It's a Domestic Doorway - not the Eye of a Needle by Rebecca Pilcher

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The caravan is a multi-faceted and performative work.  It was made to certain constraints, interacting with it is a type of performance; it involves the body, it references landscape, it’s a performance to get it out of the house (the wheels have to come off to get it through a domestic doorway). It may look cute but I cannot underestimate what it has given me to think about.

To make the caravan I had two constraints. Any object I make these days has to fit through a domestic doorway (I do not have a standalone studio space) and secondly, I had limited tools (a jigsaw and power drill). The caravan was made with a jigsaw using the kitchen table as support for the long straight cuts. Most of the sanding and cutting was done outside the kitchen window by the front door. A challenge with Wellington’s weather patterns.  The caravan in various states has resided in our sunroom, hallway and our kitchen and bedroom. This puts a new spin on making art out of your bedroom.

I have made big wooden sculptures before (Dome) – but with technical help, more tools and in dedicated workshop spaces.

This time I decided to opt for independence. I wanted the independence of not relying on gallery spaces to show work so I am making art that exists outside of the gallery context. It’s funny because at times it’s a physical challenge to move these big objects I am making out of the house. I had trouble getting it into a space and then trouble getting it out of a space. Sometimes I work very closely to ‘the everything has to fit through a domestic doorway’ constraint.

I wanted to solve the problems myself with research and the physical act of following a process of making. I am no stranger to making things and although I have not had much experience with wood I knew I could learn the skills needed for this project, after all the caravan is but a combination of many simple steps (there were no readymade solutions) and hurdles to overcome. I decided to avoid asking men for DIY help because I wanted to move away from the dynamic of previous experiences and to maintain momentum.

I have thought a lot about the nature of resourcefulness and of constantly finding ways around obstacles. Of stepping away from the ‘prescribed path’ and moving between subtexts and occupying a type of liminal space out of necessity. The prescribed path can be a huge obstacle in a trajectory, particularly when you are putting a feminist slant on it.  Being physically small and making big work (my next sculptures are big and heavy and almost impossible to make in a domestic space but they still fit through the front door) means you problem solve in a different way. If you lack physical strength you find a different way to do it. It’s usually a different pathway to a solution that someone of larger and stronger physical stature may arrive at. Resourcefulness is a way of communicating with others that there are many ways to solve problems.

When I make objects intended for people to get into I have discovered my default is to unconsciously make them to my scale. For example the opening to the Dome was unintentionally good for my size. In a way it’s like a physical imprint, a type of self-portrait.

Nano by Rebecca Pilcher

Writings from a year ago... still relevant now.

I am currently working on a number of portable sculptures designed to populate urban green belt areas. Micro and nano architecture and nature also fascinate me. One of the reasons the underlying nuance of freedom implied in these projects that hook my fascination. The elements of exploration and resourcefulness are common to many a micro architecture project.

Folly - Architecture. a whimsical or extravagant structure built to serve as a conversation piece, lend interest to a view, commemorate a person or event, etc.: found especially in England in the 18th century.

 

Temporarily Parking in a Spectacular Environment by Rebecca Pilcher

Since the 90's Dutch Artist Rob Sweere has been producing large scale sculptures in public places. My first encounter with Sweere's work is Sledge-Project, Uummanatsiaq, Greenland, and this through an image in a book and subsequent internet searches.

Sledge-Project consists of insulated mobile wood shelters on skis designed to move around Greenland's cold and vast lands. The Sledge project was designed to shelter people in different locations within the town of Uummanatsiaq. I can only imagine what it would be like to be standing in the actual terrain where Sledge-Project is. The crisp air? Wind perhaps? Freshness? The light in the photo reminds me of New Zealand. I think the sublime vista would blow me away. Feeling the glow against my eyes that large white objects have when the light hits them a certain way, and not just the art. Those icebergs would be something.  In a visual sense you can imagine sledding out to them. The sledges are useful indeed. I can't help but wonder, has the artist had these thoughts?

I can relate to with Sweere's ethos as an artist, and the myriad projects he has produced. The inherent romanticism, the references to the sublime, the sense of exploration, the retro-futuristic aesthetics (which smack of a sense of hope)  and the opportunity to engage with landscape  and nature and the experience of body. Sweere underscores this and delights me when he says;

"My task as an artist is to take people out of their usual pattern of thoughts and actions for a moment by inviting them to have another kind of experience. I will for instance create a situation around a tree that one normally passes by without even seeing it. When people use the artwork, they will focus on that tree and automatically other thoughts and reflections will enter their minds. To allow such processes to succeed, I have developed an imagery that makes people immediately understand how they can use the artwork practically, for example by climbing in it, laying down, and so on."

 I also see how Sweere's Sledge project has parallels to to a Caravan project I am working on. (currently in build) I do not have access to the Uummanatsiaq's sublime landscape overlooking spectacular ice floes, though I (and my fellow Wellingtonians) do have access to the town belt. Caravan has not been built with the assistance of Inuit hunters, but it has been built using power tools on the kitchen table, and it doesnt have skis,  but it will be pulled by a bicycle. When l take all of these things taken in account I feel Caravan Is not diminished in comparison to Sweere's  Sledge- Project. It is perhaps less HUGE and less spectacular, but I don't think it will be less in comparison. Maybe this is interesting. True it is not finished yet, and after that art will happen, but at this point imagination is fuel for many a warming fire. I want people to think about landscape. I want them to switch out of their headspace for a moment and to experience something different. To feel their body and be aware of their scale in the landscape, to experience space in a different way.  I feel that to even see the caravan would be to think of landscape. In this sense I see Caravan as a landscape work in itself. If you look back on my previous blog (Part to Whole) you will get more of a picture of what I am talking about. I am also aware I am working as a woman in relation to ideas of landscape, exploration and colonial history and that also engenders a different approach and ethos.

Documentation of this little teardrop caravan in the wilds of the Wellington town belt could have a similar feel to Sweere's images. In my mind the caravan will look similarly dwarfed but stoic in the wild landscape of the green belt of Wellington City, New Zealand. The town belt was initially conceived out of a 19th century town planning concept to provide green spaces and clean air for all, despite background and status. Because of this, it could also be a symbol for the idea of an enriched life being available for all. And if I need more enrichment, New Zealand is a land of sublime landscapes, one that draws a booming tourist and cinematic industry, so surely I can find my own spectacular view, one to rival the stunning and austere beauty of Uummanatsiaq and its  iceflos. I can see the sun flare, the haze of nostalgic light, the endless green, the call of the wild and the freedom and majesty of it all. 

 I can taste the freshly brewed coffee, smell the wood of the caravan and see the green and feel the sense of adventure, freedom, well being and a sense of hope. 

I will end this post with another quote from Sweere as it similar to my ethos.

"We are surrounded by natural elements like trees, air and water but usually we are just too busy with things of our own human construction to give them much attention. I think it is good to have a conscious relation with the elements of nature, especially because we are still largely defined by natural instincts and urges. When I invite people to come into close contact with natural elements, they may very well come closer to their own nature."

 

Part to Whole by Rebecca Pilcher

To know the spirit of a place is to realize that you are a part of a part and that the whole is made of parts, each of which in a whole. You start with the part you are whole in.” 
― Gary SnyderThe Gary Snyder Reader, Volume 1: Prose, Poetry and Translations 1952-1998

"In general the part differs from the whole.  
The part cannot totally contain the whole.  
But it always partially contains the whole.  
The part contains the whole to some degree." 
Bart Kosko, Fuzzy Thinking, p 58

Part to Whole. The whole makes the parts interesting. Putting this website together has got me thinking about myriad ways projects and concepts can be presented within the website format. Do I present it project by project?, or as a procession of thoughts building to an overall picture?, by timeframes or overriding concepts and so on. In all this, and perhaps in a most timely manner, I was struck by how a holistic viewpoint can make the small parts interesting and also how knowledge of the whole adds more meaning to the part. 

As an artist I have often worked in series of works or a number of works making a body of work about specific concepts. I have realised that the relation of part to whole and vice versa is an important aspect of how I think about my work.  Relating part to whole is one of the factors that influence my current investigations relating to urban green spaces. 

The act of breaking down or negotiating a big space by working to the relation of part to whole brings to mind the influential architect Bernard Tschumi's landmark work  Parc de La Villette (an 125-acre cultural park based on activities as much as nature.) Tschumi's series of follies in its landscape materialise this concept.

"There is no architecture without event, without activity, without function; architecture must be thought of as the combination of spaces, events and movements, without precedence or hierarchy between these terms. ... The idea of architectural unity yields to those of heterogeneity and fragmentation; the one of fixed and hierarchical form gives way to the dynamic." Bernard Tschumi

Tschumi settled in New York City in the 1970s and was heavily influenced by the neighbouring disciplines of the visual arts, film and literature of which he introduced with post-structuralist thought into architectural theory.  Most of his early projects were designed as theoretical manifestos that were synthesized in the drawing series The Manhattan Transcripts, (produced in New York City in the mid-1970s). This research led to the landmark Parc de la Villette and other projects notable for transforming concepts to physical form as much as for their visual impact. 

This part to whole relation and metonymic way of working has made me realise that concepts that have underpinned my work in have either been specific literary devices or part of a literary tradition and mode. For example the uncanny (a big influence on previous work) can be expressed in literary terms very well and is used as a driving mechanism for some types of writing. And as I am outlining in this post, the metonymic - part to whole relation  - a word or phrase that's used to stand in for another - is particularly relevant to how I am thinking about my work process now. I am still making artworks that can be an end in themselves but it's how they fit within the framework of my practice that interests me. 

To unpick this further and to explain the context of metonymy to how I think about making art - the cognition of my practice -  metaphor is based on similarity whereas metonymy expresses simple contiguous relations between objects, such as part-whole, cause-effect, and so on.  Metonymy enables us to use one part or aspect of an experience to stand for some other part (or the whole) of that experience. Unlike metaphor which involves two domains of experience, metonymy only requires one. Unlike metaphor which is based on similarity, metonymy requires contiguity, i.e.  'closeness' of association. Most metonymies are so common we never notice them. 

I am inclined to think about big picture stuff, the expansiveness of space ideas can inhabit, (whether this is expressed through physical objects, sound, or thought), and yet I make series of works and objects that for me that are just as important by themselves to expand this space. This expansiveness doesn't happen without the accumulation of works, yet the works have more weight when they are considered in the relation to the whole. A constellation relies on its pieces etc... 

Part to whole. For me this is useful to think about and one of the myriad ways I can call upon to anchor my work, perhaps,  as you could say, much in the way tent pegs work to hold a tent steady. 

 

Walking into the Curve by Rebecca Pilcher

Coastline Paradox - Josette Chiang

 

21 October 2016 — 12 November 2016

I recently had the experience of going to an art show and delightfully losing time with a sense of shifting sideways into a different space. The show was Coastline Paradox , a multimedia installation at Toi Poneke, Wellington, by Hong Kong born UK based Artist Josette Chiang, in New Zealand as part of an Asia New Zealand residency.

Josette is a multimedia artist whose recent work incorporates geology, mythology, Chinese cosmology and systems of measurement. Chiang speaks of working with ideas around the theme of the 'instability of spatial relations', a notion and phrase that for me causes much thought and in relation to this show takes me places. I am entranced with the idea of exploration, and love how this can happen in a myriad of ways and contexts.

There is a  precision to the work that belies its subjectivity. The juxtaposition of these things particularly in relation to the subject matter of time, and the response to being a stranger in a new place opened up a space both physically and metaphorically that I could feel immersed in. A space with the familiar and unfamiliar side by side, evoking overlapping timeframes with a curiosity and methodical approach which drew me in to explore. Is it possible to see with other peoples eyes? An un-sedimented view? Is that possible? The things overlooked, the things that seem like the fabric of our knowledge of a place and therefore no longer in sharp focus. Has anything been forgotten? Has something never been seen before? What can you see or sense and learn and what can come to light with this approach?  It could be surprising, enlightening and forever change perceptions.

 

Featuring video, sculpture, sound and text, Coastline Paradox is a subjective study of 7000 years of tectonic uplifts whose presence remains etched on the landscape of Turakirae Head Scientific Reserve, located 20km south of Wainuiomata, at the end of the Coast Road.

In hindsight, this show seems poignant in light of the recent 7.8 NZ earthquake and continuing seismic events that marked the show's finish. Especially recalling Chiang's coastline footage in light of how dramatically the Kaikoura coastline has tectonically changed as a result of the recent earthquakes, astoundingly 5.5 metres in parts. In contrast to nature's recent violent upheavals, Chiang's installation is calm and measured, poetically evoking layers and time and how that can be marked geologically but also interwoven with notions of calendar signposts and cultural and personal overlay.  The idea that human existence can be mapped geologically (the Anthropocene) is also referenced by Chiang.

The year 2016 marks the official acknowledgement of the Anthropocene epoch brought about by the dramatic effects of human existence upon the planet.The Anthropocene is a proposed epoch that begins when human activities started to have a significant global impact on Earth's geology and ecosystems. It feels like nature had something to add to this conversation by bookending the show with a large earthquake.

The audio throughout the space anchored the work and the conversational tone and letter/journal element created a sense of intimacy. The footage of someone winding string, the crunch of stones being walked on, a coastline both rural and rugged filmed with a true sense of an individual exploring a landscape, the tone of Josette's voice, her accent, so different to a New Zealander's, yet familiar, and how do you pronounce Toi Poneke? String winding over itself a reference to geological layers and timelines. A sense of archaeology. How long is a ball of string? How long is time? String which can be unwound and chopped up like sentences.The layering, timelines, string winding around itself.

This work reminds me that time, place and being cannot be understood wholly in a linear fashion, that the curve is important. Hence the name of this post. Chiang deliberately took into account the architecture of Toi Poneke, working to the difficult space of Toi Poneke and indeed the actual spatial dimensions of the gallery, responding to its pillar placement and architecture specifically in the installation. As the artist herself said in conversation it was perhaps a disparate pairing, however I mentioned that the L shape of the gallery could be likened to a cove like shape. A stretch? It worked for me. The Toi Poneke space has its strengths and challenges. I liked how work played to the L shape of the space. It reminds me of how you naturally want to  walk into the mid point of a cove or stretch of beach – or how the eye gravitates to the centre of a cove, even the fact that due to the nature of time we are continuously are about to turn a corner.

The Quiet Earth at Te Whare Hēra by Rebecca Pilcher

Artists Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro recently hosted a screening at the Te Whare Hēra Residency space,  of New Zealand sci-fi thriller The Quiet Earth featuring Bruno Lawrence as man-alone in a deserted post-apocalyptic world (partially filmed in Hamilton). This relates to Claire and Sean's current body of works in progress drawing on classic horror films and uncanny landscapes.

Sometimes the simplest things can be so great, or perhaps a combination of simple things with apt timing.

Such was the screening of the 1985 cult classic Quiet Earth by Geoff Murphy at the Te Whare Hēra Gallery and Studio. After all the chance to see a classic movie  you have been meaning to watch with couple Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro, at the prow end of the Clyde Quay Wharf at the exclusive prize winning luxury apartments on the Wellington waterfront is not something to miss.

The Australian duo are part of the International Artist Residency Programme in Wellington. Initiated by Massey University’s Te Whiti o Rehua School of Art and the Wellington City Council in late 2014, this residency is focused on bringing contemporary international artists to live, work and exhibit in Wellington city. One of the focuses of the residency, which has already brought a number of excellent artists right to Wellington's shores,  is to make a real difference to the cultural lives of our community.

This Saturday night it certainly made a difference to my cultural life. The combination of the impending Council Guy Fawkes Fireworks extravaganza and being tucked up in the Te Whare Hēra Gallery watching a movie about a sole survivor in a deserted world with festive crowds gathering a glass pane away oblivious to our presence was a little surreal.

Despite being shot in 1985 The Quiet Earth is startlingly contemporary, and despite the obvious indicators, mostly cars and shop signage of the times , there is a timelessness about the characters and film treatment.  I suspect if it was shot now there would be a zombie or two in the mix instead of the few inert corpses and the movie was all the more successfully unsettling due to its emptiness. In fact, this strange vivid movie was unusual when it was made because instead of reverting to the action packed movie default of the post apocalyptic movie genre of the time, it is decidedly non action and almost at a standstill in  comparison. Yet this approach is effectiveand yes, it is slow moving at the start building to an ambiguous ending, but it works.

Popping out of the gallery straight into a crowd of people straining to see a fireworks display was a good end. The fireworks were spectacular and it's not often that many people are out en masse in Wellington. As we were caught in the tide to leave (it was a bit chilly after the fireworks and people were in a hurry) I couldn't help but think of 'The Quiet Earth's' emptiness..... and  how vaguely threatening the thought of that emptiness would be.... and also how New Zealand still has that man alone 'thing' embedded in its cultural imagination and a lingering anxiety about emptiness. Or does it? Maybe there have been some shifts.

Resistance by Rebecca Pilcher

Resistance.

Not so much as in fighting the good fight but more in a physics type sense. Forces working against us.

I have just finished reading Stephen Pressfield's The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. A kind of book that would usually make the lining of my skull break out in hives because it is reminiscent of the many business and self-help type books aimed at boosting motivation and success and there are so many. You know... those ones with zippy titles such as 'Be Obsessed or be Average', 'Rising Strong', 'Awaken the Giant Within" etc... (these are real titles!) However despite this, Pressfield's notion of resistance has resonated with me.

Pressfield says that resistance feels like unhappiness, boredom, restlessness, guilt and it comes in many forms and that most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance. (This struck home, I have to say, when I have been unmotivated in my studio I am unhappy and the longer I am not working the worse it gets.) At this point I am finding that my unlived life is creating so much pressure that I have to do something about it. No regrets, right?

In other words, any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity elicit Resistance. And perhaps then the more resistance you have against doing something the more important it is to break through and do it.

Basically you will be happier if you just get down and do the work.  As David Shrigley says "If you put the hours in the work will make itself. If you don't put the hours in the work is much more difficult."

Because the most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying. When you do that stuff starts to happen.

“Don't think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it's good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art." Andy Warhol

Not like eating cake by Rebecca Pilcher

 

This is my inaugural post. I have been musing a lot about what it takes to be an artist. To keep working.

The title of this blog has been taken directly from a comment from an interview with the Artist David Shrigley.  He is completely right. Though making art can at times be pleasurable, a large amount of the time making art is laden with obstacles and resistance in many, many forms. It takes a sense of fortitude to stay the course and keep going, however despite the difficulties so many of us are caught up in this endeavor.

This blog is  intended to be a self pep talk,  record of musings and current research. As an Artist I want to create a resource that myself and others can peruse. Part of my art practice is to research and to think deeply about my work. This is a given for most artists and often I feel this part of my practice as an artist is invisible and and an ever changing undercurrent. This blog is a way of capturing certain elements of this as the distances and spaces traversed can be great. Musing is a constant for me and usually about art and life and life and art. At this point I am very interested in what it is to gain momentum in a studio practice and to keep going against all the odds artists face. I want to be inspired, cajoled and hopeful and above all to keep going.