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Shibusa: An Artist's Perspective
Chapter 4: Low tech and high tech: the tail should not wag the dog
by Pip Dickens
Extract (with kind permission of University of Huddersfield Press)
|The Cherry Tree (In Memoriam 2011), 152.5 x 152.5 cm, oil on canvas, Pip Dickens||.|
The issue of exploiting computer technology is really a question of how it is exploited and to what ends, for there are skills in using technology (as indeed with gaining expertise in anything). Richard Sennett states in a discussion with Grayson Perry and Laurie Taylor (Thinking Allowed, BBC Radio 4) that we need to be careful about assessing what skills stand for:
What tends to happened in Britain is that
the word ‘skills’ stands for procedure –
how to do ‘X’. It doesn’t stand for ongoing
experience of doing ‘X’ better, so when we
test young kids we test whether they can do
a procedure or whether they are capable of
learning from whatever baseline they start
from them. It is tick-box learning.
Sennett also defines the relationship between the artisan and technology:
The greatest dilemma faced by the modern
artisan-craftsman is the machine. Is it a
friendly tool or an enemy replacing work
of the human hand? In the economic
history of skilled manual labour, machinery
that began as a friend has often ended up as
One of the most significant elements of our collaboration [Monty Adkins and Pip Dickens] was having to exchange concepts and developments with another person – things that are normally very private and difficult to articulate. The received image of a sketch does not always convey, wholly,what the artist is aiming to accomplish. Sketches are visual/audible notations for self-reference – shorthand solutions, or approaches, indicating processes that might be called into play in a painting or sound work. The sketch, be it hand-wrought, or digitally created, can be misleading, or mysterious, to anyone other than the artist, without some form of supplementary explanation – appraised only on its visual/audible merits, not for its hidden meaning or intent. Over a period of some months we exchanged numerous sketches (see Figures 4.1, 4.2, 4.3, 4.4 and 4.5), before developing preliminary paintings and sound works. This process prompted valuable discussions of the sketches where both our interpretations and ideas could be shared.
The sketches, then, are thoughts in their nascency – sometimes fixing only on a single aspect of a concept. As a process, or ‘tool’, the sketch has four purposes: exploration, germination, filtration and design. Different artists’ ‘sketches’ filter and evolve concepts in different ways – that is the freedom artists have in developing skills independently of an external agency. It is research, and research is part and parcel of many artists’ practice. But the how, why and what of this research is individually determined.
From Gillies to Gaga: the sculptures of Paddy Hartley
Paddy Hartley’s Project Façade exemplifies how a dedicated and passionate interest in a subject matter can result in a body of artworks that develop a momentum of their own. Hartley believes in the skill of making – hands-on – but has also been shrewd in exploiting high technology in order to share the histories and research behind the work and so place his artworks in specific context. Project Façade is a series of 16 sculpturally embroidered garments that interpret and symbolise personal histories of servicemen who suffered severe facial injuries during the First World War. Hartley’s focus is on the New Zealand surgeon Sir Harold Delf Gillies, who developed crucial facial surgery techniques. Gillies worked with pioneering surgeon Hippolyte Morestin (dubbed the ‘Father of the Mouths’ for his innovative surgery in skin grafting), which Gillies observed in during the First World War at the British General Hospital in Rouen. Gillies returned to England and began his own groundbreaking work in the field of maxillofacial surgery. His work predates that of his cousin Archibald McIndoe, and his equally extraordinary work (with Rainsford Mowlem and Tommy Kilner) with facially disfigured Second World War servicemen, which became known as the ‘Guinea Pig Club’: Archibald McIndoe went to the Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead. Mowlem worked at St. Albans and Kilner at Roehampton, while Gillies established the army service at Rooksdown Hospital, near Basingstoke. All were involved in the treatment of facial casualties in the Second World War and McIndoe in particular was instrumental in the rehabilitation of his patients, the majority of whom were badly
burned bomber crews and fighter pilots.
The large proportion of serious injuries and disfigurement in the First World War was unprecedented, due to mass production and development of artillery. Guns, rifles, tanks, machine guns, gas and grenades bombarded and killed, injured and traumatised surviving servicemen. The first self-powered machine gun, the Maxim, was nicknamed the ‘devil’s paintbrush’ because of the physical damage it wrought in the First World War. Such damage was graphically illustrated in François Dupeyron’s 2001 film La Chambre des officiers, based on the book of the same name by Marc Dugain, which charts the experiences of Adrien Fournier, a lieutenant in the Engineers during the First World War. Fournier was struck down in the field and was removed to a maxillofacial unit shared by similar victims, and spent the rest of the war undergoing experimental reconstructive surgery.
[End of Extract] This Chapter then goes on to review the works of Paddy Hartley in depth.
Shibusa - Extracting Beauty
Edited by Monty Adkins and Pip Dickens
Size: 280 x 210mm
Number of images: 97
Images in colour: 89
published by University Huddersfield Press
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