Think inside the box
June 8, 2011, 1:04 pm
Filed under: Seren Stacey



May 9, 2011, 9:10 pm
Filed under: Seren Stacey

Seren Stacey                    

Basement Project

                 Think inside the box…    

Private view Friday 6th May 6.30-9.30 pm

continues until 24th  May 2011

Thinking inside the box…..
May 9, 2011, 8:46 pm
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Having finished editing the film I came back to the basement to experiment with how to show it. It was exciting and surprising to see the interaction between the projected image and the space. From projecting back into the small boxes I used to take the footage to filling the wall so that it felt like I was inside the box, the potential routes for the work  have become multiple, leading me to realise that this is just the very beginning of this project.

Show your workings….
May 4, 2011, 10:15 pm
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This week, as the residency draws towards an end and the opening looms, I am thinking really for the first time about the presentation of the space and about what to leave in and what to take away.

I had it in mind to leave it as a working space, seeing it as a work in progress and the process as an end in itself, as the physical manifestation of the journey I have been on, the visual diary of my time here and the mess of creation. But as soon as there is a viewer being invited into the space then it feels to me that everything I choose to leave or to take away becomes a self conscious act.

A friend told me about an interview they’d seen in Francis Bacon’s studio. By all accounts there was no attempt to preen and fettle out of pride or vanity, it was left messy and squalid in parts with pots of rancid liquid, etc. The mess bore witness to the intensity of his creativity and perhaps it may have lost its potency had he begun to decide what would be acceptable and what would appear squalid.

On the other hand, Tracey Emin’s bed was brave and unashamed appearing to lay herself bare, but the fact of its re-assembly meant that each bit had to be considered, and so despite its brutal honesty, there was a conscious act of presentation.

That got me thinking about the authenticity of showing your workings. When considering how to leave the space as a genuine working space  I began to I wonder what to remove and what to leave. Questioning, should I touch up the paint or even vacuum the floor?  In the end I vacuumed because I broke a glass lens.That’s honest.

Now I am leaning toward showing my workings in a more material way. The cardboard box, beyond its usual utility, has become my portable studio space and my window on the world. I have been using cardboard boxes as a means to view the outside world differently, creating a dialogue between external and internal space. The film I have been making cuts back and forth between blurry dream-like footage and the reality of the cardboard box which captures it. Some strange magic seems to happen when the footage is brought full circle to be projected back into the box. Suddenly from the single path chosen many more avenues open out. I have the exciting sense that there are many more routes to explore.

Like magents, they like to be together. The footage of the box looks at home back in the box and there is a sort of authenticity in that.

So I will be true to my process, and the cardboard box will feature in the work somehow. That is my way of evidencing my process.

April 25, 2011, 7:03 pm
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My portable studio-  13.04: Carmarthen to Cardiff Central                                                                       

Picasso and the Loaves by Robert Doisneau,1952

Ask me why this newspaper clipping; a black and white photo of Picasso posing at the table of a French cafe so that his hands appear to be swollen cartoon bread hands, is the first thing I put up in my studio and the last thing I take down when moving?

It seems quite unrelated to the rest of my research material, which at the moment mostly consists of close-up photographs of cracked walls, sensitive details on selvedge, spider webs.etc, but there’s something about this image which always seems to reassure me and nudge me onwards: it’s my hero reminding me to be human.

No doubt my perception of him is to some extent a romantic construct of how I think a ‘true artist’ should be, (and I wish to be) but the sheer volume and breadth of his exploration of the mark across a lifetime, becoming so fluent and self assured, while perpetually questioning and striving, to me seems the epitome of a life lived fully immersed in the process of making art. While this photo in which he is just ‘having a laugh’ reminds me that humour is important, that the creativity is in the everyday and art infiltrates every aspect of life.

As my mind rushes forwards into the future trying to decide what my final outcome will be I am reminded of an antiquated equation from musicologist  J.J. Nattiez.(on the creative process 1975, Fondements d’un Semiologie de la Musique, p.52) On the left is the createur/ the artist- in the centre the oeuvre/work of art- on the right is the auditeur/ viewer.

The arrow between the artist and the ‘oeuvre’ described as the ‘poietique’ is what I would call the ‘process’, it is the space and time in which ideas are developed and processes are explored which are eventually synthesised  to create a ‘work of art’. And on the other side of the equation there is the viewer who perceives the work. Often that interaction between the viewer and the work seems brief- a glimpse, a moment in which the viewer’s aesthetic notions are projected onto the piece, a moment to make a judgement. Though, granted, capturing an experience which may continue to provoke thought long afterwards.

As mentioned in my previous entry, my focus has been shifting from the oevre, to an appreciation of the poietique. It is in that place of complete immersion that the artistic life is lived.

To paraphrase artist and critical writer Marilyn Allen, in her lecture at a Symposium on Drawing (Oriel Myrddin, 09/04/11/), a painting or drawing is never finished, rather it is stopped in an interesting place. This suggests that works exhibited are part of a continuing story-a snapshot somewhere along the journey, and the journey is a life’s work. Perhaps it is because he rejoiced in the journey with all its challenges that  Picasso’s journey was so prolific, but the fact that he considered the notion of a ‘finished’ work as being  a ‘coup de grace’( death blow) to art suggests to me that he dwelt in the poietique.

Walking up and down Albany road or filming in Roath Park I pass many people, busy with their lives. I often find myself questioning the social context of my work, its relevance to the people who live here. It was that thought, coupled with the sense of isolation first felt on arrival in Roath, which led me to question: what if I were to remove the interface of the artwork and make a direct ‘face to face’ engagement between artist, process and the viewer?

Footage of the Roath area, filmed through camera obscura, seems to capture the environment in a dreamlike state with a kind of intimate close vision and soft focus and a curiously vivid three dimensionality. But I have found myself asking, ‘why can’t I give the viewer the direct experience? ’

Essentially the space of the basement, without natural light limits the ability to create this experience. While I can make a camera obscura in the basement , it would require artificial light focused on a still object as I am unable to get an image of the moving world outside. And having the camera obscura fixed on an object would put a massive onus on that object and its significance.

That challenge coupled with the question would any of those busy people on the streets come and look at the results of my residency in the basement begs the question why not take the camera obscura to a place outside?

I could both ask the public to use the portable camera obscura to generate footage and exhibit the footage in a public space for instance the park in which the footage was filmed. It is this sort of dialogue between artist, people and space which begins to excite me, challenging those questions about the role of the oevre.

Within the scope of a one month residency it seems a limited time in which to devise a work which brilliantly implements these ideas which radically alter my understanding of my own practice. However they allude to a much broader potential body of work.

Shifting perspectives…
April 17, 2011, 3:51 pm
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It is difficult in words to quantify the subtle yet profound way in which my pre-conceptions are being challenged by the basement project.

The past two weeks have caused quite a change in my thinking about my practice. A reversal of my usual approach to a project and a questioning of the fundaments of my practice seem to be leading to a shift of focus away from the questionable ‘final piece’, towards the process.

In the past I have begun by identifying a relatively narrow idea as the focus for my work, and then allowed a process of enquiry into that idea to dictate the most fitting media. So far, however, I have been working in a more intuitive way – following little clues and visual cues; collecting imagery from my journeys back and forth to the studio, compiling a sort of mystery library.  I feel that somehow I have to collect the imagery, put them up on the wall, and maybe later find out what it’s all ‘about’.

In my proposal for the basement project I said that I wanted to explore Blake’s notion “to see a world in a grain of sand.. eternity in an hour”, to use it as a place to become absorbed in minute detail and observe the trickle down of wonders into the everyday- the golden ratio in my cauliflower.  And my visual diary reflects a sort of higgledy-piggledy selection of small wonders chosen through my personal visual perception.

The images I have been collecting seem to reflect a sort of beauty in the small, the most common thread running between these images- the natural world. A shell, constructed from tiny flecks of iridescent sediment looks like a perfect miniature galaxy and camera obscura footage gives new perceptions of the world more three dimensional than the eye.

This week I have felt compelled to reflect on studio practice. I visited ‘Darkroom’, an exhibiton by Michel Campeau at Ffotogallery(Penarth) which featured large scale digital photographs of darkrooms. He visited around 70 darkrooms in Canada Niger and Europe to make this body of work. What interested me about this piece is that it is photography about the process of developing film. The images depict lived-in, intimate spaces. The recurring image is that of tape-tape to secure, tape to obscure light, tape to give a message. Beyond simply nostalgia for a dwindling process, the photographs depict intimate human involvement, the very material qualities of these improvised spaces evoke a yearning for the tangible physicality of process. As a viewer I experienced the feeling of familiarity and a kind of kinaesthetic memory triggered the feeling of being immersed in the very physical process and perhaps anyone who has been involved in those processes would feel the same sense of recognition.

Returning to my space in the basement I realise how reflecting on practice has become quite prominent in my thoughts. Suddenly the table on which I work seems as fascinating as the subject I sat down to draw. The ‘process’ of being an artist and the thought processes becoming visual evidence on the wall as well as the material detritus  has gained a potency hitherto taken for granted in my practice.  A month is a very short time to refine and synthesise finished work, but as the means become more fascinating than the end, I feel compelled to consider treating the means or ‘process’ as an end in itself.

New Project for April 2011: Introducing Seren Stacey…
April 6, 2011, 9:48 pm
Filed under: Seren Stacey

“One person’s revelation can seem ‘like, duh’- obvious – to someone who already knows it, but comes as an epiphany when it is discovered through your own experience. You can’t really ‘know’ some things until you have ‘been there’, experienced it first- hand.

My challenge at the moment is about developing a working practice outside of the institution of art school.  How do I relate to the world around me? Where does my work fit into the context of my immediate environment and wider world events?  What relevance does it have?

But more simply, what should I choose to do? What activity is worthy of, say, two hours’ dedication? An intense pencil study, for  example? Is it worth doing anything? And where is this doubt coming from? Is it fear of wasting time? Or fear of failure?

In art college you get points for your box full of failures – the reams of discarded samples which evidence your process of experimentation; the meandering journey from concept to realisation.  In response to my fear of failure a tutor referred me to Micheal Landy’s Art bin exhibition (January 2010, South London Gallery) in which artists were invited to submit failed artworks to be thrown into the giant dustbin – the irony being that once the failed piece was placed within the bin it became part  of a work of art.  It was certainly liberating for me to acknowledge and celebrate failure, realising the possibility and, yes, the necessity of failure in the artistic process. I call it shovelling shi t– when you have to keep on trying things out, paving the way for that breakthrough which, on arrival, seems effortless.

On the radio this morning I heard neuroscientist David Eagleman speaking about how human thoughts and actions can be attributed to neurological processes which are primarily unconscious. He said,

“ Whenever you have an idea…your brain has been working on that behind the scenes  for days and weeks, consolidating information, putting things together, and then it serves up an idea and you say, ‘Hey, I’ve had an idea!’” ( Start the Week, BBC radio 4,04/04/11)

Ideas don’t ‘pop’ into our heads out of nowhere, but are the result of a process unconsciously unravelling inside our brains. This reminds me to have ‘trust’ in my brain, trust in the creative process. As I prod around seemingly in the dark, things are happening beyond the gaze of my conscious mind. But more than that, there’s also what I’m taking in. The ‘conscious’ is just a tiny portion of my mind: it is the ‘spotlight’, as distinguished by philosopher Alan Watts from ‘floodlight’ consciousness. It is the mode of being in which every experience – the apples I eat, the T.V. I watch etc. – is taken in by the unconscious brain.

But at the other extreme Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, in a TED lecture ( suggests that it could be freeing if we could consider inspiration or ‘the Muse’ the way the Ancient  Greeks did, almost as a kind of grace which is lent to us. That if you are open to its grace, and are also accepting of its borrowed nature, you are let off the hook – no longer responsible for generating ‘genius’,  rather accepting that genius is like a spirit which can fill you or land on you like a butterfly, lending greatness or even divinity.

But why, now, do I need to ask where ideas come from? Is it because I am wondering when or where the next idea will strike? Or because I don’t have peers helping me, sharing the journey; to collaborate with? If, as Sir Ken Robinson (on changing educational paradigms) says “collaboration is the stuff of growth” ( then, like so many artists, I need my peers.  And I also need to collaborate with myself.

I need to commit to the process of creativity and say to myself , “between this hour and this hour I am doing this process”, then keep the results, next day edit the results. Re-model, re-write, re-work. That gets the ball rolling. Maybe that is why some artist employ rules within their practice, like Garry Fabian Miller, whose photographs are taken within a rigid time structure, not only addressing issues of light and time but also implementing discipline within his practice.

If it’s so hard, and I sound like I have no ideas, then why do I want to pursue art at all?

Ok, so the bottom line is I want to make art. I want to be in the flow of creativity. The reason I want to do this residency is that I want the time and space in which my purpose is to make art, to explore my ideas and respond to my environment. It is a way to have discipline, validating and giving permission to, from this hour to this hour, do this.

I don’t want to get all existential ‘on yo ass’- but these are all questions brought up by leaving the institutional nest in whose brood I was held, given food, love and a defined assessment criteria. But they couldn’t tell us how to fly. We had to jump out. And out here the rules are different, there aren’t points for sample boxes, only open sky.”