My current position

This slightly strangely named exercise is about my response to certain works of well known and, in most cases, controversial art. The notes ask us to consider the artist’s intent, how the work makes us feel, whether we consider it to be art etc

On the question of why the artist might have chosen to work in this or that way, I suspect the answer is always: because it felt right for that idea and it will be as a result of lots of experimentation and failure.

We are encouraged to return to this exercise later in the course to see if our thoughts are the same or if our position and practice have changed.

My Bed, Tracy Emin

I have always strongly believed that Emin is a consummate artist and although her work doesn’t always resonate completely with me, I can recognise it as art from the heart.

In terms of intent, this work is a fantastic example of an unusual narrative approach and as a kind of self-portrait it is of course incredibly personal and intimate. It has been described as ‘confessional art’ and presumably Emin was working through some of her obsessions and self-evaluation.

Looking at the bed makes me feel slightly panicky as I can clearly see signs of a disrupted existence and there is no indication of resolution but I imagine Emin wanted to create a sense of discomfort to spur on viewers to make comparisons with their own lives and home spaces. Of course this is art. Brilliantly so!

Relevance to my practice: it reminds me that portraits come in many shapes and sizes and there are lots of ways to tell stories. I used to worry that being too personal would be boring for other people but as Clive always used to say, if it resonates for me, it will resonate for someone else too.

Convergence, Jackson Pollock

My response to Pollock’s work varies massively depending on my mood and it is certainly art that should be viewed in the flesh rather than as a small image on my screen. I think this actual canvas is about four metres wide. The mess of colour and line certainly evokes an emotional response in me – usually an edginess but with a thrill of excitement. The intent was surely a very visceral expression of what was on his mind but I cannot guess what that was. He certainly pushed a lot of boundaries and had an authentic commitment to his style. Unfortunately, I find it hard to think about his paintings without remembering Ed Harris having just about the most lousy sexual encounter imaginable in the film Pollock. Great soundtrack though.

Relevance to my practice: be free and expressive and rebel against the norms. Always be authentic.

Hell, Jake & Dinos Chapman

This work is sort of the antithesis to Pollock’s freehand. It took two years to create and involved thousands of toy soldiers set out in a grisly tableau to depict the idea of hell as an actual location. The intent was possibly to portray the nightmare but with some satisfaction as it is Nazis being tortured there. I find this work to be disturbing but, like much of Banksy’s creations, superbly clever and unique. I think the artists aimed to draw viewers in to this exploration of one of our deepest fears. They are often accused of being deliberately shocking but I think this is one of the key roles for these kind of artists.

Relevance to my practice: there is something uniquely evocative and appealing about miniature scenarios which I may explore in future.

Bram Stoker’s Chair, Sam Taylor-Wood

This is work I had not seen before. The artist’s website says “Taylor-Johnson finds a way to show the fragile interior supports of exterior grace in this series. Named after the famous vampire who did not leave a shadow, these photographs highlight the division between public and private.” This is clearly very conceptual work and is visually interesting. It makes me question the technique for creating the images (which are self-portraits) but the series does not really say very much to me on an emotional level. I would like the shadows to be emphasised more if that is key, as the title suggests. I find the brightly lit human form competes with the shadow to create tension (probably the aim of the work?) and I would personally prefer this in black and white. I think the intent is quite difficult to discern without any accompanying text. The portrayal of the female body is quite unusual and certainly very powerful and there is a kinetic energy that is appealing. Definitely art.

Relevance to my practice: I should be more open-minded about considering the opportunities that Photoshop offers and this is an inspiring approach to exploring identity and self.

Cremaster, Matthew Barney

This is another piece which is completely new to me and seems quite monumental. Without watching the films, I do not feel I can really comment on the artist’s intent but from my initial research it seems to be quite a personal project which explores male sexual potency. ‘Fine art cinema’ is always brave in my opinion as it can come across as incredibly pretentious – mainly as the artist’s self-expression is being presented in long form. It almost always seems self-indulgent, by default. I like Barney’s aesthetic – some of the stills are beautiful the mix of film, photography, sculpture, installations and drawing adds another level of interest.

I generally give people the benefit of the doubt with the old “is it art?” question, unless I feel a strong sense that they are taking the piss. I might feel differently if I had to sit through seven hours of it but Cremaster definitely feels like art.

Relevance to my practice: as someone who used painting as my primary medium of self-expression for nearly thirty years, I have to constantly remind myself that photography can be more than just capturing a beautiful or interesting scene well. I should be much more experimental with my image-making and I find Barney’s work here to be incredibly imaginative and quite inspirational.

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