Evaluation, Critique and Practice
Roz Hall: 2004
Thursday 2 December
I travelled to Watershed Media Centre where I met Folake Shoga, Leiza McLeod from Kuumba, and the artists; Gloria Ojulari Sule, Jenny Davis and Dalila Hamdoun; from the Calling project.
Folake had arranged to use a video camera to record the discussion and we agreed that we would transcribe the useful parts of the discussion. Folake had also written a list of questions relating to the project organisation, to get feedback from the artists about the support they have received. We intended for these questions to be tabled with the artists in the afternoon, but were happy to be flexible about the structure of the day.
We talked about the quantitative information required from ACE and Folake outlined how this was easily achievable.
We introduced ourselves to each other and talked about the purpose of the day. The artists explained how they came to be involved in the Calling project, and how their practice had led to their interest in the project.
We had an interesting conversation about the ‘ends’ of projects, and how creative processes tend to be more organic, whereby the work in which artists are engaged is likely to continue beyond the parameters of any one project, at least in terms of a continuation of the ideas that have been stimulated. I talked about how diaries, and mapping what’s been done through dialogue, were useful ways of reflecting on what’s happened, in order to identify the significant strands of the process, for the artist, so that they might interrogate them further. I explained how I had developed rationales for future work on the basis of what was interesting about ongoing and past work, and outlined how this allows for the identification of a rationale that can be supported by evidence from the diary and other exchange.
We talked about this as sustaining practice between projects, and how we might trace what has been significant about any one process or project.
Gloria said that keeping a diary had been one of the most valuable learning experiences of the project and that the diary was so useful she would continue to use it. She outlined how the diary works, for her, to anchor a sense of what she has achieved, and said that it would be difficult to work without keeping a diary now. There was a general agreement about this from the other artists.
The artists also agreed that the essays on the web site were a useful
element of the project, and commented that because the essays were broad they were of relevance to different strands of the artist’s work.
The artists commented that they felt nurtured by the process and the
There was a discussion about looking at each other’s diaries and how this was a (potentially) useful mechanism by which to communicate with other black artists.
It was highlighted that all three resident artists in the Calling project are women, and this was raised as a significant point about the project.
I suggested to the group that it would be useful to focus
next on what has happened in the first part of the project, so that we can
then think about what needs to happen between now and the ‘end’
of the project, in March, and what additional mechanisms or support might
Jenny then showed us her work on line. Her work is about how the real life experience of Black women, in terms particularly of a sense of self and autonomy, informed by life experience and partially articulated by feminism, is so much at odds with current popular and highly public notions of Black culture. She explained that there is a huge difference between her proposal and where she is now. Her main concern is that there might be a disparity between what she wanted to achieve and what it will look like.
Jenny talked about technical support and how, through using the technology, and becoming more familiar with certain software, she is gaining a sense of what is possible. She told the group that her starting point was a 3D interactive quilt, whereby you press on different panels of the quilt and different stories appear. She explained she is using the quilt because of how it is understood, as emblematic of women’s cultural histories.
Jenny said that she found the technology frustrating at times and that lots of the process of working with it was about trial and error.
We talked about the difference between making with real objects, as with a quilt, and making using digital technology.
Folake commented on this and talked about how digital technology can be seen to have a de-skilling impact, and asked if this was something that is generally evidenced in a shift in social interactions, whereby formal social skills are one of the skills that technology could be seen to have had negative impact upon.
Jenny said that she thought she was working in a way that invited technology in, but was not subsumed by it.
Jenny said that her work has a feminist sub text, which is conveyed through a personal narrative. Her main concern at this point in time is about whether or not the work will aesthetically satisfy certain visual demands that she would place on the outcome.
Jenny also explained that she had originally intended to talk to lots of
different women, but that as the work has developed she had narrowed down to focus the work more specifically. She explained how she has been working primarily with her mother and daughter to stimulate exchange and generate content.
Jenny said that she currently feels too immersed in the work to be able to step back from it, but that this might be easier at the end of the project.
Jenny reiterated that her main concern is about whether
she will be able to gain enough skills in using the technology to realise
the visual quality that she is aspiring to.
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Dalila said she is using the diaries to document a personal narrative, in the hope that through this she will better understand other people’s stories. She noted that using a laptop can help to create a more intimate environment, one in which the limited space between the user and the screen (as well as the screen itself), fosters self-examination or introspection. She also made the interesting point that the atmosphere of intimacy and privacy generated specifically by this technology may in some cases foster expectations, bordering on the sleazy, that affect the prior interpretation audiences may bring to the work (which the work may, or may not, engage with, subvert or challenge).
She talked about a sense of logic that informed the development of her work and explained that her work comprises of four portraits relating to issues she’s concerned with. Dalila mentioned staying true to the internal logic of the work as it develops as a way to negotiate through the minefield of competing systems of aesthetics and value involved in working in a new medium with unfamiliar outcomes and audience responses. There was a discussion about framing: how digital space frames work differently from gallery space, and how context dictates nuance, tone and impact, and also adds different meanings; and how artists can choose to use context.
The artists questioned their methods of assessing their work while in
process, and how this had been disrupted by engaging with a new technology: it is much more difficult to anticipate what the impact of the work will be when using a new medium. This was also highlighted as an important aspect of the project. Being open to the uncertainty of the end result when using a new medium, an uncertainty which runs parallel to the artistic uncertainty inherent in making something concrete from an ideal, was discussed as a possible advantage to process.
Dalila highlighted two interesting themes that have emerged for her in
exploring the potential of the digital medium. Firstly, she said, she has
realised the significance of the potentially temporary nature of the digital image. Secondly, she has realised the potentially private nature of image production using digital technology, because of the lack of external agency involved in that production. This aspect of digital image making, whereby there is no need to involve anyone else in the processing and printing of the images, was an element that she thought was potentially very interesting.
She highlighted the concerns and issues facing her at this point in the
project. She explained how her fears were partly fuelled by the public
nature of publishing work on the internet, and the way in which things could be taken out of their original context, duplicated, and changed, thereby misrepresenting the original intention of both artist and interviewee. In the current sensitive global situation, many Muslim people in the West feel they are subject to, and vulnerable to, gross prejudice and misrepresentation with potentially catastrophic real life consequences. Dalila explained that this had made finding people to collaborate with very difficult. She explained that this concern was most significant in relation to the portrait that explores the wearing of a veil.
She articulated some of the ideas informing the work as being about the
male gaze, and the dominance of the male gaze in Western culture.
Dalila intends to stimulate an audience into considering how the wearing of a veil disrupts the Occidental expectation for the male gaze to be dominant.
We discussed the male gaze and how it is such a naturalised element of
contemporary Western cultural interaction that it continually goes
unquestioned and unnoticed. Dalila said that the veil acts to deny the male gaze, and that it is this which makes wearing a veil uncomfortable for the West. She talked about the relevance of work by Laura Mulvey.
We agreed with Dalila that the challenge that the veil presents, to the
expectation for the male gaze to be dominant, is one that threatens to
disrupt patriarchal assumptions. We agreed that this explains why the veil has been used to represent the ‘other’, and hence has become a current target for much ‘moral’ outrage.
The group continued to discuss the male gaze, and how it did or didn’t
relate to sexuality. I suggested that even when images are made for women by women, it is still the case that some heterosexual men believe it is really for them, so that the male gaze is still present, as a known and anticipated factor, in terms of how that work is made.
Dalila explained that, through collaborative production, she wanted to make a piece of work in which, lots of voices were audible, but the viewer can choose to press certain buttons to make individual voices louder or quieter. The viewer thereby determines which voice they hear the loudest.
She explained that the four portraits were all concerned
with how the
construction of identity relates to roles, such as ‘mother’, and how
identity reflects that which might be seen as ‘missing’.
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Gloria then presented examples of her work. She showed us images of a shelf installation, which is one of the elements that she is developing. The work will be an installation that will include paintings and video, and will have a layer of sounds as a background. In assembling discrete blocks of media and materials, Gloria is echoing the theme of ‘pixillation’ as being indicative of digital processes.
Gloria said that the process had been about matching ideas with the
potential of the technology.
We discussed the way in which it was important to know how to use the technology being explored in this project, to have a sense of the potential it has for your own practice. We agreed that in some respects it was more important to know what was possible, than it was to be able to do it, and that employing others to do the practical elements of work using technology was not necessarily an issue. We talked about how this related to Tracey Emin’s comments on her recent appearance on Desert Island Discs.
Gloria showed us the movie that she has made using digital media as part of the work. Different images, of the sea, in different geographical locations, have been brought together seamlessly, to indicate the similitude between coastlines.
Gloria said she was working with people living in the
same environment as herself, and that she was not dealing with issues so
much as portraying an environment. Getting a good space to show the work
was going to be very important factor.
We agreed that we needed to reconsider our plans for further evaluative
activities, as the day had passed so quickly, without chance to even consider
Folake’s questions, or do any mapping exercises. I talked about the
mapping process, and how I thought it might be useful at this stage to map
what has happened in order to identify the most pertinent ways forward.
I suggested that the artists could do this mapping individually after today’s
session and that I could discuss the maps with them at a future date.
We agreed that it had been an interesting and enjoyable day.