Below are some exmples of the research produced for during the Major Project. This enables all students to undertake a sustained, in-depth and theoretically informed practice-led research project exploring an area that will critically inform their studio practice.
The practice-led major research project evidences independent, critical and reflective thinking, focused and structured argumentation and rigorous independent research into the critical, theoretical and historical themes and concepts that inform and animate students’ practice .
︎ Awarded the Dissertation Prize ︎
Diaspora Art: Understanding and Navigating Spaces within Identity and “White Cubes”
In its attempts to conceptualise the diaspora, diaspora art possibly reduces the transcendental nature of this space and those who occupy it to an entirely aesthetic level. Whilst diaspora artists frequently “other” themselves and their culture by centralising the experience of their art around whiteness, regarding Western culture as white culture therefore establishing whiteness as the norm and constantly comparing their culture to it. Additionally, by frequently using images of their culture that are familiar to the Western, particularly white, eye to represent their experiences of the diaspora. Consequently, putting into question the role that the white gaze and its thirst for authenticity (the foreign and exotic) has in the demand for diaspora art. As well as its influence on the creation of the diasporic body’s sense of self and subsequently diaspora art. Yet the diaspora as a space, the diasporic body and identity are all incredibly complex. They cannot simply be represented using a pre-determined set of constructed images.
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Arcadia in Dudley
This essay acts as a supporting document to the accompanying documentary film 'From Little Sparta to Big Babylon' and aims to provide a wider historical context and insight into William Shenstone’s 18th-Century landscape garden The Leasowes. The film is the accumulation of one year of research in partnership with Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, and has led to extend my practice through a performance walk, lecture, and solo exhibition at the Pataphysical restaurant Le Roi Fou, Edinburgh, titled ‘I too was in Arcadia’ October 23rd - 23rd November 2019, finally leading up to a unique exhibition in 2020, showcasing the works of myself, William Shenstone and Ian Hamilton Finlay. The research undertaken has involved multiple primary and secondary sources, correspondence with the Dudley Metropolitan Council Archives, Library of Birmingham Archives, Little Sparta, while opening up dialogues with the people involved in the creation of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s public sculpture, The Assignation Seat, on the Leasowes site. I have been able to work alongside experts involved in The Leasowes and William Shenstone's estate while engaging in exchanges with Alec Finlay and Little Sparta.
The Leasowes is located in the Borough of Dudley, Halesowen, the neighbouring town of my home of Brierley Hill. One of the driving forces for the research is my connection to the findings of my research, discovering a new narrative to the place where I grew up, and reframing the sites I already thought I knew. Having studied Art & Design between 2012 to 2015 in Halesowen at the Shenstone campus located next to the Leasowes. I often took shortcuts through the St Baptist Church Of John graveyard, past the headstone of the poet William Shenstone, not to mention sometimes drinking in the William Shenstone Wetherspoons pub. Over the past year, it became clear that the much-forgotten garden of now was previously of national influence and significance over its 300-year life. With little material on The Leasowes and only one major study, this reframing of the garden in a contemporary art context along with historical narratives is new. The film plots the history and events surrounding Shenstone’s garden previously unconnected, its influences and serendipitous links to local affairs and international political scandals. Plotting a story through the gardens linked to the Leasowes, laid out in the connections between Thomas Jefferson’s landscape garden ‘Monticello’ in Charlottesville Virginia, Ian Hamilton Finlay’s garden ‘Little Sparta’, The Hanging Gardens of Babylon and Saddam Hussains prison compound. Simultaneously knitting together coincidental networks between the creation of the Iraqi Super Gun in 1990 and The Leasowes, inadvertently creating a conversation through time.
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Art in the Anthropocene: A case study of analysing artworks with anthropocentric theories
Karanraj Singh Boyal
The Anthropocene is the proposed name for our time, where human impacts have created mass disturbances to ecosystems, the dawn of this new epoch will leave a path of devastating effects for most organisms inhabiting our world, including Homo sapiens (Core Writing Team (IPCC), 2015). This debate has bled into art. This essay will focus on the latest theories that help us make sense of the Anthropocene through the lens of philosophers and writers and discuss how we can apply them to artworks responding to our troubled times. The artworks I have chosen either referenced these theories or can be viewed through these theories. The two artworks by Mary Mattingly (2013) and Fabrice Monteiro (2013), working with photography they unravel aspects of our current environmental crisis and providing visions of the future. The pieces explore our failure to foresee, understand and regulate our actions as a species, corroding the invisible fibres of complex symbioses of the Earth's ecosystems (Tsing, Bubandt, Gan, Swanson, 2017). These artworks have responded to some of the most publicised effects, such as waste pollution, climate change, and oil mining. This essay is not an attempt to explain and explore these topics in full depth as our effects on eco-systems are too vast, complex, and intertwined (Morton, 2010) refers to this as the mesh, which we will discuss into more depth later). Instead, this essay challenges and distorts our perception and relationships with non-humans, which will assist to decipher artworks.
Before engaging with the artworks, we need to understand how the Anthropocene came to be and why artists are responding and exploring it. As Lewis and Maslin (2018: 3-13) describe how our desires to achieve a more prosperous lifestyle, required ‘exterminated wildlife, cleared forests, planted crops, domesticated animals, released pollution, created new species, and even delayed the next ice age.’ (Lewis and Maslin 2018: 3) As a result, the Anthropocene is the by-product of our actions. For the Anthropocene to be classified as an epoch, there must be evidence in the Earth’s geological sediment to suggest we humans have become the driving force of global change. According to Lewis and Maslin (2018), they believe they have dated 1610 as the earliest ‘gold spike’ ‘marked by a short-lived but pronounced dip in atmospheric carbon dioxide captured in Antarctic ice-core, reaching its lowest level in this year.’ (Lewis and Maslin, 2018:13) They refer to this period as the ‘Orbis Spike’ (Lewis and Maslin, 2018:13) where humans caused a reduction of carbon dioxide as a result of the Europeans bringing diseases such as smallpox over to America ‘leading to the deaths of more than 500 million people’ (Lewis and Maslin, 2018: 13) a repercussion of this drastic decline in native population farmlands. Not maintaining the forests permitted a spike in flora growth where carbon dioxide was absorbed in at a rapid rate producing a cooling effect on the Earth. However, today we face the opposite effects where global warming could lead to the sixth extinction. Some developed countries like the UK are leading the way to net-zero carbon emission by having policies in place to rapidly reduce their emissions by 2050. Despite this the UK are still continuously missing targets as ‘efforts to reduce emissions have been undermined by unacceptable cutbacks and delays.’ (Weston, 2019, online). If this carries on, we will not meet the promised time limit of 2050. Artists are responding to effects like climate change, which are not yet being effectively controlled, which has raised more questions such as how our relationships and views on non-humans will be affected in the near future, which will be discussed later in more detail.
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Approaches to Collecting and Curating the Orphaned Object in Record Collecting
The term 'orphaned object' is employed here as a collective phrase to describe the following : the fragmentary archaeological object, a found piece provoking curiosity, inspiration and ultimately the creation of artwork. An object lacking contextual information, one that needs comprehensive, forensic research to make any sense. In the abstract it can be taken as a lost soul searching for home, sustenance and dignity. In this curatorial project I ask myself 'why conserve these fragments ?' as I examine my intentions in rehabilitating the objects and uncontextualized items exhumed during searches for records.
As a used record enthusiast scouring secondhand shops and car boots I became aware of these low art, valueless objects in great number. Although related to the activity of enjoying music (consuming music sounds so carnivorous), many fall outside the mainstream of record releases or may not even be records at all. Ranging from exotic spoken word albums, aluminium or plastic 'record your voice' discs, one-off acetate recordings, defunct record shop bags, record catalogues and empty record covers; often attractive, the latter often have messages written on them from previous owners which open up a whole uncharted territory in terms of social and cultural anthropology. Like buried time capsules and notions of hauntology where the past never really disappears from consciousness just from view, and the voices speak out in a different language from another age and world, examining this 'other' culture can often be uncomfortable.
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Our Creatures: How childhood Trauma Builds Worlds and Characters.
For some time now the character CatLong has been inside my head. They are a long orange cat, not much larger than my palm, who were initially conceived, mindlessly from a piece of clay; a three dimensional doodle. At first I didn't think much of the creature, but the summer after their birth, I became very attached to them and began to develop a sense of who they were. I found because of their blank appearance I was able to turn them into whoever I want and they were able feel anything I felt. Soon enough I realised that I was using CatLong as a coping mechanism, they became something I could project my neurosis onto and handle in a healthier way. It was at this time I had just entered my first ever relationship and had begun to realise the extent of my childhood trauma as it was no longer something I could repress, I needed an explanation as to why my body and mind were acting the way they were. I was also grappling with the fact that my memories were repressed, an act of the conscious removing an unpleasant memory and moving it to the unconscious where it is more likely to manifest within dreams subconsciously (Harrison and Wood 1993 pp55) and I had very little clarity with what I could actually recall. As a way of reconnecting and uncovering these memories, I turned to CatLong and developed a type of visual language with reoccurring characters and imagery to emulate my own life. This language gave me a space where I could play and construct installations based on paintings I made that acted as walkthroughs of scenes relating to my Trauma. The paintings of my reconstructed Memories and events were then psychoanalysed by myself in a loose manner, by deconstructing the imagery, with the aim of understanding what I was feeling beneath the surface. It felt natural for me to eventually explore CatLong's existence through a piece of creative writing as I've never been physically able to speak about what happened to me, even when I attempted counselling sessions, I would always sit there silent, with one word answers at most. So I took this as an opportunity to enact a form of speech therapy that was helpful to me, encouraged by Jane Gallops Ancedotal Theory and Sophie Tamas' Writing and Righting Trauma, mainly due to 'Our testimonial practices are bound by discursive norms that limit our ability to tell performative stories.' (2009 pp1) alone as up until now, I felt as if there was no space or voice 'appropriate' enough for my story, so have needed to decipher my own.
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︎︎︎ CatLong: A Memoir