Alexa Cox

Intersections and Articulations

Three artists talk about their practice, their thoughts, their research. These are but simple notes taken whilst listening to their audio presentations.

Alexa Cox

Cox is a recent MA graduate, coming out from the very course I am studying myself. She’s a storyteller and painter, working across many surfaces concurrently and in series. There’s a dialogue between making and research. Peter Doig (a Scottish figurative painter) gets a reference, as does Paula Rego and photographers such as Francesca Woodman, especially her drawn on contact sheets.

Research is key within her making; originally she made paintings and then applied theory. This wasn’t as prominent in terms of communicating ideas. She has now developed a visual language, reducing down the information presented – partial trace figures. Ambiguous, but not to the point of losing the viewer in the process of looking. This approach seems similar to the “Provoke” method (Moriyama, Takanashi and Nakahira), removing information in an attempt to provoke thought and creating a new language and ideas.

Much of her reading also takes place outside art theory – stories and anthropological texts that talk about stories. The story is an important factor to her making, this much becomes clear through her presentation.

She uses photography and drawing as means of research – this allows her the freedom to produce work that isn’t finished. Playful, mapping and drawing out ideas. Talks about figures a lot…

Writing and mind-mapping (Venn diagrams) are important and she found this quite revelatory to define her practice. I guess this came in as part of the first year of the MA – I’m not currently finding that so useful at the moment – perhaps it feels a little too much like my engineering background, which I’m trying to escape using photography.

Key text – Lines: a brief history by Tim Ingold, which details the relationship between gesture and storytelling. The making of hand gestures when storytelling, meandering and deviating from a path to discover new things and learn. This in turn reminds me of an interview with PJ Harvey from the time of her Let England Shake album, which is essentially about story telling through the war (First World War) – I’ll try and find it and post a link. Cox tries to make and reflect, to use learning to make something else. To challenge everything. To experiment and take risks.

She talks about the idea of authentic lines – what is an authentic line? Does the viewer know when looking at the line that it is authentic?

Cox is also excited about the edge of the frame – where does the image end? Does a repetitive figure across multiple surfaces allow viewer to weave story? Is the work becoming like a comic strip in this sense – another story?

Alexa Cox

Annabel Dover

Dover is an OCA lecturer and is also working towards a PhD at Wimbledon. She talked about her “research”.

She went to the Chelsea PhD student show with her husband (also an artist) and was surprised how literal the work was, apparently something that is frequently said about practice lead PhD work: that it’s an illustration of theory rather than a means of research itself. Dover tried to start with the emotional response rather than theory, quoting that if someone talks of Lacan or Derrida, the work will be dead. (I’ve done this on several occasions, but I tend to apply the theory afterwards, whilst being aware of it during the making – the theory doesn’t tend to be the main driver…). She declares theory should intertwine with research, that practice and theory should be harmonious.

Her PhD research focusses on a Victorian artist/botanist//amateur – Anna Atkins (the label depends on whose categorisations you use – Victorian women weren’t classed as “artists”) . She used John Herchel’s cyanotype technique, a basic photogram process that involved painting the medium with potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate solution, typically during the night, and allowing to dry before then exposing to sunlight. It was often considered as a process for women and children to do. It then became the “blueprint” and entered the male, technological/scientific domain.

Dover tried to reproduce Atkins work practically, her Poppy in particular – she considered it to be both simple and beautiful. It looks at first like Atkins simply reproduced ithe poppy, but this is not the case. Atkins actually made a number of albums for submission to various societies she would not have gotten into being a woman. However, she “reproduced” nature and donated the albums to scientific institutions. The cyanotypes were actually of dissected and reconstructed flowers to make idealised prints. They were, in effect, collages. This was a subversive act – women not allowed to do such things at the time.

Dover’s stepfather’s sock image illustrates these thoughts – sock was too thick to make cyanotype of so she drew it. She created a simulacra, a false original to make the image from. And now, like Atkin’s work, it resides in an institution. It’s something everyone can relate to; everyone has a sock, and every image tells a story.

As we, the viewer, are able to tap into these stories, we can then tell our own stories. Complex images might be difficult to tap into – the war for instance can be hard to grasp if not experienced. Everyday items can help you grasp it.

Annabel Dover

Helen Paris

Paris is the co-artistic director of Curious, named because, as artists we are all inherently curious about the world we live in. For example, what is relationship between smell and memory? And can we, or even should we trust gut feelings?

She is mostly interested in producing live performances (for a small audience), site specifics art, installation and film. She is fascinated by the live “moment” and the shared experience between performer and audience member – what is possible?

When considering smell, projects such as On the Scent (?) have a long process time. They worked with biological processes, in conjunction with teams of scientists, these things require long research and gestation periods.

On the Scent / Essence of London were live performances, each one being unique.. The way that smell triggers memory means that it can take an audience off to their own space within memory. Associations with smell can transport you back to a moment/place/experience. The transgressive nature of smell – it’s like time travel!

The research started in Bangalore in India, working with a team of biological scientists who were in turn working with the process of smell in the brain – smell memories. These scientists were also interested with processes of performance to; both forms of experimentation, whether as artists or scientists – you don’t know what the outcome in when working on a project.

One of original problems was how do you work with smell? How do you keep them discrete? By their nature they link together, intermingle. The solution was to keep the performance within discrete domestic spaces, with a performer resident in their own room; the kitchen, the bedroom and the sitting room. This approach necessitate small audiences, with only 4 people per performance, 8 performances per day. During the olfactory journey, the performer recites memories then the audience invited to share their own. They created an archive of smell memories. This then lead to a companion piece, a video of essences of London featuring people who worked in “smelly” trades – perfumiers, fish market, refuse collectors, etc. The motive of questioning audience and communities. Inviting people to respond to own questions.

Helen Paris

Of the three interviews, Cox’s and Dover’s were the most relevant for me, the most stimulating and the ones I felt I could take something from. Cox worked in a style similar to my own; work, then vocalise the theory that will have been simmering in the background whilst working, rather than working as a direct response to exploring a theory. Dover spoke of work being dead if made in response to theory, so it would seem that maybe somewhere in the middle ground is preferable. Be informed, don’t be too literal in response to theory (especially some of the more… theoretical theories…) and more importantly, don’t make work in a vacuum. Will I change my own modus operandi? I’m sure it is changing all of the time in response to things said, things read and the general experience of studying the MA.