Thoughts on the feedback on Assignment Two

Pondering on the feedback from Assignment two.

Overall reaction: Probably better than I expected, but an insightful set of comments and recommendations that I find interesting and challenging.

The closing statement reads:

“Ask yourself what is the journey that all this research with the Gross’ is taking you on. All your writing and other works have been about you in some way – memories. I wonder what the connection is here? This may take you in a completely different direction. That’s fine.”

I don’t plan to directly quote from the report any more in this reflection, but these few last sentences seem to reverberate quite loudly and I’m sure I’ll return to them shortly.

Making any sort of statement in a personal blog is like talking to oneself; but because it is public and my tutor has remarked on it I want to make something very clear. And it is about how I feel about Ann and Carl Gross, their work and the children/charities they support. Put simply I am in awe of what they do, by what they have achieved and their continuing ‘givingness’. This may all be informed by their spiritual beliefs – which are at odds with my own lack of any faith whatsoever – or that they are just built that way, to continue to pour out love to those who seem often bereft of it.

I am concerned, in that it does concern me, by the possible view of equating these orphans simply as some kind of commodity. And it was pointed out that some of my work, through these first two assignments, could be confused as representing the orphans as such in the way that these charities present them (and by the means, I suspect of how I re-present them). That I was experimenting with describing my own feelings towards these children and what they represent, both to me and how I see them being represented to the world as a whole, is something that I can rightly be accused of. There was a definite intent in the expression of equivalence, the purposeful balancing of the fiscal value with the implied worth of the child, and I accept it may have been too blunt with the possible effect of implying that the work I was documenting had a similar trope to mine. I meant no disservice to their work through my experimentation.

There was something though in the report that did strike a chord, in that if anything, I did want to make an effort to help in some way, to make a difference, however pompous that may sound. I appreciate that to do so would have been hugely ambitious, and extremely unlikely that it could ever happen. But there it is.

I do though now have a conundrum to solve, which is how to move forward with assignment three. The brief is straightforward, and could literally be done in a host of different ways, but my objective would be to try and thread these assignments together with a conceptual cord that develops an idea, maybe even a consistent narrative through the course that I feel has investigated a few ideas and presented some responses to it. I don’t expect any major eureka moments, but I instinctively feel that by wrestling with a singular track of thought I will likely confront more intellectual obstacles than if I dart about with trying to fit the brief in a literal way. I want the work that I do to inform the assignment briefs rather than the other way round. I want the work to continue a conversation that may or may not find a response to the first argument raised in assignment one, but allowing the discourse to develop and follow a natural extension of development.

I am therefore, as I stated earlier, pondering. I have an abiding notion that all work is a self-portrait and so I am exercised by the earlier statement from my tutor about memories. Memories are fictions I think, mediated through time of course, through perspectives. An assignment based on memories would be a break completely from how the work has progressed so far, focusing as it has on the plight of these orphans as relayed by the Gross’ – though that of course is a work based on reminiscence. But aren’t all photographs memories? History? As Barthes says “memento mori”? So any project is work mediated already by memory and is therefore a memory project?

Perhaps I need to think it out again.

Of course I could just spring into memory, because that’s where the course has led me! The memories project I did with the Echoes Group, under the auspices of Gesture and Meaning, will of course inform me – why wouldn’t it? So things are leading me towards memory, however I have no idea what, or where, those junctions might lead to, let alone what they may comprise of in terms of narrative, context or subject. Perhaps the long train journey to and from Arles might help release something.

One of the comments that my tutor made was about how the visual language, or perhaps as I understand the comment, vernacular, of marketing might be employed better in my imagery – to draw people in for the ‘sucker punch’. How the tropes of advertising could then perhaps be subverted in order to put my message across. Well herein lies the rub. I have studiously avoided all, or at least as much as I am able to, connections with my previous life in business. Whilst I am fully aware that I am what I am; built up from decades of existence and experience, and to deny any of it would be to deny part of myself. The thought of exploiting an area of me that had, for most of those previous decades, sought to manipulate, coerce, position and, yes sometimes, exploit, is one that I have resisted. I have used words, both written and spoken to ‘develop’ business most of my professional life. I have an innate understanding that I can, and have, as I say, move people around because that is what I did. I feel distinctly uncomfortable in doing this with my art.

But then there is fiction! I am in favour of fiction. The tale can develop an idea much clearer than non-fiction can deliver a truth and I now fully realize that all work is based on a fiction. All Art, all creation is at the very least an embellishment of a reality. For just as the photograph struggles with the truth due to it’s unhappy connection with a single viewpoint , narrow perspective and four square walls; the truth is just as likely to masked in a veil of happenstance somewhere out of reach of veracity.

I am now wondering whether I should investigate the truth with lies, fact through fiction. These children’s lives through the shutter and lens; just as maybe, Frank did with his journey through America, as Hunter did in Hackney and the National Gallery. How McCullin does in the Somerset levels. How Cohen did with Songs of Love and Hate, how Brahms did with either of his Cello Concertos and and, and and.

Flight time

Flying

Flying

This photograph was part of the set that I was to look at and comment on, I didn’t choose this series by Chris de Bode, but it awoke a memory for me. This memory was perhaps stirring from a conversation I had had with my tutor recently which subsequently referred me to this much earlier post regarding Documents.

The memory is a long way back, I would suspect I was eight or nine, or nearly both. I suppose I had suspected that something was up, there was an added tension in the air as I was told it was bedtime; I knew to go to bed, there would be no rituals of goodnight kisses or embraces, no stories to be told and, as I was the eldest child, the downstairs would therefore become the sole domain of my parents. Bedtime was usually fairly strict, but I can remember a tangible frisson in my parents collective urge for me to leave the living room and get to bed; this went on for several weeks. This sense of something had played on me for some time and one day I could bear the temptation no longer and ventured downstairs with some paltry excuse, that I cannot recall, and walked into the lounge unannounced. Their sense of surprise was palpable, they both looked up, shocked that I should come down – we weren’t encouraged to climb downstairs after bedtime was called. My mother was in her usual chair by the fireplace, my father though wasn’t in his chair, but rather at the table which was covered by, what I later learned was balsa wood and tissue paper. I was immediately turned round and told to get back upstairs, though the confusion I felt for what I saw stayed with me, almost as much as what ensued a little while later.

Some weeks later my birthday rather drudgingly came to our house, my twin sister and I never really expected very much, some coin from our grandparents and a little something from our parents – nothing else. On this occasion though my sister was given a surprisingly good present I remember and I received the normal, not much. My mother decided though to let on that there might be something more when my father came home. I don’t remember feeling any real sense of expectation, my father’s return from work was never anything to feel excited about, unless there was another transgression on my part that would involve some punishment or other. He came home and rather than sit down for some tea or other he summoned me and to my absolute surprise he showed me this hand-made glider he had been constructing during the evenings after I had gone to bed. So this was what it was. The pride of his achievement was for all to see, my sister was as surprised as me, and I suppose had wondered why what seemed such a good present to her, by normal standards, now seemed to pale beside this glorious construction of balsa and red tissue paper. The model glider was in two parts; the fuselage and wings, which were nearly six feet in length. There was a point when I thought I might be able to touch this construction of wonder, but my father was keen for us to go to the local park, man and boy, father and son, to launch this homage to the power of man’s mastery over nature and prepare for the maiden flight.

I suppose it would have been half a mile to the ‘New Park’, a large green area that had a number of amenities, including a hill in the centre, to which my father strode with an ambition similar perhaps to the Wright brothers, though in our case it might have been ‘Umney & Son’. The feeling of excitement was contagious and I was soon having to trot behind my father as he excitedly paced his way across the main road and to the park entrance, heading directly for the hill. The ascent to the summit left me breathless I’m sure, but my Father’s determination never wavered as he attached the wings to the superstructure, whose previous detached skeletal appearance through the fine application of the tissue paper, became a single body. Before me and before my eyes, this was simply the best present I would surely ever have. The glider was ready for launch, and I offered my hand to take possession of my present.

My father lifted the glider beyond my reach and with great care he brought the glider behind his head, as a Grecian javelin thrower might have done and in a single move threw the glider into the air, into the space that held us both, father and son, with anticipation. The red projectile soon moved into a beautiful arc, the nose lifted and those huge wings kept the airframe level as it climbed. The excitement soon grew to nervousness as the glider went into an ever increasing ascent, within a few seconds this delicately framed model was pointing straight up. I knew nothing of aerodynamics, maybe my father didn’t either, but we knew that when the glider stopped it’s vertical ascent it would surely head for terra firma; and faster than it had taken to get to it’s apotheosis of altitude. How it actually landed I can’t be sure for I was watching my father, and I knew that expression; I had witnessed it more times that I’ll ever want to remember. We walked over to the remains of the model and I was allowed to take home what I had been not allowed to take to the park. I knew not to try and talk to my father as we walked home and as we arrived, he deposited what he had carried into the dustbin. I followed suit with my carriage and decided it would be best for me to go straight to bed, which I did. The half crown that I had been given as a present from my grandparents was probably spent on knick knacks, I don’t remember that at all.

It’s funny how an individual image can spark a memory.

Assignment Two

The brief calls for eight images that, individually, have a narrative and convey a specific idea.

I have continued to work with the found images from the Thai’ orphanages and texts that accompany their representation as ‘sponsorable’ orphans.

The initial work I did on this assignment seemed to produce some very clean images that spoke of advertising/marketing images. And whilst I am slightly concerned at the commodification of these children, that they are advertised to western, ‘otherness’, I didn’t want these images to confuse the viewer and so I have moved to less obvious, less commercially clean imagery. At least that is the intent.

I am interested in challenging the viewer to confront these images and feel that they would be best served large on an exhibition wall. The typeface text (which are from the detail sheets that describe the orphan to prospective sponsors and as updates to existing sponsors) is deliberately made either small, in relation to the size of the print, or slightly obtuse in order that the viewer needs to examine closely the image and text to complete the engagement. The required assignment presentation won’t allow for that so I’ll tailor the submission to try and fit the brief.

I also felt that using the marks that the children created is crucially important, whether they be by crayon, or by pen or pencil they bring a sense of collaborative venture to the pieces as well as, perhaps authenticity. Likely to be largely undecipherable to most Western eyes, any ambiguity is left to the faith in the translation provided – a thought that could be explored at a later date….

As I have vicariously witnessed the lives of these children I have become emotionally involved with some of their stories and the editing was a difficult part of the process. Some of the most disturbing stories I haven’t included in this set, not for reasons of concern for the viewer, but rather I wanted to have a certain set of criteria for the image series, and because I didn’t have a full set for some they have had to fall by the wayside.

I had intended to depict the sense of two-way traffic in this series; in as much as I wanted to consistently feature some of the cuddly toys and woollen baby clothes that are made by knitters in the UK to donate to these orphans in various Thai’ orphanages, however I didn’t find a way to do that throughout and so have stuck with the images as shown.

Jieb

Jieb

Faay on bikes

Faay on bikes

Faay, I Love You

Faay, I Love You

Jieb, Polio

Jieb, Polio

Anurak butterfly

Anurak butterfly

Aids

Aids

I Love You too

I Love You too

Noot's letter

Noot’s letter

Images of Faay and another

Faay 3

Faay 3

Faay 1

Faay 1

Faay 2

Faay 2

Three images of Faay, since the recent TV meeting I have been reflecting on the images for assignment two and decided to start to rework the set, based on comments/feedback and my personal vision for what it is I want to depict. I had thought that some of the images I had created so far were too ‘accomplished’ too similar to marketing images. I have the notion that these orphans – with all the best intentions – are being ‘sold’ to western sponsors, being commodified and I felt that some sense of that should be presented in a piece about them. Faay has been with the orphanage most of her life, she arrived when she was about eighteen months, she is now two months short of of her twenty second birthday; I’m not sure of what age the orphans are asked to leave the orphanage, whether Fayy has now left, and if so what is she doing now.

I wanted to depict a more chaotic life for Faay, I was keen to show how, even a s young girl she was made to look attractive, the use of her photograph, the use of her ‘apparent’ text – “I Love You” – co-joined with her apparent Thai’ text and her own mark. These are less than pretty images, and whilst the assignment asks for abstract imagery or ideas, I think that these are maybe too realistic.

 

Another, this one of Dtaohu:

Dtaohu

Dtaohu

Much more disconcerting!

More work on assignment 2

Generating some more images in preparation for assignment two. I spent some time with the Thai Children’s Charity at a reception on London recently – link here – where I met their Chairman and their Chief Executive and began the discussion regarding background information. I haven’t heard back yet, but I’m told that at least one of the images from assignment one has been included in their latest newsletter:

Shelter

Shelter – has been used on the latest newsletter for the Thai Children’s trust

These new images – below and the top one – all incorporate text of one sort or another (except the opening image). This first image is about equivalency, how the toy is deemed of similar worth to the orphan Jieb. I have used a lot of Jieb’s background in these images – she is close to the Gross’ – and has, probably in the same way as all the orphans, a quite poignant story.

Three versions of a similar image – links to do with physical disability. I am inclined to think the last one, with the ‘ghosted’ image of Jieb is the strongest graphically, but that isn’t really what I’m after. I think I want to present images that the viewer can build their own narrative around it; using the elements within the frame to construct for themselves. More and more I am becoming concerned that these images may be too descriptive, not ambiguous (?) enough or perhaps are too accomplished in their delivery – too much like advertising shots. This next one I have deliberately tried to counter this trend:

I am a little concerned though with this image that the obviousness of the ‘cutting’ of the text still places the image in a commercial setting. The bootee was made made for me by Ann Gross when I had asked if her knitting circle had any to give – she felt it was easier to make them than ask!

This one is further again along the abstract route:

I quite like the clear addressing of the letter to the Gross’, and the butterfly image is narratively opaque, the viewer has to contrive a connection between the words and the image in the frame.

Back to the commercial world with these last images:

I’ll have to down-select and prepare for the assignment soon and I’m hopeful that I can get some feedback at the TV group meeting soon.

Assignment 2, work in progress

I had a long and interesting meeting this week with Ann and Carl to discuss the project and to try and find a way forward. I am continually amazed and humbled by the amount that these two give – they never say no to an opportunity to talk about the work they do and they seem very keen to provide support to this work. I have a loose notion about how the two countries interweave their selves with gifts and kindness and asked if they could provide any Thai’ property they have brought back to the UK and I also talked and asked about the ‘knitters’. The ‘knitters’ are two groups of women who have volunteered to knit for the children in Thailand, principally baby clothes and toys. I also wanted to work with other artefacts that come from Thailand and try and bring them together with the UK objects to develop the narrative. What I didn’t expect was the level and depth of the material that Ann and Carl provided. I have started to bring these objects and words together to try and develop my response to the brief in assignment 2.

Maybe being a parent/grandparent has made this piece of work more emotional, probably, but so far this part of the work has, and is, quite moving. I am very concerned that this piece doesn’t become mawkish or trivialise the plight of these children in Thailand.

This work to date is  the start. I have been looking at merging these objects, knowing that I will be supplied with some more material shortly. I have also been asked to accompany the Gross’ to a reception in London on Tuesday evening, which will celebrate some of the work the charities that they work with have achieved, with some Thai workers who are in the UK for the event. I expect this will inform me as well.

Faay

Jieb

The Thai’ script is in Jieb’s hand, a direct personal connection to the image. The type written script is a direct copy from the sponsor documents that provide information on those who are in need of sponsorship. A polio sufferer and orphaned after her father left her mother before Jieb was born and the mother abandoned her to find work in Bangkok.

Taxi

Taxi

This taxi toy was made in one of the orphanages and sold to tourists, a piece of trivia which collides with the details of KoKo.

Cardigan

Cardigan

The text, handwritten by Faay who is a girl sponsored by the Gross’. The note, for which I have a translation was written after the Gross’ visited (most sponsors tend not to travel to Thailand to see the children (and adults) they sponsor). The cardigan is one of a batch that the ‘knitters’ have donated. I have asked for some additional clothing to be made to help create a more complete set of clothing.

Handicraft

Handicraft

Only certain orphanages work with HIV infected children. These handicrafts are sold to visitors and tourists, though it has to be said that the children are kept away from the tourists. I wanted to bring a child to the visitor, the strong declaration by this child, that these trite objects are created by, to help keep them fed and supplied with the medicines and provisions that will provide them a life expectancy unavailable to them without donations.

Badger

Badger

The strongest text – taken directly from the details of the orphan – merged with the one of the softest images. The badger is one of a set of woollen knitted toys that are made and sent to Thailand. The toys used to be made for UK hospitals but are now not wanted due to H & S issues apparently.

work5c2

More hand-made toys from Thailand merged with actual texts and translations.

Lifec2

This matinee jacket sits on a bar of soap. The soap is made by ex-prostitutes who are trying to break free by learning a trade.

Noot

Noot

No attempt has been made to provide the translation, wondering whether the absence of a recognisable script helps or subverts the intent of the image. I have the translation.

This will be updated a few times before submission. Any thoughts would be gratefully appreciated.

More on assignment two

I plan to move the ‘Echoes Group’ project over to G&M which means that the work on identity will go there and I have already done some more work in that area which I need to write up soon. I have been thinking about the Gross’ and thinking about how to develop the work done so far into a piece of work that will continue through this whole course. I don’t know what the work will be and at this range it seems daunting, but I want to give it a go.

Last night I met with the Ann and Carl and asked firstly whether they would be up for having me around them for the next six months or so – I felt sure they would be accommodating, as they are very kind by nature – and, after they agreed we started to talk. A little after eleven pm I left them with my head spinning somewhat….perhaps the wine helped!

I had the notion that I needed to understand what it is they support in Thailand, the various projects, the geographical locations, the difficulties they face and to ‘converse’ in the hope that something – a narrative of some sort – would start to emerge.

Well the first thing I learned was that there are four sites, I had thought there were three.

Nong Khai, up the far north east of the country and in the valley of the Mekong River. Orphanage and immigration school. HIV and other issues.

Mae Sot, or rather Ma La where the refugee camp is. I found this link here that gives an overview and a lot of photographs, the sort that I’m being encouraged not to repeat I think. It is situated on the Thai/Burmese (Myanmar) border and is one of around nine refugee camps in the area. The full gamut of issues compounded with problems associated with a large number of mine related injuries.

Rayong and Pattaya are both in the central tourist area and have concomitant issues, large numbers of orphans many of whom have health issues.

So, four sites that I have agreed with Ann and Carl that I would interview them on specifically – so that I can compartmentalise the sites and get to grips with some of the issues surrounding them.

I started to talk about how I wanted to look at links – objects, communications, ‘things’ that go between the two sets of peoples – I started to realise that I wanted to find direct personal connections that link individual. Ann showed me some hand written letters, in Thai’ but with an English translation, that they had received. There was also some knitting that had been done by two knitting circles that are donated to the them. There are also medicines that are collected and shipped over. However most of what goes East is money, donations that are provided to the local sites for them to use to bring relief to the suffered. Coming West are communications and they seemed willing to send stuff East for me for them to be sent back with ‘marks’ on them. These ‘marks’ would probably be writing and, as suggested by my tutor, I may need to be directive about what is written.

I’m concerned that I have uncovered (for me that is) a mountain underneath what might have been a mole hill in Carl’s allotment, that as I start to dig that what I unearth might be too large for me to cope with. I am also becoming aware of the awe in which I hold for these two and the work they involved in. They have invited me to a reception on June 11th in London where some Thai’s are being celebrated for their work, it will be a place where I can get other perspectives, meet other personages that are involved in the same work and, I suspect, enable me to get a broader picture of what Ann and Carl are involved in.

Into the deep I jump.