Category Archives: Part1 Contemporary Art

Place by Tacita Dean and Jeremy Millar.

Exercise 1

This a discussion piece about the historic significance of place. The metaphoric and the literal definitions of place, specifically through the eyes of artists and philosophers. The comparison between place, space and time compares philosophers with creative writers and misses the personal aspect of place. Although I found the history of landscapes through the Middle Ages interesting, the remainder of the essay is an opinion piece comparing different ramblings. By the time I got to page 15 I was losing any concentration I had and when place died I almost cheered.

The essay is about how place is a personal exploration rather than a specific factual dimension. It requires space and time to clarify a place, and events can certainly define it. Whether an artist can accurately represent a place is an interesting discussion, and taking in the geography of a location doesn’t necessarily convey a place.

I find the paintings by Komar and Melamid biased. The paintings are representations of survey responses. The general public didn’t get to choose the final pieces, they were painted after the fact.

 Man I finish by saying that this chapter is awful to read? It’s a rambling, waffle filled ‘essay’ with no structure. For someone with brain fog due to illness, it feels like wading through visual and intellectual mud.   Apparently it is not my destiny to ever finish reading this chapter. I know that by the time my brain fog subsides I will have forgotten what was in the first 5 pages. I agree that place is undefinable, which I think is the overall conclusion of the discussion.


Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Still Life 2001

In a graceful expression of life and death and immortality, Sam Taylor-Johnson’s modern take on a still life captures a contemporary twist on a traditional fine art craft. Capturing the essence of ‘nature mort’ paintings, Taylor-Johnson explores the connection between the dead feeding new life. Even the juxtaposition of a plastic pen made from plastic, and thus decayed animals, can be interpreted as a symbol of man’s obsession with immortality.


Her skilful use of video to portray movement and decay amplifies the concept of time.  Sitting well within her catalogue of video commentaries on life, emotion and death she continues to take the audience on a grotesque voyeuristic journey. From her early art (Killing Time, 1994) she has had an incredible ability to draw the viewer in, into a trance like fascination, continually referencing man’s calling towards being more than one’s self. Taylor-Johnson’s art based videos translates well into her commercial work. I find it a small wonder that she was the director of Fifty Shades of Grey.

Longplayer – Interpreting sound

My initial reaction to the music ( is that I find it very haunting. It’s very atmospherical, but also rather theological. It reminds me of Tibetan monks and temple bells, but then they’re Tibetan singing bowls.  Meanwhile when certain bells play my dog Henry charges downstairs and barks at the front door making me jump, so maybe not as calming as it could be.

I certainly get the motivation behind the piece, and I find it does make you consider the cosmos, and our place within it. Knowing the piece will be playing long after my body has decomposed into dust adds a philosophical approach to listening to the piece. Will someone rewind the music at a later date, to this place and time, when I’m listening to it? Doesn’t that make this piece an exploration of time travel as well?

I’m sure when Jem Finer considered the instruments to use in the piece, he wanted to go with something ethereal. The bells certainly fill the space around me, even through laptop speakers. I wonder if Finer has ever visited Jodrell Bank because the sounds certainly complement the space sounds that are played there from the satellites.

The quality of the sound is great, really clear and I presume this was one of the reasons singing bowls were chosen as they are both crisp and carry the notes for a long space of time. They also cut through other noise, which I imagine would be very important if the site became busy. The longevity of the instruments were also an important consideration, many other instruments would need more maintenance as strings or reeds would need replacing. I love that the bowls can be played equally well by machine and person. With the webpage discussing artificial intelligence and the question of will machines be able to emotionally create art. Will this happen within the timescale of the composition?

I find the 2 perspectives of the piece really interesting, if I visit the site I’m kept out on the peripheral of the instruments looking in, but not able to really see the complexity of the arrangement. Whereas the view online seems more inclusive, the bird’s eye view feels like I’m more connected.

The connection with the cosmos and the repetition within it, is seen throughout the website. It talks about revolutions of planets and how some take 1000 years to circle their star. So although the piece was designed as a time-based piece I find, personally, it’s more about space and place.

There is an interesting dilemma about how the composition has been designed to last 1000 years. The choice of instrument and computer based performance is fine, but as with all art there is an element of doubt as to whether it will last the full term. I can see the practical side of using a computer, however with computer technology moving at such a vast rate of progression, will the piece become impossible to play on future technology?


Emulating a solar system, with its concentric circles, Longplayer rings out an atmospheric composition using a mix of man and technology based performers . Jem Finer uses Tibetan singing bowls to contemplate our place within the universe through a philosophical solar year of 1000 years.  Although you are able to view the bowls at Trinity Buoy Wharf in London, the design of the piece has taken into account the fact the piece may have to moved, and this keeps the audience on the outside of the revolutions of sound.  However Finer’s clever use of internet based technologies, such as live streaming, has allowed human interaction through artificial intelligence. It’s a clever juxtaposition between man and machine, which does leave you contemplating our existing in the future.

The fourth dimension

Finally moved into the second project at OCA and it’s about time (so many ways I mean that). The OCA refer to this as art forms which require time like film or sound. To kick us off though they’re asking us to discuss the concept. It’s an interesting one for sure.

I’m pretty sure that time is a human concept. That at some point in history we devised a way to portion our days. I wonder why, at that time in our history, did we need to. These days I find it’s used to monetise it. In business management and economic terms there is a finite amount of it.  When you choose to do one thing with it, you can’t do something else with the same period. Time comes only once. There are no do-overs. Opportunity costs. It forms the very foundation of business costs.

Having moved from this world into the art world I find the concept has changed. I was always tracking the minutes, to simplify processes, to make it more efficient, to maintain a client’s budget, to maximise my profits. Now to spend a day/week/month contemplating a concept is considered normal. It enhances it, develops it, deepens it. I find myself not completing a painting for several weeks whilst I consider what direction to take it in.

Then you have the enormity of time, how it has stretched behind mankind for eons, yet when you consider the scale of the universe we’ve been here moments. Blink and you’d miss us.



According to Wiki, and many art historians, the above image by Salvador Dali was about his exploration of time and space. I find it fascinating that he regularly told them it was not. Regardless of this debate, it is a well recognised image with clocks in it, which is man’s way of managing time. When I think of artwork discussing time this was the first image that popped into my head. Maybe because the melting clocks have become iconic.

Personally I think it’s more about how our memories are tied to specific times in our lives. That the two are entwined. When recalling a memory we use time to remind us, or it’s a moment in time which jogs a memory. The painting certainly explores that we have a finite amount of time before we die. I love the worker ants, critics state Dali used them to symbolise decay, but couldn’t it equally be said that it discusses how we fill our life with work, that we careen towards our deaths spending most of our time at work?

So anyway…….yes I’ve had a few thoughts about time. I’m aware that art has been created exploring the concept. I’m quite excited about discovering how time can be used within contemporary art.

Finding out more – Part two

Damien Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living.

So the next exercise asks us to consider context, what areas of context there are for a particular piece, and also any references to time….which is what the next project is about.

So firstly I looked up context, its not something we generally look at from day to day so I wanted to make sure I understood it.
1.The circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood:
‘the proposals need to be considered in the context of new European directives’

1.1 The parts of something written or spoken that immediately precede and follow a word or passage and clarify its meaning:

‘skilled readers use context to construct meaning from words as they are read’

Mind map of contextual references within Khan Academy discussion

I initially find this quite difficult as the discussion is quite spontaneous, but on discovering the transcript I’m able to read as they speak.
I find them discussing the piece in relation to Hirst’s own body of work. How it’s not the first piece he’s produced involving animals in formaldehyde. Although interestingly it’s the first one which decayed. I wonder if maybe he had a dodgy batch of formaldehyde, whilst the Khan Academy discuss the inevitability of death and the artist’s use of art to transcend death, but how all art eventually rots. How nothing is permanent.
I still think there was probably a chemical reaction between the shark (a waterborne mammal) and the formaldehyde. How a sheep is a land mammal so the composition of the skin would be different. Meanwhile the Khan Academy admit they feel like they’re making stuff up, and I can’t help laughing out loud…not just me then!
Meanwhile the Khan Academy has moved on to discuss death, the interesting play on words of Hirst’s piece, and how art through the ages has explored death. The video goes on to show other work displaying death, including one which looks like Ophelia from Hamlet. They seem enchanted by Hirst’s choice of a shark, how it itself is dead, and how Man considers it a predator. That by standing in front of the piece are you then processing death itself, or your fear of death, or maybe just your fear of the shark. I wonder if fear and death has always been interwoven, is it possible to have one without the other.
Finally the Khan Academy also discusses Hirst’s piece within the greater context of the art scene. They explore how 20th century art opened up with Duchamp’s fountain, and how Damien Hirst’s piece also pushes the industry from representational art to philosophical art. That modern art seems to be either profound or shocking, or in Hirst’s piece both.
 I love the title more than the shark. The fact the shark was killed specifically for the piece upsets me. Maybe I like it a little less because of this. Could he not have made the same statement without actually killing 2 sharks? I do however think it’s a clever thought provoking piece. I still think that without the title the meaning gets lost within the ‘shark in a tank’ narrative.

Finding out more – Part 1

So as part of Exercise 5 we have to practice our sketching skills with fish still life. I’m a bit out of practice with my sketching, so probably just as well!

Salvador Dali – Eucharist Still Life – 1952

imagePeter Claesz – Fish Still Life – 1637

Looking at context

For this exercise we’re asked to look at a piece of work by Damien Hirst. Its quite a controversial piece colloquially known as the shark in a tank. Its actual name is The Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living. I remember seeing this piece for the first time a decade ago, and finding it hilarious. I know that it was an emotional response to seeing something so abstract in a gallery. You don’t expect to walk into a room and come face to face with a shark. Well not unless you’re exploring ruins under the sea.

I’m intrigued by Damien Hirst’s process. I’d love to know how he designed the piece – whether he came up with the title first, or he envisages the shark in a tank and then comes up with an appropriate title. I find the piece challenging intellectually. I think the shark was used intentionally to shock. I think it was meant to make us consider what comes after life. I think it’s meant to make you challenge the way you view death, and how as somebody who is alive we are unable to peer into what comes after death. How no one has ever returned from death, and because of this it remains a mystery.

Unfortunately I feel because of the design of the piece the thought provoking nature of the title has been lost in the spectacle.


The second part of the exercise is the examination of a painting by Edwaert Collier from 1696. It’s a piece known as a vanitas painting and it’s called Still Life with a Volume of Wither’s ‘Emblemes’. On my first view it looks like a collection of instruments and food.  My initial reaction is one of clutter and the need to examine it quite closely as there is a lot in the painting to consider. I find the image unimaginative. I also find it a stark contrast to Damien Hirst’s piece, and initially I’m confused as to why we are comparing the images. Bizarrely I find the quote in the course notes “………it’s almost like painting with numbers” fits the still life more than Hirst’s piece. I don’t spot the skull in the corner until I further read my course notes.

I think Colliers piece is about man’s pursuit to collect and hoard and the skull in the corner is a nod towards the uselessness of it. You can’t take it with you when you die. Even the title contains a reference towards a book about collections. Most of the items within the picture are associated with great wealth, from the jewellery box in the background through to the instruments that most households would not have been able to afford in 1600s.

When I compare the two pieces of art I find Collier’s to be less challenging, that the message is hidden, neatly tucked away in the corner. Presumably in the 17th century only the wealthy would have been able to afford such a piece of art, so he probably felt less able to challenge society’s thirst for hoarding. I don’t know if Hirst is less worried about the sale of his art or it’s not something he necessarily needs. Is that the luxury of an artist living in the 21st century?