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Coming into the MFA program I found myself very conflicted, and frankly frustrated, as to the direction I was taking with my work. My practice felt divided between a deep-seated - though largely unexplored - attachment to the process itself of drawing, and the socio-politically active side of my life that had yet to find much expression in my work.
In an attempt to resolve this divide I worked on a Hypermasculinity Series. In these works the aim was to communicate the point at which some men reach what seems like an apex in performed, clichéd masculinity that ends up becoming either 'toxic' or violently self-destructive. The glitch effect used in many of these drawings was included with the metaphor of 'heat death' in mind, whereby something evolves to a state of no thermodynamic free energy and can no longer sustain processes that increase entropy. While these works at the very least helped me to begin to re-think my practice, the results felt very limited in a consideration of the process of their making and in the feeling that the attachment to illustration was preceding the concept.
Following on from the first attempts, I began to reflect more on the process and labor of these concentrated drawing studies. Through tutorials I was given a vocabulary to verbalize and therefore focus on the notion of value in relation to labor of different kinds, and the value of the chosen subjects themselves. In many cases I gravitated towards conventionally 'low value' subjects, and treated them with an attention to detail and concentration normally reserved for more 'high value' subjects. Further, this was generally done with exclusively carbon-based, 'primitive' mediums.
Coupled with a growing fascination with Hito Steyerl's The Wretched of the Screen (more information to this point can be found in the 'Context' section), the next two works tried to logically follow on from the previous conversation about masculinity while also bringing the notion of value to the forefront. One, a charcoal rendering of an image of young Mike Tyson screenshot from a poor quality YouTube video, tried to incorporate a reading of Hito Steyerl's thoughts on the hierarchy of image quality in the digital world. The piece was done at a much larger scale (60 x 48 in) which satisfied a personal need for physicality in the process of drawing - a need which has since found some clarity in researching Matthew Barney's Drawing Restraint series. Simultaneously I was building a few rudimentary tattoo machines, using only elements that might be available to incarcerated prisoners, as an object-driven expression of economies of value. Further, these two pieces were an important step in opening myself up to an ethos of the 'concept driving the medium' as opposed to the reverse, something I have been guilty of for much of my artistic career.
The logical next step from the previous pieces seemed to be a work that concisely combined elements of socio-political engagement, the continued exploration of value's relation to labor (whether in the subject matter or the methodology), and a physicality in the process itself.
Steyerl's In Defense of the Poor Image continued to overarch much of my theoretical framework, as did the search for understanding found in various ways in the practices of Joel Daniel Phillips, James Bridle, and Laura Poitras. In an attempt to explore the similarities and differences between these influences, questioning the capacity of the artist to adequately represent mechanisms of geo-political conflict felt appropriate. Therefore I began working on A charcoal drawing of the Mediterranean Sea, a 72 x 55 inch charcoal and ink rendering of a photo taken of the Mediterranean while I was working at a refugee camp in Leros, Greece. In what was a typically laborious endeavor, the final product was a monochrome drawing with charcoal dust seeping down from its bottom right hand corner into a small pile on the ground below. Despite the hours spent in concentrated study, the futility of the final representation in comparison to the living, moving, brutally apathetic sea was testified to in the charcoal dust beyond the frame.
The next piece, Heavy smoke billows from a section of Gaza City in the Gaza Strip, followed on as a reflection and extension of the previous one. Questions are asked about the disconnect between the realities of geopolitical conflict and the way images of them are documented, 'exploded' across digital networks, and experienced by viewers. Arguably, there has been a 'blackboxing' of these political realities. The impossibility of adequate representation is displayed - particularly the case when targeting the digital with solely 'analogue' means - in a similar way to the charcoal dust of A charcoal drawing of the Mediterranean Sea.
Countless hours were spent painstakingly drawing the source code for a particular photo of an explosion in the Gaza Strip, appropriated from a Google Image Search. The final piece was approximately 48 x 72 inches on paper, done exclusively with archival ink to add an extra layer of discipline and tension to what was again a highly concentrated study.
Something practical that expanded my practice during the making of this piece was the fact of its being shown at Uncovered Collective's Postopia. As the curators asked late on whether the piece could be suspended in space as opposed to hung on a wall, a frame and suspension mechanism had to be built. After brainstorming with Tyson and Sarah in the metal workshop, and Pete in the print workshop, a solution was found. Cables were used for suspension, a frame was welded from hollow steel, and magnets 'floated' the paper in the frame's centre; all materials I felt contributed to the piece as a whole. With that said, how my work - even when done on paper - is presented in space will undoubtedly become another consideration in my practice going forward.
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