Week 3: Making Paper Stairs

The initial design of a simple staircase was followed, producing a fairly sturdy design. This, as first thought, was a more ‘domesticated’ set of stairs that did not provide the hollowness that I intended. I was surprised at how structurally sound the piece was, holding its shape very well. Although it was a good material to work with, easy to manipulate and quick to work with, I do not think I will work with paper on another set of stairs as it is not the design I am looking to shoot.

Week 3: Making Cardboard Stairs

Once again, I kept with the original design that I created last week, starting with a cuboid shape made out of cereal box cardboard. I chose this cardboard as it is thinner than others, and therefore easier to manipulate.

I decided to go ahead with the design that held the side and bottom on the same net of cardboard. I found this relatively easy to shape and cut, however fitting the stairs on top of this was a bit of a hassle. I also thought that I had measured out the stairs correctly, however fitting them to the base I realised that I did not consider the additional measurement when the cardboard was bent. This made the stairs not completely flat. I had similar problems, but on a slightly larger scale when creating the longer staircase.

The overall finished staircase looks sturdy with the blocked design. It stands well on its own, but does tilt to the side a little due to the weight of the longer set of stairs. It concerned me slightly that two different types of cardboard were used as they were different colours, despite being the same thickness. In some shots of the staircase however, this is a minimal difference. Despite the final design being better than anticipated, much like the paper stairs, I found that this is a very ‘domesticated’ and blocky design, whereas I am looking for more of an open design to create interesting shadows. I would also not work with this material in such a three dimensional and manipulative way, due to the hassle that it has been to fit it into shape.

Week 3: Learning To Use My Camera

I have a hand-me-down 35mm camera that I intended to use for the project, however I had never used it before. Finding the manual was relatively easy, however the camera itself was a bit more difficult. I was using a Canon AE-1 Program, which used a single battery and had both manual and automatic (or program) settings. I attempted to use both to determine which would turn out with better images, although I wished to use the manual settings for the project.

I learnt that I needed to follow these steps to try and get the right aperture and shutter speed each time;

  • Use the lens of “stopped down” mode
  • As you press the shutter with your right hand (activating the meter) rotate the aperture with your left
  • When you have the correct exposure (according to the internal meter) the needle should be on the numeral in the viewfinder that equates to the maximum aperture of your lens i.e. if you’re using a 50mm f/1.8 then the needle should be on 1.8. Go too far and the red “under exposed” light flashes

I decided to go around the university and take photographs of stairs in both automatic and manual modes. These were on two different rolls of film, to determine whether there is a large difference. The development will be done another week as I still have to sort out timings and chemicals with the department

Francis Bacon (1910-1992) Interview with David Sylvester

“It does, but now I hope it will arrive more positively. Now I feel that I want to do very, very specific objects, though made out of something which is completely irrational from the point of view of being an illustration. I want to do very specific things like portraits, and they will be portraits of the people, but, when you come to analyse them, you just won’t know – or it would be very hard to see – how the image is made up at all. And this is why in a way it is very wearing; because it is really a complete accident…

…the situation has become much more involved and much more difficult, for very many reasons. And one of them, of course, which has never actually been worked out, is why photography has altered completely this whole thing of figurative painting, and totally altered it…

…You see, all art has now become completely a game by which man distracts himself; and you may say it has always been like that, but now it’s entirely a game. And I think that that is the way things have changed, and what is fascinating now is that it’s going to become much more difficult for the artist, because he must really deepen the game to be any good at all.”

Harrison, Charles, and Paul Wood. Art In Theory, 1900-1990. Blackwell, 2001, pp. 626-9.

Jean Baudrillard (b. 1929) ‘The Hyper-realism of Simulation’

“…Reality itself founders in hyperrealism, the meticulous reduplication of the real, preferably through another, reproductive medium, such as photography. From medium to medium, the real is volatilized, becoming an allegory of death. But it is also, in a sense, reinforced through its own destruction. It becomes reality for its own sake, the fetishism of the lost object: no longer the object of representation, but the ecstasy of denial and of its own ritual extermination: the hyperreal.”

Harrison, Charles, and Paul Wood. Art In Theory, 1900-1990. Blackwell, 2001, pp. 1048.

Walter Benjamin (1982-1940) ‘The Author as Producer’

“For greater clarity let me concentrate on photographic reportage. Whatever applies to it is transferable to the literary form. Both owe their extraordinary development to publication techniques – radio and the illustrated press. Let us think back to Dadaism. The revolutionary strength of Dadaism lay in testing art for its authenticity. You made still-lifes out of tickets, spools of cotton, cigarette stubs, and mixed them with pictorial elements. You put a frame round the whole thing. And in this way you said to the public: look, your picture frame destroys time; the smallest authentic fragment of everyday life says more than the painting. Just as a murderer’s bloody fingerprint on a page says more than just the words printed on it. Much of this revolutionary attitude passed into the photomontage. You need only think of the works of John Heartfield, whose technique made the book jacket into a political instrument. But now let us follow the subsequent development of photography. What do we see? It has become more and more subtle, more and more modern, and the result is that it is now incapable of photographing a tenement or a rubbish-heap without transfiguring it. Not to mention a river dam or an electric cable factory: in front of these, photography can now only say, ‘How beautiful.’ The World Is Beautiful – that is the title of the well-known picture book by Renger-Patzsch in which we see New Objectivity photography at its peak. It has succeeded in turning abject poverty itself, by handling it in a modish, technically perfect way, into an object of enjoyment. For if it is an economic function of photography to supply the masses, by modish processing, with matter which previously enabled mass consumption – Spring, famous people, foreign countries – then one of its political functions is to renovate the world as it is from the inside, i.e. by modish techniques.”

Harrison, Charles, and Paul Wood. Art In Theory, 1900-1990. Blackwell, 2001, pp. 486-7.

Week 2: Stair Designs

I created four different designs after researching different types of domestic staircases and fire escapes. These use different materials to determine how sturdy they would be, with a plan of making perhaps several designs with the strongest materials.

Design one: using natural wooden matchsticks and cardboard, I plan to build a small replica of fire escapes that I found in Ottawa. This would involve a palette-like base at each of the landings and three matchsticks stuck together at each of the steps. Joining this together is cardboard, cut in the zigzag pattern to determine the stair shape. My worry is that it would not be completely sturdy as they are small matchsticks stuck together with UHU glue. There is a layered support structure for the palettes, but this is still a concern.

Design two: using folded paper in a more of a domesticated looking staircase. This is a simplified design to determine the capabilities of the material. A concern with using paper is that it would not survive for very long, and that it is a more domesticated design than I was perhaps going for initially. This raises questions about where I would photograph it and how, especially if it needs a base for such a weak structure (especially compared to the other designs produced)



Design three: a cardboard design looking at another domesticated staircase. The cardboard is stronger than paper, but perhaps weaker than the matchsticks. There may be a difficult with the cuts of the cardboard of this piece, however it will be more of a stable structure. I wish to have a curve around the steps as they usually slightly layer over each other, and so I am looking to put a matchstick at the end of the end of the step to recreate this. Spray painting would then cover the difference between the two materials used.

Design four: this uses cardboard and Popsicle sticks in another domesticated staircase design. The popsicle sticks would have the rounded ends cut off and the stability of the staircase would depend on where the sticks are stuck. I am also planning to add a matchstick on these stairs to recreate the hanging over effect on real stairs.


Artist Talk: Soheila Sokhanvari

Soheila Sokhanvari originally took a biochemistry degree, finding that this was not the route that she wanted to take. Her path took her through to a BA and MA at Goldsmiths. A quote that she felt like resonated with her work and mindset was;

“To understand me, You’ll have to swallow the world”
– Salman Rushie, Midnight Children

Sokhanvari’s works looks at collective trauma and amnesia, the shock of a country as well as the symbolic residue that is left from these. Researching this, it often turns into stories and mythology. She feels like the mythology is linked to her own past of being an Iranian exile, beginning her interest in others who have been exiled and are showing it through their art.

There was a challenge of governmental control and security, which Sokhanvari explored through airlines. This started when looking at the 1953 Iranian coup and the oil money, resulting in a nation going through trauma. She took 500ml of crude oil through an airport and on a flight from Iran. From this, she created drawings from family photographs and photographs in media at that time. The message was in the materiality of the medium, presented in a purple room to present the monarchy. The crude oil paintings asks how a drawing can represent the memory.

The abstractions through egg tempera paintings and fibreglass sculptures look at self portraits, and where the negative space is in the family photographs of where she is supposed to be. A representation of the lack of her presence because she is a political exile. There is also no perspective with the composition with no shadowing or particular layering, creating very flat pieces. Colour was the pop in these pieces, as well as working with 24K gold. The pigments came from Venice, creating a connection with the masters of painting. Vellum that is used in her work comes from calf skin, and finds that it is the symbolism of the sacrifice of self.

Sokhanvari’s ongoing project is that of passports, which she mentioned that she will collect for as long as she can. The passport is an alternative portrait as it has context within your current nationality. She swapped stamps with UK and US advertising slogans. The passports are then visible from both sides as a transportable world.

Re-viewing Modernist Criticism, Mary Kelly

Paradox of photography – Edelman. For the law of property in the nineteenth century, which ascertained that the image could only be property to the extent that it was mixed with subject, that is, represented and transformed through his creative labour. Although it can now be legally maintained that a creative subject and his purpose is installed behind the camera, this does not mean that it is generally sanctioned within the traditional institutions and discourses of fine art. Artistic practices employing film or photography as well as those using found objects, processes, or systems where creative labour is apparently absent, continue to problematise the transcendental imperatives which predominate in critical and historical literature on art.

To insist on the materiality of the print would be to undermine its founding attribute, that of illusion.

What is lost in that image, in so far as it can no longer be emphatically marked as the property of the creative subject, is gained to the extent that it is, precisely, a photograph of the artist and as the possessive subject he has the right of the photographer over the disposal of his own image. What is taken away from the pictorial text-the painterly signifier of bodily gesture, is given back in photographic form as the visible body, its peculiar gestures acceding to the status of the signifier in another space, that of pictorial quotation.

The artistic photograph; the detail, the interesting composition which displaces the record. It gives the appearance of transgression, but effectively it is a fragment, a metonymy, enveloped by the all-pervasive pictorial metaphor, addressing the reader with continued reference to the grand regime o Painting.

Artist Statement

The recent collection of presented works from the study abroad term at the University of Ottawa has looked at the exploration of materials, with subsequent ideas stemming from given assignments. Found materials has been a key element within the works, including sieves, wooden chairs and hair. The use of found materials was inspired by both Ben Woodeson and Marc Sparfel who collect items from the streets and gave them homes within sculptures.  Sticking My Pieces to You introduced the manipulation and exploration of materials, developing ideas around bodily and world views. Using techniques including two-part and relief moulds, and alginate casts, plaster was manipulated in different consistencies. Through this handling of plaster, a head was formed with found torn maps, a chocolate pot and wire, displaying broken language in a mixed world.

The view of broken language and attempting to see the whole led to the work of Show Me Your Insides, using two children’s chairs and steel rod in a part sculpture of a tortoise shell. The wooden and metal shell, visible from all angles, balanced itself without fixtures, like the work of Ben Woodeson. The piece raised conversation about trying to understand more than what is presented, with the depiction of a natural shell adding to the unknown within the animal kingdom. The plastic chair whales of Brian Jungen inspired the manipulation of the supposed fixed material into something unimagined.

The idea of the manipulation of space and reality was bought into the three photography projects presented at the University of Ottawa. The first, Sans Camera, worked with a homemade pinhole camera and a five-minute exposure time to produce an unknown image. The camera was completely dependent on your positioning and timing, much like objects for photograms in the dark room, to produce a coherent image. The continual manipulation of different objects or negatives was a technique that Oscar Rejlander, the grandfather of photography, used.

Manipulation of reality within photography was especially sought after in Like Nothing You’ve Seen Before which challenged photography of objects unseen before, or in unseen perspectives. New perspectives of already familiar objects were found with the use of 35mm black and white film. This included turning fire escapes vertical in the frame, causing uncertainty of reality within the image. The orientation was inspired by Andrew Wright, whose series of trees puts them back in a vertical position. The final images interact the viewer, whose head wants to turn for the horizon to be flat, but then finds the image looks wrong because the reality is cropped around the stairs.

A cropped and controlled reality with the manipulation of material is finally seen in Emulating History. This project looked at the works of Harold Edgerton, whose invention of strobe lighting allowed people to see the extraordinary in the every day. By using self-designed three-dimensional printing, along with wire and slow shutter speeds, a false reality was created in the final images displayed. The element of false reality in photography confuses those who view it.