. Crow pulp paintings have emerged through this – the limited tonal palette becoming a counterpoint to the high key palette of the paintings. Crow symbolism has been extensively explored and led to different branches of opportunity and expression.

The creative process has been discussed and shared through peer sessions, tutorials, an exposition and blog. It has also been recorded in notebooks , life drawing/ painting and partially through photography. Questions have been asked, theories considered, reflected on and responded to; partly in the poetical art statement to share with my peers and exposition attendees and also as part of the ongoing process.


Creativity is not as the crow flies but rather as the tree grows.

Below is an adapted part of the poetical art statement in two ‘wings’ expressing the themes:

Evolved Triptych: the idea of three distinct images connected through time and meaning

Painting as an expression and archive of time

Perspective change over time

Time is relative

An illusion

Birds: messengers and symbols of freedom, vulnerability, protection, shadow and light

Divination, communication, ancient meaning

The crow family circle the battlefield

Open to interpretation

Emptiness fulfilment

Being

Exposition – E-Day

Together, the Fine Art element of the MA put on a group exposition as a culmination of our expanded studio practice. After considering various venues, we secured a show space at Partisan. The build-up and process of developing the exposition was arduous, dramatic and convoluted to say the least. The role of social media in the process was valuable at connecting us, yet not all read the posts and information became repetitive, misunderstood and frustrated at times. The problem with the written word is that sometimes the tone and intention is lost. The name of the exhibition , I felt, was not encompassing of our practice. The only way I could concede to it was through the democratic process, in that most accepted it and also in another sense of the phrase:

One-Night Stand: a performance that happens only once in a particular place

dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/one-night-stand

However, we did use different media platforms to promote the work such as ArtRabbit and Facebook, plus physical posters that were circulated. On the day we organically curated the space and worked considerately to accommodate the needs of individuals whilst retaining an awareness of the whole show, to create a diverse exposition in the basement space. It was physically challenging because we were not allowed to have any fixings on the walls and the surface was loose and crumbly making it impossible to put adhesive forms on there. We did use the given fixtures and fittings creatively though. I was fortunate to find on my chosen wall space two parallel nails from which I could hang my clipped pulp paintings. I had also planned ahead and brought free standing easels, as had others.

When we had all set up, we were reflecting on the tumultuous process and decided it would have been a better plan to allocate roles to working parties and to spend more time on promotion. Personally, it was interesting discussing my work with those who attended as I found a distinct polarity of appreciation in that some really resonated with the paintings, use of colour and were fascinated by the crow symbolism, whereas others very definitely felt an affinity with the delicacy and tonality of the pulp paintings. I came away with a sense of accomplishment, shared experience combined with a process of valuable, reflective group and individual artistic cooperation and evolution.

Two Crow Triptych

Throughout this process I have been drawn to and inspired by literature; mainly poetry and journals such as:

Former Poet Laureate and local powerful poet who lived in the valley below me. He also delved into the shadowy world of crow. In Crow Paints himself into a Chines Mural. (p 73) Hughes ends with
” To find mother among the stars and the bloodspittle.” ( line 28)
which to me resonated with how the process of creating the Crow Mother and Father paintings felt. Visceral and supernal , and highlighted the interconnectedness of feeling and symbolism.
In Frida Kahlo’s artistic diary she writes of:
“La vida callada.

Dadora de mundos” (P130, lines 1-2)

This translates as:
The quiet life. Giver of worlds. (p272)
Which spoke to me of the creative process, almost like birthing worlds.
W B Yeats is a poet who was profoundly inspired by Irish history and folklore. This work contains a poem deeply connected to my mum: The Lake Isle of Innisfree (p28). Part of which reads
” And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow.” (lines 4-5).
Unusual, thought-provoking and beautiful description coined by the poet. I can almost hear my mum reciting it to me in memory. The pace of dropping slow connects with unhurried and dreamlike time and thus the relativity of experience; the dawning of awareness with “the veils of the morning” (line 6). The search for simplicity and a life free of distractions and complications. a search for something lost in our modern life.
Yeats’ connection to Irish history prompted me to read The Hosting of the Sidhe (p43) finding Caoilte (my Kilty ancestor through my dad) there, “Caoilte tossing his burning hair” (line 15) his connection to the folklore and history of Ireland. The continuum of time.

Now on the Eve of the Exposition, I have written my own poetic crow-shaped statement, which like the work, can be read in different ways and is open to interpretation. It is printed on pulped fiction paper ( Mills and Boon) , made in collaboration with artist Alexis Reeves

Frida Kahlo- Crow Father

Frida Kahlo’s autobiographical work has been an important key during research of narrative artwork. Her painting of The dream, the bed (1940), I found particularly mesmeric as the artist is also the viewer and death is not a taboo subject as in our culture but is celebrated in Mexico ( Day of the Dead). The vines and flowers I felt alluded to new life, creation and growth. This made me reflect on the Yew tree symbol of our ancient culture that I had infused my painting with, except mine I felt was a marker for time.

Portrait of my Father, 1951 by Frida Kahlo

This portrait was painted by Frida Kahlo after the death of her father and she continued to work on it for over a decade. The inscription commemorates him fighting against Hitler and also suffering from epilepsy. Kahlo painted him in sepia which reflects his role as a photographer and could be read as his artistic influence upon her. This I found interesting because I had created a partner painting for ‘Crow Mother’, using a sepia photograph of my father and the idea of the battle, both internal and external with addiction that he struggled with and ultimately lost nearly fifty years ago. In some ways, I felt that he was the original wild and damaged creature in ‘Crow Mother’ that mum was nursing. There was a link. Again across time.

Crow Father – Work in progress, Lisa Kilty

In the process of creating this work I used the only photograph I’d had of him as a child which was a small sepia profile shot of him looking to the left. I always wondered what the unknown side of his face looked like. As a response to this question, I decided to flip the picture and enlarge it in the digital print studio, Salford. I then used it as a source for this painting. That way, as an artist (and a daughter), I finally had ‘the full picture’; both known and unknown, yet no face is symmetrical.

The Crow helmet that I am still working on links back to the description in the book
‘Crow’ by Boria Sax , of Celtic Warrior, Valerius Corvus, ‘Valerius the Crow’ (p56). The idea of the crow being present at, and a symbol of battle (be it addiction or otherwise) inspired me to develop the crow helmet idea. The family name and my art name – Kilty came originally from Caoilte, an Irish warrior from the fianna (war band) of Fionn Mac Cumhaill. This name has changed over time and was anglicized when my family fled the potato famine. Family history has us believe we are descended from Irish giants and warriors. This is a story of our ancestral origins passed down orally through time and infusing our present.

My three paintings now evolved into a crow family triptych: Crow Mother, Crow Father and Crow Daughter.

Crow Daughter

Alongside the pulp paintings at Salford, I have been working on a canvas that I’ve lately come to call ‘Crow daughter’. Inspired by a dream I had several years ago which I recorded in a journal. In the dream, I was taken up by a huge murder of crows that carried me across a kind of surreal, seething landscape where faces surged out of the earth towards me. The feeling accompanying the dream was one of complete protection by the unlikely feathered allies and a new perspective. The end of the dream had a strange announcement that I had seventeen years left.

Following the Crow Mother portrait based on a childhood memory of Mum nursing a crow when I was younger and releasing it back to the wild, I felt that this was a natural autobiographical development and had the urge to create Crow Daughter as part of this body of work. Where mum protected, nursed and nurtured the crow; this was like a reversal where I was being held, carried, protected by the crows and shown a different dream perspective that seemed to embody the changing landscape and passage of time on Earth.

I struggled with the idea of perspective as I was essentially the experiencer of the dream. I decided to change the perspective to that of standing outside of myself as a viewer to reflect time and distance between me and the dream, to give the viewer more range and opportunity for perception of key elements such as the changing face in the Earth and myself carried by crows across the dream landscape. I had no preconceived idea of how this work would evolve and allowed it to develop intuitively. Having attended life drawing classes at Salford School of Art and Media, during which we explored colour theory and discussed classical techniques with the ‘life painting’ tutor; Chris Clements (as painting has been the focus this semester), technically, I would now describe this as a high key painting.

Crow Daughter -76cm by 102cm, acrylic on canvas.

After a recent visit with my brother to an ancient yew tree in Beltingham, Northumberland. We discussed time, symbolism, death and the idea of life continuing regardless of process, or as part of the process. The images and experience of this great and venerable tree and connection to the moment in time where we contemplated something ancient in a place ( churchyard) that marks the passage of human time and where time seems to stop impacted us both. This idea I used in the tree of teardrops above. In some sense I felt I was creating an essence of time.

Does time exist? Is time relative? This was becoming a nonlinear work.

A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History

Over the period of this book the Yew tree at Beltingham was growing, regardless of the seething changes of humanity. Although in itself finite, it seemed to embody something of the eternal as it was over a thousand years old and stood on hallowed ground. Manuel de Landa in the above philosophical work, recommended by Jake Chapman, states that “technology won’t be viewed as evolving in a straight line.” (p.73,) I felt this related to how I was beginning to view my creative process too. Time was emerging as a theme.

Crow paper – Collaboration with Industry 12.3.19

I have been collaborating with technical demonstrator Sue Debney of Salford Art School. This was the third session of papermaking that had developed into pulp painting with Sue – a new area of development for both of us. It is a long, technical, creative and involved process. This time I brought in meaningful items: two 100% cotton faded black martial arts t-shirts that my son and I had worn up to brown belt grading over three years. They represented the battle, internal struggle, technical development of form, awareness of flow, family connection, legacy, evolution, strength, and growth.

To convey a sense of the complexity and length of the process involved, I have included some photos and notes made at the time:

Afore mentioned martial arts t-shirts.
Cotton t shirts cut into small squares with the help of Sue Debney and Alexis Reeves.

The small squares of cotton were then added to the Hollander Beater to be gradually pulped over the morning.
The pulping process, using up to 2lb of dry weight natural fabric, circulating in the Hollander Beater

It took several hours but finally we were rewarded with a beautiful black pulp to work with.

We lined the large deckle box with a sheet of plastic
Then added half of the beautiful black pulp.
It took three of us to pull out the plastic , like a magician’s table cloth, whilst one held the deckle box. Then we had to cause constant ripples by shaking the box, first one way and then another as the pulp set and the water drained.
The sides of the box were removed leaving a sodden, smooth pulp rectangle. This was the resulting thick black sheet. I then tweezered out anything that had invaded the piece – like straw.
Then it was carefully couched onto a flat absorbent surface and the process from deckle box onwards was repeated to get 2 decent substantial sheets to work with.

I had brought two reels of cotton from my mother’s sewing box that I inherited from her. To keep a limited palette I chose a deep crimson and white. I then ‘drew’ with the threads on the sheets before pressing.

I used actual crow feathers to create stencils and pulped recycled art paper in a blender to papermake. This stencil was held on the mould screen and dipped in a vat of pulp. The stencil was removed and the pulp pressed carefully onto the black pulp and thread.

I finally finished by pulp painting the thread and feathers with a watery slurry.

The paper was then pressed and took the rest of the week to dry.
It can’t be worked upon for another week.

Although this seems lengthy for our modern day instant culture mindset. Sue described this as ‘speed paper making’ as in Japan this process can take up to a year.

I am very inspired by this whole experience, from selecting threads and materials imbued with meaning right through to seeing the results of this intense creative process…

Crow by Boria Sax

As I am working with crow symbolism and meaning, I am currently reading this captivating book by American writer Boria Sax. It spans science, folklore, history and mythology of the corvid family across different cultures. What is fascinating in chapter three is the account given by the Roman historian Livy of single combat between a giant Gaul and Valerius Corvus, ‘Valerius the Crow’ (p56) where a raven landed on his helmet and helped the warrior win the battle by swooping on his foe. This idea of a raven/ crow helmet is further exemplified in the chapter:

“A Celtic helmet of Iron from the second or third century BC, found in Ciumesti, Romania is topped by an image of a Raven with hinged wings.” (p57)

I found that this idea of a raven or crow helmet fired my imagination and wanted to incorporate it into the current work I am creating about my father, his links to Celtic and Irish history and our original ancestor: Caoilte. The crow or raven is intimately linked to the Celtic battle goddess: the Morrigan, ruler of war and fate.

What is also fascinating is the ambivalent symbology of the corvid over time:
“The crow or raven might represent extremes of good or evil, depending on the context in which it appeared” (p80)
and the alchemical symbology of the Corvid:
“The raven eating carrion, even the dead bodies of human beings, signified the transformation of all things as the world, slowly but inexorably, moved towards perfection.” (p81)

In corvids, I find the reflection of human nature and the symbology of the internal/ external battles we face as individuals: the armor we wear and the allies we choose.
As humans, we see through our own lense of perception; we anthropomorphize the nature of corvids which is essentially something ‘other’.

Crow Paper

Crow Feather Paper
Created by a stencil I cut from a crow feather and using pulp painting with thread added too. Made with the help of Sue Debney In the Salford Art School Print Room. It has the suggestion of a feather through reshaping the form by hand whist allowing the pulp and thread to fall and flow where it will. The process is fairly long and involved and I am busy collecting meaningful shreds of paper and detritus to pulp…

In this process , discussed with Sue, I was mindful about the space around the feather shape, the flow and impermanence almost like a zen paper painting. This would become an exhibited piece and part of the group exposition.