My tutor feedback arrived yesterday. As always it is very detailed and has provided me with some more ideas to explore and some thoughtful guidance on submitting the work for assessment. I am very grateful for the level of scrutiny, thought and engagement that I’ve received in tutor feedback from Andy. Linked pdf file is below, I shall return to this post with more detail over the weekend as there is a lot to unpick and consider.
Several weeks on this has not been an easy post to write. The feedback was terrific. It has thrown up a bundle of questions to be considered, thankfully I don’t think I need to answer them, just put them out there in the cosmos.
The biggest issue has been considering the sexuality, or otherwise, of the work. Three tutors have commented on the work via the various feedback mechanisms with which I’ve engaged. My tutors comments:
Before I read this on your blog I also thought about the importance of embracing the expression ‘fetish’ and accepting that the work cannot be perceived as asexual – this is intensified by your approach of using worn items which have been sourced from other people through the Internet. Your texts are still coming across as reticent in this area.
One tutor, via the OCA South West group, commented that the work had a fetish element to it and suggested a title of “From Fox Talbot to Fetish”. Another tutor, via the Forum Live Hangout, commented otherwise (heavily paraphrased). Some students have seen the work as forensic, as the work being presented for examination, of it having an element of the exotic, the other. Indeed, my tutor also refers to the work touching “on the language of evidence or specimens”. My intention was not to make overtly sexual work – it was to reference Fox Talbot’s use of lace in his early shadowgrams and to use lace from a contemporary setting. I used underwear because it fits with the way my practice examines the familiar but less visible aspects of life. It seems to be the use of other people’s underwear that is provoking the reading. This makes me wonder how the reading would change if I presented an edit that was openly entirely of my own underwear. How would the reading of my own used, but laundered underwear differ from the reading of random strangers’ used, but laundered underwear? Is other peoples’ underwear more or less sexual than my own (if anyone reading is in a position to answer that question, please don’t)? Would the readings of fetishism change to readings of exhibitionism? Would it make any difference? Why? A peer reminded me of Barthes view that there are three parties to every image – the subject, the photographer and the audience and their views all interact. How does this change when you have the photographer, the audience, and the underwear of an unknown person? Another peer pointed out that I don’t need to answer these questions, so I’m not going to. I am however going to continue this work as a side project through UVC.
The rest of the feedback is thankfully easier to address. I was fascinated by Andy’s observation that the designs in the lace echo not only the original work by Fox Talbot, as I intended, but also the work of Blossfeldt and Haeckel. I was delighted by Haeckel’s work, well delighted is an understatement, it makes me fizz with joy inside at how he manages to combine exuberance and precision, and the colours are exquisite. Perhaps flowers are something of an archetype, or perhaps a trope, the way they have endured in art and design, there’s something interesting that the lace in modern underwear has such similar design to the lace that Fox Talbot photographed. Where is the modern lace design? Do we still see women as delicate Victorian/Edwardian flowers?
I was encouraged at his commendation of my presenting the work at full size. His comments did make me consider carefully how I was going to make the work for assessment, and I decided on a larger paper size with objects that fitted well within the paper. I was intrigued by his suggestion of printing the work on a lighter weight foldable paper, which led me to wondering about printing onto silk at life size. I think they could look really interesting in black and white, with the same handle as lingerie fabrics. I reluctantly decided that the key to this work is simplicity, and that my assessment submission is complicated enough in terms of the variety of formats being submitted. Although I don’t have easy access to a large flatbed scanner or photocopier I did try scanning some underwear into my home printer/scanner. The results were interesting but I stand by my photogram presentation. The use of contemporary technology added another (more unwelcome to me) layer of context, and more importantly, the results were not as good. This might be something that I explore further over the next year or so. I do like how the labels have rendered though.
Andy’s suggestions for further reading/viewing are always challenging and rewarding. The Shadow Catchers exhibition material online has been a “go-to” resource for me since I worked with Polaroids at Lacock Abbey back in EYV, however I was delighted to see that the book has been republished and this will continue to be a baseline inspiration for me. Christian Boltanski was thoroughly intriguing too. I enjoyed his literal approach, the translation of memories and moments into carefully orchestrated and lit objects. This text from his website resonated with me:
The durability of certain materials that very effectively evoke the passage of time allows Boltanski to simultaneously establish a difference and an analogy between synaptic (organic) memory and the memory that is implicit in objects’ forms. Remains of the past, the residue of distant lives, render the persistence of materials evident, even though these also disappear in time.
This resonated because of the issues and opportunities presented by underwear that holds a memory of its wearer’s form, years or even decades after it was last worn. Flattening the garment under glass gave a clearer image, but letting it just breathe allowed an extra dimension, hinted at the curves. A brilliant reference and undoubtedly one that I will use again.
In summary, this work is now at a point where I’m happy to submit it for assessment. I’ve been very happy at how it has developed over the last six months and am keen to develop it further.