Research point 1: Sue Tompkins

How do ‘form’ and ‘content’ in Tompkin’s work affect each other? For example, if the way the artist uses nervous energy, rhythm, repetition and movement to deliver her words were changed, would it have the same meaning? Do you think the attempt to separate the two is helpful in understanding work? How much of the form in the work constitutes the content? Could they be the same thing?
Summarize your arguments in your learning log.

I found videos of the artist performing on Vimeo website and looked at a performance, Lethrin Through the Grille, done at White Columns space, New York. Looking at another performance, ‘Hallo Welcome to Keith Street’, 2011, Performed at The Modern Institute, Osborne Street, Glasgow, 2011 I really see her bodily movements is showing emotions of nervousness. Using this to show as if overwhelmed by thought……reminds me of a shy introvert person reciting music or poems… but it also leaves me in a void of words being performed with no coherent understanding, is it how we talk, hear, listen…..how its being perceived at the other side.? More information on her performances was found on Instagram. Using the voicing of random words rhythmically in her performances is part of her act which needs the body movements and repetition and reading from the script (text based, part of the artwork) as part of the expression of nervousness and other emotions we could have with speech and thought.  Apparently she uses a typewriter to create words and new phrases, and by repetition she re-contextualizes the words into new meanings.

I feel the words cannot be removed from the movement in her performance…it is the contributing to the importance of the words which is the form and content. Looking at the viewers I can see there is an interaction taking place, but how they find meaning in this is open to interpretation. It made me ask myself more about the word meaning, how we use the word meaning in language with endless interpretations. I read more about her work process in an interview a journalist had with her. The question was about relating fragments of words into an acoustic medium. ” I really don’t know. I think I think in tangents. I wouldn’t say I’m the most linear thinker. So it’s quite habitual or normal for me to sort of start here and then start to go off and then keen on going out. Which has its pros and its cons. In real life, I think it can be really annoying. Just in normal conversation, my boyfriend might say, just stick to the point! Can you just – What were you saying again? But I think in my work, I do that a lot. I usually leave mistakes – definitely when I’m looking at the text. I enjoy mistakes. Things that take you in a different direction. I want to say something that has suggestion in it, or atmosphere, or tone. And then I like to distort it in some way. I always allow for confusion and mistakes and change.

That was the first time I found something that made sense to me – even though I didn’t know quite what anyone else would think of it. So my degree show was about six hours long. These collated dictaphone tapes that were played in front of this big sculptural thing. And I haven’t ever listened back to them. But I think if I did – it’s not that it would sound like the performance now, but this fragmentation and distortion or gaps, I think that that’s still there.” Sue Tomkins

In a way I relate to the idea, as I can go in many directions at one time, like talk and forget to finish the sentence, whilst jumping onto a next idea…..not something I feel enjoy sharing, maybe she brings these ‘faults’ out into the open.  I like to see them as fragments  – open to interpretation, as well as a practice of repetition – very much as the work of Fiona Tan and  On Kawara I looked at during Part One. Why is it art, could be a question – it is a performance, by an artist who also sings in a rockbound and paints. I am asking these questions as I see a work process of repetition and deconstructing words in a performance with words. The artist is also using decontextualising during the performance. It made her something ‘more’ – a shift of artistic practice is seen in her work. I found the work to relate to surrealism of an artist like Max Ernst.

She interrogates in a very fragile humane way.

screen grab of a performance

Reference list
Tate website, Art Now: Live work Sue Tomkins In, viewed online : https://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/art-now-live-work-sue-tomkins

Barry, Robert,(2018). The Mystery of Things: and interview with Sue Tomkins, The Quietus.com website, accessed online, https://thequietus.com/articles/24427-sue-tomkins-interview-borealis-festival-glasgow-international

Content is the glimpse of something, an encounter like a flash. It’s very tiny – very tiny content…William de Kooning

Research point 2:

Find two art reviews of an exhibition, one that you would describe as using deductive mode of interpretation and another that uses a descriptive one as these terms are discussed in Sontag’s essay. Preferably a review of an exhibition that you have seen recently, if not, one that you would like to see. Compare these to each other and to your own experience of the work (from the exhibition or from images of the work). Reflect upon the comparisons in your sketchbook.

Descriptive interpretation
I viewed an online press release on the website of the Everard Read Gallery in London. It is about an exhibition which ran from June 1 to July 10, 2020.  The curator, together with 10  female artists, all from South Africa, attempt to use their works and the gallery space as a provocation on  Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation.  The website has a video I could view to get a feel of how the exhibition was experienced. They used a good narrator to exchange Sontag’s ideas, used music and good video camera footage to show the works in the space of the gallery. The viewer is invited to explore their thoughts on separating the genesis and content of the work they are viewing, from the art work itself. The curator feels strongly that the ‘urge’ to interpret can detract from and diminish an artwork. It seems there was an attempt made to support the power which lies in how art makes the viewer feel.
On the website I could also navigate to view the different exhibition rooms to view the work,  view the photos  of the works separately and read  about the artists biography. I do agree I miss out on the more tactile experience of standing in front of the work and seeing textures, mark making and even get an idea of scale of the works. I liked the use of  photos of the outside of the gallery – it placed it well into the space of the where it happened
In the catalogue essay I read that journalist and art critic, Hazel Freidman, argues that in some respect Sontag’s quest is ‘doomed to magnificent failure’.  It is argued that it is impossible to separate the genesis of an artwork from the artwork itself. She writes that that she does not think Sontag was wrong to argue that to interpret can detract from and diminish an artwork – she sees the power of art in HOW it makes us feel.
When Friedman discuss some of the work with regards to her statement on separating the work from its genesis and context she refers to current depictions of perspectives the artists represent which lies within subcultures, like sexuality, otherness – how would one have a sensory experience if you could not know about the artists personal history in these confrontations depicted in the work? If we do not allow the viewer of art into these personal spaces of the artist, we miss on an intellectual access to examine with the artist and artwork discourses which is necessary from challenging our own historical distortions and imposed hegemonies.

Social Media reaction on outdoor exhibition

The exhibition organised by Fyn Arts Hermanus, and curated by Gavin Young is called Sculpture on the Cliffs and opened on 22 August 2020 in the town of Hermanus. It contains site specific art by 12artists and will run till June 2021. Hermanus is a lovely coastal town, with a long history connected to the sea – fishing and whale viewing. The art works are installed on a cliff road that runs along the coastline of this town.

The theme for this year’s Sculpture on the Cliffs is ‘Vertical Animal’, as Emeritus Professor Gavin Younge, curator of the exhibition emphasises, “That’s Animal in the generic sense – as opposed to Vegetable and Mineral, although of course both are present in the diverse materials used. The aim was to allow the artists maximum freedom of expression and interpretation in exploring our relationship with nature.”(website of FynArtsHermanus). The site presents several challenges to artists creating large works. No drilling is permitted into the paving or rocks on the cliffs, the pieces will be subjected to extreme weather for the year they are on display and there is always the risk of vandalism. An interesting factor is the effect the environment will have on the artwork. It will often change character altogether when in place, as compared to when it was still in the artist’s studio.

A local artist/sculpture, Nanette Ranger, shared her work, The Hunt, the installation process, a video showing the making, as well as the concept for the work in the days leading up to the opening of the exhibition on Instagram. She informed her viewers about the mythology of the goddess Diana and Actaeon – in the myth Diana transforms Actaeon into a deer and his huntings dogs do not recognise him, and kill him. The artists said she works with this myth and the symbolism of the hunter. It references humankind’s increasingly challenging relationship with the natural world. She replaced the European deer with a local antelope, a Kudu, as an authentic and beloved South African symbol. She writes….”the message of the work is clear. If humanity does not find a way to align itself with the natural world it will fall prey to its own folly” (Instagram on 19Aug 2020). One could also view the FynArtsHermaus site to see and read about the works of the other 11 artists.

The Hunter, Sculpture by Nanette Ranger, 2020

The reaction from her ‘followers’ on Instagram was overwhelming positive, but one person made a comment :”Looks something like satanism.” The artist replied that the work has no religious connotations, its in keeping with the theme “VerticalAnimal” and that the work explore our problematic relationship with our environment. She also mentioned that it did not occur to her to view it from a religious point of view. (the interpretation belong to the viewer?)

On 21 Aug 2020 the artists writes on her Instagram :’Apparently there is a great furore about this sculpture of mine!” She continues to write that there a threats to vandalise , and or destroy and forcibly remove the work. I tried to find an article in a newspaper and used the online article from the local newspaper, The Village News to reference her comments.

Copy from the local newspaper regarding the public outcry against the work:

Given this lively sense of joy and energy, as well as the world-class quality of the work, the furore that has broken out around one work, ‘The Hunt’ by Nanette Ranger, can be put down to nothing else but some form of lockdown lunacy by a small group of local residents. This sculpture of a naked woman with the mask of a kudu on her head (what could be more relevant in the time of Covid-19?) has called forth not only a torrent of scurrilous invective, but criminal threats of injury to both the sculpture and the exhibition organisers.

Gavin Younge is speechless. “Clearly, these people have completely misunderstood the intention of the piece which is based on classical Greek mythology. I have no objection to art criticism when a piece’s success or failure is based on merit; it is certainly not unusual. But this emotional outburst on social media is utterly irrational. In fact, I find it depressing that this intimidatory attitude of members of the Hermanus public is receiving so much coverage. Can you imagine what message it is sending to the rest of the world? And sadly, it is drawing attention away from the excellent work on display.” Ironically, this is surely an example of the human animal at its most illogical, narrow-minded and mean-spirited – and of how deeply we have become estranged from our natural environment. As it is, we are doing our best to wipe off the face of the earth some of the most beautiful and strange creatures the Great Creator wrought for our delight.

I think the power and value of social media should not be underestimated. I think it is apt to add the following image, a screenshot from Instagram, to put more weight behind my thoughts.

Research point 3

Gaining an understanding of what you do and being able to talk about it are skills that develop with your practice. For some artists, this constitutes a natural part of the making process, for others, it may be necessary at a later stage in order to deliver an artists’ talk or work with a gallery. It can also be the case that certain insights about the work and its motivations only come into view once considered in relation to other work – as it becomes a body of work, or perhaps months or many years after the work was made.

Research into the creative process of William Kentridge:

During August 2019 Zeitz MOCAA had an exhibition which was the largest ever survey exhibition of the work of William Kentridge, called, Why Should I Hesitate: Putting drawings to work. The work focussed mainly on the role his studio practice plays in his career. Here one sees the importance of process over product/procedure. In a way it reminds me of the work of Gerhard Richter, Atlas Project, which is part of the idea that bodies of work are often derived from fragments – thinking about the sketches, notes attached on the walls in the Kentridge Studio. I find myself taking the same pictures and making notes of landscapes – at different times, weather conditions, seasons.

The artist uses repeatedly drawing and erasing as a thinking process in his practice and also in his animations and video footage. He prefers to work with charcoal as this material suit his process and he prefers the monochromatic of the medium to that of color of paint, which in his case is not a medium one can use to think. One get a good idea of how his thinking informs him during his work process. (TheGuardian: September 2009) He talks about a field of transformation that happens in this process of drawing and erasing the charcoal from the paper or canvas. He does not see his work as a product of a logical argument:”…..well I’m going to do this drawing, and this drawing is this shape, and there’s this tree on someone’s head ..”in this interview with writer, he talks about his dad using cross-examination as logic to get an answer, and see how in his work, he avoids that type of discourse.

I understands the ambiguous relationship his work can have with the viewer and portrays himself in many of his work as a viewer as well. In this way it is about how he sees his life as an artist and how he tries to make sense of the world. He embraces uncertainty be not being afraid of taking risks as well as being an explorative worker.

In the Guardian ( Sept 2009) I read that Kentridge sees drawing as a non-verbal thinking process: “Drawing is a non-verbal thinking process. One of the things about charcoal drawing is that it is instantly alterable – you can change it as quickly as you can think. One wipe of a cloth and the image disappears or is smudged and you can rethink it. The flexibility of drawing is important. There’s an immediacy of drawing, of thinking in drawing, which is vital for me.” He describes his learning, which started as a student who felt uncomfortable with colour, experimenting with abstraction…”Now, in fact, a number of my drawings end up as non-recognisable smudges on paper – but they’ve had a route to get there that started with a connection to a representation of the external world. ” (Guardian:2009)

He produce different kinds of drawings.

  • Some are just drawings.
  • Others are done in the service of something else, to be animated,
  • used for a film,
  • opera or
  • a piece of theatre

Often, the finished drawing is different from what he says he in his head, when he started off, “and the better ones are those that don’t look anything like I thought they would. The ideas are not the driving force in drawing, nor is meaning. The need to make an image is the driving force. It isn’t like a writer who has a story they have to tell, and so they write a novel. It isn’t as if I have an image the world has to see. I have a need to be making marks on paper. Drawing isn’t a decision, it is a need.”

(https://johannesburgreviewofbooks.com/2018/04/04/the-argument-between-beauty-and-perhaps-war-william-kentridge-and-denis-hirson-in-conversation-in-johannesburg/)

MoMA talks,Spotlight: Artists set the stage: William Kentridge, 2 Sept 2020

Kentridge, W. (2014) ‘William Kentridge Interview: How We Make Sense of the World’ In: Youtube. com 01.10.14 [online] At:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G11wOmxoJ6U (Accessed on 27.06.18)
Kentridge, W. (2016) ‘The creative process of a master artist, William TEDX TALKS , Kentridge’ In: Tedx Talks 15.11.16 [online] At:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmaXqktW3A8 (Accessed on 27.06.18)


Research point 4

Listen to 3 different episodes of your choice of artists exploring their process in the studio:
‘In the Studio’ In: bbc.co.uk [online] At: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04vfd0x/episodes/player (Accessed on 27.06.18)

Nelson Makamo

I have been following this artist on social media platforms and have seen his work on exhibition at Circa, Johannesburg. He calls his studio in the heart of Johannesburg, the ‘most sacred place in the world’. His studio, an old warehouse, which he owns, is filled with work, and he has a relaxing area, as he works mostly at night, as he also enjoys the peaceful quieter moments. He works mostly with charcoal as drawings, takes his time, rework it later, can take years or months. He works on multiple works ….revisits the works in between. He likes to document moments – time. His building will become a place for more artists, with whom he collaborates ( music recording and fashion design).

He uses different pieces of charcoal and pastel(for colour)- has been collecting different tonal or density pieces, and he chooses the different types as they indicate what textures or tones he would like. He also use his fingers in his mark making process. He focus on young children and youths – moments of memories of childhood, challenges to overcome to become to enjoy life. His link to rural life is strong – the human connections of sharing and caring, feeling safe and living a plain life. He talks about how people that live and define life in a beautiful way. Drawing allows him to use any tool to be expressive-uses old cool drink can to draw with -he has many innovative tools. Colour is a personal choice which indicates mood and is used more on his paintings. He works with ink, likes gold ink as well as watercolour on paper and canvas.

He mostly paints his cousin – he has a strong bond with her.

With regards to exhibitions- he feels there is always something to add to a work….He feels you are never really prepared, and the pressure is part of his motivation to finish- to know when to stop, which he calls a beautiful struggle. He becomes very critical of himself and relies on his manager to help him make decisions on his final choices and prepare catalogues of his work.

Tomas Saraceno

The studio is an old factory, Berlin, with at least 8 departments, using collaboration with different disciplines, from scientist, architects, biologists, universities to other artists. His interest in the world around him is focussed on our better co-existence and understanding, from using spiders to using the sun as form of transportation. He feels we should learn from other species and use technology and science to develop. He talked about his interest in spiders from his childhood-he is a trained architect. They are looking at his Aerocene project, balloon sculptures and umbrellas which will float/levitate without the use fossil fuels, and is moved by the air. The search is to get to lighter as air, use solar energy, a GPS. One can use actually ‘play’ with these sculptures – get a short training launch a sculpture, record the flight, connect with someone else who then partner, pick it up and launch /fly it, eventually create this movement around the world, connecting people in this way. Art which works with an environmental, social and mental ecology. I think that this artist use knowledge in two ways, he needs it to make his enquiries, but he also comes up with new knowledge in this process. This is not the normal exploratory style of enquiry (playful creativity) he uses questions which relates to our existence, like scientific research.

Zanele Muholi

Photographer and visual activist who is a South African and a non-binary person. She works mostly with black and white portrait studies of the black LGBTI community where the model looks the viewer straight in the eye. She sees this as a life long project – memory of people. She is creating awareness and education about perception of LGBTI persons in the Black community. Her work comes from her own pain and survival. She wants to validate the self for her participants, who is Black and over the age of 18years. Participants are interviewed by earlier participants – she refers to the history of nameless photography of SA’s colonial history – talks about a non history for Black people. She uses public spaces for her shoots, it emphases that it is a place where everyone is allowed, but nature can be a challenging factor. She feels strong about an engaging energy that needs to be captured and the viewers approval. She does big size images, at least 150 x 150 cm – must make an impact, become important and part of writing an SA documentary history, to be visible without fear.


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