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  • Writer's pictureDani Surname

'Art Let's Me Be Too Much' | First Weeks of the MA

Updated: Feb 8, 2021

At this point we're seven (maybe eight) weeks into the term, and it's been a baptism by fire. After previously installing every week, we've now moved on the group installs and mine came this week. However, before reflecting on that I want to look back at my first few weeks to appreciate how hard they were and what I got out of them.

For our first install we were given the brief: 'Nothing', and after three hours discussing philosophical thinking on Nothingness I felt like my brain was about to melt and slide out of my ears. Though we only briefly touched on Jean-Paul Sartre's thinking in class, that felt like a good starting point, and I ended up being drawn to a particular anecdote in On Being and Nothingness. Sartre believing there would be fifteen hundred francs in his purse but finding only thirteen hundred made me think about how expectation or belief can produce something that exists only in its non-existence. Sartre's fifteen hundred francs exist as an idea but not a reality. Also, I have no idea what a franc is worth.

A light blue envelope with the word Failure written on it next to a strip of negatives with no images on them.
'Fifteen Hundred Francs'

This reminded me of a roll of film I'd taken to be developed (at Boots - no judgment, it was convenient) and had been returned empty, with 'FAILURE' written on the envelope. Apart from the mildly insulting caption, what made these interesting was an implied lack of existence. I can't remember what I'd photographed, but I considered the negatives 'empty' precisely because I'd expected them to contain images. I installed the negatives alongside their envelope under the name Fifteen Hundred Francs (although we don't share titles in class, I still name my work for reference and enjoyment).

Two white non-binary people, one topless while the other is clothed running their hands over the first person's skin.
Exploring comforting and discomforting touch, potentially named 'Operation'.

The following week we had a workshop in making performance, which I felt right at home in having studied performance and live art for the majority of my Undergraduate degree. The introductory session felt like a recap of that degree, with only a few unfamiliar names, but the afternoon 'making' session was a productive reminder of how to work collaboratively. My classmate Ana and I made a piece together exploring their interest in comforting touch, inspired by working in skincare, and mine in discomforting touch. Although I work collaboratively quite often, it's been a while since I've shared performance space with someone - I really appreciated being reacquainted with that intimacy.

A neon orange wig lying on a paint covered table.
The wig I wear when performing as Pseudochild.

Next came a session where we were instructed to bring in an object expressing something about our practice. My first idea was to produce a list of all the things I could have brought in, as lists are a significant part of my process, and sometimes finished work. However I knew my Pseudochild wig would be a more interesting talking point. As always, you think you know what you're going to say when it comes to you but I found myself saying something completely unexpected: 'I'm preoccupied with the idea of being too much... art lets me be too much'. That sentence has stuck with me, the accuracy of that statement making me see my practice in a different light.

Red plastic Wilko's bag hanging on a small silver hook on a white wall.
'100% Recycled Materials'

The following week we also brought in an object, but this time to be installed. I brought in a pair of faux leather gloves I had attached spikes to, with the intention of performing a piece I'd worked on that week. However, we were subjected to a plot twist when we got to class, and were told to give our objects to a classmate to install. I gave away my gloves and received a bag of kitchen rubbish, the packets still wet and sticky from use. I started a list of possible ways to install the contents of the bag, but instead decided to interpret my classmate's object as 'a bag of rubbish', not the rubbish inside. I screwed a hook into the wall and hung the bag above eye level, so the text could be read but the contents could not be seen or smelled. From this angle '100% recycled materials' stood out more, and the hook made the bag’s position seem temporary, as if it were being stored safely off the ground before its owner returned.

A red apple with the words Bite Me carved into the top layer of flesh. The apple is mounted on a white wall.

The last piece of work I want to mention came out of a workshop on technology, surveillance and AI systems. The day started with a walk acquainting us with the architecture of the Kings Cross area and its accompanying CCTV, and ended with a session where we were prompted to make a piece responding to: 'algorithm(s)'. In the morning we'd been given apples as symbols of nutritional data, and I'd become quite attached to the shape and colour of mine. Thinking about algorithms being instructions as we'd discussed earlier, I jumped on my first instinct to create an instruction that couldn't be followed, carving BITE ME on the apple and mounting it out of reach. I really enjoy provocative or affronting statements in my work, and this was a really fun way to combine that with a piece that affronts through it's form and positioning as well.

Outside of intellectual and artistic challenges, this period of the course has also been a practical challenge, pointing out how little I know about installing work that isn't performance. How little I know about 'installing', rather than staging, and 'crits' rather than scratches. I've grown in confidence through the help of new classmates and resident art technician (and fiancé) Alex giving me a power drill masterclass. I've also been taking full advantage of the library, first diving into their collection of Franko B books and now Manuel Vason.

It's been a hardcore way to start, but I do feel more comfortable conceptualising multidisciplinary work in a gallery space than I did before. Monday of this week I installed my first big piece of work on the course, and am now looking ahead to an exhibition I have this Friday, a collaborative work with artist Indigo Ayling. I'll write about both of those projects once they've had time to breathe and settle in my mind.

In the meantime folks, BITE ME.

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