Energising objects investigation – 1

Notes: A second series of investigations (see also Glossary). The goal – Energize objects by putting them into un-balance / motion. There is a writing element to this too, but I’m not ready to share it (yet?).

Glossary investigation – Unballast

Unbalance: Unballast

1586 B. Young The Civile Conversation of M Stephen Guazzo “He..without anie more words unballanced the ship.”

  • 1st paycheque – an Antler suitcase
  • £75 ticket – no place as a £10 Pom
  • 6 weeks – the rocking ship (sick until Gibraltar)
  • 2 years – stretched to a lifetime
  • Notes:The first attempt in an intended series. An investigation of un-balance – an infinite series of adjustments.

    Structure based on lists – the Glossary as a list of words; text response in a list. Making and recording of un-balanced in action.

    Initial text from Oxford English Dictionary – a translation by Bartholomew Young. The boat form was made in a workshop with Mary Hettmansperger (17-Sep-2018). Printed words in ballast net from Stephano Guazzo, La civil conversatione:La civil conversatione: divisa en quattro libri on books.google.com.au. Response list based on my mother’s memories of coming to Australia. On the learning curve in use of technology.

    Experimentation: unbalanced – 3

    At the beginning of the year (3-Jan-2019) I introduced an experimentation brief to get beyond words on unbalance (etc!), to research and actually do something:

    * explore what “unbalance” (etc) can look like
    * illustrate off-balance most days and document for 30 days.

    That post showed results for days 1 to 9.
    14-Jan-2019 had days up to 16.

    Research on other artists’ works were seen:
    Additional images are pinned at https://www.pinterest.com.au/fibresofbeing/unbalance/

    I won’t get to the intended 30 days, but have a few scattered days as yet unrecorded.

    Day 17
    In the Anatomy for Life Drawing class (16-Feb-2019), David Briggs introduced a few useful phone apps.

    Essential Skeleton and Essential Anatomy seem to be aimed at students of general anatomy. They let you explore a highly-detailed anatomical model, panning around, zooming in, highlighting specific areas… The anatomy version allows you to show layers of different systems – arteries, nerves, muscles etc.

    Skelly is a posable art model. You can bend and twist the model, select the lighting source, with a choice of skeleton or robo (simplified forms) views. A first attempt at posing:

    Skelly output

    and using some distortion filters in gimp to add more movement:

    Day 18
    More Skelly.

    Day 19
    The last couple of months have been difficult – on so many different fronts that it seemed no aspect of life wasn’t difficult. Does that make it a great time or a dreadful time to be thinking about un-balance?

    A thought of juggling all those stessors… then add a unicycle… while drowning… and the sharks moving in. Somewhere in that bellringing appeared, holding a bell at the point of balance. I captured it all in small and quick sketches.

    This slideshow requires JavaScript.

    How does juggling on a unicycle actually look?

    Then add in the water, and uncaught balls bouncing away.

    Augmented photo

    I wanted to get the essence of those forms, and traced again and again.

    This slideshow requires JavaScript.

    A few other oddments:
    Dr Christopher Allen giving a lecture on Greek figure sculpture at AGNSW – balance / equilibrium absolutely central in all sculpture. I think this was in the context of the purely practical – a sculpture can’t (shouldn’t?) fall over.

    Destination Sydney: Re-imagined at Mosman Art Gallery (and other venues)

    Senegal Friend (1974)
    Michael Johnson

    Look at that orange muscling the yellow.

    The gallery put on an event Reflections on my Father: Anna Johnson & Andrew Klippel in conversation with Annette Larkin. Lots of interest and to think about, with a couple of points possibly relevant here.
    Being an artist: Take a position. Investigate that.
    Matthew Johnson’s work: A tension between geometric rigidity and gestural freedom.

    Hélène Cixous: reading some of her work in preparation for the Creative Research program. Phrases stick. “immobilized in the trembling equilibrium of a deadlock.” “Don’t move, you might fall.” “… a material upheaval when every structure is for a moment thrown off balance and an ephemeral wildness sweeps order away…” “She doesn’t ‘speak’, she throws her trembling body forward, she lets go of herself, she flies…” “… infinitely dynamized by an incessant process of exchange from one subject to another.” I seem to be cherry picking and quoting out of context (all the above from The Laugh of the Medusa”). But it feels relevant.

    Gillian Lowndes

    Gillian Lowndes
    Cup on Base
    © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

    The balance investigation really began three years ago in an earlier workshop with Ruth Hadlow (26-Feb-2016). I’ve been revisiting some of Gillian Lowndes work on-line and in a monograph by Amanda Fielding. An image from that is below.

    Collage with cup (1986)
    Gillian Lowndes

    I tried a very quick collage in my workbook, but felt constrained by the space I’d given myself and the scale of the papers I chose (An aside: based on their texture and colour – some natural dyeing done with Claire 4-Apr-2015 and watercolour experiments from a class with Brenda Tye at AGNSW, unblogged but I think 2014. I love the way resonance and a sense of connection and familiarity builds up with materials.)

    So what’s next
    I may have made a few traps for myself.

    The intention is to be clear about the start point and see where it takes me, but my start point is getting more and more muddled.

    I want to work intuitively, not overthink, perhaps learn to trust myself, but based on the collage above among other things, it could be better to take just a moment to collect myself – try to improve, not just blindly repeat.

    * is it the teetering moment, the collapse, the boundary between? Create a pile each day, (try to) push it over. Record. Then think about it.
    * Try to notice the feeling in myself or something in the environment that fits in the scope of the exploration (say a crane swinging above workers; or mine memory). Notice, record, reflect.
    * I’ve experimented with a couple of writing exercises, trying to teeter and collapse.

    I’m going to use this in my initial project proposal, and assume that Ruth’s input (and that of the group) will entirely change it 🙂

    Workshop: David Briggs – Anatomy for Life Drawing

    The first large chunk of this post was drafted a month ago, before all sorts of events in family and work. It feels distant and strange now, as I try to pick up and regroup. Still, no point throwing things away, so my chatty intro remains…

    This week-long class was part of summer school at the National Art School. It was absorbing – both the focus on the work which was intense, and also soaking up every skerrick, every shred of strength of mind and body. At the end of each day I knew I had learnt, but pretty much all I felt was exhausted.

    A little scene-setting. NAS is housed in what was once the Darlinghurst Goal, a complex of buildings built in the 1800s using huge blocks of sandstone cut using convict labour. Two years ago I went to the second week of summer school, attempting Welded Sculptures with Paul Hopmeier (22-Jan-2017). Week 2 was small and quiet then. The welding area was in a newish block, tucked into a corner. I went back and forward, focused on the class, not the place.

    NAS ex-chapel

    The drawing class was in the centre of the complex, in the old goal chapel. It’s a barrel-shaped building, with the drawing studio a large room taking up the top two thirds.

    There were lunchtime talks in the Cell Block theatre, once the women’s wing of the goal. Another talk and exhibition was in the NAS Gallery, the old “A” wing completed in 1841. I borrowed from the library, formerly I believe the goal hospital.

    With all that, by my calculations the site has been used for education, particularly art education, for longer than as a prison. Although the site was pegged out in 1821, delays in work meant the first prisoners were marched in in 1841. Over time other goals were built, prisoners moved, the goal closed in 1914 and the site became an internment camp during World War I. So about 80 years confining people. In 1921 the buildings were converted into the East Sydney Technical College, and in 1922 the Department of Art was moved in. The specifics of institution and courses have changed over time, but it’s getting close to 100 years of expanding and enriching people.

    My view of the world

    While conscious of a sense of history and of all the other activities of summer school. my major focus for the week was this little slice of the world. We moved around a bit, but basically this was it.

    chapel ceiling

    The roof, and ceiling, of the studio is a cone ending in a cupola and the many high windows create an even light, but unfortunately are fixed closed reducing air flow.

    The even light would have been a problem if wanting to explore shadows and shading in our drawings. We didn’t. We focused on the first minute, then two minutes, of a drawing. Get the overall shape, claim the space on your page. Look to get particular information – a flat shape, alignments, proportion, line of action. Use an alternate three dimensional view – a series of masses, related, overlapping. Find lines; rehearse; keep light; adjust. Research the shape. Explain as an arrangement of the masses of the body – head, ribcage, pelvis.

    Over the week David gradually introduced more signposts to help us. Using a skeleton David showed the structure of the body, then pointed to the indications of those bones on the body of the live model. The thoracic arch was an early, easy example. Use those signposts to explain, to check, to adjust, your drawing. For instance the position of heel bone and ankle bone gives you more information about the direction of the leg, where weight is held.

    By the end of the week I had over 150 different full body poses sketched to varying levels of detail, plus sketches of hands, feet, eyes, face… All were graphite, lightly drawn on white cartridge paper. Hard to photograph and quite boring. While trying to improve contrast I got some wilder results. Here are a few pages.

    One afternoon we had two models. The main purpose was to let us break into two groups and get close for some detail drawings, but we also had a few poses with the two working together. So much fun!

    Click for a larger view

    The final image above shows three attempts at a single pose. On the far left, my very stiff and awkward first attempt. To its right, David’s demonstration – so much more movement and grace! Next my second attempt, which shows some improvement and scope for so much more. The figure on the right doesn’t seem impressed.

    I certainly improved over the week. The big thing would be regular practice to consolidate and improve further, but I can’t see a way to fit that in at the moment. Working from a photo in a book or on the internet isn’t the same. There’s the size in the eyes, but I think binocular vision – a single three dimensional image – is critical.

    Vale “Nancy”

    Betty Nolan 6 December 1923 – 24 January 2019

    My mother-in-law Betty recently died. Betty was a quiet and unassuming woman who described herself as a “home body”. Her focus was always her family, pets and home. Betty’s taste was simple, elegant, quiet. She never liked a fuss, a crowd, or to be the centre of attention.

    Growing up in the depression years in a working class inner-city suburb of Sydney, Betty won educational scholarships but had to leave school early to earn her living. Learning advanced secretarial skills and with a gift for organisation, Betty worked in a series of small business around the city. She would replace chaos with order and efficiency, then move on to the next challenge.

    The Grace Hotel
    Photo: Edward Howard

    During World War II Betty was assigned to work in the Sydney headquarters of the U.S. armed forces. It was there in the Grace Building in late 1945 that Betty met her future husband, visiting as a Lieutenant in the Australian Army. It was five years before they could marry, Ken earning a medical degree during that time, Betty continuing to work. Ken died in 1971 aged 49, a result in part of illness related to his war service and of a punishing schedule as a GP. Their two boys were just 12 and 14.

    Betty was a welcoming, kind and thoughtful mother-in-law to me. She always offered help. She never interfered. Betty was a loving and much loved nana to my two boys.

    Entirely by chance, on her last day both Betty’s sons visited her in the nursing home where she had lived for almost nine years. Betty was happy, lucid, interested and involved in the conversation. Just an hour or two after the boys left Betty was found, apparently having drifted off in a nap. Betty endured some hard times over recent years, always with grace, humility and concern for others. Her death in this way seemed like a gift, everything that she would have wished for.

    Last week in what is now the Grace Hotel we had a quiet memorial gathering – Betty’s two sons, her two grandsons, me and my mother. We shared stories about the life of this loving, resilient, generous woman. We ate strawberries with cream and icing sugar (a favourite my boys remembered). There were white daises, there was laughter, and there were a few tears shed when we played “Danny Boy”.

    It may seem strange to introduce this personal note in a blog focused on art and making. In fact, under the pseudonym “Nancy”, Betty has appeared more times in this blog than any other individual. It’s not a good story. The last decade of Betty’s life was not of her choosing, and I have been angry about her situation for so long now.

    Betty (“Nancy”)

    This is one view of Betty, ink pen and wash, based on an old photo, in a 2012 sketchbook. The photo was taken at a happy time in her life, and in it she looks beautiful. You can see a copy of the photo at the top of this post, at Betty’s memorial gathering.

    A month later I did a pencil sketch while visiting her (the face on the left). A very ordinary drawing of a woman resigned to her fate.

    My final project for the OCA Textiles 1: A Creative Approach course was “Aged Care”. My view of Betty’s situation:
    Trapped and in pain, bound by merciless platitudes and good intentions.

    There was a lot of material leading to that. Below I’ve copied in the set of links to the process.

    Part five: A piece of your own

    Quick links to theme work prior to Part five:

    Project 10: A design project

    Sketchbook during time period of Part Five: Sketchbook 6

    It’s six years since that project was done. I continued to visit each Sunday afternoon, bringing little stories of the doings and foibles of myself, family and friends. Betty would laugh at the little sillinesses I recounted, and remember snippets long after I forgot. We’d talk about TV shows, the weather, sometimes current affairs. I learnt never to ask how she was, never to wish her happy birthday, never to stay when her supper came because she didn’t want me to see her struggling to eat (no solids – her dentures were too painful to use). The worst hour of my week gradually got shorter as her strength failed, or would be abandoned if there was another bout of gastro. Betty didn’t want to show her pain. I looked forward to her release for her sake, and I was so happy at the gift of her final day. I just didn’t anticipate the void of her loss in my own life.

    Experimentation: unbalanced – 2

    Einstein wrote “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” (well, according to one website the original was in a letter in German, and there are a few different translations around)

    It fits with what I saw of gymnasts recovering balance (3-Jan-2019). Maybe I could fluff it into some “deep and meaningful” statement, but let’s not.

    Back to the 30 day challenge. What does unbalanced/precarious/… look like?

    Day 10
    A classic approach, with basic geometric shapes and primary colours. Can I fool the eye / expectation by mixing materials to play against size | weight expectations?

    Day 10

    The dark blue was a poor choice for the small but heavy round fishing weight. I didn’t anticipate the impact of the line of the cardboard (used to block the distracting background). It adds to the feeling that the right side is sloped down, heavier.

    Day 10 – in motion

    It was actually really difficult to get this to balance long enough to take a photo, even with some tactical use of bluetac. An upset in motion provides a more dynamic photo.

    Workbook day 10

    I also tried a couple of drawings to see if I could get something more interesting to happen. Not convincing.

    Day 11
    This version was easier to photograph, as it was actually quite stable.

    Day 11

    A slight change in the cropping of the photo makes it a little more dynamic.

    Re-cropped photo

    The blue disc is no longer centered, reducing the sense of balance, plus the full shadow seems to be reaching up and almost pulling the tip down.

    Day 12

    Day 12

    More balancing of simple shapes. The large egg, possibly fragile (actually rubbery) and the small disc. Yawn.


    This was another difficult one to photograph, as it wasn’t very balanced. The failure is more interesting.

    On reflection I realised my theme is meant to be un-balanced. The last few days were way too literal and way too static.

    Day 13
    Reading about Yayoi Kusama in Part Object Part Sculpture. A couple of snippets: “One is lost in a sea of apperceptions, as haptic and optic no longer seem demonstrably different from each other.” “… allows one, how counter-intuitively, to lose one’s boundaries …”.

    This had me thinking about the loss of balance as one disperses in the seriality and repetition of the environments created. Which led to consideration of precipice/unbalanced/danger as a loss of orientation. Which led to Tony Tuckson, the sublime, Rothko – work which fills the vision, which I sway in front of. The shimmering movement. Leading to the shimmers and distortions and teasing gaps in the vision before a migraine. Which does actually circle round to danger and loss of balance.

    Day 9

    Having got this far, I noticed the reflections on the little corrugated piece on an earlier experiment. With movement or lighting changes or a bit of breeze that could give a shimmer.

    Kitchen foil, folded and corrugated

    Some kitchen foil, folded to fit through the little corrugating press.

    It was then carefully unfolded. The result was firmer when forming a new shape (those clever corrugations!). The changes in direction caused by the different folds create points of interest.

    Unfolded. Corrugation tool in background

    Tried some more complex pre-folding, to get more changes of direction.

    Just pressed, then opened

    Day 8’s experiment was used as a stand.

    Potential for lighting effects.

    The photo looks rather static. Close cropping doesn’t help. With some extra shimmer from a breeze and some thoughtful, maybe flickering lighting, this has potential.

    Could using it in a mobile increase the flickering I was thinking of? I made some more pieces of corrugated foil and put them on an early mobile conveniently hanging nearby (see 26-Dec-2017). A lazy photo gives a blurred indication of the result.

    Sorry about the blur!

    Plus: The foil is light and the large surface area collects any air movement going. This mobile is constantly on the move.
    Con: Mobiles are all about balance, not un-balance. This version floats gently in space.
    Possibilities: More complexity. A wider space, more pieces flashing and flickering past each other. Random puffs of air from the ceiling, creating a bit more vertical as well as rotational movement. Complementary (strobe?) lighting. Add colour to try to get reflections.
    Also: Take a look at stabiles. My attempt 9-Sep-2017 has a gawky, ungainly, risky looking movement to it.

    Slight variation:

    Left side corrugated twice

    The foil on the left above went through the corrugation process twice, unfolded and refolded between times. The surface is a bit less regular, the reflections broken up a bit. A small change, but could be a nice refinement.

    Day 14
    Thinking about loss of balance, I attempted to give an idea of a spinning top losing speed and balance over time. The sequence or passage of time is indicated by scale and intensity of colour.

    Day 14 – first version on the left; with addition of “shadows” on the right

    The “shadows” added later provide a lot of information to the eye. The whole thing doesn’t quite make sense, there isn’t enough variation and plausible change, but somehow I accept it.

    Day 15
    A reo-wire figure was quickly put together, with a total disregard for actual body proportions. It allowed some quick and easy posing with fishing line and blu-tac.

    There’s a lot of cricket on TV at the moment, hence a “catch” as the first pose.

    Day 15

    I like that the shapes formed aren’t necessarily physically possible with muscles, tendons, etc. I’m definitely interested in the lines and proportions of the human body, suggested but incomplete or not quite right. Our minds put a lot of work into interpretation as something well known.

    Day 16
    An actual photo of an amazing catch was the basis for this outline.


    Given foreshortening the proportions seem a little out. Note again the impact of shadow, assisting interpretation.

    “Real” proportions

    This wireframe plan was based on a photo, still and full frontal, so at least in theory should be close to “real” proportions. I wonder how much variation there is in practice.

    This week I’m going to summer school, Anatomy for Life Drawing. Hoping it will provide lots of relevant inspiration.

    Research: Unbalanced, Precarious

    3-Jan-2019 presented my brief-to-self exploring the pivot / balance point / precipice / knife edge / danger / unbalance idea. I wanted to actively explore what “unbalance” (etc) can look like, and showed the first nine days of experimentation.

    In tandem with this I’ve done some more concentrated research:
    * a couple of hours at AGNSW, searching for relevant examples;
    * some internet searching;
    * a review of this blog to find work that has caught my eye in the past.

    Art Gallery of NSW
    At first it seemed surprisingly difficult to find examples that fit the investigation. But of course most artists want to keep your eyes on the work. Even if dynamic, with lots of movements, diagonals, etc, paintings generally resolve with some form of balance.

    Matthew Smith
    Jugs against vermillion background

    I’ve seen this before. For example Matthew Smith’s work Jugs against vermillion background. 31-Jan-2014 I wrote “The most surprising thing in viewing this picture is the balance. There is so much information and action on the right, and on the left… I’m not sure how well it shows in the photograph, but that red on the right is so intense, so solid, while the red on the right hand side is just a bit darker, not quite so saturated – and it works.” All the action is on the right, there’s even half a body sliding diagonally down off the frame, but my eye doesn’t go with it. The space and the intense colour on the left provides balance.

    Charles Meere
    Atalanta’s eclipse

    In the painting by Meere above, the two racing figures are unbalanced. The painting as a whole is dead steady.

    Robert Klippel
    No 102 Metal construction (1961)

    Robert Klippel
    Left: No 48 Entities suspended from a detector (1948)
    Right: No 35 Madame Sophie Sesostoris (1947-48)

    Last post I showed some small sculptures by Robert Klippel. Those were from 1995. A much larger metal construction made in 1961 is a complex and fascinating form, with lots of unexpected projections and unlikely balance in the detail, but overall staying steady and firmly in place.

    The earlier suspended entities has a very sturdy upright, well able to support the small elements hanging from it.

    William Kentridge
    Bird catching (2006)

    This print by Willian Kentridge, aquatint and drypoint on paper, is more relevant. The figure is definitely falling, one foot not even visible, the other foot outside the internal frame, and although it seems likely the body will fall within the space of the print it doesn’t look like anything can stop the tumble.

    I took a couple more photos of different things, but on review they’re not convincing.

    Internet search
    This was more successful, especially when I changed the significant search term from “unbalanced” to “precarious”. Results have been collected on a new pinterest board – https://www.pinterest.com.au/fibresofbeing/unbalance/

    Blog review
    A scan through photos previously shown on this blog produced some more examples.

    MoMA at NGV 15-Sep-2018

    Umberto Boccioni
    Unique Forms of Continuity in Space
    1913 (cast 1931)

    Seeing the work itself, appreciating the scale, was important. This work has movement, but not the sense of potential loss of control. It is striding confidently.

    Aleksandr Rodchenko
    Non-Objective Painting

    I found movement and depth in Rodchenko’s work, but I wouldn’t say it’s in imminent danger.

    National Gallery of Victoria

    François-Raoul Larche
    Loïe Fuller, the dancer
    c. 1900

    This lamp base has movement, with the additional sense that it wouldn’t be possible to hold the pose for any length of time. In a beautiful and elegant way, it is unbalanced. And I note here a resistance in myself – elegance, the controlled movement, lessens the sense of the precarious.

    13 Rooms exhibition – 13-Apr-2013

    Coexisting Clark and Beaumont

    Nicole Beaumont and Sarah Clark occupied a plinth together – eight hours a day for the eleven days of the exhibition. A sequence of movement for one to stand up seemed particularly perilous.

    In Just a Blink of an Eye
    Xu Zhen

    Xu Zhen’s work is a suspended moment. Entirely beyond precarious, yet motionless.

    Art History annotation 23-May-2014

    The Townley Discobolus
    One of several Roman copies made of a lost bronze original made in the 5th century BC by the sculptor Myron.
    © The Trustees of the British Museum

    The moment before an explosive release of energy, however I found the work strangely static.

    Paul Landowski
    David combattant
    bronze, cire perdu (lost wax)

    I showed for comparison a David actually in action here in Sydney. The figure is focused, committed. Action regardless of consequences.

    Matt Bromhead Longline exhibition at pompom 22-Jul-2018

    Matt Bromhead

    Seeing Matt’s work and taking a workshop with him (10-Jul-2018) are a major drivers of this exploration project.

    ARTEXPRESS 2018 exhibition 18-Feb-2018

    How Irrigating
    Hannah Raeside

    There are better photos on the AGNSW website – https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/insideartexpress/2018/hannah_raeside/. Not quite what I’m looking for, but some very interesting elements – both for balance, and for use of (I’m guessing) concrete.

    Sculpture at Scenic World 2016 exhibition 1-May-2016

    Elyssa Sykes-Smith

    This suspended work by Elyssa Sykes-Smith has bodies reaching, stretching, impossibly.

    Her work in Sculpture by the Sea 2013 (3-Nov-2013) shows what appear at first glance more static figures. Quickly the strain of the figures, the weight of stone, give a sense of impending doom.

    a shared weight
    Elyssa Sykes-Smith

    Sculpture by the Sea 2016 6-Nov-2016

    Johannes Pannekoek
    Change ahead

    Is this unbalanced or precarious? I suppose the answer is “yes”, but it is so massive it seems stable. There’s also that sense of elegance in the movement, a confidence that seems to dilute what I’m seeking.

    Tom Bass Annual Studio Exhibition 2-Oct-2016

    Margo Hoekstra

    Centered, but precarious.

    Lisa Reidy

    This doesn’t really fit my current brief, yet feels somehow relevant. An echo of Louise Bourgeois’s Personages? Arms outstretched, striving for balance?

    20th Biennale of Sydney 3-Apr-2016

    Nina Beier
    Installation view

    Another “maybe” example. Clearly there is something clever done to suspend the mugs, but the end impression isn’t one of danger or movement.

    Art History research – Gillian Lowndes 26-Feb-2016

    Gillian Lowndes
    Cup on Base
    © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

    Another seminal work for me. So exciting.

    The mug is broken. There has already been a collapse, and another is moments away.

    MMT research at AGNSW 30-Jan-2016

    Fiona Hall Slash and Burn

    Definitely dangerous. Menacing.

    Art History assignment 9-Dec-2013

    Dancer looking at the sole of her right foot
    Edgar Degas
    bronze, cire perdu (lost wax) 1900-1910 cast 1919-1921

    Macquarie University Sculpture Garden 26-Jun-2016

    Errol B Davis


    Calendar of Posts

    March 2019
    M T W T F S S
    « Feb    

    Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.