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Exploring Perception: Time-based Media at the UCL Art Museum

LisaPlotkin10 February 2014

 ProfileBy Felicity Winkley

Time-Based Media brings together ten multimedia works which depend on technology and can therefore change meaningfully in response to time, including, but not limited to, video, experimental film and audio. All the works in the exhibition are linked in their aim to create a dialogue between viewer and object; to meaningfully provoke an engaging experience. At work under the surface of this engagement is perception, an environmental involvement in which we, the experiencers, receive stimuli to which not only our senses respond, but also our cognitive process. The pieces collected here are not solely visual or static. In this respect they challenge both what we expect to encounter in the rather traditional and certainly serene surroundings of the UCL Art Museum, and moreover what we might expect to experience when we ‘look at art’.

In my research into the perception of landscape, I subscribe to the definition put forward by Allport in his work on the subject some years ago. For him, perception:

‘has something to do with our awareness of the objects or conditions about us. It is dependent to a large extent upon the impressions these objects make upon our senses. It is the way things look to us, or the way they sound, feel, taste, or smell. But perception also involves, to some degree, an understanding awareness, a “meaning” or a “recognition” of these objects’ (1955, 14).

This definition advocates – as do I – the cognitive (as opposed to behaviourist, or gestalt) approach to perception, whereby we understand that the perceptive process is not limited solely to a stimuli-response pattern of observable behaviours, but ‘is influenced by many cultural, experience-based and individual factors that underlie interpretation’ (Campos et al. 2012, 760). It is these factors, mediated by the perceiver’s cognitive and emotional responses, that are so valuable for my personal research into attitudes to landscape preferences, but also to a consideration of how viewers might respond to some of the works curated in Time-based Media.

Take The Printer’s Symphony (2013), a collaborative work by Dana Ariel, Julia McKinlay, Eleanor Morgan and Georgina Tate. A beautiful concertina-fold of card stretches along the length of the case, bringing together prints from the four artists, demonstrating a number of processes, mounted and detailed with added embossings. So far, so good – we as gallery visitors are used to seeing pristine works, safely displayed in cases. However, unusually the object is also accompanied by four minutes of audio, emanating from a hidden speaker, composed of a pastiche of recorded sounds from the print-maker’s studio. At first, our senses are fooled – the everyday noises sound like someone working outside, or upstairs, because memory and therefore knowledge has conditioned us to interpret this as the most likely cause amongst the perceived milieu. On paying closer attention, though, the sound quickly changes and it is soon easy to be drawn in to the soundscape of filing, spraying, rinsing and rolling – an evocative soundtrack of making, which is strangely difficult to connect to the perfect artwork in the case. This is exactly what the artists were hoping to capture – a method of bringing the process of making into the gallery, of bridging the gap between the Slade School of Fine Art and the UCL Art Museum. Thanks to perception, upon listening whilst also observing the work, we can now imagine what the studio environment is like – using the sounds as a trigger to remembered encounters, we can ‘see’ in our mind’s eye how it might appear, or smell the scent of the materials, the feel of a tool-handle in the hand.

In this engagement with The Printer’s Symphony, we can see clearly how memory serves as an essential factor of perception; through memory, we can achieve knowledge, and consequently inform our interpretation of later perceived environments – I remember what workshops are like, and therefore the sounds I encounter in the artwork recall this memory to my mind as I experience it. This type of memory is known as embodied: in which the immersive quality of the experience fully engage the senses to evoke memories beyond those that can be summoned solely by looking at a photograph, for example (Rishbeth and Powell 2013). Viveka Marksio’s work Embodied/Disembodied (v.1) taps into this embodiment, by using computer-generated imagery to take the viewer on a journey through the interior spaces of the Slade School as they are being slowly flooded. The piece aims to ‘recreate the sensations of the body in a threatening and claustrophobic physical space’, and the video is helped to achieve this by the carefully constructed soundtrack which comprises a resonant series of bass notes, with sporadic industrial echoes. Unlike The Printer’s Symphony, whose accompanying audio is ambient in the gallery, Embodied/Disembodied (v.1) (like other works in Time-Based Media) requires the viewer to wear headphones; whilst this is not unusual perhaps, in this instance it is worth noting the effect of the headphones in contributing to the sense of enclosure and threat evoked by the piece. The noise-canceling qualities, along with the sensation of pressure on the head, all add to the perceptive blend of the engagement.

 i am unique and so is everyone else , 2012 video duration: 15 seconds (loop)

Nicolas Feldmeyer
I am unique and so is everyone else , 2012
video duration: 15 seconds (loop)

In I am unique and so is everybody else (2012), Nicholas Feldmeyer achieves a similar effect using solely video. This 15-second looped video collage layers footage of the natural movement of tree branches in the wind with a digital pattern of black dots to create a random movement which is at once hypnotic and contemplative. In contrast to The Printer’s Symphony or Embodied/Disembodied (v.1) the work has no soundtrack, but its immersive simplicity makes it easy for the viewer to call up the sensations that would accompany an encounter with wind in the branches – the sound of it whipping through the trees, the feel of the air on the skin. Again, our perception is informed by memory – we know what this would feel like. And yet visually the beholder is confused by the work; the natural pattern of the branches has been overlaid by a subtle digital intervention, the scene is not quite as it first appeared.

Similarly, Feldmeyer challenges our expectations with My people, humble people (2012), in which small digital ellipses have been overlaid on raindrops as they fall into a puddle. In both pieces, the subtlety of the overlays confuses our perception and encourages close scrutiny – are we looking at the natural phenomena or the digitally imposed details? Where does one stop and the other begin? In terms of our exploration of perception, the effect is pertinent. Although in our daily life perceptual modalities like hearing, touch, smell and taste are extremely important in negotiating our relationship with the outside world, nevertheless, most of the perceptive encounters we have with the environment are conducted visually (Ballesteros 1994). And yet is this the most important? Should we be more cautious in prioritising it over our other senses? Time-Based Media offers the opportunity to question the perceptive process, and encourages us to scrutinise our responses to what we see and how we orientate ourselves to it.

Nicolas Feldmeyer  My people, humble people,  2012 video duration: 1:05 minutes (loop)

Nicolas Feldmeyer
My people, humble people, 2012
video duration: 1:05 minutes (loop)

Time-Based Media is on at the UCL Art Museum until 28 March 2014

 

 

Allport, F. H. (1955) Theories of Perception and the Concept of Structure New York: Wiley

 

Ballesteros, S. (1994) Cognitive Approaches to Human Perception: Introduction, in: Ballesteros, S. (Ed.) Cognitive Approaches to Human Perception New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers

 

Campos, M., Velazques, A., Verdinelli, G. B., Priego-Santander, A. G., McCall, M. K. and Boada, M. (2012) Rural People’s Knowledge and Perception of Landscape: A Case Study from the Mexican Pacific Coast Society and Natural Resources: An International Journal 25 (8) pp. 759-774

 

Rishbeth, C. and Powell, M. (2013) Place Attachment and Memory: Landscapes of Belonging as Experiences Post-Migration Landscape Research 38 (2) pp. 160-178

 

 

 

Slade Artists Do It Better: Q&A with Artist Siân Landau

GemmaAngel20 May 2013

Lisa Plotkin  by Lisa Plotkin


 

 

 

 

Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with young artist Siân Landau to discuss her work, and in particular, her contribution to UCL Art Museum’s Duet exhibition. For such a young person Siân’s CV is impressive. A recent graduate of the Slade School of Fine Art, she is also the recipient of the prestigious Thomas Scholarship from the Slade and has also served as a Heal’s artist in residence.

Duet is the fifth annual collaboration between the Slade School of Fine Art and the UCL Art Museum. The exhibition challenged Slade students to take inspiration from a piece of work already in the Art Museum’s vast collection, and produce something in response. The results were as varied as they were thought provoking, with participating artists taking inspiration from Hogarth to Gwen John, and many others. But it was the four watercolours on the wall, two of which are shown below, depicting colourful female nudes that really caught my eye.

Slade Lady1

 

Entitled Slade Ladies Do It Better this piece by Landau sheds a unique light on the Slade as a historical institution for female artists and allows us to re-imagine the ways in which the female nude has become an artistic and cultural symbol. Landau’s accompanying text explaining the piece in more detail reads as follows:

The four watercolours I have made are of nude women who are currently studying at the Slade, in each image a woman recreates the poses of female life models from drawings made by some of the first women to study there. The studies I work from were made between 1893 and 1915. I acknowledge the original works by naming each piece with the first name of the artist who made the drawing; Alice, Dorothy, Ethel and Eveleen. My contemporary response to these traditional life drawings celebrates the diversity of female beauty, with colour and decoration to bring life and delicacy. I hope to encourage reflection in a society where women continue to feel the pressures of the male gaze and its unrealistic ideals.

SladeLady2

 

As an historian of women and gender, I immediately wanted to sit down with Sian and try to get at what compelled her to make this piece, find out more about her process, ask what kind of reaction her work is garnering, and find out what is in store for her next.

Q: How did you become a student at the Slade and what has inspired you to continue making art? 

A: I have always loved art and when I was at school doing my A levels I thought to myself wow, I can actually go forward with this and really enjoy studying it! So then I did a foundation course at Chelsea [College of Art and Design] in 2009-2010 and I absolutely loved it. It was a real chance to just explore so many different ways of making art- we did fashion, we did graphic, fine art, visual communications and media, and it was then that I knew fine art was definitely for me. I applied to the Slade from there and the last three years here have been amazing. They give you the freedom to do what you want to do and it has only been in the last year that my interests have taken on their true identity, I guess. The first couple of years you are kind of dabbling around, thinking what is it- what is the crux of my work? It takes some time to figure that out.

Q: What was it like working within the constraints of Duet as a concept?  What did your process entail? 

A: Artists are always inspired by a number of things, but it was different to actually come in and work with a specific piece. But, it was within my own art practice that I started looking at women artists and the place of erotica in feminist discourse. That tension isn’t resolved yet, but I knew I was interested in exploring it further, so when this project came up I thought I would just go in and see what they had, like what I might respond to. And when we came in for the initial briefing they had loads of easels out around the room with loads of different works that they had selected and one of them was a nude woman- you know, a life model- and I saw it and I thought that’s what I’ve got to respond to!

I mean in a contemporary sense a nude woman is not a shocking thing anymore, it’s everywhere so I just thought I could make a piece that commented on that ubiquity. And then it was through coming back and doing research and looking at more women artists that drew women at the Slade that I really made the connection with how I could take that and do something with it. And for me it just seemed really important and obvious that I should take that and literally use the women working now at the Slade because life drawings aren’t really done here anymore- I mean it’s not a big part of the programme – so with this piece I was able to bring that back again as well.

Q: What do you hope to convey with this piece?

A: I hope to highlight the history of the Slade as an educational facility for women, which was something that I found out more about in the process of making this piece. The Slade opened in the 1870s and women were admitted, which was 25 years before any other professional art school let women enroll, which was an amazing fact to find out. What a great thing for women’s rights to be able to study at that level and I wanted to increase awareness of that.

Q: How does this piece fit in with the rest of your work? Do you explore these types of themes often?

A: Well it’s in there. The degree show I just exhibited was more about desire- the physicality of desire. I was making paintings that were quite abstract at first, but then when you look closer you see that there is actually a really fluid image of two people in a sexual act. And they were all quite colourful- I love to experiment with colour and pattern and line as well. My drawings are usually a lot looser than is shown with this piece. And my ceramic sculpture pieces deal with the hands on side of sexual encounters and just handling something, whether it’s the body, or for me it was handling clay, in order to express desire. So, yes my previous work does link in with some of the themes I explored in this piece, so it was nice to run something parallel with my contemporary practice, yet still different. In the future I do want to look more into the history of the nude, which does have an immense history.

Q: And how has this piece been received?

A: Overall it has been really positive.

Q: So, now that you have finished at the Slade, what’s next for you?

A: Good question! I am not going on to an MA & further study is not a priority for me at the moment, but I will be making work, doing some research, just getting a studio space and carrying on making work.