I was incredibly pleased and honoured to be included in the Bank Street Art member’s exhibition last week. (I hope this link continues to work – will replace with an image if not). Being chosen in the first place felt like a definitive step in a direction I have been aiming for, and so quite gratifying. I am of course extremely grateful to fellow students and tutors for their help, encouragement and support because as I have said previously I view pretty much all human activity as being a result of collective rather than individual responses and actions.

I was a bit uncomfortable about making any form of capital out of the suffering of others during a week when over a thousand young people have been left to live in utterly inappropriate packing crates. And they were the lucky ones since a number of minors have also been left to sleep outdoors in the burnt wreckage that was the Jungle. So, I felt I needed to tread carefully about ‘promoting’ myself.

I have also felt extremely frustrated that I have not been able to go back to Calais lately, despite several attempts. I have to remind myself I am not a journalist and the sort of dramatic and quite aesthetically ‘beautiful’ photographs we have seen in the press recently, with tear gas, then with fire, then suggesting the abandonment are perhaps not what my project is about. Nevertheless, it is annoying I cannot get out there for a little while.

I learnt something about screen presentation and prints. I had not thought about printing up until a few weeks ago, other than possibly in a book at some point in a distant hypothetical future. And when I knew I had to provide BSA with something I spoke to ex OCA tutor, Sharon Boothroyd, who was extremely helpful. She suggested I take the opportunity, if possible, to print one image to see something of the work printed at this stage, and to supply a slideshow as well. I got myself in quite a hoo-ha with the printing and actually when I saw it I thought a slideshow would have been sufficient in this instance, although I don’t regret printing at all (see reason below). However, the light of the screen illuminated the images well and the print actually looked quite dull and small, even insignificant next to the screen. I need to think about that if I were to print for any other purpose. I suspect a much larger print would have been better – although my technical failings might dictate otherwise. In another universe where money isn’t a problem (and I am actually required to print several large scale prints) I’d probably want to print very large indeed, and not have the images attached to any walls but instead objects that can be walked around. Or maybe a slideshow on a screen is all that is ever going to be required for this.

All in all I feel really fortunate to have had this experience and in fact, a vague idea I had before I was even pregnant with Arthur, my youngest, has now been realised. And that idea was to have a picture on a wall in a gallery. At the time of having what seemed like an impossible fantasy, one that I barely dared to allow myself to have, it felt totally unlikely and even presumptuous to consider such a thing. Having reached goal No 1 I must of course have another to aim for. I shan’t say what it is but if/when I achieve it I’ll let you know. This first one took nearly five years for me to realise, and I had to overcome an unplanned pregnancy, several house moves, a marriage breakdown and subsequent divorce, and learn a whole bunch of new skills, not to mention what feels like an entirely new way of existing … I’m hoping the next step is less trying …..

Work by other artists

When I visited Bank Street Arts in Sheffield last week I was really impressed with and inspired by the other work in the exhibition. All of it was moving and/or thought provoking. I will concentrate on a few here that stuck out for me either because of UVC course work, or due to the direction I want to go in.

Jessica Harby’s video, Referendum (Ask Me how Do I Feel?) was a reconstructed, deconstruction of the film, A Matter of Life and Death. In it, Harby has created a surreal conversation using text and clips from the film to suggest a sense of confusion, rage, and disappointment, which the title clearly identifies as being linked to the referendum.  We are told in the artist’s statement that Harby is not from the UK and this work is therefore by “an immigrant responding to life in a country increasingly hostile to outsiders.” I am someone who is often horrified and highly embarrassed by behaviour we are witnessing towards people who just a few months ago would never have felt ‘unwanted’, and found this work incredibly moving. And also profoundly interesting because Harby is doing something I see myself doing; playing with a variety of mediums. She appropriates, narrates, sings, constructs, edits and presents this art work as a moving-image. The result is complex and rich, and I was utterly entranced by it. What is really crucial from a semiotic and semantic point of view are the levels of meaning in the text which overlay the images. Statements are repetitive and then contradictory, and the way Harby plays with words is immensely powerful. One element, and I think this often about work, is that the title possibly hands the viewer too much on a plate. Many would disagree with me and I am being really nitpicky because I loved this work a lot. I am perhaps a fan of things that are too obscure and even impossible to read, and quite probably that is one of my failings. I do like it though when readers must work hard to join the dots. And certainly the work as a whole does provide viewers with a great deal of nuanced, deeply thought-provoking, substantial material, and so I’m being really harsh by suggesting the title, for me, might be a bit pedestrian. I really feel very bad saying that though – because it’s super special work. But I am trying hard to write a bit more critically and less descriptively. Although it does seem that I have merely described what I think. I am aware I have not adequately analysed how the work is constructed in this brief paragraph.

Bryan Eccleshall, After Picasso and Bosch (The majority of this drawing remains at home. A minority has been left here for you to see) I was really surprised by the powerful reaction I had to this work. And it was only when I saw it in the gallery that I realised how strong it was. Maybe something to argue in favour of Benjamin’s aura here – although I was also moved by photography and video. I suppose this is interesting because here the title like the one above, makes it very clear what the work is about. But in this instance the title resounded loudly and the fact it seemed so clear in intention and meaning to me at any rate appears to be fitting – like an open wound. But am I projecting? Or I am reading it to quickly? The words within the brackets may be read as an ironic joke – if so, it’s an angry one. The certain grief that nearly half the country felt (feel) about a loss of identity and of voice following the referendum is explored. It’s impossible not to be interpretive, again I struggle with analysis. The work is a large hanging of two very well-known paintings, Picasso’s Guernica and a painting by Hieronymus Bosch recreated (I think The Garden of Earthly Delights but might be wrong – I do wish I could go and see it again), but with only 48% of the entire work presented, i.e. the same ratio between those who voted to remain and leave Europe. The absence of the other 52% leaves a void, negative space. The geometric shapes created by the way in which the work is cut out leaves behind an object that is missing integral parts of itself. Again, I’m interpreting, rather than analysing, but that raises thoughts about how both sides of this ‘argument’ in fact need each other in order to be whole. Or does it suggest the new whole is this object with lots of blank spaces? Blank space, nothingness, signs that are empty of content equate to death, and as echoed by Zizek in the video I mentioned in another post, the UK in voting to disconnect with the European project might be seen as an organism experiencing its own ‘death drive’. The absence of the majority show a minority, in which we can see an  updated connection to a collective and long shared cultural history, one that stretches back across various parts of Europe – represented by Bosch and Picasso, and their paintings, re-represented here by Eccleshall. The bit left at home presumably is also connected to that past but we can’t see it since it is disconnected to the 48% we can. Viewers were offered a pair of binoculars to see (again – it’s about looking and witnessing and seeing) the work more clearly from afar. This revealed surprising ‘updated’ hidden details  – and I really do wish I could have viewed this in the daylight without my children and so spent a lot more time with it.

Liz Hall, That which does not remain, leaves.

‘My work explores the changing nature of relationships, growing older (while still hoping for immortality, or at least regeneration) and trying to understand how our egocentric view of everything fits in to an oblivious universe.’ (Hall, 2016) This work is a miniature framed ‘installation’ behind glass on the wall. A picture made with words formed by a single sentence repeated several times. But the words at the end of each version are transformed into crumbly dusty matter until the last the rendition is no longer a sentence but merely a string of crumbs. What is interesting is that although the words disappear and lose meaning there is still something there. It’s not an absolute absence, like in the blank spaces of Eccleshall’s. In fact, as the loss of recognisable meaning progresses, what is left instead is material which has more physical presence than the typed words had. I thought that was really fascinating. Although comparatively unassuming and quiet, That which does not remain, leaves was incredibly powerful and memorable. I recently watched Still Alice, a film about rapid early onset dementia and the loss of access to language. The character was still there by the end of the film but utterly transformed from the highly successful linguistics professor she had started as. She had lost her identity, internally and externally. But ‘she’ still existed, although not as the same she. Her daughter still loved and cared for her. She was still a mother, a wife, a person. Again, thoughts about England as an old organism are provoked. In fact, if you look at Eccleshall’s wall hanging , it could almost be seen as a metaphor for the diseased brain – parts of it have died, 52% in this case, so the super-brain that is a human community must continue to struggle on without – which is far from ideal at best and catastrophic at worst , and in Alice’s case in the film, leads to loss of memory, loss of speech, of control over basic functions.  We the viewers must work harder to join the dots in this submission than in others, even with the directional title. And so there seemed to be more subtly in Hall’s work than some of the other pieces exhibiting. Hall’s creation is kinder and more gentle than my somewhat caricatured reference to England as a mad, geriatric, stick-waving, lunatic yelling, “Get off my land!” in an earlier post. I very much concur with Hall’s statement about the universe being oblivious, and would like to see more of her work. I’ve included Liz Hall’s work here because I also thought about doing something with words disintegrating. Although I was thinking about the way words lose meaning; for me it was how their value is diminished or diminishing  in our society.

Image (c)SJField 2016



4 thoughts on “Personal Work: Calais project & other artist’s work

  1. I certainly don’t think you’re making capital out of something tragic Sarah-Jane and was so pleased that your work has been recognised.
    It looks like I missed some other really interesting work as well and so varied. Maybe one of these days I’ll get up to Sheffield when there’s another Exhibition.


    1. I’m sure you will get up there at some point. They seem very connected to the OCA and as you go through the course you are bound to be there for one reasons or another. Thank you for you support and encouragement. I really benefit from and appreciate it.


  2. SJ, Tx for the write up and your thoughts and pointers to interesting artists. I have drawn inspiration from other work Bryan E has done. As for you and ‘making capital out of others adversity’ I believe you should not have any concerns. This links back to the ideas of using art to influence others and whilst some say it doesn’t at ;east it will make a few think about what is portrayed. Lastly, congratulations are appropriate for being recognised and asked to exhibit – well done!


    1. Thanks, Doug. Yes, I agree – to get even a handful of people to consider the situation for even a moment is perhaps worthwhile. Perhaps I should have done more ‘publicity’ and tied in it with the story of people being abandoned in a burnt out camp. I worry about how I go about things a lot! But there will be time to say more and I need to get out there again at some point to photograph whatever is still there.


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