I can’t believe how long it has been since I’ve actually had the time to write a blog post – I think around three months? I guess you could call this period of time the storm before the calm… and no you didn’t read that wrong. I’ve come to the conclusion that between this year and last year’s degree show the months leading up the show are always tremendously more stressful than the actual week of the show.
So what’s been happening since then? Short answer: a lot – here’s the long answer:
I had my last assessment at the end of April which went very well. We were told at the assessment feedback which room we had been assigned for the show – mine being room 600. We then had the process of moving from the annexe where our base had been for the first two semesters and into our new homes. Some of the studios were split up into several spaces but I was quite lucky in that I had room 600 to myself. That meant no compromises in terms of how I wanted the space to look and feel. I had been playing with the idea of having a sound piece so I was reassured that it wouldn’t encroach on anyone else’s work. The room was also a dark space which I had desperately wanted to show my light work in and there were plenty of sockets throughout the room.
That was the positives. In fact there was only one negative – the room was massive (to me at least). And I won’t lie on here and pretend I wasn’t at least a little bit intimidated when I finally moved into the space. Because I was. Hugely. My etchings up until this point had been quite small (we’re talking A2/A3). Yes my pencil drawings had been on A0 paper but I still wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted to use them. I hadn’t shown a drawing since 2015 and even then it was a different form of drawing.
My first instinct was to kind of panic a bit and convince myself I had to create ridiculous amounts of work, but after a few tutorials with Norman Shaw and adopting the ‘less is more’ philosophy I decided to form a plan of action. Even though I had never had a space so large to show my work in before, I decided that I needed to do it right and not rush anything. I wanted to think through every part of the show. It occurred to me that I had been making individual pieces of work without actually considering how they were going to look together. I had to make a body of work where each individual piece was compatible with the others as a whole.
I started to think about what I wanted from the space and what I wanted others to experience as they walked into it. I needed it to be intense, intimate and layered. I was heavily inspired by the 2014 Jim Campbell exhibition at the DCA – possibly one of my all time favourite exhibitions. The way he used light in the space to guide viewers around was something I wanted to recreate in the room I had been given.
I knew I wanted to create an infinity mirror piece; it was something that had been on my mind since the end of the last semester. I already had the basis of how to make it so I started the process by framing a few smaller pieces of acrylic mirror and figuring out how everything worked again. I think I have mentioned this on several different blog posts but I am not the best at woodwork. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, just that it doesn’t seem to like me! So I knew that familiarising myself with the process of creating a frame would benefit me when the time came to frame my larger mirror pieces. I measured how big I wanted them to be and ordered 1.2mx1.2m acrylic which had a thickness of 6mm. I wanted the etching to be detailed and not rushed, so I spent a good few weeks etching these massive sheets.
One problem that I had encountered when bringing my old work into the space was that the white light I had been using (L.E.Ds) was just too bright for the space. It forced me to rethink and push myself out of my comfort zone. I had desperately wanted to use introduce colour into my work and now seemed like a great opportunity to utilise coloured L.E.Ds instead.
My next task was to figure out how I was to present a large drawing. Drawing on paper simply wasn’t doing anything for me anymore. The scale was far too small, regardless of what size of paper I managed to find. It forced my drawing to be small and controlled, not large and free which is what I ultimately wanted to achieve. When I saw the two large walls in my space I knew I wanted to draw straight on to them. The question was with what medium? The answer came to me after a sleepless night. I wanted to create a sense of wonder in my space, almost childlike curiosity. So I started to explore what type of light gave me this feeling. I remembered I had glow in the dark stars on my ceiling as a kid, and I also used to love those invisible ink pens.
So there was my answer. That morning I ordered a uv light, experimented with some UV pens and it felt right immediately. The only trouble was the UV lines faded within a day. By sheer coincidence I had noticed a line drawn in yellow highlighter on my desk glowed eerily bright in the UV light. It turned out that after some experimentation, this line didn’t fade – so there was my answer. I was so incredibly happy that I started on the mural straight away.
While working on these ideas I was also simultaneously trying to figure out how to record a sound piece. It was an important part of the whole vibe I wanted the room to have, the sheer intensity of it. I decided I wanted to record my heartbeat. This proved easier said than done. I first tried a contact mic, but it was not sensitive enough to pick up the sound of my heart, only surface noises. I then tried a directional microphone essentially shoved into my chest and then my neck. It did pick up my heartbeat, but at an incredibly faint level. I had to amp up the sound to such great levels that it didn’t sound like a heartbeat anymore, more like a strange muffled noise. Eventually the only option left was to try an actual stethoscope. They are incredibly expensive and I was not willing to spend that amount of money on something that might not work so I ended up ordering a £3 one from eBay. Low and behold, that ended up doing the job. I went to see Sean Ahern the sound technician who helped me dissect the stethoscope and insert a very sensitive mic. I held this to my chest and we listened to the sound. I was so happy when I heard a very audible and clear heartbeat. Not only could you hear my heartbeat but lots of other fascinating ‘noises’ from inside my body which I wanted to keep, it made the sound more ambiguous.
About two months in total were spent getting all of these separate components ready for the show. The last month was spent planning out where I wanted everything to go and waiting on walls to be put up, electricians to wire in lights etc. This can be a very frustrating process but all of the builders were so lovely and helpful and were eager to get my room just as I wanted it.
I wanted to have two quotes from some of the writing that had made a real impact on me during the year – A Fredrich Nietzche quote and a Hans Hofmann quote. Luckily Rob down at the make lab came through for me once again (as he did last year) and took charge of cutting them so I didn’t muck it up. I then had to place the letters on the wall which was a huge task in itself – you don’t really get any second chance with vinyl. All that was left for me to do after that was tidy up and wait for my assessment.
My assessment was held on a Saturday this year (11th of August) and it involved speaking to a panel of three assessors (Professor Mary Modeen, Norman Shaw and Euan McArthur). We had 20 minutes to give a presentation and 10 minutes to answer questions. I think it went well.
Opening night is this Friday, but I have a busy week ahead before then. I will update with final photographs on Friday night… I’m really, really excited. The prospect of finally having a Masters Degree after all this hard work is a very exciting thought.