My first thought when starting this Unit 2 self-assessment was the same as for Unit 1, “I wish I had blogged about many more activities and experiences I have engaged in during my MA”. One of my personal study objectives was to gain as much of an art school experience as possible and to add as many skills to my art making ‘toolbox’ as feasible in the time available, and I feel I have achieved this. Over the two-year MA I have applied myself pretty much as I would in a full time job and taken full advantage of UAL facilities at Chelsea, Central Saint Martin’s, Wimbledon, and Camberwell as well as the Tate Exchange and activities at other universities including Kingston and University College London. I have also attended many conferences and exhibitions, particularly around the topic of virtual and mixed reality. I have entered the Lumen Prize last year and this.
In this post, I have therefore also commented on activities I did not have time to include in my blog, alongside those I have referenced. My WordPress blog is nevertheless seventy-thousand words.
Jonathan originally commented on my first project proposal “Terry, you have five MA’s here”. At the end of Unit 1 most of these five objectives were achieved and practically demonstrated in my art exhibits. My Unit 1 focus was around the life model and with ‘digital to physical’ art making. My practice development in Unit 2 continued at a similar hectic pace, but with much more focus and clarity of purpose. Reflecting on Unit 1, made me realise that my work, which started with the idea of “giving the model a voice” had become about story-telling, mixing digital with physical components to create a narrative, with the aim of gaining an empathic response from the viewer. I have since built on the skills gained in the first year by extending my art to include what is referred to as the ‘empathy’ engine, namely Virtual and Mixed Reality. These are evident in my MA Show exhibit ‘The Refugees’ Crisis’ which combines a short film with binaural sound recording, 3D digital sculpture and Mixed Reality using the Microsoft HoloLens, none of which I had any familiarity with before this course.
My MA Fine Art Digital journey has been an exciting and exhilarating experience which has enabled me to become the artist I have always wanted to be. What next, beyond my plan described later, for continuing my personal and professional development, is still an open question. A holiday or two are planned, but I am not good at having nothing much to stimulate me for long.
I have applied for a part-time position as Assistant Curator, Digital Learning at Tate based at Tate Britain and Tate Modern. I have also been invited to re-apply to two universities (Kingston and UCL jointly supervised by Nick Lambert at Ravensbourne) after completing my MA. Both said that they would offer me a place as a PhD student based on my proposal, but either did not have a suitable supervisor or the proposed supervisor was currently overloaded.
In the meantime, I am following up the possibility of continuing my research (with the hope of attracting a suitable University) by involving a business or art institution on AHRC’s Collaborative PhD track. I have an introduction outstanding to the head of the digital art collection at the V&A by one of their senior curators, and a Microsoft Evangelist (their title!) has followed up my discussion with him with the appropriate contacts within Microsoft, but I have yet to chase this. Prof. Stephen Farthing also said that he would endorse an application to Linda Drew, Principal at Ravensbourne, whom he knows well, suggesting that I do Post Doc equivalent research at Ravensbourne based on my PhD proposal (Ravensbourne do not currently offer PhDs). I have also thought of applying to the Slade School of Fine Art or re-applying to the Royal College of Art. However, I think a year out is on the cards, and probably a good idea. It will give me time to think things through while I continue my art making. A Residency appeals, but we will see. C’est la vie. What will be will be.
I have presented my assessment under the three learning outcomes but an overview can be found in my Symposium 2 Video
Present a resolved body of original creative practice that has evidenced the systematic enhancement of your knowledge and understanding
My passion immediately before joining the MA was life drawing, and this became my starting point for Unit 1. My focus in the first year was almost all around the life model and ‘digital to physical’ art making. I felt it important to state this as the skills I gained in Unit 1 were entirely new to me and proved an essential foundation for developing my art practice in Unit 2.
My project proposal was ambitious; some would say overly so, including the view of Jonathan as I’ve noted earlier. However, by the end of Unit 1 most of the objectives I set myself were achieved and demonstrated in my art making culminating in my MA Display, ‘Metamorphosis’.
In my first term at Camberwell, I made a full body scan of my life model Vanessa, used this to laser cut 250 slices of MDF, and built a metre-tall sculpture which I exhibited at our first pop-up show. Jonathan later remarked that this was something he would not have expected from a student until the end of Unit 1. Using the same scan, at CSM I 3D, I printed a 75cm tall sculpture in hardened plaster. I taught myself to morph 3D scans, turning them into large digitally printed canvases and rotating 3D projections. Through the UAL Digital Maker Collective at Chelsea, I acquired skills around the Internet of Things (IoT) and used them to make the sculptures and images on canvas speak when touched or approached. In a tutorial with Prof. Stephen Farthing he remarked on the uniqueness of my work, and that he could envisage an art exhibition devoted entirely to talking sculptures concluding. “What would a pineapple say, or a Kalashnikov?” I therefore believe that I used my newly found skills in an original and creative way, further evidenced here in my Unit 1 assessment:
Some of my work in Unit 1
Holograms created in Unit 2
My MA Show Exhibit in Production
MA Show Exhibit
My practice development in Unit 2 has continued at a similar hectic pace, but with much more focus and clarity of purpose. My research paper is concerned with built-in obsolescence in born-digital art and the consequent ‘digital gap’ in our future cultural legacy.
This led me to research Mixed Reality (an advanced form of Augmented Reality) as a possible solution, and subsequently to incorporate it into my art practice.
I have since demonstrated ‘making the absent object present’ to V&A educationalists and curation professionals, showing how art objects and installations could be experienced in the present as they were exhibited in the past, using one of my MA Show 3D scanned and printed sculptures as an example.
This is the basis of my PhD proposal for which I am still seeking an appropriate supervisor.
I demonstrated my research into Virtual Reality using the HTC Vive, and Mixed Reality using the Microsoft HoloLens at all four sessions of the Tate Exchange organised by the UAL Digital Maker Collective, as well in our studio and during our last Low Residency.
It is this technology, sometimes referred to as an ‘empathy engine’, which gave me the idea to include MR in my MA show exhibit about the Refugee Crisis. I wanted to include the empathic effect I could gain from the use of this technology, for the viewer to experience the viewpoint of the refugees, rather than the problems we perceive they are causing us in Europe. It is titled ‘The Refugees’ Crisis to reflect this. This art installation combines a binaural sound recording, background films using stock video clips of the sea, and 3D printed sculptures of two actors as a refugee and one of his rescuers.
The Microsoft HoloLens shows the actors’ silhouettes filmed against a green screen, later edited to black (transparent) with a binaural recording of their narrative, alongside several huge scale holograms of refugees in the sea. This artwork has required me to learn many new skills and put them into practice alongside those I learnt in Unit 1.
I taught myself how to play a sound recording, at the same time as projecting holograms into the real world around the viewer using the HoloLens headset. I tried and failed to incorporate video into this combined experience. To do that I needed to develop a Unity project and deploy it to the HoloLens. This was eventually achieved over many sessions and a lot of handholding and heartache in the Advanced Digital Projects Department at CSM.
To make a short professional film to be shown in the HoloLens, I needed to use a professional green screen recording studio. Sadly, I could not gain access to these facilities and expertise at Wimbledon or CSM. So, with some first and second year MA FAD colleagues, we pooled our knowledge and experimented using the portable green screen set up in Camberwell Digital Media. It was there that I also learnt about sound recording and editing, building on an invaluable session with Ed on Audacity software. Alasdair and I later established our own much larger green screen facility at Alasdair’s home studio. There we experimented with recording and editing, including different sound recording methods in particular using a binaural head. This experience was invaluable when finally making my film at a commercial facility, Camberwell Studios.
To make the film, I was fortunate to be able to involve two professional actors including my wife, a professional scriptwriter/film maker, and Donald as camera man and film editor. I took the roles of producer, director and autocue operator! Over twenty-seven takes in one day (I was the taskmaster) we made a three-minute binaural sound recording and two short films in single takes.
To make the sculptures, my wife was scanned using the Veronica Scanner developed by the Factum Foundation for restoring destroyed ancient monuments (e.g. from Palmyra). The actor taking the part of the refugee was scanned in the Camberwell photographic studio.
Both sculptures were made in ten pieces (because of the maximum print dimensions of the CSM 3D printer) which I assembled, finished and painted at home. I had experimented with my own Ultimaker 3D additive printer, but as it took seven days continuous printing to make one part, this was quickly (or should I say very slowly) abandoned in favour of selective laser printing at CSM.
Putting this all together in an art installation for my MA show has been an education in itself but I have yet to finish my blogs about that.
Analyse and critically reflect coherently upon your own practice and its context
The development of my story-telling focus did not progress linearly or logically, but emerged from trying to build a toolkit of skills which I felt necessary to express myself artistically, pursuing my interest in people and their life experiences.
I was made to realise and confront the fact that cultural sensitivities need to be taken into account in my work. This was evident in crits of my work from fellow students and tutors where strongly held opposing views were expressed about my idea of touching a nude female sculpture to elicit a recorded voice response. I admit that my personal view concurred with that of Prof. Farthing who said in one tutorial “you are at an art school, not a monastery”, but in the end I deferred to respect the alternative view by triggering the voice of the model by touching a book with the same title as the artwork ‘Metamorphosis’. This was after a hilarious and abortive attempt at home, experimenting with how I could allow the model’s head to be touched but not the rest of her body, and how I could impart this request to the audience!
Gaining an emotional response from the viewer has become an important objective in my artwork. I aimed to do this sympathetically to the subject and audience and not by shock tactics. However, I realise that the combination of artistic devices I have used in my final MA show art installation makes the work extremely hard hitting and with no holds barred. Perhaps this comes from my own strong feelings on the issues raised? Now I believe it important to hold a personal view about important issues and express it through your art. Art can open peoples’ eyes to situations in imaginative and stimulating ways that mere factual reporting cannot.
I understood early on that I should not allow myself to be seduced by technology as I admit that I am, as Ed recently jokingly called me, a “Gadget Man”. I am fascinated by new technology and its potential uses, which was the basis of my previous business career, but I also know that the technologies I use are just tools for artistic expression. New technologies have been quickly adopted by artists through the ages, including for example devices to aid painting in perspective, new materials and paints, photography, moving image and so on. Grayson Perry, our UAL chancellor made his ‘Walthamstow Tapestry’ using Photoshop software and a computer loom in Flanders, and had a Wacom tablet in the backroom of his studio when I visited. So I make no apologies for my use of emerging technologies to aid my creativity and artistic expression, alongside those that have already become well established in the art world. Artists often push the boundaries of what is possible and are early adopters of whatever new opportunities present themselves. I am now very comfortable with that in my own art practice. New technologies deployed in one’s artmaking are not gimmicks when used thoughtfully with artistic purpose.
I have reflected on the saying ‘Less is More’.
This was raised in a tutorial with Prof Lucy Orta at the London College of Fashion when discussing my proposed MA project about the plight of refugees. The meeting followed my attendance at her Passagens seminars at the London College of Communication.
Yet I have included many of the elements that she encouraged me to consider dropping to make my message simpler and thus stronger. This point was also raised by one of my fellow students when I demonstrated the HoloLens during the MA Show build. I have considered that I may be over attached to elements of work which I have put so much effort into and where others have been intrinsically involved. Dropping any element would be an emotional wrench for me I must admit. But I feel that I resolved this matter by separating the work into layers which work independently. The background videos of the sea can be likened to a simple backdrop on a stage. The sculptures are mounted on transparent plinths with the aim of invisibility to the viewer as far as possible. The binaural recording by necessity needs to be heard through headphones and therefore does not intrude on the visual presentation. The film, with the green screen replaced by the sea image in the background video, is only seen when the viewer initiates it using a displayed QR code.
The HoloLens video shows the actors only against the visual background in the real world of the exhibition space, alongside huge holograms of the refugee, both experienced personally through a headset, again not intruding on the visual set of the main exhibit. Whether this works in practice remains to be seen, but I am hoping that it will. I will in any event learn from this experience and it will inform my practice in future.
Finally, I refer to a discussion during my last tutorial with Jonathan when I showed him my intended life size holograms of the refugees in the sea. We argued about whether this was more appropriate to the message I was trying to express. He introduced me to the work of Jaume Plensa, huge figures towering over the environment in which they were placed. I learned from this debate that expression in art is not necessarily literal, and is usually best if the viewer is able to make their own interpretation. Messages are best hidden, to be explored and discovered. They do not need to be obvious. It should have been evident to me but it was not in my proposed work. I was too literal. So I changed it following Jaume Plensa’s example but in Mixed Reality.
Summarise and evaluate your overall progress and formulate a constructive plan for continuing Personal and Professional Development
My artistic practice now bears little relation to when I started the MA. Personal artistic skills were formerly design, drawing and photography – mainly developed as a hobby through informal adult education. Now my practice is enormously enriched by my experience. I now love making sculptures. I can make professional films and am drawn to the immersion of binaural sound. I am fascinated by the potential of mixed reality to allow the viewer to experience my art and not just view it. I am now a practicing artist and have convinced myself at least that I have a talent for original creative work.
Perhaps in future I can produce a performance where the entire audience wear headsets to experience a binaural recording at the same time? Or where they can all walk around a work consisting entirely of holograms projected into the exhibition space? Or make that exhibit referred to earlier, where all the sculptures speak? My experience and skills acquired during my MA have thus greatly expanded my horizons and possibilities for innovative art making.
It was my intention at the outset of this course to learn as many artistic skills as I could. I did not go to art school or gain any formal art education but I wanted as much of the art school experience as I could get. Having followed a business career path and now retired I have been able to follow a different route that has been immensely enriching and engaging. I have grabbed the opportunity with both hands and ‘gone all out for it’. I am used to working hard so I have treated this two-year part time university course as though it were full time with business hours and holidays. I have been fortunate to have been allowed into workshops in almost all the six UAL colleges, and to have been able to take tutorials with many accomplished artists including a Royal Academician. I am very proud of the work that I have produced on this course.
In order to continue my personal and professional development as an artist, I know that I am not a person who likes to work alone most of the time. I therefore need to be around other artists. I will consider taking a studio alongside other artists, and will apply for residencies. I am good at networking and will follow up many of the contacts with other artists made during this course. I hope to maintain contact with UAL and Camberwell if the opportunity arises. I am continuing as an active member of the UAL Digital Maker Collective, and will be involved in the Tate Exchange next year.