Natur Blick, The Koppel Project, 13 April - 25 May 2018
Review by Olivia Aherne
The eye scans, searches and stutters across ‘Natur Blick’, the new group show curated by Augustine Carr and Paula Zambrano at The Koppel Project in London. Before visiting the show I read the short accompanying text by the artist, writer and academic Chantal Faust. The text traces the different sensory and digital guises of scanning and, as my eyes crossed the page from left to right, simulating the rhythmic and repetitive action of both human and machine, I became hyper aware of the ease with which we scan images, ideas and information.
In ‘Natur Blick’, scanning - the instinctive visual movement of the human eye, a gesture co-opted by modern technology - is the subject of the work of ten contemporary artists: Augustine Carr, Chantal Faust, Otto Ford, Gili Lavy, Clair Le Couteur, Samantha Lee, Alix Marie, Anna Skladmann, WARD and Andrea Zucchini. Their work each explores scanning as a multi-faceted operation: as a creative method, a mode of representation, research and rehearsal and as an encounter with contemporary art.
This specific exhibition encounter is one of many different surfaces, sizes and synchronicities and is presented across the two floors of the gallery space. From photography to installation and video to sculpture, the show is an intriguing balance of analogue and digital, two-dimensional and three-dimensional. Positioned in the centre of the ground floor are two 3D rendered sculptures by Carr titled ‘Summa Theologica’ (2018) and ‘Glanz’ (2017). Carr’s sludgy sculptural forms offset the precise nature of the scanning technology used to create them, it is here that the digital emerges as something fluid and perceptive. Hung on the opposite side of the room is another work by Carr, ‘Preferred By Teachers’ (2018). The two metre digitally designed hanging fabric puts a modern spin on on the ancient tapestry. Also presented on the ground floor is Otto Ford’s ‘Pablo in Pieces’ (2018) which preserves the movement and expression of a paintbrush through effect and rendering. By employing digital mediums that scan, print and imitate, both Carr and Ford remodel the traditional mediums of painting and sculpture whilst challenging contemporary digital aesthetics.
Tucked downstairs in a room of its own is Alix Marie’s ‘Orlando’ (2014), a large-scale photographic installation composed of prints of close-up body parts which have been dipped in wax, crinkled, scanned and reprinted. Marie’s process results in a melting and crackling effect where human flesh becomes blurred and ungendered. The title, which references Orlando, a character that turns from male to female in Virginia Woolf’s novel of the same name, works to reaffirm Marie’s blurring of binaries, a blurring which is symptomatic of scanning, where blindness and awareness occur simultaneously.
The title of the show loosely translates as the ‘nature of looking’ and is derived from a quote by the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but less interesting than looking.” Much of the work in ‘Natur Blick’ speaks to Goethe’s proposition, its appeal is found in its aesthetic qualities and visually exposed artistic processes - scanned, printed, recorded - each work reveals its own traces and perceptions. These traces and interpretations are most engaging in the three-dimensional work where depth is explored and the immaterial is made material. The abundance of two-dimensional prints feels too flat, too familiar and too easy to scan. In today’s flattened and scannable landscape, where surface and process is squashed to screen, the allure is in the sculptural works that glare back, causing an optical stutter.
"I think I scan, I think I scan, I think I scan. And I touch, in order to see. Scanning is a visual movement, a sweeping glance, a skim, an analysis, and a conversion. To scan is to look quickly, and also to look carefully. In the digital realm, scanning demands proximity, it is intimate in this way. The seeing eye of the machine is a reader of surfaces, recording traces of a perceptual and tactile encounter. In the land of the flatbed, touch, vision and memory become inseparable. In this sense, the seeing organ is more akin to a tongue than an eye, a close-up form of perception and ingestion, licking blindly in the dark."
Chantal Faust, 2018.
For a show I am curating - Natur Blick
Really pleased to have Clair Le Couteur RCA PHD opening and closing Natur Blick, a show I am curating a the Koppel Project around the idea of scanning. Where to scan might be 'where the digital meets nature' or 'to look at something with real intention'. Clair will perform with Carli Jefferson as the Lunatraktors. "‘Scan’ first comes into English to describe analysing the rhythm or structure of verse by tapping the foot. Performance research duo LUNATRAKTORS work with an intuitive, collaborative form of scansion, re-awakening lost songs from the folk archive into embodiment. Working with harmonic singing and body percussion, voice and rhythm are used to scan the gallery space, picking out resonant frequencies and ringing tones. This singing practice is combined with LUNATRAKTORS’ wider project of self-transformation through scanning the archive of folk song for moments that resonate with their theoretical, personal and political concerns, scanning the written verse to ‘hear’ the music in it, and re-archiving that material into the body by ear and by heart. ” Here is a clip of Clair performing at the Horse Hospital.
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Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Where did you study?
I graduated with a Fine Art BA from Central Saint Martins in 2011 and with MA in Painting from the Royal College of Art in 2016. I spent my mid twenties and early thirties editing television programmes and making my own films. My films grew simpler and sparer. I felt compelled to move beyond the captured image. My father came from a Calvinist background, where art was discouraged and seen as decadent. I shared that view for some time and had no real interest in fine art until I started making drawn transcriptions in the National Gallery in my thirties to try and understand what picture making might entail.
I enrolled at Central Saint Martins where I had an exciting time as a painter – in the last year of my BA, a van driver failed to indicate and knocked me off my bicycle leaving me with a shattered right elbow and neuralgia in both hands, temporarily unable to hold a brush.
But after a while, I found that I could make rudimentary objects in plasticine and clay with my left hand. As a result, my painting practice began to broaden in to sculpture and film.
After graduating from St Martins, I began to make assemblages of modelled sculpture and found objects. A conversation with the artist John Stezaker sparked an interest in the possibility of collage for me. John believes that a conceptual practice is a kind of cul-de-sac and that image making is all.
I went to the RCA to be taught by one of my favourite painters, Ansel Krut, and he did not disappoint. His picture making is not unlike his company, full of playful wit and generosity. He shared with me his penchant for a full English breakfast before starting a new canvas and I have been getting rounder ever since.
Your major piece titled "Glanz" is a large black morphic looking object. Could you tell us about this piece? How was it made?
At the RCA I wanted to give the quick, intimate works I made in my left hand currency and move them beyond a domestic scale, so I had work remade by precise machines. Small maquettes were 3D scanned, enlarged in CAD and CNC milled at a greater scale that exaggerated the work’s expediency.
So, Glanz was modelled with one hand in plasticine, in a minute or so, and then digitally enlarged, so the asymmetry is amplified and takes on a life of its own, sitting somewhere between myth and fantasy. The lumpen character of the cup is both brutish and gigantic so I like its title 'Glanz auf der Nase’ (in English ‘glance at the nose’), which came about after an accident in my studio, where the oil of the original plasticine maquette seeped into a Freud text on the fetish.
In the northern medieval church, what was seen as the greatest poverty in society was given virtuality in its masonry. Glanz was first shown in the knave of the Asylum Chapel in Peckham for a Frieze event, where its new scale reveals both a sensitivity and a brutalism. It seemed to speak of something overgrown and lumpen, yet innocent and playful.
You have an ongoing series of works that depict painted-over books. Could you tell us about these works? They are digital prints, right?
Yes. I paint on found books. I see the painting not as an intervention but as a re-writing of the book; painting as embellishment rather than defacement. This practice is directly informed by my research into medieval marginalia, where pictorial additions to a text open up new readings and ideas. While thinking about how to situate and present the work, I became interested in archiving them.
To photograph these books, I black out the room and turn a scanner into a camera. The book is pressed against glass, weighed down with a brick, photographed at a high resolution, enlarged and printed. The immense detail contained within the photograph creates a kind of a paradox – as the print is enlarged, it seems to become more intimate. Yet the book and the painting are not there of course, only their image. Some people have read this work as a tromp l’oeil. These prints were the first photographs ever to have been selected for the RCA painting collection. Some of the more traditional painting staff at the RCA were resistant to discussing the painting within the image at first, but would then find themselves hooked into a conversation by some small detail in the photograph that took them by surprise. It made for interesting crits on the layers within layers in the work.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
For me, it’s my peers’ work that resonates with me most. Work that is a part of my own dialogue in some way. For example, I walked into the Dot Project in Chelsea on Friday and saw these fantastic ultramarine blue pigmented works which I loved . . . then, on the following Monday the fashion designer Genevieve Sweeney, whom I am working with, told me about her sister covering her grandparents’ house in blue pigment while they were on holiday . . . And sure enough, the works were by Gen’s sister Florence! The London art world is just small enough for us to feel ourselves spinning around conversations with in it, many of these conversations are one way, of course, but not as many as you may think.
My children and I were bowled over by Giorgio Griffa’s show at the Camden Arts Centre; his gentle line and chromatic economy left us all singing and humming as we followed his trail of pinned, folded hessian through the galleries.
My daughter Rose is named after Rose Wylie who bounced into my studio at the RCA one day in her Air Jordans and dragged the palm of her hand across an expensive print of mine, wiping away the pigment, without realizing it was a photograph of a painting rather than a canvas. I last saw her at a talk she gave with Ben Rivers at the Tate in the autumn about their films and paintings; it was an electric evening that swept me straight back into the studio.
Seeing shows online and reading catalogues makes one hungry too, of course. Artists have always been comforted by images of their peers’ studios. And Instagram has replaced, for me, the early morning stroll around the college works-in-progress. Now we can root for our friends and colleagues, who are generous enough to open up their practices on Instagram. I have been rooting for the fantastically impossible sculpture that Hugo Wilson has been making over the last couple of months. And have discovered a predilection for the artists shown by Peter Ibsen in his beautifully documented exhibitions and travels with his Sunday Gallery in Copenhagen.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day / studio routine? What is your studio like?
My studio is a couple of minutes walk from my house, so after breakfast with the family and getting the children off to school, I play a Ramones song for the short commute. When I arrive, I look at the work I have made the day before and put on a less frenetic album on repeat. The music acts as a kind of buffer to the world. I draw or paint until the neuralgia in my hands acts up and then I begin to model the three-dimensional elements of my practice, mostly in my left hand.
I have a small north facing studio, in an old film studio in Islington that has been partitioned up. Here the maquettes and paintings are made on a small table. I make many paintings and maquettes and edit a lot back. I spend a lot of time looking and turning the paintings and models around in my hand before having them scanned or photographed for fabrication.
The large sculptures where initially made in the vehicle design department at the RCA on a 5-axis CNC mill and were finished like cars. The sculptures are now milled by a Kuka Robot in a factory that supplies parts to the aeronautical industry. The photographs because of their scale are also printed, mounted and framed off site. And of late I have found myself doing shows where I only see the finished work just before their installation, due to the small size of my studio.
How do you go about naming your work?
With the book works, titles are taken from the title of the book or a text within the work. The sculptures are also named after book titles or lines of text because the maquettes are often used in assemblages with books before they are chosen to be enlarged. Or sometimes the titles are the result of some meaningful accident as with ‘Glanz’.
Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
I have just begun tests in digital embroidery . . . Simple drawings in chalk and crayon become something quite other after they have been photographed, enlarged and stitched. I would love to make some sort of collaboration in fashion. It is such a privilege to work with people with such a wealth of knowledge in their field.
A clip from the Summa Theolologica Film, in an edition of ten. Contact me for availability.
To view a PDF of the my Summa Theologica Catalogue with essays by Ansel Krut and William Horner - click here.
Over Niagara in a Barrel
Painters take risks when they make paintings. If, when you look at a painting, you track backwards and forwards along the painting process you can see where they have made those key risky decisions. For many painters, however strategic their thinking, however acrobatic their decision making, there comes a moment when they have to nail themselves into the barrel, trust to luck and instinct and the gods of painting, and roll out into the fast current that carries them toward the edge of the waterfall.
There are, of course, a whole host of decisions that are made well in advance of the first brush mark but the moment the brush is loaded and poised above the canvas a different order of decision-making comes into play.
There is a lovely bit of film footage made by François Campaux in 1946 of the provisional positioning of Matisse’s brush as it hovers just above the canvas, seeking not only the best place to make the mark but also the speed with which to make it and the pressure and angle and inflection too. Speeded up on film the brush appears to make a series of swordplay-like feints before committing itself to the final mark-making act. These feints are surely the conscious mind of the painter being tugged at by some other urge as the painter feels his way towards his image.
The gap between intention and execution is the moment for fluid decision making. This is the zone of subconscious promptings, often indistinct, more felt than consciously determined, where wayward impulses can urge a painter to do the opposite of what is expected. Sometimes even the opposite of what is required. To signal left and turn right. To do a reverse jump. Or a double reverse jump. Where they can undermine the expected order of things.
Not because painters are inherently revolutionaries, but because it is a way of testing the limits of their medium and, where paint acts as a mediator of perception, through that to test out something of the perceived world too.
One of the pleasures of looking at painting is looking out for artistic changes of mind – signalled by over-painting, erasure, abrasion and cancellation. It is very difficult to eliminate all trace of change, sometimes the full effect of a painting is only gained through the layering of change over change. All painters like pentimenti, those bits of underpainting revealed through time and the natural thinning of paint in old paintings, that show where the artist had a change of mind. It humanises them somehow, and removes the distance of history. If paintings can be said to have an internal life, if they are more than the sum of shapes on the surface, then that life is made legible through those decisions that the painter has made or, equally importantly, chosen not to make in constructing the painting.
These decisions can be signposted as significant choices made at a crossroads, or they can be discerned as the residues of a change of mind but they are never without consequences. These testing decisions give the work a density, not necessarily a density of materials, of thickened paint, but a density in interpretation and possibility. It is demanding of the viewer as well; when the painter heads towards the edge the viewer is invited to come too.
Ansel Krut, 2008 (with thanks to Domo Baal)
The work of Augustine Carr crosses several registers, combining painting, sculpture, print, photography, digital scanning and film. An appropriated book cover is painted over, not so much defaced as embellished, and then it is scanned and printed at a much-enlarged scale. His work ‘Things to Make’ depicts a few trees painted in a free and simple manner. The book it is painted on, referred to in the work’s title, is a classic book for children, and it underlines the childish nature of the image and the emotive occlusion that has occurred. The work ‘Lost at the Fair’ also consists of an appropriated book from the same series whose cover is painted over, yet here the image is abstract and consists of a pattern of colourful triangles aligned to the geometry of the book. The care and sensitivity with which the paintings are made suggests that there is not just childish vandalism or effrontery at play here, but that some kind of reverence or homage is at work.The relationship between the paintings and the particular books used is not specific or conceptual but open and elliptical. But it is the photographic enlargement of the paintings that works to both distance us from the emotively painted book and bring us closer to it through its enlargement. The device is both undone and magnified – as is the emotional intimacy – and the enlargement generates an objectivity that offers up the work as a museological specimen.
‘Tricks and Magic (Blindfold)’ uses a similar device, but takes an open spread from another title of the same series. Here, one of the pages is obscured by a sequence of coloured squares whereas the opposite page, depicting a blindfolded boy pointing upwards, is left intact. The veiled boy is echoed by the paint that veils the image beneath it. In a way, the paintings seem to offer a kind of lit darkness. As Maurice Blanchot suggested, it is only at the threshold of vision, when we can no longer see very well, that we actually begin to see. In this case, it seems that artists are the blind who lead the blind to vision.
Carr’s sculptures, titled ‘Summa Theologica’, involve a similar process of enlargement but involve small hand-modeled clay sculptures that are 3D scanned and reproduced by detailed CNC milling. Again, what appears as a small child-like sketch is enlarged and reproduced with a technical precision that amplifies the haptic quality of the object and places it in a space of intimate virtuality. The enlargement brings us into direct contact with the physical hand-made action and elevates it to a material spectacle. But the sculptures have an uncanny presence as their new proportions take them into the world of the gigantic. Their new scale reveals both a sensitivity and a brutalism, they are overgrown and lumpen and yet innocent and playful.
Carr also makes films involving sculpture and shifts of scale. ‘Summa Theologica’ is a film that involves the same hand-made clay boat as the sculptures. But here the original clay maquette appears submerged in water and darkness and gradually falls apart as the water is absorbed and its structure collapses.
The small and apparently life-sized projection of the film draws us in to the vulnerability of the maquette and compared to the sculpture it appears like a ghostly negative image of it. There is a pathos to the spectacle, the process of disintegration luring the eye as thew falling flecks of clay catch the light before tumbling into the darkness. The drama and opulence of the image entices like a vanitas and looks like an elegy to some kind of lost experience. The title, ‘Summa Theologica’, refers to Thomas Aquinas’s instructional guide for theology students and seminarians written in the 13th Century and suggests that the creative process might function as a kind of spiritual training. Carr’s recapitulation of play suggests that the creative process is both a source of knowledge and an elegy.
Another of his films entitled ‘Investment for Economy’ involves a hearse driving an enlarged reproduction of a series of hand-modeled castle crenellations. The object and the performed action are doubly over-blown and yet the distance of the film medium gives poignancy to the elegy on what might have been an embattled childhood. As Robert Harbison suggests in his book ‘Deliberate Regression’, romantic individualism shared the same path that led to the disasters of totalitarianism. Carr’s work is far from decadent, however, but it certainly has a romanticism to it. His work is not idealistic or programmatic but has both largesse and vulnerability. The precarious path it traverses involves a searching that is as sincere as it is blind.
William Horner RCA PHD, 2017
Glanz, ready for London Frieze Week. CNCed SikaBlock finished in Black, 115x 97 x97cm, 2017
Karleung Wai, Specialist Technical Instructor in Additive Manufacturing at the Royal College of Art, discusses our work to together in making Summa Theologica in RCA Vehicle Design, this weekend at the Innovation Conference in the the Hague, Netherlands.
Milling work for a solo show in June. ABC.
Delighted to have 'Things To Make' selected by the Royal College of Art Custodians for the RCA College Collection. Artist proofs of all three photographed paintings shown in the RCA Show of 2016 were selected by the RCA College Collection Custodians, with "Things To Make" requested by the Dean of Fine Art, Juan Cruz. "The Royal College of Art College Collection is a collection of over 1000 works designed to represent significant developments in British painting by alumni and staff." These are the first photographs to be added to the Royal College of Art, Painting Collection.
Very pleased with this crisp scan from Sample & Hold for a new work, in progress for a private commission.
My graduate show has sold out, to some really good collections. Many thanks to all the RCA Painting Faculty. And Flint Fine Art and Hahnemuhle for their fantastic sponsorship.
The work of Augustine Carr crosses several registers, combining painting, sculpture, print, photography, digital scanning and film.
An appropriated book cover is painted over, not so much defaced as embellished, and then it is scanned and printed at a much-enlarged scale. His work ‘Things to Make’ depicts a few trees painted in a free and simple manner. The book it is painted on, referred to in the title, is the classic book for children, and it underlines the childish nature of the painting. But there is more than just childish irreverence at play however, as the enlargement works to both distance us from the emotive painted book and to bring us closer to it through its enlargement. The device is both undone and magnified, as is the emotional intimacy.
His sculpture ‘Summa Theologica’ works in a similar way, but involves a small hand-modeled plasticine sculpture enlarged and reproduced by detailed CNC milling. Again, what appears as a small child-like sketch is enlarged and reproduced with a technical precision that it amplifies the haptic quality of the object and places it in a space of intimate virtuality.
Augustine Carr also makes films, involving his sculpture and shifts of scale. His ‘An Investment for Economy’ involves a hearse driving an enlarged life-size reproduction of a set of hand-modeled castle crenellations. The object and the performed action are doubly over-blown and yet with the distance of the film medium, the elegy to what might be an embattled childhood is given poignancy.