The Last up-date

In a few blog posts I have talked about the development of my dissertation project work, as a way to making sense of what I’m doing through writing about it. I also thought it would be interesting to share with you how I go about creating my art. On Sunday 9th I finally finished taking all the photos I had planned, and after 4 months I can finally announce this project as officially done…well with just the editing left to do but let’s go along with the delusion that I’m completely done.

Being the first time that I have a created a whole body of work in just digital photography, it  has allowed me to learn quite a bit about how to use my camera efficiently, as well as learning more about my own identity as a photographer. Along with several realisations, I have also learned a few lessons, such as never have just one battery when going out for a long photoshoot,  how lighting is able to transform ambiance and don’t be such a control freak, it’s ok to let things flow once in a while.

To recap, in a previous blog I have discussed how I had to start from scratch after admitting to myself that the house I was using simply wasn’t harmonizing with the detached ambiance I wanted to create.  As it was a highly decorated house, it was creating a type of identity, hence a feeling of attachment to the place. Luckily for me, one of the other models offered his apartment, which happened to be more minimalistic with plain furnishing, that created nice sharp geometric shapes. This by itself helped me to better establish a cold disconnected mood which I was aiming for, making me feel more comfortable in the direction I had taken. I kept using the house along with direct light, the direct light aided to emphasise that I’m not documenting life but rather staging it, in a theatrical or rather cinematographic manner.

Progressing with the series, I kept three rules in my head; think in shapes, don’t over stage scenarios and use a light source. The first rule revolved around creating a composition in terms of shapes, I tried to integrate as many geometric elements to that to also unify the images all together. The second one… which maybe is the most important, was not to over direct the models, most of the time I got better Images when they started feeling comfortable in the scenes and adding their own character in them, while the third is for the reason mentioned above.  The last step is now to edit them, title them, print them, frame them, and then upload the series onto my Instagram for everyone to see. Until then, here is another sneak peak of what is to come, so stay tuned.

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Why Micheal Borremans in my favourite Contemporary Painter

If you follow me on Instagram you might have seen that I have recently bought Micheal Borremans book titled “Micheal Borremans As sweet as it gets” to continue fuelling my obsession with him and his work. Borremans has just started to gain some proper acknowledgment, and to continue this momentum, I decided to dedicate a blog to him and how he has influenced my  own work.

Micheal Borremans was born in 1963, Geraardsbergen, Belgium, acquiring his M.F.A in 1996 from Hogeschool voor Wetenschap en Kunst located in Ghent, Belgium, where he worked as a teacher for a couple of years and is now currently living and producing his work (Artnet, n.d.). Borremans is mostly known for his paintings and their unusual and unsettling content that makes one ask more questions, rather than being provided with the answers.  He places his characters within a theatrical aesthetic, where they have been captured during a crucial point in their story, which seems more surreal but grounded to the laws of reality.

I was introduced to Micheal Borremans by the same lecturer that introduced me to oil painting around two years ago, from then on I continued to follow him and his work. In fact Borremans is the reason why I became so interested in the concept of ambiguity and how the element of the uncertainty can completely change the physical boundaries of a painting. What I mean by this is, a painting of a realistic nature, can only capture a specific moment in time within the physical boundaries of the canvas, but the element of ambiguity removes those boundaries through the fact that there is something that has happened before or after what you are allowed to see, a story that goes beyond that captured moment which can only be completed by you, the viewer. The genius of Borremans is that he has effortlessly harmonized ambiguity to a realistic style of traditional painting which in some regards is considered to be dead, bringing it back to life and in the Contemporary Art Scene once again.

Below is one of my favourite paintings by the artist titled “The Preservation”,  one can identify that a puzzling action has been paused in time, an action which I find to create a tense ambiance. I find the idea of putting, what seems to be, a plastic bag over someones head a bit alarming,  as my perception immediately identifies the dangers associated with such an action. Then again the woman seems to be calm….. Her head is down and her eyes are closed, rather than being frightened she’s sitting still, rather submissive. I can’t help but ask who is the other person? And why is she or he placing such an object on her head? Is it to harm her?, or to help her? What has happened before that lead to this, and what is going to happen after the action is done? What is being preserved? Is it her hair?  Maybe her head?

As I mentioned before, putting a plastic “bag” on someone head can create quite a few bad connotations. Just by adding an unusual element Borremans manages to create a sense of tension which lures you in and makes you ask questions which might never be answered, or perhaps be answered by all of us who have been enchanted with its mystery. Let’s not forget to pay attention to the incredible level of skill the artist has using oil paint with such fluidity yet conciseness, the skin is rich and fleshy, detailed and loose.

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Micheal Borremans, 2001 (image Online). The Preservation. [Oils on canvas].

The painting below titled “The Devil’s Dress” is more recent dating back to 2011. Between the two images one can see the evolution of Borremans painting technique. His brush work is still very fluid, but has become more solid and informed. The content is still unique and makes you raise an eyebrow from inquisitiveness, why is this man lying on the ground? And why is he laying within a cardboard box? Or if asking so many questions is not your cup of tea and you simply accept things as they are visually, appreciating Micheal Borremans refreshing paintings.

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Micheal Borremans, 2011 (image Online). The Devil’s Dress. [Oils on canvas]

 

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Gregory Crewdson, beneath the roses and ambiguity

Through my journey of researching the theme of ambiguity in Historical and Contemporary Art, Gregory Crewdson has been a very fundamental contemporary artist and shaped the way my work is currently visually developing.

“Beneath the roses” is a series of 36 photographs by the Artist Gregory Crewdson, completed after four productions, some on location in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, others in a soundstage specially constructed. Crewdson’s method of photography is quite unique, often resembling a movie set with a crew, composed of around 40 people from production designers, personnel in charge of lighting and even a director (Amy Larocca, 2008). As a matter of fact many film production techniques and technologies are used, for example lights are held up by cranes, fog is produced from fog machines, rainmaking machines to create a downfall and even shutting down main streets to be used for a location (Kenneth R. Fletcher, 2008).

loooGregory Crewdson, 2006 (image Online). Untitled (Sunday Roast) from the series ‘Beneath the Roses. [Photography].

huiGregory Crewdson, 2006 (image Online) Untitled (Shane) from the series ‘Beneath the Roses’. [Photography].

Gregory Crewdson often tackles the idea of ambiguity in his photographic series. As he states himself “There are two possible interpretations, one is the possibility of impossibility and two is the impossibility of possibility. I know there’s a sadness in my pictures. There’s this want to connect to something larger, and then the impossibility of doing so” (Amy Larocca, 2008). If one takes “Untitled (Sunday Roast)”, it is quite evident that there is a sense of sadness from the characters facial expressions but the reasons why are ambiguous. Maybe is the father late again? Maybe he passed away? The guests didn’t turn up or maybe it’s a single mother who just had an argument with her son. This makes the image part of a larger narrative but the photograph limits you from finding it, thus making it impossible to have a clear conclusion. The ambiguity grows when looking at the whole serious which provoke more questions rather than answers. Just from comparing the two photographs above, which are from the same series, makes you question if the two images are even connected, making part of a larger narrative. If they are, is there a timeline where each image falls? Are the characters indifferent to each other or not?  Is the child in “Untitled (Shane)” part of the family in “Untitled (Sunday Roast)”?

The fact that many questions arise from an individual photograph, as well as from the whole series, creates ambiguity on different levels and scales. Just from comparing two images from 36, the sense of narrative already grows and so does the ambiguity in each photograph and the entire series.

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Another up-date

In my 2nd titled “A good Decision” and 6th titled “An Up-date” Blog post, I blogged about my progress in relation to this project work in which I used digital photography as my main medium. These blogs serve more as a way for me to analyse and document my process which you can read if you are interested in the way I work. From that last blog I had some reflections to do so I was not convinced with what I was producing. My main problems where two, the aesthetic of the house I was using and the sense of “authenticity” I was not managing to achieve.

The problem I was having with that house, was about how the house was elaborately decorated which gave it a lot of character or rather, a sense of identity. Also the physical structure of the house, which was decorated with beautiful patterned tiles, columns, decorated doors etc, and certain features couldn’t be cropped out of the photograph resulting in a poor composition. To resolve this issue I had to find another house which had a cold aesthetic with minimum or very geometric décor, this would create a mutual mood with the scenes that would be happening within the house, as so far most of the scenes revolved around a sense of tension, quarrel and betrayal. Luckily enough, the third model I was working with suggested that I would go over to his house and see if his apartment would do the trick. On visiting the block of apartments, I could already tell that it could work, as that block was relatively new and had a minimalistic and clean outer aesthetic. The inside of the apartment was the same, with plain walls, doors and windows with minimum decoration. After a quick inspection I decided to work with only one of the model and see what happens.

Another problem was that I wasn’t managing to achieve a sense of “authenticity”, what I mean by that is, that as digital photography is very commonly used for commercial purposes it can easily make a Fine Art project look commercial as well.  As was previously suggested by my tutor, I though off maybe shifting to analogue photography, hoping this would help as it has a more authentic aesthetic, but due to the time constraints and not really believing that it solved my problem, I disregarded the option. As a plan B, I had done a course of how to develop your own film in the dark room, which was really interesting, so if I changed my mind and switched to analogue at least I would know how to develop my own photographs. The solution was less drastic, I decided to use a direct light source, which was suggested to me by a previous Lecturer, to create a more dramatic and theatrical effect and also increase contrasts in the photos. Also I’m now using Adobe Lightroom instead of Photoshop, which I personally found gives a larger range of options that can help you lift your image. For example, Lightroom gives you the option to control how white you want your white areas to be and how black you want your black areas to be. For me this was enough to increase further the contrast I wanted, which in turn added a more dramatic effect.

To give you, the readers, a more solid idea of how the project is evolving I added some photos, which if you like, you can compare with the ones in the other two blogs;

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Where my interest towards ambiguity in art started

The theme of ambiguity wasn’t something that I was immediately drawn to when I started studying for my B.A in Fine Arts, but I was rather completely infatuated by anything that had to do with gender, especially anything male related……..and as you can see from my previous blogs…that obsession hasn’t left yet. Around the Second year, we had a specific unit that was completely dedicated to finding a sense of artistic identity. As a starting point we had to choose one theme from the themes of Contemporary Art, namely; Identity, The body, Time, Memory, Place, Language, Science ,Spirituality. As paranoia, doubt and an obsessive need for control weren’t an option, I chose Memory.

The unit also composed of another task which comprised of researching artists that we identify with. It was during this research that I came across the artist that really changed my views about what art I want to produce, he was the American figurative Artist Eric Fischl. When you search Fischl online the probability is that you’ll come across his famous Bad boy series, but it was actually another series titled the “Krefeld Project” that really caught my attention.

In the “Krefeld Project” Fischl used a method where he hired two actors, asking them to act out problems which were given to them by the Artist himself, in a house which he had refurnished. He kept going with this method for around 4 days constantly capturing moments from the acted scenes that mostly interested him. He then started to digitally cut, paste and manipulate these photographs to recreate new scenes from them. As an example, the first picture below is the actual digital manipulation that Fischl created which he then reproduced as a painting, titled “Krefeld Project: Living Room, Scene #4” (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), 2012).

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Eric Fischl, 2002 (image Online). Krefeld Project: Living Room, Scene #4. [Oil on Linen].

While creating each painting of the “Krefeld Project” series, Fischl kept coming up with questions regarding his characters, such as; Whose house is this?, Is it her house or his house?, Are they married? Are they having an affair?, trying to understand who they are and what type of relationship, hoping that his questions will be answered in the next painting (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), 2012). Through the Artist’s Project, I had discovered the element of Ambiguity, and how it can be used in relation to characters to generate it further. The ambiguity in this series is mostly created through how the two characters interact with one another, their body language and how they fit in their surroundings, which in turn gives rise to more questions and hardly any answers.

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Eric Fischl, 2002 (image Online) Krefeld Project: Bedroom, Scene 1. [Oil on Linen].

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Eric Fischl, 2003 (image Online) Krefeld Project: Bathroom, Scene 2. [Oil on Linen].

You might be asking how does the Theme of Memory fit into all this? Basically, after having chosen a theme and doing the research about Artists I mostly related with, I started my brain storming to then progress to my body of work. I did this by putting down all the memories I could remember, in a form of automatic writing, ranging from childhood to more recent ones, including memories that are still very personal. Due to this, I wasn’t confident enough with completely putting these memories on display…..soooo, I said to myself…….why not use the element of ambiguity just as Eric Fischl has done. This would have allowed me to visualise these memories, but at the same time, only hinting suggestions without any actual answers. With that established idea as a foundation, I could then advance to actually creating these memories from paragraphs into actual images. Influenced by Fischl, I did this through the medium of collage, with the only difference being  that I made mine the old fashion way with a craft knife and a glue stick, while Fischl did his digitally, as shown above. Out of various compositions, of varying memories, three collages of three different memories, that have gained significant meaning throughout the years, ended being chosen and  turned into a triptych of paintings;

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The triptych’s title “Via Del Anamnesi, 165, Gzira, Reggio Calabria, 1709” is actually a hybrid address made up from mixture of an Italian and Maltese address, which in a way aided to create more ambiguity . This decision was simply taken as two of the memories have been created in Malta, while the other one in Italy. The primary method in which I created a sense of ambiguity within the paintings was by placing these “characters” within a domestic environment, which represents the “familiar”, while their actions create the contrasting effect of the “peculiar”.  By doing so, this allowed the viewers to create their own assumptions and stories, as I only gave suggestions of what each individual painting, or the three altogether, could possibly narrate. As viewers are not told what the memories are, it allows them to perhaps relate to the works more easily, as any possible narration by them, is as equally valid as another one from a different person, which in a way makes it more personal.

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An up-date

In my second blog post titled “A good decision”, I discussed how for once, I took the right decision being to use digital Photography, instead of painting, as the main medium for my dissertation project. I also mention how I managed finding three of the most co-orporative guys who have volunteered to pose for me, making my life a little bit easier. Before reading this blog post I would suggest you read the previous blog post so what I’m about to blab about.

Since my second blog post, I managed to pick up momentum and conducted another three individual “photo-shoots” and I though by writing a blog post about it would help to re-evaluate on what the hell I’m actually trying to do. So far things have been going smoothly, but self-doubt appeared again, so I decided to become friends with it and give it a friendly new name, which is Sem, short for “self-evaluation mechanism”. Basically the idea has officially shifted towards creating an ambiguous narrative revolving three males, where their relationship in constantly on edge, making it questionable as I give no conclusions, just subtle hints. The new paranoia my head that is to not create cliché photos which you can easily find plenty of on tumblr and pintrest but rather create unique images that can stand strongly within the context of contemporary photography.

To try and achieve this I went back to an old technique which I commonly use, that being automatic writing, which simply consist of writing whatever comes in your head. In my case I tried to write random sense which would then be reacted by the three models, ranging from “a male standing in a stiff manner on the dinner table” to “a hand can be seen on the floor behind an arch way” and many other pleasant things. I’m also playing with this idea of using object to create more ambiguity, such as placing female object within a scene, but no female character never shows. I also got the idea of adding a child in the mix of the scenes which would question her/his relations with the three main characters.

I still think it’s too early to say where this project might take as I still have the rest of March and all of the month of April to develop it. I want to create a photographic series that has a story and a meaning but will be presented in an encrypted manner that will make you itch to find out…that is my goal. In the meantime, enjoy the three sneak peaks attached below.

 

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The Neurology of Ambiguity

As I will be addressing the theme of ambiguity quite often, due to the reason that it’s the theme of my dissertation, I felt it was important to share some of the information I covered regarding ambiguity in Art as my first blog post. Within this post, I will be discussing briefly a small part of Mr. Samir Zeki’s academic paper titled “The Neurology of Ambiguity” which applies to my dissertation, where he discusses how the brain processes ambiguity in artworks.

In “The Neurology of Ambiguity”, Neurologist Semir Zeki opens by stating that this writing was executed as a catalyst and a foundation for further experiments, to understand ambiguity in art through a neurological lens. Zeki explains that the human brains primeval function is to acquire knowledge, but has evolved enough to also comprehend conditions that have several interpretations of equal validity. It is important to understand that the neurological definition of ambiguity is opposite to that found in the Oxford English Dictionary; “uncertain, open to more than one interpretation of doubtful position” but rather the certainty of numerous credible meanings. Zeki elaborates this by stating that our brain doesn’t simply record what’s happening around us, but it has to analyse it through perception to establish a sense of meaning, even when the stimuli is ambiguous. The “primary law” of the brain is to follow consistency, which means that our brains are only interested in consistency and unchanging properties of situations and objects. To do so the brain ignores what it considers unneeded when identifying situations and objects by these properties. (Zeki. S, 2003, Pp 173-175).

This structure completely changes when the brain is trying to make sense of a situation that has several conclusions, as it first has to discover what these conclusions could be and then decide which one is the actual conclusion. The difference is that genuine ambiguity, in neurological terms, is when each single conclusion is just as equal as the other, leaving the brain with the only one option left, to acknowledge them as such. In simpler terms, ambiguity is a result of inconsistency with the brain coming to terms that there are no constant properties, but numerous.

In direct relation to Ambiguity in Art, Zeki states that higher need of cognitive factors, such as; learning, memory and experience are invoked when perceiving ambiguous artworks, being a scene or a narrative that is left incomplete, completed by the brain in several methods. The author also stresses there are different levels of ambiguity, for example, the ambiguity present in the Rubin vase is different than the ambiguity present in the narrative of an artwork. These different levels of ambiguities may then invoke different areas of the brain, which have different “perceptual specialization”, that in turn invoke higher cognitive factors such as the above mentioned (Zeki. S, 2003, Pp 174-175).

If you want to find out more regarding Mr Samir Zeki’s paper, you can find the link within the Harvard reference below.

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