Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Into Dust - The Blue Link Submission

The Link Gallery is a student curated gallery at Manchester Metropolitan University. This year it is curated by Interactive Arts student Elisa Artesero who sent out a call for submission for a week long exhibition based on the theme of 'Blue.' It could be any medium or idea but it had to be in some way, blue influenced.
The same week I heard about the call for submissions, I also ran into Tongyu Zhou -a researcher at MMU and also the interpretor at my workshop with Lu Schengzhong last year. After having a catch up and hearing about Professor Lu I really felt like I wanted to do some paper cutting again as I really enjoyed it and it influenced a lot of my work after the workshop.
Although I couldn't see a way in which it could fit into my current project I decided that the Blue submission would be the perfect time to create a piece and as we only had just over a week to hand in our work it couldn't be a side project that would take over the rest of my project - which I could not afford to do.
Because of the tight time frame I needed to really jump straight in and while working at the gallery I began to think through possible ideas - I wanted something striking and simple, and I have always been interested in using the cutouts from a paper cutting in the piece (a big part in my final Foundation piece). I thought it would be nice if I could cut out of blue paper and then scatter these on the floor beneath and I began to think of the decay that this brought to mind. I tend to go to music for inspiration whenever I am lacking and this immediately brought to mind Mazzy Star's 'Into Dust.' The song is a gentle, acoustic record and has the line 'I could possibly be fading..' which I've always found quite enchanting and mysterious.
I now had my idea and set about to create it, centring the lyric in the middle of an A3 sheet of blue handmade paper (not handmade by me however). To reflect the nature of the lyrics I wanted the to slowly disppear - as in I stop cutting out as much of the shape. This makes it harder to read and hopefully creates more audience interaction. The offcuts from the piece were then all collected and scattered on the floor of the Link.

The Dragon

'The Extraordinary vs Ordinary' - Do we create fantasies to escape the harsh realities of the real world? In my ongoing project I have furthered tried to illustrate this point and ask the audience this question by looking at the dragon.
The Dragon is a staple of mythical stories, appearing in Athurian tales and Chinese myths. It is, more often than not, the villain of the piece, imposing a threat to the masses only to be slayed by the hero. As part of this section of the project I am continuing to look at mythical threats and comparing them to similar threats in our real world and for The Dragon I want to look at the plane - not necessarily a fighter but any kind of plane. The plane now populates the sky, just as Dragon's allegedly did in myths, but can also be airborne terrors wreaking terror and destruction.
For the first part, I am focusing merely on the dragon and began by researching the Chinese Dragon - an easily recognisable design and also a design that has close connotations with puppetry thanks to processions that take place during Chinese New Year. Fortunately, at the time of undertaking this part of the project, Chinese New Year was also occuring so I went along to Chinatown and picked up this puppet as well as looking at the various design that were scattered about.
Looking at this puppet, the Chinese dragons around Chinatown and through books in the library I made initial sketches of how I wanted my dragon to look. From the above puppet I knew I wanted it to have two poles on either side but I also wanted to take inspiration from the traditional English dragon design by adding wings as I thought this would make the airborne-plane comparison a smoother fit and also create a more interesting shape as with puppets whether they are for stage or screen must be appealing to the eye.
As with most things I initially made a paper maquette version to see what works and what needs tweaking more specifically with movement. I had decided with this puppet I wanted to work in metal. Again this would make easy comparison with a plane and with a metal dragon seeming the more equal counterpart of a plane. It was also interesting to try making a puppet from a material I had not used before and after researching and looking into the best type of metal to use, I came across aluminium tooling foil which is more often used for jewellery and embossing but is thin enough and plyable enough for me to shape how I wanted while also being sturdy enough to keep its shape.
Unlike the Chinese dragon puppet, my main body was made of separate components as the accordion effect is just not possible with the tooling foil. Each part was then tied to the next with a very thin metal wire, again, more often used in jewellery making.
The two rods that prop up the puppet are bamboo sticks that are painted a charcoal grey so that they are less of an eyesore and the wings are attached to each other with wire so that they can be manipulated from beneath.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Holocaust Exhibition

I received an e-mail that a play based on the Holocaust was taking place for one day only at Manchester Victoria Baths. It would be an interactive, walk around play and the director was looking for art objects based on the Holocaust to be in a small exhibition at the start of the play. The brief was to focus on the hope behind the tragedy, on the family units that stayed together.
Keeping this in mind I began to brainstorm ideas, I wanted the main focus to be on a family that stick together but are surrounded by tragedy. To represent the harshness of the conditions I thought that barbed wire would be appropriate and I decided that this should be in an orb so that it seems all encompassing around the family. The family would be made form clay initially, and then paper mached around it and the figures would all be blended together. This would hopefully have a dual effect in that the family are welded as one unit and hold together against the terror of the Holocaust but also the vague and slightly deformed look of the figures would hopefully show that they are ghosts, and keep in the back of the mind of the audiences that these are still victims but aren't defined by it.
As I only had just over a week to the deadline when I received the e-mail, I decided to send a sketch of my idea and why I want to do it to the organisers beforehand to save me wasting time if I am on the wrong track.
The idea was accepted so I went full steam ahead on with the creation. I used brown paper to cover the clay for the family and was originally going to paint this a charcoal grey with blue tints, however, on completion I thought that the brown paper was quite complete on it's own. I thought it looked quite antique and to add to this effect I shaded in pencil and then washed that out with water which made it looked a bit more battered.
For the base, I bought three birch wood circular plaques that I drilled holes around the edge of two for the barbed wire to be placed in. For the barbed wire I used a 0.8mm aluminium wire for the main part and then a thinner 0.2mm wire to wrap around for the sharp points.
The piece was accepted and I went to see the show at the Baths to see my piece and the show I did it for. It was really exciting to see my piece in an exhibition with other people's work, although one of the barbed wire strips had become wonky. The show was also very effective and emotional and I was very pleased to take a small part in it.   

The Poison Apple Part II

After deciding to focus on ideas focusing on the blood aspect of a red apple, I brainstormed ideas that this could translate to screen. The most effective and obvious idea I had was to have the apple melt onscreen so that the skin bleeds across the surface and the only way I could think of successfully do this was to create a wax apple candle.
After using wax as a sculptural material with the horse puppet I was already aware of how create an object with wax, however, this would now be a more advanced version as I would need a wick and a two tone colour - a white core and red skin. I could have simply created one big red apple but as the act of eating the apple is what makes it dangerous, I felt it necessary to show a bite taken from it.
Like with the horse puppet, i started the apple by creating a wax version which I then split in half and cast in plaster. I then used this plaster mould to create the two wax halves of the candle and welded this halves together with more melted wax.
The original wax apple
I then melted another bowl of wax and dyed it with red candle dye, then dipping the white wax candle into it. For the wick, I tied it to a nail that I then screwed through the apple whole. Admittedly, this is probably not the professional technique but it was the best way to not make the apple halves mishapen. Using more wax I then fixed the wick into place. Finally, I attached a paper leaf to it in the hope that when I lit the wick for the candle to melt the paper leaf would also burn up as this is supposed to be a more negative and dangerous 'mystical' element the more destruction the better.

The Apple

At this point the bite has not been taken out as this will be a part of the film, showing the act of the eating. I will update with the results of the filming when it takes place.

The Poison Apple

The idea of my 'Extraordinary vs Ordinary' project began by looking at the mystical things in books and the real world counterpart, with the aim of showing how we do not need to make up these creations as we have beautiful things in the world. However, as stated in previous posts I would like to look at the darker side of reality and why we may want to move into the fantastical world. The initial transition of this is through the use of a poison apple - a classic weapon used in fairytales. This I wanted to juxtapose with the cold and metallic gun - a real world weapon, and arguably a much harsher and grittier weapon than the poison apple.
To start this part of the project I painted a red a apple that I wanted to try working in different ways to blend with a bullet hole. This was not necessarily an idea for a part in the film but more something to help with brainstorming through experimentation. After painting the apple I scanned it into the computer and printed smaller versions which I then transferred onto different materials - canvas sheets, cardboard, a wood/paper material from a wardrobe and acrylic sealant - using white emulsion paint.

The original Apple Painting

Acrylic Sealant

Wood/Paper material


Canvas Sheet

I found some interesting results from these experiments, from how successfully the transfer is completed on the various surfaces. The emulsion paint works by painting onto the ink of the printed image and then pressing it against the surface you want the image on. I then iron the back of the image to help seal it down and then to make the image appear rub the paper away with lots of water. The acrylic sealant worked surprisingly well, I suspect because it is a smooth surface, however, the kinks where the spreading of the sealant was not totally smooth, creates a crack in the image which I think was quite effective. The wardrobe wood material was the least effective as it was the grainiest and creating a successful transfer was nigh on impossible.

While thinking of printing methods I also remembered the sellotape technique of sticking strips of sellotape on to the ink of a printed image (again the apple). Like with the emulsion paint, you then rub of the back of the image with water. I tested this four times on the same materials as in the last experiment but this time with the rough colours and shape of the apple on the material. I then stuck the printed sellotape to the top of these.
Acrylic Sealant

Wood/Paper Material


The advantage of this technique is that you have the black and white tones in the sellotape print intensifies by the paint behind it which I thought created a starker image. Also, the more messily painted images also give the impression of blood which puts across the danger of the poison that was originally intended.
However, throughout this process I was aware that this would not translate well to a film but I did pick up on the 'blood' red idea and began to think of ideas I could expand on this, in a filmic process...

Thursday, 21 April 2011


Continuing on my theme of the 'Extraordinary vs the Ordinary' project I have moved on to the topic of 'Butterflies vs Fairies.' As with the previous horses section of my project I aim to create a parallel between butterflies and fairies in my planned final film in the hope of planting the seed of the idea that we have beautiful things such as butterflies in our 'real' world so why do we need to fantasise about fairies. Although, I am open to the idea that fairies exist...
I knew that I wanted to create the butterflies with paper, as paper has always been an integral part of my work after doing a week long paper cutting tutorial with Lu Shenzhong last year. I therefore began by looking at different ways of creating the butterfly, that would be most convenient for what I wanted. I did this through a basic cutout shape, a paper cut pattern, a burnt pattern, a wax resist and watercolour patter and an icing pen drawn pattern.

As the idea began to develop I realised the most effective transition between butterflies and fairies was if I was to have a 'flutter' of butterflies. Because of this, I decided the easier way to create a mass of butterflies was to go have a simple cutout. This would also make a mass of butterflies more easily distinguishable without being to busy with lots of cut/burnt parts. From this point on I set about cutting lots of the same butterfly shape and then stringing the ends together to create a 'curtain' which would eventually be used to create a flutter.
After my previous puppet research I had decided that these cutouts would work as a shadow puppet part of the film so that the shadows can merge with that of the fairies which I think would create quite a magical mystical effect which is appropriate for the subject matter. To practice this I photogrpahed the flutter of butterflies with a spotlight, testing how I could manipulate the shadows.

I was pleased with the results and so I will develop this thread for my film later on in the project. As a side note in this particular part of the project I was also intrigued by the shape of the butterfly cutout and I wanted to make it look more lifelike. I have a habit of keeping small green beer bottles and when I saw these on my shelf I decided to create a piece that had small butterflies trapped in the bottle. This was just a small development in the project and I created it using invisible thread and paper butterflies.

Table review
At this term's Table Review I showed my butterfly experiments, the flutter and a set of jars. The butterflies in jars seemed to get the most enthusiastic response with people liking the delicacy of the pieces and although I cannot think of a way to incorporate this into the overall 'Extraordinary vs Ordinary' pproject it is definitely an idea I am going to continue to develop in it's own right.