Tuesday, May 26, 2020

'Last to Sea' #10 : Explaining the Expansion?

 A comment on Communication and the Artist's Vision

image by Kelly Probyn-Smith

So there it is.
What do you see?

A big green net with some shadowy stuff inside.

Ok, go over and peak a bit closer.

Ok - that is obviously a shark!
And some dancing small fish shapes.
Hey, is that a horseshoe crab?
Some kind of weird plant like thing at the back. And a lumpy plate of come sort.
What is that strange shell like thing?
And no idea what the cluster of what looks like flowers is supposed to be?
Oh, yea, there is a pile of plastic bottles over the top.

Anything on that name plate?

Ah. 'Last to SEA', very funny, obviously a pun.

I don't get it...

As those who are regular readers may have glimpsed, that those that actually know me well understand : I have a love / hate relationship with 'the Arts'. Most specifically the tension between the 'practical' (Craft) and the 'conceptual' (Art).
There is a long discussion (read argument) about the difference between the useful and the symbolic, especially in the Modern Age.

It can be said that 'the Purpose of Art is to Communicate'.
Does that mean that for a work to be considered 'successful', it needs to clearly communicate the idea of the Artist?

On that scale, is 'Last to Sea' successful?
Is it enough, now that the work is presented to the viewing public, for me to just stand back? Take an attitude of 'Well, if you don't understand, that is just your failing!' ( 1)

I would be the very first to fully admit that some of my past offerings at the Elora Sculpture Project have been merely 'pretty', or just 'eye catching' (consider 'Spears of Summer' in 2014). On some, the under laying concepts have been simple (consider 'Barrel Turbine' in 2016). Or if more complex, may not have been easily apparent (consider 'Legacy' in 2018) ( 2 )

If any readers have been wondering why I have written a quite extensive set of commentaries on the thought behind, and technical production of, 'Last to Sea'? ( 3 )

Last year, for the first time since my initial contribution to the Elora Sculpture Project in 2013, I was able to attend the opening reception. Almost all the participating artists were there, and as we did a walk through of all the submitted sculptures, each of us gave a brief overview of our pieces. I personally found the whole process extremely interesting. As you might guess, some pieces were more technical than conceptual. Often I found the intended meanings not clear on first seeing the work. It was obvious to me that much would be lost to the viewing public without these background explanations.

To me, the obvious method to provide the public with these further insights was through use of the internet. ( 4 ) This year, with the threat of COVID-19 looming, the ESP people had specifically asked the contributing artists to make attempts to record their individual working process as each sculpture was created.

'Last to Sea' involved considerably more research in detail than past submissions. This a process that really started for me with the 2019 proposal 'Last to See', a work framed around the concept of past Mass Extinction events, leading to the current Holocene event. (In this, I had started applying the kind of research I normally undertake for artifact reproductions and experimental archaeology, both much detailed on this blog, to artistic works.)
Much of that research would remain totally invisible. The normal viewer of 'Last to Sea' is unlikely to be able to identify the individual species represented, beyond the two most obvious, 'Shark' and 'Horseshoe Crab'. Although 'Abalone' is a very faithful depiction and 'Tiny Fishes' are recognizably Capelin, I would not expect most people to recognize these lesser known species.
And for the reason these specific types have been illustrated?
Honestly, it was my own shock on finding out during the research phase these were all the Endangered List that made me pick these species in the first place (I mean - SHARKS! Who would have imagined?)

One final aspect, mentioned above, is the current evolution of COVID-19, with all the impacts from this pandemic on each of us right now. ( 5 )
The normal installation deadline for the ESP each year is around May 1st. As we moved from the jury notification (typically about February 15) into the production phase over March, the increasing closures effected many of the contributing artists. Many working in more complex materials needed access to other skilled trades to progress from initial stages to finished objects (think of those working in bronze, who normally would make a master pattern, but rely on foundries for the physical castings). With so many suppliers deemed 'non-essential' and thus closed, getting specific raw materials hampered others. ( 6 )
Because of these factors, the installation date for this year had been pushed back several times.

There of course was the over riding problem of pure economics. The individual situation here for participating artists I suspect varied considerably. Curiously, those who supported themselves full time from their artistic work might have been in the best possible situation, as most certainly I found myself qualifying for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit. Those with 'regular day jobs' likely found their personal economic situations widely different under work reductions or outright closure, even complete job loss for some.
A factor to note here is that none of the participating artists involved in the ESP are actually paid at all for their work. Each of us must front the production costs, as well as provide the creation time required for our proposed contribution, as well as undertaking the installation and removal. Each of us in effect 'lends' the completed work to Elora for the length of the presentation (normally May 1 to October 31). It is true that the sculptures can be offered for sale (with delivery only after the full presentation period). Realistically, I don't think purchases of the works displayed actually are all that common. ( 7 )

So personally, I have considered the funds I have received (thankfully!) from the CERB have gone to support my ability to undertake the creation of this year's contribution to the Elora Sculpture Project. ( 8 )
For me undertaking this (extensive!) documentation of this specific project is also part of a responsibility I feel against those CERB funds.

The previous blog articles covering the research behind, design concepts and physical production of 'Last to Sea' :

Friday, January 10, 2020
‘Last to Sea’
Friday, April 10, 2020
(Part 2) CERB and ESP
Saturday, April 11, 2020
'Elkhorn' : ESP
Thursday, April 30, 2020
'Last to Sea' #2 - Abalone
Saturday, May 02, 2020
'Last to Sea' #3 - Horseshoe Crab
Saturday, May 09, 2020
'Last to Sea' #4 - Sea Turtle
Monday, May 18, 2020
Tuesday, May 19, 2020
'Last to Sea' # 6 : Tiny Fishes
Thursday, May 21, 2020
'Last to Sea' # 7 - Shark
Monday, May 25, 2020
'Last to Sea' # 9 : INSTALLED

It should also be noted that the typical blog posting in this series has taken between 2 - 4 hours to research, write and compose.

( 1 ) I always remember something my instructor had told us during one of my first year design courses at Ontario College of Art :
'Inspiration without Technique is masturbation'
I would suggest adding to this :
'Concept without Communication is meaningless self indulgence.'

( 2 ) Or in at least one case, an outright technical failure, 'Tipping Point' in 2019, where I certainly failed on the mechanical workings. There was a more complex set of symbolism with this work, which honestly I don't think was communicated at all to the viewer.
Embarrassingly, feel that piece failed in both the aspects given above!

( 3 ) In past years, I have always provided a version of the all the original submissions, usually expanded with extra comments. There is at least a second posting, showing the final piece as installed (allowing comparison to the initial concept drawing). Often there will be some 'work in progress' additions as well. Contributing artists are allowed to submit two different proposals every year, and most years I have published the description of a second (unused) sculpture.

( 4 ) Over the last several years, as my own proposals for the ESP have become more and more 'social commentaries', I have been suggesting that the general ESP web site be expanded to include just this kind of detailing. At the very least, each original submission the the jury had included both a 'Description of the Work' and an 'Artist's Statement'.

( 5 ) I am certain it will be recognized, looking back in years to come that the evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus will be seen to be Human Impact / Climate Change story. Too many of us, altering too much of the Natural World.

( 6 ) Here at the Wareham Forge, a combination of relatively simple materials (industrial steels of various forms) and core level equipment combined with habits born of a rural location and a lifetime pattern of stockpiling supplies. My normal situation here is to keep considerable steel stocks on hand, if for no other reason than I work best when I can let inspiration, not available materials, determine what I create. Blacksmithing at core uses the simplest of tools, the production of the individual components within 'Last to Sea', used mainly hand tools, with the exception of an oxy-propane torch and a MIG welder (themselves long standing equipments here).
The only material I did have to purchase this year was a sheet of 2 x 2 square wire grid.

( 7 ) I have been honoured to have had a design selected for each of the years from 2013 to the present. That is a total of 7 sculptures. There is time invested for design, remember that I typically submit two designs each year. Each has taken on average three weeks to build (sometimes more). At least for me, materials costs have never been large, again typically in the $100 - $200 range for each.
I have sold one sculpture of this seven ('Armoured Fish' in 2015)

( 8 ) For a longer discussion of CERB and the Artist, see two related blog postings :

Thursday, April 09, 2020
'Working' during a Pandemic ...
Friday, April 10, 2020
(Part 2) CERB and ESP


No comments:


February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

COPYRIGHT NOTICE - All posted text and images @ Darrell Markewitz.
No duplication, in whole or in part, is permitted without the author's expressed written permission.
For a detailed copyright statement : go HERE