Sunday, 12 February 2017

Shadows & Echoes

Not a covert artist residency, but further experience of the fact that residencies are all completely different - the time, format, expectations, resources, outcome, and so on.

Shadowed still 1 Eleanor MacFarlane c.2002

An investigation into the nature of shadows and echoes

When I was a child I believed in shadows. I believed they copied us deliberately, and played tricks on us, the way they stretched out or hid secrets deep within them.

I listened to echoes then, the way they whispered or made the walls call back.
I always thought if I could turn around fast enough I would catch my shadow, like it was an echo of myself.
I thought that echoes never stopped, and wanted to go on listening to them as they got smaller and smaller, like watching a balloon float up into the sky, beyond where it becomes a dot, when you know you are still looking at it, only you can’t see it.

Looking, hearing, seeing, listening.
Light + dark = shadows
Sound + surface = echoes

In this short, quite last minute of the year residency, I would like to investigate shadows and echoes, to record, play and project them, to draw shadows with visitors, and to ask them questions about what they believe shadows and echoes are. I would like to get to know the echoes and shadows in the crypt – I wonder if there are special ones there? Can their nature be manipulated? Do they have secrets to divulge? Can I take one of the shadows home with me? Could I frame an echo?

Shadow: a dark area where light from a light source is blocked by an opaque object.
Echo: a sound or sounds caused by the reflection of sound waves from a surface back to the listener.

I aim to come up with better, more fitting, definitions for these mysterious, evocative, nebulous phenomena, something that conveys their poetic and imaginative potential and their subtle presence in our psyche and cultural history.

Artist residency December 2016, The Crypt Gallery, St Pancras Church, London

I don’t know how I can tell you how wonderful it is for an artist without a studio to get to work in such a residency. Space and time to make and think…and what a place…a brick labyrinthine crypt. Just bringing a few things, and letting it all out. 

Shadows Eleanor MacFarlane 2016

The crypt is cold – dank is the word that springs to mind. Just being able to think about nothing but what I am doing. Having an idea and trying it out. Tearing shadows from tissue paper. Overnight I have left what I hope will become solid shadows drying out. Minimalist stuff when carrying everything there for a few days. Prototype installation – shadow catcher.

Shadow catcher installation prototype 1 Eleanor MacFarlane 2016

This residency is giving me my ideal working setup with several ideas in progress that I move in between. Down here – the Echoes, not so much – it’s all shadows. I have worked for so long in making positives and negatives, black and white, white and black, that each image is all of those aspects. Also looking a subtle shafts of light as another reverse shadow. The tangled shadows didn’t dry out as I’d hoped, but gave me something else to go with – I have a new obsession to take away with me – tangle-weaving shadow shapes – I plan to get them to stand – black, grey, whites.

Shadow Object 1 Eleanor MacFarlane 2016

Shadows themselves are like benign creatures, or inert entities. People shadows tend to be hood-like. Perhaps that’s the hood of childhood or adulthood. I thought I might get much more spooked, working down in this crypt for a few days, but there’s that art-detachment, the critical eye that is looking for relationships and trying out ideas. I never make things deliberately spooky, or add an effect for effect – I follow quite a different process. However, I am not unaware that I have hung up hooded shapes in a crypt – nice. These are shapes and trials, and as yet without much deliberate intended meaning.

Shadow Object 2 Eleanor MacFarlane 2016

Just one more day to go in the crypt. Probably just as well as it’s a strain on the health. I’ve had a lovely stream of visitors, conversations and a meeting. We had a group crit today – most enlightening. Tomorrow I plan to make a book-like object. Most of what I have made in this residency will be scrunched up – it’s really in the photographs, video, writing, ideas and plans. What I have learned about shadows….

Shadow Object 3 Eleanor MacFarlane 2016

Day 6 in the Crypt residency just before Christmas. With people going to catch trains and the last visitors dwindling, it was left to me to lock up and close down the crypt. All week it has felt ok to be there – atmospheric rather than alarming, benign rather than disturbed. All of a sudden, my imagination jumps out at me in giant loops of alarm, as if all the shadows are suddenly populated. I decide I can leave – right now. There’s not much left to gather up, so I take my bags to the entrance, but I have to go back, into the cupboard, to turn off the main lights, and then into passageways and room to turn switches, leaving a swirling magnetic dark behind me. I pull the slow, enormous door against that blackness, the whole place having changed its nature.

It turns out that a six day residency is plenty of time to go through some cycles of thought and experimentation, to try out a few things, and follow ideas to conclusions. I found it really valuable, to have that precious time and space to think about nothing but what I was doing, and to follow every artistic impulse. Keeping the resources limited helped me to find more shades of meaning in a few sheets of tissue paper and some threads. Taking all those photographs is looking, looking, looking. I have a great amount of material to process in time, and new ideas for exhibitions and proposals and so on. I have a couple of new things which are part of my art practice repertoire – the wrapping, and also the solid standing shadows – solidified. I have some ideas for making wrapped shadow brooches. I will update here in due course.

We revisit the same sorts of ideas in different iterations and aspects, and find new shades or angles, and perhaps new forms, incorporating more ideas along the way. It’s great to get the chance to have some intense time, especially not having an actual studio. I normally write a great deal in such situations or projects, but found this time I was doing, doing, doing.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Abridged at the Royal College of Music London 2015-2016

This was not what I had planned for my second covert artist residency.

However, sometimes layers of coincidences occur that really have to be acknowledged and given in to. I was going to go for something like a technical museum, concerning clocks, time, mechanics; and not something directly related to my own history and the steps I was somewhat retracing during the first residency at the V&A.

I currently happen to be working at the Royal College of Music in a completely different capacity, and suddenly I am spending time weekly where I was first a student when I was 18 and 19, in 1982 - 4, and so 33 years ago. Here I am really retracing my steps, and it almost feels like revisiting the scene of the crime. All those memories, all those states of being I had processed, suppressed, forgotten dealt with, moved on from. It's not really like a throwback - things have changed, but certain details, the way the doors work, the tiling on the hallways, the noticeboards, all trigger the old and new thoughts simultaneously - I don't go back, but I vividly remember. Walking along a corridor there was a smell which took me straight back to the 80's. Amazing. It took me back to the clothes we wore, the music of the time, the make-up, the hair, the boys, my great friend at college Lizzie Hayes who played the piano.

The way I used to think. The way that led me to how I think now, to what I am now, and everything that led me there. What a lot we owe to our younger selves and the difficulties we went through and got through. This residency is not about a pity party or regurgitation of personal stuff, but while my own history is certainly core, there are other wider aspects to explore.

The RCM has remodelled some parts, naturally - little stays completely static even in a place like that. Much is exactly the same, in that continuum which generations of music students before me had already treaded. I don't feel so traumatised about what happened to me there - perhaps I'll go into all that at some point, although I know it's not an unfamiliar story for an undiagnosed dyslexic in higher education. When something like that is so out of kilter, it has repercussions in other areas of life, and the disorder and lack of control seeps out.

Perhaps even ten years ago I would have used this experience to relive and reprocess, but now I am very aware, because of so many other things in recent life, that this is new time. I've done all that processing, I've done my time.

And so music. For many years since a teenager, the sound emanating from practice rooms was a familiar background soundtrack to my life, and one I somehow thought I would have forever. It's simply wonderful to have that again for a while. Quite a gift. In fact, this whole experience is a gift. Not may people get to go back to a place. So I cannot deny that this is the place which has presented itself for this covert residency.

When I was a student at the RCM the museum of instruments was in a temporary warehouse building in the back courtyard which is now empty. The museum is rather unlovely and about to go through a major refurbishment and rethink. The library used to be at the top of the building and is now on the ground floor, looking like it has been there forever.

I went into the museum, a student was there practising on a harpsichord, and so giving me a private recital.

Ideas crowd in. Already I know what I am aiming for, and how I will develop the idea of the Facsimile Box into a musical memory concept.

Abridged seems right. It has a sense of curtailed.

18th October 2015

Facsimile in Stockholm

In September I took a trip to Sweden, and brought with me printed and cut out Facsimile boxes, adding a glue stick in my case. I made them up in my hotel room and took them out to find places for them in a museum or gallery while I was around, giving an international dimension to my residency at the V&A.

Moderna Museet, The Museum of Modern Art

Nordiska Museet, Nordic Museum

Of course, this can happen anywhere. I or anyone can place Facsimile Boxes in museums and galleries or anywhere else closer to home, with just a little organisation. Probably in the future I will have another spate of placing them.

I was at the V&A recently and decided to seek out where I had left Facsimile Boxes, to see if any remained. I remembered the location of some but not all, and didn't find any. I'm so intrigued but will never know what happened to them, and the thoughts of those who picked them up, even if that was to bin them as ephemeral paper.

18th October 2015

Friday, 11 September 2015

Site Specific Facsimile Boxes at V&A

I think I've just discovered probably the most fun you can have in a museum.

I took about a dozen of made Facsimile Boxes to the V&A to release to the wild, their natural habitat. I found a place for each, somewhere near or like where the images were taken, and left them there.
It was brilliant, and totally covert, as I didn't want them to be immediately taken away by the guard people there. The blocky shapes of substance looked very much in the right place.

When I was looking for somewhere to leave them, it felt like I was casing the joint and about to steal something. How funny to feel like that when I am doing the opposite of stealing. I wonder if there is a word for that - I am not exactly donating, or giving, but surreptitiously, covertly sneaking things in.
It raises an experience of museum and gallery policy issues - art students are forever sneaking little publications into gallery bookshops - apparently.

During my degree at Middlesex, we had to do a group exercise - seven of us did a big joint painting, which was actually a bit rubbish, cut it up, then wore it in Tate Modern, We walked around, sometimes lining up and thus reconstructing the painting.

Access to exhibition spaces, participation in cultural spaces. Decisions, permissions and criteria about what is collected by museums and exhibited in galleries.

So I have left the Facsimile boxes in situ, some more obviously than others. Perhaps I will go back in a few days and see if any remain. In the meantime, my site specific installation is currently in exhibition at the V&A.

What will happen to them. Perhaps they will all be binned tonight. Perhaps someone will find one and feel like they are stealing from the V&A when they sneak it into their bag. Perhaps a couple might remain for a long time.

11th September 2015