On a blue background with a red border are the words: ‘366:366 (Finally): The Long Duration of the Making of an Artwork. Professor Ang Bartram’s Inaugural Lecture’.
A name comes up on the screen: Professor Keith McLay, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Education. He is a white man in a black academic gown with a microphone introducing the lecture.
Next to him, on our left, is Ang Bartrum, Professor of Contemporary Art, and her name is on the screen too. She is a white woman with long, pink-streaked hair. She is also wearing a black academic gown and she is smiling.
It's my real delight this evening to introduce Professor Ang Bartram's inaugural lecture. Those of you who know of Ang's research interests will forgive the pun if I say that Ang has been dogged in her pursuit of her academic career. Hailing, as she says herself, from a housing estate where baseball bats tended to be swung rather than books being opened, between 1992 and 2010 Ang gained successively a BA, an MA and a PhD at NTU, UCA and Middlesex University. Unable to decide between art or anatomy, Ang focused on fine art, and in particular, sculpture.
And following initial graduation she began work effectively as a commercial artist. She has exhibited nationally and internationally, from Nottingham to London to Bournemouth to Newcastle to God's own country in Glasgow, taking in the sunnier climes - but arguably less exotic - of Mexico City, Paris and New York City. Not for Ang though, the glamour, the canapes, the champagne and the bright lights of the international art scene. Ang was focused on a more noble but certainly more impecunious career - that of academia, as a research and ideas artist. Her route into academia was not unfamiliar; a series of temporary teaching and supervision jobs at a variety of different Universities.
She then in 2006 took up a permanent post at the University of Lincoln, rising to Reader, before she came across to the University of Derby as Associate Professor in 2018. Ang's research interests are truly eclectic; from animal studies to companion animals to empathetic relationships to artistic research and the multi-layered points of access and accessibility of many different subjects. She has over 20 publications to her name. She has an unending list of conferences symposia and grant successes also to her name, and yet she still continues as an exhibiting artist, with a highlight being the summer of 2019, with the run of her own show at Manchester International Festival, 'Human School: Be Your Dog'. Tonight's lecture, '366:366 (Finally)' will focus on a series of prints from the etch plate to match the number of breaths which had scored its image.
We will hear about Ang's durational practice, that is to say continuance and persistence over time, in practice. We will see how her research underpins decision-making and intent and how failures and mishaps are necessary products. Ang is a colleague in the University from whom I never go away from a conversation without having gained some additional insight and more often having been checked for what is in Ang's eyes a heinous crime - banal and traditional thinking. Ang embodies the very essence of a University, of our University, pushing the boundaries of critical thinking and knowledge. She has earned the right to profess and to be professorial.
Ladies and gentlemen, Professor Ang Bartram, Professor of Contemporary Art.
Professor Ang Bartrum steps forward and puts on a pair of reading glasses. She begins to read from a laptop.
Behind her on the walls are colourful examples of student’s work. Print-room equipment is all around.
Thank you, Keith. This talk comes live from our fantastic print room resources at Britannia Mill Studios on campus. A space of activity and experimentation and of learning and doing and understanding and students acquiring knowledge.
I'd like to say some thanks first to the friends and colleagues that I've had over the years and still who support me in my endeavours, whether with a kind word or bolstering sympathies to actually helping me man shows and things like that. The galleries, curators and publishers that saw it fit to disseminate my work to the public, and for their investment and support.
The organizations who have supported my work too, from funding to passing on opportunities and inviting me to do things. And finally to the University of Derby, a University who supports artists, the School of Arts, and the arts generally. Which is why I'm in this position now and also for believing in a coal miner's daughter.
Ang has now changed into a clean white lab coat.
About the project
This talk will discuss '366:366', a project including a series of prints from the etch plate to match the number of breaths which scored its image. Within the context of other related research. I will discuss my artistic research practice with a focus on this artwork and its situation within a curatorial project and how process-based research underpins decision-making and intent. And how failure and mishap are often by-products.
This will cover a commitment to duration and pre-determined sense of being 'in it for the long haul' in these endeavours. This talk was intended to be an inaugural exhibition which the University gratefully supported, but due to Covid this was not possible. But I will attempt to keep the spirit of being with the artworks here and in this studio. To that end the talk also includes an element of live print-making activity, where you will witness the artwork being completed - and possibly also failure - first hand. But as Samuel Beckett said, quote, 'To be an artist is to fail as no other dare fail', unquote.
A slide shows a black and white image of a pendulous shape hanging from a ceiling.
And in thinking about this talk it took me back to how I have been invested in process and experimentation for a very, very long time. And this slide is from my Degree show in 1992, so 28 years ago, and it was a double-layered four by four by four metre rubber sheet that was made of component parts and took a lot of experimentation to work out how to affix it together and how it could be suspended from the ceiling and also contain organic matter. It was drilled into the ceiling, and at this point, I think I should also give thanks to the Head of Sculpture who allowed me to situate it outside of his office, despite the fear that it may actually flood his office at some point because the thing that makes the shape is water.
So over the nine months of that third year, I experimented with this material to see what properties it had and what it could do, and how far I could push it. And I knew from experimentation that about 10 inches in diameter would stretch to about 30 inches in diameter with pressure. So that water is on 10 inches diameter, that grows to that shape that you see there.
Now, this was an interesting piece of work, and while my colleagues and friends were celebrating the end of their Degree, I was in the studio every day checking how far it had stretched towards the floor because the piece kept on growing. And the bulbous middle was bouncing towards the floor.
I'd go in every day with a ruler and see how far it had travelled, often with my heart in my mouth. Until one day I walked in and the outer sheet had split in a complete and perfect circle allowing the inner sheet to come through and it had hit the floor. And it sat like a ball on the floor and I decided I had to pail it out, so out came the stepladders and up I went and I started to take the water out. And slowly the shape started to rise off the floor until it stabilized to what you see now.
And this was also quite an interesting piece of work, looking back, because the 36mm slide is all I had that existed of this piece of work. So I had to move it from the analogue to the digital, which involved me getting a slide projector from a friend which she bought from a car boot sale and wanted to get rid of, taking it to my studio, projecting it, taking a photograph of it with a digital camera and turning it into a PowerPoint slide.
Failure is defined, by Lisa Lefevre in an edited book of the same name, as that which takes us, quote: 'Beyond assumptions and what we think we know', unquote. And that which allows us to, quote: 'Stumble on the unexpected', unquote. My research engages interconnected activities that acknowledge an 80% probability of failure occurring, an inclusivity of the serendipitous and imperfect as a consequence. The work is process-based and produced through experimentation, and actively engages materials in their true sense - in that they're not coated or veneered - and collaborators and participants. 'Material' in an artistic sense is a substance, natural or artificial, intended for further treatment and processing.
It is something that becomes something else and as such it is imbued with endless possibilities for aiding understanding and creating communication. Process, by the nature of turning one thing to another through stages, involves a risk of failure, in what Lucy Lippard saw as occurring through a, quote: 'Determined mindfulness, even sacrifice, in the heat of creation', unquote. The transformative properties of material through process, of being in amidst rather than at the beginning or the end, allow for an embrace of its experimentation and risk. A 'being in the thick of it' is to be involved in process. This artistic research activity is a connection between me and the material and subject and the becoming of an idea. This becoming, or bringing something into being, with this as the focal point is here defined as my process.
Process involves elements of unpredictability, chance and risk, and of the artwork developing a semi-self-determined direction within a set of parameters and conditions. I say 'semi-self-directed' as I provide the rules and structures for the artwork to develop. And you can see in this piece of work how that semi-self-determined nature exists.
I'm just soaking a piece of paper for the print later.
The Alternative Document – The Ephemeral and its Loss
A new slide is titled: ‘The Alternative Document – The Ephemeral and its Loss’. A photograph of a modern building is shown with the words: ‘end of story’ lit up in fluorescent light tubes on the wall. We see by its label that is an artwork entitled ‘end of story’ by Tim Etchells from 2012.
My approach to research is somewhat rhizomatic, following the Deleuze and Guattari concept in 'A Thousand Plateaus'. This allows for multiple non-hierarchical entry and exit points in representation and interpretation. No central focus or way in, but the use of many avenues to produce and provide routes into understanding a subject as shown by the 'Alternative Document' project.
And '366:366' was made after and as a response to me doing this project, which included exhibition symposiums and published texts, and the components swapping between them. And the contributors were the same irrespective of the type of output.
This project sees the incorporation of many materials as that which reveal the forces of production in their transformation to be something else, and artistic processes with dissemination as artworks, articles, book chapters, talks and curating. This allows for the potential for non-hierarchical and differentiated understanding, making it accessible to many through a variety of contexts and situations. And I'm just going to show you some of my other work to do with animals, which is another type of durational endeavour.
Art and animals
This slide shows images from the online exhibition ‘ANTONYM: Life With and Without Animals’. Photographs show Professor Ang reading books to the different animals she describes.
This is a series called 'Reading Animal Theories To The Animals It's Been Written About', and here you see me reading dog theory to my research assistant Oscar, cat theory to my cats, who are as enamoured as ever, and horse theory to horses at my stables.
And this work is currently on exhibition in ANTONYM: Life With and Without Animals', which is the companion exhibition to the conference of the same name, which was staged at the University last month. And both were organized and curated by Steve Baker and I.
A photograph shows the white interior of a contemporary art gallery. Around the room, on the floor and on plinths, are various humans and dogs interacting. There are three quotes in colourful letters at the bottom. The first reads: “The origins of dogs – like dogs themselves – appear inseparable from those of human cultures.” From ‘Dog’ by Susan McHugh (2004). The second quote reads: “No single dog is physically or temperamentally like another.” From ‘Radio Benjamin’ edited by Lecia Rosenthal (1930). The third reads: “Dogs showed more synchrony with individuals they considered as their favourite social partners”. From ‘Canis Sensitivus’ by Duranton and Gaunet in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour 10 (2015).
This is 'Be Your Dog', which saw artists and their artistic dogs come together over two weekends to form a pack. And in this, hierarchy was diminished: so the humans had to follow their dogs, learn from them, to understand them and to gain some of the empathy that dogs exhibit themselves, which is what makes them 'Man's best friend'.
The screen goes black with the words ’BE YOR DOG AT KARST EVENT 6 NOVEMBER 2016’ in white. This is followed by sped-up video footage of people moving around the gallery space, some crawling on the floor with their dogs.
Now Professor Ang speaks at her desk again.
And the follow-on from that which is 'Human School: Be Your Dog' at Manchester International Festival, which saw very different conditions. Four workshops which were two and a half hours long with different participants in each. And on the second day, and which was the most interesting for me, actually included a pack of dogs from a rescue centre called 'Dog's Foot Rescue' in Greater Manchester, where they live in a pen-less facility, so the dogs arrived as a pack readily formed, and the humans had to infiltrate the pack. They couldn't choose their companions, their companions had to choose them. Can you please start the video.
A longer segment of the sped-up video is shown.
My research interests include art and animal studies and empathy within companion species relationships, and the continued development and restaging of ephemerally derivative and process-based artworks, such as those that are time and site-specific or that use impermanent materials or living bodies. An intent is to work with the historic in the here and now, to make the document of the artwork more than 'archive', and something new.
A document is a delivery of fact, a translation of a timely observation and experience fixed in its history by another observing and witnessing body. The document also formulates documentation when imagery is produced in a series, whether by multiple lenses and viewpoints or by repeated encounters, which acts as a substitute or stand-in for the original. The work you see is 'Be Your Dog', which exists within this duality. For it is both a document of an event and a different artwork. The document and documentation coexist.
The document is an artwork made of the original whilst being part of its documentation. By altering the speed of the factual footage, the video of the event is made into an additional artwork. Experience naturally leads one to believe what will happen and occur, but as working with non-human animals, and specifically dogs, over 17 years has taught me: the unpredictable and un-directable is often a consequence of giving chance within process an opportunity to flourish. Socially conscious research, such as that which is done with others and not to them, informs the process when other living bodies are included, which allows for the unpredictable. Dogs, as collaborators, do their own thing, according to breed, temperament, levels of socialization, age, character, boredom, health and interest, and this informs and frames what happens.
Change occurs through lack of direction. They are there as collaborators and not for entertainment and are therefore not directed. Positioned as equals within the creative process they are integral and vital. A productive and good thing where the surprises are often a welcome and opportune outcome of the research process itself. The rules I often set, such as with the live performance of this work and '366:366 eventually’ that I cannot be precious, not edit and select from the artwork made. It is what it is: successes, failures, the lot. The full process and its product are visible, mishaps and all. Can you restart the PowerPoint please?
Now there are two photographs on the screen; one of a man laying on grass with his dog and one of Professor Ang laying at the foot of a tree with her dog. Beneath this a quote in blue reads: “Emotional contagion, a basic building block of empathy, occurs when a subject shares the same affective state of another.” From ‘Rapid Mimicry and Emotional Contagion in Domestic Dogs’ by Pelagi, Nicotra and Cordoni, Royal Society Open Science (2016).
I just need to now remove the soaking paper as it needs to sit on other paper to absorb away water from it, so that it can print successfully.
I had worked with the mouth as an instrument for drawing and object-making in performances and other ways for years, and '366:366 eventually’ is an extension of that practice. The mouth, what some theorists such as William A. Ewing would term a 'vulnerable orifice', made useful and invulnerable through creative process. For the leap year of 2016 I exhaled on an etching plate every day to make 366 breaths. An image made in 366 layers of breath over 366 days in the same place and at roughly the same time of 8 pm in my house.
Each breath took about four seconds to lay on an A5 zinc etching plate, so roughly 1464 seconds in total, or just over 24 minutes or a third of an hour across 2016 - and that is a lot of breath. An endeavour doomed to failure from the outset surely, for how could breathing produce an image in this way? I chose printmaking, despite having not printed to any serious extent since being 18 at art school, as a medium normally used for creative permanence and the fixed, not impermanence and change, and to evolve and be part of a durational becoming. Also it is akin to casting, which is a proficient, unusual method of my making artwork. Both create reproductions through repetitive and mechanized actions, and both include moments of being blind to what is happening.
This 'blindness' creates elements of failure, despite understanding and knowledge, as a result. The paper can move unexpectedly on top of the printing plate before it goes through the printing press, for example. A malleable material may contain locked-in air bubbles within the mould which scar and pit the surface of the of the resulting sculptural cast object. Such errors make evident the process and treatment of the material within the outcome itself. The year-long process of etching the plate in 2016 took some research and thinking through. But could breath alone do this on zinc?
Professor Ang reads to us again in the print-room.
Experts said not, and for nine months I was of the same opinion, believing the experiment had failed. But really I didn't care, for this was an exploration of repetition within process, the mundane within the order of making, and not of performing an exact and known act to succeed. It was an experiment, a trial, a test, within process and over duration. Yet despite the odds and of being told that it simply wouldn't work unless I ate a ton of eggs a day - which was something that did not inspire confidence or courage - the plate bore no signs of being etched until October, when in the second week it began and from then on the drawing rapidly developed. Persistence had paid off. A representation or semblance of my mouth and nose began to emerge on the plate, as if composed of micro droplets derived from my lungs, oral and olfactory systems.
The dotted and hazy image developed for the remainder of that year, until finally I was left with a fairly detailed plate on which to print. This is the image you see here.
Slide shows an image with hazy white shapes on a black background on a piece of metal. It is labelled: ‘366 Breaths, Etching Plate, 2016’.
It is a photograph of the etching plate taken on the 1st of January 2017. I must admit to feeling somewhat bereft that this part of the process was over. An action that had become a part of my daily routine over 2016. The plate was in fact a weird and slightly delightful object to me, of the process which made it. But it was always the process I was interested in. And the reason why I was willing, nay, invited the opportunity for the drawing to fail. Had it never surfaced on the plate I would not have cared, as the focus was the endeavour itself. The image was an irrelevance, and the process, although a happy one, once it appeared, led by the performative and regulatory within its creativity.
The fulfilment of a task, if you will, to engage with repetitive process within an everyday structure to give the creative act space to exist. The 'present' and our relation to it, as reality of an event and happening, is significant in terms of Bergson's description of duration and experience, which has a bearing on Vreeland's proposition of 'being in the moment' to make the work, work. Although she uses this more for performance viewing, it has value here in relation to experience, although in this instance it's the artist and not the audiences. Bachelard discusses the 'before' and 'after' as moments held in tension through a series of actively-connecting and continually-producing present 'now's. This notion of a series of repetitive and critically-engaged 'now's in artworks is of specific interest when discussing the ephemerality and regularity of process.
For Deleuze, repetition condemns the individual to undergo the same action again and again, but it also provides the freedom to experience difference, the new and the now by recognizing and working with or against its regulatory structure. Evolution, change and that series of ‘now’s keeps the process in process, as it adapts, develops, and reshapes towards an end - even if it never gets there. A self-defining strategy that identifies, foregrounds, and integrates experiential ‘now’s, however subtle, is significant for the artwork's continuing critical development and dexterity.
It was always my intention to take those breaths back, through process - however, they were not meant to lay on the etching plate forever or to be immortalized in one solitary print taken from it. The accumulative breaths charted the act of isolating and capturing those layered singular exhalations, and I intended the act to be reversed through an additional repetitive method - the one of print making itself - using a press, roller and ink. One which would attest to the number of days needed to make the plate. As demonstration of analysis of sympathetic and divergent modes of response as a means to keep, in Bachelard's sense, a repetitive and performative now, the artwork asserts a demand to remain in critical process through repetition, and its continuing negotiations in relation to duration and failure. The process was to continue through taking the breaths back.
Now a slide shows one of Professor Ang’s prints. Amorphous black shapes hover over a grey background. It looks as if it has been sprayed in places. It is labelled: ‘366:366 Eventually. Print 1’.
2017 saw the next stage, to print from the plate 366 times to open up the artwork to process and duration once more. For this I made a kit of exact measure and determined the rules to follow.
John Baldessari had a strategy as setting up rules for artwork-making which defied those in existence to go against the familiar and known. The ongoing process of making '366:366' showed there is always chance for error, even in the most regimented of structures. Ones that do not defy their tradition, rather they work with it, as in contrast to Baldassari's approach.
But error can emerge and exist in compliance. Experience in process does not eradicate the capacity for activities not-going-to-plan as technical and human error are always possible.
Instruction dictates the conditions, but not always the determination of the outcome, especially within the experimental. The making kit was so exact that it denied any artistic will to edit and control the images that would become '366:366 finally’. It contained 366 sheets of A5 print paper, one tube of Charbonnel water-based ink, one piece of scrim to remove ink from the plate, one press-registration paper to locate the plate and print-paper, one bottle of plate oil, one pencil to add the numbers to the front of the prints, and one etching plate.
Two photographs are shown taken during the print process; there are sheets of paper, the inked plate and the scrim.
Had any of these run out they would have determined the state of the final artwork. The process of printmaking is methodical and perfunctory. I wet the papers, ink the plate with scrim and tissue paper, move to the press and print, one after the other. And usually 10 to 30 in one session.
Two more photographs show a close-up of the scrim fabric and the printmaking work area, with bottles, plastic gloves and ink roller.
It takes approximately nine condensed minutes to produce a print, from wetting the paper through to inking, to rolling through the press. That is 3294 minutes in total, or 54.9 hours, or 2.29 days. The prints have been made in the studio, a space somewhat akin to a laboratory, where ideas and intent naturally come to fruition through experimentation, chance and the embrace of risk.
Next is a midpoint photograph showing the metal plate.
As the process has evolved, so has the drawing, for the image began to break down quickly, as technical print professionals informed me it would, as the image on the plate was so delicate, to be replaced by the actions within the process itself. The process intends for inks remaining in the grooves of the plate, which is what creates the printed image, but any other should be removed. When adding and removing the ink, the scrim erases the image a little more with each print in this series, only to leave its own marks: the marks of the print-making process.
Now we are shown print 133. Mottled grey patterns on white paper.
The mouth and nose are almost diminished, to be replaced by a new drawing made of scratches and marks attributable to the method. The process increasingly takes over and away from my control.
Ink stains on the disintegrating registration paper where the plate and paper are laid on its demarcated surface to make the print, become a part of it. The one scrim used to remove the ink from the plate before printing in a wax-on, wax-off action was used throughout and became increasingly loaded with surplus. Despite best efforts, this saw ink remain on the plate, drawn in swirls by the scrim as its increasingly futile attempts fail at its intended removal. At print 161 a part of the scrim came off on the plate, which transferred and masked the area in which it sat. The original image was eroded as the prints were produced, so the ink had little to grip onto. An erasure, modification and mutation of a drawing to become another.
Yet despite this, the process and images remain undeniably and incontrovertibly linked. They cannot be separated, cannot be seen in isolation, for they are as one within an incremental series. The process stays true, binding them together, and for me remains the constant in the artwork as it evolves. And I'm just going to check my paper to see that it's drying off okay... which it's not (laughs).
Professor Ang has moved to another table now and is checking her print paper. Near us is a large black metal drying rack with prints drying on it. She moves back to her desk with the paper.
Now we are presented with two more close-up photographs, showing the pieces of used scrim and tissue paper.
Other factors existed, such as the pencil used to number the prints, which was not to be sharpened, which became increasingly blunt as the prints accumulated. There was also human error: when numbering created through tiredness which necessitated on-print corrections. The registration paper made of newsprint began breaking down at print 192 - and you'll see what state this is in shortly - which introduced the opportunity for error in placing the plate and paper correctly.
So much so that at 293, a strip came away as I lifted the plate off its surface. So fragile and brittle was it at 342, that it was perishing to such an extent that it started to inadvertently and unknowingly spread onto the surface of the plate between inking and printing, in the blind spot. And its fragments masked out areas for the printable surface. At 93 the plate became so smooth that water in the pre-soaked paper, necessary to make it pliable enough to take up the ink in the grooves, started to marble and pool. This created a discrete set of unstable prints that would normally be discarded as errors, but here within these rules they were acknowledged and accepted as necessary.
A slide shows a poster for the exhibition in the window of the gallery along with some smaller images from the exhibition and a list of artists' names before we return to Professor Ang in the print-room.
'366:366 Eventually' is an enduring work-in-process which has been exhibited in its growing volume since 2017, during the four exhibitions in the project Documents Alternatives which I curate and a share of the future at a gallery in Beijing. The artwork, like the exhibitions in Documents Alternatives, remains unfinished and in a state of process through the duration of a show.
Documents Alternatives propose a curatorial agenda for artworks to evolve and change in and between exhibitions, to set a narrative and visual discussion of themselves and with the others with which they were curated. Twelve artists were selected to demonstrate how this could occur with artworks deemed 'ephemeral', as documents of an event or consisting of changeable components.
There are several photographs of the white-walled Airspace Gallery interior, including a video projector up on a plinth, three jars on a shelf and a table-top with a tablet on it and some pieces of paper with text on them.
Rebecca Schneider suggests through Philip Auslander and Nancy Spector in 'Performing Remains: Art And War in Times of Theatrical Re-enactment', that re-performances and re-stagings re-create the original work and perform its documentation.
Curatorially, this was not re-staging in the known and the usual sense, although this did happen to some degree with some artworks. But redeveloping and re-envisioning a proposal for artworks to mutate within a given curatorial strategy. The remit was that the artwork keeps on growing, but has the ability to change, through applied and developing action and gesture. To aid this, specific galleries were chosen for their contrast in interior, atmospheric and usage conditions. Airspace Gallery has an irregular-shaped space, boasting wall-columns and domestic interior fittings, in Stoke-on-Trent, and this housed [exhibition] number one. Verge Gallery, a modern concrete and white-walled exhibition space in Sydney staged [exhibition] number two, where the artists were asked to develop their artwork from the previous iteration in Stoke-on-Trent.
The BSAD Gallery - a small, white-walled exhibition space in Bath. At exhibition number three, the artists were asked to digitise their artwork wherever possible and talk about it in a further symposium. This saw the artworks developed to mostly become audio-visual responses to their physical starting-point in exhibition number one.
The fourth and final iteration is an online exhibition of those artworks, a site designed to self-curate in that it selects the views seen with each and every user visit.
The film of the prints '366:366 Animated' was shown in numbers two and three. The film has taken over 24 hours to make over three years. Two versions exist with introductory text and two without.
A slide shows four photographs of the exhibition at Verge Gallery. There are colourful balloons and white plinths with art on them as well as pieces on the white walls.
One is four seconds per print to match the time for each breath on the plate when I made it in 2016, which is 25 minutes and 20 seconds including transitions. The other is one second per print, which is 6 minutes and 56 seconds.
Back to Professor Ang giving her speech.
Its renders which make it exportable and transferable as a file were performed three times per version last week, due to error, for example and when I was tired I accidentally deleted 292 from this 366 second version. There were over 10 computer system crashes.
I stopped counting. It was too stressful making and rendering the film and the near-death of the laptop used from the start of the process which made risk a very present reality. Throughout the Documents Alternatives project the artworks underwent physical and conceptual change through each of the exhibitions. Each iteration is an integral part of a conversation with the artworks adapting and transforming to the precise setting, site, and stage in its development to form a continuing dialogue.
In this way, as Hans Ulrich Obrist states in 'Ways of Curating', quote: 'Collection making is a method of producing knowledge', unquote. Allowing, as Boris Groys states, spectator attention to shift between, quote: 'The exhibited objects to the organisation of the exhibition space', unquote. The artist and curator work together to make an exhibition, and curatorial ambition has bearing on how the artwork communicates intent - both for itself and in relation to others with which it shares a space. Obrist states the Latin etymological root 'cure ' is 'to take care of', as the meaning of the term 'Curator'. And certainly they are custodians of meaning and knowledge of an artist's work, and how it is made accessible to others.
The artist intends their work to be staged correctly, the curator works from this position to ensure its communication is articulate. Through artist-curator construction, both parties performed within their remits for exhibition within the project, with care for the collection making within it. I straddled both roles, attending with care in each. The exhibitions are a process in themselves, not staged in isolation but as undulations in a curatorial experiment to explore and test measures that allow for development, change and unfixity in artworks.
'366:366 Eventually' is an example, and the artwork and curatorial strategy for Documents Alternatives are parallel and sympathetic activities in exploration of the same aim. The artwork grows in volume as more prints are added during the time on exhibition, until it is finally complete. The exhibition at Airspace Gallery housed first 60, and then 72 prints, as prints are added as produced through the exhibition and more have been added through other iterations.
Photographs of the ‘366:366 Eventually’ prints 1-50 arranged in a very neat grid on the white wall of Airspace Gallery.
So here what you see is the first installation of that at Airspace Gallery which has 50 of the prints, and I went back, carried on working, and went back two weeks later and added another 11. Which you see here.
A slideshow begins showing each of the prints one after another in close-up. Each one is different, showing varying black and grey textures.
And you can see even from 1 to 61 how much these have changed through the printmaking process and how the image has degraded.
And particularly in these details of number 1 in the top left, 21 and 61 while they're on exhibition.
To be led by process is to embrace failure. And this means showing items that are beyond artistic quality-control. Not selecting and showing only the perfect. Of not being fussy, selective or precious, as you can see as included here. No chance to select the best, but the acknowledgement that all be seen irrespective of being perceived as 'good' as in precise or acceptable or not.
Here one cannot edit, for to be true to the process and the performative rules we set for it, as in cause and effect, in the spirit of 'what will be will be', is to work with it as it is produced. To allow no selection or intervention but to embrace risk, mishap and its by-products and to not be wary of showing that to others. This is in spite of a tendency I have to never be satisfied with my work and my research, and for striving for perfectionism.
Practice is for me, living with an artwork and its processes over time, which this work demonstrates. It's thinking through technique and making its public-staging and re-staging, its place within the curatorial project and beyond. During Documents Alternatives which was completed in September this year with the online exhibition number four, this work was left unfinished, to be continued and left unfixed. This takes commitment and endurance.
It includes moments of intense productivity, serendipity, criticality, understanding, enlightenment, boredom, unpredictability, tiredness, frustration, mishap, error and failure.
The process often goes on for a long time - almost four years in total - from 366 breaths to become complete as '366:366 Finally'. From the first breath on the plate on the first of January 2016 to the last print taken from its surface on this day the 2nd of December 2020
And as you watch the remainder of this film I'll just fill you in on what I've been doing with the paper. So you're actually going to see me print '366' live here, so there's a very possible chance that this could all go horribly wrong, but you will be the witnesses to that, and that will be part of the artwork, irrespective of if it works or not. So I've been soaking paper, and that needs to be done to make it pliable enough to stick into the grooves and pick up the print itself.
I've now for a while been taking that water off because the paper cannot be too wet to print from because that creates all kinds of problems. It has to be damp enough, at the moment it needs a little bit more water coming from it so we are experiencing some kind of error, but never mind, it'll all work out. And then we will move to the print press, where you will see the next part of the process -through the mixing of the ink with the plate oil, rolling that out onto the surface of the plate itself and transferring it to the press, to take it through the press. So you'll see '366' be produced live.
Now Professor Ang is sitting at the print table. She squeezes out some black ink from a tube, adds some plate oil and begins to roll it out on a glass sheet. When she is satisfied it is mixed properly she applies the mixture with the roller on to a small metal printing plate. After this, she rubs its surface with the scrim fabric.
Here's the printing ink that I've been using throughout, and luckily there's quite a lot left, but I didn't know that there would be, it was a standard-sized tube. This is the bottle of plate oil which I've been using to mix with the ink, so about a third of this to two-thirds ink, which are then pushed through the roller to mix them together.
Printmaking is quite a physical activity, which you'll see in a minute, and in an ideal state, you'd be printing from something which is just slightly tacky which is that here underneath the roller. Not too much ink going on to the plate. It's then rolled over the image.
And at this stage, this plate is so battered through the printmaking process there are different kinds of pits and scores that have become onto its surface through actually going through different types of presses and through the registration-paper breaking down.
Now she moves with the inked plate over to the printing press. It has a large black upright metal wheel which can be turned to move the parts. She places the plate inside the press and covers it with the wet paper and layers of fabric.
This is the one scrim which I have used throughout and it's absolutely sodden with ink.
This is what scrim normally looks like when you start the process, so you can see how much is here. The scrims behind us are ones that are being used on a day-to-day basis within this print room.
So the ink is then taken off with the scrim in this wax-on, wax-off fashion.
Now when I started this process, when I was doing probably, prints 1 to 60, the ink was coming off very, very easily and that was to do with the condition of the plate, having a certain amount of etching still on it, and also the condition of the scrim not being loaded and suffused with ink.
And because it's so loaded with ink I have to do this quite a lot to move it around so that gets a semi-dry or as dry-as-is-possible part of the scrim in order to work the surface of the print.
What I'm doing now is probably not known as good printmaking practice, but it kind of works for me.
Okay, that's probably ready to print. So I take the gloves off at this point because it minimizes the risk of transferring ink onto the print itself. This is the registration paper, which you can see has been very battered and it's crumbling and has been for a very long time. And it sticks to the back of the plate, normally, which creates kind of micro-tears.
So the plate is laid on top of this registration-paper. The damp paper is laid on top of it within the registration marks.
Tissue paper goes on top, and at this point, this is the blind point that I was talking about, where you don't know if it's moved. And you will have seen in the video that there are some which miss their registration.
Moment of faith - and then we take it through the press. Fairly physical activity.
Professor Ang starts turning the large wheel by a handle. It is bigger than her and looks hard to get moving to start with.
Professor Ang moves to the other side of the printing press and lifts up the heavy layers of fabric to uncover the print she has made.
That should be through. So, yes, at least it looks like it hasn't moved. So there is '366:366'. I shall now number it to mark it so, and to complete the series.
She peels the print away from the sticky plate and examines it. Then she takes it to a clean work area, numbers it, and carefully places it beside another on the drying rack with her fingertips.
Positioned here to dry with number one.
Professor Ang takes a drink from a bottle of water and looking pleased, re-joins Professor Keith with his microphone. They are standing 2 metres apart and between them is a black and yellow Covid warning sign which reads ‘Keep your distance’.
Keith: Thank you Ang. That was wonderful, compelling. And when's it my turn? You said we're going to be making art tonight, that's what you said, you promised me I'd be making art so, uh, no. Okay, all right, well I think obviously, there isn't an audience here this evening but there is out there and watching it live, and I'm sure they would want me to thank you profusely for what was an excellent, compelling, intriguing lecture. Just what we expected from you, and more to the point, it was practical and live and you made art and completed the project that you had been working on, so thank you very much for that. It was exceptional.
Questions and Answers
Keith: We have some questions, okay, so if you have a little bit longer for your professorial, and the first question really takes us back a little bit to the start of your career and you were starting out as an artist and whether you feel you've managed to blend both your interests in anatomy and art over the course of your career and particularly as you've moved into academia?
Yes, definitely, and actually I studied sculpture and that was the most natural thing in terms of fulfilling what I was interested in. In anatomy I think I would have become a pathologist if I'm honest, (laughs) had I gone down that route. And making sculpture was very much in line with that really. And since I did a project several years ago in a medical school which saw me in the morgue with medical students, which was amazing and fascinating. And they spent several hours looking at me to see if I would faint, but I was kind of looking (mimes pointing), saying 'Is that peri- or post-mortem, that bruising?' (Laughs) And so the sculptural side of it has really, really fulfilled that.
And actually as it's, I kind of consider, there's something I didn't say, I admitted it this morning, so it's a good job you brought it up really: but I consider everything that I do, whether it's writing, printmaking, curating, whatever as 'sculpture'. And it was certainly something that worked when I started to find an academic writing voice.
When I started to think 'Okay, this is material, it's another type of material, I'm just molding something else'. And that kind of, that works for me as an artist, as an artistic researcher and an academic, and it's what propels my research through my career. And particularly in the last, I'd say, 15 years, it's been predominant.
I think that segues quite nicely actually into the next question, no cue there, in which someone in the audience was interested to understand how you live in what might seem to be, to the uneducated, to the layperson, two quite different worlds - that as an exhibiting artist, and you have had many residencies, you can do so in your exhibitions, but also existing within the University environment as an artistic researcher, do you find it easy to blend the two? Do you have to speak different languages? When you're in your studio are you the same as you are when you're an academic in the University? I think that the questioner was just interested to hear your reflections on that.
Yes, I'd like to think I'm an honest woman (laughs).
Keith: We'll give you that.
Certainly, I don't see any difference, and actually, when I talk about everything that I do as being sculpture, I see my academic job as a different type of sculpture and being an academic and an artistic researcher, as a different type. A different way of curating and making work and disseminating that work, where it's just a different type of exhibition, you see what I mean? And it's quite nice to be paid for it as well, but (laughs) I actually find that being an artist transitions quite well to being an academic, if you consider it in the right way, and if you're open to academia being about possibility and experimentation and all of those things where things can happen from nothing. It's like being in the studio. And to answer that second part of that question, I'm exactly the same in the studio as I am when I'm on campus, (laughs) I think.
Keith: That begs a number of questions but we won't go there (laughter). The next question I think speaks for many of us out there who feel that we're probably a bit dull and traditional in our academic work and research and the questioner just simply asked, 'Where did you come up with an idea like this?'
Oh crikey, I THINK ideas - which sounds a really bizarre thing. For a while and certainly through intense periods of making something like Manchester International Festival I slept with a sketchbook at the side of my bed because I'd wake up in the middle of the night and something would go 'Ah, right, that's that sorted.' And it can be working out how to fix something to something, or how many people should be in a space at any one time.
And the idea comes from being persistent and interested and involved in the subject. I thought I'd done with working with the mouth, I must admit, and an artist friend of mine said 'Oh gosh, you'll never be done with that!' And they're absolutely right. And it's what leads into the work with animals because that came from animal maws and what makes an animal mouth an animal mouth etc. But it's mainly about being and thinking through process and with process nearly all the time. That may sound really quite strange but I can get some of my most insightful ideas sitting in a meeting with you, Keith, seriously (laughs).
Keith: Well, no one's ever said that to me in my life before, actually! I'll take that away, even though you've denied me making art this evening. I'll take that one, thank you, as I push paper from one end of the desk to the other. Yeah, very inspirational (laughter).
Absolutely, yeah, but it's being committed, I think, to being an artist, and being an artistic researcher, that allows me to come up with ideas like that, which is probably quite, I think it's quite simple as an idea really, and I like simplicity. That's good - although I do make it very complicated by doing prints live and things like that...
That's a good cue, actually, into one of the other questions that we got this evening. Clearly, this was quite a unique event, certainly for a professorial lecture. It was live and not only was it live in that sense, but you were making things, you were doing things, you're curating and completing off a project. And the questioner posed a question what that was simply this, 'What would you have done if it had gone wrong?'
It would have been part of the work anyway because that's the rules. And there are prints in that series that really if I'd have just been making a series of ten they would have been rejects, but that's not what it is. It's the process. It's like I said, had I run out of the ink I would have been dry-printing until I got to 366. If it had gone wrong, hey that's it, really, you know that's part of the work. The process dictated what the work was, the kit did, I did, ultimately, because I made all those rules. But yeah, if it had gone wrong - luckily it didn't actually - although it is slightly off-register. I didn't notice that, but you know, it's probably to do with the plate actually, because it's the printmaking registration paper which is falling to pieces. It's not my fault obviously (laughs).
But yeah, had it gone wrong it would have been part of it anyway, and it would have been exhibited as part of that series.
Keith: A number of the audience out there were interested in the fact that it's clearly taken a long time, this project, and in a sense there's perhaps a little bit of an irony or a paradox here, that the creative process has been sustained, or you have sustained it, over that length of time. Was that easy to do or was that, did you feel fettered in having to pursue this project over such a period of time?
No, no, no, I really wanted to do it. And actually, it's what it's like in your daily life, you might be in several meetings, you're writing reports for REF or something like that, you know what I mean, and you're absolutely desperate to do something creative.
Keith: Are you faintly suggesting a REF report, Ang, is not sufficiently creative? (Laughter)
No, I'd never say that...
And I made another rule for myself about 20 years ago that I do something creative every day. And now that can be me performing to myself in my bathroom mirror, it can be as obscure as that. More recently it's been a drawing a day. But particularly in the year 2016 where I'd be walking into the kitchen and think 'Breathe and lift', and it [the printing plate] existed on my table. And it was great because then I'd do that and walk away and think about it and then think about it some more and go to bed and see the box, so I lived around it as a thing, for a very long time. I really like that.
Keith: I think in the current climate the idea of doing something creative every day is actually a very good recommendation. I suppose probably the final question - and you have to put ref. to one side here. What's next?
Oh crikey, well, this will be exhibited at some point in its total. I'm still talking to Paul about whether that will be an extended professorial type activity at some point. Now I'm engaged in a series of drawings at the minute that are relevant to the litter that we find on our streets at the minute, which is masks and gloves. Which we'll also, we'll never see litter about like this again. So yeah, that's creatively what I'm doing at the moment.
And also more stuff with dogs. I'm still reading to the animals, the theory. And they love it, you know, the horse book is in a terrible state. But you know, books are meant to be used and read, and it's a really good example of a book being well-used like it's been in a library for 20 or 30 years or something like that, so that will continue. And particularly more work with animals will follow, for sure.
Keith: Well I think I say for everyone that's watched it, that will watch it again: fascinating, Ang! And it's such a proud moment to be able to be here with you while you've delivered this inaugural lecture, and the work that you're doing is really compelling and has made the audience tonight, and will continue to make people think again and think in different ways. And for that thank you very much, and it's been a fascinating evening.