Beyond the Binary

I’m going to a symposium at Winchester School of Art tomorrow which will share the work of the artists (including myself) who took part in the Block_Chain>The Power of Two residencies.

The residency process has been curated by Susan Francis through Chapel Arts Studios, of which I am an Associate Artist.

As part of my own residency I was paired up with Ben Hartley, artist and Fine Art students from Bristol. Together we responded to the overall theme of Dissent, to images and conversations that emerged out of pairings further up the chain, and to each other’s ideas and practice. You can read my and Ben’s blog posts that we put together on the Block_Chain blog, and the whole chain at work through the #BlockChainDissentArt tag on Instagram.

I began the residency as I came to the end of another piece of work – the #ArtAfterTurner project and exhibition, commissioned by the Hampshire Cultural Trust, where I worked with students from both Basingstoke College (Level 3 and Foundation Art & Design) and Winchester School of Art (BA Fine Art and MA Fashion/Textile design). During the project I mentored the students, as they developed new work in response to the Turner and the Sun exhibition, and we curated our own exhibition at Willis Museum, Basingstoke.

In the last couple of weeks I have also set up a new website, and this new blog, and began to sort through 2D work in my studio which I am keen to share and am now offering for sale for the first time.

So what do these things all have to do with each other? Or with binaries for that matter…

In my conversations with Ben (online via the blog and Instagram, we’ve not met yet) we started to explore the role of noticing in our work, and of noticing what we notice as a way of becoming self aware. A kind of empowering self-awareness, that arises through direct engagement with the world, through our bodies and imaginations, rather than one which is inherited from a society that may or may not value what we have to offer.

Instagram image, combining photographs of my retinas, and my closed eyelids on a sunny walk

Ben’s work takes place largely though digital media from what I understand, including appropriating imagery found online, whereas I tend to prioritise interaction with people and places, our bodies and their material/ecological environment. Both of us seek ways of seeing and being that fit with who we are, not how society expects us to be. It’s here that the value of Queer perspectives comes into play for me, and the value of artful, embodied and situated approaches to learning (or simply being).

As I responded to Ben’s work, and those of other artist involved in Block_Chain (particularly the work of Karen Wood, who as an urban explorer provides a really interesting connection/contrast and another binary to dismantle), I noticed the need for me to return my digital images to the ‘physical realm’. I cut apart words that I had printed and made into a mask, I made a path of instagram posts and took them on a walk, layering text, mud and other found materials, and I taped pictures of found words and pictures (‘noticings’) to my body. All in an effort to ‘get out of my head’ and go ‘beyond the binary’.

For me when I connect with my body, and my body connects with the material world, I bypass inherited ways of seeing and being that exclude or pigeonhole me as a ‘Gay’ man, and I gain glimpses of what it means to be whole, to be connected and see beyond words and concepts.

The work that I had previously made for the #ArtAfterTurner exhibition, sought to combine together a range of ways of knowing a cycle route, which runs out from and back to my house. This was as a direct response to Turner’s own multi-faceted, inter-disciplinary research into the sun and sunlight, whereby he combined direct observation with writing poetry, reading myths and stories and keeping up to date with contemporary scientific theory). I rode my bike and paid attention to what I noticed, took photos, made films, drew, collected stones, string, leaves and pine cones – allowed myself to notice what the place wanted to show me, and layered this along with cyanotype imagery of my body, onto a white coat and trousers.

Both my #ArtAfterTurner work and that from the Block_Chain residency have enabled me to begin to explore the performative side of my practice, something that has always been there as I walk, explore, interact with groups and make wearable work, but  has become a more central focus. I’ve been reading the autobiography of Marina Abramovic, an artist I’ve admired for sometime, and the time seems right to start to explore my own body and these kind of ‘private performances’ more directly.

(Cutting Away Your Words. Mask incorporating imagery by Ben Hartley)

My practice has always encompassed a range of ways of working, from writing and walking, to collecting, making, drawing, running projects and offering support through consultation or cpd. It hasn’t always been easy to sum up what I do, and it hasn’t always been easy to see the whole of it, and all the relationships between the parts. But making my website has helped me with that, and reclaiming my smaller, 2D works to offer them up on here (whether they sell or not) has brought this area of my work back into the fold too.

It’s all about relationship and not about boundaries and barriers. It is about allowing yourself to experience one-ness. In my Block_Chain work I noticed barriers and noticed differences and I layered imagery of them together. Both the barriers we see and the ones that we don’t notice, but which still influence our perception. My collaged 2D pieces that I have been making for years, and the Intagram pieces that grew out of Block_Chain serve the same purpose, blurring the boundaries to make the whole accessible, offering up a way of seeing that I glimpse through my practice and my Queer-ness.

That is what I mean by going ‘Beyond the Binary’.

Instagram image incorporating Urban Block by Karen Wood
Instagram image incorporating Arrow by Karen Wood

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