The Principle of Sufficient Irritation

The London Group President’s Prize show 2016 at the Cello Factory with Martin Heron and Darren Nisbett

Last year November my work was selected for exhibition in The London Group Open, which is a biannual event showcasing the work of current members alongside the same amount of works by selected contemporary artists. The membership is thriving, with around 90 members, so the show was spilt into two parts and hung in a salon style.

The current main gallery used by the group is the Cello Factory on the Southbank. As the name suggests, it is a converted space with high beamed ceilings and skylights. The award of this space and the time to work in it meant that I was able to conceive a piece which is much larger than previous works. 

‘Cloud’ is approx 4m x 4m x 3m and is suspended in the space, stopping before it reaches the floor. The salvaged wires are a mix of power, telephone and data cables, and have all been connected into one circuit here, with two tiny LED bulbs proving agency. This is an opportunity to experience a physical relationship to the copper cabling we are surrounded by and depend on for our life services, including communication, conversation, and data exchange. The material is unified by a small current, so the imagined past uses of the wires might bleed into one another, and have their current forms extended a little. They have been spared the scrap-mans’ smelter for now. 

I am also exhibiting 2D drawings for the first time, and I see those in terms of physical exploration too: Following my residency in Beijing I have been processing my experiences there in many different ways. One of the ways I have been trying to discover what this orange object is for is to draw it and draw it. No matter how closely I look I still cannot work out how it might be connected. They just stood on top of telegraph poles there as rare beacons of colour in the thick, flat air.

Martin Heron takes his background in large scale public art installations as a starting point which he is able to position his work against at 180 degrees. In contrast to large heavy works designed to live an age, here he salvaged scrap metals and allowed them to have some say in how they are treated. Martin manipulates his materials until they seem to have said ” stop!” They crease and fold according to previous marks, and colours in the form of paints and tapes respond to altered angles and lighting too. 
They protrude from the wall at intervals, giving an airy colourful illusion to their sharp edges. They are displayed at head height, which I feel places some of the responsibility for taking care back onto me, activating a personal interaction.

Darren Nisbett is showing a photographic series chronicling his exploration of abandoned and derelict industrial machinery. They are printed on guilted and textured metal, which transforms them into becoming relics themselves. They might be as decayed as their subjects. 

They are dark and imposing, mixing the mechanical with the possibility of the anatomical, and the scale of the original objects I hard to ascertain. Small clues suggest their enormity, and the dark row of frames moving along the wall of the gallery seems to have a mechanical rhythm of its own.
The three of us had not met before we won the award last year, but were instantly drawn to the shared interests of our work. We met regularly throughout the year to discuss the theory and practicality of staging a coherent group exhibition, and I think that these conversations paid off through what we have produced. The installation was well planned over three days, and went very smoothly. This luxury of time opened up our plans from an early stage:

As a photographer Darren knew he would show on the wall, and as a space based sculptor I was keen to exploit the height of the space. Martin makes sculptures which are often displayed on the wall, so the balance was struck. 

I calculated logistics and materials before I arrived, but was not sure of the final form the work would take. This was dictated in part by how the cables I chose behaved on the day, and in part by how the space was transformed when the wall works were installed. 

As the rich dark photography and the colourful textured sculpture went up, it became clear to me that my cables should only be black, and the coloured and white wires of my collection were packed away. I began with the heavy, smoother cables, a mixture of data and telephone wires, which draped more elegantly in the heights between the beams. As I moved lower to the ground the work narrows, but still appeared to be floating upwards, and so the lower section is made from solid core power cable which is more capricious.

I worked with the title in mind, as it was the only part of the making I could be sure of before I began. This is part of my explorations of the communication network and our interaction with it, and the hanging form gives a monumental presence to materials we customarily ignore or are insulated from.
I also produced a publication to accompany the exhibition, with writing by Susan Haire, the president of The London Group. 

This was made by Risograph, which is a relatively analogue technique in the field of printing; kind of a mechanical screen printing process which uses vegetable inks, banana paper and large drums to reproduce the images. This gives a warm tactile print quality which is often slightly off-calibrated reminiscent of hand production. It seemed relevant to the materials and interests included in the publication is presented in a limited edition package which also contains three samples of metals, one produced by each artist in the show. These are available from the artists.
To conclude the exhibition on Thursday the 10th of November we are hosting an evening of artist talks where all three exhibiters will be presenting their practice. Refreshments will be served. All welcome at 6.30 pm


Intersection/In Context/ Hoxton Arches

The excelent folk at Made in Arts London continue to support students and graduates of the University of the Arts London which includes Camberwell, Chelsea, CSM, Wimbledon, LCC, LCF and more I’m probably missing out.

Their most recent independant fine art show was Intersection at Hoxton Arches and I was delighted to be one of their commissioned artists this time.

I have been looking for ways to get more personal with my work, in more explicit ways, as the deeply personal connections I have to my materials and processes which seem obvious to me soemtimes get lost to others. That’s not to say I want my work to become revealing or obvious, obviously.

For this commission, which was part of a group show, I was offered the opportunity to collaborate with my fellow exhibitors in a fairly closed environment. This gave me the chance to bring the personal to the fore, and gave others the chance to contribute and feel a personal investment in the work in a space we shared. I called the work In Context

I created a google doc questionnaire which was easy to share, and it was filled in annonymously by the other artists. The questions asked for information about age, length of practice and ranges of emotions felt about their artistic practice recently and during a period of time past. Most revealingly, I asked about notable highs and lows they had faced. This was a very provocative and private act, which was certainly helped by the anonymity of the forms. I was trusted with some sincere revelations, and was able to form a picture of the range of experiences shared by artists practising in London today.

This data was collated into a chart which visualised these experiences, and I realised it using cables and wires which I salvaged in London the week before. I find the possibility that some of our communications about this work might have passed through them really relevant and exciting. They could have been torn out of a building next door to any of us, and I can almost feel the physical traces of messages and electricity which have passed through them. This is the personal interpretation I was talking about before. I think adding the opportunity for personal engagement with the other artists brings it out into a more accessible space.

I see all the salvaged materials I use as intersections, points of change and possibility. I  imagine where they will go next and the uses to which they may get repurposed. For this installation I stripped the ends of the wires, ready for them to be reconnected if desired, as a nod to the ongoing, unknown practice to come.

Working with Made in Arts London is always a really good experience. They are really well organised and really professional. One of the prep sessions we had was with Ceri Hand who spoke about commissioning artists, and her experiences were reassuring and inspiring.

Making the work in the space has allowed me to see  it in a new perspective, and I’m sure it’s going to feed into the work I am developing for the three-person London Group Members prize show in November with Martin Heron and Darren Nisbett

*Thanks to Adriana Jaroslavsky, Alexander Devereux, Alice Aires, Altea Grau Vidal, Anastasija Pudane, Ben Edmunds, Camille Leherpeur, Claudia Cauville, Fly Chen, Franceska McCullough, Fredrik Andersson, Guilia Cacciuttolo, Hansika Jethnani, Helen LieuJuan Mateus, Juliana Dorso, Marta Barina, Monica Alcazar-Duarte, Olga Krasanova, Pamm Hong, Summer Oxley, Tahmina Negmat, Trystan Williams, Xiaoxi Kang and Zuzanna Odolczyk for donating their data to inform this piece In Context

End User @haywardgallery

This free show at the Hayward in their upstairs project space is succinct and to the point. 8 artists present work which confronts our assumptions and assimilations into the Internet which are commonplace today. Sir Tim Berners Lee leads the discussion on how we should consider its reach, and this is highlighted by the work in End User.

In Kay’s Room, Liz Sterry confronts us with her re-creation of the bedroom of Canadian blogger ‘Kay’. The information and images Kay posts online allow Sterry to assemble a replica of the bedroom, relationships and opinions of a woman she has never met or had any direct contact with. My mind immediately began racing through places like this blog, wondering just how much I disclose, how much I show. I consider myself a savvy web user, I enjoy the different outlets I employ to process what I’m experiencing and absorbing, I know what I write, what I photograph, what I ‘like’. But this confidence made me question even deeper how readily I turn a blind eye to the possibility of manipulation and intrusion, human or electronic, despite my best efforts to limit exposure. And why do I feel the need to publish what I write, why isn’t it enough to keep a private journal?

Erica Scourti tackles this in her work Life In Ad Words. This film shows a visual journal through the algorithms of Google. When she emailed her daily journal to herself , gmail read them and offered relevant ads. So we see Scourti listing key words daily from these ads, offering a distorted, intimate view of her life. Recorded on her webcam to complete the circle of data, this record makes me assume I have an insight into her thoughts, her online searches and daily movements and emotions. Assumptions manipulated by code and business models of one company.

Red Mansion 2015 Beijing Residency : 4

Disconnection: Instagram, Cables, Assumptions.
Unlikely this will be published while I am still in Beijing, as the crack down on communications with the outside world intensifies.
Seems fitting for my last week here. About time I got used to just how far away I am from home, and just how unfamiliar life is here. No more Skype for talking- the internet is now too slow, even if it is still available. No more Instagram and the subsequent news feeds it offers. Lockdown.
The loose cables which have fascinated me since I arrived now seem a bit sinister.

Without communication, how can we be heard, anywhere in the world. When desperate protests are taking place in one of the most connected cities in the world, how can we monitor what is happening and how can we support them.
It’s alright for me- I have tickets to take me home soon. But what if home is the unsafe place?
Writing that last part, I spotted another assumption- that my plane will still leave. And so with each day I have been learning to take the assumptions that I understand how anything works here down another notch. Take it as it comes. Don’t expect to get anything done, then something always does happen.
If that’s not some sort of zen lesson then I don’t know what is. Perfect place to practice it in I suppose.
Just spare a thought for the people in Hong Kong and Taipei who are standing up for their rights to democracy and free communication.

Beijing Design Week: Caochangdi: Liu Xinyi at White Space Beijing

The works of Liu Xinyi presented as ‘Goulash’ by White Space Beijing contained prints and 3D installations on a scale fitting to the cavernous gallery. The name of the show, along with some titles of the work seems heavy-handed, seemingly ending my thought process before it had a chance to begin, but in the case of Surplus Value it seemed to inadvertently add to the work.
Huge foam cutouts in the form of defunct symbols once used by socialist states are stacked in one corner. They reference old logos and flags, in the shapes of natural crops, yet are rendered in laser cut plastic foam. They weigh less now than in the original subjects, and the artifice makes the plant forms all the more unnatural.
I enjoy a juxtaposition of materials and motives, I see the tragedy of what each isn’t as much as what it is.
The optimism and ideology of fallen regimes are often proved flawed and unsustainable, yet here are emblems rendered perfectly in a material which will never degrade. They are pristine, they could be pressed into service again at any moment, should history ever change as quickly again as it has done in the last 100 years.
That this is being observed in a socialist state which so far continues to function is surely no mistake. Are these emblems being stored out of respect, or rendered powerless through their decorative states?

Beijing Design Week: Caochangdi : ARTMIA

IMG_2046.JPGZhou Dong, Love is like lighting a match (detail)

IMG_2047.JPGZhou Dong, Hometown (detail)

In the group show Landscape of Mind presented by ARTMIA I was as usual drawn to work which escaped the single plane. (3D being my normal mode of thinking)
The very large format oil paintings by Zhou Dong featured protruding materials and heavily layered paint, resulting in work which was more visceral for me than some of it’s neighbours.
The ongoing investigation into the urban condition is very relevant when seen in this part of the world where demolition and construction are everywhere. Nowhere is immune, be it downtown or the suburbs or the very edges and villages. The noise and the dust settles into the background of daily life. The inescapable scale, and the visible gestures of Zhong’s works brought them back to my attention, reminding me that these things are important to notice.
The rate that areas are being consumed by the concrete, and the rate at which lives are being churned up in the name of progress affects us all financially (as production of our consumer goods is legislated for the good of the workers, to the detriment of our insatiable appetitive for cheap consumer goods) and environmentally (dust and noise go hand in hand with destruction of habitat and depletion of our limited resources which include air as much as commodities and wildlife).
Zhong’s controlled use of a muted earthy palette is contradicted by the insistence of the scale, and the small optimistic points of colour steered the work towards pragmatism rather than pessimism.

Beijing Design Week: Caochangdi: Wang Youshen


Wang Youshen, Per Square Meter at ShanghART
Engaging with the whole-scale demolition which surround us in Beijing, Wang presents installations and wall based works which allow you to walk amongst the rubble rather than pass by as an observer. Having installed a partition wall, he then demolished most of it and left us to pick through the rubble. The dust and sharp edges reminded me of the working conditions of the labourers, along with the implications of all the dust rising into the atmosphere we all share. In clearing the spaces, the space for us to live longer together on earth risks being compromised.
Mounted on the walls are large scale photographs of an area of demolished buildings, presented up against panels of concrete which has been reconstructed and mounted. The cracks and texture of the surface shows the force required to break the material, but the effort taken to locate the pieces and reassemble them seems quite tender. Cherishing the space, the material, the workers or the former lives lived in the structure which is reduced to rubble? All come to mind.

Red Mansion 2015 Beijing Residency : 3

The bunches of cables which adorn most posts here have pretty much replaced the tree for me as the wonder I look up to see as I walk. They are reassuringly ubiquitous. The tangles of the multiple junctions, the coils of cables waiting to be connected to the next new building, and the stray dangling disconnected escapees are completely fascinating. For me they have become a metaphor for my time here in Beijing. They are completely vulnerable to a passing tall vehicle, to the whims of a strong wind, and to theft, yet they are repeatedly installed this way, left unmolested, and they work. Things do function.
There is a consistency to the adhocism here which is really inspiring. Older cables are employed to keep the new coils tidyish and ready for use. They are used to tie loops together as they span from one pole to the other. Connections seem to be left exposed to actually make future alterations simpler.
Why not use bits of old cables which you have to hand to tie things?
Why not save time and tape by leaving things exposed?
Why not leave a loose end dangling, incase you want to connect another wire later?
This alteration in my assumptions about approaches to work has been clumsy. Health and safety issues aside, the consistency to what appears chaotic to me must mean it’s not chaos. This is normal and usual.

As a first time traveller beyond the comfort of the western world, I’m almost disappointed in myself that I didn’t expect the unexpected a bit more. Friends predicted the culture shock, but it still surprised me, as it came in quietly but insistently. Not really shocking at all, until it had fully arrived.

The way I work has had to be adjusted, not just my engagement with the wider social media. Researching facts and details for applications and proposals for future work from here requires planning and patience. It requires me to set aside serious amounts of time. This can really only be a good thing, demanding a focus which is frustrating when compared to the way I work at home, often juggling several tasks at once, slotting them around each other in the usual rush to get through the day. Here, even the act of walking on the subway is slowed to a normal pace- with crowds this big, how could you really move much faster anyway, so why rush?



Red Mansion 2015 Beijing : 2

I’m not immortalising them in marble as Ai Wei Wei has done with those trained on his front door, but I am photographing and Instagramming a lot of CCTV cameras. Some of these are accidental: they happen to share a pole with a tangle of cables which has caught my eye, so they make it into shot. Some are in such interesting places that they deserve to be photographed in their own right.
I’m not sure I believe that all the CCTV cameras in the world are active, or that anyone is really watching them if they are- they function according to the theories of Foucault’s Panoptican, surely? But for some reason the act of openly photographing them initially made my heart rate rise a little, a little moment of apprehension, similar to that I felt when I enabled my location services on my camera and Instagram feed.
For all that I use social media to my own advantage, and for all I understand about how mobile phones can track us, why does this feel different? And is this feeling enough to allow me to think that I have had a little insight into what it must be to live life under threat from the authorities with whom you disagree? Similar to a little more understanding I have gained through being disconnected from the online world I normally rely on?

Seeing the CCTV cameras around the ‘villages’ on the outskirts of Beijing, amidst the dust and detritus where the artist studios we are working are located is contrasted with those I encountered at the highest part of the section of the Great Wall I climbed last week. Their reassurance of protection and rescue if needed is obviously not the whole storey. But up a mountain surrounded by nothing more than trees and the breeze, the cameras seemed more unwelcome. They dragged me back from musing on the human effort involved in building the wall hundreds of years ago, back to the present where I remembered I was actually walking on heavily restored steps.
The unseen human effort behind the construction is as alien to me as that which monitors the cameras. Yet here I am, a fellow human, connecting to them by just bing in that spot.
I think that anonymous connection is a key element of my experience here. I stand out on the subway even as I am squeezed in with scores of other people. I stand out in the local restaurant and as I walk down the street. I am present but completely disconnected.



Red Mansion 2015: Beijing Residency 1

This is actually week 3 of 4 of my time here in Beijing.
Before I arrived, I anticipated a month of juxtapositions, of submersion in the population of over 23 million inhabitants, strangely alone amidst them. I thought this would result in some time for me to think, work through the inspiration that comes from a new place.
I thought all this time would include space for a self-observation project, tracking and broadcasting my every move, to save anyone else the trouble. This blog is part of that. This project was inspired by the difficulties I faced trying to end my residency with one of the longest train journeys possible, up to the plateau of Tibet. I always did want to visit there, and while I’ve come this far, what’s another few thousand miles?
Unfortunately, security and visa issues proved beyond my means. It’s not wholly popular, to express an interest in such a contentious territory. I found this oddly encouraging, that I would be a potentially strong enough voice in the world, that any one voice would be strong enough to cause a ripple on the ‘calm waters’ of the land there. So I thought I’d help, thought I’d add to the huge volume of data out there which anyone can use to investigate us further and track our movements.

I was soon to learn that things don’t often run smoothly in Beijing, or turn out like you expect. This is surely true with any unknown, be it experience, place or action.
The experience of travelling alone for the first time, for a whole month, to a continent I have never visited before, and trying to openly share where I am and what I’m doing has been educational.
The acknowledged Red Firewall prevents access to usual social media services, and many other news and info sites too. A VPN was duly purchased and set up prior to travel. This didn’t work here. The saving grace was that I had my Instagram account (cadi_f) set up to cross post to twitter (also cadi_f), which is also set up to cross post to the ubiquitous FB. This allowed part of my data exposure plan to function. It also has psychological advantages to dealing with the isolation: knowing that along with the public exposure of the information, Facebook was showing friends and family images of my travels, is a comfort.
Why this desire to keep connected, to assume connection? It surely is the comfort I take from it: at this distance it’s the next best thing to a chat. This has shone a bright personal light into the wider popularity of social media. It’s one thing sending distant grandparents amusing pics, or publicising work and shows to remind the friends I saw recently to come and see it for themselves, but I have the luxury of having chosen to live in a town where I am surrounded by familiar faces, and a city where the largely familiar face of the art world is easily accessible. Social media is a bonus, a tool to enhance it all. But what if it was one of my only links to the wider world, and to friends and family too? It sounds obvious writing it, but I had never appreciated the reality facing large numbers of users, which is that it really can be a voice to be heard, and to hear, when you face theoretical, ideological and practical boarders between yourself and others.

Switching my settings to enable location services on my phone camera, logging locations on Instagram posts which are visible on its map, and using a GPS App to track my movements felt uncomfortable. It makes me feel vulnerable, exposed – anyone could come and find me. But of course these conscious actions are carried out unconsciously every day by the sheer act of carrying my mobile phone. The ultimate success of the system- who cares about ID cards in the UK now?
Most of us willingly pay money to our network providers for hardware and services which allow anyone to track where we are to within 50cm at any time. This is established evidence now accepted in courts of law. I think the number of people I know without a mobile phone has gone down to about one now. Not including kids under 9. That seems to be the age it starts now. It’s a brilliant system we subscribed to, more expansive than the most optimistic ID card advocate could ever have dreamed of a decade ago.

This project is the first time I have knowingly made my self part of my work. I remember one of my first, brilliant, tutors pointing out that it is up to us how much of ourselves we show in our work. There is surely at least a grain of ourselves in every successful work, reflected in the issues we engage with and the medium we choose to work in. But this is different, blatant. Maybe a reflection of how apprehensive I was coming here, but how determined I was. A reflection of my perceived personal cost, the cost to my loved ones. Was it a test, to see how far I can stretch the limits of my relationships and my relationship with my familiar art practice?
That is what I see as the aim of the Red Mansion foundation. Their goal is to give us the opportunity to stretch everything, to see the edges of the familiar. Painful but without doubt productive. I’m looking forward to seeing this productivity take form when I get back to my studio next week. But not before I’ve had a nice cup of tea at my own kitchen table!