After being unable to go to the Burren for our artist residency due to complications with travel, we completed our Studio Project back in Reading, with a day trip to London. This project lasted a week, and we were tasked with creating works within a short time frame – responding to a brief and the environment of the Olympic Park where we travelled to. The project was based around the theme of a world without humans, without buildings, without animals, perhaps even without world itself. What does art become when there is no viewer left to look upon it? How can artists respond to these ideas in a way that creates a new approach to making and displaying work? What is the relevance of art in a place where art may not be understood or hold any importance?
We aimed to respond to these themes through a planned live presentation/exhibition held at the end of the week.
On the first day, we began discussing the ways in which we could thematically debate this project, and how we would process the role of art in a world, without world. Due to the way in which we consume the environment and pillage nature, we may already be in the end times, using up resources which are finite and we will not be able to sustain life without, but will not be able to sustain survival through their extraction. Nature is suffering at our hands, and therefore it is not impossible/unlikely for nature to hit back.
First, we read ‘Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Cuthuluecene: Making Kin’ by Donna Harraway. In this text, Harraway examines the way in which capitalism has influenced the way in which we use the environment, and how our disregard of nature will reach a critical point. She debates ways in which we could forge a connection with other species in order to preserve nature, and further the existence of life on a potentially ravaged planet. She writes, “I think that the stretch and recomposition of kin are allowed by the fact that all earthlings are kin in the deepest sense, and it is past time to practice better care of kinds-asassemblages (not species one at a time).” I was interested in the way Harraway has debated ways in which nature as a whole may survive, and how we need to renounce a species hierarchy in order to achieve this.
In addition, we had readings from the book ‘The Dark Forest’, by Liu Cixin. The theme of this novel is very interesting, as humanity is being watched by an alien race who will invade the planet in 400 years. The humans have to come up with a defence for their race which will extend their life-times and current technology. I was very interested in this idea of thinking beyond one’s human life, and one’s own generation, in order to produce a plan which will stand the test of time and which humanity’s life as a whole is dependant on.
We also had a reading from ‘Roadside Picnic’ by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, in which the main character is a ‘Stalker’ who’s job entails finding, discovering and selling the remenants of alienware left after an invasion. He enters a strange land cordoned off by the government, the ‘Zones’, and recycles one species’ trash into another’s commodity. I am interested in the way that waste has been used, and could be related to the process of art within a word without the knowledge of such. Would another species view the art object as a commodity still? Or would art and its meaning be completely revolutionised?
We then watched two films, which showed environments and architecture, and debated themes around the way in which people inhabit space, and how this would change after the end of humanity.
Firstly we watched Patrick Kieller’s ‘The End’ (1986). In this work, Kieller travels with the camera, on a sort of pyschogeographical trip, which he then narrated with a story with a lingering sense of impending doom. Kieller often showed non-spaces within this film – areas of travel and ambiguous site, which present a sense of placelessness within architecture, which I was very inspired by in my further work for the project.
The second film we watched was John Smith’s ‘Hackney Marshes‘ (1977). In this film, Smith examines an area of Hackney, enveloped by high rise flats, filming the environment and completing all the editing in camera. The shots seem to flicker back and forth, distorting the place into one of familiarity into one of inherent strangeness. I was influence by the way in which Smith created an environment of alienation with symbols of modern cities seen everywhere throughout England.
On Day Two we visited the Olympic Park in Stratford, London. The park, built originally to host the 2012 Olympic Games was meant as an example of a prime sporting and tourist area, and as such the surrounding area has undergone a vast amount of development. New housing blocks litter the landscape with their distinctly contemporary box like appearance, and the neighbouring Westfield shopping centre was a hive of activity and commerce. However, the Olympic Park itself was desolate-feeling and empty. The site seemed removed from any sense of place as it was surrounded by building sites and there were no clear streets with which to access it. When in the site, I found the place to empty and in this emptiness, a sense of a lost world existed, as if we were vistors to a historical site of human activity from the perspective of a non-human visitor.
I took photographs of the site, using 35mm black and white film, and used a large angle in order to capture the expanses of emptiness that defined the site.
On the third day of the project, we were given some time to independently produce our works. I went out around Reading to an industrial site, with some abandoned shops in order to take photographs which similarly to the Olympic Park evoked a feeling of emptiness in a previously busy place. I wanted to use my photographs within my final work, as I liked the sparsity of the images, and the way in which they could be looked at as documents of an abandoned humanity as viewed through the eyes of someone from another species. I sought to alienate the viewer from familiarity in a similar vein to John Smith in ‘Hackney Marshes’.
(Above is link to Powerpoint which was my final piece)
For my final piece, I was interested in displaying the photographs through the medium of a presentation. I wanted my photographs to act as a survey of abandonement, and an allegory for the way in which humans inhabit a space then leave the space to fall into disrepair – illiciting spaces of disorganisation and fear for what was lost. The photographs could be taken by someone with no connection to humanity, photographing a world without world – a world void of nature and humans, but simply left with remnants of their existence. In this presentation, I also used the song ‘Everytime’ by Britney Spears as a soundtrack for the presentation. This song historicises the video within the present moment of pop songs and pop culture, thus situating the images within a distinct sense of time, which may be ending as humanity continues to ravage the environment.