Some fellow students may recall my angst about spending money on an Edgars Martins book just after Christmas. I had already seen a few books advertised which I knew might be helpful for research but out of financial reach right now – but this particular book seemed so pertinent, I couldn’t let it go. I was lucky enough to get hold of the last copy from Moth House and it has indeed been helpful.
One of my main interests was exploring how Martins uses material from a range of sources in the same project. He does this across his projects but the suicide and death topic reminded me of my own Self & Other A5, so I was keen to see the book, shown as prints in an exhibition and can include video format there and online too. The series contains found, original, archive and text. There are tropes and conventions in his work which I have found myself engaging with over the last couple of years, and that is absolutely what I am interested in too.
The essays have been excellent resources and will undoubtedly be referenced in my CS work. Here I want to point to two sentences that are of particular significance.
From Roger Luckhurst’s essay (118): After discussing various sources for images including ‘found’, ‘puzzling insertions of landscapes’ ‘stereoscopic views, vintage newspaper photographs’ ‘odd theatrical and enigmatic visions’, he writes, ‘These seem to work to derail the over-coherence any series or display or exhibition of book inevitably imposes, fighting to keep the grid of meaning open, defying the dread determinism of forensic files.’
(114) ‘tugging at the links that have been reinforced by dominant theories of photography, since at least Sontag and Barthes.’ (I find the phrase ‘at least’ a bit odd actually – yes these names are the dominant ones, but photography has been around for a nanosecond of time in the grand scale of art – its own sense of grandiosity belies its infancy. However, it echoes the status quo, of course.)
Martins is, like me, looking at ‘the cut’ – how we define things, how we are entrained to catalogue and categorise – and asking us to not make assumptions. He does this here through the doorway of death, suicide, forensics. It didn’t take long when I started looking at his history to find references to quantum philosophy but where I look at the concept of indeterminism (Barad, Rovelli, Bohr) he ‘sacrifices’ cohesion for the notion of countless probabilities (Heisenberg). Whichever, there is an interest in overcoming the fixity of Cartesian thought or Newtonian certainty.
In 2018, ex OCA student (now studying with Oxford Brooks) John Umney sent me a message and he has agreed I can share our interaction here. (29/09/18)
I had been experimenting with blocks of colour, filters, covering up faces as the filters do, the ease with which we can all manipulate images, adding new/modernity/digital tropes to old images, intervening on analogue surfaces with digital animation. I guess my main interest was how easy it was becoming to intervene, to manipulate and to be manipulated. In fact, I started a project which I then abandoned called Manipulated. It seemed too trite a title and I wasn’t that keen on the images I was making but the idea of moving image with still, audio with still, and layering has stuck, modern and old together has stuck. And the filter we place over our faces, the regular circle of profile pics. Below, one of my own examples from that time – curated, found, added to. (Lots of this in 2018/19)
It is hard not to notice the tropes in Martins’ work running through my own. I must be frank, I took a very brief look through the book and stopped, heading instead to the essays. The images were too familiar and similar to what I have been doing with scans and negatives and paper for my current project. I was worried if I kept looking, I’d be frozen with fear of being too similar. I have continued to worry about this – but I know Martins is one of several artists such as Eric Kessels, Alexandra Lethridge, Joe Rudko and Thomas Hauser to name a few who make work in this way, using these non-conventions, sourcing the old and adding to it with the new. Something Catherine said about one of my efforts having the air of forensics worried me as Martins’ work is highly influenced by that – but again, how can mine not be when I have been reading Tagg and Sekula? So I will keep going and hope to goodness my writings and feminine view give it something that is just me. But what I have noted about his work is that it is very clear contained and demarcated – the indeterminism is held quite securely. I don’t think mine is. We shall see. And I will look at the beautiful book more carefully when I have completed this project. Incidentally, it’s not for resale – I think I will come to love it. But I have some others by popular artists that are if anyone is interested!
On another note re-books, I am going to borrow Hura’s The Coast which I was so keen to look at which pleases me immensely. I think the combination of text and image plus his interest in context and relation will be useful.