Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Puppets update

For the past couple of weeks I have been working on creating my horse puppet as a prototype for my future film. For the film I have decided to create lots of sub-projects so that I can have a broad range of work done while also given as much detail and focus on each separate part of the project. Each part will be an extraordinary vs ordinary element which I have also decided to develop to also look at why we might create fantastical worlds, by comparing the magical world with our harsh reality. To keep focus, after I have finished these horse puppets I will storyboard the film so that I have a general gist of what direction I am going.
As for the horse puppets, I began by making the separate horse parts from clay which I then cast in plaster to make a mould. From this mould I have made, or almost finished making, 5 puppets with :-   wax, latex, papier mache, salt dough and cloth with a egg whites and flour mixture. I tried to use materials with different densities and moveability as I thought it was important to explore which materials had the necessary weight without being to heavy or without having to much friction between the parts.
The wax I found had the best density, it is solid without being too heavy; however, the parts are quite brittle in the smaller areas and it is quite greasy to use as the wax rubs off on your hands. The plus point is that it is reusable so if something does sanp I can melt in back down in the mould, however, this isn't the most convenient of things to do.
The latex is very light, which for the body and head could be solved by stuffing it however, the way the legs are designed they couldn't be stuffed. There is also a lot of friction between the parts, so even if I could adjust the weight it is never going to be the most ideal puppet material. The plus point however, is the difference in the tone of laex where parts have been applied thicker which I think gives a nice effect of the complex muscle structure of the horse.
Papier mache had an unusual effect. I used a different recipe than usual which used wallpaper paste, which I think I mixed too thick as when I put it into the moulds I couldn't really see where there was paper and where it was just paste. Therefore, when the mache dried it had gaps and speckly bits in it which actually made it look quite skeletal and ghostly which while not directly relating to my project was an interesting effect. The mixture also dried harder than normal papier mache with PVA so it was better built for puppet making. The wallpaper paste, however, meant that it took up to a week for the castings to set.
The salt dough was experimental to see what a heavier material would be like but the salt dough turned out to be a bit too heavy. I baked the salt dough in the oven but on a very low temperate so that it is still fairly soft in the middle, it does, however, keep its shape. It is not impossible to use, with its weight, so I will continue in the exoeriments but it does make it more difficult to use.
Finally the egg whites and flour mixture was a medieval plaster casting recipe that I found online and tested with cut up pieces of cloth as I was intrigued into how it would work. i didn't have measurements so I used 2 egg whites and just poured in the flour until I got a smooth and creamy texture. I was surprised by how well this experiment worked as it dried very hard but gave a much smoother finich than the papier mache did. The change in texture, however, is a plus point on both sides.
From now I will string all the puppets up to crossbars and then film them doing a short run and judge which puppet has the best movements. From then I will move on to think about the added element of disappearing wings and think about filming the final scene.

Platt Hall Tutorial

After the Platt Hall visit we had a group tutorial where about 12 of us (extra people had to attend) sat around and spoke about our own initial ideas and then we each gave our own feedback. My idea stemmed from focussing on bringing in the children as the targeted audience and it was turn Platt Hall into a doll house. This would be achieved by creating a miniature version of Platt Hall in doll house form and have pieces of the collection in this doll house. The pieces in the doll house would then be super sized and placed in the exact same positions in the real Platt Hall. The doll house would be placed in the entrance of Platt Hall so that visitors would see it before anything else and then when they walk through the real Platt Hall it is as if they are walking around the doll house. The aim of this idea was to bring the objects to life and involve the audience mor, I thought the contrast between the minute detail of the doll house and the sheer size of the large objects would be enough to impress all age ranges and visitors.
To run alongside this idea I also had the idea that dolls would be placed in the doll house and then acting students could volunteer to dress up as that doll and be placed in the same room and come to life to explain to visitors their own backstory and the backstory of other objects in the room. This again runs along the theme of bringing toys to life and involving the audience but is less practical as it would mean ahving volunteers, costume and also timed tours so that the visitors would be able to turn up for the start of the talk.
In the tutoria, I am not sure if I explained my ideas that well as most of the feedback seemed to run more along the lines of making the audience smaller and Platt Hall bigger, which they quite righly thought was impossible. One idea was to make a fake door at the front of Platt Hall that was tiny and would then open up into the Hall. I liked the idea and thought it was very 'Alice in Wonderland-y' but the idea I was working with wasn't so much changing the size of the house and more putting the audience into the doll house version, which if the audience were shrunk down, they would be proportionate to the rest of Platt Hall - apart from the Mary Greg objects which would be large in the doll house.
After the tutorial I was talking over my idea with Philippa Watkin who was also part of the Mary Greg project but not in my tutorial and it turned out that one of our ideas - and our main one - was to make Platt Hall into a doll house. We then discussed how we were planning on developing these ideas, me with the larger objects and Philippa wanted to make the doll house fully fitted with lights so that people had to look through the windows to see what was going on and also to have a mechanical Mary Greg wandering Platt Hall. I liked this idea as I thought it would convey some of the eerie element that we all felt when wandering the back rooms of Platt Hall, particularly with the dresses. I also thought it would be another idea to involve and interest both adults and children. We then decided to collaborate on the project, working on the doll house together and doing the presentation together.
We researched doll houses by getting books from the library and Philippa was also fortunate enough to find a doll house book in a book sale. After seeing all the intricacies of doll house making we decided to make cardboard versions of our own houses as practices for layout and design.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Mary Greg - Platt Hall Visit

A project was set at University to create an event at Platt Hall - a local Costume Gallery in Platt Fields near Rusholme - that would be held in conjunction with Manchester Art Gallery and inspired by their Mary Greg collection. The Mary Greg Collection are objects that were donated to Manchester Art Gallery by Mary Greg in the early 1920s after Mrs Greg's husband died. The objects are largely everyday items and often in tatty conditions but reflect a lot of ordinary life in the late 19th century and early 20th. The event would be held in September 2012 and we were told to be as ambitious as we wanted and then it could later be reigned in later.
Befor our visit to Platt Hall to see the collection and the building I read the copies of Mary Greg's letters to the Manchester Art Gallery curator Mr Batho. the two created a great rapport over the time and you can tell from the letters that they bothed warmed to each other a lot. While reading the letters, I noticed that Mrs Greg wantd to donate part fo the collection to create a special Children's Collection as she thought that it was important to intice children back into galleries and museums. Therefore, I went to Platt Hall with the idea to mainly focus on the children's part of the collection and to hold the event with the same mission statement as Mary Greg first started her collection, while also having an event that would impress adults.
When going through Platt Hall I first noticed the great staircase at the entrance which I thought would have to be utilised in some way and at the moment had huge, beaded necklaces around it, which made me think of using oversized objects to draw attention and attract both adults and children. I also noticed to the left that there were two rooms - one medium sized and one large, that are largely free to use and could be used to hold part of the collection or art pieces that are a response to the collection.
We then went into the first back rooms where there were rolling cupboards with lots of period dresses. I really liked these as they reminded me of an artist I had already looked at called Isabella de Borchgrave. De Borchgrave makes paper period dresses that are created as exact replicas, with the papers painted and embroidered to look like fabric. De Borchgrave then poses mannequins wearing the dresses and photographs which I think create quite a creepy atmosphere, as if the people are frozen in time and this was a possible idea to do with the collection.

I found the contast between the front and back rooms another interesting concept. The front rooms were much more bright, clear and welcoming with the walls painted pastel blues and white with large windows to brighten the space. However, the back rooms are darker and gloomier with mainly wood furnishings in worse condition. The windows are also smaller so there is less natural light.
The part I liked the most was in the final room where we were left to look through the drawers of the collection ourselves. One drawer was full of silhouette paintings which initially gave me the idea of having a shadow puppet erformance. I thought this could tie in with my personal puppet project and would be a good way of entertaining adults and children while also giving the chance to explain the backstory to the Mary Greg collection.

There was also a drawer of delicate hair combs. I liked the fact that these objects would have had a use in their day while also being impressive pieces on their own. There was great detail in each comb and they were all individual and each in their own condition, a fact that I think makes them more charming as the combs in the worse condition were also probably the most loved.

It was the dolls, however, that took my interest the most. I found one doll that was named fishwife, which showed the attitudes towards women at the time. I also found a fortune telling doll in a box. I thought this was most interesting as it felt like my own discovery on the shelf and the actual doll was in great condition. The doll was in a striking red cloak and was placed on a circle that had different text written on it such as "There's witchery in those eyes" and "A sincere friend." I really liked these as I thought that they were quite cryptic and creepy while also being in doll form so seemingly aimed at children. This gave me an idea to bring th doll alive by the staircase by having a person dressed up as the fortune teller or having a human sized mannequin and then creating a game where people can find there fortune on the disc below.

Overall, I really enjoyed the trip to Platt Hall as it was an oppotunity that not many people get, to be up close and personal with such a large collection. The trip really inspired me to create ideas for the event and I am now raring to go with the rest of the project.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Glossop/Wittgenstein Project

Towards the end of the second term, Interactive Arts will be taking a trip to Glossop to fly kites that we will already have made and also put on performances in a local pub, all derived from the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein who worked at a kite flying centre in Glossop. For my first personal project I have decided to create a film and performance based on Wittgenstein's philosophies and using my own interest in stage puppets which is something I already wanted to explore.
This will hopefully become quite a large project, as eventually I would like to become an art director in films so I am looking at this project from that angle to create a lot of atmosphere and eeriness. The puppets will only be my starting point and will really act as props to the entire project. To start the project, I took a book on Wittgenstein from the library I work at that explains his ideas in simple terms. From the talk we were given by Michael Howard in university I knew that I wanted to explore Wittgenstein's ideas of the mystical more than anything else. It initially took quite a while to decipher any meaning from his sayings but I eventually found some quotes from Wittgenstein's book 'Tractatus' that helped steer my project. The first was:
"6.522 There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical."
"6.44 It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists."
I interpreted the second quote to mean that the very fact that things are in the world is an amazing thing and we should look more closely at what is here. I then got the idea to have my 'puppet show' focus on the ordinary versus the extraordinary.
For example, my first prototype is to make a horse puppet which in the film would have wings shadows on it and change from the mystical flying Pegasus to an ordinary running horse. I first made a paper version and then a clay model. From this I made plaster casts and am now in the process of making casts from these moulds using papier mache, wax, latex, sugar glass and will upload photographs when they have been assembled. I am making many versions to see which has the best sturdiness and mobility when in puppet form.
I will also be thinking of other segments to feature in the film such as the simple growing of a plant versus the sprouting of a beanstalk, the birth of a baby versus the creation of a monster etc. Because this will be rather a large project and I tend to want to move onto trying other forms of art after a while I will incorporate animation, painting and drawing in the project as part of the film and also as side projects for myself.
Running alongside the film I also want to have a puppet performance of the birth of a bird. Originally, I wanted it to be a Phoenix but now my idea is simple to have a large bird puppet that will slowly hatch and against the film it will hopefully mystical and slightly creepy on it's own.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Liverpool Biennial

A University trip was organised to go visit the Liverpool Biennial on 21st October. We started this trip by having a quick stop and look at 'Turning the Place Over' by Richard Wilson which I really enjoyed. I thought that it was so interesting because it was new. It's rare to find something that actually amazes these days and especially just in the backstreet of a city so I was impressed so much more money was put into public art an it should be done more often as I think it gets people interested in art which is important when so many cuts to the art industry are being made.
When we got off the coach we went to the Walker Gallery to have a look at the John Moores Competition. I was at first surprised to find a black gloss painting exactly like the ones I saw at the NeoArtist's studio and yet this was painted by Michael Miller and titled 'Suspended Animation' while the NeoArtist was called Jason Simpson.
Other paintings that caught my attention were 'Protest, 1st April 2009' by Nicholas Middleton.
I liked this painting becasue of the amazing detail and also because it tells a story from a moment in recent history. I liked this because it reminded me of th oil paintings from years ago that were used as social commentaries and also as recording key moments in history, which is a way of using art that has been lost because of all the new technology.
I also really liked Adam Fearon's 'Untitled.'
In contrast to Nicholas Middleton's piece I thought this was a much more modern, and loose, way of painting as this is treated more as a sculpture. I liked this because it makes the canvas part of the 'painting' rather tha just being a surface or a means to an end.
From the Walker Gallery we then went down to the Information Centre which had 3 floors which were quite a mixed bag. The piece I liked the most was The Mending Project by Lee Mingwei. This was where people would bring in ripped or damaged clothing and it would be mened by 14 volunteers. The thread used to mend the item is still attached to its spool which is then fixed to the wall. This piece was interesting because it involved lots of different people, from the donaters to the menders. I also like how the clothes are real people's so they all have their own history i.e. who wore them, how they were damaged etc.
Another highlight of the Biennial was Tehching Hsieh's 'One Year performance' which was a series of photos of the artist as he punched in a time sheet on the hour, every day for a year. he didn't cut his hair in the whole year so throughout the photographs you can see his hair gradually growing from shaved down to his shoulders. I admire the sheer perseverance that Hsieng displays and how fully he involves himself in his art.
Finally, I visited the A Foundation 'Bloomberg Contemporaries.' The piece that stood out the most for me was the 2D animation by Kristian de la Riva, 'Cut, 2009.' This was a simple line drawing animation that had a male figure hurting himself in various way such as cutting off his fingers and knee caps. This piece stood out to me the most becasue of the reaction that it created from me and everyone else around. It gathered quite a large audience and everyone was squealing at what was happening, despite the fact there wasn't any detail or colour in the animation. I think that any art work that can create such a strong reaction deserves some merit and I think that the fact that the artist didn't resort to full on gore and detail is even better on it's part.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

NeoArtists - Bolton

I work, on a casual basis, at Bury Art Gallery and Museum wheres some staff have set up a creative collective for people to meet, interact and share ideas which I was invited to. On Monday 18th October we visited the NeoArtist's studios in Bolton.
The NeoArtists are their own collective who have their own studio spaces that people pay to use and have facilities such as screen printing (with a machine taken from MMU mind!) and plastering. The group also hold group exhibitions and put on workshops around schools.
On the Monday we not only visited the studios but had a look around the exhibitions the group had in Bolton at the moment. The work was mainly painting and the work that interested me most was by one artist who used only black gloss paint. With the work in the gallery it was a curved canvas, curved around a corner, covered in black gloss paint with the paint then dripping down the wall and hitting the floor and skirting board. I not only liked the fact that the gloss paint looked like it had it's own elasticity but also that the piece was done in the gallery space which I think changes the relationship between the gallery and work as usually the gallery is merely a space for the work but here it is part of the work. Obviously, this is easier done as the space that the piece was exhibited is owned by the NeoArtists. In fact the whole gallery space was used in such a way with the exhibition title being 'Source' and the artists were looking at the ways that work occupies it's space.
When visiting the studios I later saw more work by the same artist, again working with black gloss paint where he had experimented with how the paint can manipulated...dripped, stretched etc. One piece I liked was a big map that worked like a jigsaw, which was sheets of MDF stuck together, the edges sanded into a curve and then covered in black gloss paint which gave it a very smooth and finished look. At first, I thought it was all made from plastic so I was impressed by the sleek, professional finish that the paint gave it and I would like to work with gloss at some point in my projects.
As usual, I forgot to take a camera but some photos were taken to prove I was there, and despite my face I had a good time...