Dear reader, as promised here is the feedback on my final (I know!!! Final!) week of workshopping, practical assessments and crits prior to my last examination exhibition of my degree! Hectic! Two and a half months left!
OK, so when last we discussed this particular subject in April I had been laid to waste by a particularly tough week of assessments. As I intimated I did not do particularly well mark wise, the basic gist being that my ideas were all over the place and that there were just too many (mmm, a recurring theme in my life: just too much)! Unresolved is probably the best word to sum it up. So that Friday night, after receiving my marks, alternating between devastation and outrage, indignation and self-pity, I proceeded to get fall-on-my-ass, howl-at-the-moon drunk. The next day, nursing a deathly hangover but having successfully purged and vented, I entered into a surprisingly serene, calm and yet focused state of mind. And then…epiphany, eureka, apple-on-the-head moment! Everything just clicked into place and from my masses of research and proposals, I zeroed in and came to focus on a single image and one crystal clear concept! The following day, bright and breezy and hangover-free, I grabbed my camera, purchased the Sunday paper, and raced off to the factory where I work. There I proceeded to explore the 3-dimensional space up in the roof, high above the factory floor, while literally almost glowing in the light of the huge fluorescents as a result of my proximity to them. The images that resulted were startling and thus my documentation of myself began, my proof of life.
This is an excerpt from my August proposal:
My work is a commentary on contemporary existential angst, and the concerns of being rather than merely existing. I address, in particular, my dislocation as a middle-aged white male within contemporary South African society.
angst, existentialism, modernism, postmodernism, humanism, dislocation.
My title, Proof of Life, is, in simplest terms, a commentary on contemporary existential angst. My personal watershed moment was when I removed myself from the modern (post?) phenomenon of the social network. I was haunted by this quote from Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night which appears in the introduction:
“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be” (Vonnegut 1961)
Social media is the stage upon which the ordinary person creates him/herself and enables others to do the same. If in past times religion was the opiate of the masses, in modern times it has been replaced by Facebook and other similar social interfaces.
In my opinion, these social network interfaces such as Facebook and Instagram, certainly reflect our desperate need to quantify and define ourselves, as well as to reach out to others. We seek affirmation, and acknowledgement of our existence. I think these words of Calvin, addressing his toy tiger, Hobbes, encapsulate the essence of what I am trying to say, “I wish I had more friends, but people are such jerks. If you can just get most people to ignore you and leave you alone you’re doing good. If you can find even one person you really like, you’re lucky…and if that person can also stand you, you’re really lucky” (Watterson 1991: 16). However, and I return to where I began this essay, the cruel irony of our existence is that in order to quantify/define and position ourselves we need other people, even if only to compare and contrast ourselves with them.
Fuelled by my investigation of postmodernity as requirement for my art theory studies I searched for a single image, word or phrase which would encapsulate what the thematic concern for my exhibition piece would be, and which would guide my creation thereof. I found it in a mugshot of one Elvis Aaron Presley. For me the image speaks volumes of humanity’s need to create and recreate ourselves, and then once, when finally faced with the “meat in the mirror”; we desperately seek distraction to escape our existence as it is (Hirst 2008). We seek authenticity, redemption, affirmation…acceptance.
In this image of Elvis I saw all of the above mirrored in a man desperately attempting to anchor himself in some sort of reality. By presenting, no, offering himself up as an ordinary, fallible, flawed and vulnerable, young man, and not merely some social and cultural construct; the pop icon, he becomes the very thing we seek to escape: ordinary and mundane. His face looks out at the viewer with a thin veneer of resolve, but his hands, which hold up his name as caption, speak of his vulnerability and his fears. There is angst in it, which for me, is far more powerful and real than even Munch’s Scream (1895).
I have begun documenting, taking photographs of myself holding up a local newspaper, creating proof of life images. By doing this I am presenting myself within very specific space, locating myself within time and place. I am also reworking the images in various editing programmes, playing with contrasts, white balances and other settings, in order to give them a sense of hyper-reality and grittiness. I envisage row upon row (approximately 160 by my calculations) of large, gritty and stark, proof of life photographs in chronological sequence mounted on a white wall.
The narrative however will require the viewer to read from right to left which immediately decentres and deconstructs and unsettles. It also mimics social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter where the reader/viewer moves from the most recent posts to those in the past. Below this wall of some 160 images will be the actual copies of the newspapers that appear in them, piled into disconcertingly massive bundles, disposable and of little value, and yet they contain information of frightening import, they themselves devices of documentation. On the adjacent wall I will present a large embroidered self-portrait (I work in an embroidery factory). Taking my work outside the gallery, I will affix posters on lampposts in the street of the gallery very much in the manner newspapers are advertised on the streets. Simply put I am saying “this is me” and “this is what I do”.
In conclusion, I hope to create an installation piece which hints at the violent, voyeuristic nature of our society while commenting on the existential angst that has become prevalent in our modern/postmodern age. This is what 3Francis Bacon called the “brutality of fact” (Bacon. 2001: innersleeve)
So yeah that’s basically it and the examining lecturers liked it, as opposed to what I presented in April. I get why too now, because although I am still saying the same thing I was in April I am far more focused, concise and conceptually tight and that makes all the difference. There is nothing there to muddy the waters, there is crystal clarity. I received a really good mark (yay, happy dance) but more importantly, thanks to the guidance of one lecturer in particular, I made a breakthrough with regards my work, and specifically my conceptualizing, and awesomely, personally too, as a person and an artist! I am now left with the process of the making now, the documenting, the preparation: everything that goes into participating in an exhibition and the accompanying degree requirements. It is overwhelming to think that these are my final months of a very long journey in pursuit of my degree…and more importantly, the commencement of a new journey. I trust and hope that you, dear reader, will stay and share the journey with me.