The New Materialisms class in term two really opened my eyes to a more holistic approach to my art and the things I learnt immediately filtered into my everyday art practice. One particularly meaningful class explored the ocularcentricity of modern western culture and encouraged us to think beyond the sensory hierarchy that priorities vision. I think this struck a chord with me personally as someone with poor eyesight that progressively worsens year by year; before this class I’d been quite closed minded to creative possibilities beyond the visual so there was something quite enlightening in being urged to think outside of that box. As a creative I think a short coming that I have is finding something I like and sticking with it rather than consistently pushing myself to try different approaches, I get comfortable in a particular medium or style very quickly and can be quite stubborn to venture into something new. My work this year was centred around the body, intimacy and privacy and I really seemed to stick to figurative depictions in drawing and paint, however there seemed to be an emptiness to a few of the pieces that felt more like I was just reproducing what I saw in the world rather than making visible the feeling and experience I wanted to get across. One quote from a text we studied in New Materialisms really resonated with me; “[Ocularcentrism] has left the body and the other senses, as well as our memories, imagination and dreams, homeless” (Pallasmaa, 2005, p. 18) I wanted to find a place in my work for the senses, imagination and memories I’d neglected in focusing on the visual.
To achieve this I combined my studies from Constellation with the Still Life work I had done in one of my Field labs and persued a project called ‘Sensory Still Life’ which can be found here. I blindfolded myself and felt an arrangement of random objects drawing with my eyes closed what I could feel, hear and smell. After each drawing was complete I used photoshop to overlay the individual drawings into an arrangement to create the “still life”. I was incredibly proud of how informing myself through my Constellation studies enabled me to push beyond my comfort zone and allow me to further push my understanding of the themes that interest me by exploring them in a different way creatively. I had known for some time that I had a habit of playing it safe and sticking to what I was used to but I think it took the push into researching new theories and ways of thinking for me to take that leap and try something completely different. Having a lesson totally devoted to the cultural phenomenon that creates these unconscious biases that prioritise the way things look over the way things feel, smell or sound, a bias that in some part will be contributing to my stubborn focus on the visual, totally helped break that pattern of behaviour.
While right now I still feel connected to drawing a painting as mediums I feel there’s something very changed in my approach to these mediums. I’d like to demonstrate by exploring two of my pieces, one from before New Materialisms and one from after:
While both are acrylic paintings there are some notable differences between the two (of the same subject) that I think are mostly if not wholly influenced by my studies in New Materialisms. Firstly, the colour palette is much more vibrant and imaginative, after Constellation I was more inclined to choose colours that fit the mood and feeling I wanted to portray rather than choosing colours representative of the actual object or subject I was painting. I think this is an example of eschewing the visual accuracy of my painting in favour of capturing more of a feeling. Secondly, the scale. After Constellation I was more inclined to size my painting up, there was something in the physical experience of painting large that really resonated with me. As well as capturing the image, painting in a way that engages the entire body, in sweeping gestural strokes felt like it was capturing more of my presence as an artist within the image. There was something so much more open, enjoyable and honest in painting this way. I began to prioritise the sensory experience of creation where as before Constellation I prioritised the final outcome.
This final outcome focus was covered extensively in New Materialisms; how, as creators, we are taught to see creating as a project with a plan and then a method which is carried out to create the outcome. We were encouraged, instead, to think of creation as a process of growing. To grow your creation it’s a collaboration of equal parts between the matter you are shaping, the environment and you. Evolving an understanding that my materials and tools are not working for me they are working with me felt like a really pivotal breakthrough; that the creator is not a dictator the creator is a collaborator with matter and environment. One quote that really fast tracked my understanding of this: “I want to think of making, instead, as a process of growth. This is to place the maker from the outset as a participant in amongst a world of active materials. These materials are what he has to work with, and in the process of making he ‘joins forces’ with them, bringing them together or splitting them apart, synthesising and distilling, in anticipation of what might emerge” (Ingold, 2013, p. 21). The idea that the world around me is active and the materials I use have agency of their own totally changes the perception I had about what it means to be an artist. And while I can’t say that this is a habit I’ve broken this year it’s something I’m eager to push my understanding of and learn a lot more about as I grow as a creator.