Creative Prompt Five:
We Are Never Real Historians.
‘When I wake up, I can hardly recall his features. Why is it I have such difficulty remembering the colour of a friend’s eyes? Even the eye colour of the living. I think his eyes were brown. His nose was relatively straight but I can’t see it in profile. Why didn’t I memorise my memories of him? Was it the glare of the hospital’s lifeless whiteness that eviscerated his profile? ' - Bill Jacobson
In 1993 the artist Bill Jacobson held his first solo exhibition at the Grey Art Gallery in New York. The show, entitled Interim Figures, was comprised of overexposed photographic portraits captured entirely out-of-focus. Blurred, bleached and difficult to discern the images came to resemble the memory-impressions we might first wish to recall as if in the bright focus of the present yet learn to cherish in the fragmentary, fragile way they materialise in our minds. Jacobson's pale photographs sensitively and poetically evoke the loss experienced by the artist (and so many others) during the height of the AIDS epidemic and the futility of capturing true human likeness in both portraiture and memory. The philosopher Gaston Bachelard once wrote about the nature of memory: ‘We are never real historians, but always near poets, and our emotion is perhaps nothing but an expression of a poetry that was lost.’ Recall in your own mind a distant memory, observe its fragments carefully, noting which aspects have remained clear or have been accentuated over time (such a particular smell, texture or emotion). Note also any other memories that may accompany this memory when you call for it, consider why they may be linked. Create a work that engages with the particular way your memory has grown increasingly more obscured and interlaced with other memories as time passes. In your view, does a memory grow more beautiful and poetic when it fragments such as this? Or perhaps you lament the fading and blurring of precious moments?
(Below: Bill Jacobson, images from the series 'Interim Figures' 1993. Chromogenic prints.)
Creative Prompt Four:
In 1914, the artist Marcel Duchamp conceived an elaborate instruction that went as follows: ‘A straight horizontal thread one metre long falls from a height of one metre onto a horizontal plane, distorting itself as it pleases and creates a new shape of the measurement of length. Three patterns obtained in more or less the same conditions…’ This instruction outlines the conditions for this mock experiment, however leaves the result to chance. Duchamp carried out the instruction: three threads all measuring one metre in length plummet a distance of one metre onto the dark ground. He then fixed the threads to the ground in the wavy, distorted manner in which they fell and made wooden templates from them. These wavy templates he called rulers and formulated new units of length. He stored the fixed threads and wooden templates in a disused croquet case and called it ‘Canned Chance.’ This work is an early example of the systematic use of chance in art. It opens work up to the unpredictable effects. Consider ways you can introduce chance into your own work. Perhaps you could create your own instruction utilising everyday objects, outlining the initial conditions however leave an element of chance in the result. Consider carefully the outcome: The effect created is partly a repercussion of your careful planning and partly the will of mysterious, unseen forces.
(Below: Marcel Duchamp, '3 Standard Stoppages' 1914. Wood box, three threads glued to three painted canvas strips, three wood slats.)
Creative Prompt Three:
In 1992 the artist Gabriel Orozco rolled a ball of plasticine equivalent to his own body-weight through the streets of New York. The plasticine, a very soft and greasy material, gathered dust and small debris from the street as it rolled. It also collected imprints from the varying surfaces it encountered as it moved through the city. It was a rather poetic gesture by the artist, contemplating the impressions left by a place and an individual’s movement through it. The resulting sculpture was a lop-sided sphere, pitted and dirtied, its surface containing the memory of its transit. For Orozco, it seemed of particular importance that the work (entitled 'Yielding Stone') was made of such a malleable, amorphous material: ‘That stone is vulnerable, it always will be, the knocks it received has become a part of it and give it its form. But that’s what makes it indestructible. Instead of making it from bronze or steel, which would theoretically be invulnerable, I made it from a soft material which makes it vulnerable, and that vulnerability gives it a constant form and a permanent state of change which makes it indestructible.’ This perpetual state of change may reflect our own inner landscapes. Namely, the manner in which we gather the imprints of our experiences which accumulate on top of one another, blending in surprising ways, sculpting our psychology. Create a work that engages with the vulnerability and malleability of Orozco’s Yielding Stone.
(Below: Gabriel Orozco, 'Yielding Stone,' 1992. Plasticine, documentation photograph.)
Creative Prompt Two:
Traces of Traces.
What will survive of us? It could perhaps be argued that of every work of art is made as an attempt to linger here a little longer. Every poem, every image, every sonata is perhaps an attempt to cry out into an ever-encroaching oblivion in the hope that our sounds carries and a trace of who we were remains. In 1971 the Italian artist Giuseppe Penone took a pale stone and pressed onto it a dark print of his own hand – a trace, physical evidence of his existence. He then cast the stone into a river, documenting the action in a sequence of photographs. The final image in the sequence shows the pale stone on the riverbed, resting alongside innumerable other stones, leaving the imagination to lurch forward in time, envisaging the half-life of this trace left by the artist. The ceaseless movement of the river will wear away the handprint, it will grow increasingly faint as layers of stone erode until it disappears. Where does the artist’s handprint go, dispersed so finely in the water such as this? There is a futility in Penone’s action. However perhaps there is poetry to be found in the artist’s autonomy, the trace he chose to leave behind. Create a work that engages with the idea of a leaving a trace, consider the beauty of projecting glimmers of your own self-expression into oblivion and the tragedy that they will swiftly become dispersed and indiscernible in the darkness.
(Below: Giuseppe Penone, 'Svolgere la Propria Pelle/Pierta (Unroll Your Skin/Stone)', 1971. Engraved stone, documentation photographs.)
Creative Prompt One:
Perhaps a city is built to resemble the conscious mind. A network designed for such cerebral human endeavours as planning, manufacturing, administrating, calculating. Perhaps then, urban ruins could be considered the unconscious of the city: its memory, its dark recesses, its lost purposes. What are ruins after all? Relics that spring free from human plans and are transformed by incremental processes of erosion, rust and rot until they becomes something as intricate as life, full of epiphanies and dangers. Create a work that explores the idea of the city as a conscious human mind, or alternately a work that considers the way that urban ruins resemble the murky, uncertain subconscious.