In the Shadow of the Hand

In the Shadow of the Hand and Back to the Things Themselves are two exhibitions presented as part of the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art that runs till 7 May 2012. The process of collaboration between two artists and an exploration of a subjective experience are central issues in both exhibitions. Magdalen Chua (MC) interviewed the artists behind the exhibitions to find out about their individual practices and their collaborative approach to examine the place of subjective experiences as alternative ways to respond to artistic production and knowledge about the world.

Sarah Forrest / Virginia Hutchison, In the Shadow of the Hand: cymbal (cast lead cymbal on stand). Image courtesy of artists.

These interviews will be published in two editions–check back in with us tomorrow for our interview with the artists from Back to the Things Themselves. This post features In the Shadow of the Hand which is on show at Market Gallery and presents new work by Sarah Forrest (SF) and Virginia Hutchison (VH). Reflecting on the process of evaluation and critique in the development of artistic practice, both artists create texts for each other that are cast in lead. The lead is then melted and recast into an object by each artist in response to the text, forming part of a series of exchanges exploring subjective responses to an objective call, and the relationship between object and text.

MC: Could you talk a bit about your individual practice? I saw Sarah’s work in the exhibition P is for Protagonist and couldn’t help but think of that exhibition when I entered gallery 1.

Virginia Hutchison, Excerpts from 7 sunsets (temporary intervention with gold leaf, IOTA public art projects, Inverness, 2010). Image courtesy of artist.

VH: A lot of my work is site or context-specific interventions in the public realm. Quite often it is objective or brief-led. Recent projects have required interaction between the work and people, and an exchange of skills. What has become more important for me has been the dialogue in the making of the work, for example with people installing the work and having conversations about the space and the work.  Through the conversations, I’ve become interested in the different roles, of whether I am the artist, or they are the artists because they help to make the work come to full cycle. That was what made us decide to collaborate. Both of us were dealing with relationships between viewer, artist, object, audience, and how all these roles shift. I was at the point when I was really quite keen to just reflect on all the work that I was doing.

SF: My practice is much more gallery-based and I do creative writing with texts published independently of the visual work. I was in an exhibition at Transmission Gallery and my starting point for my work was the voices of objects. In the run-up to the exhibition, I was undertaking a lot of research on the voices of objects and I became so lost in theory that I almost lost myself. The work I presented, Part 1: for the voice, was a white sculpture narrating with a pair of headphones. Everything had gone white, and it was about a voice that was missing. By that point, I had a desire to move away from intellectualizing, come back to a much more subjective space, and find different ways to talk about a creative practice. That was when we began speaking about evaluation and critique, in relation to the art object. I am interested in creative writing as a response to a visual experience and I think that’s when our conversation started.

Sarah Forrest, Part 1: for the voice, (2010), installation with a framed text, a monitor playing a video, a white sculpture made of plaster, paper, wire mesh and gloss paint which had headphones emitting a female voice attached to it. Duration 10.23 minutes. Exhibited in Days, a three-person show at Transmission Gallery, Glasgow. Image courtesy of artist.

VH: I haven’t done a lot of creative writing myself but what I like is how it made me think differently about the projects I was doing. I thought that it was important to find a way to present a narrative of the conversations I was having. When we started off, I thought it was going to be very linear, when we had text, object, text, object, and one would follow one from the other. In reality, when responding to Sarah’s text, I was thinking of my text, and I was also thinking of what object she might be making in response. So many things started to feed in, including our conversations.

SF: We started off with texts that each of us had written or appropriated that were cast into lead letters in Edinburgh. We would respond to each other’s text with an object.  The size and weight of the object was dictated by the size and weight of the texts. It was a really simple relationship between text and an object, and a playful way to work and structure a collaboration. There was a point when I was making a symbol that was in response to the the the and I was asking for advice. We spoke about ideas of repetition and rhythm, the the the being like a stutter almost, and talked about the idea of making an object like a stutter. We began to collaborate in the making of the object.

Sarah Forrest / Virginia Hutchison, In the Shadow of the Hand: the the the (typeset text on paper). Image courtesy of artists.

VH: Even in the making of the work, we had to share our skills quite a lot. What I found healthy yet scary was letting go of ownership of something, as well as authorship. Although I know what texts I wrote and what objects I made, because Sarah has a text that sits with my object  – is it mine or her’s? Is it somebody else’s?

MC: I was interested in the decisions that both of you had decided to take, in relation to what you considered physical and immaterial within the exhibition space. The materiality of the objects could be very seductive just by looking at it. Yet these vanish into a two-dimensional screen. I personally found the texts very three-dimensional. One of the texts had instructions for a person to inhale and exhale and it made me feel my own body.

VH: From the standpoint of public art that I work in, issues of permanence are things I am always considering. What is permanent or temporary? It could be a day or 20 years. I like the swopping round, of the text becoming the object, and the object becoming quite two-dimensional. Once an object disappears, it has a different narrative.

SF: What is it that sticks with you when you’ve left the exhibition? What is the echo of the object and how do you narrativize that memory of the object?

MC: I think that because I’m unable to move around an object, it changes how my narrative of an experience is made. When the object is presented on a screen, perhaps it changes the way you remember it?

VH: I think definitely. Although it is projected on a lead screen, almost as the last remaining object…

SF: … and the size of the screen relates to the weight of the object.

Sarah Forrest / Virginia Hutchison, In the Shadow of the Hand (gallery image). Image courtesy of artists.

MC: An objective framework has a determined set of values. In shifting from objective to subjective evaluation, are there still values? For example, when you were talking about the conversations that had occurred, are you suggesting that for any kind of critique, there has to be a relationship between two people, or an emotional involvement?

SF: I think it’s a part of communication. For something to have value, there has to be a sharing of what is important and some kind of agreement on what things are important, which is what has happened in this whole process.

VH: I think you’re always going to have a relationship with somebody whom you’re critiquing or evaluating a piece of work. If it’s a media-driven thing then there is definitely a separation. I think that’s the problem – there is a separation when you are not encountering somebody on a face-to-face, real time situation. When you think about the context of making work, it might reveal a lot about the people that create it and how they have conversation with folk. Are they dominant in a conversation and does it reflect in their work? Does their work allow people to put their own selves into it in some way?

SF: That was always a concern with the project because it’s a call-and-response between us. We had to think about how it is interesting to someone else and not just about our personal relationship. The installation became important as a space where you can read and you can sit. I was quite aware of not becoming quite closed and this feels like an experimental exhibition. It’s the first time I’ve collaborated on an exhibition and the work, when presented, still feels very active. As soon as you present something as an exhibition it takes on a position, as a thing in the world.