Artist Talk: Barbara Walker

Barbara Walker presented in our final artist talk of the year with her fluid work, responding to the world around her. This technique gives her a unique way into the painting and drawing that looks at the social and political.

One of the first works that was shown looked at disabled bomb experts and those who have fought in wars. Walker attempts to look at the ‘true’ perspective, with prompts from conversations, media and daily life. For this, the prompt came from a conversation that asked whether black soldiers can fight on behalf of Britain in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

Walker’s collection of works and style looks at the chronology of the past 100 years of war. She doesn’t really like wars, but this was the premise to have a conversation through the artwork. She also finds that she has one foot in history and the other in a contemporary practice. Walker is regarded as a research-based artist (80% research, 20% making), to try and unpick, learn and have a foundation to build and make from.

Not only does Walker look at the past, but she also takes a look at contemporary soldiers. This is a difficult subject and it is touch-and-go when trying to have a conversation about this. Because it is a difficult conversation to have by many, she decided to put that idea aside and look more at the historical aspect, especially of her own, Caribbean, history. Immediately there was a need to know where these people came from, bringing images to the surface and using them, scavenging them from archives. Walkers’ work plays and disrupts the photographs and images that she finds in these archives. She identifies the photograph, buys the file, enlarges through certain formats and then works from these.

Charcoal is one of the preferred mediums for Walker, a medium that she is comfortable with, thus she is able to make a statement and a metaphor because of her interest in the hierarchy of constructs (those she draws are lower in the hierarchy, and charcoal is often considered ‘behind’ painting). Her works look at the individuals claiming the space again, giving rebirth and celebration, but also critically looking at images and re-framing them. You always have to disrupt to make a new, or continue an old commentary.

In some pieces, Walker drew with charcoal directly on the wall, which she has to wash away. In other pieces, she has taken an eraser or white chalk to an area of the piece. Both methods are somewhat aggressive, and make an impactful statement. If things become too familiar, she moves on, to bring challenges to her work and move forward.

Walker also looks at the female contribution as a challenge to her own work and uses the same processes as before. In one image, she may emboss one woman and drew the other two. In others, she will cut out an image which is severe, but also subtle, placing the drawing, or part of the photograph in a different place. These different techniques come together to create powerful pieces of work. A last medium that Walker has demonstrated her skills in is installation, commenting that wars should not be drawn on pieces of paper, but also on the walls in the pavilion where many of these soldiers were stationed. It brings some humanity back to such an ugly word. Walker makes a stand that these people were spoken about but not commemorated, bringing their lives to the surface in a provocative manner – ‘hitting the audience with a sledge hammer’.

Glass Casting Part 2: Derek the Duck

The first part of the glass casting workshop looked at moulding wax and creating a mould for the glass. The second part of the glass casting workshop worked with the cast class and hand grinding it. First step was to soak the plaster mould to weaken it and get the glass out. We were then able to break off some of the unwanted glass in a safe and controlled environment. To get rid of the larger, rougher edges, we used the technique of glass grinding with silicon carbide by hand (YouTube link). This was an intensive and very noisy process using grit and water on top of a thick piece of glass, and then grinding the object against this surface. Not only did I flatten off the bottom, but I also curved the grinding round so that some more of the bits that stuck out were smooth and in line with the bottom and the side of the design. The final product was a flat bottomed platypus/duck in a canoe.

Week 9: Photos and Photograms

Developing on my list that I made after the week 8 exhibition, I spent a day in the dark room developing several photos that I had made of stairs around the university as well as producing photograms of the stairs. I am unsure of what to do from here with the photograms, but I enjoyed the outcome of the easy-to-produce pieces. I would like to see the juxtaposed against cyanotypes of the stairs as well as other pieces I intend to make. With the photographs, I intend to score into them to take the top photographic layer off, leaving only the stairs in the images. (There is a slight yellow tint due to the lighting when taking the photographs.)

Photograms:

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Artist Talk: John Russell

John Russell is a lecturer here at the University of Reading and talked to us about his practice in our weekly Wednesday artist talks. His practice grew straight after art school with a group that he was involved with; Bank. They pretended to be in shows with famous people to which they would send terrible colour photocopies of invitations to those in a large gallery mailing list. The galleries that they were advertising to be a part of started to get people to turning up to these exhibitions, despite them never existing.

It fuelled Russell and Bank’s interest in the pitching of an exhibition, when Damien Hurst caught their eye as the pitching of this particular exhibition in a warehouse was one of a kind. This inspired Bank to create their own, real, exhibition in a disused bank. This was almost like an organised party but you had to leave the work up for four weeks afterwards. Here, Russell and Bank continued to spend a lot of time and effort on the invitations because they were up against big name galleries, and this is the one thing that would be used to attract people’s attention toward the exhibition. They were able to do a whole series of exhibitions in disused buildings that were available in the middle of London, and used everything from oversized foam to fluorescent paper for the invites.

Zombie Golf was then born as it looked at the seriousness of the galleries, playing on it. They spent the summer making a golf course, using cast faces of Bank artists and members to put on the zombies. When artists were asked to exhibit, the golf course was already there so they worked around it. Some put up paintings, others allowed their piece to interact and bounce off of the golf game, as this was a working golf course. Some of the paintings were golf courses, specifically painted for this exhibition by Peter Doig, that have recently been sold for over a million pounds. It was at this point that they truly realised they were great at attracting people to their shows, but not at selling their artwork.

This was then the Bank group set up a newspaper as though they were the ‘art world tabloid newspaper’. They were able to pick on people in a funny way, which became relatively successful. This mockery quickly led onto FaxBak as Bank were receiving a lot of press releases from other galleries. Press releases are often nonsense that people think is the effective way of describing art, but Bank would then correct their press releases and give them a mark out of ten before faxing them back from where they came from. Bank even had their own stamp that they would use before sending them back. These were displayed in a pretend gallery in their exhibition space, framed and lined up. FaxBak was also done for New York exhibitions, where the group would receive threats and aggressive replies on answer machines. These answer machine messages were then played in the background of the show in New York, adding to the exhibition. These pieces are now part of the Tate Britain permanent collection.

Russell left Bank not so long ago and moved on to performance and digital work with a concentration on digital painting. He described his work as ‘a Jackson Pollock but made out of meat’. Russell was interested in the way that you can only see a tiny bit of the thing you’re working on when it is digital, with a constant motion of zooming in and out to see the whole. These are printed on large-scale vinyl for impact. Russell realised that he kind of hated them and when he finally sees them printed, they are crude and cumbersome in an inelegant fashion. The work that he produces flicks between heavy handed and spectacular but this intrigues him, and continues to do so as he makes his work today.

Richard Galpin

Richard Galpin strips photographs to reveal a fragmented set of forms in spatial compositions. His work began with scaffolding, scouring and peeling away the surface emulsion in specific areas to leave only the scaffolding part. This transformed through to rollercoasters, cities and into futuristic spaces. Galpin engages with modernist abstraction, constructivism and futurism, as well as the formality of the photography process. Through this profess, there is a reconfiguration of space where new forms emerge. It is not quite a representation of negative versus positive space, but it certainly leaves you to think.

Week 9: Scanning and Planning

I did not know what to do or where to go after the Week 8 Exhibition critique, so brainstormed all of my ideas. A part of me wanted to return to my original idea of placing the stairs in realistic settings, but another part of me wanted to play with the light and shadow aspect that I have bought into my work within the past week. This has bought photography and sculpture together in a way that I did not expect or plan. I now plan on:

  • Block sculpture: project a negative or an image onto a large plain block sculpture for the sculpture itself to become a photographic form
  • Project a negative on the wall and hang the stairs in the same position
  • Photograms of the stairs
  • Cyanotypes of the stairs
  • Make prints from photographs of stairs, cutting around and taking the background out (inspired by Richard Galpin)
  • Scanning all negatives onto the computer for archiving and future use

I would like to play around further with the circular form, as I found this intriguing in the week 8 exhibition, allowing the viewer to question where the stairs disappeared to.

This week I also began the long task of scanning my negatives into the computer. This ensures that I will always have a copy of them, edit them easily, and print them off onto acetate and in different formats and sizes quickly and efficiently. I do not know whether I will use this further in my project, but it is a good starting place. [Below is the second roll of film I scanned in.]

Week 8 Exhibition

Within the Week 8 Studio 3 Exhibition, I displayed in the AV Room, down the corridor from the studio space. This area was curated by four of us, ensuring that everyone had the space that they needed, and the audience were able to interact with each piece in the intended fashion. I displayed all three designs of the matchstick stairs, hanging them from the ceiling with a different coloured spotlight on each. The different colours of these was an unintentional element that added to the work, highlighting the differences between them and allowing the evaluation of the individual staircases. There is also a practical element to the spotlights, as they ensured people did not walk into the staircases that were suspended from the ceiling. When people did walk past them, there was an element of motion that was carried forth into the staircase as they would slowly rock back and forth.

The blurriness of each image added to the element of optical illusion. This somewhat stepped in the opposite direction that I originally intended with the stairs, as I wanted them as real as possible, such as in the negatives I have recently developed. However, as they are hanging you can see their positioning, but you are more captivated by the almost primal draw of the shadow from the spotlight.

I found that I enjoyed these elements coming together, and I want to explore the elements of real versus optical illusions through the use of shadow and light. One way to do this may be through the use of photograms, or using some of the negatives that I have already produced. I am not sure what my next steps will truly be as there are now multiple paths I could go down.

Week 7: Practising Exhibition Display

I originally intended to display completed prints of either the matchstick stairs or other stairs that I have taken around the country. This, however, was difficult due to time constraints. I instead wanted to play around with the two- to three-dimensionality of the sculptures and the photographs. I decided to hang the stairs from the ceiling to give the notion of floating, with the stairs themselves at different angles. I did not know what the effect of this would be, nor whether it would work until it came to setting up the exhibition.

Unintentionally, the lights were different colours and the stairs were blurry up against the wall, however I enjoyed the effect that it made. I also felt like the effect of the shadow on the wall was as though I had created a negative, further linking the photography and sculpture that I started with.

Tate Exchange 2019

I was invited back to the Tate Exchange 2019 with Art Lab for ‘a series of participatory workshops that will enable visitors to explore the theme of movement’. There were several stations on the 5th floor of the Blavatnik Building in Tate Modern that lead people through different types of motion. Some of these were by other departments from the School of Arts and Graphic Communication at the University of Reading, including performance workshops and conversations around the theme of travelling and movement.

One of these was a ‘listen and draw’ activity, asking people to react on paper with pens and pencils to what they heard on headphones, in a silent disco manner. The sound recordings were made by first year students in the module Reading Objects Writing Images. Both schools and members of the public found this a very fun activity which allowed freedom around the papered space. As they were approaching a large piece of paper that was not blank, it was less daunting and allowed further engagement from those of all ages.

The second station of Art Lab’s was that of a selfie sphere which was a big shiny ball suspended from the ceiling. Participants were invited to draw a self portrait in this sphere and then take a 360 image with a GoPro with these self portraits on their head. We found that many would want a photo without the drawing, however it was still a very engaging activity with all ages.

The last station that Art Lab ran was the one I helped out most frequently with over the weekend. This used Augmented Reality (AR) through an iPad, which was placed onto a TV screen. It was originally intended for people to act like sculptures, recreating images, however it ended up that people were interacting more with the objects and animals that we were placing on the screen. We also found that this interaction caused a lot more enjoyment, and allowed us to play around more with the software. It was particularly funny to see the confused faces of those who saw the object on the screen, but not on the ground in front of them.

I also helped in the social media management of the event, posting to @artlabuor and @unirdg_art Instagram accounts to promote the activities. Interacting in a different way than helping out at the stations allowed me to see more of the background work that goes into such a large event. I look forward to see more of the running of large events such as this, and helping in the Tate Exchange with ArtLAB next year.

Week 7: Developing Negatives

Developing these negatives was a little stressful as I had several complications throughout the process. My first was realising that the room was not light tight and the sun was round our side of the building. Luckily, this did not ruin the film in any way and was one of the better rolls that came out of development. The last roll of film I developed was that of the stairs in the dark room. This came out much like the film I developed from the third photography assignment in Ottawa, where the background was so dark it came out almost clear in the negative (this indicates that no, or minimal light has hit the film which in turn will create a dark print). This showed me that I was correctly using the light meter, camera and set up in the AV room, providing further confidence for photography in the future.