This 'Arc' summarises the exploration that has taken place since October 2018. It's been process of test and learn with the occasional 'light bulb' moment revealing the way forward. I embarked on Unit 1 by trying to prove that the 'As if' theory developed by William James could be validated in art, as it has been elsewhere in life.
In Unit 2 I moved on into a second iteration in participatory art. The goal was to use co-creation to produce worthwhile art objects. While there were some successful collaborations in terms of process, the resulting art works fell short of aspirations.
On reflection I realised that all my participations had some kind of challenge at their hearts. In a sense, all were expressions of the core process of attrition, which had been central to my work as I embarked on the MFA. So for Unit 3 I returned to this theme better equipped to make it my focus, and the lynchpin for my Degree Show work.
Exploration of attrition in materials
Hamish Pringle '35mm Möbius' 2020
Attrition is at the heart of many of the manufacturing processes used to make the objects we use and the environments we live in. The scratchings on the rough face of the abrasive belts are traces of the anonymous processes they have been put to. The smooth side bears the maker's marks, codes intelligible to those who know them and the machines they run through. Reconfigured as if 35mm film strips, these can carry two-sided stories. Their sinuous forms relate to those of Richard Deacon, but are more obviously figurative.
Re-made as a Möbius Strip there's also a conceptual link to be made with Christian Marclay's 'The Clock' of 2010. This filmic timepiece has an infinite quality, and it's been created by carving 12,000 moments out of thousands of stories. The artist wore down these narratives to distill time. As Marlay describes "The Clock is very much about death in a way. It is a memento mori. The narrative gets interrupted constantly and you’re constantly reminded of what time it is."
I will commission a die cutter once manufacturing is available post Covid-19 to make much longer lengths of 'film', then apply the lens of attrition to suitable narratives.
Richard Deacon ‘After’ 1998
M.C. Escher ‘Drawing Hands’ 1948
Hamish Pringle 'Yellow Abrasive Möbius' 2020
William Cobbing ‘Haptic Loop I’ 2019
The Möbius Strip has inspired artists since 200AD, but came to the fore in the mid-18th century with Giovanni Battista Piranesi's work 'The Drawbridge' of 1745. However M.C. Escher made the conundrum popular in the 1950s. Although William Cobbing's sculpture 'Haptic Loop' not a Möbius Strip in the strict sense, it has the never-ending qualities of one. More importantly the material in which its rendered, and its sticky clay-like appearance, enhance the sense of an eternal Promethean picking. Sandpaper can bring its own meanings to sculptural forms, and an endless loop with one side rough, the other smooth can be imbued with many new associations.
Exploration of attrition in nature
In his 2013 book 'Art After Metaphysics', cultural critic and author John David Ebert defines the contemporary plight in emotive terms: "We are all in the position of Beksinski’s Christ figure, Robinson Crusoes on our own private semiotic islands, searching through the past and recoding semiotic signifiers in an attempt to bring ourselves to a state of coherent meaningful understanding of our contemporary cosmological-existential situation. These are very general trends which have relevance to all spheres of culture, religious as much as artistic. The artist, however, in his or her role of “ontological fisherman,” is at the forefront of this quest for new structural forms, significations that might potentially become definitive of “a new phase of civilization, or else, an entirely new world sphere altogether.”
I empathise with Ebert's position and attempt to achieve my own distinctive "splicing and hybridisation of forms to create new signifiers". However I differ from his pessimism when he declares the “liquefaction of all semiotic systems and sign regimes”. It may well be that critics and curators have rendered certain myths, symbols, and beliefs unfashionable, but that doesn't mean they've necessarily lost their latent power.
Ebert sees the artist as “washed ashore on his own world island where he must act as a bricoleur to retrieve from the middenheap whatever signifiers will make sense out of the path he must create for himself as he lays it out." Again the perjorative language to add fire to his polemic, but I see not a rubbish tip, but 'diamonds in the rough'.
I take Andy Goldworthy's magical transformation of mere leaves and branches as my example. He, like Duchamp, Beuys, Oppenheim, and Christo and Jeanne-Claude often uses the wrapping of one material with another to create new hybrids. In this case I wrapped walking aids with coloured grit as a stand-in for sandpaper. The Covid-19 lockdown prevented a 3M factory process being used. But even if it had been possible it's doubtful that the abrasive coating would have 'read' as sandpaper, thus failing to make the point adequately . However the form of the Möbius Strip seemed worth carrying forward.
Hamish Pringle 'Walking Aids & Mobius' 2020
Andy Goldsworthy 'Wet, yellow elm leaves stick to a smooth, fallen elm tree in Dumfriesshire, November, 2011'
Richard Long ‘A Line Made by Walking’ 1967
Francis Alÿs ‘The Green Line’ 2004-5
Hamish Pringle 'Three Traces' 2020
In a Paul Klee enactment, Richard Long took a dot for a walk in 1967. The line he drew in the grass began a new genre of contemporary art where the ground is the Ebertian ‘surface of inscription’ and the body is the tool. Francis Alys has used ambulatory art to make political statements, in this case Pollockesque dripped paint to demarcate a disputed border. My walking works address the process of attrition in nature. The palimpsest of photography of tracks overlaid with narratives on tracing paper draws upon elements of both Long and Alys, with additional references to Hamish Fulton, Cy Twombly, and Ian Hamilton Finlay, to make a new synthesis. In this case an analogy is drawn between the process of habitual journeys with that of memory formation which can lead to stultification and lack of innovation.
Exploration of attrition in society
In the House of Commons in 1943, during discussions of plans to rebuild the bomb-shattered House of Parliament, Prime Minister Winston Churchill said “We shape our buildings thereafter they shape us.” The impact of architecture on the environment, and especially the social context is profound. Often the idealism of designers such as Le Corbusier runs roughshod over the real needs of residents with disastrous consequences as ‘cities in the sky’ become alienating vertical prisons, even death-traps. Therefore the process of making a building not only entails attrition in the transmutation of the materials used, it continues thereafter in terms of the impact it has on the successive residents of it. Richard Wood was inspired to create his mini-bungalows by the second home syndrome which can affect adversely a seaside community such as Folkestone. His six interventions, with their eye-catching cartoon semiotics, prompt questions whose answers lead to their meaning. Similarly my ‘Sandpaper Houses’ are aesthetically pleasing in the way they address the process of attrition in a domestic context.
Exploration of attrition in language
Doris Salcedo 'Palimpsest' 2013−17
Hamish Pringle 'Substratum Series' 2018
The Oxford English Dictionary is updated four times a year. Once a word has been accepted it retains a permanent place. At the October 2019 update 203 new words were added including easy-breezy, chillax, Jafaican, Jedi, nomophobia, simples, sumfin and whatevs. The etymology of many of these new words shows they are often hybrisations.
The English language seems an especially fertile ground for the process of attrition in language. There’s also pure invention. For example the growing use of emoticons. This led to the letter 'O’ being included as it’s "used to symbolise a hug especially at the end of a letter or greetings card".
In a technical sense no word admitted by OED is ever deleted. Yet there is a gradual process of attrition whereby less-used words get left out of concise dictionaries. Research agency SIL International maintains a database, ‘Ethnologue’, which lists just under 7,000 spoken languages worldwide. Current estimates are that about 90% of them will have become extinct by 2100. Thus words are contested entities with their meanings, currency, and survival all in flux.
Doris Salcedo’s ‘Palimpsest’ mourns drowned migrants through the layering of their names and the ebb and flow of water which emerges and recedes through holes in the floor. One cannot walk on these memorial paving stones, as one can’t sit on a Jenny Holzer memorial bench. In this respect Ian Hamilton Finlay’s texted paving stones works are more engaging, albeit less visceral in content.
Grids of my photographs produce a sense of movement, as if a stop-frame animation film. Collaging these photos with sandpaper laser-cut with words counter-points their imagery. The integration sets up a dialogue in which the one may affect the meaning of the other in a process of linguistic attrition.
Re-focusing on attrition
Four main aspects for the exploration of the process of attrition
Concerns about confidentiality and the problems associated with the Data Protection Act had put a stop to the exploration of identity through highly personalised co-creation. However, in reflecting on the couple’s double thumbprint self-portrait shown below, it struck me how closely aligned they both were on nearly all of the nine psychographics. Maybe they became attached because they shared a mutual attraction, common goals, and compatible attitudes and behaviours. But had the process of living together smoothed out any differences? Had any big disputes knocked the edges off incompatibilities? Was this relationship attrition in action? In parallel with explorations of object-centred participation and then co-creation, I had continued to create works involving sandpaper and other abrasives. Unit 3 seemed the right time to re-focus on attrition in its various aspects and to work through them towards the Degree Show.
Exploration of co-creation
Marc Quinn ‘Labyrinth Paintings’ 2011-
Piero Manzoni ‘Uovo scultura’ 1960
If writing with an implement is one of the most basic, natural, and idiosyncratic mark-making a human can do, then the hand, finger, or thumb print is even more fundamental. While the line that a person makes can be characteristic, and artists can achieve a truly distinctive line – such as Leonardo, Durer, Hockney, Opie,and Emin – a thumbprint is a much more precise identifier. Piero Manzoni was arguably the first to investigate this with his thumbprint works of the 1960s. In taking this on Marc Quinn created his Labyrinth series using ‘ready-made fingerprints, enlarged, and painted onto oval shaped canvases or cast into bronze relief sculptures. His portraits of people are more than just an image of them, they are an actual “visual index” of their identity. As Quinn says “We have become encoded into a unique abstraction which is also profoundly figurative”.
Hamish Pringle & Anon 'Double Thumbprint Self-Portrait' 2020
Hamish Pringle & Anon 'Double Thumbprint Self-Portrait - Redacted Contract' 2020
Using participatory art I enabled contributors to make self-portraits which are theirs by definition not only physically but mentally. The thumbprint is unique to them, but it’s chosen placement is a function of their particular psychology. To explore inter-personal relationships and how the process of living together may or may not bring a couple closer or push them apart, double-self-portraits were enabled using a template. To protect confidentiality and as the basis for wider usage, a contract was commission from solicitors Collyer Bristow. This was used to enrol participants and set out the terms of engagement. To provide additional rewards beyond the pleasures of self-exploration and creation, the agreement included an offer of a free digital print and the option to buy a ‘co-artists proof’ from a limited print edition at cost price. However the process was not only time-consuming and impractical at a large-scale participation art event such as a private view, the perceived risk of a breach of confidentiality led to non-publication of the identities of these participants – hence the redacted contract.
Mark Wallinger ‘Self (Century)’ 2014
Hamish Pringle & 21 MFA co-creators 'I as in ...' 2019
Hamish Pringle & 21 MFA co-creators 'I as in ...' 2019
It seems that when people interact with art physically as well as mentally, their experience is more enjoyable and more meaningful. This is especially true when they have actually participated in making the art, and even more so if the content is autobiographical.
I had asked each person to sign one of their cards because I wanted to explore the question of authorship and ownership. A signature on the surface of a painting becomes part of the work and can be detrimental to it.
However I was anxious to minimise the risk that I might be seen as having written all the ‘i’s. I also wanted the contributors to be able to identify their part of the finished work, and hopefully have pride in co-ownership. So in this context the artist’s name is an intrinsic part of the work, not an ego-serving distraction or a signature on an 'art-cheque'.
Their contributions were characteristic , and they were giving graphic affirmation of their claim to individuality as artists. Going with the grain and relying on the curvature manufactured into its DNA, the paper created a sculptural self-forming column. The work itself is an ‘I’. Like Wallinger’s self-portrait it also has an anthropomorphic quality which reinforces the concept. I provided all my participant co-creators with a digital print of the collective work in reciprocity.
Hamish Pringle & 36 MFA co-creators 'Time Tubes' 2019
Susan Hiller ‘Measure by Measure II’ 1993 - 2012
MFA co-creators 2019-
Susan Hillier took from 1993 to 2012 to make ‘Measure by Measure II’. Her glass tubes contain the ashes of paintings she burned annually. ‘Time Tubes’ is also a time capsule and takes the form of a Calderesque mobile with 37 clear plastic test tubes with stoppers hanging from it. This work was to be completed with three participations by all 37 MFA Students. In the Autumn term they put 5 grams of their favourite pigment in their individual test tube. In Spring, their ticket or reference to an inspiring exhibition. In Summer, it was to be their passport-sized photo.
At the end of the Summer term the mobile would have been lowered for the last time and I was due to provide a set of 37 artefacts, one for each student to include in their time tube keepsake.
As it’s turned out the work is frozen in time part-way through the second participation. That’s fitting because it had become more of a chore than a joy for my co-creators and I had found myself cast in the role of nag rather than enabler.
Yoko Ono ‘Wish Tree’ 1996
Hamish Pringle & 47 co-creators '101 -fear and...' 2019
Yoko Ono has been creating versions of 'Wish Tree' her collaborative art work since 1996. Perhaps nowadays it may have lost the element of surprise but it still engenders mass participation wherever an orchard of her 'Wish Trees' is exhibited. People like the idea of making a public declaration of something personal and aspirational. Crystallising a thought by giving it concrete expression and then sharing with others can be cathartic.
For the MFA show at the Crypt Gallery, I co-founded ‘Dogma19’ a sub-group dedicated to exploring unfamiliar materials. For this inaugural collaboration we decided to use cement as it fitted the curatorial theme of ‘Immurement’ and the subterranean burial site.
In a reverse Ono, ‘101 fear and …’ offered guests at the Private View the opportunity to bury a word that stood for something they feared or loathed. Wooden sticks were provided for them to write the word they wished gone and sign on the back before they plunged it into wet cement.
A week after the Private View, I emailed each of the 47 participants with a photo of the work they’d helped complete. I ensured their shot showed their word and the response suggested a strong sense of ownership. 26% of them replied, which is high. I used three different e-mail texts and there were as many responses to the one containing a questionnaire as to the short and medium-length versions.
There are two parts to my participatory activities – the collaboration and the product - but I didn't consider the former to be a performance. I saw it as the means to an end - producing an artwork which has a special quality because it is the product of a particular collective working together at a particular place and time.
Olafur Eliasson 'London Ice Station' 2018
Hamish Pringle & participants 'Waste not ...' at 'Emergency Art' at Platform 2019
Artists such as Felix Gonzalez Torres have built upon Allan Kaprow’s ‘Happenings’ such as ‘Words’ at the Smolin Gallery in New York 1962 and engaged viewers in politically-related collaborative art works. Jenny Holzer’s oeuvre includes campaigning slogan works. Designer Anya Hindmarch’s customers can proclaim “This is not a plastic bag” with their hand bag or t-shirt. Online petitions have enabled millions to challenge Governments and trigger debates on policy. Live art, often socially engaged, provides the viewer to become a participant.
The LADA website answers the question ‘What Is Live Art?’ with “Disrupting borders, breaking rules, defying traditions, resisting definitions. Asking awkward questions and activating audiences, Live Art breaks the rules about who is making art, how they are making it and who they are making it for.”
Miwon Kwon in his book ‘One Place After Another’ distinguishes between ‘sedentariness’ versus ‘nomadism’ in terms of site-specific art works which remain in situ, versus others that are moved elsewhere, or where the original is replicated and a copy placed or installed in another place. Olafur Elaisson’s 'London Ice Station’ at Tate Modern in December 2018 is a good example of hybrid. This work has been shown in various locations, hence it’s ‘nomadic’ however it was also, temporarily, ‘sedentary’ taking on additional site-specific meanings. Transporting ice to the ex-coal-burning power station was a wonderful example of site-specificity to raise awareness of global warming and create a public protest against fossil fuels. Meanwhile the act of touching the ice contributed to its rate of melting, which brought home a heightened sense of personal agency.
In this context ‘Waste not …’ gave participants agency to produce a collective art work via their signature on a public visual petition “We commit to do what we can to reduce, resuse, and recycle.” Thus the work is not only participative, but also creates an artefact which its co-creators can possess as a digital file I send them, or a print on request. It also provided viewers with a Tiravanija-esque stimulation for engagement with, and discussion of the issues with each other.
My research for Unit 1 had drawn upon key texts including 'Relational Aesthetics' by Nicolas Bourriaud, and 'Participation' and 'Artificial Hells', both by Claire Bishop, as well as Pierre Cabanne's 'Dialogues With Marcel Duchamp’. This had clarified for me the important differences between 'art as experience' and 'art as co-creation'. In moving forward my focus moved away from the making of sculptural objects for the purpose of participation towards enabling collaborative creativity. Perhaps there might be an artistic version of James Surowiecki's 'wisdom of crowds'?
Initial experiments had revealed that when offered the chance to participate in co-creating an art work easily, using simple materials and tools, with little or no risk, people find it rewarding. They enjoyed the opportunity to express their individuality, to be tested intellectually, and have a sense of achievement and ownership in the creative result.
From my point of view this planning for and embracing 'happy accidents' in a creative process is exciting. And it produces art which I could not have made on my own. Importantly, as co-creators, my participants should be rewarded with an artefact from their collaboration. This could be a digital file, a hard copy print, or an object. Some might be free, others paid for. This raises interesting questions of authorship, ownership, copyright, and ARR.
Exploration of object-centred participation
Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello ‘Teetertotter Wall’ 2009
Hamish Pringle 'Gender Seesaw' 2019
Architectural studio Rael San Fratello installed three pink seesaws between the metal slats of the US-Mexico border wall between El Paso in Texas and Ciudad Juárez in Mexico, so that children on either side could play together.
According to Ronald Rael "The wall became a literal fulcrum for US-Mexico relations and children and adults were connected in meaningful ways on both sides with the recognition that the actions that take place on one side have a direct consequence on the other side."
This communal physical action, facilitated by a sculptural object, which enabled people divided by the border to behave 'as if' they were on the same side, is a near-perfect example of object-centred participation. Clearly the political issues preventing true unity are daunting if not insurmountable, but this artistic statement does at least provide a vehicle for dialogue which could lead to the changing attitudes.
Gender is equally contested and it's unlikely to be resolved by an art work, but its conceivable that one could facilitate understanding, empathy and tolerance. In reading philosopher Judith Butler's book 'Gender Trouble' and in researching the subject it became clear that many were unfamiliar body chemistry, how the foetus begins life as an asexual entity and that in maturity there's sex hormonal spectrum within every human body. This doesn't necessarily predetermine gender, but the recent science suggests it is a significant factor in the nature/nurture balance. A seesaw is playful and invites participation. The rainbow suggests a spectrum. The seesawing action symbolises fluidity. A pair of participants can oscillate between being 'as if' female, male, or a permutation.
Mona Hatoum 'You Are Still Here' 2013
Hamish Pringle 'Social Mirrors' 2019
Mona Hatoum’s 1994 work, 'You Are Still Here', has this text sandblasted on a glass wall mirror. According to the artist, "what appears in the mirror when the viewer faces the work is a momentary representation of the self: the viewer’s actual presence is doubled with his/her reflection in the mirror and both sides of this divided self are set in conversation. The content of this conversation is all about a confirmation of existence and survival. The positioning of the individual in this conversation or the personal implications this statement might stimulate, will certainly vary according to each viewer’s own subjective experience. Yet in essence, this reassuring self-affirmation strongly implies a testimony to and a celebration of survival against the odds in the face of unpredictability and potential danger."
Social media brings a different set of dangers which the undoubted benefits may appear to outweigh for now, but may be less benign with the passage of time. Here the translucent acetates of the logos of the global top 10 social media platforms are applied to the surface of hand mirrors. These represent billions of users for whom Facebook, Messenger, YouTube and the like are essential windows on the world. But as the mirrors suggest the brands they use mediate their presentation to others. And their online feed conditions their own attitudes and behaviours. 'Selfie appeal' should succeed in engaging people physically as well as mentally - if a European they can behave 'as if' they're a Chinese WeChat user. Perhaps this would trigger discussion about the pervasive nature of social media and its effects on us?
Hamish Pringle 'Placing artists on a map of participation' 2018 2018
Hamish Pringle 'Sandpaper Bed' 2018
Embarking on the MFA course I decided to explore the William James 'As If' proposition: " If you want a quality, act as if you already had it." This pragmatic philosophy had been validated by numerous behavioural science experiments, but to my knowledge had not been explored in terms of art. I used 'Hookit' sandpaper donated by 3M to make sheets and pillow cases to make a Kings Fund Hospital bed. Studio space was provided by Sofas & Stuff in Fittleworth, West Sussex.
Visitors to the exhibitions in Chichester and Islington expressed their feelings about the multiple discomforts of a sandpaper bed and despite the forbidding ‘look don’t touch’ culture surrounding art works, some did feel the abrasive. This haptic experience was enhancing and suggested that ‘as if’ could be working: there was a more visceral understanding of what it could be like to be bed bound. Furthermore, covering a sick bed in this way brought something new to the trope of its use in art, inheriting the history of Robert Rauschenberg and Tracy Emin, and taking it on. However, there was little invitation to people to touch, let alone get into the bed. So the next step was to create works which encouraged more active participation.
Hamish Pringle 'Sandpaper Suit' 2005
Joseph Beuys 'Felt Suit' 1970
Méret Oppenheim, Object (Le Déjeuner en fourrure) 1936
Claes Oldenburg ’Floor Burger’ 1962
In making some of his ‘adapted ready mades’ Marcel Duchamp used materials unfamiliar to the object selected. Covering it with another material whilst retaining its essential form added a layer of meaning. In a Heideigerian sense Duchamp was moving objects from Zuhandenheit ‘ready to hand’ to Vorhandenheit ‘presence at hand’. Creating that transition means that the object is now a problem to be solved: it's in a theoretical mode, it's something to be thought about.”
Choosing a particular material, for example black leather to cover over glass, and giving the title ‘Fresh Widow’, sets off a train of thought. The more inventive and tightly integrated the concept, the more rewarding is the problem to be solved. Similarly Meret Oppenheim covered a tea cup, saucer, and tea spoon with fur and called it ‘Lunch in Fur’. In going further by not just covering, but re-making in a different and surprising material, Claes Oldenburgh opened up a whole new genre.
Joseph Beuys chose felt as one of his key signifiers and invested the existing semiotics of the material with his war story. In ‘The Pack’ of 1969 he alludes to his ‘foundation myth’ in which he was rescued from a fighter plane crash by nomadic Tartars, smothered in animal fat, and wrapped in felt. I helped Beuys roll up the felt for the installation of this work at Strategy: Get Arts in 1970. Here the felt, fat and torches stood in for dog-people on the sledges.
In 2005 I selected sandpaper as one of my tools to change objects from ‘ready to hand’ to ‘presence at hand’. To mark this I conceived my ‘Sandpaper Suit’ to set up a dialogue with Beuy’s ‘Felt Suit’. It was tailored by Deborah Tallentire from 3M Hookit sandpaper to the same design, except for the singed wooden buttons. These materials were intended to counterpoint the meaning of Beuy’s work and set a related puzzle to be solved. From then on I explored the process of attrition using sandpaper and other abrasives. One of my objectives for taking the MFA at Wimbledon was to develop my understanding of semantics and how the inter-play of materials can communicate meaning.