Photospace Artist Talk - Second Glance - Notes
Second Glance is an exhibition that combines 2 bodies of work: Seeing Me Not and Used & Forgotten.
- Providing a second glance to something is inviting you to have another look -
Christine Borland explains it as;
We do not simply see things, we learn to see, sight has history. To a certain extent we confirm what we already know in the act of seeing.
(preserves - Christine Borland - pag 103-104)
We don’t always really see what we are looking at - I believe our seeing has certain filters on
The differences between the two bodies of work within this exhibition will become clearer.
First the back story to these works:
My arts practice is based on the relationship between people and plants - within this there are many relationships to explore, so
I delved into one for both these bodies of work - namely how we perceive certain plants. - this group is generally lumped into weeds.
Many different views can be found on what a weed is;
Common perception is:
“a plant that grows, especially profusely, where it is not wanted” (Thompson)
“Weeds are only weeds from our egotistical human point of view”, (Pfeiffer)
even though they grow in places we have forgotten or is surplus to our requirements.
Through a bit of research I found better explanations of what these plants are:
For anyone who is working with plants, there is a long lineage that will influence the reading of their work. Knowledge and respect to this lineage is important, but should not hinder your own interpretation I believe
This lineage started at BC 2800 and still continues today
The challenge is what aspect of this lineage do you want to talk about or bring through in the work.
This can also be influenced by the original growing location of the plant used.
To quote Richard Mabey :
“just like us plants aren’t just species, members of an abstract class. They have addresses as well as names, spots where we’ve found them, befriended them, shared a moment and a place in our lives.” (R.Mabey).
- they follow us & we take them with us - they are imports like many of us
according to Mabey -
“The characteristics that make it a survivor are common to all successful weeds. As a type they are mobile, prolific, genetically diverse. They are unfussy about where they live, adapt quickly to environmental stress, use multiple strategies for getting their own way. It’s curious that it took so long for us to realise that the species they most resemble is us.” Richard Mabey
It has been pointed out to me, that the reason I relate to weeds is because I to am an import into this country, no different to these plants I use as my muse…
“We habitually think of weeds as invaders, but in a precise sense they are also part of the heritage or legacy of a place, an ancestral presence, a time-biding genetic bank over which buildings and tinkerings are just an ephemeral carapace.(shield)”. Richard Mabey
- they are ghosts that we leave behind - we see them but we don’t really - Seeing Me Not
Because we often unintentionally ‘bring’ them along or leave them behind - I deducted that they are a bit like ghosts -
Without us disturbing the ground they would not be here - as many ‘weeds’ establish themselves here. These same plants struggle on established ground
Without us moving plants around they would not be where they we see them - they hitchhike as seeds
They need us and they are not fussy how they use us, they do this very cunningly, often unseen by us
Further research led me to deduct that:
Ghosts are considered to be ‘see through’ and/or white.
Christine Borlands - Spirit Collection: Hippocrates 1999 provided a break through inspiration
Also the victorian botany spirit collection played a major role.
Discovery that ancient tribes saw round vessels as spirit vessels
Suspension of plants in a spirit further added to this
each vessel is hand blown by a glass artist
- Saw these weeds as family portraits -
Because these plants are part of our whakapapa and we take them with us, like precious family members - I also started to photograph them as such -
Not unlike Karl Blossfeldt work
Resulting in the photographic series.
Process I use:
Process of bleaching -
Mix of water and bleach - move plants around. over days add more bleach to the bath.
Some plants bleach fast, others slow.
Time of year also influences end result
Very hit and miss
use a water bath to keep them wet looking and can keep them in that for days at times a week or more
Photographing the bleached plants -
Combination of arranging corpses to documenting a family member/portrait
- Look like a photogram
- Can question if they are the positive or the negative?
- Are they grounded or floating/ascending to heaven?
- They appear to be devoid of light - on closer look some colour will be spotted
During my research I came across Joan Fontcuberta and discovered some similarities between my work and his:
I float between the real and the unreal in my work, as many of my images are, just like Fontcuberta botanicity (a term coined by Geoffrey Batchen in the book The Nature of Photography and the Photography of Nature’)
My work is botanical, but not a true representative of botany
They look like plants or at least plant material. But the plant/plant material has been manipulated in some way - how ?
In 'The Nature of Photography and the Photography of Nature’ - Joan Fontcuberta, Geoffrey Batchen describes Fontcuberta’s work as a creative mix of fact and fiction, science and art.
Batchen points out that Fontcuberta exploits our trust and belief in photographic imagery. He challenges our faith to believe that what we see in a photograph to be truth.
What a photograph does - It certifies that something was present in front of the lens at some point in the past
What the photograph does not always do, it does not record truth to appearance, as it can’t be trusted that the image you are observing is genuine - this is not just in today’s photoshop work either. The darkroom had many tricks
But coming back to my muse - the weed
For all of their abundance, it appears that more often than not we don’t always see them, it is all to do with context and criteria.
Seeing Me Not series developed from this research -
Works included in this exhibition are:
- Explorer’s Reach
- Crimson Glory
- White Reign
- Fading Empire
- Sprit Vessels
Some of the things these all talk about are -
- The influence of how these plants arrived in NZ
- That they link to the whakapapa of the discovery of this country
- The individual portraits elevates them above unwanted and makes them special
- We may know the history of places, but rarely see beyond the structures
Once the Seeing Me Not work was completed and I continued to observe some of the bleached plants as they were slowly drying out.
Further thinking led to:
We bring plants along when we shift as memories, food or medicine.
We bring along knowledge from the past and are trying to hold on to that, preserve it in our new environment.
This thinking also fed into my concern about the way we treat the environment - we buy, use and discard things all too easy.
Also the things we hold precious are often in or behind glass - we contain it to protect it
This developed into Used & Forgotten:
The vessels used in this work contain these weeds to protect them, which is no different to the weeds in our world - as they will help to preserve our world:
- reduce erosion,
- provide food and habitat for insects,
- green over places we have used and forgotten about
- Hand picked Preserves - all bottles have been sourced for second hand shop, handpicked
Framed work - these talk about either what the used to be, do and cold have been doing
- She Loves Me She Loves Me Not
- Dancing In The Dark
- Seasoned Chrysalis
- Part of Me Was Nice
Backlight paper works - here I am using natural light to give light to something that used to be able to process light
- Precious Memories I, II and III
“For though we may be the earth’s gardeners, we are also its weeds. And we won’t get anywhere until we come to terms with this crucial ambiguity about our role - that we are at once the problem and the only possible solution to the problem.”
Michael Pollan - second nature chap 6 ‘weeds are us’.
Batchen. G.(2013) The Nature of Photography and the Photography of Nature - Joan Fontcuberta. Human nature and the Truthiness of the photograph. Hasselblad Foundation. Mack. London. Mabey, Richard (2010) WEEDS. How vagabond plants crashed civilisation and changed the way we think about nature. London, GB. Profile Books Ltd.
Pfeiffer, Ehrenfried. (2012) Weeds & What they tell us. Edinburgh. Floris Books
Pollan, M. (1991) Second nature - A gardeners Education. Chapter 6 - weeds are us. - New York, USA. Grove Press.
Thompson, Ken. ( 2009) The book of weeds - how to deal with plants that behave badly. London, Great Brittain. Dorling Kindersley Ltd.