Centennial Parklands incorporates three parks in eastern Sydney: Centennial Park, Queens Park, and Moore Park. They are the “green lung” that provides densely-packed Sydneysiders with open spaces where they can be surrounded by nature. They also provide room for sport, recreation, coffee, barbecues, and, of course, art.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the Parklands over the decades and as my nearest green space it was a natural location for me to experiment with my Silueto series. This is the one that’s directly inspired by Ana Mendieta’s “earth-body works” known as Siluetas. She located her practice in a grant application:
I have been carrying on a dialogue between the landscape and the female body (based on my own silhouette). I believe this to be a direct result of my having been torn away from my homeland during my adolescence. I am overwhelmed by the feeling of having been cast from the womb (nature). My art is the way I re-establish the bonds that tie me to the universe.
Initially, Mendieta performed “her body in nature to claim a connection with the earth and the Santería goddess Yemaya (the protector of women) and eventually, in the later works from the series, removes her body entirely, marking its absent form with gashes of dirt or flames.” My dialogue is between a different body and a different place but we are both negotiating our existence in a foreign land.
“Silueto” is a neologism that alters the Spanish word for silhouette to honour Mendieta in transgressing social space, promoting environmental awareness, and expressing performativity as an “act of meditation and dedication”. My figures also have an inherent masculinity that contrasts with Mendieta’s “female essence”.
As these “sculptures” consist of just two physical aspects –found objects in a landscape – it is technically speaking quite easy to carve a self-portrait out of the living landscape. Unfortunately, the psychological aspect is not so easy. I always experience some anxiety when beginning a public art performance – possibly because it lowers the walls with which I protect myself from unwanted interactions with strangers – and there’s also the issue that some people see the action as damaging to the environment, drawing ire. For these reasons (and others) I am very happy to leave ephemeral artworks, taking only the photographic documentation before heading off.
Each Silueto represents my presence in the physical world and the “social sphere”,  linking me to the land and the society in which it exists. I become the Parkland, the country, and the earth in a way that doesn’t happen when I merely look at it on TV. Making marks in the landscape with my body is at once a deeply personal and extremely public act.
Carving out negative spaces is not the only technique available to the sculptor of nature; there is also the construction of positive spaces. Pine needles, sticks, mown grass, stones, bits of a fig tree, and gravel are some of the materials I have used (see above). I try to walk as lightly as I can through the environment so I try to only use things that have fallen naturally, close to where they land.
Of course, there is always the aesthetic consideration so sometimes it is not the material but the location that I want to document. Over time I’ve developed a process that records the Silueto at a scale which mirrors the way I feel when in the landscape. I take a wide shot with the figure at the bottom right (or left) corner. And I’ve just realised that this is where a traditional landscape painting would be signed. LOL.
It doesn’t take much to encourage me into transforming the documentation into its own work of art.
The sequence above (top left to bottom right) features the original Silueto, an enlarged torso because it wasn’t showing up very well on my phone screen, then four transformations: a colour splash and three complimentary colour backgrounds based on different stones. When I get my act together I’ll turn some of them into t-shirts.
Meanwhile, just as Mendieta’s work evolved to feature blood and fire from Santería, I began incorporating materials from the culture around me. One thing that shouts at me every time I leave the house is the neon spray chalk made on footpaths to mark buried conduits and cables. My subconscious combined them with an earlier idea of crime scene outlines to produce this new set of Siluetos.
These may have been influenced by the male symbol on the park’s brand new toilet block.
I went on a bit of a spree trying to work out how the material worked in the environment. I particularly like the last two Siluetos. The penultimate overlooks Lake Kippax from the place where one would enjoy the view so the meaning expands to include everyone else who stops at this particular spot. The ultimate is placed to mimic the silhouette of a pedestrian, challenging the notion of what is authorised (and what is not), what is informative (or artistic), and what gender means when a figure represents everyone (or just one person).
As I had feared, someone saw me spraying paint all over the park. Although he was apologetic for being confrontational (this is the Eastern Suburbs after all) he challenged me regarding my aberrant behaviour. Fortunately I had prepared two responses. Firstly, I said that this was an “art project” and he took a figurative step back (this is the Eastern Suburbs after all). Secondly, I said I was using spray chalk “like they use on the footpath” that would disappear with weathering. Fortunately it was the same thing that his toddler uses on their footpath (this is the Eastern Suburbs after all) so it was all good. The crisis was averted but the anxiety remains. I imagine this will be an ongoing feature in my work as I explore the space where artistic expression meets social expectation.
Conybeare Morrison & Partners, & Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust. (2003). Centennial Parklands Conservation Managemant Plan. Paddington, NSW: Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust.
Iles, C. (2004). Subtle Bodies: The Invisible Films of Ana Mendieta. In O. M. Viso (Ed.), Ana Mendieta: earth body: sculpture and performance, 1972-1985 (pp. 205-223). Washington, DC: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, in association with Hatje Cantz.
Schor, M. (1997). Wet: On Painting, Feminism, and Art Culture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Viso, O. M., Mendieta, A., Herzberg, J. P., Iles, C., Brett, G., Roulet, L., . . . Miami Art Museum. (2004). Ana Mendieta: earth body: sculpture and performance, 1972-1985 (O. M. Viso Ed.). Washington, DC: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, in association with Hatje Cantz.
Warr, T. J. A. (2000). The artist’s body. London: Phaidon.
Advisory: this is a post-pornographic analysis of adult sexual images and themes
A dick pic is a photograph of a penis that is transmitted to a potential sex partner to activate “the political agency of desire” via digital technology, wireless connectivity, and/or social media.
Dick pics are a self-created, self-curated, self-published, and self-beneficial form of auto-pornography that is effectively ubiquitous. Whether solicited or unsolicited, titillation or threat, the encoding data penetrates the recipient’s body and mind as a metaphor for sexual/violent praxis.
Penetration occurs overtly when light from a device’s screen enters the eyes to be recoded as electrochemical signals for processing in the visual cortex. It occurs covertly when electromagnetic data packets are transmitted from smartphones, base towers, and wifi routers; the same radiation that was absorbed by an antenna is also absorbed by the body of anyone within range of the transmitter, up to 70 kilometres in open areas. This radiation may also affect egg, sperm, and foetal development, making pornographic enculturation in the 21st century a lifelong experience.
The popular pornographic presence grew hand in hand with internet connectivity, while the release of Apple’s iPhone 3G elevated porn-on-demand to new heights. Today, built-in cameras mean 6.37 billion smartphone users can publish auto-erotica making them “at once bodies and data” through “referential continuity between the symbolic and the fleshly sign”. As dick pics are most effective with the immediacy of phone-mediated peer-to-peer pornography, their ubiquity makes them the indexical merger of organic and digital.
With so many dick pics coursing through the ether it is inevitable that some are sent accidentally, as with actor Chris Evans’ infamous Twitter post. Though rare these are as just as invasive as a deliberate “cyberflash”.
Deliberate transmission of dick pics has been quantified as a “transactional mindset” but that doesn’t determine responses, with meanings made “according to the dynamics of consent and non-consent; intimacy and distance; as well as those relating to the circuits of desire and revulsion that galvanize encounters between different bodies.” Most relevant to this project is that receipt cannot be prevented.
As bespoke pornography, dick pics denaturalise sex by promoting the use-value of the sender’s penis. This negotiatory tactic decentres spectacularity by privileging the creator-subject, eliminating the inauthentic performative aspect prevalent in commercial pornography. When successful this collapses the producer and consumer into a single sexual-economic unit.
The unsolicited dick pic can be “toxic”, especially one sent by a relative stranger (e.g. through messaging apps or Apple’s AirDrop technology). However, in making the private public the sender cedes control: artist Whitney Bell transformed dick pics she received into installations that celebrate feminist empowerment rather than phallic projection.
This project recreates the unavoidable experience of bodily penetration by dick pic. I solicited examples of “the socially mediated body” from users of the socio-sexual media app Grindr, made screenshots, transferred these to my desktop computer for processing, and then published the image by emailing it to my smartphone.
The sexual nature of this project generated the following legal and ethical concerns:
following the “Australian Crimes Legislation Amendment (Telecommunications Offences and Other Measures) Act (No. 2) 2004 (which) criminalises the use of a carriage device to menace, harass or cause offence (s. 474.17)”
following University of New South Wales guidelines on Research Ethics and Compliance
choosing Grindr as a social media service that is known for “positive reactions to (even) unsolicited dick pics” where I could create a profile without misrepresenting myself as a woman or potential sex partner
creating a 255-character, plain-language profile that conveys the artistic and critical processes while affirming the donor’s consent
identifying myself and pre-empting accusations of collecting by uploading an identifiable profile image that shows me drawing, alongside links to my established Facebook and Instagram artist pages
limiting image use to this assignment through an extant project (#AHundredHundreds) which users can find on linked social media accounts
maintaining the anonymity of donors by screenshotting dick pics in Grindr’s de-identifying interface, and by removing marks such as tattoos when requested
responding to user questions for information in a timely manner
rejecting requests for sexual interaction in a polite but firm manner
I presented the profile to users by opening the app around inner Sydney so the algorithm would push it according to their distance, time, and filters (e.g. age, tribe). This process was informed by a Covid-19 lockdown of 5 kilometres from my residence. Users – located from under 100 metres to over 1,000 kilometres – returned photographs of their genitals including sex acts, group shots, and multiples.
I collaged the images into a 10 x 10 grid according to my established #AHundredHundreds process that documents life in the time of coronavirus. By emailing the image to my smartphone, I caused the data packets to penetrate various bodies: mine and anyone within range of the wifi router and/or cellular base station. In an exhibition, I would narrowcast the image via wifi from a digital device to a television screen with text advising viewers of the penetrative act.
In seizing the means of production with this body hack, self-publishers self-fetishise a “vector of desire”. Their dick pics saturate the “ethersphere” in the same way that nuclear testing in the 1950s and 60s created “anthropogenic perturbations” of carbon 14 in the atmosphere, leading to a radical change of the carbon dating system. Perhaps the saturative nature of dick pics will lead to radical changes of the human dating system.
In this project I critically witnessed pornographic sensibilities permeating people/society in explicit, implicit, and cryptic ways. I used my Contemporary Art practice to create post-pornographic bodies and project them into the public arena, reproducing the actions and effects of dick pic publishers. Through this performance the invisible penetration was made visible.
Although dick pics remain problematic, they can also be sex-positive, anti-censorship, and queer. When sent and received in public spaces they bend sex/intimacy away from heteronormative ideas of privacy, thereby supporting an accessible, available, sustained public life of affectional, erotic, and intimate behaviours.
Now that we know what is happening to our bodies we can begin deciding what we want to do about it.
Albury, Kath, Jean Burgess, Ben Light, Kane Race, and Rowan Wilken. “Data Cultures of Mobile Dating and Hook-up Apps: Emerging Issues for Critical Social Science Research.” Big data & society 4, no. 2 (2017): 205395171772095. https://doi.org/10.1177/2053951717720950.
Lorange, Astrid. Chemical Collapse. Sydney, New South Wales, 2017.
———. “Critical Desire.” Sydney, NSW: University of New South Wales, 2021. Lecture.
Marcotte, Alexandra S., Amanda N. Gesselman, Helen E. Fisher, and Justin R. Garcia. “Women’s and Men’s Reactions to Receiving Unsolicited Genital Images from Men.” The Journal of Sex Research 58, no. 4 (2021/05/04 2021): 512-21. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2020.1779171.
Oswald, Flora, Alex Lopes, Kaylee Skoda, Cassandra L. Hesse, and Cory L. Pedersen. “I’ll Show You Mine So You’ll Show Me Yours: Motivations and Personality Variables in Photographic Exhibitionism.” The Journal of Sex Research 57, no. 5 (2020/06/12 2020): 597-609. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2019.1639036.
Paasonen, Susanna, Ben Light, and Kylie Jarrett. “The Dick Pic: Harassment, Curation, and Desire.” Social Media + Society 5, no. 2 (2019/04/01 2019): 2056305119826126. https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305119826126.
Petitdant, Nicolas, Anthony Lecomte, Franck Robidel, Christelle Gamez, Kelly Blazy, and Villégier Anne-Sophie. “Alteration of Adaptive Behaviors of Progeny after Maternal Mobile Phone Exposure.” [In English]. Environmental Science and Pollution Research International 25, no. 11 (Apr 2018 2018): 10894-903. https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11356-017-1178-5.
Vitis, Laura, and Fairleigh Gilmour. “Dick Pics on Blast: A Woman’s Resistance to Online Sexual Harassment Using Humour, Art and Instagram.” Crime, Media, Culture 13, no. 3 (2017/12/01 2016): 335-55. https://doi.org/10.1177/1741659016652445.
Waling, Andrea, and Tinonee Pym. “‘C’mon, No One Wants a Dick Pic’: Exploring the Cultural Framings of the ‘Dick Pic’ in Contemporary Online Publics.” Journal of Gender Studies 28, no. 1 (2019/01/02 2019): 70-85. https://doi.org/10.1080/09589236.2017.1394821.
Warfield, Katie, Jamie Hoholuk, Blythe Vincent, and Aline Dias Camargo. “Pics, Dicks, Tits, and Tats: Negotiating Ethics Working with Images of Bodies in Social Media Research.” New Media & Society 21, no. 9 (2019/09/01 2019): 2068-86. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444819837715.
Yildirim, Mehmet Erol, Mehmet Kaynar, Huseyin Badem, Mucahıt Cavis, Omer Faruk Karatas, and Ersın Cimentepe. “What Is Harmful for Male Fertility: Cell Phone or the Wireless Internet?”. The Kaohsiung Journal of Medical Sciences 31, no. 9 (2015/09/01 2015): 480-84. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.kjms.2015.06.006.
Zwick, Detlev, and Nikhilesh Dholakia. “Infotransformation of Markets: Introduction to the Special Issue on Marketing and Information Technology.” Journal of Macromarketing 28, no. 4 (2008/12/01 2008): 318-25. https://doi.org/10.1177/0276146708325381.
There were many new landscapes to explore on the way to, at, and returning from the Arid Research Station at Fowlers Gap.
One type of landscape that struck me on the drive was the big straight through what seemed to be wilderness but was actually farmland (as evidenced by a rusty fence running parallel to the road some 50 to 100 metres away).
Then there were landscapes so great that they could only be documented with a panorama.
Then there was the big sky arching over the station…
Or the one tree somehow surviving against the odds…
Although I captured most of my landscapes with cameras, eventually I had enough free time to do some painting in a style I’ve been developing during 2021. I have named it the Tote Bag series because it was inspired by a bag I painted on O-Day at the Paddington campus of UNSW. Initially the works were purely abstract creations of my imagination but I eventually decided to challenge myself by painting landscapes. Each abstraction is applied to a found canvas, with so little information that it’s not possible to separate the imagined from the representational without context generated by the titles.
I painted the first after Peter Sharp’s plein air workshop, using a canvas with a brown undercoat then added the dusty tones of dry grass baking under a clear blue sky. For the second I used a red canvas with brighter hues because I enjoy bold colours. Unfortunately, a horizontal blue field above a brown/yellow one creates a recognisable landscape pattern.
Once back in Sydney I switched up the palettes, got more creative with my horizons, intensified the colours, and I liked them even less. Perhaps it is the difficulty of painting on such small canvases; perhaps it is because I decided that I would paint these landscapes before I had seen them. I put this project on the back burner so my subconscious can mull things over.
Meanwhile, in the deep dark of a chilly 3°C Fowlers Gap morning (Bureau of Meteorology 2021), I made several performative light-based works documented by long exposure photography.
For one series I traced the branches of the tree with a red bicycle light. In the long exposure there is enough light spilling onto the leaves to suggest the subject matter in an ethereal way but not enough to reveal my presence.
I really like the photographs for Walking with Bike Lights but I lost myself in creating a performance that fitted my aesthetic rather than one which traced my perambulation. Accordingly, on the final night on site I dressed all in black like a kuroko (Jonah 2016), wrapped myself in some handy fairy lights, and went for another walk.
The stable positions of the fairy lights in relation to my body create a measurable record of my performance as affected by the shape of the land. Just visible below the light trails is my left foot generating an observable data point from which the rest of my body can be extrapolated and thence the terrain. As land art, this piece marks the least invasive trace I could leave.
So what does this mean for Assessment 2?
I’m glad that I envisaged a panoramic substrate for my final work because the panoramas capture perfectly my feeling of being in the landscape. I will also include a strong, multi-lined feature that emulates the light trails.
Assessment 2 Update
The Delta strain of coronavirus hit Sydney and the campus was locked down, meaning that I couldn’t access my studio, tools, materials, or display space so the entire project was shelved. 😦
I’m going back to Fowlers Gap in 2022! Assuming the Omicron variant doesn’t do a Delta and mess things up again, that is. I’m so keen to be back in the outback that I’m even dreaming about it, ideas bubbling up from my subconscious in dreams and daydreams. So excited!
I have been an avid enthusiast of cyanotypes (photographs made using potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate) after seeing a series of pennants made from botanical elements from and at Eden Gardens during a visit to their sculpture award called Eden Unearthed.
This led to a frustrating investigation that only left me wanting more. When I encountered cyanotypes during Photography 1, I was disappointed that I couldn’t make them on campus.
I did find a lot of references to botanist Anna Atkins, whose reference book British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions (1843-1853) was seminal in presenting cyanotypes to the general public. While searching for Atkins, I came across a very good book in the university library: Emanations: the art of the cameraless photograph by Geoffrey Batchen. It goes into great detail on the art of the cameraless photograph (Batchen 2016).
It turns out that the university’s restrictions only apply to the teaching of cyanotype processes so I bought a kit, did some experimenting at home, produced a hundred or so cards, and sorted the best ones into a grid which I then turned it in for an assignment.
Before travelling to Flowers Gap, I knew I was going to make my first non-ephemeral Silueto from a single, large cyanotype. Little did I know that my experimental preparation method would result in ghostly streaks that interfere with the strategically places eucalyptus leaves which were supposed to form a clean Matti-sized silhouette. Once again, however, failure leads to an interesting result.
Then I began repeating the process from 2019, collecting interesting things and exposing them on the cards.
I had 131 processed cards ready to go – including some reprocessed failures from the earlier project – and I dove into the process. Although this and others were interesting, I found myself resisting the process.
I even tried doing something I knew would fail, exposing a thick heart-shaped stone. The shadow cast by the stone prevents UV light from activating the chemicals so the cyanotype just looks like a blob.
This resistance in general and deliberate failure in specific are a sign from my intuition that something is wrong. The only way to resolve the issue was to put the cards away and give myself permission to do nothing. This freed my subconscious to explore the options and eventually tell me what to do.
When I woke the next morning, I realised that I had been trying to record my aesthetic sense rather than explore my relationship to the land and several disparate threads had been woven into a single, unified work.
Richard Long’s famous line matched with the much drier lines I was experiencing and creating at Fowlers Gap. There were also elements from earlier drawings of trees, photographs of stones, and the ephemeral sound of performance walks through the landscape. I realised that I didn’t have to make cyanotypes of recognisable objects; I could make abstract blobs and they would still be representational of the landscape (Sturm 2019).
I gathered exactly 100 cards in a light-proof bag, went out to the tree I had seen in my dream state, and walked, putting a stone on a card at every step to mark my passage through the landscape. When I turned around, I saw the path; one which I knew would fade as I collected the cyanotypes for processing. I enjoyed the trace of the line that disappeared back into the landscape.
When I processed the cards, I found that they had all turned out: every cyanotype was deep and rich with colour, every stone had left an abstract blob, every shadow displayed a smooth gradation. I was very happy to have documented my conceptual-land-performance piece in a way that also pleased my aesthetic sensibility without any intervention on my part.
So what does this mean for Assessment 2?
While presenting these cyanotypes would be very interesting, I want something more integrated with the rest of the work. I did small-scale tests using dye and want to include a line of a hundred blue blobs to represent the documentation of the performance.
Batchen, Geoffrey. 2016. Emanations: the art of the cameraless photograph. Edited by Geoffrey Batchen.Art of the cameraless photograph. Munich, London, New York: Munich, London, New York: DelMonico Books.
Sturm, Cassandra Ellen. 2019. “Negotiating a Personal Vocabulary of Abstraction: Representing an Artist’s sense of Place.” Doctorate, School of Design and Art, Curtin University. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/224958053.pdf.
Photography has been the major creative expression in my life ever since my parents gave me my first camera when I was 10. They were the kind of parents that thought nothing of stopping the car in the middle of nowhere to get the shot that didn’t work out five years ago. Accordingly, every road trip of mine includes planned stoppages and random side adventures.
One example of this is the discovery of abandoned things rusting in the countryside. The contrast of technology and nature, destruction and regrowth, red and green makes for a fascinating aesthetic. It’s even better when there are layers of history such as police tape and graffiti on a burned out car. Sorry about that, Jamie.
Fake album covers have has been an interest of mine for several years but this is my first deliberate attempt to create one from scratch, inspired by the preponderance of op-shop chic on our last night at the Palace Hotel. My pattern recognition subroutine put Casper, Elijah, Lucy, and Toby together in a 1980s New Romantic band with a punk sensibility (clockwise from top left: drummer, keyboardist, bass and backing vocals, lead guitar and vocals). I managed to get two shots without realising that neither was useable… which lead me to cut them down the middle and paste the good halves together. Mistakes can lead to interesting solutions.
One of my extramural COVID-19 projects is “#AHundredHundreds” documenting a hundred things I see while out and about, a hundred times each (Matti, 2021). It was only when I was emotionally committed that I realised 100 x 100 does not equal 1,000 but 10,000. One subject commenced and completed was “A Hundred Tracks at Fowlers Gap”; another ongoing subject was “A Hundred Flags”. These will be digitally collaged into grids; as I have completed only 89 sets there is no forward plan.
Nature surrounds us, keeps us alive, and fills us with delight. From a flower covered in frost because Wellington nights are bloody cold in winter (Bureau of Meteorology, 2021b) to a cricket landing on a canvas drying in the sun because Fowlers Gap days are bloody hot in winter (Bureau of Meteorology, 2021a), nature produces subjects that are infinitely more subtle and complex than our most advanced technology. This trip allowed me to record new subjects from the micro to the macro, from the land to the sky, from the rocks to the kangaroos.
Sunsets are the most ephemeral yet intense display that occurs on Earth, filling the entirety of the sky for just a few minutes as the land becomes ever darker. This liminal event is neither day nor night, a dangerous time for diurnal creatures like humans but also the most sublime. The contrast between fear and beauty adds piquancy to each sunset so an image which captures both experiences is a beautiful nightmare; an image which is a technical failure is a beautiful dream.
Ultraviolet light became a photographic interest for me when my flatmate bought a UV torch to look for scorpions (Kloock, Kubli, & Reynolds, 2010) but we spent more time looking at everything else. I brought torches to Fowlers Gap with the thought that they might produce some interesting results. I learned that organic and mineral objects fluoresce to varying degrees but the artificial ones react most strongly as they include fluorescent compounds (U.S Food & Drug Administration, 2019) to make them appear brighter. Chlorophyll in a eucalyptus trunk glows softly (Johnstone, Tausz, Moore, & Nicolas, 2012) but Blake’s clown make-up and dyed hair are extremely reactive.
So what does this mean for Assessment 2?
I will include a photographic projection of a photo taken at Fowlers Gap, stony ground shining onto the floor so that anyone who approaches becomes the surface on which it is projected.
Johnstone, D., Tausz, M., Moore, G., & Nicolas, M. (2012). Chlorophyll fluorescence of the trunk rather than leaves indicates visual vitality in Eucalyptus saligna. Trees, 26(5), 1565-1576. doi:10.1007/s00468-012-0730-7
Kloock, C. T., Kubli, A., & Reynolds, R. (2010). Ultraviolet light detection: a function of scorpion fluorescence. The Journal of Arachnology, 38(3), 441-445. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20798577
I remember playing with plasticine in Year 1 or 2 when I made a bird’s nest containing three eggs on top of a tree. I remember how it looked. I remember the distinctive smell as I rolled the trunk and placed it upright onto the special plasticine board. I remember rolling small, soft spheres between the palms of my hands, trying not to press too hard or they’d squash. I remember my happiness in creating, in transforming my imagination into a multi-sensual reality.
When given the raku clay, I was only a matter of time before I nostalgically recreated that seminal bird’s nest.
But my first exploration was a simple textural one, turning an accidental mark on a slab of clay into a deliberate pattern.
Entranced by the ability of clay to hold a direct impression of another object, I approached the burnt out tree stump and wrapped another slab around the twisting bark then shaped it into a soft yet self-supporting curve.
That was great but I wanted more than a “fingerprint”, so I cut holes in the clay with a bottle top, wrapped it around the bottle (need baking paper or similar) and then rolled it over a combination of smooth leaves and rough bark to create a more textured texture. (Hilariously, I was very impressed with the form when it appeared on the dinner table one night, not recognising it as something I had created.)
Enjoying the curvilinear forms, I combined this shape with my first, more aggressive mark.
Next, I did a portrait of the burnt out tree, using a toothed metal kidney to simulate the spiralling bark. Rolling the trunk and branches is what made me remember the birds nest above.
Then I went hunting for more textures and came across two same-but-different materials: cracked mud, and cracked concrete. I imprinted them both on a divided slab as contrasting yet complimentary surfaces.
Returning to the rolled form, I made a pretzel. I don’t know why, I don’t even like pretzels.
Finally, having been careful not to leave hand marks in any of the previous works, I made hand marks in the clay. It was at this point that I understood what I was doing.
I had spent many days traversing the earth at Fowlers Gap, always “protected” from the rocky, stony, dusty surface by machines or footwear. This was the first time I had contrived a physical connection with the earth and it wasn’t even from the station. Although it was possible to take these pieces back to Sydney, I opted to leave them at Fowlers Gap; I felt no compunction to keep them as the memory of having worked the raku is etched more deeply in my body than the shapes left in the clay and for all their aesthetic qualities they are not why I enrolled in the course.
So what does this mean for Assessment 2?
At least one aspect of the final work will be an unmediated impression of my body.
“Long drawing” is an interference technique I developed in Drawing 3 to stop myself from being precious with my mark-making. I tend to agonise over the way that what goes into my eyes doesn’t come out of my hand.
UPDATE: I have since learned that the foundation of this technique is known as “blind contour drawing”.
This blending of methods – not looking at the paper, continuous line, multiple pens, and minimum drawing time –prevents that anxiety as it is impossible to draw photo-realistically. I also discovered an added intervention: quick drawing and keeping nibs on the surface means my hand continuously slides over wet ink, smudging the image.
So I decided that I would try this process in a landscape with which I was unfamiliar. My first essay was in the creek below the Green House, surrounded by rocks, sand, gum trees, flies, emus, and goats.
I like the large paper size as it forces me to open up the composition. The thickness and higher quality adds depth compared to the original 110 gsm cartridge paper. The surface really does matter when drawing.
While reflecting on the day’s work, I realised that I was drawing literally everything I could see inside my chosen frame; the same way a camera records everything in the viewfinder. There was no sense of importance, no prioritised subject matter, no dimensionality. There is some negative space but only because it happens to be a patch of sky. In my next drawings, I decided to draw just one tree so I could address these ideas.
By focussing on this singular tree outside Cottage 1 and eliminating everything else save a touch of grass for balance, I had accidentally made a portrait rather than a landscape. Also, this is my first use of the black pen set from the art kit, on highly-textured 290 gsm canvas paper. As each of the five pens is a different size and the surface simulates canvas, the pens skip and jump preventing them from making a continuous line.
After playing with these concepts, I decided to apply them to a more exotic landscape. Fortunately there was a spare one behind the shearer’s quarters so I set up a table and chair and went to work.
While I was delighted with the open feel – and how a table and chair make drawing on a big piece of paper much more comfortable – I discovered that the further left my right hand moves, the more it skews the subject. Also, the top left of the image is impossible to reach without climbing out of the chair; my portrait of the landscape is also a portrait of me.
The next day, half an hour before first breakfast, on a chilly morning I set up a table and chair to draw. Then I realised that I was getting a high from doing such a sustained art practice and had become addicted to the process.
This is not entirely a bad thing.
For this drawing I deliberately chose a location with lots of Big Sky. While the image is still very flat, the fore, middle, and background have separated. But what I enjoyed most was the new flowing sensation of drawing the lyrical, swirling cloud forms.
Then, to make sure I hadn’t just become good at drawing Fowlers Gap, I began drawing offsite on the way back to Sydney, stopping at Menindee Lakes and the Living Desert and Sculptures outside Broken Hill, where I drew mulga trees in the approaching sunset.
It’s interesting how:
The trees look like mulgas and not eucalypts,
The left side is full of smudges,
Drawing in public has a performative element that lets the public come up and talk to you about your drawing.
So what does this mean for Assessment 2? No work that claims to be the cumulative statement about Fowlers Gap would be complete without a solid reference to the long drawing technique. From experience in Drawing 3, using pens on a large scale takes a long time and most of the ink will be covered or diluted by the next layer. I must therefore apply bolder marks as a final stratum so they don’t get lost. It will be very self-reflexive to use the trees to draw themselves, perhaps using eucalypt branches dipped in ink. This is a most excellent idea that popped into my head by itself, as they often do.
UPDATE: If I use eucalypt branches from UNSW property in Sydney it will provide another link to the trees at Fowlers Gap. Also, Kurt Schranzer introduced me to Li Huasheng, whose stiff, dry brush technique has much in common with the open marks I have been drawing. This is an interesting development.
My initial proposal for our visit to Fowlers Gap was to explore my bodily relationship with the land by revisiting an ongoing series of body/land/performance artworks.
My first Silueto was a straightforward scratch in the dirt of the driveway just after breakfast. Morning cross-light put the mark into relief.
I chose the driveway because it was on the path between Cottage 1 (the assisted living annexe) and the kitchen; I knew that it would be affected by car and foot traffic. Not more than half an hour later, Grant drove us over it on the way to Leopard Tree Hill, beginning the inevitable process of erasure.
Ephemerality is a significant aspect of the series so I documented the changes around the same time on most days (the camera makes the line stand out more than was visible to the naked eye).
Figure 1 – Silueto 242
One night I couldn’t sleep because of a migraine so I went out into the dark and did some long exposures with a bike light to mark my outline. This comes from medical advice I’ve received that you’re going to be in pain doing nothing you might as well be in pain doing something. Furthermore, art, distraction, and movement are all known to reduce pain.
These figures are the most ephemeral I have made, disappearing from existence at the literal speed of light. The app on my phone allowed me to layer subsequent exposures onto the original image, which I animated as a gif.
Figure 2 – Silueto 250
I also did more-traditional Siluetos using stones found in the landscape whence I discovered that the new wide-angle lens on my phone does interesting things to locate the symbolic body in a much broader landscape.
Figure 3 – Silueto 258
Still experimenting, I also made my first Silueto using a UV torch that caused quartz rocks to fluoresce.
Figure 4 – Silueto 259
My largest Silueto – and biggest “failure” – was a 25-metre intervention drawn with bright yellow spray chalk that degrades in months depending on environmental conditions. The size is so large that it can’t be seen from the ground but when I climbed to the highest point on Leopard Tree Hill I couldn’t see anything but the landscape.
Figure 5 – Silueto 260
Tellingly, the land had swallowed my symbolic body whole, leaving nothing for me to see. It is an epic failure and the perfect analogy to my time in The Gap: no matter what you do to make a mark nature always erases it. However, my artist’s ego wasn’t happy with this conclusion so in a fit of pique, I painted white spray chalk onto a sheet of corrugated iron, recording my presence on an artificial surface if nothing else. It might also last longer because it’s out of the sun and from previous experience metal holds the chalk better than more porous surfaces like rock.
Figure 6 – Silueto 261
So what does this mean for Assessment 2 of this course? The ephemeral nature of the interventions draws my attention as I have been thinking about entropy and the loss of information caused by any transformation. Running through several scenarios in visualisation sessions I have found that the more abstract the imagery the more it aligns conceptually. Other elements will resolve as I explore the rest of the work I did on the field trip.
During Sydney’s (first) COVID-19 lockdown, the gyms were closed, the outdoor exercise equipment was fenced off, and bodyweight training triggered a migraine, so I found myself with no way to exercise other than going for walks around the neighbourhood. It didn’t do anything good for my feet but it loosened up my lower back, a constant conundrum. As I wandered around, I started noticing patterns: interesting and everyday items that recurred more often than not.
I started collecting some of these things but quickly realised that the most interesting ones were those that I didn’t want to touch, so I pulled out my phone and started photographing them instead. The first one is a graffiti tag by Mako (I think; they’re hard to read sometimes – it could be Snaleo).
Look at those confident lines and beautiful sweeping curves.
Graffiti tags are ubiquitous and often stand out as damage to the built environment. At the same time, one glosses over them as just another part of the urban background, like anthills, bottle tops, and squashed paper on asphalt.
Meanwhile, I used one set of images for a uni assessment as I could guarantee to complete it: houses decorated for Halloween. It’s not an Australian tradition, but exposure to US culture has made it an unofficial celebration if you have children or want to have a costume party. On the day itself, there were storms in the morning, heat and humidity in the afternoon, and more storms in the evening so I had a window of less than five hours to traverse Sydney’s Inner East in search of opportunities. Fortunately, there are a lot of young families performing Halloween so there was always another house to photograph.
As I pursued these everyday items around the neighbourhood, I found myself staying out for longer and longer periods of time – my record is four hours – because every time I found an item I got a hit of dopamine – the main hormone responsible for addiction – and every time I took a photo I got another one. Once university finished, I had little else to do so I became seriously addicted, finding my feet walking out of the house before my mind realised it. Fortunately, this only lasted a couple of months because I’d found all the easy stuff and now I receive less reward for more pain. The addiction hasn’t completely gone but there’s less blind need and more considered ambition.
Five hours is a long time to remember a series of ever-changing numbers so I had to keep going to ensure I shot a full hundred before stopping; I reached 121. When I got home and processed the photos, I found that almost all had an underlying theme: the Victorian era terrace house; different colours (mostly grey or beige), different frontages, and different property values, but astonishingly cohesive in a visual sense (I discarded a few others which didn’t fit the aesthetic – see above). When I collaged the images I placed every photo right up against its neighbour to recreate the cheek-by-jowl, repetitious design of terraced housing.
Meanwhile, the splashes of greenery from street trees and small front gardens – decked out with adornments seemingly purchased from the same shop – brighten the collage. At the same time, the skewed perspective of each photo makes the houses look slightly unsettling as otherwise they are always seen as a row of identical architecture that recedes stolidly into the distance.
In case you’re interested, this collage represents more than AU$200,000,000 on the COVID property market.
When you’ve done one 10 x 10 grid of a hundred photos you realise that to be complete, you definitely have to do 99 more to make a round number. I was already dedicated to the task but it was only now that I realised a hundred times a hundred is actually 10,000 photos, not counting extras, mistakes, and a hundred collages on top of that. Twice my phone has refused to take more photos because the memory was full so I had to delete months of work (after I checked the backup!).
In the meantime, something that was unusual, omnipresent, and slightly surreal, was COVID detritus. Abandoned masks and gloves – black, white, or blue – were everywhere. My solitary walks were littered with the memorials of passersby so I couldn’t help but shoot them.
The grid assemblage places focus on the repeated image: discarded masks lying in gutters and gardens. Occasionally I’d see a reusable mask but people seemed to take a lot more care with them; the decorated ones were yet to hit the market or people were a lot more careful with them because they were a more intimate choice.
Pretty soon, I found that I was forgetting what I was photographing, what the orientation was, and which ones I’d finished so I made a shooting list on my phone and a spreadsheet on my desktop.
Remember the graffiti tags? Well eventually I realised that I was seeing two different types – dark text on light backgrounds and light on dark – so I separated them into their own categories. Then, because I was spending so much time looking for graffiti, I realised that there were a lot of places where the tags had been covered over with paint or counter-tagging so I started collecting erased graffiti, too.
The blandness of the altered walls makes me think that a little graffiti would brighten the place up, while some places with multiple layers of erasure show that it’s an ongoing battle between society and the “antisocial element”.
Speaking of which, I realised that these collages didn’t represent everything that I was seeing so I deliberately made myself add some abject typologies including one bane of my existence: used dog shit bags thrown into the street gardens, abandoned on the footpath, or squashed on the road. Your Dog, Your Dog Shit Bag, Your Responsibility!
This meant engaging with the subject by getting in close to fill the frame. By the time I had collected a hundred, I was feeling pretty abject myself. Unfortunately, I realised that I had copped out by not photographing the actual cause of my distress so I forced myself to shoot the faeces itself. Your Dog, Your Dog Shit, Use A Bag!
You’ll notice that I’m a lot further away from the subject because my artistic practice has limits and getting intimate with canine faeces is one of them. I’m happy to say that I finished all hundred shots and managed not to step in the theme during this time.
A topic just as non-salubrious is the used syringe. They stand out as a dangerous object so they make a strong impression which in turn makes them seem more common than they are. However, I keep finding myself wandering down the laneways and back alleys in search of more. I assume that lockdowns have reduced recreational drug use because so many venues have been forced to close.
As the summer wore on, two things happened: I came up with too many ideas and I committed to doing another set of hundreds. Thanks brain, that’s 20,000 photos I have to take and 200 collages to do.
Some gas access covers in my area have been painted in bright yellow, some cream, while others are bare steel. Yellow is my second favourite colour so I’m automatically drawn to them. After photographing a hundred, I corrected the perspective to square them up, which is the way I see them in my mind before I take the photo.
This is an homage to Bernd and Hilla Becher’s Gas Tanks photographed over three decades.
The Bechers were much more formal in their approach, benefiting from their ability to line up each image identically, their freedom to travel around northern Europe and the USA, and having the time to shoot only on overcast days. In using a phone camera I have limited myself severely but it is more true to the lived experience. We all have a digital camera in our pocket and it’s the first one we reach for in everyday life. This is the only camera I own these days and it’s certainly the only one I can carry around for four hours. Also, the university’s equipment library was often closed because of COVID.
The gas covers made an interesting collage but I wanted them to stand out more so that it matches the psychological experience of focusing in on the target. I cut out each one and transformed the background to pure black then collaged them all again.
It’s like looking at a stained glass window. Transforming the photos really enhances the subject… unfortunately, staring at a backlit screen while working on a hundred images reactivated my screen addiction which meshed with my finding/photographing addiction. Ain’t life grand?
The second #AHundredHundreds is an over-commitment of time and resources but fortunately, it’s the summer holidays and digital photography is essentially free: a wonder to someone who grew up eking out every roll of film.
I also began interrogating my own archive of digital photographs, coming up with many images that could be grouped together, such as screenshots I made of Shazam results so I could remember to find the song later.
So this is the biggest and longest photographic project I’ve ever done and Part 1 is only three quarters finished. This may well take another couple of years depending on how well my back and feet and brain hold out, but I’m certain it will be worth it.
This is the second post of my ongoing series of interventions in the landscape inspired by Ana Mendieta’s Siluetas. This group is collated from silhouettes made in the eastern suburbs of Sydney.
I made my first Australian, public, and symbolic self-portrait in a drift of London plane leaves. As I couldn’t move the leaves while lying on them, I “carved” out a silhouette with my foot. I felt a slight sense of separation because the Silueto was emblematic rather than a tracing on the ground but I learned there’s no real need for me to draw around my body as it’s the action of my body drawing itself that is important.
At this early stage, my performative restraint was driven by unfamiliarity, externally-imposed limitations (e.g. road laws), and coronavirus lockdown keeping me close to home; as the philosopher once said, don’t shit in your own nest. Being judged as a weirdo for doing strange things in public (again) took a while to get used to (again), but once I start working, I tend to forget that other people exist so it’s all good.
Although I initially shaped materials with my hands, my disability sometimes forced me to use tools like brooms and trowels. As it turns out, I learned that there’s no real need for me to touch the materials directly as it’s the action of drawing that is important. Tools also make larger scale works a lot more efficient and you don’t scrape the skin off your hands!
With each intervention, my confidence in the process grew, and I began to explore new ideas like adding a cartouche/aura to the figure because why not? There were so many leaves in the pile (Figure 4) that I had to do something with them. Trying new things like this – just to see what happens – is a fundamental part of Contemporary Art and a major reason why it has become such an expansive movement.
My longest-lasting Silueto is a floral work which stained the concrete as it decomposed: the trace of the trace was still visible three months later.
Failure is also an option, like the work below, carved from living grass just seconds before the lawn guy mowed over it.
He couldn’t see it, you can’t see it, and I can’t see it. Talk about ephemeral.
Meanwhile, I became aware of my everyday surroundings in a new way. Something as mundane as flower petals in the laneway suddenly became materials on a surface for mark-making (and the scent was heavenly). I played around with the documentary photo later, turning the figure into The Void.
And then there were these clothes put out for collection that someone had rummaged through. After I’d finished the intervention, I put them back on the pile because: I’m tidy, I don’t have to leave them where I placed them, and I can destroy the intervention if I want to. It was interesting to use shirts to create the torso and arms and trousers for the legs. If there’d been a hat for the head, I’d’ve been giggling all the way to the coffee shop.
During this time, I began experiencing a perceptual shift from “silhouette” to “man”; I even referred to them as male in my inner monologue. Like Mendieta’s female works, my pieces were gendered, and now I can’t think of them as anything else. Except when a big storm blows down trees that are cut up by the State Emergency Service and I draw genderless aliens in the sawdust.
In Cuba’s Santería religion, serio means “rigorous, embodied knowledge achieved through repeating actions” (Hyacinthe, 2019, para. 2). More expansively, this is the way an artist returns to particular concepts, such as van Gogh’s sunflowers, Mendieta’s Siluetas, and my Siluetos. Every time I leave the house nowadays, my subconscious is on the lookout for potential sites and materials. Even a trip to the recycling bins is no longer just a walk; it’s a potential future artwork.
Occasionally, I will perform a second intervention on the first. Usually, it is no more than filling in an outline but the result can be worth the effort.
Natural figures are produced in and of the landscape, degrading by circumstance until only the post-intervention documentation remains. Sometimes, even the artificial trace is so congruent it goes unremarked.
Sometimes it is so subtle that no-one sees it.
My first Siluetos were minimalist because they had just two physical aspects: landscape and found material. When I started intervening in an urban setting, a third element was added: contrast. The incongruence of natural materials presented against an artificial surface can make the image stand out much more.
Sometimes, the Silueto is so beautiful that it encourages passers-by to document their own performance, which encourages me to document their documentation. I don’t always call my work beautiful but when I do, it has knocked my socks off. Frangipanis rock.
Meanwhile, I have been exploring the documentation as if it were an archive, playing with new techniques while retaining a sense of ephemerality through the digital medium. Figure 18 explores colour splash (a small area of colour in a black and white photograph) and complementary colour backgrounds (inspired by Vincent van Gogh’s paintings).
Usually, I’m the only one to experience an intervention directly. Sometimes, passers-by observe the performance. I once invited an audience of friends, though the presence of others is not as important as the action. My flatmate did a collaborative drone shot which has opened my eyes up to all sorts of possibilities.
Of course, there’s no reason the interventions have to be outdoors.
And there’s no reason they have to be performed during the day. A night-time walk to burn off some lockdown energy before bed turned into a creative opportunity which got me so energised that I couldn’t get to sleep.
Nor do they need to be beautiful; the abject is as interesting as the sublime.
Although every Silueto constitutes different elements from different times and places, they are each part of the same desire to express/explore connection to land/landscape.
Other artists have been inspired by Mendieta’s work, such as Nancy Spero painting Homage to Ana Mendieta (Walker, 2009) and Genevieve Hyacinthe recreating Siluetas: “As part of my serio engagement with Mendieta’s first Silueta, Imágen de Yágul (1973), I traveled to the site in July 2016 both to gain an understanding of Mendieta’s performatives and, at the same time, to collaborate with her” (Hyacinthe, 2019, para. 3). This “trend” is partly because memories of her life and death remain fresh, partly because enough time has passed that people have been able to write scholarly essays about her, and partly because she was onto something that speaks across the decades.