Suspended State (September 2010)

In, Around and Afterthoughts: On ‘Suspended State’ (September 2010 )

'I live my best in the landscape, being at ease there' - John Hewitt, Poet

‘Suspended State’ has charted the topographical changes which have occurred in Ireland over the last 6 years or more – from the height of economic activity (and its effects on the landscape) right through to recession times (and the visible effects on the landscape). Throughout the process of developing this work, there has been a necessity to consciously, and un-consciously at times, adapt an ever-changing approach to suit an ever-changing landscape.

My intention has always been to ‘express’, somehow, the sensitivity I feel and experience when drifting around these changing landscapes; to offer a fresh perception and visually react to that special connection to landscape that I feel. I have always had an impulse to do this work (I am guided mainly by my impulse when it comes to photography). My impulsion to work, and the ‘ease’ I feel when working has become my raison d’etre over the last number of years. I have never really understood why. I have been told that it has to do with loss (I have experienced loss in its various forms throughout my life, and, yes, this makes sense). It has been suggested to me that it also is my way of connecting to that which I feel disconnected to – namely the landscape and a need to feel a compensatory attachment to it (yes, given my rural background, this also makes sense). But, I try not to delve too much into the latent reasons and internal motivating factors behind my work.

However, there comes a time, when at mid stream, that you need to check how fast the water is moving. As I now enter, as I do every year at this time, a period of relative hibernation, and concentrate on re-directing my energy and focus onto teaching life and shift emphasis for a while onto my students work again. With 50-odd in first year and 38 in second year I am feeling anxious and uneasy at the prospect of not finding a calm balance, amid the caos of college life to contemplate and reflect on my own work with a clear and lucid head-space. This is especially difficult in a place where there are heavy financial, spatial and other limitations placed on a handful of tutors to deliver as much as they can in a short period of time.

So as I set about fitting my teacher-head again, I am at the realization that this current cycle of work with what has come to be titled ‘Suspended State’ is coming to a necessary end. However, I am in a most positive frame of mind. I have been lucky enough to find ‘that place’ a number of times recently and come to several fresh understandings about the whole journey and process of dealing with the project as well as deciding on a few directions leading to, hopefully, some closure and an exhibition of the work in the near future.

Visual Notebook
I have started to keep a visual diary again for this work. This was something I used a lot in college and something I encourage my own students to do. Ideas evaporate. The diary is a collection of ongoing notes, ideas, sample images, drawings, sketches, similar artists’ work, proposed exhibition plans; scribbles, doodles and coffee rings. It is the physical manifestation of the ongoing thought process, which facilitates the conceptualization of the body of work up to that point, and has helped me to find direction for that process. It gives me something tangible to sit with – on busses, at breakfast, at work - with which to consider approaches and ideas. It has become my external brain to an extent and something which I feel is an integral part of how I work (below are some Samples of Pages and Selected notes)

Issues of Audience (Diary Notes: July 2010)
I have settled on some issues of ‘audience’ that have been bugging me for some time. By ‘audience’ I am alluding to the ‘ideal viewer’ which, as Jeff wall suggested, exists in the mind of every artist. For instance, if the work is trying to express a social issue, that audience is a large segment of society; if it is conceptual art, then maybe a more art-savvy, informed and discerning viewer. Issues of ‘elitism’ abound, I have discovered that my work, while to some extent is open-ended when it comes to what any given individual can ‘get’ from the work, has got an ‘ideal viewer’. This is evident in my decision process thus far, as I have become more and more submerged into the work (Note to self, June 2010: “I have also to question whether people see this project solely as social commentary when frankly I do not?”) I have to acknowledge that my work was not about the recession, not about the landscape, not about social conditions, not about the economic conditions, not about documenting what is simply there. It is, at some levels all of these things. But, at its very essence, my work is also not about these things. It was and is, however, in its very nature, about one thing – its about ‘photography’! It was and is about my own explorations of photography – about changing approaches, about forcing a certain vision that I hope to me my own, about finding the right expression to suit the ‘aura’ of the landscape; it was about consciously adapting my approach to an ever-changing landscape which would somehow ‘express’ the social, cultural and economic condition or ‘state’ of my country as reflected in the landscape. It is a complex interplay between subject and that subjects representation. I feel I used the landscape, the economic reality of that landscape, to explore photography. My audience are people who may recognize and identify with this. Maybe?.

Abstract Documentary (Diary Notes: July 2010)
Another question to be grappled with is: How far abstract can one go and still remain documentary? What may seem a contradiction in terms is something I like to explore. In fact at the last meeting of Reflexions Masterclass, director of the European House of Photography Jean-Luc Monterosso commented that this approach was a nice ‘hook’ throughout my work which ‘pulled and pushed’ the viewer in extreme ways. The lack of sense of scale needs, at certain points, to be ‘grounded’ in reality. Yet, not too much. (Note to self: should the tripod, when visual in the picture, be in the same position every time?)

Rhetoric, Document and Lunar Landings (Diary Notes: Sept 2010)
There is a rhetoric of ‘suspension’ implicit in many of the images (the title itself suggests a country in a condition of economic immobility). There is also in parts the perception that one is ‘suspended’ – hovering, floating, hanging over these landscapes – where there is no real sense of scale or size; where there is a disconcerting lack of contact with the physical and with the real (Note to self: Can this express anything about the psychological condition of the present?) There is also a visual rhetoric of ‘exploration’ in some of the images – one is, hopefully, subtly reminded of the visual iconography of lunar landings and visually connect the terrestrial ambiguities presented in here (Note to Self: Why this approach?)

This particular cycle of work is coming to a necessary end. I am struggling to bring a sort of closure to this project. The reality that this does not suit a book format, that it is most effective when printed large and experienced in a gallery context, is a positive realization for me. My plan is to find out-of-gallery locations to exhibit (perhaps empty shop units, factories, or maybe a one night exhibition in the darkness of an abandoned estate in Longford, for instance). I am unsure at this point about the financial realities that may thwart my wild ideas, but, its worth a shot. I feel the work is at its most relevant right now and it needs to be shown. I may need help! Any sympathetic philanthropists out there take note.