I Am, We Are, Different By Design

I Am, We Are, Different By Design is a student-led Zine project in the School of Arts and Communication Design at the University of Reading, based on the topic of diversity. I Am Not The Label You Give Me featured as a double-page spread within this zine. All 20 photographs featured in this, as well as a small description of the piece and my inspirations around it. The Zine promoted diversity within the arts discipline and to allow us to move past our cultural comfort zones. The 2019 edition looks at the work produced by members of the School throughout the past year, including projects, events and collaborations with those outside of the direct sphere of the University.

Seeing I Am Not The Label You Give Me in a printed publication reaffirmed that I wish to continue this project, making it become as large as it can especially while at University.

Artist Statement

Levels is a photograph and photogram double triptych of stairs hanging in a sandwich of Perspex. These stairs are either made or found by Abraham, exploring the everyday in the conversation between photographic and sculptural techniques. Both triptychs’ use repetition in their formal structure, physically playing with the interpretation that is available to the viewer. This occurs due to the subject matter and develops the comparison of photograph A to photogram B. There is a focus on materiality, and the stripping of one material to make way for the other, taking you further into the conversation between photographic and sculptural techniques, and where the line is drawn between the two.

The theory behind this work comes from manipulation of space and material. Richard Galpin stripped the silver layer off scaffolding photographs to reveal fragmented forms in spatial compositions, transforming pieces into futuristic spaces through linear regularity paired with a geometric swarm. Abrahams’ work takes this into account, but instead removes the subject of the staircase, replacing it in another form. Using wire and natural light, the photograph and the missing subject become a sculpture, conversing with the physical, sculptural staircases that are depicted within the image. One could repeat the circle between sculpture and photography, for the way we think is not linear, but rather a story connecting the elements.

Abraham was specifically interested in the reality of images, with the progression of subtlety using an every-day item. Thomas Demand bought forward a different perspective of his miniature sculptural rooms through photography. Without the sculpture, there is a warped view of reality through the evidence of photography, ‘becoming a reality for its own sake’. Abraham bought this into her own work, displaying no context to size or material, but rather the product of photographic medium. The transfiguration philosophy of sculpture into a photograph and into a separate sculpture comes from Walter Benjamin. He describes that through photography, humanity can see the beauty of the subject, no matter how ordinary. Subtlety is found within the subject and the display of Abrahams’ work, depicting her ideas within the conversational double photographic triptych.

The choice of images was a difficult decision for Abraham, determining only those that would portray the light between photograph and sculpture and questioning where the line is drawn between the two. With a wide selection of photographic techniques and experiments, there was a temptation to create a new reality with them all, but simplicity was the key. Both photography and sculpture retain one instant, drawing upon a momentary process of a story between elements. The echoing similarity between staircases and triptychs bring together this story, blurring the line between sculpture and photography and ultimately asking whether there should be a line in the first place. Within future experimentation, Abraham wishes to look at the impact of size on this conversation, playing further with both light and reality. Abraham considers her own boundaries and relationship with mediums using the final material that illuminates the sculpture-photography conversation; light.

Levels

Levels is a double triptych of Perspex-sandwiched staircase-based photographs and photograms. This piece is one of many that communicates the conversation that I am growing upon – one that looks at the line drawn between sculpture and photography, and where these boundaries are blurred. 

There was some hassle with the final piece as the Perspex that originally arrived had four holes (one in each corner), and not the desired two, and I had only received 11 out of the 12. Finding a spare piece of Perspex in the workshop, I was able to cut this down and screw holes myself, creating the necessary number of pieces to create the sandwich effect. The next confusion was over gluing these together as I did not realise you had to squeeze the pieces of Perspex together as you brushed the glue between the seal. Once I realised that this needed to be done, I was able to quickly and efficiently glue all the pieces together in their pairs, ready for hanging.

I hung the Perspex sandwiches with 1.5mm corded wire, replacing the parts of the photograph that had been cut out with a physical substance. With the four holes, I had thought about using the wire to reach the floor, as this is not an abnormal hanging technique, however I quickly ran out of time while hanging. The final display was then two wires hanging from beams to the Perspex triptychs holding the photographs and photograms.

The final outcome of Levels is one that I thought I would not get to due to previous hassles in this project. I found that the piece had more impact than first anticipated through drawings and planning, and the spare piece of Perspex that I had cut and screwed myself was not obviously visible. I am proud of how the piece came out because the display was unique to the piece, and aided itself well to the conversation between photography and sculpture. If I were to do the piece again, I would not leave it so late to plan the display, allowing extra time for deliveries and mishaps before the deadline, however I would hang it in the same way due to the impact that the natural light has to the piece, adding itself to the conversation between sculpture and photography.

Between Week 8 Exhibition and Final Exhibition

Between the Week 8 Exhibition and the Final Exhibition, my ideas and practice further changed to include more experimentation with light within the mediums of photography and sculpture. Through the use of new matchstick designs, I continued to play with the aspect of reality, but I felt as though I wanted photography to play a larger part of the project. This is where the play with light, that was initially introduced in the Week 8 Exhibition, was highlighted through the use of photograms, photographs and cyanotypes. These photographic processes manipulated light in its raw form to create different realities on paper. Each of these also use light in a different way, playing with the manipulation of an added medium. Here, I looked into the Paradox of Photography in which ‘to insist on the materiality of the print would be to undermine its founding attribute, that of illusion’, so I ensured that I addressed the reader with a continued reference to light and sculpture, rather than photography. Taking it one step further and using inspiration from Richard Galpin, I stripped the photographic layer from the photographs that I had produced of stairs around the University of Reading. Removing this layer I ‘volatilised the real‘ and made the subject and reality difficult to determine. By removing this layer I have also inverted the conversation previously held and created a sculpture from the photograph, bringing together the conversation between sculpture, photography and light and determining where the line was between them. I wanted to ultimately display more within the final exhibition, but after a lengthy discussion I decided against this and drawn in the simplicity element that worked the best throughout the previous works. This investigation of the conversation between sculpture, photography and light was also aided through the glass workshop and my final display designs with photographs within perspex and hung by wire.

Week 2: Final Display Practice

During the exhibition committee’s meeting, we decided that I would be on the beams within the main studio space with natural light behind my pieces. I decided on two triptych’s that face each other to have a conversation between the photographic and sculptural elements that are being hinted at. The final display would use 1.5mm twisted wire cable that would be strong enough to hold the Perspex that I have ordered, while also hanging straight. The thickness of the wire also hints at the paper I have stripped away from the photographs and the emptiness of the photograms in a sculptural form. Being sandwiched in Perspex, the conversation deepens between sculpture and light as well as photography, blurring the lines between them and questioning whether there should be any lines at all.

I also decided to name my piece ‘Levels’ for it relates to many of the elements within the piece including that of the levels of stairs, the levels of which the triptychs are hung as well as the levels of inter-connectivity between sculpture, light and photography. This aids the conversation between the three elements of what my work looks at, and allows the viewer to decide whether there are levels between these, or whether it is one long spectrum that joins them together.

Summer Week 1: Final Display Planning

Over Easter, I originally designed four different layouts for the final, summative exhibition. I based a lot of this on the Week 8 exhibition where I found the circles and continuation of the stairs off of the piece to be very successful. These original designs were very full on, taking into account everything that I had done; cyanotypes, photograms, prints that had been cut into and the matchstick stairs. I wanted to display too much.

After a much needed conversation about my work, I realised that the simplicity of the piece worked best in the Week 8 exhibition. I had originally crossed the boundaries by making sculpture into a photographic substance, but I wanted to cross it the other way this time by making the photographic substance, sculptural.

After much deliberation, I needed to step away from the automatic reaction to display things in a frame, and decided to utilise the cut out elements as the missing sculpture. By sandwiching the triptych of individual photographs in Perspex sheets, the light will be able to pass through and highlight this element. I would hang the photographs with cut out stairs from the beams in the art department in somewhere with lots of natural light. I would then hang a triptych of photograms from another beam near by, so that they are in conversation with each other. Because the photograms will not have the stairs cut out, I may have one on each side so that there are a total of three triptych’s in total. This is what I aim to experiment in the department with string and plastic sleeves.

With the perspex, I am also looking to hang it with wire for a seamless look. I would also prefer wire to a thicker chain as it hints towards the thin lines that have been cut from the photograph, and almost translated into the material it now hangs from.

Above: A selection of possible display formats for the photograph set, and the up-to six photograms.

Easter 4: Shadow Stairs and Photographs

Building up from the feedback and ideas from the week 8 exhibition, I wanted to explore the use of the light against the stairs and projections of the corresponding, or similar photographs that I had previously taken. I was also planning to use plinths around the department to create a blocked sculpture, however I could not find many and this would have been difficult to manipulate in the time frame I had nor complete the goal that I had in mind. I instead used my stairs, laying them on top of the OHP in a corresponding manner and a random angle to the image, and dangling them in from to create an suggestion of a shadow. I found that the ‘wrong direction’ stairs that were directly on top of the OHP surface worked the best as it created another suggestion of a staircase, while also producing interesting shadows both on the wall and the staircase itself. Despite the experimentation, I do not think that I want to go down this avenue further as I enjoy playing with light in a photographic manner with the subject of something that is sculptural.

Easter 3: Cutting Photographic Prints

I wanted to further investigate the impact of cutting prints of photographs that I had taken after initially producing a small number of these. I wanted to go larger too, to see if this impacted the experience of the viewer from these empty spaces, determining what the stairs looked like, or the environment that they are supposed to belong in. I wanted them to be varying sizes so that I can display them alongside my photograms and cyanotypes as a juxtaposition and a hint to the different photographic methods that I have used alongside sculpture.

Due to the fragile nature of these prints, I would prefer that they are framed prior to exhibiting. With the larger prints that I have not yet cut into, it may be possible to leave ore on the photo to give a glimpse of the surroundings, unlike any other medium that I have used.

Small:
f11
32 seconds
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Big:
f8
76 seconds
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Small:
f2.8
6 seconds
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Small:
f11
45 seconds
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Small:
f11
30 seconds
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Small:
f11
40 seconds
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Small:
f11
23 seconds
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Small:
f11
45 seconds
No filter

Big:
f8
90 seconds
No filter

Easter 2: Cyanotypes

I previously worked on cyanotypes in week 11, playing with the different stairs that I had produced and the strong shadows that the sun was producing. They were very strong, creating stark contrasts between the stairs print and the blue of the cyanotype chemical. This collection of cyanotypes were lighter than previous attempts, for reasons I was unsure of. Al of them were very shadowed (despite the images being clear, but this was an auto-correction on behalf of the camera). I enjoyed the manipulation of the light to create ‘new’ stairs for malformed shadows due to the strong sunlight. Although these pieces are relatively small and despite wanting to go bigger, I hope to use some of them in relation to the photograms and photographs for my summative piece.

Easter 1: Photograms

These photograms are an extension of the earlier collection of photograms that I produced from the original three sets of matchstick staircases. I enjoyed creating this first set within the boundaries of smaller paper, but through the exploration of several staircases on one piece of paper with the cyanotypes, I wanted to translate this into the dark room.

I used several techniques including double exposure with two different staircases, double exposure with small movement of paper and layering to create a forced perspective on the flat piece of paper. The individual staircases on smaller pieces of paper are effective and give the perspective of going further off into the distance, past the paper. The photograms with multiple staircases give the same effect, but are clearer and more distinct than the cyanotypes produced in the same manner. I wish to use these in my summative exhibition as a nod to the notion of a larger staircase with other pieces also being displayed along side these.