CA A1 – Research & Reflection (written after draft 1 submitted, inc. some comments re. tutor feedback)

Time and shame

I’m not doing this in the order I would usually do things. I was away from home for 4/5 weeks and didn’t want to fall too far behind, so I packed up a selection of books I thought would be useful and planned to write my essay once I’d arrived in Italy. I hoped this would be a good place to write. After all, I was away from London and my paid work demands, plus able to live in a kind of denial about the stresses and financial difficulties of life for a little while. However, family, lack of WIFI and other tech issues made it challenging. So research was a bit tricky… Although I loved being away, I really longed for a quiet, properly resourced space. I mention all of this because while there an article about women not having time or space to think, to create and make work went viral.

Brigid Shults wrote in The Guardian, “Women’s time has been interrupted and fragmented throughout history, the rhythms of their days circumscribed by the sisyphean tasks of housework, childcare and kin work – keeping family and community ties strong. If what it takes to create are long stretches of uninterrupted, concentrated time, time you can choose to do with as you will, time that you can control, that’s something women have never had the luxury to expect, at least not without getting slammed for unseemly selfishness.” (2019)

I think there is probably something to retain for possible future developments about this fragmentation of time and focus, the stop/start way of working and ceaseless interruptions women live with and that successful creative men have been able to live without. I suspect at some point I may want/be able to weave something of this into some work. And of course, not forgetting the shame. Even as I write this I feel tremendously guilty for sounding unappreciative of the time I took, and how I was able to catch up with so much reading. I feel compelled to express my gratitude for all that was given. (And a great deal, not only in terms of time, was gratefully received by me.


I wrote the essay which I sent to Roberta and warned her that I would look at it again after a few weeks and see where I could make better connections. Predictably, the minute I sent it off I noticed that I had relied on quotes I’d used in previous essays and I was sort of repeating myself. I don’t think there is too much wrong with this as I refine ideas and rely on really important concepts that are at the core of my developing work. However, I felt I was beginning to limit myself.

Therefore, I will take the comments that Roberta made plus a few I made myself and respond, sometimes based on reading I did following submission. Then I hope to have a short online meeting with her and following that I will fill in the formative feedback form taking edited highlights from this document and anything vital form our talk.


Essay text in green, Roberta’s comments in orang

  1. “However, rather than, or perhaps in addition to lamenting time past, these signs also make reference to Baudrillard’s writing on simulation and simulacra – the constructed non-reality of the reality of modern life via modern media, where everything is lived on the surface, removed from the real but therefore rendered so.” (p3)

    You might want to tease this out a little more in order and make a stab at defining these terms and their historical emergence.
    Also, see David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity.This may be reminiscent of techniques used by Adam Curtis in documentaries such as Bitter Lake (2015) or Hypernormalisation (2017) where vintage footage is also used to investigate our current reality. (p3/4)
    again, as above can you push this a little further. Curtis is a good example

    I ordered a cheap second-hand copy of the Harvey book which was waiting for me when I arrived home and read Chapter 1 where Modernism is discussed yesterday. I am really grateful for this suggestion as it’s a great book; lively, fascinating, and no verbosity (yay!) My favourite line so far – and be warned I will be repeating this several times – refers to what Benjamin calls ‘auratic art’ – Once reproduction and mechanisation arrived, in order to add value to work, “the artist had to assume an aura of creativity… to produce a cultural object” of value. “The result was often highly individualistic, aristocratic, disdainful (particularly of popular culture), and even arrogant in perspective on the part of the cultural producers, but it also indicated how our reality might be constructed through aesthetically informed activity.” (p22, 1990)
    The disdainful attitude has not gone away, or if it ever did, it seems to have returned with alacrity. I am often appalled by the supercilious, superior and condemnatory way in which some people/artists/photographers look down their noses at practically everything, including forms they don’t themselves use, the general population who don’t have the luxury of an expensive education at their disposal, nor decades of reading interminable circular texts about the ethics of photography behind them, nor the time, space or money to wallow in historical processes. All of this is made worse when artists, as echoed by Harvey, on one hand, “mythologise(d) the proletariat” (p33) while also behaving like the “elite-international avant-garde”. (p25) The following may still be an accurate description in some circles: “Artists, for all their predilection for anti-establishment and anti-bourgeois rhetoric, spent much more energy struggling with each other and against their own traditions in order to sell their products than they did in any real political action.” (p22)

    The other critical element in this first chapter is how the articulated machinery on which Industrialisation relied affected perception and therefore artistic practice. The difference today is how digital machinery produces a far less articulated reality – and instead, there is a perceived flow as information travels and morphs and transforms. I was struck by the many references to machinery, “houses and cities could be openly conceived of as ‘machines for living in” (p32). Nowadays, existence is often written about in computer-related metaphor. Donald Hoffman’s recently published The Case Against Reality (2019) (which I will write about elsewhere) contains a hypothesis which describes reality as a series of desktop icons on a computer interface – and so, if one is wary of the current tendency to think of the brain as a computer, you have to tread quite carefully through his arguments in order to avoid being reductive. However, this loss of a fixed stable reality that is always around even when we’re not, which according to Harvey could be felt and was being expressed towards the end of the Modernist period, seems now in full swing.

    I realise I digressed slightly with my rant about the irony of snobbish artists who peer down their noses at so much while at the same time claim to be something other than and often better (more valuable) than the ‘bourgeoisie or petit-bourgeoisie’ – however, my desire to embrace popular culture as I did in Self & Other when I made work using Snapchat, and when I use proprietary filters is related to this aspect. Recently I have focused on vintage material downloaded from the internet, i.e. rendered digital, and where signs of age are fetishised, but it may be that at some point I need to be really brave and grab material that has none of that safety-net.

    But perhaps more importantly, the changes happening to our understanding of reality, the theories of which then go on to help design our technology are having the most seismic and profound impact on who we are and how we see ourselves. And I think that is probably at the core of what I’m aiming to explore.

  2. “In Sirens and Origin of the Common-Place the medium, its source, and transformative journey are as critical as the content. Marshall McLuhan’s mantra “the medium is the message” is relevant.” (p4)

    Why and how is McLuhan’s statement relevant? Can you explain in a little more detail

    As a practitioner, currently and internally there is a tension in me, an argument between the value of process and representation. I feel I am trapped in representation while the art world values process more highly and wish I could find a way out of representation, which is what I know and where I come from – what I feel most comfortable with. I will say something more about this at the end of this section. However, the making of these films, the downloading of digital data on my computer at home and then the reconstitution of them, again at home on my computer or even my phone is critical to the work. Today I can take films – which were once the preserve of institutions – and transform them and make them my own. I have some element of autonomy over the message which is (was) fed to me. I can take the slop that was served up and do what I want with it, as long as I can master the easy to use technology and retain access to it. This is a big change in the way we interact with media and certainly very different from the fixed frescos on church walls that people bowed down before in the middle-ages.

    McLuhan, and later others such as Kathryn Hayles in How We Became Post Human (1999) (a very important book for me) discuss how we instantiate technology; i.e. how the media we use becomes an extension of our nervous systems and how we internalise it. McLuhan’s ideas inform systems theory; not only does the type of media rather than the message have an impact on us – there is a feedback loop, both language (whatever media is used) and we exist in a living, dynamic symbiotic relationship. Andy Clarke is another philosopher who suggests that language itself – the process of speaking – is a prosthetic extension, a technological tool which has changed (through feedback loops) the way we evolved.As perception of fixed Cartesian concepts dissolve, replaced or added to by dynamic atomic units, and as relationship and context become more and more valued, perhaps it might be appropriate to say, you cannot view one without the other – the chosen medium and the content together are the message and to try and separate them risks being reductive.

    In reference to representation – perhaps I am worrying too much about this. Hoffman’s book about reality suggests that the way in which we construct our so-called ‘real’ representation is absolutely critical to how we animals experience existence – and so maybe how I make things that end up looking and sounding and feeling a certain way is key. But what appears is also key and one cannot separate the two – or else it risks being reductive. Of course, lots of art seems to deliberately aim for reductiveness as perhaps it strives to make sense or unpick tiny aspects of living.

  3. As the barriers between exterior and interior, or between physical and metaphysical break down

    Again as above – see Harvey

    I think this could become a very important subject for me. As well as Harvey, the later chapters in Hayles’ book explore this a great deal. I also posted some work by Albarado Morell recently which looks at it and further comments here. But perhaps Hayles in more relevant. Chapter 7 – Turning Reality Inside Out and Ride Side Out: Boundary Work in the Mid Sixties Novels of Philip K. Dick is absolutely teeming with relevant information and I have touched on this previously. Before the summer, on my Sketchbook blog, I was recording Random Notes for Short Story. I do not know where it is going or what I will do with these but I suppose I will continue and they may inform or become part of any BOW work. #12 in particular references this change in human experience and links back to media.
  4. (And before that, drawings, which suggests still photography may have been a very brief interlude in the journey that began with cave drawing, developed to become printing, followed by the invention of mechanization, and moving towards a total simulated reality) (sp. corrected, p6)
    Although this has not diminished the demand for those other media – indeed it has given them a new lease of life.

    Exactly, so why is Photography at times so neurotic and defensive? Why can’t it get over itself and stop trying to prove it really is in Art.
  5. Barthes’ death of authorship may be easier to accept than the suggestion that all meaning is negated leaving us with a zero sign. In Sirens and other appropriated work, it might be argued, signification is transformed rather than nullified, even if the reader doesn’t particularly agree with or ‘like’ the altered content.
    death of the author – which gave birth to the reader’s primary role in creating meaning – hence one of the biggest problems is in visual literacy in particular – and literacy more generally. Increasingly it becomes more difficult to distinguish fact from fiction, truth from lies – for many it does not even matter (your Cambridge Analytica is one extreme example). See Francois Lyotard.

    For the time being, I would always argue that photography, like all language, exists within a rich, complex, dynamic interplay – (recognised in the death of the author which might also be understood as the birth of the collaborative producer who understands that their work doesn’t emerge until there is a receptor, even if that consists of only one person) one of many nebulous elements that emerge and feedback in the process of reality construction. I don’t believe there is a zero sign, only that some ‘actors’ say things which bear little relation to their pretended intentions; there is still meaning, it is simply more difficult to unpick. Advertisers, fascists, narcissists are all excellent examples of those who employ such tactics. As an actor who studied Stanislavskian uniting of text – it is very difficult to accept that the sign could actually be empty. And I think that metaphor comes from a world in which discrete objects exist in the universe rather than one which emerges through relationship.

    I also wonder when in our history the human population was ever able to determine fact from fiction. Our species is riddled with false assumptions about what and who we are, the majority of us left in the dark while those in power play merry havoc with our world while living off our efforts. It may be true that groups such CA have been able to flourish in these early pioneering days of a new epoch but there has to be hope – And I hope I am not overly optimistic, referencing Hayles as she says “Only if one thinks of the subject as an autonomous self, independent of the environment is one likely to experience the panic performed by Norbert Weiners Cybernetics and Bernard Wolf’s Limbo. This view of the self authorizes that fear that is boundaries are breached at all, there will be nothing left to stop the self’s complete dissolution. By contrast, when the human is seen as part of a distributed system, the full expression of human capability can be seen precisely to depend on n the splice rather than be imperiled but it.” (p290) 
  6. The collaborative nature of Sirens can be seen as another example of dissolving walls, modern-day fluidity, not only, as mentioned earlier between inner and outer worlds but also between individuals; systems which were perhaps previously considered closed but which might become viewed as open, as technology continues to penetrate or dissolve barriers.

    Although, in other ways, it builds walls eg above re literacy. sure you can have access to cheap technology but you’ll be so bombarded with advertising – penetrating the mind while depriving most viewers/readers of an education that will provide them of the means to engage critically.

    I do believe these walls have always existed. We see them more nowadays because that’s what digital technology does. It makes the structures visible. That’s not to say that digital technology hasn’t made it worse. See my response about the complex, dynamic interrelated process of reality below.Saying all that, I find collaboration incredibly challenging at the moment – and although there are many diverse reasons for this, I think it is interesting psychologically speaking that my reference to relationship below, although meant broadly, might also be suggestive of something more personal. I disagreed with Will Self’s comment about ‘there being no other’ in this new Millenial world of ours (how perfect that a man called Self should say this) but as I interact with people from a younger generation I am beginning to find it harder and harder to stray true to my conviction that he must be wrong. I mention this as it seems important to the whole issue of supposed ‘post-humanism’ and Hayle’s references literature that deals with the isolated individual.

  7. Repetition flirts with tautology, but perhaps, in the case of my own work, various video-editing techniques help to transform rather than mirror.

    and perhaps thwart the definition of photography as a ‘mirror with a memory’, so that you want to argue that photography, like language, constructs reality rather than reflecting reality, 

    For the time being, I would always argue that photography, like all language – it is, after all, a language itself, exists as part of a rich, complex, dynamic interplay – one of many nebulous elements that emerge and feedback in the process of reality construction.

Comments from the reflection section:
Yes, it is good to read more widely but state your case for doing so too. – the world is changing so much – I think it’s incredibly important to place what we read about photography in broader context otherwise it becomes insular, circular and drier and drier, and irrelevant. I can’t see the point in simply re-stating what has already been said when the world we live in today is informed by new ideas. Saying that I love reading perspicacious texts which could describe the digital world long before the internet was conceived of, such as Guy Debord’s’ Society of the Spectacle. It reminds me not to be parochial about time which can lead to us thinking that the issues we are facing are all about us and us alone now, rather than stemming from historical processes.
I think it will be more a question of greater depth of analysis of the avenues you touch on here: montage, structuralism, post-structuralism and its impact on film art. I totally understand that I will need to find a way to discuss things in more depth – this I think is the challenging (exhausting!) thing that I need to overcome.
Making a bold ‘claim’ is good. You then want to then back that up and place your own work within a wider context (historical theoretical etc). I re-read James Elkins who has given me much fodder for suggesting that photography is at high risk of being tautological, if not damn boring.
There is no problem at all using first person now in academic writing. The argument is that knowledge is not neutral and that all knowledge should be situated. I’m not convinced the OCA is up to speed with this and will discuss when we meet.

Overall, I could do with going back and fleshing out one of two topics while dropping others for now. Roberta wrote in an email “ease out your idea a little more so that you give yourself space to explore structuralism/post-structuralism in relation to photography and to film – and to why both have become so central within art discourse – esp. as it makes no sense to talk about the original photo or film. My suggestion would be to begin to look at theories you use in more depth. Montage/bricolage in relation to Modernism and structuralism/post-structuralism in relation to Postmodernism…also of course ideas of sole sovereign authorship: ‘The Author’ or ‘The Artist’ are put under strain by those theories – collaboration is, of course, interesting here” (2019)



Hayles, K. (1999). How we became posthuman: virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature, and informatics. KINDLE Edition Chicago, Ill, University of Chicago Press.

Harvey, D. (1990) The Condition of Postmodernity, London Blackwell

2 thoughts on “CA A1 – Research & Reflection (written after draft 1 submitted, inc. some comments re. tutor feedback)

  1. There’s so much to think about and discuss here.

    Do you read articles in ‘Tortoise”? If not there was an article recently ‘From self to selfies’ that comments on our relationship with mobile phones and links it very much with McLuhan’s thoughts in his book “The Gutenberg Galaxy” (1962) some of which transferred into “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man” (1964) where he coined the phrase “the medium is the message”.

    If you don’t access “Tortoise” I can send you a pdf of the article.


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