August 24th, 2023 – Eleven Stones Exhibition

As part of my Degree Show earlier in the year, I made a set of four plywood frames papered with Japanese Shoji screen paper. The frames contained a stone or small rock and the paper was stretched so the shape of the stone protruded from the papered frame.

Degree Show Installation, June 2023

Each one of the four frames was constructed in a slightly different way as I adapted the build process, the design process led by materials, scraps and offcuts that were to hand at my studio.

Sketch Book 2023

I have been wanting to make some more, the initial four pieces were all interesting but didn’t really work together as a collection as the sizes were all different. I envisaged a unified set, the same sizes, and the same construction.

The Degree Show install featured a back wall radiator screen, made up of three sections. I managed to salvage two of the screens intact, the third had to be dismantled because multiple screws snapped during installation. I cut away the paper so it would get reused and I’d originally cut the wood so it would be the right width for repurposing post-radiator screen life as frames. This makes up the bulk of the wood required to make a set of frames.

The perspex used as the backing is using offcuts from another artist in the studio. All other plywood thicknesses are offcuts. Now that everything becomes a frame there is very little workshop waste, that’s been the goal since the pandemic. As much as possible be zero waste.

In my blog post detailing the Degree Show, I didn’t really go into any deeper analysis of the papered rocks. I’d just made four things. They were so new and experimental, made in a very freestyle process like I’d treat painting. Now I can look back on it and see that’s why they worked so well. I didn’t have time to overthink and just followed the thing I was making, rather than trying to make the thing I thought I wanted to.

The degree show was my first time really viewing them so it’s only been over the last few months in the studio I’ve had time to spend with the work and understand it more.

The experiment was purely to try to use the tension of the paper across the stone to hold it in place. Is the paper holding the stone down, or is the stone pushing out against the paper? The same thing but with different intentions. I feel I was going for the paper holding the stone.

Post-match review, thoughts on some of the features and discoveries.

The Inspiration – I can follow a documented chain of events that led to using the stones through various art projects. But what’s more interesting is in February I discovered a 1979 song called ‘Your Piece of The Rock’ by Dynasty.

I was listening to it constantly, even ordering up the original 12-inch single so I would have the B-side mix.

4 weeks later the rock work starts. Is it possible I just listened to a disco song so much it manifested itself into my practice? I’m not complaining. I only observed this last week while making the new frames.

The Material – Made from reusing scrap offcut materials the frames had a handmade nature to them. I didn’t try to overwork the material, leaving nail/screw holes or marks that could have been cut away. I didn’t hide the fact it was lower-quality ply. The whole thing could be made from much higher-quality wood to achieve a more polished finish. I feel given the choice between those two versions I would be more interested in the rustic version.

The Display I initially planned for these to be lying flat on a table. They could be lifted up to inspect, but I was unsure if I should allow the viewer to see the stone at all. The object was simply about the protrusion and not really about what was causing the shape, or you wouldn’t get to know. That part is the mystery.

My degree show space had west-facing windows, on the second floor so I had a particularly nice light. For a sustained period in the evening, the setting sun cut across my wall and this feature was too good not to utilize.

So I decided to hang the frames on the wall and to also come out from the wall at 45°. This was so the light could be behind the stone and create a silhouette shape on the papered front.

By displaying the work like this the viewer could inspect both sides equally, nothing is hidden.

I used a french cleat system to hang the frames. This means the frame can be lifted off the wall, I like that it’s not attached by a more permanent screw system. You wouldnt know unless you lifted it off the wall, so I guess my facination with this feature is just for me. I’ve not made it clear whether you can or cannot touch the frames. I would presume the delicate nature of the paper would imply not to.

Also, the natural light creates shadow play on the wall. A situation effect that will have a peak time period, depending on the level of the light/sun. If the frames are positioned to make use of the light they will be constantly changing. Subtle shifts in light level and the movement/angle change of the sun through the day causes infinite response of the paper itself. The form of the stone will be silhouetted or projected in infinite combinations.

The New Eleven

If I went somewhere specifically to collect stones and then the set is made from that particular collection I feel might find something to build a bigger project on, this is an exciting idea. The initial four framed stones were just concept trials to see if the object had any appeal. The new eleven stones surpassed my expectations.

The stones are from my collection of stones, I’m in the habit of picking up interesting-looking stones. The bulk of the stones used in this set were given to me as a present a few years ago. They have been in the studio for a number of years, and I find it interesting that they have now found a place in becoming actual art, instead of being weights, flower pot jammers, and display stones.

The rock is a heavy object, and the paper is light. It’s all contrasting, the solid rock the translucent paper. If viewed just from the paper side the object is obscured. There is tension. Something is being held in place, contained, restrained. The use of rocks specifically, what does this say? Am I looking into the human condition, the ritual, of collecting stones? Why Stones, what stones? The project opens up an array of avenues to explore.

The object ends up looking like a file from a curiosity cabinet, a rustic homemade specimen case. Like a pinned butterfly. I feel the framing elevates the status of the stone to more.

By it being displayed, it’s being valued.

By using recycled materials to encase the stone as opposed to refined higher-quality woods the stone isn’t glamorized. It is being valued by its display, but not prescribed a value through the use of additional high-value materials.

The New Eleven.

So using the repurposed plywood I constructed 11 frames and used the most interesting stones from my collection. Made in the same way as the previous trials, at a set size so they would all be the same. The intention is to hang in line along the wall.

The exhibition wall at the studio will only have the potential for direct sunlight in the morning, between 9 to 11am. 12 to 1pm. It was an extra nice bonus to have such good light at the degree show, but I don’t feel it’s a key requirement to view the work. The beauty of the paper is its subtle response to changing lights, even at a base level of general dullness, the paper still has a pleasing diffusion so I would regard the object as always ‘on’.

I have hung the work evenly spaced in a horizontal line. Eleven frames. 4ft up from the ground, 2ft apart.

You dont pick a book, the book picks you.

I often do the rounds on the charity shops, I think that sometimes I can sense when there is something to be found. You don’t know what you are looking for but there is something in this shop right now… It’s a similar feeling to a certain state of art flow where you know you are close to finding something, or an awareness something is happening.

Well, last week as I reached the final stages of the build and was ready to test hang the frames I went into a shop and for the first time noticed their bookshelf. Funny I hadn’t seen that before. Upon which I instantly noticed a number of quite specific mountaineering books. I normally am on the lookout for art books, or something that would be useful for the studio. So I got a sense there was going to be a good book in this pile if I did the digging, perhaps something more like a novel about a mountain rather than a hardcore information book. Sure enough, I found a book called Speak To The Hills. An anthology of Twentieth Century British & Irish Mountain Poetry. My initial thought was the book would apply to two other artists in the studio, but when I got back to the studio and had a proper look at it I realized how applicable it was to my work, opening the book on a poem called Rock.

Once I had hung all the stones up on the exhibit wall I decided to display the poetry book on a low shelf as an accompaniment, I think it presented itself to me at the right time. Taking a moment to read a short poem about the wind on a craggy outcrop is exactly the mindset I want you to have for looking at the stones.

A reading of Tom Bowker’s poem Rock. From ‘Speak To The Hills’

I would view the stones as single-word poems, or as single brushstroke paintings. They have been positioned with intent. It’s a composition.

Viewing Times

The light changes through the day and each period has its own flavour so I have been keeping note of the atmosphere throughout the day. There is a small window of time where the sun has direct contact with the wall. 9/11 am & 12/12.45 pm

The rest of the day has a general ambiance, which works well with the paper. It’s not a case of the paper looking better with strong lighting, the paper glows at a base level so it’s not like the art is dependent on a given level of light. Direct sun and strong shadows are great, but it’s not essential or even necessary.

The later evening is probably my favourite time, the internal building lighting is so poor. This is normally problematic for evening art viewing, but this low-level warm lighting works very well with the paper. This comes into its own once the sky starts to darken. The lower-lit atmosphere is also the preferred nature of the stones I feel. Quiet lighting for quiet viewing.

The last option is the lights out and the frames are viewed in the dark using your mobile phone to light the paper. I did this last night after 9 p.m. Made for a much for intense viewing, being in control of the light to play with the lighting of the stone and adapting the shadow was a lot of fun. This is the only setting where it is definitely an interactive experience. I probably spent longer viewing in the dark, spending more time interacting with each object and only seeing one at a time.

This isn’t really the kind of art that would suit an ‘opening’ it would be too busy. It’s best-viewed solo. On your own, listen to some headphone music, or if you are lucky the building ambiance will be enjoyable. Read some mountain poetry, and take the time to read each stone.

I’d advise looking at each frame without engaging with the reveal side until you have viewed them all. Then perhaps review them all but enjoy both sides. My intention is to view the papered side as the front and enjoy the shape and its shadow. Observe the peaks of the protrusion. As the mysterious object is pushed out from the frame. Look closely at the fibers of the paper, see the stretched areas, see the tears and patches. Can you observe the light changing in this moment?

11.27pm Standard Day Ambience
12.17pm Direct Sun Happens Twice Between 9/11am + 12/12.45pm
21.01pm Evening Light from 8pm

The reason I do exhibits here is you are seeing the work in the place it’s made. And I can give you a wee tour of the studio, and we can chat about art. Fun times.

Late View 21.01 pm
Day View 12.18 pm

As a wee bonus for reading all the way to the end here’s a nice wee observation.

My studio is on a street called Dornoch Street.

I know the word Dornoch because I’m from Inverness and Dornoch is a place not far north of Inverness. I’m sure as school children you get taken to Dornoch beach as a standard school trip..

Anyways the name ‘Dornoch’ is derived from the Gaelic for ‘pebbly place’.

So it seems fitting to be having an exhibition of little stones, or pebbles, here.

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