Amanda Hopkins and Katie Pratt
Fig. 1 The Practice Exchange 11 – Identity and Place
In attendance: Katie Pratt, Charlotte Webb, Rosalind Fowler, Scott Schwager, Marsha Bradfield, Amanda Hopkins, Ana Laura Lopez de la Torre, Elizabeth Manchester, Maria Kheirkhah.
This was the last session of the 2010-2011 season of TPE. We introduced it with a brief reflection on the overarching themes coming out of presentations by over 20 practitioners. Whilst a more detailed analysis of what was shared and learnt at TPE 2010-2011 will take some time to put together (watch this space!), two key issues that seemed to stand out were:
• The complexity and diversity of individual approaches to practice seems to run against any effort to come up with a clear and robust definition of practice, and of what are – if any – the constitutive elements of it. While most practitioners are perfectly able to “practice” without such definitions, it became apparent that when it came to the task of articulating and sharing practice through other means (such as presentations, written statements) a conceptual framework to do so might be useful.
• Artists and designers often marshal ideas, methods and sources from other areas of knowledge, in order to substantiate and enrich their practice. All these come with certain baggage. How do we negotiate and pay attention to this baggage without being hindered by it? This question is specially poignant when artists enter the realm of “practice-based research”.
Fig. 2 The Practice Exchange 11 – Katie Pratt and Amanda Hopkins
Amanda introduced her presentation by talking briefly about her work teaching architecture students, and how this experience has both reflected and deepened her interest in place. Broadly speaking her practice deals with the idea of place and how people connect to it. In particular she thinks of place as “land” and is interested in the way that people use land and give it an identity that transforms it into a place.
Fig. 3 Scott Schwagger, Katie Pratt, Amanda Hopkins, Marsha Bradfield
Amanda presented 3 pieces of work, the last one in progress, all connected with public places. Through the discussion of the methods and outcomes of these projects, she touched upon the following:
• The ability of art to render visible that which cannot be seen, for example through framing devices, by connecting places and times through the actual physical presence of the artist or the audience, or by gathering material through long periods of time that would not be immediately evident. How much of what is unseen, of what the practices brings into focus is actually part of the place, and how much comes from “the narrative in your head”? When we work in places tat we know intimately, how might we be able to surprise ourselves and to spot the unseen? Is it possible to regain a sense of ‘unfamiliarity’ (what is sometimes described of as ‘critical distance’)?
• The audience following on the artists steps, recreating certain journeys or experiences. What are the connections between the places where the source material for the work comes from, and where the work is finally displayed? How we make decisions about this? Paying attention to the presentation / display formats already deployed in the “research site” can be useful to take advantage of audience viewing or “reading” habits, but also can be the starting point for works that challenge the assumptions and expectations people have of certain places.
• An interest in the working methods of scientists and how by collaborating with them, everybody is allowed to “see more” and to push their practice into new uses.
Fig. 4 Rosalind Fowler, Charlotte Webb, Maria Kheirkhah, Elizabeth Manchester
Katie started her presentation by commending TPE as a necessary space within the institution, providing Lecturers such as herself and Amanda with an interface between teaching and practice.
Her initial response to Amanda’s suggested title for this session (Place and Identity) was to think that neither of these words really applied to her practice. However, on closer inspection she found useful to examine her practice through these terms, and to consider them beyond the trite meanings that they sometimes acquire by being overused in art discourses. In fact, all practices involve an examination of place and identity to certain degree.
Fig. 5 Charlotte Webb, Scott Schwagger, Katie Pratt
During her presentation, Katie outlined some of the main concerns of her practice as an abstract painter:
• An interest in systems and regularities, in processes of classification and naming and what forms of inclusion and exclusion they perform. “Typecasting” operates through describing characteristics but it is always doomed to failure, the impossibility of finding a “pure specimen”. How this connects with resisting the impulse to define the painting, and in particular to resist the drive to find “figurative” references in abstract painting (“Is it a city? Is it a landscape?”). Her work is explicitly abstract but paintings sometimes are made in response to a visual impulse of something witnessed, it is important to embed experience in practice. She does not like to reveal the particular visual impulses behind individual works, but these are sometimes referenced in the titles.
• The need for analogies when working with abstract painting, of having an external reference or indexical parameters to make the work more interesting. The work is not “purely decorative”, it is important that the viewer encounters and understands that there is a system or discourse being articulated through the paintings, that goes beyond pure expression. For example, she often uses analogies from social or political phenomena to organize and “build” her paintings. She would not dismiss notions of “taste” or “visual pleasure” when considering the viewer experience, but ultimately, her own investment in the work is connected with working on concrete ideas through the materiality of painting. She does not feel the need to prescribe what viewers might see in her work, but it is pleased if they are able to find analogies to personal and social experiences.
Fig. 6 Katie Pratt's slide presentation
Themes and questions to take forward:
Practice as vision: The importance of thinking about fields of vision, about considering how people notice things. How the position of the viewer can work in conjunction with the location or the scale of the work to foster different experiences, for example being drawn into a focal point, seeing something sideways or being able to see the “invisible”.
Practice as method: The need to find a structuring device for practice, in particular methods that employ a degree of automatism can be useful to remove expressionistic excesses, or to temper the artist “gesture”. Developing a method is a form of decision making, setting yourself rules as to when and where to start from, how to proceed and when to stop. Creating rules and methods to guide practice is also connected with the need to “making a date with practice”. It is a way of creating a clearly demarcated time and space for practice, a reflective and contemplative space protected from the hectic pace of teaching and raising a family. A fixed set of rules to work grounds you and avoids you “floating” but at the same time – perhaps paradoxically – allows you to freely loose yourself into the work.