Gabrielle: Life’s a Bit Shit (2017) – Install #2

Throughout history, wallpaper has generally been thought of as background rather than foreground – it is the ephemeral, decorative element to a room. For most of history, wallpaper has been disregarded as an art form as wallpaper is my its very nature often imitation, designed to look like something else – tapestry, velvet, chintz, silk drapery, linen, wood, masonry, a mural. Once hailed as opulent and fashionable, with the invention of machine printing in the 19th century, a change in attitude put wallpaper within the reach of the majority and this become commonplace. Unlike other elements of the home, such as furniture, wallpaper is not passed on from generation to generation – as time passes it is covered, hidden.

Following on from ‘Shelf, Light, Fly’, I chose to use wallpaper because of its inherent associations with domestic life.  Putting this new, digital wallpaper at the forefront, I felt it was appropriate to display a single sheet to differentiate from the home environment and to contextualise this piece as art. In contrast to Victorian wallpaper which was often created from specially grown flower specimens, my wallpaper pattern was constructed from artificial flowers, mass produced in China. Scanning these in high-resolution, I created a pattern which bears reference to that of a traditional, modest design.

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Unedited carnation scan
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Arrangement one
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Arrangement two
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Final wallpaper design for ‘Life’s a Bit Shit’

I had always intended to offset the order of the wallpaper with natural matter in a chaotic fashion, to suggest the real world isn’t that ideal. In earlier sketches, this was intended to be using flowers although, in relation to the flowers themselves – and indeed my practice – butterfly specimens seemed most appropriate.

Sketches
Early sketches for ‘Life’s a Bit Shit’

Obvious comparisons can be seen between my work and that of Damien Hirst, but actually, I think this is far too much of an easy comparison to make. Hirst’s first Kaleidoscope painting was created in 2001, inspired by a Victorian tea tray – arranged with precision, his pieces are made by arranging thousands of different coloured butterfly wings in intricate geometric patterns.

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It’s a Wonderful World, Damien Hirst
2001
1829 x 1829 mm | 72 x 72 in
Butterflies and household gloss on canvas

Unlike Hirst, my butterflies are chaotic and disorganised, grouped in a random pattern as if they have landed there. At first glance, it is as if they are attracted to the nectar of the flowers and have settled to feed – but  this is not the case, because Life’s a bit shit.

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Life’s a Bit Shit, 2017 (install shot). Digital printed wallpaper, butterflies, pins.

 

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Hanna: 50/50 Medium

For my first install I attempted to visualise my feelings and relationship towards my body through the medium of bread dough. This idea was the result of a dream I had had where I felt like I was being squeezed and crushed which I later googled to find it meant a feeling of pressure to make an important decision. I thought this was an interesting narrative to represent my feelings about exploring my gender identity and that kneading dough would be a suitable way to visualise a squeezing/crushing feeling. As I kneaded, I thought of the dough as representing my body which allowed me to further explore my feelings and treatment of my body. Initially I planned to film it but I felt that a performance would be more engaging and would better represent the multi-sensory experience of kneading dough.


I also found some mass-produced bread that reflected my own mixed Japanese-British heritage and body size: Kingsmill 50/50 Medium, which I placed the bread dough inside once I finished kneading. This was a way to push against the dominance of thin white bodies in the representation of androgyny and to represent my racialised, more curvy body in this category of gender of presentation. I also wished to comment on how a narrative of “celebrating diversity and difference” is used by big companies to co-opt once subversive expressions of identity into a capitalist agenda through my use of Kingsmill packaging.

I learnt that performance art is a good medium for me as my work essentially revolves around self-representation, and that both increasing the amount of dough and the contact it has with my body would make for a more immersive and visually powerful experience.

 

Gabrielle: Shelf, Light, Fly (2017) Install #1

Fighting against the buzzing noise, the fly remains still, entranced by the light – the buzzing only echoing its former life. In viewing ‘Shelf, Light, Fly’ perhaps the fly buzzing lures you to look closer, closer still, so close that your retinas become impaired for a short period of time through what is technically known as ‘flash bleaching’.

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Shelf, Light, Fly (2017). White shelf, pendant light (off), dead fly and buzzing noise on loop.
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Shelf, Light, Fly (Light on)

Light in its various guises is a common motif found in art. Two examples of contemporary uses of the lightbulb that have influenced my work include Martin Creeds’ controversial Turner Prize-winning piece, no. 227, and ‘The Red Ceiling’ by William Eggleston. While these are contemporary examples, it is true to say that there has been a preoccupation with light that has been dominant in Western Art since ancient times. Light too is intrinsic to the photography – with the word ‘photography’ created from the Greek “phos” (light) and “graphé” (drawing); photography is “drawing with light” in its most literal translation. Light is also an important motif in the consideration of death, as it so commonly used to represent life itself. Be it from the electricity flowing through the wires, or the warmth emitted from the bulb; when the light is on in my piece, there is life.

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‘The Red Ceiling’, William Eggleston.

 

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‘no. 227’, Martin Creed

It was important for this piece to include domestically available items – a light that we may find in our house, a shelf; items so familiar yet so often overlooked. Through the placement (on the bottom of a shelf, hung at 190cm), the functionality of these everyday items is brought further into question – why does this shelf hold nothing on top but on the bottom instead? What is a light fitting with no switch? The light in this piece is intrusive – there is no shield in the form of a lampshade, nor is the fixture adorned with a decorative bulb. This bulb is bare, brightly shining from the plastic housing it is encased within. With no off switch, there is no way to end this life, until the end of the bulb lifespan – approx. 15,000 hours later.  Is this art? Duchamp himself wrote, when confronted with the question on whether a ‘readymade’ is art: “[it] is a very difficult point, because art first has to be defined … We have tried, everyone has tried, and every century there is a new definition of art.” Perhaps it is enough to enjoy ‘Shelf, Light, Fly’ for what it is in the grand scheme of things – profoundly annoying.

 

Gabrielle Brooks