‘The Desire to Record’

Monday, 14th November – 9:00am Session

After being introduced to the brief we looked at the different ways to record information.

We discussed semiotics, which is the study of signs and symbols, and their use and interpretation. An example of this from the lecture is:

Icon – A graphic illustration of a tap with steam rising from it
Index – Actual steam coming from a hot tap
Symbol – Red and Blue Taps

An icon can be an illustration or depiction of an item or event, the index is the actual item of event that the icon is related to, and the symbol is the symbolic way in which we visually communicate the item or event. Semiotics is the study of how signs and symbols create visual meaning.

Semiotics are common in today’s society in terms of road signage, written language, visual triggers and much more. For example, even those who don’t drive are aware of the meanings of the different colours of traffic light, as we are unconsciously taught this from a young age. The different colours share meaning with many other signs and symbols, such as red meaning ‘stop’, danger or warning, which is what leads us to associate this colour generally with stopping, heeding caution or upcoming danger.

How else can we record?

There are many other ways to record information, aside from signs and symbols. For example it is possible to create a drawing, illustration or depiction from a wide array of different materials.

Artist Vik Muniz created portraits of famous divas from a selection of 10 million diamonds. He portrayed famous women such as Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, immortalising then within a beautiful and priceless medium.

vik-test(Image source: http://www.theddiary.com/2014/03/)

These depictions use the common connection between wealth and status that imply that an inside worth it determined by an outside worth. These portraits have a more literal meaning that a painting or photograph of these women would, as the medium reflects on the concept behind them. Muniz has created a contrast between the white diamonds and the black background, creating monotonous pieces that are show realistic portraits.

Muniz has created a wide variety of portraits and depictions using various mediums such as wire, chocolate, diamonds, coal and string amongst other things. To get a better grasp on how and why he creates in such a way I watched a Ted Talk in which Muniz talks the audience through his creative process.

Muniz starts off his talk by saying that “Creativity is how we cope with creation. While creation sometimes seems a bit un-graspable, or even pointless, creativity is always meaningful. See, for instance, in this picture. You know, creation is what put that dog in that picture, and creativity is what makes us see a chicken on his hindquarters.” (Muniz and TED Talks, 2007)

Screen Shot 2016-12-29 at 15.45.58.png

This particular comparison of how creation and creativity link together is very interesting as it shows me as an artist that there is a difference between what has been created in this world and how we choose to see it.

Muniz continues to say “You know, I was born in Brazil and grew up in the ’70s under a climate of political distress, and I was forced to learn to communicate in a very specific way — in a sort of a semiotic black market. You couldn’t really say what you wanted to say; you had to invent ways of doing it.” (Muniz and TED Talks, 2007)

Muniz speaks of how he has come to use medium as a symbol of meaning within a climate that did not allow particular types of communication due to the ‘political distress’. This gives Muniz’s work context in terms of why he has chosen not to photograph his images but instead create them from mediums that convey a subtler meaning.

In particular Muniz decided to use mediums such as wire and string, to create a three point perspective. The final creations were interpreted at first glance as an illustration, at second glance a object in time and at third glance they creations were seen as a narrative of a situation. By creating work like this the audience were led to question the medium, asking themselves why is this relevant? Why does the medium matter? What is it trying to convey that cannot be written in words, or shown in an obvious manner? This level of questioning is what Muniz wanted to create amongst his audience, as he needed them to read between the lines and see the true message within the work.

After brief experimentation with mediums such as string and wire Muniz went to Saint Kitts and met a group of children who worked in the sugar plantation. He took photographs of them after spending some time with them, and after returning home he proceeded to make portraits of these children from the very medium they worked hard to create – sugar. By manipulating white sugar over black paper Muniz was able to create a stark contrast that produced these images. The images were titled with the name of the child and one thing Muniz had learned about them, for example this image is called ‘Valentina – the Fastest’.


(Image source: http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/281927)

In the case of this series of artwork the work itself would be far less engaging if Muniz had displayed only the image he had photographed of the children, by recreating them out of a relevant and commentary medium the piece conveys more than a simple representation of  a person – it shows an element of the person that could not have been included if the medium were different. This in particular is inspiring to me as it is one of the first bodies of work that I have seen that really communicate to me how important medium can be in terms of revealing facts about the subject without words or visual inclusion.

In further experimentation Muni went on to use chocolate as a medium, he described it as something that ‘…brings to mind ideas that go from scatology to romance’, and by using that he was able to ‘interfere with the themes’ of the work. Due to the fact that chocolate can stimulate such a variety of responses, as Muniz said, from the similarity to excrement to the romance of chocolate gifts, as well as the sweetness of innocence or the appetising nature of the food itself, the creations can read many different ways to how the original image may have read.

Further from this Muniz went on to create images from the dust gathered at the Whitney museum, a medium Muniz chose due to its non-specificity to recreate art works from the Whitney museum that were focused on specificity. By using this juxtaposition Muniz was able to recreate pieces from the museum from the discarded skin cells of the visitors to the museum – essentially recreating work based on the people that had originally come to see the same works.

Muniz has used a wide range of mediums in his work, experimenting with them all in terms of how they relate to the subject they are displaying. This is very important lesson to me in terms of medium as up until this point I wasn’t as educated on just how closely a medium could link to its subject, and reveal elements of the image that the image itself as a photograph is not able to reveal. As this module is based on creating a series of images using a non lens based medium, the idea of using different mediums to convey an underlying message is very important.

I am particularly inspired by how Muniz links the content of the original image to the mediums used to create them, and I will be experimenting throughout the module on using different mediums to convey particular meanings. It is interesting to think of some of Muniz’s works as sculptures rather than photographs, in their original form at least, as this is a non lens based medium that is inspired by photographs and their content and meaning.

Another artist we discussed during this presentation was Jessica Mallock, born in Dublin in 1963, she creates work that explores the simultaneous nature of a photograph’s framing and it’s context. She has created works such as C-Type photograph and plinth (worktop) (2009) and Crumpled C-Type photograph and plinth (J Cloth) (2009).


C-Type photograph and plinth (worktop) (2009)
(Image source: http://www.sproxtonphotographyaward.org/winners/jessica-mallock/)


Crumpled C-Type photograph and plinth (J Cloth) (2009)
(Image source: http://www.sproxtonphotographyaward.org/winners/jessica-mallock/)

Both of these works display physical objects in the form of two dimensional photographs. By displaying them in an unconventional way for a photograph to be displayed – on a plinth, Mallock changes the way the object is interpreted, as the object no longer seems to be a photograph but seems to be the object itself. In the instances of these two works the medium has an effect on how the works are interpreted, as the audience view the works less as photographs and more as the physical objects that have been photographed.

Mallock has achieved an element of visual engagement between the audience and her works, using photography as a material instead of a medium to capture an image.

What am I taking from this presentation?

From looking at these artists among others I feel that I have learned more about how medium can affect the portrayed meaning behind the work, and I feel that this is greatly beneficial to me in terms of creating a non lens based body of work with an underlying meaning.

From here I will be researching more into the range of non lens based mediums, what and how they can convey a meaning as well as the different levels of engagement they can create between the audience and the work itself.

I feel that I should experiment with a range of mediums once I establish the theme of my work, as when I have a theme I will be able to explore how different mediums can portray the theme and what each mediums commentary on the concept and subject can be.

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