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Master of Fine Art International Practice

University College for the Creative Arts at Canterbury, Epsom, Farnham, Maidstone and Rochester (UCCA)
(formerly Kent Institute of Design - KIAD)
Canterbury Campus Fine Arts Student: Laury Dizengremel

Pg Dips Research Paper for Viva

(handed in on 21 March 2006)

Introduction

Drawing upon my experience and interests as a professional sculptor with an already extensive international practice (see footnote 1), my original project at the start of the MFA course in October 2005 revolved around the broad concept of "portrayal(s) of humankind" (see footnote 2).

In its current state, my project has since narrowed to a slice of humankind, namely artists, and more specifically to creating a contemporary, imaginary Silk Road "place" as a tribute to the mostly unknown artists who created the artistic treasures of the Silk Road. At this point, I envision this "place" as an installation containing / made up of artwork in a number of media.

Following my initial line of enquiry, I wanted to take forward previous explorations into the subject of portraying humankind made in Changchun in 2001 with my monumental (4.50 m in diameter) "East meets West" bronze sculpture, and my earlier, smaller (50cm in diameter) "Artists of the Future" plaster relief created in 1997 (see footnote 3).

I envisaged that during this MFA I would create artworks (not only in the 3D format I was already familiar with, but also in 2D formats and installation) that would convey a sense of the great diversity of humankind, going further than these two pieces.

Below left, "East Meets West" featured 10 different Chinese faces, larger than lifesize, repeated an average of four times each. Below right, "Artists of the Future" incorporated only 3 faces (European, American and African), each created lifesize, repeated an average of twice each.

Investigating a number of strands including portraiture and ethnology, I decided to gather field data (photography of a variety of "faces", as well as measurements for busts) in several distant sites, rather than one. However as I started to travel across different geographical zones, namely the UK, the US, Central America and Asia (see footnote 4), my interest broadened to encompass not only diverse ethnic groups, but also their environment, religions, architecture and culture, more specifically their art forms and techniques.

Distant Sites - Journeys / International Practice and Research

In summary, since starting the course in October of 2004, I undertook many short or long investigation trips both at home and abroad, while conducting in-depth research in several distant sites. During all of these, I combined research into my subject matter (which was becoming broader and broader), with a study of sculpture materials, as well as the concepts and techniques of other artists past and present, especially of any which - whatever their media or artform - I felt a resonance with or was inspired by. Meanwhile, pursuing my international practice, I also continued to execute commissions both in the UK and abroad, to sell new or existing works (see appended list), and to strengthen existing or form new professional connections on an international level (see footnote 5).

Included in these trips was a short visit to mainland Europe (Normandy, France) to investigate the armature construction technique of French sculptor Jean-Marc de Pas. A few days in Dublin, used to visit museums and galleries, connect with the Visual Arts Organization of Ireland and meet with the head of a committee commissioning me for a public work in Drogheda (see footnote 6).

A number of research/inspiration trips took place in the UK itself, specifically to two sculpture parks I'd already visited in the past but wanted to see again, namely Sculpture at Goodwood in West Sussex and the Hannah Peschar Gallery near Dorking in Surrey. I also made short forays to Wiltshire (Stonehenge), Devon (Dartmoor area and Dartington Hall where Tolkien resided), cities within Kent (Dover, Canterbury, Chatham, Rochester), several day long trips to London (visiting and or revisiting many of the main museums - Tate, Tate Modern, National Portrait Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery, Barbican, all of the independent galleries in the Cork street area plus a number of avant-garde galleries in the East End). I also made several trips to Yorkshire taking in galleries in Harrowgate as well as the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds Art Gallery and Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

In the earlier stages of my portrayal of mankind project, I flew three times to the US. Trips included research about North American Indians in the states of Illinois and Missouri in December 2004, visits to museums in Washington D.C. as well as executing a sculpture commission there in February 2005, and photographing African-Americans in Florida in October 2005. By this time, I'd abandoned the measuring - feeling confident this time-consuming step was no longer needed to create the multitude of portraits I envisaged making.

I visited one country in Central America in February 2005 (focusing on the ancient site of Copàn in Honduras as a guest photographer for a UN project, as well as photographing for my MFA project a number of Mayans and Amerindians in the Copàn area, the capital city of Tegucigalpa and the mountain village area of Valle de Angeles).

Lastly I undertook three separate sojourns totalling a little over 4 months in 2005 in different parts of China - a country I had already travelled to professionally five times over the previous 4 years. As it turns out - it is the inspiration found in these Chinese distant sites that my project in its present state focuses on.

During the first of these MFA related sojourns, I spent two weeks in Taiwan in March, attending presentations of Tsunami relief efforts, visiting fine art institutions and familiarizing myself with the work of local artists, followed by a ten day trip to Sichuan gathering material inspiration and discussing my project with several fellow artists; I also took advantage of this trip to cast a number of sculptures in bronze, including a commission I'd just executed in the Washington D.C. area.

During the second trip in April and May, I executed a monumental public sculpture in the south western Yunnan province of mainland China. This was a Tsunami Memorial which was very directly related to my MFA project at that stage (then still "portrayal(s) of humankind"). The stay in Yunnan's capital of Kunming was punctuated by a trip taking in portions of the southern Silk Road from Kunming itself, to Dali and Lijiang in the West near the Tibetan border. This was followed by four weeks in June along the northern Silk Road. I started from the central western area province of Sichuan and special Chongqing district, travelled up to Xi'an (formerly Changan) in the central area of Shaanxi province, and out along the Hexi corridor through Gansu, following the Yellow River, into the autonomous region of Qinghai's inner Tibetan plains, through the entire lengths of the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts of Xinjiang to the farthest reaches of north western China.

Finally I reached the fabled ancient trading town of Kashgar at the border of Kazhakstan, Kyrgystan and Pakistan, before turning back and going northwards to Urümqi and the Lake of Heaven. (See maps below).

My northern Silk Road trip took me from Xi'an (formerly Changan, right on map) to Kashgar (centre of map and westernmost city in China). From Xi'an to Kashgar - across the Yellow River and through two of the world's harshest deserts .

During the last sojourn, a three week stay in November 2005 in Sichuan, I finished creating a series of 12 small sculpture portraits for my MFA project; I also executed a horse commission for a French client, and cast another commission in a bronze foundry in Chengdu (the "For Dementia" award which was presented to its recipient in the House of Lords on December 8th).

Although it was not until the very eve of finalizing my Critical Evaluation III report that the idea of the "imaginary Silk Road Artists and imaginary Silk Road Place" began to crystallize, it is the inspiration and information garnered during the second of these Chinese trips, as well as the 12 small sculpture portraits made during the third, which eventually narrowed my project from a portrayal of humankind to the specific portrayal of artists of the Silk Road.

While I was making them, I had not known whose heads they were - only that they were imaginary, verging on fantastical! Now suddenly, the answer dawned. All along the once glorious trading route are Buddhist caves, grottoes and temples in remote areas once thriving with merchant centres. Now considered World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, these famous religious sites harbour artistic treasures of overwhelming emotional and aesthetic impact.

Because people originating from so many cultures plied the route as traders, and because the Buddhist monks and craftspeople (men and women) who designed and created the artwork also hailed from a variety of places (from East to West), the sculptures, paintings, frescoes and architectural details reflect a unique diversity of styles. The works, spanning a thousand years of creation, are also distinctly representative of the many successive dynasties that ruled parts or all of China. From boldly primitive to exquisitely refined, the art in sites dotting the Silk Roads (both south and north) was created by countless mostly nameless artists, artisans and workers under the guidance of a few visionaries.

It is relevant here to explain that in China (as indeed in many other parts of the world), the visionary is the master thinker, master planner. Sometimes he is an artist himself who ropes in one or several figures of authority to sponsor the realization of the dream or vision - and when he dies, other artists inspired by his work continue or expand the vision; sometimes he is an enlightened figure of authority who ropes in artists to fulfil his vision.

(INSERT PIC OF MAJISHAN)
Majishan - with its wonders modelled and carved onto and into the sheer face of a cliff, is just one of many ancient sites on the northern Silk Road where I wondered about the nature, temperament, sex, persistence and creative spirit of the artists and craftspeople who made the works.

A spiritually aware and religiously committed artist myself (brought up between my father's family Catholicism and my mother's ad-hoc Buddhism, later choosing to study the applied religious philosophy principles of Scientology from the age of 25 onwards), although I wasn't necessarily aware of it at the time of each journey to an ancient site during the MFA course period (Copán, Boyne Valley and Tara, southern and northern Silk Road, Stonehenge), a certain degree of interest was building up for me throughout in the type of art practitioner who, inspired by his or her religion (Mayan, Celtic, Buddhism, Islam, etc.), gave "all" in often harsh living conditions, thereby contributing to the world's legacy of artistic treasures.

My response to the awe I felt at seeing the Silk Road sites in particular was to give imaginary faces and guises in 3-dimensional work to the artists who contributed to their creation; to attempt to capture or interpret in a contemporary mood some of the magic places, textures, symbols and feelings of Silk Road locations in various 2-dimensional works (digital photography, mixed media pieces); and to start work on a documentary video about the Silk Road. All of this I hope to take further (the sculpture and 2-dimensional works in scale or number), or complete (the video) in the post PG Dips phase leading up to the MFA degree show. For me, the work is not only a tribute to past artists, but very much also a reflection into the role of artists in shaping world culture, from the early days of pre-history to our modern day: artists as visionaries, as communicators - exchangers of ideas, agents and promoters of understanding between cultures, as individual interpreters and shapers of the spiritual, emotional, ethical and social values of our world. Perhaps most relevant of all to my journeys both physical and emotional in this pre-PG Dips phase, has been the exploration of my own artistic spirit, facets of which are embodied in the figures.

Never having experienced the Silk Road before, I also wished to share some of its wonders with others. Other artists have equally been inspired by this famous route. I found for example this interesting quote about cellist Yo-Yo Ma, founder of the Silk Road project and Silk Road Ensemble musical group (http://www.silkroadproject.org/index.html) "Yo-Yo Ma likes to call the Silk Road the 'Internet of antiquity.' Like the World Wide Web, the ancient Silk Road was a vast conduit for trade of goods and ideas connecting diverse groups of people across long distances."

Unless one has traveled there or studied the subject intensively - it can be difficult to grasp how very important the Silk Road was in disseminating world religions, shaping communities and promoting cultural exchanges. "…These transcontinental caravans resulted not only in trade, of which silk was an important commodity, but also in tremendous cross-cultural interaction among the diverse peoples of the regions, fostering the exchange of ideas and the fusion of art and aesthetics. It is a legacy associated with rich traditions of oral narrative, epic poetry, and storytelling. Thus, the 'Silk Road' acts as a geographic and cultural guide as well as a metaphor." (Jamil Khoury, 2004 - sourced at http://www.srtp.org/silkroad_2.html)

One of my self-imposed challenges for this MFA course was to depart from my normal habits and routines as an already professional, working artist. I had previously never explored 2-dimensional artwork: painting, photography, digital media - I would do so now. Heretofore comfortable with figurative, realistic work (I had quite a specialization in executing bust commissions) - I would now attempt to stylize the figure. I had only three experiences with installation - this would become an object of intensive further study. I had never privileged the use of colour in my sculpture work - I would investigate this, trying out different colour palettes and a variety of painting/colouring materials and techniques. Examples of some of the resulting works are shown in my Critical Evaluation reports I to III.

To make the cloaked forms for my most recent works, a series of 12 Silk Road artists, I experimented for the first time with shredded paper soaked in plaster, rapidly and roughly building them up to a certain height, then topping them off with casts of my previously modeled small heads. I feel that the roughly textured, stylized body forms offer an interesting contrast with the realistic, figurative heads.

On a deeper level, the roughness I've chosen to use is evocative of the mainly challenging landscapes of the Silk Road (haunting desert spaces, surprising geological formations), while the smoothness evokes the perfection which characterizes so many of the religious artworks (flawless execution, attention to detail, masterly compositions).
Concurrently with the sculptures, I made three trial 2-dimensional relief plasterworks on canvas. These were directly inspired by the land formations in and around the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts of China's wild western regions, layered with various symbolic marks either pertinent to the region (yin-yang) or close to my own heart (the infinity symbol, etc.).

The perception of colours formed such an integral part of my Silk Road impressions that I felt impelled to colour what I heretofore, lacking training as a painter, would have left colourless.

Certainly the message inherent in the sculptures ended up by benefiting from this decision as colour further reinforced the artistic, colourful identity of my imaginary artists; the plaster works on canvas, painted at the same time, also gained from the addition of a colour palette of mostly yellows and purples.

Earlier in my progress with colour, I thought I'd like to restrict myself to only two tones, and hadn't decided whether to use lime green and purple, or red and turquoise. In the end, whilst colouring, I found my range expanding, and actually enjoy the wider possibilities.

I deliberately attempted in my colouring experiments to stay away from using only colours that are typical of the Silk Road itself, to create a definite colour palette of my own. I feel I've begun to do so. There is still room for experimentation in months to come. My strict preference for colourless sculpture warred for a short time against my new found desires to explore painting materials and techniques, and to transfer into my work the almost overwhelming appreciation I developed for colour in Asia. Then I broke out ink and acrylic washes - first timidly, later with greater assurance.

Despite an initial unfamiliarity with blending, juxtaposing, contrasting colours, in the end I found the process of colouring the plaster to be quite similar to the patination of real bronzes or the production of fake bronze patinas on resin.

An interesting passage in a text co-published by the Van Gogh Museum and the Henry Moore Institute ('The Colour of Sculpture 1840-1910' by Andreas Blühm, p.11) chanced across in the Henry Moore Institute's library shop offered me all the critical theory backup I needed to support the particular stance of colouring rather than leaving the sculptures plain. In fact, it is obvious from observation that the Western world (Greco-Roman and now European/North American) has gone round the bend several times with regards preference for colourless sculpture versus its acceptance in fine art circles. Here the author refers to a period of fine art history between the mid 1700s and mid 1800s when the pendulum in Europe had swung in favour of classical (white marble, bronze, etc.), essentially colourless sculpture.
"… Experiments with colour had only been conducted occasionally before 1859, and were almost always subjected to severe criticism or even open hostility. European sculpture had been 'colourless' for decades so that to most viewers anything else seemed improper. When seen within a broader geographical and temporal context, however, this voluntary restriction is exceptional: Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Aztecs and Incas, Africans, Indians, Chinese, Japanese and Oceanians - as a rule the majority of cultures produced coloured sculpture. From this perspective, the renunciation of colour no longer seems normal."

However, the best reason for colouring my artists is that I feel an artist is by nature colourful - even when he or she privileges a mono-chromatic scheme in work or dress.

Thanks to this "Artists of the Silk Road" series, I have begun to explore theatricality and role playing in trial installations: by varying the positions of the figures in relationship to one another, a great many interpretations can be offered. Beyond being men and women (secular or religious, monks and nuns, highly skilled artists or simply craftsmen and women artists) working in groups rather than singly for the most part, these artists were possibly friends, enemies, lovers, sisters and brothers, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters.

(Raw, still uncoloured plaster artists shown in different trial installations: semi-circle, face to face rows, and in forward facing rows)

The possibilities of staging these figures fascinate me: in rows facing each other, in circles or semi-circles, in conversations with one another or grouped as an audience to an invisible speaker, as questing people absorbed in the physical, creative illustration and rendition of their religious symbols or deities, as individuals looking inward to their creative souls and outward to interpret life.

Sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz says "Every exhibition I have is like a theatre. I use everything I need and put my whole being into creating a statement." (As quoted by Jutta Feddersen in 'Soft Sculpture and Beyond', p.14).

In the same way, I am looking at my degree show as an opportunity to create work that illustrates the degree of knowledge in sculpture I've achieved so far and the new slant I've taken during the MFA course; to show a true sense of aesthetics and theatricality in the overall installation; to incorporate within my "offer" some of the media and techniques I have experimented with in the last 18 months (namely, photography, 2-dimensional works on canvas and video), as well as some I still want to investigate further (prayer flags, fabric/hangings, presentation, sound, lighting, etc.); finally, I hope that viewers will experience some of the magic I did on the Silk Road when they view my final installations, gaining some awareness of the importance of the sites that dot its Chinese section, and more importantly a deeper understanding of the role of artists in society - as visionaries/dreamers.

Two quotes ultimately define my position in this regard: "A culture is only as great as its dreams and its dreams are dreamed by artists" (L. Ron Hubbard, Science of Survival, 1952). and… "Earlier in China, a millennium ago, these two -- the humanist and the artist -- were merged in one, the "wenren," or "the person with ultimate knowledge of the arts." The wenren was simultaneously a scholar or scientist, a statesman, as well as an artist accomplished in a variety of artistic media usually including calligraphy and poetry, and often music and painting. But the ultimate qualification for the artist, wenren, goes beyond achievement in these disciplines. A great artist or scholar used to be recognized as a sage. One early source states that such an artist-sage "is deeply concerned about the society," while another defines the role as "the first to be aware of what has to happen." In short, artists and scholars in China were regarded as the conscience of society and conveyor of its legacy." (From an article written in 2001 by musician and scholar Chou Wen-Chung reproduced on http://www.zsearch.org/text/chou2.html).


Proposed timetable of work between PG Dips (if successful) and MFA International Practice Degree Show

Looking ahead, all installation avenues which I'd like to investigate will contain multi-media, multi-disciplinary elements (3D/sculpture involving several materials, 2D/paintings + sound and lighting).

For one of my major 3D elements, I wish to produce final versions of the pre-PG dips figure experiments at the same size, possibly in different materials than plaster, creating anywhere between 5 and 10 sets of these 12 artists, each set staged in a different conformation, presenting a "tableau vivant" of distinctly changing scenarios or inter-relationships between my figures. I have identified some issues of presentation for the 3D element of small figures which I will need to resolve: height of presentation (same or varied), type of base for each small figure or base for whole set, etc. I may also use these small figures as maquettes to create some of them larger than lifesize (3 figures?). These would then form the basis for an additional, different installation.

Post-PG Dips to 17 April
" Initial promotion of final exhibition promotion. (Send out advance notice of date and time to family members, personal friends, people who have purchased my work in the past or commissioned me. Also start making contact with French cultural attaché, Chinese Embassy to explore potential interest in my project.)
" Finish editing slides/video - then store properly until sound and final photos are completed and ready to use in August.
" Experiment with small scale circular Yin-Yang relief and other possible symbol shapes using same texture / colour approach as for trail plasterworks on canvas.

18 April to beginning of May
- I have booked a further trip to Sichuan for 3 weeks from 18 April to 9 May because my large moulds are in my studio in China, and because production costs of casts is significantly cheaper in China than in the West. I will cast several large heads, also more of the small ones, as well as hope to obtain prayer flags and other typically Silk Road material for possible use in my final installation(s).
- Also, while in China, I will do sound/music research for both video and installation.

10 May to mid-June
- Experiment with prayer flag installation on a small scale.
- Work on other fabric / hanging ideas.
- Try out different presentation methods for smaller figures and choose final form of base.
-Record sound for installation, record sound for video.

Mid-June, plus all of July
- Create/Produce final figure artwork and bases/presentation stands.
- Create/Produce final 2D (relief) works.
- Create/Produce final hangings if trials were successful. First week of August
- Upon allocation of exhibition space by Course Leader, draw schematic plans and write battle plans / detailed programmes as required for final installation(s).

Last 3 weeks of August
- Intensify exhibition promotion (send out invites, contact local, regional and other relevant press, etc.)
- Final work out with other students of exact requirements for exhibition opening night to be a total success
- Exhibition space preparations (taping, filling holes and cracks, painting, etc. as required)
" Final installation of figures, 2D works, hangings, prayer flags + any other elements. Handle installation lighting and sound.
- Finish editing of video (incorporating sound, plus final photos of artwork and installation).
- Final installation of video work in separate space.
- Write final artist statement and hang this up.
- Update my MFA website

FOOTNOTES:
1. My practice had hitherto encompassed public outdoor sculpture in France, monumental sculptures and sculpture installations permanently located in China, Vietnam and Honduras, plus dozens of commissions executed for clients in countries around the world from the four corners of the globe (from Malaysia to Germany, as well as UK, US, etc.)
2. See Essay One, Essay Two, Critical Evaluations I and II
3. The first limited edition glass version of Artists of the Future was purchased into the HSBC's permanent collection last April during my first MFA year.



Bibliography
BLÜHM, Andreas
The Colour of Sculpture 1840-1910, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam and Henry Moore Institute, Leeds (1996)
FEDDERSEN, Jutta
Soft Sculpture and Beyond, Craftsman House, G+B Arts International Limited, Australia (1993).

HUBBARD, L. Ron
Science of Survival, Bridge Publications, Los Angeles, California (1952)

Websites:
Quote by Yo-Yo Ma http://www.silkroadproject.org/index.html
Quote by Jamil Khoury http://www.srtp.org/silkroad_2.html
Article by Chou Wen Chung http://www.zsearch.org/text/chou2.html


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  1. Original Description of MFA Project
  2. Research Methodology Chart for MFA Project
  3. Action Plan 1 -
  4. Action Plan 2 -
  5. Final Description of MFA Project
  1. Essay One 10 January 2005
  2. Essay Two 7 March 2005
  3. Critical Evaluation 1 8 April 2005
  4. Critical Evaluation 2
  5. Critical Evaluation 3
  6. PG Dips - Research Paper for Viva
  7. Artist Statement for MFA Final Show Sept. 2006
  1. Sculpture
  2. Photography
  3. Video
  4. Installation
  1. Personal bibliography
  2. Travel links
  3. Artist and art websites
  1. Curriculum Vitae
  2. List of professional commissions executed , works purchased and works exhibited during course period Sept. 2004 to Sept. 2006
  3. List of professional engagements (symposia, lectures, etc.) during course period Sept. 2004 to Sept. 2006
  4. List of Museums / Galleries / Artist Studios visited

E-mail: sculptures@sculpture-design.com

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