Smoke and Mirrors: The Psychology of Magic

Accessibility Project, Exhibition Reviews, Residency at The Playground

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” Explore how our biases affect our perception and whether our senses can be hacked. Discover spirit photography, magic props and psychology experiments to see how magic works on – and in – the mind of the spectator.

Artefacts on display from the world of magic include the head of the gorilla costume worn by Derren Brown, Harry Houdini’s ‘Bell Box’, Tommy Cooper’s fez, and Paul Daniels’s sawing-in-half box. ”
– Taken from the webpage

This exhibition is currently on at The Wellcome Collection, exploring the psychology of  magic tricks and illusions, examining modern and historical tricks through a scientific lens. I found it very fascinating, as like most people I was very fascinated with magic as a child, although it does spoil the fun a little to learn how it is done! I particularly enjoyed the video content in the booths (as shown in the photos) labelled Perception, Reasoning, and Memory as it explained the three aspects to magic tricks that utilise the flaws in our brains to make tricks seem believable. Each one broke down a different trick into its base components and it was actually super fascinating. I also really loved the old newspaper clippings and posters for magic acts- really aesthetically pleasing and I wish more art and advertising would hark back to this style and era. (Examples below)

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The older films and photosets of tricks being broken down, shown, or disproved were also fascinating to see- it just goes to show how human beings interest in the unknown in universal, and I found it really curious how people who were well known for being supposedly rational were willing to suspend disbelief for magic and psychics. People such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, well known for his detective novels about the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, were believers in the supernatural and mysterious- something that seems strange when you consider the quest for logic and scientific reasoning present in his books.

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In terms of accessibility the exhibition had lots of engaging content, all with subtitles, was well laid out for wheelchair users and those with mobility aids to get around (although more seating would have been nice), and there were large format guide books available. There were plenty of videos that could be listened to for those with visual impairments, however nothing was available for visitors to touch, and as magic and illusory tricks are very visual by nature I think visitors with visual impairments might struggle to get as much from the exhibition as those without visual impairments. As someone who gets easily over stimulated by sound I found the exhibition manageable as some video pieces had headphones available, and none of the videos had audio that was overwhelmingly loud. I also found the subtitles on the videos very helpful. In terms of lighting it was quite dim all the way through, which might be to preserve the older photographs, and print based works, but it made it tricky to read some of the descriptions and might not be comfortable for people who struggle in low light conditions.

 

Work in the Final Show

Assessment, Exhibitions, Photographs, river project, UNIT 2, Videos

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(I took this photo before I swapped out the keyboard and mouse for the cleaner ones)

Overall I am surprisingly really happy with how my installation turned out- the room is a really good, well lit space, with large windows, and it looks much better since I painted it, and swept and mopped it. I am also really pleased I was able to make the table top for free from scrap wood, as that saved me a lot of money, and I think it looks much better than the Ikea table tops do anyway. I decided to keep the trestle legs I got from the BA student black, as I liked the contrast (and also I’m lazy and painting over black paint with white would have been a nightmare) and I think it helps to break up all the white in the room. I had to ask my classmates to tell me the river Thames I painted into the table top looked fine, because otherwise I never would have stopped trying to touch it up and make it “perfect”. Considering I didn’t use masking tape or anything except the pencil outline and paint I think it came out well, and is fairly recognizable for what it is, without any need for labels or a more literal representation.

In terms of curating the objects for the exhibition I feel that I have chosen the right amount, and the right selection of materials- I was not able to get the aluminum pieces to a high enough standard, so they have been omitted, the other lot of glass wax pieces I made came out much less transparent and much milkier looking (due to the touch of blue wax I added to offset the yellowing that had happened from the glass wax being overheated) so I left those out and put in the first lot I made, which are much clearer and more transparent. I also left out the herculite casts as they were not up to standard, and are also still fairly fragile compared to the other materials, and I left out the iPad 3D prints, as the Einscan ones were of much higher quality.

In terms of the digital work on screen I am very happy with how it looks- I have chosen one of the larger bones that has a particularly interesting form for the audience to play with, and I feel that Meshmixer was a good choice of programme for the audience to use, as it is fairly simple programme to mess around on- hopefully people will use it and enjoy playing around! I made a 2 minute video, which is on one of my earlier posts, which shows how to move around the 3D model, how to zoom in and out, and some of the basic tools they can use on Meshmixer, in case anyone gets stuck, and this is on the Mac desktop, titled “How to Use”.

I have discussed this previously, but I chose the five bones that I did as the jaw bone pieces proved difficult to cast in some of the methods, so much so that I could not get a good cast of them in the herculite, or glass wax, so I decided not to include them at all. Also they are a bit less ambiguous than the other bones, so I felt it best to leave them out, as I like the ambiguity of the shapes of the other bones. Also I left out the brick, despite having cast it in herculite, glass wax, bronze, and aluminum, as I felt it looks odd to have 5 bones and then the brick by itself. This is a shame, as the casts of it are quite beautiful, but it would have stood out too much, so it was necessary.

when I think back I thought I would have recreated the rope, brick, plastic bottle, and driftwood in different materials like I did originally with the vacuum forming, for the final show. Unfortunately the rope and bottle became unusable after the vacuum forming, and the driftwood turned out to be quite complex to cast, so I never ended up doing it. The bones became my focal point quite by accident, as I found myself drawn to the shapes and textures of them when I first started experimenting with the macro lens back in the first term. I don’t regret this, because I feel like I have made a strong body of work, that I am very proud of.

 

 

 

World Capital at Arebyte

Assessment, Exhibitions, UNIT 2, Workshops

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As part of the exhibition World Capital at Arebyte Gallery I was asked to come in and run a workshop for the local children, inspired by the exhibition. World Capital explores how cities and city planning has become homogenized due to capitalism and globalization- with newer parts of cities being impossible to distinguish from other cities across the world. The artist, Felicity Hammond, explores this topic through digital collage, and the gallery space was turned into a collaged city, complete with water ways which mirrored the installation and created an almost ethereal space in the gallery.

Globalisation and capitalism are bit much to explain to young children, and we weren’t sure what kind of age range we would attract for the workshop so I decided to focus on the ideas of collage and building a “world capital”. Rather than asking the children to simply sit and do a collage themselves I wanted to push it into 3D, much like the artist herself had created a 3D collage in the space. With this in mind I researched free downloadable nets of famous landmarks, and also some more simple buildings like schools/ect. I designed a file of the river Thames on Illustrator, which I had printed 150cm x 50cm, which we spread out over the tables in the gallery space, and we asked the children to join us in putting together the famous landmarks and buildings with glue and scissors. When they had made a variety of landmarks (with our help) we then asked them to “build their own world capital” by placing the landmarks they had made around the river, to create their own ideal city- complete with pyramids, Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, the statue of Liberty, and lots of other international buildings!

Rebecca, the curator at Arebyte, helped me to run the workshop and we both had lots of fun, as did the children who came along! They liked it so much that they asked to take the huge river print and all of the buildings they made home with them. I felt that it was super successful, and it is important that art galleries offer fun, free, accessible activities to children- especially children who otherwise would not get the chance (i.e. children from low income backgrounds, children with special needs, act).

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Some photos of the “World Capital” we built! ^

 

MENTAL: An Exhibition Exploring Mental Health

Assessment, Exhibitions, Group Project, Personal Projects, UNIT 2

 

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The “BPD and Me” zine I made was made specifically for the exhibition I organized and put together for my society, The Mentally Chill Society.

As part of this I had to:

  • find out if there was interest from members of the society
  • find out what spaces were available at UAL for student exhibitions, then apply for the space (a very long application form was involved)
  • I had to attend a meeting to learn the do’s and don’ts of the space we were allotted- including the health and safety stuff
  • I then got a committee of society members together, they helped me to write the open call brief asking society members to submit work dealing with the topic of mental health, and more specifically their own experiences of it
  • Shridula put together the poster which I emailed out to society members and also posted and shared on social media
  • we then went through the submissions as a committee and contacted everyone who was successful
  • I then had to fill out a risk assessment
  • One of the members, Carmella, designed the poster, which I then took elements from to design the sheet with everyone’s names, courses, and descriptions of their work on for the exhibition
  • I also filled in an application form for additional funding from the Student Union to cover printing costs, costs of nails/tape/ect, alcohol and other drinks for the private view, ect
  • It was a real struggle to get everyone into the space to put their work over the two days we had to install but I managed, and we got everyone’s work hung!
  • There was a lot of problem solving involved- for example we realized too late that the labels were going to be too expensive, so we got number stickers for everyone’s work, and then had the sheet with all the info on it for people to take
  • the private view went really well and I got lots of positive feedback on the curation and for putting it together!
  • this was my first time organizing an exhibition completely from scratch, and my first time curating an exhibition- I learnt a lot about working with larger groups of people, giving up control to delegate tasks, and how to hang work that is vastly different in a way that works and shows everyone’s work in the best way

DOROTHEA TANNING EXHIBITION

Exhibition Reviews, UNIT 2

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  • I had never heard of this artist before- I saw a post on Instagram of one of her fabric sculptures and decided to drag my friend along on a whim
  • a really surprising breadth of work
  • paintings ranging in size, large fabric sculptures, an installation of a living room filled with these strange, vaguely human fabric shapes, drawings
  • I’m not usually that wild on paintings but I really love the use of color, layering, and the suggestions of shapes and figures that blend into each other seamlessly
  • the fabric installation was really unsettling and creepy- loved it!
  • The exhibition was curated really well- the use of color walls to highlight certain pieces was very effective and I enjoyed seeing a deviation (no matter how small) from the standard white walled gallery space

“An Ode to My Vagina” work at Human Manifesto, CSM

Exhibitions, Photographs, UNIT 2, Work in Progress

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Process photos from screen-printing my illustration and poem piece “An Ode to My Vagina”. So far I only have the one finished print which I put into the Human Manifesto exhibition at CSM, ran jointly by the ArtsFem and LGBTQ societies at UAL, but I intend to print a limited run of this colour scheme, and others, to sell as prints. The illustration was drawn in pencil then gone over in pen, and scanned then cleaned up on Photoshop before I took it to the printmaking studios, and the poem (originally written on my phone) was also handwritten, scanned, and edited on Photoshop before printing.

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These photos show the piece being put up in the exhibition, and a few shots of the piece surrounded by other works in the show. Overall I am very happy with the presentation of my work, and of the response I got from attendees, so I would consider this a success, even though the text is slightly off centre on the illustration (something I will correct when I print more copies in print making).

This piece is deeply personal to me- as a non binary person I have always struggled with accepting my body, and in particular my vagina. For most of my life I hated it and wished it didn’t exist, and only saw it as existing for the pleasure of my sexual partners, not myself. Over the last few years I have been trying to accept, and eventually love, my body the way it is, which is very difficult when you have a lifetime of self hatred and self loathing built into your brain, and as part of this I started masturbating. Previously it was something I viewed as disgusting and dirty, something unnatural, but at the same time I felt broken for having no experience of it, so gradually discovering my body and coming to terms with my vagina’s existence, and my own independence (free of the burden of sexually gratifying others) has been a long journey. Many non binary people, trans men, and cis women have similar struggles with their bodies, but with this piece of work I speak purely for myself, and my own body.

Modern Couples:Art, Intimacy, and the Avant-garde at the Barbican

Exhibition Reviews

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(a photo taken by myself from the talk at the beginning, as no photos were allowed in the actual exhibition)

“Modern Couples presents a different way of looking at Modernism in art, as seen through the lens of the artist ‘couple’, an elastic term encompassing all manner of intimate relationships that the artists themselves grappled with, expanded, embraced or refuted.”

– From the official booklet for the exhibition

I visited the Modern Couples exhibition today! I was immediately struck by how well thought out it was- the guide spoke to us at length before and during the tour about the level of research and planning that went into this show, and it was apparent throughout how carefully curated it was. The experience of the exhibition is that of a journey, told through the curation of works and couples chosen, the design and layout of the pieces and quotes, the architecture of the space, and the strong visual branding throughout (I appreciated the title font, but I’ll spare you from my inner typography geek!) An especially interesting use of space was for the section on the ‘Temple of Friendship’ and the women who were part of it. It was built to mimic the oval shape of the temple, blocked off from other sections with heavily draped curtains, with a circular display case at the centre. It definitely added a sense of reverence, but also of safety. The ground floor of the gallery is specifically built to invoke an intimate feel, with the works contained primarily focused on the body, and each section dedicated to a different couple, like a small shrine to each. Upstairs the space is a lot more open, with the work becoming increasingly more abstract as you pass through. It simultaneously felt both familiar and yet separate from downstairs.

The most exciting part of the exhibition was the idea that ‘couple’ doesn’t always necessarily denote a romantic pairing. This is an unusual idea that I don’t think has been explored enough- as they said ‘couple’ can be a fluid term for all kinds of relationships, and some of the ‘couples’ in the exhibition were actually polyamorous groups of three or more people. I think this expanded idea of what a couple can be is challenging the old ideas of couples and relationships, and I hope it leads to a cultural shift. The guide talked about how art in the 20th century became a platform to be more experimental- a playground or springboard for different kinds of relationships to happen. As a proud bisexual I was really happy to see a variety of bisexual, lesbian, and gay relationships portrayed- I had not previously heard, for example, that Salvador Dali had an intimate relationship with a man- and it is important to LGBTQ+ people to see that we have always existed, and are finally getting the recognition we need.

As a non binary femme person it was particularly refreshing to see women placed on an equal footing with men, with their contributions given the consideration they deserve. I enjoyed seeing the role of muse flipped by the work of the women displayed, objectifying and exploring the male figure in the same way that we usually see reserved for the female figure. It was equally refreshing to hear about all the women artists who were pushing and playing with the boundaries of gender- it shows that non binary gender identities have always existed, contrary to what a lot of people still think. I wish that there had been more trans artists included, as they must have existed, but I appreciate that the curatorial team had a pool of 300 or more couples to choose from for this exhibition; perhaps a future exhibition could focus solely on LGBTQ+ artists from this period and their impact on modern art.

Whilst the exhibition doesn’t shy away from the negative and unhealthy sides of relationships, such as objectification and obsession, and is at times a very honest examination of what relationships can become I am, however, critical of one thing. I feel that mental health/mental illness could have been explored in a more nuanced way. Many of the people featured in Modern Couples ended their own lives, and in some cases took their partners life, at least in part due to the unhealthy aspects of their relationships, and although the topic is dealt with sensitively I felt it could have been discussed a little more frankly. I appreciate that this can be difficult when looking at people who are no longer here to speak for themselves, and when you consider that mental health/mental illness was even less talked about or recognised as legitimate in the 20th century than it is today. I understand that this all makes it hard to find out about mental health of the artists displayed, so I am not sure how it could be approached differently, but it is something that could be considered in future. I wrote in my notes that it would have been nice to see some positive endings for artists with mental health issues, but even today many people don’t even realise someone is unwell until they take their own lives, so I understand that this is wishful thinking.

All in all it was a really eye opening experience, finally shining a light on all the amazing women and LGBTQ+ people behind the great male artists of the 20th century, I would recommend it to anyone who has in an interest in modern art, especially those who would like to delve a little deeper into the relationships that fuelled some of the most progressive and innovative art ever made.

Work in the Interim Show

Exhibitions, river project, Videos

Video of my work in the show, including close up clips of each finished bronze piece, and a clip of the whole display.

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The two photos above show the set up for the exhibition, and one of the visitors interacting with my objects. The back row of objects are the real bones that each bronze was cast from, with the cast displayed in front of each one. I chose this format as I wanted to see whether viewers would be more likely to pick up the bones or the bronze casts, and i wanted it to have an almost museum-like feel to the display. I did put in the artwork description “Please Touch Me” but as it wasn’t very visible not many visitors did pick up or interact with the objects like I wanted. As well as the label not being very visible I also feel that the gallery space, as a concept, probably contributed to the lack of interaction- in most galleries and museums the audience is highly discouraged, if not prohibited, from touching the artworks. This is something I am very much against, and want to challenge with my work, so going forwards I think I need to make it clearer to the audience that they can and should pick up and touch my work. I will probably do this through larger and clearer signage, but I will have to see what happens at our next show, and what is possible with the space we have.

The feedback I got from people who did pick up and touch my work was overwhelmingly positive- I was asked about my walks and how/where I collected the objects, I was questioned about the process of casting, and about the ideas behind the project. Although my display was simple I was very pleased with how it looked, and I thought that it fit well with my classmates work, although our work was quite different nothing looked out of place and it was visually cohesive. I did find it difficult to stay in the room for more than five minutes at a time though, due to the combination of sounds from my classmates work. It was quite overwhelming so I found myself frequently wandering around the other spaces in the exhibition whilst invigilating.

Anthea Hamilton- The Squash at Tate Britain

Exhibition Reviews, Photographs

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Photos taken by me

A solo performer in a squash-like costume inhabits the Duveen Galleries every day for more than six months for the Tate Britain Commission 2018. Each element of The Squash has evolved from Hamilton’s interest in a photograph she found in a book several years ago when looking at improvisational theatre and participatory art practices in the 1960s and 1970s. It showed a person dressed as what looks like a vegetable lying among vines. The original photograph dated from 1960 and depicted a scene from a dance by American choreographer Erick Hawkins. Hawkins was interested in Native American philosophies and he took the form of this costume from the Squash Kachina of the Hopi culture.
The performer selects their outfit for the day from a collection of seven elaborate costumes. Each one is inspired by the original image and by different kinds of squash or pumpkin. The length of the galleries’ terrazzo floor has been tiled in domestic-scale white tiles to create a new environment within Tate Britain’s neoclassical architecture. ”
– taken from the Tate Britain webpage

I recently visited Tate Britain to run a summer school workshop and whilst I was there I got to see one of the performances for The Squash, which I did some blind contour drawings of, below. I tried to capture the movement of the performer, as well as the shapes created by the performer and their interaction with the costume (in particular the large squash head piece), and I felt blind contour drawings would be best for this, as the lines are more fluid, and once made are permanent. I experimented with different pens- fine liners, biro, and felt tips, to vary the quality of line, and as you can see some are far more sketchy and hesitant, whereas others are bold and simplistic.

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This piece was very enjoyable to watch, as at times it felt like the performer was responding to the audience in the space, and at other times it felt like they were in their own world, inhabiting the physical space whilst not being quite present. Regarding the costume, I particularly liked how it obscured the performers gender- the ruffles and design of it removed the idea of gender from the performance, as well as any other distinguishing features, giving the performer a sense of other worldliness and detaching the viewer from any preconceived notions of gender.

I have recently become interested in performance work for myself- I have always admired performance artists, but had firmly decided for myself that it wasn’t for me, and would probably never become part of my artistic practice. However lately, as my drag project idea has developed, I have found myself considering the idea of taking my drag persona out as a performance. I think the reason I never considered performance for my own practice is largely my lack of confidence in front of large groups, and my fear of being judged or laughed at by others, but I think that challenging myself to perform as part of my art might actually help me to build my confidence. I feel like the gallery space is almost a kind of safe space for artists to try out new things and perform as a character without fear, as audiences are perhaps more open to it, than if I was to take the performance out into a more public space. This piece of work has definitely inspired me to give it a go, and I think it is something I will try in the near future!

Whilst at the Tate I also did some blind contour drawings of pieces from the permanent collection, shown below.

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Dirk Braeckman at Bozar

Exhibition Reviews, Research for River Project (White)

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Photos by myself

“Dirk Braeckman was invited to the 57th Biennale di Venezia, where he showed a selection of monumental works in the Belgian pavilion. His black-and-white photographs convey a sense of stillness, and combine intimacy and distance to create a private, secluded world whose meaning remains undefined. For BOZAR, Braeckman adapts the project to the architecture of Victor Horta. From Venice to Brussels, from one iconic interbellum building to another.

In parallel, the M-Museum Leuven presents a complementary exhibition on Dirk Braeckman from 02/02 to 29/04/2018. The starting point of this double project was the exhibition of Dirk Braeckman at the Belgian Pavilion during the Venice Biennale 2017.” –https://www.bozar.be/en/activities/128185-dirk-braeckman

Whilst in Brussels this Spring break I came across an exhibition of work by Dirk Braeckman. I had not heard of him before, and after seeing this exhibition I can say I am definitely a fan of his work.

the photos I took don’t really do the works justice- they were huge, and despite being under or over exposed had a lot of detail that could be seen close up. His work had a voyeuristic feel, like peering in and getting glimpses of a strangers life, and the subjects felt both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, like a distortion of every day life and reality. Whilst at the exhibition I wrote in my notebook:
“haunting, each image is both familiar and unfamiliar, a distortion of reality and the everyday”
“the sea prints are calming and serene”
“The women, with their obscured bodies, seem like ghosts, not wholly present, but a faint memory”
and “The mundane shifts, becoming almost unrecognisable to the viewer”

I often find myself drawn to works that take everyday subject matter and transform them, or shows them from a different perspective, and I felt that connection to his work and my own, even though the mediums are different.